Planning a Home Office? Check Out These Budget-Friendly Tips

Working from home has its perks. There’s the money saved from skipping the commute, and just think about all of that time you get back by avoiding crowded freeways or public transit during rush hour. As far as workplace attire goes, few employees would trade “work-from-home casual” for dress slacks.

But while working from home affords some new freedoms, it also creates new challenges. One of your biggest tasks is to create a productive, ergonomically correct workplace in your home without breaking the bank. If this sounds familiar, you’re probably asking yourself, “How can I set up a home office on a budget?”

Whether you’ve always worked from home as a freelancer or started during the pandemic, these expert tips will help you get started as you design your home office on a budget:

From finding the right location to choosing the ideal furniture, these tips will help you create your home office on a budget.

Strive for an ergonomically correct home office

Being home all day creates an unexpected obstacle: pain. Many workers find that transitioning from a well-equipped office to a makeshift setup at home leads to discomfort. That’s because many of them go from having a spacious desk, comfortable chair, and monitor and keyboard in their office building to working from a laptop in their living room.

If you suffer from neck pain or eye strain when working from home, you may be feeling the effects of poor ergonomics. Ergonomics, commonly known as the science of work, aims to optimize productivity and health in a workspace.

As a physical therapist with more than 25 years of experience, Karen Loesing, owner of The Ergonomic Expert, knows this issue all too well. Loesing’s company performs ergonomic assessments for businesses and home offices. Over the years, she has seen countless clients suffering from neck, back or other health issues due to poorly designed workspaces. But it doesn’t have to be that way, Loesing says.

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“Having an ergonomically correct workstation enhances productivity and generally overall happiness at work.”

– Karen Loesing, owner of The Ergonomic Expert

There are relatively easy ways to transform an ergonomic nightmare into a well-functioning home office on a budget—even if you’re stationed at the kitchen table, she says. And the investment is worth it.

“Having an ergonomically correct workstation enhances productivity and generally overall happiness at work,” Loesing says. “For those who are able to designate a certain space in their home where they can work without distractions—maybe even a window with a view and the flexibility to work at your own pace—it has been proven this makes for a happier employee.”

Who doesn’t want to boost their health, productivity and happiness in one fell swoop?

Find the optimal location for your at-home workspace

When setting up a home office for remote work, location should be your first decision, says design consultant Linda Varone, author of “The Smarter Home Office.” Depending on your living situation, there may be an obvious answer, such as that spare room you’ve always thought could become an office space.

If you don’t have a dedicated office, don’t despair. While you design your home office on a budget, think creatively about where it can be.

Varone once visited a client’s home to help reconfigure her workspace. The client was running a business from a table in the hallway. “At the end of each workday, she had to pack everything up and store it in the closet in the guest room,” Varone says.

But as Varone learned, guests only stayed over two weeks a year, leaving the room empty the rest of the time. It hadn’t occurred to the business owner, but turning the guest room into a home office for most of the year was the perfect solution.

If you’re setting up a home office for remote work, picking the optimal location for your workspace should be your first step.

“There are some simple, simple ways that people can rethink their home office without a big investment and make that space really work for them,” Varone says.

In addition to using a guest room, a dining or living room can also function as a home office on a budget.

Establish the ideal setup for your workstation

Once you’ve decided on the room, determine the location for your workstation, Varone says. As you plan your home office, consider placing your desk or table near a window, allowing for natural light and an occasional glimpse of nature. Don’t face directly outside; instead, aim for a line of sight that’s perpendicular to the window, Varone says. That’s because, even on an overcast day, you’d be looking into too much bright light if you’re facing the window.

“What’s happening is your eyes are adjusting back and forth between the bright sunlight that you’re facing and the darker light of your computer screen,” Varone says. “And that ends up being really fatiguing for the eye.”

If you live with others, the biggest challenge will be privacy. Try to clearly define the boundaries of your “office” if you can, such as with an area rug, she says. Then ask your roommates or family members not to enter your space while you’re working, apart from an emergency.

