The Cities Where You’re Safest—and Where You Aren’t—From 2020’s Many Pitfalls

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In a year of incredible turmoil encompassing a deadly pandemic, a crippling recession, a fiery national reckoning over racial justice, and a bitter presidential election, it’s no wonder that people would want to retreat to their own safe havens to ride out the rest of 2020—and then some.

But what is “safe” at a time when going to the grocery store feels like taking a turn at Russian roulette, and people are at risk of being thrown out of their homes? It’s much more than violent crime statistics.

Well, when it comes to the main fear factors for 2020, Columbia, MD, about a half-hour west of Baltimore, is the safest city in America, according to a recent analysis from personal finance site WalletHub.

To come up with its ranking, WalletHub analyzed 182 cities across the country. (These included the nation’s 150 largest cities and at least two of each state’s most populated cities.) Each city was measured against 42 factors, including the number of positive COVID-19 cases over the past seven days, crime, natural disaster risk, unemployment, road quality, and financial security.

Columbia climbed to the top of the list thanks to its low crime and COVID-19 infection rates and high number of paramedics and other emergency workers. The city’s median home list price was $375,050 in October, according to the most recent realtor.com® data.

“Safety is more important than ever this year, to add peace of mind during a high-stress period. In a time when so much is out of our control, keeping our families and communities safe is something we can depend on and improve upon,” says Jill Gonzalez, a WalletHub analyst. “There are just even more things to consider now in terms of both personal and public safety measures.”

Three of the top five safest cities were in the chilly, more sparsely populated Northeast.

“The Northeast did well because it has a relatively strong, proactive approach to the pandemic, as well as more community safety initiatives like Neighborhood Watch groups in place,” says Gonzalez.

Some of these cities also boasted low unemployment and few assaults and a high number of insured residents per capita in case of an emergency.

Top 10 of the safest cities

  1. Columbia, MD
  2. South Burlington, VT
  3. Plano, TX
  4. Nashua, NH
  5. Lewiston, ME
  6. Burlington, VT
  7. Salem, OR
  8. Virginia Beach, VA
  9. Raleigh, NC
  10. Gilbert, AZ

On the other side of the equation were the most dangerous cities. Fort Lauderdale, FL, about 30 miles north of Miami, earned that unwanted title, according to the WalletHub report. The city tied with Pembroke Pines, FL, for residents having the least amount of emergency savings of all of the cities analyzed.

The median home list price in the city was $359,050 in October, according to realtor.com data.

“It has one of the highest number of positive COVID-19 test cases in the last week,” says Gonzalez. “Aside from the pandemic, it also ranked poorly for mass shootings and murder offenses.”

Top 10 of the least safe cities

  1. Fort Lauderdale, FL
  2. St. Louis, MO
  3. San Bernardino, CA
  4. Birmingham, AL
  5. Detroit, MI
  6. Jackson, MS
  7. Baton Rouge, LA
  8. Memphis, TN
  9. Oklahoma City, OK
  10. Chattanooga, TN

The post The Cities Where You’re Safest—and Where You Aren’t—From 2020’s Many Pitfalls appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights | realtor.com®.

Best Gift Ideas on Amazon During Cyber Monday 2020

The great deals keep coming on Amazon during Cyber Monday.

The great deals keep coming on Amazon during Cyber Monday. (Pixabay/)

Ever wonder how Cyber Monday got started? Turns out it dates back to 2005 when retail experts first noticed a spike in online purchases on the Monday following Thanksgiving. They attributed it to people returning to work and shopping online from there, where Internet connections were faster. One press release later and “Cyber Monday” was officially born.

We’ve scoured the Cyber Monday deals on Amazon and found five items that would make great gifts – all being offered at deep discounts on Nov. 30, 2020. Sales are subject to availability, so don’t wait until the last minute to click the “buy” button.

Here are five great Amazon Cyber Monday deals to get you in the holiday spirit.

Add voice control by combining this TV with an Alexa device.

Add voice control by combining this TV with an Alexa device. (Samsung/)

An 82-inch ultra-high-def TV? Forget about flying cars and shuttles to the moon – the future is here. It has an easy-to-use, on-screen universal guide to finding content and a “OneRemote” to control all compatible devices. It’s 62 percent off on Cyber Monday.

A rapid refresh rate is the key to a good gaming laptop.

A rapid refresh rate is the key to a good gaming laptop. (MSI/)

You don’t game unless you have the right equipment. This laptop has the latest generation processor, enhanced graphics, a thin-bezel display and – of course – a webcam so you can taunt your competition. It’s 21 percent off on Cyber Monday.

It takes the best of a smartphone's features and combines them with every camera function you can dream up.

It takes the best of a smartphone’s features and combines them with every camera function you can dream up. (Samsung/)

This phone looks as good as it performs. It’s 5G compatible, features an all-day battery and has a massive amount of storage (128 GB). Capture high-res images from 100 feet away thanks to a 30x zoom. And it’s 25 percent off on Cyber Monday.

It has 20-plus pockets and three spacious compartments that can hold up to an 18.4-inch laptop.

It has 20-plus pockets and three spacious compartments that can hold up to an 18.4-inch laptop. (YOREPEK/)

Backpacks have come a long way – today’s best models feature USB charging ports, headphone jacks and room for the largest laptops. This XL backpack is also water-resistant, tear-resistant and built for adventures indoors and outdoors. It’s 49 percent off on Cyber Monday.

If those handheld Bluetooth speakers don't measure up to your party needs, you're in luck.

If those handheld Bluetooth speakers don’t measure up to your party needs, you’re in luck. (JBL/)

This speaker from JBL does much more than play music from your connected devices. Plug in a microphone or guitar and start your own concert. The speaker comes with a panel lighting effect to pump up the volume. It’s 30 percent off on Cyber Monday.

Nearly Half of Americans Are Considering a Move During the Pandemic, but Why?

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With the coronavirus pandemic likely to stretch into next year, many people are spending more time than ever before in their homes—but some are ready to find a new place altogether. Cue the U-Haul trucks.

Nearly half of Americans, 46%, are considering moving within the next year, according to a recent LendingTree survey. The online financial services marketplace based the report on a survey of more than 2,000 participants in September. But certain groups of people are much more likely to consider relocating than others—and they have some pretty compelling reasons for doing so.

