The Latest Trends in Man Caves

Everybody needs their own space from time to time. For men, the “man cave” has long been a place to retreat to when a little time with the boys is on the agenda. But man caves don’t have to be dungeon-like when it comes to their design and ambiance. Today’s man cave is much more sophisticated and stylish, not to mention a lot more convenient.

Here are the latest trends in man caves that will rival other rooms in the house.

Soundproofing

Think of all the noise that can be potentially made in a man cave: the deep bass from the stereo blasted on full volume, the roaring sound from the in-home theater, or the fellows hooting and hollering as they’re playing a round of pool or enjoying the football game.

Whatever the source of the noise, the rest of the home doesn’t have to hear a peep thanks to the soundproofed walls that are becoming more customary with man caves. Men can make as much noise as they want without having to worry about bothering the rest of the family.

Technologically Driven

This one might sound like a no-brainer considering how much technology has taken over virtually every aspect of our lives. That said, technology is a mainstay with man caves, powering up and operating just about every component of the space.

The surround sound system, media devices, appliances, gaming console, lighting, temperature, and just about anything else that’s connected to the electrical panel can be controlled by the touch of a button on your smartphone or other hand-held device.

Full Kitchens

Refrigerators are a given in man caves; after all, where else will the beer be kept cold and ready when the boys arrive? But today’s man cave calls for a lot more than just a bar fridge: today, you’ll be seeing more and more full kitchens taking over these male-dominated spaces.

Joining the fridge will be a dishwasher, microwave, counter space, cabinets, and maybe even an oven and stove top. If there’s access to the backyard from the man cave, a BBQ right outside the door is also called for.

Plenty of Light

When you think of a man cave, you probably conjure up images of a dark and sometimes gloomy atmosphere. But today’s modern man cave welcomes a lot more light to offset the lack of window space.

Designers are outfitting these space with layers of different types of light fixtures to create a brighter area. From pot lights, to pendat lamps, to wall sconces and beyond, ample lighting is in high demand for today’s man cave.

Stylish Accessories

Who says man caves should only be decorated in sports memorabilia? The sophisticated man cave of today is all decked out in stylish and often glamorous accessories, such as wall art, glass and metal sculptures, luxurious window treatments, and rich upholstery.

Man caves aren’t always the first room that homeowners typically hire interior designers for, but they’re becoming increasingly focused on as far as upping the style factor is concerned.

Closet Caves

If there’s no room in the house that can be dedicated to a man cave, you might want to turn to some closet space. When it comes to the modern man cave, sometimes size doesn’t really count.

While this might sound absurd, consider the Carrie Bradshaw closets that women have been swooning over since Sex and the City first took the world of television by storm. If women can hang out in their opulent walk-in closets, there’s no reason why men can’t have their own version of the same thing.

Bar Sheds

When the space indoors is completely maxed out, there’s always the outdoors to consider when it comes to building a man cave. One of the rising trends for this type of space is what’s been affectionately dubbed the “bar shed,” which is pretty much what it sounds like – a shed that’s been converted (or built from the ground up) into a bar.

Simply add a bar area, stock it with your favorite spirits and beer, outfit it with a few comfy bar stools, install a wall-mounted TV and some lighting, and voilà: a bar shed that the boys will love to hang out in.

The Bottom Line

Today’s man cave needs a lot more than just a randomly-placed sofa and TV. These days, man caves are much more design-focused. By implementing any one of the above trends, you might just entice other occupants of the home to want to hang out there too!

Debunking the Most Common Down Payment Myths

Down payments for a home purchase can be a huge financial obstacle to homeownership. It can be extremely challenging to come up with a large lump sum of money to be put towards a down payment, and some mortgages require minimum amounts in order to qualify.

But there’s a lot of fluff floating around out there about down payments that are simply untrue. So what’s fact and what’s fiction? Here are some of the more common myths about down payments and the truth behind them.

Myth #1 – A 20% Down Payment is Needed to Buy a Home

Perhaps one of the biggest myths about down payments is that 20% of the purchase price of a home is required to get approved for a mortgage. While this is certainly true for mortgages that do not come backed by Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI), there are other home loans out there that do not require such a hefty amount.

In fact, there are some mortgages that require as little as 5% down, and sometimes even less. Conventional mortgages can be obtained with a down payment of as little as 5%. These types of mortgages are not guaranteed by the federal government and conform to the terms as set forth by Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae.

