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Brandon Farber

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  1. Brandon Farber

    How often does your credit report get updated?

    Your credit report is a record of your payment history of your financial accounts. Banks, credit card companies, auto lenders and mortgage companies that you do business with report your payment history monthly to one of more of the three main credit reporting companies, Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. However, all these companies may not report data at the same time in the month.
  2. Mortgage rates might start to increase again soon, and this can easily overwhelm any drop in home prices that might happen in the future. In other words, if you’re looking to buy a great house at a fair price, now might be a unique moment. To a prepared home buyer, there's often a vibe on the time to purchase a home - conditions like cash and opportunity are optimal, the seller of an attractive property is willing to sell at a good price, and the buyer's personal life (i.e., newly married, expecting a new baby, or just got a big bonus, for example) is in a place where the time to pull the trigger on a new residence is now - and not next month, or even next week.
  3. Brandon Farber

    An Affordability Boost for Prospective Homebuyers?

    An Affordability Boost for Prospective Homebuyers? December delivered a significant holiday housing affordability boost to prospective home buyers, according to Mark Fleming, Chief Economist at First American. The December 2018 First American Real House Price Index (RHPI), released on Monday, revealed that real house prices decreased 2.4 percent between November 2018 and December 2018. On a year-over-year basis, the real house prices increased 11.8 percent year over year. The report found that consumer house-buying power—how much one can buy based on changes in income and interest rates—increased 3.1 percent between November 2018 and December 2018, and declined 5.0 percent year over year. An increase in average household income was recorded at 3.1 percent since December 2017 and 55.0 percent since January 2000. On the other hand, real house prices are 12.0 percent less expensive than in January 2000. On an unadjusted basis, house prices are now 2.0 percent above the housing boom peak in 2006, real, house-buying power-adjusted house prices remain 37.2 percent below their 2006 housing boom peak. “Housing affordability is a function of three economic drivers: nominal house prices, household income, and mortgage rates. When incomes rise, consumer house-buying power increases. Declining mortgage rates or declining nominal house prices also increase consumer house-buying power,” Fleming said. Addressing other factors that have been driving affordability, Fleming pointed out that rising wage growth and lower mortgage rates are primary contributors. “In December, the labor market remained impressive. Annual hourly wage growth increased by 3.5 percent compared with a year earlier, and the labor market’s record streak of job gains continued. The labor market has increased average household income by 55 percent since January 2000,” Fleming added. Fleming also noted that affordability trend shifted toward buyers in December, as mortgage rates fell and household income continued to grow. He said that the December decline in mortgage rates from 4.87 to 4.64 percent “boosted house-buying power by an impressive $10,000—which means a homebuyer with a 5 percent down payment and a mortgage rate of 4.6 percent saw their house-buying power increase from $354,500 to $364,500.” The monthly increase in household income was reflective of an increase in house-buying power to $365,600. Overall, house-buying power increased by $11,100 in December compared with the previous month—the second largest monthly increase in house-buying power since the beginning of the millennium. According to RHPI, the five states with the greatest year-over-year increase in the RHPI are District of Columbia (+19.1 percent), Ohio (+17.0 percent), Montana (+16.7 percent), Nevada (+16.6 percent), and New Jersey (+16.4 percent). No states recorded a year-over-year decrease. The five markets among the Core Based Statistical Areas with the greatest year-over-year increase in the RHPI are Cleveland (+20.1 percent), Las Vegas (+19.9 percent), Orlando, Fla. (+19.8 percent), Charlotte, N.C. (+19.5 percent), and Columbus, Ohio (+18.2 percent).
  4. Brandon Farber

    The Week Ahead: Holding Credit Bureaus Accountable

    The House Financial Services Committee will hold a hearing entitled, “Who’s Keeping Score? Holding Credit Bureaus Accountable and Repairing a Broken System” on Tuesday, February 26, 2019, at 10:00 a.m. EST in Room 2128 Rayburn House Office Building. This will be a two-panel hearing with Mark Begor, CEO, Equifax; James M. Peck, President and CEO, TransUnion; and Craig Boundy, CEO, Experian North America in the first panel. The second panel will consist of testimony from Lisa Rice, President and CEO, National Fair Housing Alliance; Chi Chi Wu, Staff Attorney, National Consumer Law Center; Jennifer Brown, Associate Director, Economic Policy, UnidosUS; and Edmund Mierzwinski, Consumer Program Director, U.S. Public Interest Research Group. According to the House Committee memorandum, in 2017, Equifax experienced a cybersecurity breach that affected approximately 148 million consumers, which, in addition to releasing the personally identifiable information of these consumers, also highlighted deficiencies in the credit reporting. The hearing will also discuss two legislative proposals towards consumer credit reform aimed at making numerous changes to the existing credit reporting system, including increasing consumer rights to report and appeal credit report disputes. Author: Radhika Ojha Radhika Ojha, Online Editor at the Five Star Institute
  5. By Jane Chertoff | Feb 12, 2019 From those silky Hermès scarves to Chanel No. 5 to the iconic black-and-white-striped tee, French style is always, well, in style. So it should come as no surprise that the French approach to home decor should be something to aspire toward as well. One reason their homes look so fantastique is that the French don’t do cookie-cutter, explains Siham Mozouz, a French blogger, photographer, and author of "French By Design." “The French have a particular affection for old and for antiques, and they despise total looks,” she says, referring to the matching sets so commonly seen in U.S. big-box stores. Most importantly, the French take time to imbue their spaces with items that are distinctively them, Mozouz stresses. “The French approach to decor is very intuitive and personal ... just like you would pick your favorite outfit in a clothing store,” she says. “It’s not about creating a perfect space to impress your guests; it’s about setting up the ideal refuge and nest for you and your loved ones.” Ready to give your home that je ne sais quoi? Here are six decor secrets to steal from the French. Make the most of a midcentury modern touch Photo by be-attitude Don't fix it if it ain't broken, right? French style has spent centuries at the forefront of fashion and culture, so there’s no reason to veer far from this aesthetic, explains Lauren Lozano Ziol, a Chicago-based interior designer and former Parisian who often works with clients in France. “French people stay rooted in their classic sensibility,” she says. “The grandness of their heritage is important, so they like French antiques and fabric." But you don't have to be 100% old-world to get the authentic French feel. "The modern generation also loves contemporary, midcentury design and clean lines to incorporate into their classic and ornate architecture," Ziol says. "It always adds for a fun mix to see midcentury pieces paired with Louis-classic furniture, toning down the seriousness of a traditional and classic French home.”
  6. Unless you've been living under a rock, you've probably heard about Marie Kondo's new Netflix show, "Tidying Up." Known for her best-seller, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up,” the organizing guru has made decluttering a phenomenon on the small screen. So with all the buzz, there's a good chance that the early weekends of 2019 have seen you diving headfirst into decluttering. But if you’re doing it with a spouse or a significant other, sorting through your shared possessions can be a relationship powder keg. Disagreements about what to keep and what to ditch can get heated, especially when you start tossing sentimental items. “Opposites do seem to attract when it comes to people’s thoughts and feelings about their belongings,” says Lisa Zaslow, founder and CEO of Gotham Organizers in New York. “Clutter is more stressful for some people than it is for others.” So how do you keep the (life-changing) magic, and tidy up with your partner without killing each other? 1. Talk through your decluttering goals beforehand When it comes to decluttering, it's easy for conflict to fester before you even get started. There's a good chance that you and your partner have very different ideas of what a tidy space looks like. “With one couple I worked with, the husband wanted the kitchen counters entirely clear, with not even the coffee maker in sight,” Zaslow says. “His wife didn’t even notice, or care, if the counter was strewn with bags of chips, a fruit bowl, a pile of mail, and four appliances.” Keep the magic: The key to identifying and working through these differences is to talk through your goals. Decide what you both want out of the process before the first garbage bag comes out. “Setting goals and determining functional needs of your space together is an essential part of beginning this process and honoring both of your needs and desires,” says Jessica Salomone, interior designer and owner of Lotus and Lilac Design Studio. Salomone suggests asking yourself the following questions: What isn’t functioning in the space due to the clutter? What do you need to keep in the space? What would you like to be hidden, but still accessible? “Be realistic in your goals,” Zaslow says. “This is about creating a functional, pleasant home for both of you, not about being Instagram-perfect.” 2. Start by focusing on your own stuff Once you’re aligned in your approach, the fun part (for some of us) begins: purging. But before you go nuts tossing out your partner's wagon wheel coffee table, take a step back—along with a good look in the mirror. You'll want to ease into decluttering by focusing on your own corner of the room, not your partner’s. “Since people are so different, it’s definitely helpful for each person to start by decluttering their own things,” Zaslow says. Keep the magic: Think of it as a warmup: You can each begin with the stuff that's clearly yours before you move on to work through common areas together. But what if you’re raring to go and your partner hasn’t caught KonMari fever? Kondo herself recently told fans the best way to convert a skeptical partner into a tidying die-hard: Simply start decluttering your own possessions and let your S.O. witness the benefits. After all, who can resist the urge to organize after beholding the beauty of perfectly folded socks? 3. Withhold judgment on sentimental items Eventually, you’ll begin to notice what your partner is (or isn’t) putting in the “purge” pile, and you might want to chime in with your 2 cents. Resist that temptation. “The expression ‘one man’s trash is another man’s treasure’ often applies to couples,” Zaslow says. Keep the magic: Even if you can’t comprehend why someone could possibly want to keep that ratty bar crawl T-shirt from college, remember that it can have sentimental value. Avoid accusatory language, and be mindful of the way you talk about items that are close to your partner’s heart. “It’s not helpful to say, ‘You have too many CDs,’” Zaslow says. “It isuseful to point out, ‘With the bookshelves filled with CDs we rarely listen to, there’s no room to display our photos and travel mementos.’” 4. Set limits to your decluttering—and make it fun Finding the right pace for decluttering can be rife with potential conflict. Maybe you want to clean the entire garage in a day, but your partner needs a whole day to focus on one corner of it. Keep the magic: Give yourself a time limit for decluttering; try not to go more than a few hours at a time, to avoid burnout. Keep your favorite snacks and beverages stocked, and turn on some music or a podcast you both love. (Shameless plug: Check out realtor.com's "House Party.") You can also plan a fun, nontidying activity for the two of you to enjoy after you finish decluttering a space—it never hurts to have a light at the end of the tunnel. If things do get tense, remember that your stuff is just stuff—at the end of the day, your relationship matters more. Don’t lose sight of your love for each other over a disagreement about a box of Beanie Babies. “Really listen to your partner to find out why certain things are important to them, paying attention to the needs and values that are connected to the stuff,” Zaslow says. “You may learn things about them that will make you fall in love all over again.” Lauren Sieben is a writer in Milwaukee. Her work has appeared in the Guardian, Washington Post, Milwaukee Magazine, and other outlets. Follow @laurensieben
  7. Brandon Farber