“A lot of the reasons people are thinking about moving are related to the pandemic and the recession,” says LendingTree Chief Economist Tendayi Kapfidze. “A lot of people are concerned about their living expenses. We have a lot of people who are behind on their rent and behind on their mortgage.

“A lot of people are looking for ways to reduce their housing payments, which for a lot of people is their largest expense,” says Kapfidze. “They’re thinking of moving somewhere where it costs less to live.”

Many of those hoping for a change of scenery want to move to cut costs. That was the top reason for about 44% of survey respondents. Other reasons included needing more space, 27%; wanting a home with different features, 27%; wanting to live in a different part of town, 12%; and renters who weren’t fans of their landlords, 11%.

Those looking for new homes are overwhelmingly looking for amenities and features they might not have prioritized before the emergence of COVID-19. They’re seeking out bigger yards, larger kitchens, and a dedicated office space to work remotely or where the kids can do their online schooling.

“People are working from home more, so you need different things to be comfortable,” says Kapfidze. “Perhaps you need extra space, perhaps you need a separate room dedicated for working. People are valuing some outside space a lot more than they used to because you’re stuck at home.”

Who’s the most likely to want to move?

Remote workers were much more likely to contemplate picking up and leaving than those who need to report to their jobs in person. That’s because it’s a lot easier for these lucky folks to move just about anywhere with a good internet connection. Heck, why not go to a beach in Bali or a house by the lake?

Almost two-thirds of those able to work from home, about 64%, were thinking of moving compared with nearly a third, 31%, of commuters.

“If you’re now working remotely, you may not need to be in an expensive city, or maybe you’re somewhere that’s really far away from your family,” says Kapfidze. “[You] can move because there’s more flexibility with work arrangements.”

Meanwhile, renters were likelier to dream of moving than homeowners, at about 56% compared with 39% of homeowners. That’s probably because they’re a lot more mobile, as they’re only tied to a property for as long as their lease. Homeowners, meanwhile, have to get their abodes into tiptop shape to put them on the market and secure a buyer before they can pick up and go.

Of those considering a move, more than a quarter, 27%, don’t plan to go far. They would like to stay in the same area.

With the economy still struggling to rebound and millions out of work, many are hoping to save money by moving in with family and friends, 14%, or having those family and friends move in with them, 10%. This enables folks to cut down on rent, utilities, and other living expenses.

“There are still a lot of people who are out of work and receiving some sort of government support,” says Kapfidze. “If you’re sharing fixed living expenses with other people that [means] your proportion is smaller and that can save you some money.”

The post Nearly Half of Americans Are Considering a Move During the Pandemic, but Why? appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights | realtor.com®.

Best Gift Ideas on Amazon During Black Friday 2020

Who's ready to shop - a lot!

Who’s ready to shop – a lot! (Pixabay/)

We’ve scoured the Black Friday deals on Amazon and found 10 items that would make great gifts – all being offered at deep discounts on Nov. 27, 2020. Sales are subject to availability, so don’t wait until the last minute to click the “buy” button.

Here are 10 great Amazon Black Friday deals to get you in the holiday spirit.

These high-performance wireless Bluetooth headphones come in nine colors.

These high-performance wireless Bluetooth headphones come in nine colors. (Beats/)

You’ve seen these Beats literally EVERYWHERE the past few years. They’re incredibly popular thanks to their Bluetooth capabilities, the 40 hours of battery life and compatibility with both Apple and Android devices. They’re 40 percent off on Black Friday.

Don't bring this high-powered set of binoculars to the game or opera - they're meant for astronomy fans.

Don’t bring this high-powered set of binoculars to the game or opera – they’re meant for astronomy fans. (Celestron/)

This set offers 25x magnification thanks to the 100mm objective lenses, Celestron’s largest aperture available in a binocular. Included with the binoculars are a tripod adapter for hands-free use. They’re durable and water-resistant thanks to an armored body and secure gripping surface. And they’re 45 percent off on Black Friday.

This three-piece set comes in 10 shades, colors and designs.

This three-piece set comes in 10 shades, colors and designs. (American Tourister/)

American Tourister designed this line of luggage to stand up to the harshest travel elements. They’re passenger-friendly thanks to the ultralight ABS/PC construction and equipped with push-button handles with comfortable grips. Spinner wheels can rotate 360 degrees so these bags are ready to roll. This set is 72 percent off on Black Friday.

This Seiko watch has the classic design and has manual and automatic winding capabilities.

This Seiko watch has the classic design and has manual and automatic winding capabilities. (Seiko/)

When you’re ready to put away the toy watches and latest gadgets and try a sophisticated timepiece, this Seiko option would be a good fit. It’s a perfect sports watch thanks to its 100-meter water resistance feature. It’s 30 percent off on Black Friday.

Give your smartphone a break and try this camera from Panasonic.

Give your smartphone a break and try this camera from Panasonic. (Panasonic/)

This point-and-shoot camera has 4K video capture, tilt correction, high-speed auto focusing and the ability to take a photo now but adjust the focus later. Let’s see your phone do that. It’s 43 percent off on Black Friday.

It's fully assembled and ready to roll right out of the box.

It’s fully assembled and ready to roll right out of the box. (LÆGENDARY/)

Remember when big 4×4 trucks were all the buzz? In the world of remote-control vehicles, they still are. The pistol-like controller has two speed modes – a smart feature for one of the fastest RC cars on the market. (Up to 30 mph!) It’s on sale for 51 percent off.

Enjoy 360-degree sound from top to bottom with omnidirectional stereo performance.

Enjoy 360-degree sound from top to bottom with omnidirectional stereo performance. (ABRAMTEK/)

If you haven’t tried out a Bluetooth speaker, you’re missing out. They provide the highest quality of sound anywhere – just connect to your smart device and get the party started. This model from ABRAMTEK operates on a rechargeable lithium ion battery that lasts more than four hours. It’s 50 percent off on Black Friday.

Extra supporting tubes in its constructions helps this chair support up to 350 pounds.

Extra supporting tubes in its constructions helps this chair support up to 350 pounds. (ALPHA CAMP/)

Not every holiday present needs to be a budget-busting electro-gadget. We appreciate the simple, whimsical nature of this collapsible chair. Use to the canopy to add 50-plus UPF sun protection. (Supplement that with sunscreen, of course!) This chair is 51 percent off on Black Friday.

