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Updated: Thursday, February 22, 2018

Tips For Negotiating With Sellers

If you dread the negotiating process when buying a home, never fear. Your real estate agent is an experienced negotiator who helps keep the bargaining from becoming emotional and veering off track.

Your agent must know your desires by heart and have quick access to you if a negotiation point needs to be made. Its important to stick to the strategy you and your agent have agreed upon -- showing the seller how strong your offer is.

First, get preapproved for a mortgage loan. That means your mortgage lender has reviewed your credit history and assets, checked employment and income, examined your debt-to-income ratios, and has preapproved you for a certain amount, terms and interest rate so you know exactly how much you can spend.

Being preapproved shows sellers that you are prepared and able to buy. Before you submit an offer, ask your agent to find out more what the seller wants as far as terms. The more your offer matches up with the sellers requests, such as a closing date, the more likely your offer will be accepted.

Find out when the house will be vacated, if any repairs or improvements are planned, and if the seller has any pressure points such as a >Your agent must also find out if other offers are on the table. Your position is stronger if there are no other offers. The seller may be less likely to bend on price concessions or repairs if there are other offers.

Have your agent pull up the most recent CMA comparable homes recently sold or on the market within a reasonable radius of the home, so you can sculpt your offer price. Be sure that you are comparing apples to apples in terms of updates, size of the home, amenities, location, schools districts, etc.

Once these steps are made, you are ready to write an offer.

Making the offer

Make yourself think like the seller. It helps you anticipate what the seller will accept in price, terms, and other conditions. By considering the sellers position, you will likely create an offer that is either accepted or strongly considered.

Your offer should be clear on the terms, closing dates, repair requests or other conditions the seller needs to meet and it should be accompanied by a letter from your lender that you are preapproved to buy the sellers home. Include a cover letter summarizing your strengths as a buyer in terms of creditworthiness, flexibility in closing, and the strength of the offer.

Dont insult the seller with an offer thats too low or requires too many concessions. The seller may be nostalgic about his or her life in the house and may not like the idea that you want to remodel.

The only thing a seller cant argue with is a strong set of comparables that show the home is overpriced or out of date. These are homes that have sold that are nearby within two blocks and similar in age, size and features. If you can show that a similar home has sold within the last two months for less than the seller is asking, thats good.

Be sure all conditions, repairs, etc. are agreed to in writing. Some sellers may feel that a handshake covers a promise, but its essential to be clear on paper what is expected and when. A sellers promise to paint should be included as an addendum to the contract and include all details, such as primer, exact color and type of paint, how many coats, and when the work will be finished for inspection.

Negotiating after inspections

The offer is negotiated and accepted, the earnest money is at the escrow agents office. Now the inspections occur, and this is where the contract negotiations can break down.

No home is perfect, not even brand-new construction. During the inspection process, the inspector is usually required to tell you about any condition of appliances, heating and cooling systems, roofs, electrical and plumbing systems, etc, and if your future home is up to current city codes.

Sellers are usually not required to bring a house completely up to current local building codes. Negotiate a repair only when a system is unsafe or a major repair is needed to make the system operate effectively.

As long as the seller has a reasonable explanation of what your position is and why, and communication remains open, the seller should have as much desire to make the contract work as you do.
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Renovation Tips For A Classic, Not Trendy, Home

Heres the dilemma. Youre getting ready to redo your kitchen and you want it to be stylish and modern but not trendy. After all, this is the only kitchen renovation you ever plan to do and you dont want it to be outdated before you are even finished with the final touches.

If youre paralyzed because youre afraid of making the wrong decision, we get it. Were facing a similar dilemma here, FYI, with floors that need to be done and so many options from which to choose and no winner yet because its not yet clear if what is currently hot is just a flash in the floor pan or will stick around for a while.

So how do you know how to choose? First, it depends on what your goals are. If youre just looking to update and then sell your house, choosing materials that are trending now may be a good call. If youre thinking, "I want to love this and have it still look good in 10 years," thats another story.

"Youve probably taken on a renovation project because you want to update the >


nytimes.com

Go neutral

Yes, neutral can be boring. Its true. It can also be super chic when done right. Making a bold choice with your kitchen countertops might feel like the right way to go right now, but you may turn around in a couple years and regret that choice, especially if youre going to try to sell your home. You can always bring in pops of color with accessories or items that are easier to replace or redo.