When you're planning a home office, try to clearly define the boundaries of your workspace if you live with others.

If you use a multipurpose space, be sure to tidy everything up at the end of the day, Varone says. Taking the 10 minutes or so to clean up your “office” will reduce clutter. Ultimately, a clutter-free space can reduce your stress and boost your productivity.

“That also has a benefit of becoming a little ritual and helping you say, ‘All right, my workday is over,’” Varone says. “‘Now I can focus on my personal life.’”

Choose your furniture wisely

Now that you’ve found the perfect location for your home office on a budget, focus on finding the perfect work surface. Maybe it’s a traditional desk. Or it could be your dining room table or kitchen counter.

If you do need to buy a desk or chair, don’t feel like you need to spend a fortune. Try looking for a used office furniture store or liquidator in your area, Varone recommends. You could even try searching online marketplaces for a gently used model.

When planning a home office and considering your work surface, what matters most is the height.

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The average desk is 29 inches high, Loesing says. This will likely accommodate someone who’s 5’8”, she acknowledges, but for everyone else? It will take some adjusting to make it fit for them.

That’s where your chair comes in. Most people don’t need a high-end office swivel chair to work comfortably. As long as you can adjust the height of your chair to fit you and your desk, you’ll have a comfortable setup.

It’s important to adjust the height of your chair to achieve a neutral position, Loesing says. If you don’t have the instructions from the manufacturer on how to adjust your model, try searching for videos online, she adds.

One more chair takeaway from Loesing?

“If you can’t spend a dime, at least get as comfortable as you can where you’re sitting, and sit all the way back in your chair,” Loesing says. “When you don’t sit so your back is against the backrest, you’re using your back muscles all day long instead of them being at rest.”

When you design your home office on a budget, make sure your chair and work surface allow you to get into a comfortable sitting position.

Adjust your furniture and equipment

As you continue planning a home office, you’ll likely find that your computer is your most important piece of equipment. But it can also lead to neck strain. Whether it’s a laptop or an external monitor, Loesing says screen placement is key. In fact, she says it’s the single most important feature to address—as well as the most commonly disregarded one.

While you plan your home office, Loesing recommends keeping the following ergonomic guidelines in mind to help avoid neck strain:

  • Align your monitor so your eyes are level with the screen. (That’s typically about 4” from the top of the monitor.)
  • Place your feet flat on the floor and your knees at about a 90-degree angle with the ground.
  • Place your arms at about a 90-degree angle from the writing surface so your shoulders are relaxed.

If you only have a laptop, and no monitor, you still have options for raising your screen to eye-level. “There are budget-friendly laptop risers on the market,” Loesing says. “If you don’t want to spend any money, you can place books or reams of paper to bring the screen up to eye level.”

When setting up a home office for remote work and thinking about your arm placement, note that Varone is a strong advocate for an external keyboard. If you’re working at a desk that has a keyboard tray built into it, that’s a great way to keep your arms at about a 90-degree angle, she says. If you don’t have a built-in tray, she says you can improvise by placing your keyboard on an inexpensive laptop table situated directly under your desk.

While the exact adjustments will vary depending on your equipment, height and budget, the focus is on acquiring a neutral position or a position where there’s no strain on anything, Loesing says.

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“With the addition of standing desks, which encourage movement, employees often find they have significantly more energy at the end of the day.”

– Karen Loesing, owner of The Ergonomic Expert

Stand if it suits you

If you’re intrigued by the idea of a standing desk, you’re not alone. Standing desk sales have soared over the last decade, buoyed by reports of the dangers of too much sitting.

“Static postures (e.g., sitting all day in front of a computer) present more fatigue than dynamic working,” Loesing says. “With the addition of standing desks, which encourage movement, employees often find they have significantly more energy at the end of the day.”

You don’t have to buy an official standing desk to reap the benefits when planning a home office. “The least expensive way would be to take a laptop and place it up high on a built-in high counter using a compact wireless keyboard and mouse,” Loesing says.

