How to host a backyard movie night

You don’t need to visit a movie theater to enjoy a movie theater experience. These days, with the availability of affordable and portable video equipment, you can host your own backyard movie nights, sports game viewings or video game parties without breaking the bank. If you’re concerned about the coronavirus, having a get-together like this in your backyard can be a great way to invite friends over for some socially distanced fun. Here’s what you need to share big-screen outdoor entertainment on a budget with your family and friends.


The central component of any backyard theater is, of course, the projector. Electronics stores and online retailers offer a plethora of options, with suitable entry-level products, such as this GooDee Movie Projector, coming in at around $200. Consider the following features when shopping for models:

  • Image brightness: how bright of an image the device can project, measured in lumens. A higher brightness can be seen in lighter surroundings, although all projectors require a fairly dark setting in which to work. A minimum of 2,000 lumens is recommended.
  • Display resolution: how much detail the device can project. While 4K resolution may be a popular choice for TVs these days, 1080P (1920 x 1080) should be sufficient for a projector you’ll occasionally use.
  • Maximum size and throw distance: how big of an image the projector can project and what distances from the screen it can operate at. Use calculators like this one to find out how to match screen size with projector distance (or vice versa) for a given projector model so you don’t end up with a mismatched setup.
  • Built-in speakers: whether or not the projector has built-in speakers. If it doesn’t, you’ll need to supply and connect your own speakers, though you’ll likely get better sound quality by doing so.
  • Connectivity: how the projector receives audio/video content. HDMI is the most popular standard, and most modern entertainment devices can output to HDMI directly or with the use of an adaptor. Make sure all the planned devices in your setup have compatible connectivity before you make any purchases.
  • Keystone and lens shift: the ability to correct image distortion caused by the angle and position of the projector and screen. A model with physical/optical controls rather than electronic correction is ideal.


Once you have your projector, you’ll need something to project the image against. This can be an outside wall of your home, a bedsheet or a white blackout cloth suspended from a line or between poles, a homemade screen or a store-bought screen. Regardless of which route you go, your projection surface should be as flat, solid bright white and stationary as possible to produce the best image. Freestanding outdoor projection screens, such as the 144-inch Camp Chef Entertainment Gear screen, can be had for under $250. Screens without stands (such as for hanging or mounting) or those in smaller sizes cost less. If purchasing a screen, you’ll likely want one that matches the aspect ratio (shape) of your projector’s resolution, such as the popular 16:9 wide screen format rather than the older 4:3 ratio. Some screens allow the image to be projected from the rear of the screen rather than the front, which may be better for keeping your projector and its beam out of the way of your audience.

Video source

A projector is no good without something to supply video content to it. These days, just about any entertainment device that has a screen or connects to one can also be connected to a projector, although some may require add-ons, such as HDMI adaptors, to do so. Here are some popular video source devices that can work well with an outdoor setup:

  • Blu-ray or DVD players
  • Laptops
  • Smartphones or tablets
  • Digital media players (e.g. Google Chromecast, Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, Roku, etc.)
  • Video game consoles


If your projector doesn’t have built-in speakers, or if you want better and louder sound, you’ll need to provide and connect your own speaker or speakers. This can be the trickiest part of your setup as you’ll often need to find a way to send a separate audio signal from your video source to your speakers. The simplest solution can be to plug a Bluetooth transmitter into your video source (if supported) so that you can broadcast your sound wirelessly to a suitably powerful Bluetooth speaker. Transmitters, such as the TaoTronics Bluetooth 4.1 Transmitter, cost about $30, and a quality Bluetooth speaker, such as the JBL Charge 4, costs about $130.