This bike is smooth and quiet, so don't fret waking up family members on your early-morning rides.

This bike is smooth and quiet, so don’t fret waking up family members on your early-morning rides. (ATIVAFIT/)

This model has everything you need in an exercise bike, including an LCD screen to monitor progress, a comfortable seat, adjustable resistance, arm resistance bands, and transport wheels so you can roll it from room to room. It’s 42 percent off on Black Friday.

This 5.8 quarter air fryer is perfect for serving three to six people.

This 5.8 quarter air fryer is perfect for serving three to six people. (Bagotte/)

Attention: If you do not own an air fryer yet, do so now before you fall victim to pressure from family members who will badger you every holiday to get one. (“Oh, how do you make such-and-such without an air fryer?!?”) This model from Bagotte is big enough to hold an entire 6-pound chicken and comes with a non-stick basket and is dishwasher safe. It’s also discounted 46 percent on Black Friday.

These Are the Most Expensive ZIP Codes in America in 2020

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While most Americans are scrimping and saving as the economy continues shuddering, home buyers in some neighborhoods aren’t quite as concerned with saving money.

Home sale prices rose in more than three-quarters of the nation’s most expensive real estate markets this year as buyers bid up the sticker prices, according to a recent report from real estate data firm PropertyShark.

The pandemic likely helped to boost prices as more well-heeled buyers sought out larger homes on more land in scenic destinations where they could work remotely and have some elbow room for their families.

“Luxury buyers are more resilient to economic conditions like the ones we’re having now,” says Eliza Theiss, a senior writer at PropertyShark. “High-end professionals are still going to be able to buy.”

To come up with its list of the most expensive ZIP codes, PropertyShark analyzed sale prices of single- and two-family homes, co-ops, and condos from Jan. 1 through Oct. 15. Only ZIP codes with at least three home sales were included.

Silicon Valley’s Atherton, CA, retained its spot as the nation’s most expensive ZIP code for the fourth year in a row.  The median list price in the suburban town’s 94027 ZIP was a whopping $7,395,050 in October, according to realtor.com® data.

While still stunningly high, the median list price in the tech town is actually down 8.7% from a year ago, according to realtor.com. That’s likely because COVID-19 has allowed many white-collar and tech professionals to work from home, some for the first time. So many of these folks are telecommuting from more affordable or remote areas now that they can work from just about anywhere in the world with a good internet connection.

The vast majority of the most expensive ZIP codes were in California, which claimed 87 of the top 100 places. (Fifty of these were in the San Francisco Bay Area.) Prices in the Golden State have risen over the past year due to the severe lack of inventory and the exodus of workers out of the cities and into the suburbs and countryside. The devastating wildfires have also destroyed some of the state’s housing stock, leading to an increase in demand in areas that were spared the wrath of the disasters.

“California has a housing shortage, and it’s an attractive location,” says Theiss. She touted the strong economy in the state, which is also desirable for its natural beauty.

New York had the second most expensive real estate markets. Overall, only 11 states had ZIP codes that cracked the top 100.

Sagaponack, NY’s waterfront 11962, was the next most expensive ZIP code, with a median home list price of $6,245,050. The Long Island beach town is located in the Hamptons, a popular summer and weekend getaway for New York City’s A-listers and millionaires.

Rounding out the top 10 were Santa Monica, CA‘s 90402; Beverly Hills, CA‘s 90210; Ross, CA‘s 94957; Portola Valley, CA‘s 94028; Los Altos, CA‘s 94022; Bridgehampton, NY‘s 11932; Palo Alto, CA‘s 94301; and Medina, WA‘s 98039.

The post These Are the Most Expensive ZIP Codes in America in 2020 appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights | realtor.com®.

The Future of Kitchen Design Is Hands-Free and Smartphone-Activated

Douglas Gilman splurged on high-tech appliances for the kitchen in his recently renovated West Village apartment in New York City.

Dorothy Hong for The Wall Street Journal

Douglas Gilman put a new designer kitchen in his Manhattan apartment last year with entertaining in mind. He placed the sleek marble-accented Dada kitchen, from Italy’s Molteni&C, at the center of the airy 2,800-square-foot home that he created from combining two adjacent units in a former West Village printing house. He figured it would give him easier access to his guests.

But the arrival of Covid-19 restrictions has meant much more cooking, and next to no entertaining, and it’s his high-tech German appliances that have come to the rescue, including an induction cooktop that can sense where he places a pan, and a speed oven that combines convection and microwave technology.

“My ovens are almost more advanced than my computer,” says the 39-year-old financial-services professional of his $30,000 set of appliances from Gaggenau, Miele, and the U.S. brand Sub-Zero.

Douglas Gilman chose a speed oven that combines convection and microwave technology.
Douglas Gilman chose a speed oven that combines convection and microwave technology.

Dorothy Hong for The Wall Street Journal

Eating may still be analog, but kitchens have taken up residence in the digital age, as designers and appliance makers increasingly rely on a host of technological innovations to update the traditional tasks of cooking, storing and cleaning up. Kitchen-appliance categories haven’t changed much since the 1970s, when microwave ovens began appearing on ordinary countertops. But cameras, sensors, artificial intelligence and newfangled materials are now turning those appliances into ultrasophisticated hardware, while smart functions and connectivity are recasting the Cloud as the latest kitchen accessory.

Buyers of Miele’s new G7000 series dishwashers never have to worry about running out of detergent. When the machine runs low, a sensor prompts their smartphones to reorder the brand’s trademark detergent disk from the company’s online shop.

Meanwhile, Bosch, Miele’s competitor in the luxury dishwasher market, has introduced Zeolite, an alkaline mineral compound, in its new dishwasher series. Among other tasks, the compound helps plastic items dry more efficiently.

Mr. Gilman’s West Village dining room, just off the kitchen, has a high-tech LED fixture from Austria’s Kaia Lighting.
Mr. Gilman’s West Village dining room, just off the kitchen, has a high-tech LED fixture from Austria’s Kaia Lighting.