For the last several years, grey has been the go-to color for homes. Prior to that, it was beige - a color that is currently seeing a resurgence even though grey is not gone - yet. Black and white is another currently hot option for color schemes, and, the bonus is, "black and white remains a >

Just keep in mind that high ceilings and other architectural features may make a DIY situation un-DIY-able and may make a redo more expensive because you have to hire someone. Key in on walls that dont soar to a pitched ceiling or that can act as a focal wall for high-impact thats easy to accomplish yourself.

Be smart about your kitchen

You may have a desired look cemented in your head for your kitchen, but are you making smart choices? Shaker cabinets, farmhouse sinks, and marble countertops are a few good options if you want something that looks modern but "will stand the test of time and still look as beautiful twenty years from now as it does today," said Apartment Therapy.

Go eclectic with your furniture

An entire house full of mid-century modern furniture can begin to look like a showroom, and when the trend is over, it can be painful to replace it all. Creating a more eclectic look with an eye toward >

Avoid hyper trends in larger items

Drapery, rugs, and bedding can be easily changed out to accommodate your fickle design taste. But when it comes to the larger pieces in the home - a couch or a set of chairs, perhaps, avoiding trends will give you longevity. "Timeless decor means fabrics that will stand up to years of changing trends They transcend those changes," said Stone Gable. "Dont rush out and buy foundational furniture in the lsquo;color of the year Its only the lsquo;color of the year for one year Choose colors and patterns, especially when buying big ticket items, that will still look amazing when this years trends have come and gone. Add layers of accent decor like lamps, art, tableware, pillows, bedding, etc. in more updated colors and >
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DIY Renovating Donts We Learned From Experience

DIY always seems like such a good idea in the dream stage. Build in some equity with elbow grease. Get more for our money while learning some important skills. Create pretty spaces without having to deal with contractors. What could go wrong?

Plenty, actually. If you dont already have a DIY horror story, or at least a tale of woe thats funny only in the rear-view mirror, youre probably overdue. But you can avoid the problems and the pain by learning from others mistakes.

Dont start a project without educating yourself

Putting up a backsplash. It seems like an easy enough task. One that you can involve your children in, even. And then you step back and take a look at your post-backsplash handiwork and realizeperhaps you should have consulted an expert. Or at least watched a YouTube video or two.

The truth is that you can learn almost anything you want today just by Googling it. There are tons of tutorials out there that can teach you how to lay wood floor or replace a window or, yes, do your own backsplash. Or, build a house from scratch, if thats what youre into. They probably wont turn you into an expert overnight, and, in many cases, an abbreviated study isnt going to compare to the work of someone who has been honing their craft for many years. But for the persistent DIYer, getting in some good study before starting your project is essential to doing a job well.


prestigefloors.ca

Dont paint your cabinets without prepping first

Guilty. Yes, we knew sanding was necessary for a smooth finish. Yes, we did it anyway Weve since learned from our mistakes but still. If you want cabinets that chip and peel and generally look like crap, painting without prepping is definitely the way to go.

Commit to finishing a project

Anyone else paint half a room - the lower half that doesnt require standing on a ladder, perhaps - with the intention of finishing the other half in a day or two? Anyone else have one or more unpainted rooms? Sometimes, the DIY brain just wont rest, and its always looking ahead to the next project. That can lead to a house-full of projects in progress and a chaotic home. Of course, that could just be us.

One way to combat this is by goal-setting with an actual deadline, whether its a weekend or a month. You abide by them at work, right? Make your projects a priority by setting realistic deadlines you can follow, and then commit to getting it all done before starting something new.

Measure, measure, measure

Weve all heard the saying. "Measure twice, cut once." But, honestly, sometimes measuring twice doesnt feel sufficient to us. If we can get it right three times in a two, we feel pretty confident weve got the right measurements.

"One of the biggest fails you can make is also one of the most common, especially for do-it-yourselfers," said HomeAdvisor. "Measuring incorrectly can cost you a lot of money and cause a lot of headaches. Being off by an inch, a half-inch, or an even smaller fraction of an inch can have dire consequences when it comes to your home renovation project. Incorrect measurements can mean that you dont have enough space to install your appliances or you dont purchase enough materials to complete the project. To avoid making this mistake, measure multiple times. If youre working with someone, have him or her measure as well to ensure that the numbers are accurate."