    Flipping a House? How to Flip a House the Right Way

    Stephan Zabel/iStock Wondering how to flip a house? In real estate, flipping houses has become all the more popular thanks to TV shows such as HGTV's "Flip or Flop" and "Masters of Flip." The goal is to buy a run-down home, put money into renovations, list it on the real estate market—and profit, big-time! For real estate investors, flipping houses may have hit its peak in the bubble years leading up to the 2007 housing market crash, but this is one dream that definitely hasn't died. Many investors are still making money. However, just because you've watched a lot of HGTV shows doesn't mean that you know how to flip a house for a profit. Earlier this year, RealtyTrac reported that investors who had flipped a property in the first quarter of 2016 had yielded the highest average gross flipping profit—the difference between the property purchase price and the flip price, not counting the cost of renovations—in 10 years. The magic number: $58,250. But just how much money you make will hinge on taking the right approach—so be sure to check out these pointers on flipping houses. For real. How to flip a house in real estate to make money "Stick with the age-old adage of buying the cheapest property in the nicest neighborhood," says Eric Workman, senior vice president of marketing at Chicago-based Renovo Financial, a private lender specializing in the real estate house-flipping space. But don't pick just any old shack—look for a home with "good bones,” Workman says. Translation: Look for a property that's structurally sound and has a decent roof, newer windows, and an HVAC system that's less than 10 years old, as well as modern electrical and plumbing. Next, an ideal flip should need only cosmetic changes such as new cabinets, countertops, flooring, and paint. Any other renovations will be more costly and cut into your profit on the property. "These renovations can usually be done without the delays of permits, plus the upgrade costs will be relatively fixed, helping to eliminate unforeseen expenses," says Workman. And always look for a house in a neighborhood close to public transportation or in a good school district as these properties tend to sell quickly. How much should you pay for a house you'll flip? Investors should set a goal of making a 10% to 20% return on their investment. So how do you crunch the numbers? For starters, find out what your fixer-upper will sell for once you're done with it by looking at the sales price for similarly sized real estate in the same neighborhood that are move-in ready, says broker Bobby Curtis at Living Room Realty in Portland, OR. Let's say, for instance, that homes in tiptop shape in the area sell for $300,000. To get a ballpark figure for a run-down property, cut that price by three-quarters (75% of $300,000 = $225,000). Then subtract the cost of repairs (if repairs cost $30,000, that would be $225,000 – $30,000 = $195,000). That's about the most you should pay for your flip without cutting too much into the money you'll walk away with. As for financing a flip, it isn't that different from buying a regular home. You'll either pay cash or take out a mortgage—just consider going for a 10- or 15-year mortgage, which will offer a lower rate. If you're right on the money, odds are you won't own this house for long anyway. Hard money loan You can also acquire a hard money loan, which is simply a short-term loan secured by real estate. “It’s synonymous with a private investor,” says Don Hensel, president of North Coast Financial, which specializes in hard money loans. “A lender could be an individual, a group of investors, or a licensed mortgage broker who uses his own funds. This differs from a bank that uses money from its depositors.” Getting a hard money loan is generally less of a hassle than a standard mortgage, and they're especially popular with people flipping houses who prefer not to go through the hassle of taking out a 15- or 30-year mortgage on the property. How fast should you flip a house? Don't kill yourself (or more accurately, flip yourself into an early grave) to rush your real estate flip. But also note, you don't want this house sitting around for long. Curtis recommends looking for a property that will take four to six weeks to renovate. A short deadline ensures you'll buy and sell the house in that same housing market. Plus, owning a house for less than two months keeps costs like interest and taxes at a minimum. This means that finding contractors who do quality work quickly is key to your success. For that reason, it's crucial that you do your due diligence before you hire one: Make sure to meet with at least a few contractors, and get their license number, references, and real estimates of what they think renovations on the property will cost. Keep an eye out for red flags—e.g., contractors who ask for money upfront or in cash aren't playing by the usual rules, and might be trying to take your money and run. That said, you should accept the fact that the cost of repairs will almost always run over. As such, "you absolutely, positively must overbudget" so you have a financial cushion for those inevitable overruns, says Joseph Chiera of The Realty Cousins of Poughkeepsie, NY. Design backups will also help you solve your money problems. "If you’re planning to use high-end hardwood flooring priced at $5 per square foot, have a nice backup at $2 per square foot," he adds. Here's a list of renovations and how much they pay off at resale. Margaret Heidenry is a writer living in Brooklyn, NY. Her work has appeared in the New York Times Magazine, Vanity Fair, and Boston Magazine.
  8. By Daniel Bortz | Feb 15, 2019 Have you ever wondered "How much is my house worth?"? If you're hoping to sell your home, knowing your property's value is essential for pricing it right to make buyers bite. Or, maybe you don't want to sell your home right now, but are just curious whether your real estate investment has risen in value (which would merit some much-deserved back-patting). In either case, having an accurate grasp of your home's estimated market value can come in handy. And there are a variety of ways to do that, many of which are free and easily within reach online. Here's how to find that magic number, and why having an accurate estimate matters whether you want to sell your home or own it for the long haul. How to find home value estimates online One easy starting point with a home valuation is to enter your address into an online home value estimator, which will, within seconds, present you with a free estimate of what your home is worth, based on data such as its square footage and recent home sales in the area. How real estate experts determine their own home value estimates Real estate agents specialize in answering the question "what is my home worth?" for their clients, which they do by running a comparative market analysis. This process involves finding similar properties (“comps”) that sold within the past 90 days. The most accurate comp is a home that’s nearby, similar to yours in square footage, and has the same number of bedrooms and bathrooms. (Ideally, the lot size is also equivalent, but that's more important in rural areas, where homes are set on multiple acres.) Once your agent finds a few comps, then she averages those figures to come up with a baseline of your own home value. So if you are looking for the answer to how much your home is worth, contact us today!
  9. Brandon Farber