If 5% still seems a little steep, it’s possible to put down as little as 3% with Freddie Mac’s Home Possible Advantages mortgage program. Further, some mortgage programs may even allow a zero percent mortgage if borrowers quality, including the following:

VA Loans – These types of home loans are guaranteed by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and are applicable to veterans, spouses of veterans, active-duty service members, or those who are part of reserve programs. If you qualify for this type of loan, you might not have to make a down payment upfront at all.

USDA Loans – Backed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, these mortgages are designed to help foster the development of rural areas by making buying a home more attractive. These loans offer 100% financing, which means you would not have to come up with a down payment if you are eligible for approval.

Coming up with the money needed to make a 20% down payment on a home is becoming increasingly difficult, especially in certain markets around the state where housing prices are through the roof. While it’s certainly beneficial to lower your loan amount and avoid having to pay an added insurance premium from the PMI portion of your mortgage, you definitely don’t have to save up for 20% to put towards a down payment in order to make your dreams of buying a home come true.

Myth #2 – Down Payment Money Can Only Come From Personal Funds

It’s ideal for borrowers to come up with the down payment money on their own, particularly when it comes to tracking these funds and ensuring they’re legitimate in the eyes of the government. But you don’t have to depend on your personal savings account for the money needed to make your down payment on a home.

There are other sources that you can tap into for these funds, including:

Gifts – More and more young adults who are on the path to homeownership are relying on their parents’ help for the money required to come up with a down payment. Even other family members or friends may chip in to help out with this endeavor. That said, a proper paper trail will be required to prove that the gift isn’t actually a loan that will have to be repaid at a later date.

Personal Loans – You may be eligible to take out a personal loan in order to build up your down payment. However, this option should be handled with great care, as you will essentially be increasing your debt load and therefore hiking up your debt-to-income (DTI) ratio. The higher this number is, the lower the odds of getting approved for a mortgage. Ideally, lenders like to see DTI rates of no more than 43%.

Down payment assistance programs – Many borrowers are unaware of the grant programs that exist to help them get home loans to finance a real estate purchase. Many of these programs not only help with down payments and closing costs, but many come with affordable interest rates. But how easy are these down payment assistance programs to get approved for? This brings us to our next point.

Myth #3 – Down Payment Assistance is Tough to Qualify For

While not everyone will necessarily be eligible for down payment assistance, these programs aren’t exactly impossible to qualify for. Your biggest challenge is finding one that’s best suited for your particular position, and that entails some homework to find out what the application requirements are for each program. Typically, the standard criteria that will be assessed include the location and type of the property, the purchase price, your income, and any homebuyer certifications you may have. 

You will also have to provide some proof that you are responsible with your finances and are not a risky borrower. That means your financial and credit history should be healthy. Your credit score and bank account will have to be high enough as per the program’s requirements before you’re approved. To further ensure that you will be responsible with any funds that you may be granted, you may also be asked for a small amount of money down and may have to partake in a homebuyer education course.

Myth #4 – Low Down Payments Are Only For First-Time Homebuyers

First-time homebuyers have some perks that repeat buyers are no longer able to take advantage of, including FHA first-time homebuyer loans. But that doesn’t mean you can’t tap into some low down payment options if you’re working on buying your next home.

Actually, if you haven’t owned real estate over the past three years, you may be considered a first-time homebuyer again and take advantage of the programs that are designed for this specific demographic.

If not, there are still low down payment options for you to consider. Just about every qualified buyer may be eligible for a low down payment program that will afford them with the benefit of not having to dish out more than they can afford, such as Fannie Mae’s HomeReady or 97% LTV mortgages.

It’s worth mentioning that if you’re buying a home in a designated area – usually to revitalize a specific area – you may be eligible for certain benefits, like more lax income criteria and higher assistance amounts.

The Bottom Line

Don’t believe everything you hear when it comes to down payments. While some tidbits of information may be true, others are simply false or have at least changed over the past few years. The best source of information when it comes to down payments is your mortgage specialist who will have up-to-the-minute information about down payments and the mortgage programs that come with them. Be sure to have a chat with one today to help direct you on the right path to homeownership.

Top-Ranked Workplaces in California

There are plenty of awesome companies out there to work for, and Californians have the great benefit of having many of them headquartered right here in the Golden State. From unlimited time off work to on-site play facilities, the following companies have amazing perks that make them some of the top-ranked workplaces in California.

Google

Headquartered in Mountain View, CA, Google is easily one of the best-known companies across the globe and just happens to be one of the best places to work for too. The online search engine giant has been known to offer its employees all sorts of little benefits that go a long way. Google really takes a big step forward in caring for the health of all of its nearly 62,000 employees, offering things such as virtual doctor consultations, prepared organic meals, free fitness classes, nap pods, and even breast-cancer screenings.