Dorothy Hong for The Wall Street Journal

Elsewhere in the kitchen, cameras in refrigerators can be called up on smartphones, allowing you to look into your fridge from the grocery aisle to see what you need to buy. For European homeowners, Bosch’s new Cloud-accessing system has a fridge camera to suggest recipes based on what you already have on-hand.

As the pandemic draws new focus to the kitchen, with families forsaking frequent dinners out for daily home-cooked meals, players in the industry are noticing an uptake in sales—accompanied by a greater interest in high-tech options. Even induction stovetops, which can be a hard sell for gas-loving Americans, have seen demand rise by 35% in the U.S.

Appliance sales declined in the early months of the pandemic, but now “U.S. demand has really come back strong,” says Axel Kniehl, the executive director of sales and marketing for Miele. “Consumers can’t spend money on other things, so they have started renovating their kitchens.”

The Hecklers of Phoenix have a kitchen that features a sensor-equipped Miele coffee maker, lights controlled from a smartphone app and a Dekton composite countertop that resists heat, light and scratches. A nearby TV has the option of an app-created camouflage screen when not in use.
The Hecklers of Phoenix have a kitchen that features a sensor-equipped Miele coffee maker, lights controlled from a smartphone app and a Dekton composite countertop that resists heat, light and scratches. A nearby TV has the option of an app-created camouflage screen when not in use.

Steve Craft for The Wall Street Journal

Covid-19 is changing homeowners’ basic expectations for the kitchen, according to a new survey compiled by the National Kitchen and Bath Association. Companies are seeing soaring requests for items that help keep the cooking area more sanitized, such as touchless faucets and antimicrobial surfaces.

Kohler, the Wisconsin-based plumbing company that specializes in luxury finishes, says a majority of homeowners recently sampled are starting to regard the touchless faucets as must-haves. Kohler now combines voice automation with their touchless feature, allowing you to command your faucet to pour exact amounts of water. Homeowners can go so far as to customize voice orders by recipe. Daniel Markham, a Utah-based influencer who has Kohler faucets in his new home, shouts out “mac and cheese” for just the right amount of water for the recipe his family of five uses.

Benoît Favier, managing director of La Cornue, the French oven and stove maker based outside Paris known for its customizable luxury ranges, says he expects a 15% to 20% rise in sales in 2020. Mr. Favier says customers are increasingly interested in copper detailing, which is thought to have antimicrobial properties.

Earlier this year, at the height of the pandemic, La Cornue introduced the Château Suprême, an Art Deco-inspired upgrade on its traditional design. The unit allows homeowners to mix and match induction and gas burners with a teppanyaki plate and a walnut cutting board. Prices run as high as $165,000.

Thermador, the California-based luxury appliance brand, offers an extra-low simmering feature that, the company says, lets you melt chocolate on a paper plate. Thermador users can hook up all its appliances categories to the same app, which will alert you that the fridge door is open, let your preheat your oven, or adjust the temperature of your wine cabinet to accommodate an unusual varietal. On its high-tech to-do list: finding ways to digitalize its luxury gas stoves.

Designer-kitchen makers are also going high-tech. This year, Italy’s Boffi introduced its high-performance ceramic-like material, called MDI, which can be used for a range of kitchen surfaces, including countertops and filler space around appliances. Nonporous, as well as crack- and stain-resistant, it is much easier to clean, and therefore more hygienic. A high-tech alternative to other materials, such as stone and stainless steel, it has a grain-like finish that is soft to the touch.

The rise in outdoor cooking as safer for entertaining than closed spaces has companies investing in research into materials for planned outdoor-kitchen lines, say a handful of executives.

In a new smart home in Phoenix, Dean Heckler, a 47-year-old industrial designer, and his wife, Angela Heckler, a 35-year-old fundraising director and singer-songwriter, put their new high-tech kitchen, finished in early 2020, at the center of a long, glass-enclosed, open-plan living space.

The island—covered in Dekton, a high-tech mineral composite with a large quartz content—is outfitted with an induction stove that senses pan size and a downdraft vent system. All blend in so seamlessly that the unit looks like a dining table.

“You don’t notice the kitchen unless you’re using it,” says Cavin Costello, the couple’s architect. “But it still has all the firepower.”

The Hecklers spent about $125,000 on the kitchen, including nearly $4,000 on a built-in Miele coffee maker, with sensors that detect the height of the cup being filled. They planned their project with automation in mind, and everything from their irrigation system to their house locks and lights can be controlled by Apple HomeKit and Siri.

A high-tech standout: their Steinway piano, which can record Mrs. Heckler’s performances to an app, where her compositions can then be edited. It can also play on its own on command. “You can treat the piano like a HomePod,” says Mr. Heckler.

For a Wisconsin couple, who wanted the kitchen in their Maui vacation home to be modern but not complicated, an innovative element is used to accent traditional touches. The couple, working with Chicago designer Mick De Giulio, spent about $380,000 on the kitchen, which includes expensive wood detailing, mixing wenge and smoked-Eucalyptus veneers with solid Monkey Pod, a locally grown hardwood.

Mr. De Giulio designed the $12,000 LED light fixture to complement the various finishes. LED lighting was once too harsh, he says, but the latest generation “gives off a really nice light that is complementary to wood grains.”

The humble toaster got an upgrade last year from Revolution Cooking, a Massachusetts-based company whose touch-screen smart toaster uses a quick-heating alloy to flash-toast and evenly brown while holding in moisture.

Europeans in select markets can now buy a new countertop Bosch cooking appliance called the Cookit that uses sensors to perfect a range of cooking functions, from evenly reheating leftovers to searing a steak.

Miele has recently introduced a whole new kind of oven, called the Dialog Oven, which uses electromagnetic waves to cook closely placed foods with differing energy levels. The company likes to show off the technology by cooking a fish in a block of ice. The oven can cook a roast in an hour, while a nearby pan of vegetables stays al dente.

Up-to-date kitchen appliances are key in the latest home-sales market, says Michael Harper, an agent with Boston’s of MGS Group Real Estate. He says a suite of new Sub-Zero Wolf kitchen appliances is a star selling point for a single-family Back Bay townhouse that dates to the 1890s.

The four-bedroom, seven-bathroom home, which just underwent a gut renovation, has an asking price of $9.995 million. “Luxury buyers want what they want, and they want it now,” he says, of the turnkey kitchen, which has an island covered in Italian Paonazzo marble, with a honed finish meant to resist stains.