    What’s New With Existing Home Sales?

    On Thursday, the National Association of Realtors (NAR) will release its monthly data on existing home sales for January 2019. The report includes existing home sales of single-family homes, townhomes, condominiums, and co-ops and is based on transaction closings from multiple listing services. According to NAR, this report differs from the U.S. Census Bureau's series on new single-family home sales which are based on contracts or the acceptance of a deposit. The data for December 2018 that was released last month indicated that existing-home sales declined in December with completed transactions decreasing 6.4 percent month-over-month from November to a seasonally adjusted rate of 4.99 million in December. Year over year, sales declined 10.3 percent from December 2017. "The housing market is obviously very sensitive to mortgage rates. Softer sales in December reflected consumer search processes and contract signing activity in previous months when mortgage rates were higher than today," said Lawrence Yun, Chief Economist, NAR about the decline in December existing-home sales. "Now with mortgage rates lower, some revival in home sales is expected going into spring." About Author: Radhika Ojha Radhika Ojha, Online Editor at the Five Star Institute, is a graduate of the University of Pune, India, where she received her B.A. in Commerce with a concentration in Accounting and Marketing and an M.A. in Mass Communication.
  10. Brandon Farber

    The Key to Sustained Housing Growth

    Increasing the affordability of housing will be key to ensuring healthy, sustained growth of the industry according to the latest quarterly report released by the National Association of Realtors (NAR). The report, which looks at metropolitan median area prices and affordability for Q4 2018 indicated that while inventory increased and metro market prices rose at a slower pace during the period total existing home sales decreased 1.8 percent to a seasonally adjusted 5.18 million in Q4 down from 5.2 million in Q3 2018. On a year over year basis, home sales fell 7.4 percent from 5.59 million during the same period in 2017. Home prices for single-family homes increased in 92 percent of NAR's measured markets in Q4 with 163 of the 178 metros showing sales price gains in the fourth quarter compared to a year ago. However, the report indicated 14 metro areas experiencing double-digit increases, down from 18 in the third quarter. “Home prices continued to rise in the vast majority of markets but with inventory steadily increasing, home prices are, on average, rising at a slower and healthier pace,” said Lawrence Yun, Chief Economist at NAR. The inventory also increased during the quarter with 1.55 million existing homes available for sale compared with 1.46 million at the end of Q4 2017, showing an increase of 6.2 percent. The average supply during the quarter was four months, up from 3.5 months during the same period in 2017. Despite these increases, Yun said that housing affordability would be the "key to sustained healthy growth in the housing market" in the near- to long-term. "Housing starts fell far short of historically normal levels, with only 9.6 million new housing units added in the past decade; compared to 15 to 16 million that would have been needed to meet our growing population and 20 million new job additions," Yun said. Looking at the most and least expensive housing markets of the quarter, the report indicated that four of the five most expensive markets were in California with median existing single-family price ranging from $1.2 million to $626,000. The only non-California market on this list was Urban Honolulu, Hawaii, where median home prices stood at $812,900. The five cheapest housing markets were Decatur, Illinois, $89,300; Youngstown-Warren-Boardman, Ohio, $97,200; Cumberland, Maryland, $109,100; Elmira, New York, $111,400; and Erie, Pennsylvania, $113,300. About Author: Radhika Ojha Radhika Ojha, Online Editor at the Five Star Institute, is a graduate of the University of Pune, India, where she received her B.A. in Commerce with a concentration in Accounting and Marketing and an M.A. in Mass Communication.
  11. Brandon Farber