Even if you don’t have a standing desk—makeshift or otherwise—you can still incorporate movement and circulation into your workday. Set a timer to remind you to stand up and stretch every 20 minutes, Loesing suggests.

For an even better boost, combine this with a popular guideline known as the 20-20-20 rule. Every 20 minutes, give your eyes a break by looking out a window at something at least 20 feet away, and do so for at least 20 seconds.

Don’t forget the ambience and accessories

Your desk, chair and computer are the major players when you’re setting up a home office for remote work. But there are a few additional items to consider, like lighting, plants and sound.

Setting up a home office for remote work should include some thinking around ambiance, like lighting, plants and sound.

Your overhead light fixture likely isn’t enough, as it will create shadows and can be too weak by the time it reaches your workspace, Varone says. She recommends investing in a table lamp that creates a wider spread of light in your area. Pick one with a translucent shade that will softly diffuse the light and make it easier on your eyes.

As you’re planning your home office, Varone also recommends incorporating a potted plant or flower into your workspace. Not only can it help purify the air and boost your mood, a natural element can contribute to a restful atmosphere.

Working from home means working with home noises—especially if you’re in an environment with roommates, a partner or little ones. To keep the noise down, consider noise-canceling headphones for a quieter workspace and clearer meetings. Other budget-friendly options? Try placing a towel under the door to block out noise from other rooms, Loesing says. Consider curtains instead of blinds, since they’re better at blocking out sound. Even pillows or large cushions can help reduce noise, she adds.

After you’ve taken care of the essentials and if you have the space and money, think about adding a reading chair to your home office. You can use this as a space to review documents or do some deep thinking, Varone says. It can be a welcome respite from your desk while keeping you in the office area, she adds.

When planning a home office, think about adding a reading chair to your space.

One last tip? Add a personal touch, whether it’s a framed family photo or a souvenir from your travels. It’s your home office, after all. Let your personality shine.

Set up a home office for remote work that allows you to thrive

Now that you know how to create a home office on a budget, you’re ready to make a space that works well for you. Whether you’re an experienced remote worker or a newbie, you can apply these expert tips to set up an office that’s functional and keeps you motivated day in and day out.

Ready to break in your new home office? Keep that motivation going by learning how to increase your earning potential this year.

The post Planning a Home Office? Check Out These Budget-Friendly Tips appeared first on Discover Bank – Banking Topics Blog.

Source: discover.com

Is Your Mortgage Forbearance Ending Soon? What To Do Next

mortgage forbearanceSEAN GLADWELL / Getty Images

Millions of Americans struggling to make their monthly mortgage payments because of COVID-19 have received relief through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act.

But mortgage forbearance is only temporary, and set to expire soon, leaving many homeowners who are still struggling perplexed on what to do next.

Enacted in March, the CARES Act initially granted a 180-day forbearance, or pause in payments, to homeowners with mortgages backed by the federal government or a government-sponsored enterprise such as Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac. Furthermore, some private lenders also granted mortgage forbearance of 90 days or more to financially distressed homeowners.

According to the Mortgage Bankers Association, 8.39% of loans were in forbearance as of June 28, representing an estimated 4.2 million homeowners nationwide.

So what are affected homeowners to do when the forbearance goes away? You have options, so it’s well worth contacting your lender to explore what’s best for you.

“If you know you’re going to be unable to meet the terms of your forbearance agreement at its maturity, you should call your loan servicer immediately and see what options they may be able to offer to you,” says Abel Carrasco, mortgage loan originator at Motto Mortgage Advisors in St. Petersburg, FL.

Exactly what’s available depends on the fine print in the terms of your mortgage forbearance agreement. Here’s an overview of some possible avenues to explore if you still can’t pay your mortgage after the forbearance period ends.

Extend your mortgage forbearance

One simple option is to contact your lender to request an extension.

Homeowners granted forbearance under the CARES Act can request a 180-day extension, giving them a total of 360 days of forbearance, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

The key is to contact your lender well before your forbearance expires. If you let it expire without an extension, your lender could impose penalties.