While the pandemic is boosting current sales, kitchen companies are looking to the future. Bosch is researching induction surfaces that may one day do away with stovetops entirely, letting you turn select surfaces into potential burners. Agrilution, a Miele subsidiary, is now marketing small vertical farm units, called Plantcubes, for growing herbs and greens.

Robotic devices already have a place in American kitchens thanks to iRobot, the Massachusetts company that introduced the robotic vacuum cleaner in 2002, and, a decade later, the robotic mop. (In Phoenix, the Hecklers, use the company’s latest vacuum model, the self-emptying Roomba s9 to help keep dog hair to a minimum.) Colin Angle, iRobot’s CEO, foresees kitchen robots will next be used to take care of other menial tasks, such as loading and unloading dishwashers.

Howie Choset, a professor of Robotics at Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Mellon University, has his doubts about humanoid robots as servants-of-the-future. But he does see a growing role for machine-learning technology to help out with cooking technique, citing a potential future smartphone app.

Prof. Choset, part of a team doing kitchen-related robotics research in conjunction with the Culinary Institute of America, believes the app may be only a year or two away.

He sees cooks perfecting their slicing, dicing, braising and basting, while the camera on their smartphone tracks their technique, and voice-equipped technology shouts out pointers—comparing their actions with those of an expert chef.

Back in his own kitchen, Prof. Choset says he is still working on the basics. “I just learned to cook oatmeal,” he says.

The post The Future of Kitchen Design Is Hands-Free and Smartphone-Activated appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights | realtor.com®.

Our Picks for Grill Baskets

Cook side items fast and with flavor by using a grilling basket.

Cook side items fast and with flavor by using a grilling basket. (Cuisinart/)

When it comes to barbecue, it’s all about the meat on the grill, right? Not always. Any good cookout isn’t really complete without some sumptuous side dishes feeling the heat next to the steak and potatoes. And because fishing charred onions or asparagus tips from underneath the grill plate is such a nuisance, the perfect companion to any gas or charcoal barbecue set up is the grill basket.

Cooking on open fire has been around since the dawn of time, but the gas barbecue, which was introduced in the late 1930s, has really changed the grilling game. It was then stepped up a notch when Fred Goodwin patented the first grill basket in 1956. His intention was to provide a tool that could hold loose foods while being roasted over the fire bed of barbecue stoves. And developing a mechanism that could be attached to a spit or skewer for rotation was just pure genius. Here are a few of our favorite grill baskets.

Made of durable, heavy-duty stainless steel, it’s also dishwasher-safe.

Made of durable, heavy-duty stainless steel, it’s also dishwasher-safe. (Grillaholics/)

This basket from Grillaholics has an open top for easy distribution of seasoning and spices. With a depth of 2.5 inches, the extra-large capacity container can be shaken, and the contents therein stirred effortlessly while on the grill surface. With an 11.5-inch opening at the top, and 8.5-inch cooking surface, it’ll hold more than enough mushrooms and onions bathed in olive oil. It has curved handles for easy transport from grill to table top, and its triple-reinforced corners means it’ll last a long time.

Fill this grill basket with the tiniest of morsels like smaller shrimp, scallops, or cubed meats.

Fill this grill basket with the tiniest of morsels like smaller shrimp, scallops, or cubed meats. (Cuisinart/)

Cuisinart comes to the dinner table with their 11 inch-by-11-inch grill wok. It is made of high-grade, non-stick material, which makes it easy to clean, especially after tough foods that leave grilling remnants. And because of its non-stick properties, you don’t have to worry about racking up the calories as it lessens the amount of oil applied to the basket contents. While grilling temperature should not exceed 400 degrees as it may result in the warping and/or peeling of the non-stick additive, it is the perfect tool for “low and slow” cooking to enhance flavor.

Keep delicate food in place and turn the basket easily with this creative tool.

Keep delicate food in place and turn the basket easily with this creative tool. (AIZOAM/)

While some grill baskets require you to reach into the grill area to do your basting, shaking, stirring, and turning, others allow you the ability to do the same at a fair distance. This grill basket from AIZOAM has lockable grates and a long handle so you can safely cook your food while keeping your hands away from the hot surface. The top opens up a full 180 degrees and has a handy locking mechanism that keeps foods in place while flipping over the fire. It has a large 12.6 by 8.6-inch grilling surface, is lightweight and portable.

Great for gas and charcoal barbecues, smokers, and even porcelain and infrared grills.

Great for gas and charcoal barbecues, smokers, and even porcelain and infrared grills. (WolfWise/)

The portable grill basket by WolfWise is also made of durable 430 stainless steel, but this one has a foldable and detachable handle, which means it’s perfect for storage underneath the ‘que and can fit nicely on the top rack of your dishwasher. As for the 6-inch wooden handle, it is adjustable, elongated, heat-resistant, and provides a safe and comfortable grilling and flipping experience. And as it is easy to pack in the back of the minivan, the kids will love it for s’mores on camping trips.

With a tightly woven construction, it can be detached to serve as two separate tools.

With a tightly woven construction, it can be detached to serve as two separate tools. (Outset/)

Not only is this grill basket versatile, it is safe. The non-stick surface is free of dangerous PFOA and PTFE chemicals that can leak into foods during the heating process. The unit consists of a deep basket and a shallower basket. When connected together with a simple-snap handle, it is a useful shaker basket over the grill. But they can also be used separately, for different cooking purposes and styles. And just in case the opportunity calls, it comes with two separate handles so you can cook with the two baskets simultaneously. The unique design promotes an infusion of smoky flavor into whatever you’re grilling. The sleek design also means it can be presented as a stand-alone serving bowl on the picnic table.

The Marvelous Middle: 10 Homes Priced at the U.S. Median Home Price of $350K

Median homes

realtor.com

According to the latest research from realtor.com®, the median list price in the U.S. currently sits at $350,000. But what does that round number really represent?

Well, it depends where you’re looking. But we’re happy to report that there are plenty of solid choices from across the country priced right at the median.

We scoured nationwide listings and found that a buyer can score a welcoming front porch, a fenced-in backyard, or even a claw-foot soaking bathtub—all features within reach of the $350,000 price point.