    10 Clever Uses for Hydrogen Peroxide

    In Your Kitchen 1. Clean your cutting board and countertop. Hydrogen peroxide bubbles away any nasties left after preparing meat or fish for dinner. Add hydrogen peroxide to an opaque spray bottle — exposure to light kills its effectiveness — and spray on your surfaces. Let everything bubble for a few minutes, then scrub and rinse clean. 2. Wipe out your refrigerator and dishwasher. Because it’s non-toxic, hydrogen peroxide is great for cleaning places that store food and dishes. Just spray the appliance outside and in, let the solution sit for a few minutes, then wipe clean.3. Clean your sponges. Soak them for 10 minutes in a 50/50 mixture of hydrogen peroxide and warm water in a shallow dish. Rinse the sponges thoroughly afterward.4. Remove baked-on crud from pots and pans. Combine hydrogen peroxide with enough baking soda to make a paste, then rub onto the dirty pan and let it sit for a while. Come back later with a scrubby sponge and some warm water, and the baked-on stains will lift right off. In Your Bathroom 5. Whiten bathtub grout. If excess moisture has left your tub grout dingy, first dry the tub thoroughly, then spray it liberally with hydrogen peroxide. Let it sit for a little while (it may bubble slightly), then come back and scrub the grout with an old toothbrush. You may have to repeat the process a few times, depending on how much mildew you have, but eventually your grout will be white again. 6. Clean the toilet bowl. Pour half a cup of hydrogen peroxide into the toilet bowl, let stand for 20 minutes, then scrub clean. In Your Laundry Room 7. Remove stains from clothing, curtains, and tablecloths. Hydrogen peroxide can be used as a pre-treater for stains — just soak the stain for a little while in 3% hydrogen peroxide before tossing into the laundry. You can also add a cup of peroxide to a regular load of whites to boost brightness. It’s a green alternative to bleach, and works just as well. Anywhere in Your House 8. Brighten dingy floors. Combine half a cup of hydrogen peroxide with one gallon of hot water, then go to town on your flooring. Because it’s so mild, it’s safe for any floor type, and there’s no need to rinse.9. Clean kids’ toys and play areas. Hydrogen peroxide is a safe cleaner to use around kids, or anyone with respiratory problems, because it’s not a lung irritant. Fill an opaque spray bottle with hydrogen peroxide and spray toys, toy boxes, doorknobs, and anything else your kids touch on a regular basis. You could also soak a rag in peroxide to make a wipe. Outside 10. Help out your plants. To ward off fungus, add a little hydrogen peroxide to your spray bottle the next time you’re spritzing plants. Use a 1/2 cup of hydrogen peroxide added to one gallon of water for your plants.
  12. Dishes in the sink, toys throughout the house, stuff covering every flat surface; this clutter not only makes our homes look bad, it makes us feel bad, too. At least that’s what researchers at UCLA’s Center on Everyday Lives and Families (CELF) discovered when they explored in real time the relationship between 32 California families and the objects in their homes. The resulting book, “Life at Home in The Twenty-First Century,” is a rare look at how middle-class Americans use the space in their homes and interact with the things they accumulate over a lifetime. Our over-worked closets are overflowing with things we rarely touch. Related: Tiny Change, Big Impact: Organize a Small Closet in a Weekend (video) It turns out that clutter has a profound affect on our mood and self-esteem. CELF’s anthropologists, social scientists, and archaeologists found: A link between high cortisol (stress hormone) levels in female home owners and a high density of household objects. The more stuff, the more stress women feel. Men, on the other hand, don’t seem bothered by mess, which accounts for tensions between tidy wives and their clutter bug hubbies. Women associate a tidy home with a happy and successful family. The more dishes that pile up in the sink, the more anxious women feel. Even families that want to reduce clutter often are emotionally paralyzed when it comes to sorting and pitching objects. They either can’t break sentimental attachments to objects or believe their things have hidden monetary value. Although U.S. consumers bear only 3% of the world’s children, we buy 40% of the world’s toys. And these toys live in every room, fighting for display space with kids’ trophies, artwork, and snapshots of their last soccer game. Although “Life At Home” documents the clutter problem, the book offers no solutions. But there are some simple things you can do to de-clutter your home and raise your spirits. Adopt the Rule of Five Every time you get up from your desk or walk through a room, put away five things. Or, each hour, devote five minutes to de-cluttering. At the end of the day, you’ve cleaned for an hour. Be Ruthless About Your Kitchen Sink Pledge to clear and clean your kitchen sink every day. It takes a couple of seconds more to place a dish in the dishwasher than dump it in the sink. A clean sink will instantly raise your spirits and decrease your anxiety. Put Photos Away Return to yesteryear when only photos of ancestors or weddings earned a place. Put snapshots in a family album, which will immediately de-clutter many flat surfaces. Unburden Your Refrigerator Door Researchers found a correlation between the number of items stuck to the fridge door and the amount of clutter throughout the house. Toss extra magnets, file restaurant menus, and place calendars in less conspicuous places. Test Whether You'll Miss It Fill a box with items you don’t love or use. Seal the box and place it in a closet. If you haven’t opened the box in a year, donate it (unopened!) to charity. LISA KAPLAN GORDON is an award-winning, Pulitzer Prize-nominated writer who contributes to real estate and home improvement sites. In her spare time (yeah, right!), she gardens, manages three dogs, and plots to get her 21-year-old out of her basement.
  13. Brandon Farber

    Home Values Cooling Off

    While home value appreciation in some of the hottest housing markets is beginning to decelerate, some of the nation’s more affordable markets, especially in the South, are picking up speed, according to the December Zillow Real Estate Market Report, released Thursday. San Jose, California, and Seattle, Washington, have hit the brakes harder than any other major market, while Atlanta, Georgia, pulled ahead. Home value appreciation in San Jose slowed from 16.8 percent in December 2017 to 9.9 percent in December 2018. In Seattle, home values grew at a pace of 12.4 percent in December 2017 and slowed to a rate of 5.0 percent in December 2018. On the other hand, home values in Atlanta accelerated from 8.1 percent in December 2017 to 13.2 percent in December 2018. Seven markets experienced double-digit rent growth in December with Atlanta leading the pack. Atlanta was followed by Las Vegas, Nevada; Indianapolis, Indiana; Dallas, Texas; Charlotte, North Carolina; Tampa, Florida; and Kansas City, Missouri. Outliers aside, national home value appreciation “seems stabilized at an arguably aggressive pace,” according to Skylar Olsen, Director of Economic Research and Outreach at Zillow. Nationally, home values rose 7.6 percent over the year in December, similar to the previous year’s 7.4 percent growth. The national median home value as of December was $223,900. Olsen clarified, “The exceptions to the rule are the metros that saw the fastest appreciation over the past few years, where home values far outpaced incomes.” In total, home value appreciation slowed down in 19 of the 35 largest markets in December, according to Zillow. Rents also increased in December, rising at their fastest rate since June. The national median rent in December was $1,460, up 1.4 percent from a year ago. The largest increase in rents took place in Orlando, Florida, where rents rose 6.4 percent over the year. Riverside, California, followed with a 5.3 percent increase in rents. While overall home prices continued their upward trajectory, housing inventory backpedaled. After three months of growth, inventory retracted 0.4 percent on an annual basis in December, which according to Olsen is an indication to buyers “that the pendulum hasn’t fully swing in their favor for this year’s home shopping season.” Despite the national contraction, Zillow noted that a few markets “that were starved for homes for sale are seeing big gains, led by San Jose (up 47.6 percent), Seattle (up 32.9 percent) and San Diego (up 32.2 percent).” About Author: Krista Franks Brock Krista Franks Brock is a professional writer and editor who has covered the mortgage banking and default servicing sectors since 2011. Previously, she served as managing editor of DS News and Southern Distinction, a regional lifestyle publication. Her work has appeared in a variety of print and online publications, including Consumers Digest, Dallas Style and Design, DS News and DSNews.com, MReport and theMReport.com. She holds degrees in journalism and art from the University of Georgia.
  14. Brandon Farber

    Economy Shifts The Balance of Housing

    What can we expect in the way of inflation, job losses, and spending? Pretty much the same as last year, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. The bank's Center for Microeconomic Data released the December 2018 Survey of Consumer Expectations this month, and it turns out that consumer expectations, in general, remained flat, even though some subsets were a little more scattered. Median home price change expectations declined to 3 percent in December, marking the sixth consecutive decline since June. But within the overall household finance realm, there was much to notice. While median expected household income expectations declined to 2.9 percent, median household spending growth expectations remained unchanged at 3.5 percent. Perceptions of credit access improved by 2 percent (to 28) from a year earlier; at the same time, about 1 percent fewer (21.7 percent) of respondents said they expect improving conditions in credit access. About 35 percent expect credit access to get tougher. The most notable change in what to expect from the varied economic sectors was a worsening idea of what might become of the stock market. “The mean perceived probability that U.S. stock prices will be higher 12 months from now than they are today decreased to 39.6 percent in December,” the report stated. That's the lowest level since October of 2016. Slightly more people in December said they expect to be worse off financially, possibly fueled by a drop in the number of people who said the government could avoid growing debt. That said, confidence in the current labor market remained essentially flat, though 3 percent more people said the job market will be worse off a year from now. Almost 36 percent of people said unemployment will be worse a year from now, even as fewer people said they worry about actual job losses. Even if a job is lost, nearly the same number of people – just north of 58 percent – said they wouldn't be worried about being able to find a new one. Meanwhile, median inflation expectations at the one-year horizon remained unchanged at 3 percent. Inflation uncertainty–or the uncertainty expressed by respondents regarding future inflation outcomes–also remained unchanged. About Author: Scott Morgan Scott Morgan is a multi-award-winning journalist and editor based out of Texas. During his 11 years as a newspaper journalist, he wrote more than 4,000 published pieces. He's been recognized for his work since 2001, and his creative writing continues to win acclaim from readers and fellow writers alike. He is also a creative writing teacher and the author of several books, from short fiction to written works about writing.
  15. Brandon Farber