Dont rush your paint choice

If it looks great in the store, itll look great in or on your place, right? Not always. Theres a reason paint stores have samples. Do yourself a favor and buy a couple. The light and shadows in your room could make the color look completely different in your home, turning what you thought was the perfect shade into something meh.

Youll also want to make sure you try the paint in every room you plan to use it in. Perfect Greige is one of our favorite colors, and it looked great in our sunny office. Used in our dark-ish bathroom, however, it turned it into a muddy, cave-like space.

Another important factor to remember is what type of paint to use. That same bathroom was extra challenging to make over because someone had slathered the walls in flat paint long before we got there. "Manufacturers make paint for every surface in your home and they are not all the same," said HomeAdvisor. "Flat paint does not have a shine, shows marks, and is not easy to clean. Use this type of paint on ceilings and on walls in low-traffic areas. Semi-gloss and gloss paints have a nice shine and are a better option for walls in bathrooms, kitchens, and other high-traffic rooms."

Make a realistic budget

When it comes to our home, we all want more than we want to or can pay for. But lowballing your reno budget just to get a project going typically wont work out so well in the end when the numbers start to add up and you dont have enough money to comfortably finish it. Planning out a project well and doing sufficient research to come up with legitimate numbers is key.

"To calculate how much remodel you can afford, follow these four steps: Ballpark the cost, establish a spending limit, get quotes from contractors, and set your priorities," said houselogic. A fifth, very important step is this: Once you arrive at that magic number, add more money to it. "Add a 15 to 20 contingency for the unforeseen problems and changes that occur on every project. Is the total still within your ability to pay? If so, youre ready to get started. If not, its time to scale back your plans."

Make sure your contractor is qualified

There are times you just arent going to be able to DIY something or will find yourself overmatched by a task and in need of someone to pick it up and finish. It happens.

The handyman down the street may be affordable and gung ho about redoing your bathroom, but is he qualified? Trying to save a buck can cost you big time in the end if the work is done incorrectly. Sometimes, it pays to go with a qualified contractor who may cost a bit more upfront but who you can be confident about.
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California Broker-Owned Escrows Need To Submit Activity Reports

It is time again -- but there is not much time left -- for affected California brokers to submit their annual Escrow Activity Report to the Bureau of Real Estate BRE. This applies to firms that operate a "broker-controlled escrow" that engaged in five or more transactions or whose escrow activities exceeded 1 million in the past calendar year.

Not every California Broker has an escrow division. Many own escrow companies that operate under the Department of Business Oversight DBO. Many others simply have no ownership interest in any escrow operation. On the other hand, there are those who operate a "broker-controlled escrow", pursuant to their real estate brokers license. These escrows are restricted to transactions in which the >Broker-controlled escrows are significantly restricted as to their potential market when compared to the more common escrow company operating under the DBO. Nonetheless, broker escrows require less capitalization and can still bring a decent profit into a brokerage.

In October of 2011, Senate Bill 53 Calderon was signed into law adding section 10141.6 to the Business and Professions Code. It set forth filing requirements for broker-controlled escrows. If such operations conduct escrow activities for five or more transactions in a calendar year, or whose activities equal or exceed one million dollars in a calendar year, it is required that a report be filed within sixty days following the completion of the calendar year. Except for leap years, the deadline is March 1.

The report is submitted on the Bureaus form RE 890. It is neither particularly burdensome nor time-consuming to complete. In addition to asking about the number and dollar volume of escrow transactions, it requests the location of escrow offices and basic information regarding the escrow officers and escrow trust accounts. If anyone has difficulty with the form, they may contact the CalBRE Mortgage Loan Activities section at 916 263-8941.

It has been a source of particular annoyance to the Bureau and its Commissioner that, so far, there appears to be a serious lack of compliance with Business and Professions Code 10141.6.

In the first year the requirement went into effect, for calendar year 2013, 206 real estate brokers reported broker escrow activities totaling 8.63 billion. Since then, the number of reporting brokers has actually declined.

The Bureau estimates that more than 700 brokerages should be submitting reports. Note that the number is an estimate. There is no special form or requirement for a broker to conduct escrow activity, so the Bureau has never been able to compile a data base of broker-controlled escrows. It would have such a data base if everyone affected by Business and Professions Code 10146.6 complied with the law. At least it would have a list of those who meet the reporting requirements described in paragraph one, above. But, because not everyone has complied, the Bureau doesnt even know who the non-compliant ones are.