The little bonuses don’t end there. Employees can even take advantage of on-site hair salons, oil changes, bike repairs, and laundry facilities. The list of perks is seemingly unending, giving employees something to look forward to when they get ready for work every day.

Cooley

Cooley is an international law firm with headquarters in Palo Alto, CA, and offices scattered in other U.S. cities, including San Diego, Boston, New York, and Washington, D.C. Cooley partners up with all sorts of technological-based companies, including the likes of Google and Facebook, to provide innovative solutions.

Its lawyers are spread out across the globe, including in Europe and Asia, and are provided with all sorts of niceties that any employee would be lucky to get from their employer. For starters, lawyers with Cooley are credited for volunteered hours in the same way that they’re credited for the paid hours worked. Partners are not only paid out based on how much business they generate for the company, but also for the contribution they provide. To make things a little fun, Cooley hosts outdoor movie nights, family Halloween parties, and even video game dance festivities.

Intuit

The business and financial software firm is behind the development of some of the most popular accounting and tax tools out there, including QuickBooks and TurboTax. In addition to the amazing products they develop, Intuit can also boast being one of the best places to work for in California.

Headquartered in Mountain View, CA, the company lets its employees take 10% of their work time to spend on their own projects, regardless of whether or not they’re associated with their specific jobs at Intuit. Employees are also granted eight weeks of paternal leave, a huge hike from its previous two weeks, giving parents a lot more time off to spend with their children.

Cornerstone OnDemand

Cornerstone OnDemand is a cloud-based solutions provider that helps organizations tap into the potential of their workforces. Based out of Santa Monica, CA, Cornerstone OnDemand offers its employees all sorts of programs that make working here great.

The company offers unique perks such as company-wide wine clubs, diving clubs, tech meet-ups, and women’s groups. There are also Bring Your Parents To Work Days in addition to the more traditional Bring Your Kid To Work days, as well as learning and leadership programs. The company is also very big on work-life balance and rewards its staff with unlimited paid time off, sabbaticals, and three weeks of time off to volunteer.

VMware

The Palo Alto, CA-based company develops virtualization software, and although the firm’s fundamentals lie with technology, it is highly successful in staying grounded to nature and fostering an environment that nurtures a person’s wellness. VMware is perched on a sprawling 105-acre campus that’s sprinkled with over 1,500 trees. There’s also an on-site fitness facility that offers a “mindfulness” class, as well as yoga, tai-chi, and meditation classes.

To further care for the well-being of its employees, VMware even allows its employees to partake in a 5-week stress management course that’s geared towards alleviating any feelings of anxiety or apprehension that may be related to their jobs or any other outside source.

Cadence

Headquartered in San Jose, CA, Cadence provides its employees with a number of little extras that go a long way at making work enjoyable and rewarding. A developer of products that are used in all sorts of electronic gadgets, Cadence boasts an incredibly low turnover rate with nearly half of its staff on payroll for over a decade.

The reasons for sticking around are tough to give up: the pay is high, the culture is innovative, and employees can even tap into on-site massages, dry cleaning, and even gift wrapping services – just in time for the holiday season.

Patagonia

The Ventura, CA-based company manufactures products geared towards outdoors sports, such as climbing, skiing, snowboarding, surfing, trail running, fly fishing, and paddling, among others. The employees who are part of the design and development of these products love the time off they’re allotted each day to dedicate to any type of extracurricular activity they choose, be it to catch some waves, hike for an hour or two, take a course, or even pick up their kids from school.

There are even on-site childcare services, paid environmental internships, company ski trips, and even covered health insurance premiums. And to top it all off, Patagonia has even implemented a 9/80 Work Week, which involves shutting down the office every other Friday and giving all employees an extra long weekend a couple of times a month.

Activision Blizzard

The manufacturer of huge entertainment franchises, including the likes of Call of Duty, makes work enjoyable for all of its employees. Based out of Santa Monica, CA, Activision Blizzard sounds as fun as its name. 

Employees are given the opportunity to enjoy their creations and are encouraged to wear their favorite costumes and participate in the company-wide squirt gun battle. The company has also implemented a program to encourage women to be part of a traditionally male-dominated industry by setting up groups that give a voice to women.

The Bottom Line

Work doesn’t have to be mentally draining or unrewarding, and these companies certainly strive to do the opposite. The unique perks offered by the above-mentioned firms make going into work enjoyable and make work-life balance easy.