    2018 Natural Disaster Damages Exceed $1 Billion

    The United States experienced 11 natural disaster events that exceeded $1 billion in damage during 2018, according to data released by CoreLogic.While the wildfires scorched the West Coast of the U.S., hurricanes Michael and Florence battered the Gulf and East Coast. From typhoons and cyclones to earthquakes, natural disasters in the past year ravaged places such as Indonesia, Japan, and Alaska. Volcanoes made the news in Hawaii, expanding the island’s terrain. Per CoreLogic report, a total of 11 western states in the U.S. had at least one wildfire that exceeded 50,000 burned acres; the leading states being California and Oregon. The number of acres burned the past year is the eighth highest in U.S. history as reported through November 30, 2018. The report also noted that 1,000-year flood events took place in Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas, and Wisconsin. Out of Dallas, Texas, and Colorado Springs, Colorado experienced severe convective storms with large hail. A total of 82 tornado outbreaks ravaged several parts of Western Louisiana and Arkansas, all the way down to Southern Florida, and up to Western Virginia. In addition to the data on damages exceeding $I billion in the U.S. alone, quoting data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, CoreLogic stated that last year’s count of billion-dollar events is a decline from the previous year. Both 2017 and 2018 have tracked far above the 1980-2017 annual average of $6 billion in total dollar amount in one year, it indicated. Over 1,600 significant flood events occurred in the U.S. in 2018, wherein 59 percent of which were flash flood-related. The residential and commercial flood damage caused by Hurricane Florence in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia is projected to be at $19 billion to $28.5 billion—out of these, roughly 85 percent of residential flood losses were uninsured—according to CoreLogic. The damage caused by the 2018 Atlantic Hurricane season that saw 15 named storms resulted in landfall along the U.S—making 2018 the third back-to-back season of above-average hurricane activity in the Atlantic, the report noted. “No one can stop a hurricane in its tracks or steady the ground from an earthquake, but with more information and an understanding of the risk, recovery can be accelerated and resiliency can be attained,” said Howard Botts, VP and Chief Scientist - Insurance and Spatial Solutions at CoreLogic. About Author: Donna Joseph Donna Joseph is a Dallas-based writer who covers technology, HR best practices, and a mix of lifestyle topics. She is a seasoned PR professional with an extensive background in content creation and corporate communications. Joseph holds a B.A. in Sociology and M.A. in Mass Communication, both from the University of Bangalore, India. She is currently working on two books, both dealing with women-centric issues prevalent in oppressive as well as progressive societies. She can be reached at donna.joseph@thefivestar.com.
  16. Brandon Farber

    The Right Path for FHA?

    The latest American Enterprises Institute Housing Market Indicators released its data on October 2018 with a focus on the National Mortgage Risk Index. The report, released on January 28, includes data on mortgage risk, house price appreciation, and home sales. “FHA’s and the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection’s pro-cyclical policies are continuing to drive home prices higher for entry-level buyers and are exposing buyers to an unsustainable home price boom,” noted Edward Pinto, Codirector of the AEI’s Center on Housing Markets and Finance. “As these policies since late-2012 have needlessly driven up low price tier homes by an additional $23,000, it is time both took counter-cyclical steps to protect homebuyers,” he added. The report found that mortgage risk jumped in October with all indices setting new series’ highs for the month. The composite Purchase National Mortgage Risk Index (NMRI) recorded an increase of 0.4 percentage points from Oct. 2017. The Federal Housing Administration (FHA) index set a new series’ high at 28.2 percent. Refi NMRI also set a new series’ high, primarily due to a higher Cash-Out Refi NMRI, it indicated. According to AEI data, the higher NMRI indicates that agencies continue to increase leverage to maintain levels of mortgage activity and in furtherance of their “affordable housing” mission. The report noted that FHA continues to loosen and Fannie’s purchase risk index in Oct. 2018 at 1.4 percentage points outpaced that of Freddie’s. The report also pointed out that over the last 3 years, a shift towards higher DTIs has primarily driven the NMRI higher. “Reports of the end of current housing boom are exaggerated,” said Tobias Peter, Senior Research Analyst at AEI’s Center on Housing Markets and Finance. “Inventories remain mostly tight, especially for entry-level homes, access to credit continues to be expanding, especially for first-time buyers, and mortgage rates have recently fallen below 4.5 percent again. All this points to a continuation of the boom at lower price points,” he added. Shedding light on FHA lending, the report found that FHA’s credit box is wide and therefore credit for entry-level buyers is not tight. FHA continues to add high-risk borrowers with their risk index climbing through risk layering. Compared to 2017, the agency purchase volume declined this October. A decline of 3.9 percent was recorded in purchase volume by count compared to 2017—a rise in volume from 37 percent in October 2013. The report attributes the decline to the increase in mortgage rate to over 4.5 percent earlier in the year. Per AEI Housing Market Indicators, maintaining purchase volume continues to be reliant on further agency credit easing— seen as needed to offset headwinds from gradually rising interest rates as a result of a slightly less accommodative monetary policy, and rapid home price increases. Read the full report here.
  17. Brandon Farber