And while a buyer might want to make a few cosmetic changes or personalize these places a bit, these 10 homes are far from fixer-uppers. All are move-in ready.

The market for median-priced homes is overflowing with gobs of gorgeous residences any buyer would be happy to call home. Whatever style you prefer, our roundup of 10 homes priced at $350,000 offers a range of options.

Scroll on down, and see all the appeal of living life right in the median.

4680 Home Pl, Plano, TX

Quincy Place: On the outskirts of the Dallas–Fort Worth metroplex, this brick four-bedroom sits in the Quincy Place subdivision. Built in 1992, the home has an open floor plan, a downstairs master suite, an upstairs game room, and a pool. In an example of just how appealing the price point is, the home already has an offer after less than a week on the market.

Plano, TX
Plano, TX

realtor.com

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6 Higgins St, Scarborough, ME

Charming Cape: This three-bedroom Cape Cod was built in 1960. On a half-acre lot at the end of a dead-end street, the home has been lovingly maintained. It’s located just minutes from the Atlantic Ocean, and highlights include a fully fenced backyard, heated two-car garage, and hardwood floors.

Scarborough, ME
Scarborough, ME

realtor.com

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818 Plaza Dr, Evansville, IN

Evansville elegance: Built in 1941 and recently updated, this three-bedroom home features hardwood floors, professional landscaping, and a front observation room with bay windows. The basement is unfinished. There’s also a two-car garage and covered carport.

Evansville, IN
Evansville, IN

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121 Longhill Rd, Franklin, MA

Deck house: Perched on one of the city’s highest points, this three-bedroom home from 1981 could use new flooring to replace the blush-colored carpet. Out back, there’s a large deck with views of the Boston skyline. The home features wide expanses of glass, beamed ceilings, fireplaces, custom bookcases, and a retro vibe.

Franklin, MA
Franklin, MA

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4 Harmony Ln, Denville, NJ

Renovated ranch: This charming three-bedroom ranch sits in the Beacon Hill neighborhood just about 40 miles east of Manhattan. It features a fireplace, radiant floor heating, new sliding doors to the patio and backyard, and cathedral ceilings.

Denville, NJ
Denville, NJ

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213 N Farr Rd, Spokane Valley, WA

Remodeled Cape: Built in 1941, this Cape Cod–style home was recently remodeled. While maintaining its vintage charm, the four-bedroom home has a new kitchen, new bathrooms, and new furnace. There’s room to expand the living space in the home’s partly finished basement.

Spokane Valley, WA
Spokane Valley, WA

realtor.com

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218 Woolper Ave, Cincinnati, OH

Price: $350,000

Putting the ‘Oh’ in Ohio: This stately five-bedroom home from 1911 has been fully restored across its three levels. Beautiful tile work, new moldings, and a gorgeous soaking tub are just a few of the highlights. The lawn and front porch are the perfect spots to set up shop and enjoy your new neighbors.

Cincinnati, OH
Cincinnati, OH

realtor.com

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6400 Canning Pl, Wake Forest, NC

Price: $350,000

Former model: A former model home for the development, this three-bedroom brick beauty was built in 2002. It’s been recently updated with new carpet, new kitchen cabinets and countertops, as well as new infrastructure. Out back, you’ll find a fully fenced yard, storage shed, and irrigation system.

Wake Forest, NC
Wake Forest, NC

realtor.com

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484 West St, Wrentham, MA

Price: $350,000

Colonial cool: Although it looks like it belongs in a photo album of the 1700s, this charming residence was built in 2009. The three-story home has two bedrooms, and a third-story great room is currently being used as a third bedroom. Highlights include lovely hardwood floors and large windows to let in natural light. Outside, there’s a fenced yard for entertaining and fun.

Wrenthan, MA
Wrentham, MA

realtor.com

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23 North Rd, Brewster, NY

Price: $350,000

Brewster Heights: Built in 1958, this light-filled four-bedroom home offers 1,596 square feet of living space. Ideal for a small family, it also comes with a large unfinished basement. Highlights include an updated kitchen, hardwood floors, and a desirable location close to schools and shops.

Brewster, NY
Brewster, NY

realtor.com

The post The Marvelous Middle: 10 Homes Priced at the U.S. Median Home Price of $350K appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights | realtor.com®.

The Legally Murky Eviction of a North Carolina Single Mother—Despite the CDC’s Moratorium

Eviction notice illustration

MarketWatch/iStock

As the nation’s attention was focused on who would be the next president the day after the Nov. 3 election, Sierra Graves was busy grabbing as many of her and her three children’s belongings as she could. Just 10 minutes later, sheriff’s deputies knocked on her apartment door to evict her.

Graves, 31, rushed through her apartment in Rural Hall, N.C., gathering what her family would need for the next few days until they could find a more permanent location for their possessions. She grabbed the Chromebook her kids have been using to do virtual schoolwork since the coronavirus pandemic closed schools. She made sure to take the black work pants she would need to start her job waiting tables at the Crazy Crab seafood restaurant in nearby Winston-Salem.

But then one of the deputies said she’d need to take her family’s dog, too. That was a problem, because Graves wasn’t yet sure where they would be spending the night.

“I thought, ‘You’re kicking my dog out, too?’” Graves told MarketWatch. “It gets so cold at night, so all I could think about is, ‘Am I going to get charged now with animal cruelty because my dog is going to be outside somewhere?’”

Yet Graves and her three children shouldn’t have faced eviction in the first place.

Weeks earlier, Graves had sought to take advantage of the tenant protections offered by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s national eviction moratorium.

Her story is just one example of what tenant advocates say is happening across the country: evictions are proceeding, even though the CDC order was supposed to stop them. In the 26 cities tracked by the Eviction Lab, a project based out of Princeton University, over 100,000 evictions have occurred since the start of the pandemic. Thousands of these evictions took place after the CDC’s moratorium went into effect in early September.

The CDC’s moratorium lasts through the end of the year, but while it is nominally a national ban on evictions it doesn’t automatically protect all renters. To be protected under the CDC’s order, tenants must sign a declaration form under penalty of perjury and give it to their landlord. The form states, among other things, that the renter cannot afford to pay all of their rent because of the coronavirus pandemic and that they have sought rental assistance from government programs.