Other supplies

Here are some other items you may need or want to complete your backyard theater setup

  • Extension cords and power strips
  • Media cables (e.g. HDMI)
  • Video content (e.g. Blu-ray discs, DVDs, digital rentals or digital files)
  • Food and beverages (don’t forget the popcorn!)
  • Seating (e.g. patio or camp chairs and blankets)


Once you have all the necessary components, follow these additional tips to make the most out of your big backyard theater night:

  • Test your setup beforehand at your intended viewing hour to ensure that everything works as expected.
  • Check the forecast for weather that might spoil your event, and turn off any automatic sprinklers that could interrupt the show.
  • Be a good neighbor by informing adjacent residents that you’ll be projecting images and sound in your backyard – or invite them over to attend.
  • If the coronavirus is a concern, you may wish to ensure your guests are seated at least six feet apart and/or wear face masks.
  • Review local regulations, and don’t charge admission without the video copyright holder’s permission.
  • If your screen is visible from neighboring properties, stick to PG-rated content.
  • Cover cords and cables or keep them out of the way to avoid tripping hazards.
  • Keep hazards such as food, kids and pets away from sensitive electronics to prevent damage.
  • Consider using rope lights, solar pathway lights, TIKI torches or glow sticks for safety lighting.
  • Refer to your projector’s instruction manual for specifics on outdoor use.

Say goodbye to movie tickets and overpriced concessions, because with this equipment and know-how, you’ll be enjoying and sharing the magic of the big screen in the comfort of your own backyard.

Tips for Outfitting a Home Gym

Outfitting a home gym can be a worthwhile and affordable investment for those looking to stay fit in the comfort of their own homes. As many people have learned during the restrictions due to COVID-19, the ability to get a quality workout without leaving home can be invaluable. Whether you’re looking to pump some iron for strength training or break a sweat with a cardio workout, this list of essential equipment will help you outfit your home gym with everything you need to achieve your fitness goals.

Continue reading Tips for Outfitting a Home Gym

Your Spring Cleaning Checklist

Spring is the season of starting fresh. As you stow away your winter apparel and open windows for a dose of fresh air and birdsong, use this handy spring cleaning checklist to get your entire home feeling new and refreshed this spring.

The coronavirus situation has reminded us that “clean enough” isn’t always clean enough. To thoroughly clean and disinfect your household, consider adding the steps in this detailed guide from the CDC to your cleaning routines.

All Rooms

  • Dust rooms thoroughly
  • Wipe walls and ceilings
  • Deep clean floors
  • Vacuum and clean rugs
  • Wipe and polish wood furniture
  • Clean and dust upholstered furniture
  • Wash window treatments
  • Wash windows and windowsills, vacuum tracks



  • Wash shower curtain and rugs
  • Replace shower curtain liner
  • Toss old or expired toiletries and medicine
  • Clean toilet inside and out
  • Snake shower drain
  • Clean shower and tub
  • Clean showerhead
  • Clean sink and countertop
  • Clean mirror and sink fixtures


Outdoor Maintenance

Congratulations! With this list complete, you can kick up your feet and enjoy a fresh, clean home for spring.

Mortgage Rates Remain at Historic Lows

The latest report from Freddie Mac shows that the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage averaged 3.61% last week, slightly down from the week before (3.66%), and nearly 20 points lower than a year ago (3.80%).

This is great news for homebuyers who are dealing with rising prices due to a low inventory of homes for sale in many areas of the country. Freddie Mac expressed their optimism for the rates to remain low throughout the spring in a recent blog post:

“We expect mortgage interest rates to stay well under 4% as we head into the heart of the spring homebuying season. We’re predicting it to be the best one in 10 years, which should provide even greater opportunities for first-time homebuyers.”

Below is a chart of the weekly average rates in 2016, according to Freddie Mac.

Mortgage Rates Remain at Historic Lows | Simplifying The Market

Rates have again fallen to historic lows yet many experts still expect them to increase in 2016. One thing we know for sure is that, according to Freddie Mac, current rates are the best they have been since last April.

Sean Becketti, Chief Economist for Freddie Mac recently explained:

“Since the start of February, mortgage rates have varied within a narrow range providing an extended period for house hunters to take advantage of historically low rates.”

Bottom Line

If you are thinking of buying your first home or moving up to your ultimate dream home, now is a great time to get a sensational rate on your mortgage.