    How the Shutdown Impacted Housing

    How the Shutdown Impacted Housing in Daily Dose, Featured, Government, News 5 days ago The end of the longest shutdown in the history of the nation is finally in sight with President Trump announcing on Friday that he had agreed to reopen the federal government for three weeks. During this time, he said that negotiations on the border wall would continue with the Congress. "I am very proud to announce today, that we have reached a deal to end the shutdown and reopen the federal government," Trump said. "As everyone knows I have a very powerful alternative but I didn't want to use it at this time. Hopefully, it will be unnecessary." Trump said that if the Republicans and Democrats could not reach an agreement on the wall funding by the February deadline, he was ready to renew the confrontation or declare a national emergency to bypass Congress altogether. Thanking the 800,000 federal workers, many of who worked for federal agencies like the Department of Housing and Urban Development, who have been on furlough or are working without pay during the shutdown, Trump said that these workers were "incredible patriots." According to The New York Times, the President's announcement "paved the way for Congress to quickly pass Spending Bills that Trump would sign to restore normal operations at a series of federal agencies until February 15 and begin paying the federal workers who have been furloughed. The plan does not include money for the wall that the President and demanded initially. HUD Reopens One of the many federal agencies that have been affected by the shutdown in the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), which recently issued guidelines on what lenders and borrowers could do to address their concerns. The guidelines, in the form of frequently asked questions (FAQ), give lenders and servicers a sense of the business they could and couldn't do with HUD during the shutdown. They include questions on the departments that would be open, submitting FHA mortgage insurance premiums, submitting loans for approvals as well as packages for condo approvals, payments to borrowers, FHA monitoring, and guidelines related to REO/HUD home sales. Speaking to NPR at an annual Point-In-Time headcount survey in Washington, D.C. on Thursday, HUD Secretary Dr. Ben Carson had said that the longer the shutdown goes, the harder it would be on federal employees. "These federal workers, I mean, yes I know we're going to give them back pay, but that doesn't take care of the interest if they borrow money," Carson said. Around 95 percent of HUD employees have been furloughed and those who have been called back to work without pay were "working around the clock" to make sure Americans who rely on HUD for housing assistance don't get evicted, Carson told NPR. The end of the shutdown, even if it seems to be temporary is likely to give much relief not only to federal workers but also to tenants who were housed through HUD and landlords who work with the agency to provide housing to low-income households. The shutdown had already started affecting those housed through HUD, as well as independent landlords who were working with government employees unable to pay their rent. While none of the 1,175 rental contracts that were not renewed by HUD due to the shutdown were likely to affect low-income tenants, according to the National Housing Conference (NHC), this could have changed if the shutdown extended past February. NHC said that HUD staff was working with landlords across the country to ensure this does not happen. Additionally, contracts were being paid with available funds, and landlords were being told to use their reserves to cover operating expenses. Taking Steps to Help Borrowers A number of financial institutions including the GSEs stepped up their efforts to provide relief to borrowers during the shutdown. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac issued an additional set of guidelines for lenders to help them assist borrowers, especially federal workers, whose income was affected by the government shutdown. In a joint letter to lenders, the government-sponsored enterprises (GSEs) said that with the shutdown extending for a longer than anticipated time, they were "concerned about the impact that continued income interruption may have on borrowers' ability to meet their mortgage payment and other monthly obligations." The Federal Housing Administration (FHA) has also called on all approved mortgagees and lenders to assist federal workers and contractors impacted by the shutdown. “In accordance with its longstanding policy, FHA expects mortgagees to assist borrowers experiencing a loss of income to the greatest extent possible by extending special forbearance plans to borrowers impacted by the shutdown, and fully evaluating borrowers for available loss mitigation options to avoid foreclosure whenever possible,” FHA Commissioner Brian Montgomery said. Bank of America reached out to clients who may be impacted by the partial federal government shutdown to make them aware of its Client Assistance program. “We know the partial federal government shutdown is affecting many of our clients, and we want them to know that we are here to help,” said Aron Levine, Head of Consumer Banking, Bank of America. “Our Client Assistance Program is available to individuals affected by the shutdown for personalized financial assistance, tailored to their specific situation and financial needs.” Chase has also offered hardship programs to customers who have been affected by financial strain, unemployment, or natural disasters. The bank has said that it will automatically waive or refund overdraft and monthly service fees on Chase checking and savings accounts if an employee’s salary from an affected federal agency was direct-deposited into the account in November 2018. “We’re here for our government worker customers whose pay may be disrupted,” said Thasunda Duckett, CEO of Consumer Banking at Chase. “We all hope this will be resolved soon.” Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-California), Chairwoman of the House Financial Services Committee sent a letter to the heads of the Federal Reserve, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, and National Credit Union Administration, urging them to consider the needs of consumers who may be experiencing temporary financial hardship in meeting credit obligations as a result of the shutdown. “This is important to ensure that customers can meet loan payments and avoid high fees and other penalties that they may otherwise incur,” Waters wrote in her letter. “Through no fault of their own, some affected federal employees and others, such as federal contractors, may be unable to pay all their bills on time because of the shutdown.” About Author: Radhika Ojha Radhika Ojha, Online Editor at the Five Star Institute, is a graduate of the University of Pune, India, where she received her B.A. in Commerce with a concentration in Accounting and Marketing and an M.A. in Mass Communication. Upon completion of her masters degree, Ojha worked at a national English daily publication in India (The Indian Express) where she was a staff writer in the cultural and arts features section. Ojha, also worked as Principal Correspondent at HT Media Ltd and at Honeywell as an executive in corporate communications. She and her husband currently reside in Dallas, Texas. She can be reached at Radhika.Ojha@DSNews.com
  18. 3 Simple Steps You Can Take to Halt Junk Mail in 2019 Start the new year by stopping unwanted mail from clogging your mailbox and trash can. Here's how. 1. Stop prescreened offers If you receive but don’t want preapproved offers for credit cards or insurance — also known as prescreened offers — visit OptOutPrescreen.com and opt out of these offers. 2. Opt out with your financial institutions Federal law also allows financial companies like banks to share their customers’ information with certain third parties for specific purposes. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. (FDIC) details this on its “Privacy Choices” webpage. Privacy notices that you should receive from your financial institutions at least annually also detail the institutions’ information sharing practices as well as opt-out instructions. The Data & Marketing Association (DMA), a trade group formerly known as the Direct Marketing Association, maintains a consumer website called DMAchoice.orgto help you manage the direct mail that you receive. According to the site, direct mail includes: Credit offers Catalogs Magazine offers Other mail offers “You can request to start or stop receiving mail from individual companies within each category — or from an entire category at once,” the website says. Registering with DMAchoice.org is not free, though. It entails a $2 processing fee
  19. Brandon Farber

    7 Effective Ways to Cut Clutter in 2019

    Are you feeling a little overwhelmed by the post-holiday excess around you? Have the past several years of your family’s success with Santa left your closets, garage, attic and office filled to the rafters? If so, it might be time for some creative clutter-busting strategies. Start by letting three questions cut through your material clutter. With each item you consider, ask yourself: Do I love it? Do I use it? Will I ever need it? Here are seven ways to kick off the new year right by kicking the clutter habit now: 1. Target one area at a time It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the sheer volume of stuff that most of us live with. Instead of diving right in and burning out quickly, focus on one area of your home or office at a time. Because a little positive reinforcement never hurts, start with the easiest areas first. Declutter: A chest of drawers A hall closet One kitchen cupboard A single drawer in your desk Then, move on to the next spot. If it helps, make a list of all the clutter hot spots that need attention and check each one off as you calm the chaos. 2. Get rid of one item per day If taming the clutter in your environment seems like an impossible task, start slowly. Decide to rid yourself of just a single item per day, but be determined and relentless. As the weeks and months pass, you’ll begin to notice and enjoy the extra elbow room your efforts have created. Build on your success by accelerating the clutter-busting schedule and letting go of two or three items each day. 3. Adopt a zero-accumulation rule To achieve and maintain a clutter-free home or office, adopt a zero-accumulation habit. For every new item that comes into your space, make sure one item goes out. Donate or sell usable items, and toss what’s left. For a more aggressive approach, try a one-in, two-out rule and watch those prodigious piles and cramped closets slowly disappear. 4. Think inside the box(es) The four-box method is a tried-and-true way to quickly get a handle on large amounts of clutter while still ensuring that each item is consciously considered. To begin, get four large boxes and assign each box one of these labels: Donate Sell Trash/recycling Keep but relocate This system will prevent you from just moving piles around and help you sort what’s needed from what’s not. When you finish organizing one area, empty the boxes according to their labels and start over. 5. Do the dozen Choose a regular time each week or month for a “12-12-12” decluttering project. Here’s how it works: Find a dozen items in your home or office to donate, a dozen to toss or recycle and a dozen to return to their proper places. In short order, you’ve gone through at least 36 items and rid yourself of 24 of them. MoneyTalksNews.com Kentin Waits
  20. Brandon Farber