How then, you ask, does it know that there actually are non-compliant brokers with respect to escrow activities? Because it finds them when conducting audits. Some of those audits are random; others are the result of complaints, not necessarily >Last year, the Bureau conducted 632 audits, of which approximately 15 95 were >Fines for failing to submit a timely report can run up to 10,000. There can also be non-monetary penalties as well as the often-substantial cost of a BRE audit. The Bureaus Audit section is actively pursuing brokers to determine if they have met their reporting requirements, if any. Brokers who have escrows that meet the >Bob Hunt is a director of the California Association of Realtorsreg;. He is the author of Real Estate the Ethical Way. His email address is .
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Whats Driving Canadian Cities House Prices?

It costs a lot more to buy a home in Toronto or Vancouver than it did in 2010. While some of the increase is >

A new study by Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. looked at the period from 2010 to 2016, during which prices in Vancouver rose by 48 per cent and in Toronto by 40 per cent. It determined that about 75 per cent of the increase in Vancouver could be attributed to conventional economic factors -- including mortgage interest rates that were near historic lows, higher disposable incomes and population growth. But in Toronto, those factors only accounted for 40 per cent of the increase, says the report.

"We investigated the data for additional key factors that could explain the elevated activity levels," says the report. "We found that there had been a shift in the distribution of sales toward high-end homes, with almost all growth in prices for these properties coming from more expensive, single-detached units. This suggests that looking at different points in the income distribution is just as important as studying how income levels evolve across the distribution."

The highest-paying jobs are in the largest cities. Toronto is the financial services capital of Canada and both Toronto and Vancouver have many well-paying jobs in the advanced technology and health care fields.

"Businesses located their workforces where they can access pools of talent -- in major metropolitan centres. Consequently, disposal income among some groups is rising more rapidly in certain cities," says the CMHC report. "These trends reinforce the role of larger cities in attracting highly educated professionals from both other parts of Canada and abroad, thereby providing even a further boost to the demand for housing."

How much did investor and speculative activity drive up prices? Perhaps not as much as many think, and investors are probably helping boost the supply of available homes, says the report.

"If the number of housing starts is much higher than the rate of household formation, we argue that this difference was likely financed by investors," says the report. It says rising home prices attract small-scale rental investors, including individuals who rent out part of their homes to help them with their mortgage payments. "It is also possible that many of these investors have effectively generated demand for builders and developers to construct more housing. In this regard, investors could be effectively encouraging more supply rather than increasing demand."

The controversial issue of foreign investment is "a persistent challenge" because of a lack of data, although Statistics Canada and CMHC have increased their efforts to track foreign buying activity. A recent report from Statistics Canada found that non-residents own 3.4 per cent of residential properties in Toronto and 4.9 per cent in Vancouver.

"While official data on the stock and flow of foreign investment appear low, it is possible that upsurges of foreign investment at market peaks could alter expectations of domestic homebuyers on the price they should pay for housing, and encourage domestic speculators," says the report. A CMHC survey found that 52 per cent of recent homebuyers in Toronto and Vancouver believed that foreign buyers were having an influence on home prices.

Both B.C. and Ontario have introduced taxes on non-resident real estate buyers.

For years, the development and real estate industries have said that government policies that limit the supply of developable land, along with land-use policies and "not in my backyard" movements, have made it impossible for the industry to keep up with demand. That means that more affordable low-rise housing such as townhomes, semi-detached homes and multiplexes, are not being built.

"We found that supply responses to price increases in Toronto and Vancouver were proportionately weaker than the response in other cities, which is consistent with corresponding regulation and geographic characteristics," says CMHC.

The study says many Vancouver homes are demolished and replaced with more expensive ones that house the same number of people. "There also appears to be a sizable price gap when moving from two- to three-bedroom homes, suggesting there is a shortage of three-bedroom homes. We do not have data for Toronto on this issue, but we suspect this is happening there as well."

The study calls for the densification of cities. "Densification, however, needs to increase the supply of all types of housing. Preserving enclaves of single-detached housing will likely only serve to increase wealth inequity and not meet the housing needs of a growing population. It is particularly imperative that the process of redeveloping land within the borders of Canadian cities occur efficiently and promote change in the form of local neighbourhoods. While many Canadians fear density, we found evidence that high-density communities can be made in low-rise structures through partnerships between developers and local communities and government."