Financing Rental or Multi-Unit Properties

Do you want to have rental income? Do you see the benefit of collecting rental income or owning investment properties. Financing is a bit stringent for straight-up investment properties, but if you plan to live in the property there are some great options available to you!

Single Family Home with Accessory Apartment

This type of property can be financed the same as a Single Family Home with programs such as VHFA or Conventional Financing.  No additional bump in interest rate or in closing costs!  Typically you must live in the house in order to be able to rent out the additional unit as zoning laws can be quite strict.  At our house in Essex Junction, our rental income covers half of our mortgage payment!  What a great way to free up additional money in our budget for investing and saving while having almost the same about of privacy as a single family home.

Owner Occupied Multi Family

Two Unit Purchase with VHFA: If you are a 1st time home buyer (have not had an ownership interest in a property) in the following counties: Addison, Bennington, Chittenden, Grand Isle or Windsor (this requirement is waived in the rest of the state), you may qualify for 5% down payment on an owner occupied 2 unit home.  This program allows for reduced monthly private mortgage insurance and slightly reduced closing costs.   There are income limits on this program. Contact us today and we can confirm your eligibility.

2-4 Unit Purchase with FHA:  Looking to purchase a multi-unit to live in that is 2-4 units or don’t qualify for VHFA? FHA could be a good option for you.  FHA allows purchases of 2-4 unit properties with as little as 3.5% down payment.  A great option to get into a multi-family home with little money out of pocket.  The downside of this program is that you pay an upfront fee as well as a monthly fee.  The monthly costs (including the MI) tend to be a bit higher, but if you are able to get into a multifamily, you’ll have rental income to help pay for the additional cost.

Non-Owner Occupied Multifamily

Traditional financing programs (allows financing of property with up to 4 residential units) require 25% down payment on a non-owner occupied multifamily investment.  You can finance multifamily homes with a conventional loan which grants you the benefit of a long term fixed rate, but there is limit to the number of properties you can have financed with conventional loans.

An experience realtor can help you search for the perfect property to meet your rental income goals!  We’d be happy to connect you to an experienced Realtor!

Tips to plan for homeownership.

Have you been thinking of purchasing a home?  Has the task seemed daunting, not attainable or too scary? We are always here to help you when you need it!

Here are a few tips to help you prepare for this big financial and life move.

1)  Plan ahead.

Meet with a Mortgage Professional to find out where you stand compared to current lending guidelines.  We will check your credit standing, assets and overall affordability.  Our no cost ‘Homeownership Strategy and Coaching Session’ can help you on the road to purchasing a home.  Mortgage lending guidelines don’t always make logical sense, so it is very important to make sure you are on the right track before you find your perfect home!  If you don’t currently meet the guidelines, your Mortgage Advisor can help you make a step by step plan to get where you want to go.  Next all you have to do is execute!

2)  Be realistic.

Sit down and look at your cash inflows and outflows on a monthly basis.  Determine a comfortable monthly mortgage payment including taxes, insurance and any PMI (private mortgage insurance) and then proceed from there to find out what that means in terms of a purchase price.  Our job as mortgage advisors is to set you up for success, but real success comes from knowing what will work for you!

3)  Determine your priorities.

Qualifying for a mortgage can be difficult.  We take a close look at your current financial scenario to see where you might be able to make some changes.  If your debt to income ratio is too high, we will take a look at your current monthly debts and advise you as to what needs to be paid down to make the numbers work.

  • Can you reduce credit card spending and pay down your cards?
  • Do you have a high car loan payment that can be restructured or reduced via trade? 
  • Is your bank account balance too low?  Are you not sure where your money has gone?  Print out your last month of bank statements and add up the totals in the following categories: Housing, Food at home, Food out at restaurant, Entertainment, Gifts, Savings/Investments, Clothing/Accessories, Other spending.  Look at the totals from the last month and ask yourself if your spending aligns with your goals.  If not, make a budget and stick to it.  A great tool for this is  This completely free tool helps you make goals and budgets and stick to them!

4)  Ask.

If you need help ask for it.  We all need help at one time or another and many people are happy to help you out!