House Plants That Can Handle Darker Spaces

It’s a well-known fact that plants need the energy from sunlight to grow. But that doesn’t mean that all plants necessarily need to bask in the light at all hours of the day in order to survive and thrive. In fact, there are plenty of houseplants out there that do extremely well in low-light conditions, making them the perfect choice for darker areas in the house.

If you’re looking for the ideal houseplant for your home but are concerned about the limited amount of light they may get, consider any one of the following.

Aspidistra Elatior (Cast Iron Plant)

This lovely plant has been used in indoor spaces for centuries, with its pretty emerald leaves bringing plenty of natural color to a space. Cast iron plants are very hearty and are able to thrive without much attention. They don’t need too much light to grow and sustain, though they do require slightly moist soil to keep its leaves bright and strong.

Epipremnum Aureum (Pothos)

Not only does the pothos plant not require much light at all to survive, it actually doesn’t do well at all in direct sunlight, making this houseplant ideal for spaces with low light. It comes in a few different varieties, including dark green, blue-green, white-and-green, yellow-and-green, and even speckled silver bicolor patterns. All that’s required to care for this houseplant is watering when the soil gets dry and some occasional pruning.

Sansevieria Trifasciata (Snake Plant)

Not necessarily the most pleasant name for an indoor plant, but the “snake plant” is quite attractive with its long, dark-green foliage framed with yellow trim. This plant does well in just about every environment, so there’s really not very much you can do to it that will cause it to wilt, except for overwatering it. 

Rhapis Excelsa (Lady Palm)

Appropriately named, the lady plant gives off an air of opulence and can really bring out the best in a space. The clusters of palm-like leaves make it look as if green fireworks are going off in the planter. While expensive, lady palms can last a lifetime if cared for appropriately and repotted once in a while as the roots require. This plant is able to do quite well in low-light conditions, requiring just some most soil and proper feedings.

Philodendron Hederaceum (Heartleaf Philodendron)

You’d be hard-pressed not to find one of these plants in one of your neighbors’ homes, as they’re arguably one of the most common houseplants around. The heartleaf philodendron is perfect for darker spaces and grows quickly regardless of how much light it gets. This plant comes in a couple of varieties, including green-and-gold and deep purple foliage. The only thing this plant needs to survive is some watering when the soil starts to dry out and pruning of leaves once they start turning yellow.

Spathiphyllum (Peace Lily)

The peace lily might be tough to bloom, but it’s certainly easy to grow in low-light conditions. The only thing you’d need to do to keep this plant healthy is change the potting mix occasionally to prevent the leaves from browning.

Zamioculcas Zamiifolia (ZZ Plant)

If you’re looking for the perfect plant to add some natural elements to a space that’s got few windows and nothing more than artificial lighting, the ZZ plant is your best bet. This plant also does very well without being watered very often, making it a very hearty plant if you don’t necessarily have a green thumb.

Chamaedorea Elegans (Parlor Palm)

The parlor palm does extremely well with a minimal amount of light. This slow-growing plant features striking long emerald leaves and grows up to about 4 feet in height, making a statement piece in any space. Just water it once in a while and spray the leaves with mist in particularly dry times of the year to keep its foliage vibrant.

Nephrolepis Exaltata (Boston Fern)

The Boston fern is the quintessential houseplant that can be found in just about any typical indoor space to add some beautiful greenery. These types of plants do great in areas that receive very little light, both inside and outdoors. Just make sure they’re kept away from drafty spots and air ducts.

Dracaena Fragrans (Corn Plant)

This houseplant was named according to its appearance, with leaves that look very similar to corn plants. Even in low light, the corn plant can grow up to a majestic 6 feet in height.

Aglaonema (Chinese Evergreen)

The Chinese evergreen has become increasingly popular among homeowners and those who wish to breathe some life into their office space thanks to the plant’s vibrant fuschia-and-green foliage. Not only is it gorgeous to look at, it thrives in dark areas without having to be watered very often.

Syngonium Podophyllum (Arrowhead Vine)

Low-light conditions are no match for the arrowhead vine, which does very well in the darkest corner. The leaves come in several lovely shades, including bold green, copper, and some with a mix of colors. As the plant ages, it develops a vine that makes them perfect for planting at the foot of walls or even in hanging baskets. Only when the soil feels dry does it need to be watered.