It cites examples such as the redevelopment of Humbertown shopping plaza in Toronto and the Oakridge Shopping Centre in Vancouver. In both cases, old 1950s->CMHC says there are several key "data and analytical gaps in housing that restrict our ability to predict housing market forces and anticipate changing needs." It has pledged to work with all levels of government to try to share more information and "better understand the underlying factors that limit housing supply in high-priced markets, and support more timely and flexible ways to respond to those challenges."
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Avoid Contractor Estimation Errors; Hire A Contractor That Uses The Bluebook Pro Estimator

There are many things to consider when it comes to remodeling or any other home improvements on a home. The pressure to get things done in the right way can at times be overwhelming. However, choosing the right residential construction contractor can help you >

One of the must-have tools a homeowner should look for when choosing a residential contractor, is the Bluebook PRO Estimator. This cloud-based cost estimating solution enables contractors to build fair, accurate home improvement estimates for the homeowner. Below is a rundown of the benefits you can expect by hiring a contractor that uses the Bluebook PRO Estimator.

Accuracy

When it comes to estimating the cost of a construction project, you cannot afford to be wrong. A wrong estimation can lead to wastage or even stalling of a project if you realize later that you cannot finance it. You, therefore, need a contractor with the most objective way of doing estimates. The Bluebook PRO Estimator is arguably the most accurate tool that residential contractors can use to estimate the cost, and even manage the actual project. Working with a contractor that uses the Bluebook Pro Estimator will significantly eliminate the chances of human error in estimation.

Professionalism

Your home is probably the most valuable thing that you have. Thus, you want to make sure to leave its construction, repair, or renovation in the hands of qualified professionals. You need a contractor exhibiting the highest standards of professionalism. Although there are other things that you can consider to ascertain professionalism, the tools that they use can give a clue. The Bluebook PRO Estimator is a must-have tool for all residential contractors, giving you valuable, early insight into the tools they employ and the professionalism at all levels of their work.

Consistency

The best part of hiring a contractor that uses the Bluebook PRO Estimator is their ability to make accurate bids time and time again. This makes it possible for them to draw up accurate timeframes and put cost-cutting measures by looking at past projects and comparing the similar ones. Thus, by working with contractors who use Bluebook PRO Estimator, it will be possible for them to create realistic expectations on your project based on the past, ensuring you will not be frustrated in the end.

Fair Pricing and Efficiency

For you to get value from your project, it is imperative to ensure that you get a contractor that will deliver quality work at the fairest cost possible. This is what contractors that use Bluebook PRO Estimator are best known for. This tool enables them to work efficiently and provide you trusted pricing, which will go a long way in saving you time and money.

The Takeaway

Overall, it is apparent that Bluebook PRO Estimator is an essential tool for all residential contractors and one factor that homeowners should look for when making a decision on their home improvement project. This tool enables contractors to deliver estimated project costs with accuracy, professionalism, and efficiency. If you are looking for a contractor to build, repair or remodel your home, it is wise to ensure that they are using Bluebook PRO Estimator, the official recommended nationwide Cost Estimating tool of Realty Times.

Ask your contractor; "Are you a Bluebook PRO Estimator?"


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HOA Board Elections

Question: Our condo has an election coming up: eight applicants for four positions. Residents are sent packets with applicants resumes and proxy sheet to mail n if they are not able to attend the meeting to vote in person. Some residents ignore the entire event.

Some applicants are going door to door asking residents to sign a proxy form for them. These applicants will then walk into the meeting with signed proxies - more or less rigging the voting process.

This process just appears to me to be slightly unethical. Please send your opinion. - Bonnie

Answer: Bonnie: Join the wonderful world of condominium living. Personally, I dont like the concept of a "proxy;" if you care enough about your association, come to the meetings. However, as a practical matter, proxies are usually needed to meet quorum requirements.

I do not, however, consider what is occurring in your association unethical. Whats wrong with meeting with fellow owners and trying to get their vote. Thats the way politics works for national, state and local elections, so why is it wrong in your association?

So long as all potential candidates have the same opportunity to solicit votes, that, in my opinion, is democracy.

Question: When a condominium association needs to make a decision regarding a choice between an assessment versus increasing condominium fees, which is wiser? Our over-55 community has six sub-associations and unfortunately ours has depleted our reserve funds due to the repair of some extensive structural damage for which the builder is no longer responsible after almost 14 years.