We believe homeownership is valuable for our community and economy.  We are here to help you make your next move.

Does 100% financing still exist?

Yes, it does! You can still get 100% financing with two great mortgage programs!

VA Financing
VA financing allows veterans to purchase a home with no down payment-you must have a VA Certificate to qualify.

Rural Development – VHFA or RD
Rural Development also offers a 100% financing option. There are specific property types and location requirements, but overall it is a great way to help borrowers buy a home with little or no money out of pocket. Rural Development allows the seller help to pay the closing costs and has a more flexible credit requirement than traditional mortgage products.

Don’t let cash savings stand between you and purchasing a home. Contact us today instead of waiting years to save up for a down payment.  Remember, in that time, rates and home values will likely rise as today’s record affordability slips away.

We offer a free, no-pressure, one-on-one Homeownership Strategy Session to learn more about these programs and to find out what you can afford. We will help you to create a concrete plan to finance your dream home.

You will leave our appointment with a copy of your credit report, a copy of the Homeownership Strategy and Coaching Session Worksheet detailing where you stand and your next steps and/or with a pre-qualification letter.  If you are looking now, or just starting to plan, when it comes to purchasing a home we can help!

We look forward to finding you the best mortgage product to meet your needs.

How Much Can The Seller Contribute?

It used to be fairly safe to tell buyers that the maximum contribution that a seller could make toward the buyer’s closing costs was 3%. Unfortunately, this is no longer the case. Here’s where we currently stand:

  • FHA is 6% regardless of down payment.
  • Conventional is 3% if the down payment is less than 10%, 6% if the down payment is 10% or more but less than 25% and finally, 9% if the down payment is 25% or more
  • For jumbo loans, if the down payment is less than 20%, the maximum contribution is 3% and if the down payment is 20% or more, the max is 6%.
  • For VA loans, the seller can pay all non-recurring costs and up to 4% for anything else.
  • If you are purchasing investment property, the maximum amount that can be paid is simply 2%.

Many folks are not aware of the last bullet and, often, contracts are written up with excess contributions that need to be corrected prior to loan submission. Keep in mind that these contributions can only be for acceptable closing costs and pre-paid expenses. More on that later.

Financing Rental Properties

Are you thinking about becoming a landlord?   The number one question for prospective landlords is how to finance such a purchase. Typically, non-owner occupied one through four unit properties are considered ‘conventional’ loans by most Lenders, while five plus units are considered ‘commercial’.  Conventional one to four unit properties are often much easier to finance. However, due to the recent financial and credit ‘crunch’, one and two unit investment properties now require a minimum 20% down payment by most lenders.  Three- four unit properties typically require a 25% down payment. The Lender will determine the risk involved in acquiring rental property by looking at the buyer’s personal finances and the projected rental income.  However, if you don’t have landlord experience, many lenders will require you to qualify without using rental income. Finally, lenders will want to make sure that the borrower has sufficient reserves to handle contingencies, such as repairs, maintenance, and taxes and insurance.

Low Cash, High Expectations

If you are saving for a new home, you may feel that it will take you forever to come up with the cash necessary for the down payment and closing costs. Before you delay your purchase any longer, make sure you check into the latest low down and no down mortgage products. You may find that your dream is much closer to a reality than you imagined.

If you have acceptable credit and a steady job, you may not need a lot of cash to purchase a home. Some loan programs still allow you to put as little as 0 down if you are a veteran or are buying in an area designated as ‘rural’ by the USDA.  For example, in Vermont, the Vermont Housing Finance Agency (VHFA) still offers a 100% financing program when combined with Rural Development’s mortgage insurance.

If you are a veteran you can also obtain 100% financing through the VA’s loan program. If you don’t meet the above criteria you can purchase with as little as 3.5% down using Federal Housing Administration (FHA) financing and all of this money can even be a gift from family.

By doing a pre-purchase credit check you can verify if you qualify for any of these programs or if you need to work on resolving any credit problems before you begin your search for a home. Buyers who thought they were years away from the purchase of a home are often pleasantly surprised to find that they don’t have to wait to begin their search.