The Bottom Line

Not every room in the house will necessarily be blessed with oversized windows that ooze in natural sunlight all the time. Luckily, there are several types of houseplants that do quite well in spaces that are lacking in light. While no houseplant loves complete darkness, these indoor plants do pretty well with whatever limited light they can get.

Tips For Brightening Up Dark Spaces

Even rooms that are generous in square footage can seem dark. And with the days continuing to shorten and fewer daylight hours available to brighten things up, things can get pretty gloomy indoors.

If your space is particularly dark, consider implementing any one of the following tips to lighten and brighten your home, no matter what time of day it is.

Paint the Space in a Light Color

It makes sense that lighter colors tend to create a lighter space. Considering this fact, painting your walls in a light color will have the effect of brightening the room up. The lighter the hue, the better. In fact, white tends to work best for this effect, and it doesn’t have to feel like a doctor’s office when used properly with the right accents.

White is fantastic at reflecting the light that bounces off the surface, which instantly makes the surrounding area look lighter. If a lighter space is what you’re after, the first thing you should do is give your walls a fresh coat of white paint, or another light shade. It’s a fast and cheap way to obtain the effect you’re going for.

Paint the Ceiling White

Just like the walls of a room can make a difference when painted in a light color, so can the ceiling. A dark ceiling can act like a dark cloud hanging over a room and make it feel smaller than it really is. If your ceiling is painted in a color other than white or has some type of natural wood paneling or beams, paint them all white for a uniform look that will immediately lighten and brighten up the space.

Make Smart Use of Mirrors

You can double the amount of natural light that goes into your home by hanging mirrors in strategic spots. Ideally, you’ll want to hang them directly across from your windows so that the natural light coming in bounces off the reflective surface. The more mirrors you hang, the more light reflection you’ll get. Just try not to go overboard, as you don’t want to create a space that’s too overwhelming with reflection.

Use Matte Versus Glossy Paint

While the reflective properties of mirrors work quite well at reflecting light equally across a space and making it appear lighter and brighter, glossy paint can cause too much glare which generates more of a distracting light than a pleasing one. Instead, go for matte paint which is more effective at equally reflecting light in all directions.

Be Strategic With Your Light Fixtures

You obviously need light fixtures in your home to supplement natural light that will be lacking as the sun sets. But how and where you place your light fixtures – as well as the types you include – can make a big difference in how light your space will appear.

To brighten up the room, consider installing various types of fixtures and create a layered effect. For instance, the living room might do well with pot lights scattered across the ceiling, a tall floor lamp in the corner directed upwards to create an “uplighting” effect, table lamps on end tables, and even wall sconces beside the fireplace. In the kitchen, pot lights work well again for overall ambiance, while pendant lamps hanging over the island and under-cabinet lighting provide the perfect task lighting when prepping meals.

Wherever possible, install dimmer switches to provide some flexibility with the amount of light you want to infuse in your space at any given time. 

Go Light With Window Treatments

You might want some privacy at certain times of the day, but thick, opaque drapery can block out all that natural light during times when you really need it. Window curtains that cover up too much of a window can be replaced with less obstructive fabric. Something that’s sheer will let in plenty of light while still offering some level of privacy.

Install New Window Openings

If possible, install new windows in your home. This is especially helpful in rooms that have no windows or are only outfitted with a tiny window that lets a minimal amount of light in.

Obviously, this is a big and expensive job, which sometimes may not even be possible. Speak with an experienced contractor to see what your options are and what type of cost you would incur. Just keep in mind that you could end up saving a bit of money that would otherwise have been spent in electricity needed to power up more artificial lights.

Don’t Block the Windows

From the inside, make sure you don’t have any furniture pieces or large bookshelves blocking the window space. This will do little except limit the amount of light that’s trying to come into your home. The same goes for the outside: any trees or bushes that have become unruly should be trimmed so that the foliage doesn’t block any natural light.

If possible, consider moving any bushes further from the windows. If you are planning on planting new greenery, be mindful of where you’re placing them relative to the windows and the direction of the light coming in.

Give Your Windows a Good Cleaning

This might seems like a no-brainer, but it’s still worth mentioning. If your windows are filthy, they’re not letting in as much light as they should. The dirtier your windows are, the less natural light is coming in. If that’s the case in your home, it’s time to take a power washer to your windows and give them a good polish afterwards to maximize the amount of sunlight that comes in through these openings.

The Bottom Line

Dark spaces are not very inviting or comfortable, and they can make a space seem smaller and tighter than it truly is. Luckily, there are plenty of hacks you can take advantage of to brighten up your space and make it seem lighter, larger, and a pleasure to hang out in.