    2019 Bathroom Design Trends

    WHITE AND GREY MARBLE Photo: Simon Upton; Design: Jean-Louis Deniot "White and grey marble continue to be strong, popular materials into 2019 for bathrooms and kitchens alike. They are classic and timeless, can go from traditional to modern in terms of aesthetics, and are also great for resale. Man-made materials, such as quartz and porcelain tiles that look like natural stones, are also workhorses from a durability perspective and will continue to be popular in the new year." — Ariel Okin Nicole Franzen/Sarah Elliott “Pewter and gunmetal is the trend we are loving. It’s not as harsh as pure black or specific as brass or gold, but it gives fixtures some texture and depth.” – Highlyann Krasnow
  21. Run through this checklist of fixes to make your house cozier and your heating more affordable this year. 1. Install weatherstripping Check your home’s exterior doors for cold air leaks. Do this from inside the house. The high-tech approach is to use a laser infrared thermal gun to detect cold drafts. The low-tech way is to move a lit candle around the door frame; the flame will blow toward you when there is a draft. Seal a drafty door by installing foam or felt weatherstripping inside the door frame. Ask at your hardware store for the correct products and installation instructions. Related: 15 Minutes to Open an IRA Account... Cost: $10 to $20 per package for most standard products. 2. Install a door sweep Use a door sweep to stop drafts from entering your home under an exterior door. A sweep is a flexible piece of rubber or plastic that’s held to the door’s lower edge by a strip of aluminum. Cost: $5 to $35. 3. Seal attic air leaks Find and seal gaps that could be allowing as much as 30 percent of your heated or cooled air to leak outdoors. These leaks can add up to $300 a year to heating and cooling costs, HouseLogic says. Pull back attic insulation to find and seal cutouts in drywall for electrical fixtures, pipes, fans and outlets. Also check wiring, chimneys, flues, vent stacks and ducts, and seal them on the inside. Use caulk to fill smaller gaps and pressurized expanding foam for bigger openings. Cost: Caulk costs about $2 to $3 per tube. Expanding polyurethane foam runs less than $5 for a 12-ounce can. 4. Close the damper Heated or cooled air flies up the chimney when you leave the fireplace damper open. Make it a habit to shut the flue after the fireplace has cooled. Cost: $0 5. Add attic insulation Insulation keeps warm air inside in the winter and expensively cooled air inside in the summer. “Typically, houses in warm-weather states should have an R-38 insulation in the attic, whereas houses in cold climates should have R-49,” says This Old House, explaining how to install batting-type insulation. Related: Two Savings Accounts That Pay 10x What Your Bank Pays Insulating an attic, basement or crawl space is moderately difficult, and beginners should hire a professional. If you do, ask if you can perform parts of the job to reduce the cost. Admittedly, insulating is not a cheap job. But the payback can be huge, and you may find rebates and financial incentives. See Energy.gov’s guide to sources and to a calculator to estimate the return on an insulation investment. Cost: Prices vary, depending on factors such as insulation type, local labor costs and size of the attic. 6. Install a programmable thermostat A programmable thermostat can save up to $180 a year on fuel costs, according to EnergyStar. The thermostat can save fuel by automatically lowering (or raising) your home’s temperature while you’re away. It also keeps temperatures consistent, saving fuel. Do not use a programmable thermostat with a heat pump unless the thermostat is meant for use with heat pumps. Cost: Wi-Fi-enabled “learning” thermostats are expensive — $250 and up. Simpler programmable thermostats — here’s an array offered by Lowe’s — start at about $70. 7. Set the temperature manually — and leave it You can enjoy fuel savings for free simply by setting your thermostat to one temperature in the morning, another at night and otherwise leaving the thermostat alone. If you’re chilly, put on a sweater and warm socks instead of raising the heat. Learn more in the article “10 Ways to Stay Warm and Win the Thermostat Wars.” EnergyStar.gov offers more tips to save using a manual thermostat. Cost: $0. 8. Seal furnace ducts Heating ducts typically waste 20 to 30 percent of the heated air they carry, losing it to leaks and poor conduction, says EnergyStar. Leaky heat ducts mean higher utility bills and a house that’s harder to keep warm. Appliances like water heaters and furnaces can cause the buildup of dangerous gases like carbon monoxide through a process called backdrafting, according to EnergyStar. Sealing leaks can reduce this risk, but before you start the job ask a heating contractor if you need to have a combustion safety test done first. You won’t be able to reach all of the ducts — some are hidden in walls, ceilings and floors. But you can improve performance by sealing exposed ducts in the attic, crawl space, unfinished basement and garage. Focus on the places where ducts, vents and registers meet floors, walls and ceilings. Use mastic sealant or metal tape, which are more durable than duct tape, to seal the seams and connections. Cost: Cheap. A 10-foot roll of 3M rubber mastic tape costs $12 or less. 9. Replace furnace filters monthly Dirty furnace filters reduce furnace efficiency and push up heating bills. They also shorten the life of a furnace. Check and replace the furnace filter monthly in winter or every three months while the system is in operation. Your owner’s manual will tell you where it’s located. Hold the filter up to the light: If you can’t see light through it, you need a new one. Pleated filters work best because they trap more dirt particles. Cost: Prices vary. Angie’s List says filters cost: $1 each for flat fiberglass $10 each for pleated and polyester $25 each for high-efficiency varieties 10. Keep your furnace running smoothly Servicing your furnace regularly helps you catch problems before expensive breakdowns, prolong the furnace’s life and keep it running more efficiently. Newer furnaces need professional servicing every two years. Older units require annual servicing. Check your furnace’s manual to see which specific steps are recommended. Ask friends and colleagues for names of good technicians. Find one or two you trust and stick with them. Cost: This is not a DIY job. You’ll pay $80 to $150, says home inspector and Zillow blogger Reuben Saltzman. 11. Insulate the hot water heater Save on fuel by wrapping older water heaters in a blanket of insulation, an easy DIY project that even a beginner can do. Your utility company has instructions. When insulating a gas or propane water heater, do not cover the burner access. Do not insulate: Pre-insulated water heaters. These are newer units with factory installed insulation of R-16 or better (check the manufacturer’s label) under the metal shell. Water heaters located where the added heat is welcome. Water heaters whose manual or paperwork warns against insulating. Tankless (on-demand) water heaters. Cost: $20 to $30. Or possibly free: Ask your utility company for any rebates, discounts or freebies. Some utilities offer free insulation and may even install it. 12. Lower the hot water temperature Hot water heaters typically are set at 140 degrees. Lower the temperature on yours to 120 for fuel savings. You’ll reduce the chance of accidental burns, and the water still will be plenty hot for bathing, washing clothes and doing dishes. Cost: $0. 13. Plug household leaks Grab a tube of caulk, a can of spray foam gap-sealer, a pencil and notepad. Tour your home, inside and out, including the basement, to find and fill cracks and gaps in siding, windows and foundation. Note locations of problems you can’t fix right away. Use caulk for small cracks and the foam sealer for bigger gaps. Inside the home use a candle flame or digital thermometer to find where cold air is entering. Pay attention to door frames, windows, skylights, chimneys and vents. Also check openings around appliance vents, electrical and plumbing fixtures and furnace ducts and check the top of basement walls where the foundation meets wood. Cost: Caulk costs $2 to $3 per tube or less. Expanding polyurethane foam costs under $5 for a 12-ounce can. Dummies.com tells which product to use where. 14. Insulate hot-water pipes Insulate the hot-water pipes in your basement or crawl space by snapping foam sleeves on them. You’ll find pre-slit, hollow-core, flexible foam pipe insulation at hardware stores. Make a note of your pipes’ diameters and lengths, and bring the measurements when you shop. Exposed pipes waste heat by cooling the water as it runs through them. Be sure to include pipes between the hot-water tank and wall. Also insulate cold-water pipes for the first 3 feet after they enter the house. Cost: Prices and products vary, but a 6-foot piece of half-inch foam insulation can be found for $2 to $3. 15. Set ceiling fan blades for winter Set fan blades to move clockwise in winter, and run fans slowly. The idea is to lift cool air to the ceiling and push heated air down where you can enjoy it. Some fans have a remote control or remote switch. Otherwise, use a ladder and manually adjust the small toggle switch on the fan body. Now set the thermostat a notch lower and enjoy the warmth. Cost: $0. 16. Use your window coverings It’s surprising how much insulation curtains, drapes, shades and even mini blinds can provide. Draw window coverings at night and when you’re away to conserve heat in the home. In hot weather, draw window coverings in the morning to keep the house cool, saving money on air conditioning. Cost: $0. Author: Marilyn Lewis moneytalksnews.com
  22. Brandon Farber

    Is the Housing Market Overheating?