“If you just stop making regular, scheduled payments, you could have a late mortgage payment on your credit,” warns Carrasco. “That could severely impact refinancing or purchasing another property in the immediate future and potentially subject you to foreclosure.”

Keep in mind, though, a forbearance simply delays payments, meaning they’ll still need to be made in the future. It doesn’t mean payments are forgiven.

Refinance to lower your mortgage payment

Mortgage interest rates are at all-time lows, hovering around 3%. So if you can swing it, this may be a great time to refinance your home, says Tendayi Kapfidze, chief economist at LendingTree.

Refinancing could come with some hefty fees, however, ranging from 2% to 6% of your loan amount. But it could be worth it.

A lower interest rate will likely lower your monthly payment and save you thousands over the life of your mortgage. Dropping your interest rate from 4.125% to 3% could save more than $40,000 over 30 years, for example, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

“Lenders have tightened standards, though, so you will need to show that you are a good candidate for refinancing,” Kapfidze says. You’ll need a good credit score of 620 or higher.

As long as you’ve kept up your end of the forbearance terms, having a mortgage forbearance shouldn’t affect your credit score, or your ability to refinance or qualify for another mortgage.

Ask for a loan modification

Many lenders are offering an assortment of programs to help homeowners under hardship because of the pandemic, says Christopher Sailus, vice president and mortgage product manager at WaFd Bank.

“Lenders quickly recognized the severity of the economic situation due to the pandemic, and put programs into place to defer payments or help reduce them,” he says.

A loan modification is one such option. This enables homeowners at risk of default to change the terms of their original mortgage—such as payment amount, interest rate, or length of the loan—to reduce monthly payments and clear up any delinquencies.

Loan modifications may affect your credit score, but not as much as a foreclosure. Some lenders charge fees for loan modifications, but others, like WaFd, provide them at no cost.

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Watch: 5 Things to Know About Selling a Home Amid the Pandemic

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Put your home on the market

It may seem like a strange time to sell your home, with COVID-19 cases growing, unemployment rising, and the economy on shaky ground. But, it’s actually a great time to sell a house.

Pending home sales jumped 44.3% in May, according to the National Association of Realtors®’ Pending Home Sales Index, the largest month-over-month growth since the index began in 2001.

Home inventory remains low, and buyer demand is up with many hoping to jump on the low interest rates. Prices are up, too. The national median home price increased 7.7% in the first quarter of 2020, to $274,600, according to NAR.

So if you can no longer afford your home and have plenty of equity built up, listing your home may be a smart move. (Home equity is the market value of your home minus how much you still owe on your mortgage.)

Consider foreclosure as a last resort

Foreclosure may be the only option for many homeowners, especially if you fall too behind on your mortgage payments and can’t afford to sell or refinance. In May, more than 7% of mortgages were delinquent, a 20% increase from April, according to mortgage data and analytics firm Black Knight.

“When to begin a foreclosure process will vary from lender to lender and client to client,” Sailus says. “Current and future state and federal legislation, statutes, or regulations will impact the process, as will the individual homeowner’s situation and their ability to repay.”

Foreclosures won’t begin until after a forbearance period ends, he adds.

The CARES Act prohibited lenders from foreclosing on mortgages backed by the government or government-sponsored enterprise until at least Aug. 31. Several states, including California and Connecticut, also issued temporary foreclosure moratoriums and stays.

Once these grace periods (and forbearance timelines) end, and homeowners miss payments, they could face foreclosure, Carrasco says. When a loan is flagged as being in foreclosure, the balance is due and legal fees accumulate, requiring homeowners to pay off the loan (usually by selling) and vacating the property.

“Absent participation in an agreed-upon forbearance, deferment, repayment plan, or loan modification, loan servicers historically may begin the foreclosure process after as few as three months of missed mortgage payments,” he explains. “This is unfortunately often the point of no return.”

The post Is Your Mortgage Forbearance Ending Soon? What To Do Next appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights | realtor.com®.

Source: realtor.com