But when Graves tried to take her declaration form to her landlord’s office, an employee refused to take it. At that point, Graves started spreading the word to her neighbors to start mailing the forms instead.

“If we get them mailed, then they have no choice,” she thought.

(MarketWatch was unable to reach Graves’ landlord for comment.)

Enforcement of the national eviction order rests with local judges

The CDC’s order stipulates that landlords who violate the moratorium and proceed with eviction filings against tenants who have requested protection could face criminal charges and hefty fines — though the agency later backtracked somewhat, noting that landlords could challenge the truthfulness of tenants’ declarations in court.

When the CDC moratorium was first announced, legal experts expressed concerns that much of the moratorium’s effectiveness would rest on judges and law enforcement honoring it. That’s because the moratorium did not explicitly prohibit all eviction filings.

“There will be courts all across this country making this determination,” Ellen Davidson, a staff attorney at the Legal Aid Society in New York, told MarketWatch in September. “It’s a big country out there with lots of different courts at every level. It would not surprise me that some places in this country would not want to follow a federal rule.”

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, in a bid to strengthen enforcement of the CDC’s order, issued his own executive order in late October stating the moratorium applied to all state residents who qualified by providing their landlord with the declaration form. The order specified that landlords are required to notify courts if the tenant had provided them a declaration form.

Nevertheless, the worst-case scenario appears to be playing out across North Carolina, according to lawyers at Legal Aid of North Carolina.

In North Carolina, eviction cases are heard in small claims court and ruled on by politically-appointed magistrates. At least one lawyer with Legal Aid has reported that magistrates have disregarded the CDC’s moratorium and the governor’s order, said Isaac Sturgill, staff attorney and head of the housing practice group at Legal Aid of North Carolina.

In one case, Sturgill said a client told him that a magistrate said the eviction order “was not worth the paper that was printed on and that she couldn’t expect her to allow her to stay in her home if she wasn’t paying rent.”

(When asked for comment, a spokesman for the North Carolina Judicial Branch referred MarketWatch to the county clerk’s office. The county clerk’s office could only confirm that Graves’ landlord had filed for eviction.)

Sierra Graves’ struggles are similar to many people facing eviction

Sierra Graves
A car accident and the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic have made it a struggle for Sierra Graves, a North Carolina mother of three, to afford her rent. Despite trying to take advantage of the protections offered by the CDC’s eviction moratorium, her landlord evicted her family this month.

Courtesy of Sierra Graves

If you ask Graves, 2020 was supposed to be her year. Late last year, she managed to score a management position at a new fast-food restaurant that opened up close to where she lived. She loved her job — it gave her family financial stability, and even allowed her to buy a new car.

“It was like the peak of your life where you feel like everything was right,” she said. But just a few days before Christmas while driving at night with her kids, she rounded a bend and came upon a group of deer in the middle of the road. She swerved to avoid them, but ended up driving into a tree.

The accident totaled her new car, and left her and her kids injured. After missing a few days of work because of the accident she was let go from her fast-food waitressing job.

She told her landlord about her situation, showing him their hospital papers and informing him she was unable to work while going through physical therapy. He filed for eviction in March, but a state moratorium on evictions related to the pandemic that was in effect until June prevented the filing from going through.

Unable to get unemployment benefits following the accident, Graves found a part-time job at a nearby hotel this spring. But with the coronavirus pandemic affecting business, her hours started getting cut. When her children’s school shifted to a virtual setting, she opted to stay home for her family’s safety.

In the meantime, Graves set up a side business called Prettii Hustle designing logos and helping with social media marketing for local small businesses. Graves’ mother gave her a used car, so that she could find a job.

Eventually, she started receiving unemployment benefits in August, and reached an agreement with her landlord where she could catch up on her unpaid rent starting in July by making partial payments on an ongoing basis. Graves paid her full rent in July and August, with over half of her unemployment payment each week going toward paying her landlord, she told MarketWatch.

But then, her car’s battery died and buying a new one meant she couldn’t afford to pay the rent in full. Her landlord said he would work with her, but a week later she received eviction papers. She lost her original case in small-claims court in early October because she accidentally went to the wrong building at first, and ended up being late for her hearing.

Housing advocates have noted that making one’s court date is critical in avoiding the possibility of eviction.

“Some states have adopted rules that require landlords to disclose whether a CDC declaration has been received,” Eric Dunn, director of litigation at the National Housing Law Project, told MarketWatch in October. “But for the most part, if the tenant doesn’t appear and inform the court that they presented a declaration, the court won’t be aware of that and will likely enter a default judgment against the tenant.”

Yet for those facing eviction, it can be challenging to get to the courthouse in the first place. Graves had until Oct. 19 to appeal — but her car was still broken down, and her landlord wouldn’t allow a mechanic to fix it in her apartment complex’s parking lot. With money still tight, she couldn’t afford the cost of an Uber to make it to the courthouse and missed the deadline to appeal. That’s when she sought the help of lawyers with Legal Aid.

Another obstacle: Many courthouses and county offices that process evictions have modified their hours because of the pandemic, adding further complications for those looking to avoid being displaced.

“Some courthouses are only open during the mornings, and so there’s only, like, a three or four hour window, where you can actually file stuff,” Sturgill said. In Forsyth County, where Graves lives, a cluster of COVID-19 cases has affected staff at the courthouse, meaning the hours and staff are greatly reduced.

There was a light on the horizon, however, when Gov. Cooper announced the HOPE Program, which assists eligible low- and moderate-income renters facing financial hardship because of the pandemic. Although Graves applied for the program on the first day applications were accepted, she has yet to hear back as to whether she qualified.

Legal Aid assisted Graves in making a last-ditch effort to stop her eviction by appealing at the clerk’s office, where the writ of eviction would be processed. The office proceeded with issuing the writ, even though Graves presented her CDC declaration form. On the day when the sheriff’s deputies showed up to carry out her eviction, they too disregarded the paperwork when she showed it to them, Graves said.

A memo from the North Carolina Sheriffs’ Association sent to all sheriffs across the state on Oct. 30 specified that the CDC’s moratorium and Gov. Cooper’s executive order does not preclude sheriffs from carrying out evictions. Sheriffs deputies perform the eviction after receiving the writ of possession from the court clerk — at that point, the eviction is “no longer pending before the court,” the memo noted. Once the writ is received by the sheriff’s office, they are obligated to perform the eviction, the association noted.