    The housing market might experience a downturn, but it won't affect homeownership as much as the last housing crisis did, according to a study titled Where are We Now with Housing: A Report, by the Florida Atlantic University College of Business. The study investigated and compared the current status of U.S. housing at the national level with that of housing at the peak of the last cycle in July 2006. It revealed that while national housing prices were slightly overheated, residential real estate markets were experiencing minimal downward pressure on the demand for homeownership. "Understanding where housing stands today relative to the last cycle’s peak creates more informed real estate consumers and perhaps a less bumpy ride this time around as the nation enters another housing cycle peak," said Ken Johnson, the author of the study and co-author of the Beracha, Hardin & Johnson Buy vs. Rent Index (BH&J). To compare home prices and their impact on demand, the study investigated scores of the CoreLogic Case-Shiller Home Price Index and the BH&J. It found that housing prices were at 7.3 percent above their long-term pricing trend compared to 31 percent at the peak of the last housing cycle. In terms of downward pressure on housing demand, the study found that at the end of the last cycle the BH&J Index indicated an extreme downward pressure on homeownership with a score of 1.00. Comparatively, this time around, the index reflected a score of 0.039 suggesting only minimal pressure on homeownership demand. "It looks like we're in for more of a very high tide, as opposed to a tsunami, as residential prices peak in this latest cycle," Johnson said. "At a minimum, we can expect flatter housing price growth. At worst, we could experience price declines slightly below the long-term pricing trend." Author: Radhika Ojha Radhika Ojha, Online Editor at the Five Star Institute,
  23. Brandon Farber

    A Peek into National Home Price Trends

    The latest American Enterprise Institute National Housing Market Indicators Report indicated a 6.6 percent of a steady rise in house prices appreciation in the low price tier, which is about 27 percent of the market. Among the high price tier that comprises about 9 percent of the market, prices appreciated at a rather gradual pace at 1.7 percent. The market by price tier and by metro areas revealed that it is becoming more bifurcated, pointing out to a possible likelihood of a continued housing boom. AEI indicated that buyers are moving away from larger cities, shifting the demand to smaller or medium-sized areas, wherein HPA has lagged behind. According to the report for Q3 2018, the national house price boom continued in November 2018, even though at a slow pace at 25 quarters currently. According to its House Price Appreciation (HPA) index, 73 metro areas recorded an increase of 5 percent in November 2018 on an annual basis—a decline from 7.4 percent around the same period the previous year. There was a slight pullback in the purchase transactions during the most recent quarter, on the demand side, per the report. Sales transactions of 6.37 million were reported for the four quarters ending in Q3 2018. However, sales transactions declined by 0.6 percent in the third quarter—marking the 1st quarter of decreasing sales since 2014, the report pointed out. Despite this, the national seller’s market continued and now stands at 75 consecutive months, it found. On the inventory side, the month’s inventory in the 73 large metros stood at 3.6 months—data that is indicative of a strong seller’s market. There was a modest rise in the month’s inventory for the low (up 0.4 months to 2.8 months) in terms of price tiers. Low-med reflected an upward trend at 2.6 months. The med-high is at 4.2 months while the high stood at 7.6 months, both reflecting a considerable increase despite the cyclical lows, the report said. The report pointed out a continued rise in mortgage risk in September 2018. The composite Purchase National Mortgage Risk Index (NMRI) was up 0.4 percentage point from September 2017, it indicated. The report also found a pull back on home prices in the high-cost segment outside of the reach of government agencies, which tend to be more affected by rising mortgage rates, and in high-cost metros, especially on the West Coast. Author: Donna Joseph Donna Joseph Five Star Institute
  24. Brandon Farber

    Homeowners Feel the Shutdown’s Impact

    As the partial government shutdown enters its second week, its effects are not only being felt on federal agencies but also on the housing market as federal employees go without pay for the second consecutive week. This is, in turn, is affecting their ability to repay loans. According to the latest estimates, around 800,000 workers are either on furlough or required to work without pay. This includes employees of federal institutions like the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development as well as the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Federal Contractors Losing Out On Friday, FEMA posted a stop work order that is likely to impact many open contracts. According to the Washington Post, in a note to federal contractors Bobby McCane, Head of FEMA's Contracting Activity said, "Any work done after the receipt of this notice is at your own risk and will not be reimbursed. I thank you for your assistance during this funding lapse." While many of the contractors affected by the FEMA shutdown are deep-pocketed tech companies and large government services firms such as AT&T and IBM, the Post said that small businesses and contractors were feeling the shutdown more sharply as they relied on these contracts to provide a large portion of their annual revenue. Effect on Borrowers The effects of the shutdown are now being felt on the housing market too as banks and credit unions announce assistance programs to help affected borrowers working in the government to tackle loan repayments. For example, Wells Fargo has said that it will work with "individuals and business banking customers whose income is disrupted as a result of the shutdown." Additionally, the bank has said that it has set up phone lines to help mortgage, loan, and credit customers who might qualify for forbearance or other payment assistance programs based on their individual circumstances. Chase has also offered hardship programs to customers who have been affected by financial strain, unemployment, or natural disasters. The bank has said that it will automatically waive or refund overdraft and monthly service fees on Chase checking and savings accounts if an employee’s salary from an affected federal agency was direct-deposited into the account in November 2018. “We’re here for our government worker customers whose pay may be disrupted,” said Thasunda Duckett, CEO of Consumer Banking at Chase. “We all hope this will be resolved soon.” About Author: Radhika Ojha Radhika Ojha, Online Editor at the Five Star Institute,
  25. Brandon Farber

    Here is your 2019 Tax Calendar!

    2019 Tax Calendar: 2019 and all of its tax deadlines are upon us! Below is a quick guide of the most important dates to keep in mind this calendar year. January 15th: due date to pay 4th quarter estimated taxes. January 31st: Due date to send out 1099s and W-2s to recipients. Due date to file 1099s/1096s with amounts in Box 7 and W-2s/W-3s with the IRS. February 28th: due date to file 1099s/1096s that do not have amounts in Box 7 if you are paper filing. March 15th: Due date to file S-Corp (1120S) and partnership (1065) returns Due date to elect S-Corp status for existing corporations or LLCs. April 1st: due date to file 1099s/1096s that do not have amounts in Box 7 if you are filing electronically. April 15th: Due date to file individual (1040), trust (1041), and C-Corp (1120) returns. Last day to make HSA contributions and contributions to the majority of retirement plans. Due date to pay 1st quarter estimated payments. May 15th: due date to file most nonprofit returns (Form 990). June 17th: due date to pay 2nd quarter estimated payments. September 16th: Due date for extended S-Corp and partnership tax returns. Due date to pay 3rd quarter estimated payments. October 1st: due date for extended trust returns. October 15th: Due date for extended individual tax returns and C-Corp returns. November 15th: due date to file extended nonprofit returns.