This interpretation of the federal and state orders may be emboldening landlords to proceed with evictions. Frances Sullivan, a staff attorney with Legal Aid of North Carolina who represented Graves in her case, said that was the case with Graves’ landlord. “He told me that he would go to the sheriff, and if the sheriff told him he couldn’t do it, then he wouldn’t,” Sullivan said. “The sheriff said, ‘Oh, no problem, we’re still executing writs.’”

“When nobody’s enforcing it, landlords are thinking that they can do this because they can,” Sullivan added. On Nov. 9, Legal Aid of North Carolina filed a lawsuit against state and county court officials to stop the issuance of eviction orders that violate the CDC’s nationwide eviction moratorium and Gov. Cooper’s executive order.

Furthermore, Gov. Cooper’s executive order noted that it is the responsibility of state and local law enforcement officials to ensure that landlords are abiding by its provisions.

Now displaced, Graves is helping her neighbors avoid a similar fate

Throughout her ordeal, Graves has not focused just on her family’s plight, but also on what her neighbors were going through. Each apartment building in Grave’s complex has around eight units, and six of the households in Graves’ building alone were also struggling to pay.

“When the CDC order first came out, I bought a printer and I was printing it out for everybody else in my apartment complex who was getting eviction papers,” Graves said. When the HOPE Program was announced, she spread the word about that as well.

She’s also connected her neighbors with Legal Aid and has offered to accompany them on their court dates for support. And when she was evicted, she went around her complex letting her neighbors know, telling them not to worry about her.

Currently, Graves is taking things one day at a time, keeping in mind her personal motto: “Champions are contenders who never gave up.” Although she was supposed to have a week to collect her remaining belongings from her apartment, Graves said her landlord threw everything out, including the laptop she used for her side business.

She’s living in a hotel for the time being with her kids — her mother offered to take them in, but Graves was concerned about causing her parents stress and putting them at risk amid the pandemic.

Her car is still out of service, but friends and family have offered to give her rides to her new waitressing job. When she can’t hitch a ride, she plans to hire an Uber. She’s also raising money through Cash App  to help her family start over again.

“Even though the sheriff or landlord made it seem like I wasn’t enough or my children weren’t enough during this pandemic, we are enough,” Graves said.

“When they put their uniform on, I just pray that they don’t always put their heart in their pocket,” Graves said. “It’s OK to still have a heart and think about other families because there’s a lot of families that are being affected by this pandemic.”

For anyone looking to assist Sierra Graves and her family, they are accepting donations via Cash App, with the code $Qu33nSi89. 

The post The Legally Murky Eviction of a North Carolina Single Mother—Despite the CDC’s Moratorium appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights | realtor.com®.

The Best Warm Robes for Women

Wrap yourself in a cozy fleece, cotton, or sherpa robe.

Wrap yourself in a cozy fleece, cotton, or sherpa robe. (Photo by Polina Tankilevitch from Pexels/)

Has this week felt neverending? You’ve been working hard so you deserve to treat yourself to some extra rest. While you’re at it, cozy up in a warm robe. There are a number of things to consider when choosing your best robe. Do you want a hood? How long should your robe be? All questions can be answered when considering what you want to use your robe for and when you’ll be using your robe. From at-home spa days to those days when you put off getting dressed in the morning and need to check the mailbox, these robes will have you covered.

Soft, full length, and with pockets. What more could you want when you’re snuggling up?

Soft, full length, and with pockets. What more could you want when you’re snuggling up? (Alexander Del Rossa/)

Stay warm from your head to your toes with a fleece hooded, full-length robe. Don’t worry about people seeing you in your pajamas while lounging around the house with open windows or while going out to the mailbox. Use the inside tie closure and outer belt tie to keep your robe from slipping. Store your phone and keep your hands warm with two massive patch pockets.

Keep your pajamas from showing and stay secure with an adjustable waist belt.

Keep your pajamas from showing and stay secure with an adjustable waist belt. (NY Threads/)

This robe is perfect for relaxing all day long. The plush, high-quality flannel fleece will keep you warm while the waist belt keeps you from an embarrassing moment. Use the two front pockets for any items you may need throughout the day. At the end of the day, easily wash this robe in your washing machine in warm water, then tumble dry on low.

Lounge in one of these fun prints. Choose from leopard, checkered, houndstooth, and more.

Lounge in one of these fun prints. Choose from leopard, checkered, houndstooth, and more. (Just Love/)

Live a life of luxury with a sherpa trimmed robe. The soft fleece and sherpa will keep you warm and the two patch pockets hold anything you need while lounging around the home. Find your fit with sizes from XS to 3X. This carefully crafted robe won’t stretch out of shape in the wash and will last.

The traditional robe from the company that brings us those super plush boots. Wrap up for a cozy, restful day.

The traditional robe from the company that brings us those super plush boots. Wrap up for a cozy, restful day. (UGG/)

Did you know UGG makes more than boots? With the jersey fabric on the outside and fleece on the inside you’ll get that same plush comfort. Choose from neutral tones or navy. With a belted waist, side pockets, and shawl-collar you’ll feel like the classy lady that you are.

Get your classic solids or go for plaid, stars, or other playful options.

Get your classic solids or go for plaid, stars, or other playful options. (PajamaMania/)

Consider whether you would like a hood or not. Some of these styles offer a hood while others opt for a shawl collar. While a hood will keep you extra warm, if you are planning on spending a full day robed up inside your house it may get too warm. These robes are made of super soft coral fleece and hit about mid-calf. Hooded robes also include sherpa fleece-lined hood, trim, and cuffs.

Longevity matters. Invest in a robe that was made to last and won’t be falling apart at the seams before you’ve really had a chance to enjoy it.

Longevity matters. Invest in a robe that was made to last and won’t be falling apart at the seams before you’ve really had a chance to enjoy it. (Richie House/)

How long do you want your robe to last? We’re guessing the answer is more than a year or two. Strong fabrics, such as durable fleece will hold up over longer periods of time while resilient stitching makes sure everything stays together. Make sure your robe is also machine washable for easy cleaning after use.