The property management company contends an assessment is less desirable and would result in a negative for the entire development. I feel that a seriously depleted reserve fund is more detrimental and should be addressed with an assessment immediately versus increasing the monthly fees. - Joan

Answer: You asked a very good question, but unfortunately, there is no easy answer. This can not be answered in a vacuum; we have to look at all of the facts. And perhaps the most important fact is to analyze the makeup of the owners. Can they afford a large assessment? Will such an assessment trigger more defaults, which would make your financial situation even worse.

What repairs are immediately needed? Has the board considered getting a bank loan, especially now that interest rates are low? Has the board considered a combination of assessment and increased monthly fees?

Bottom line: The board - with the input of owners such as you - should carefully consider all of the facts and all of the various options before making a decision. There is no universal answer.

Question: I have not seen or I have missed info in your column on reverse mortgages. Im 77 and have my own home. I have four adult children who own their homes and are not interested in mine. I still have a mortgage balance of 113,000. Would you please provide me with some information on reverse mortgages - the pros and cons or who I can get in touch with for info? Mary.

Answer: Mary: Perhaps the best place to start learning about reverse mortgages is from the AARP. They have lots of helpful material which you can get online.

Pro: Depending on the value of your house and the amount if any of your current mortgage, you can get a lump sum right now.

Alternatively, you can receive a monthly payment for the rest of your life or until the house is sold. And this is true even if these payments ultimately exceed the value of your house.

Con: You still have to pay the insurance and the real estate tax every year. You still have to maintain the house. And perhaps the most significant negative: You may have no equity left in the house to give to your children or your grandchildren.

I cannot - in this short column - provide more information. In addition to AARP, there are a lot of helpful studies and articles on the web, which you can find just by searching "reverse mortgages." But beware of scammers. And dont >
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Considering the Argument for Adding Individual Mortgages to Your Investment Portfolio

Investing in mortgages should not be looked at with trepidation. As with other cash flow investments such as corporate bonds, government notes, or money market funds, mortgage investments can be looked at in the same vein. Mortgage investments have an attractive risk-return ratio in comparison to other income-producing investments. If you choose your investment intelligently, individual short-term mortgages which I define as first deeds of trust on real estate with 65 loan-to-value LTV ratios, maturing in two years or less are considered more risky than money market accounts or US Treasury bills, but they offer yields at the level of high yield corporate bonds, or even higher with potentially lesser risk.

Chart 1 shows the general risk of short-term mortgages as compared to other income producing investments.

Risk in terms of loss of principal taking into consideration opportunity costs if interest rates rise. Generally, individual mortgages do not trade in the open market; thus, the principal is not subject to market fluctuations as compared to Govt T-Notes, Govt Notes, and Corporate Bonds. In addition, mortgages that have a 65 LTV enjoy some protection if the underlying property declines in value. Govt Notes and Bonds have no collateral backing but are Govt backed and Corporate bonds usually have no specific collateral and are based upon the full faith and credit of the issuer.

Chart 2 shows the general return of mortgage investments on a current rate of return as compared to other income producing investments.

Chart 3 is a grid that shows the comparative advantage of mortgage investments over alternative income producing investments when considering opportunity risk/reward ratios by combing Charts 1 amp; 2.

For purposes of this article, we have defined the following:

Govt T-Bills -- 1 yr obligations guaranteed by the US Government
Govt T-Notes -- 5-10 yr obligations guaranteed by the US Government
Govt T-Bonds -- 15-30 yr obligations guaranteed by the US Government
CDs -- 1 yr FDIC insured
Money Mkt Funds -- liquid mutual funds maintaining a 1 share price
Corporate Bonds -- 15-30 yr obligations guaranteed by a US corporation rated BBB or better
Mortgage Investments -- 1st deeds of trust on real estate with 65 loan to value maturing in two years.

Risks involved in mortgages vary from the other investments that financial advisors might be more familiar with and more due diligence is required. First of all, unlike CDs or US government obligations, mortgage investments are not FDIC-insured and have no government guarantee. Do not confuse these types of mortgage investments with past GNMAs, the pooled investments created by the quasi-governmental mortgage company Ginnie Mae and sold to the public. GNMAs are mortgage-type investments and have a quasi-government backing. By contrast, the mortgages used in the above examples are individual mortgages; thus, the principal is fixed and does not fluctuate unlike GNMAs, which return a portion of principal with each interest payment and trade in the open market and are thus subjected to market volatility. The mortgage investments backing is primarily going to be the underlying real estate on which the mortgage is recorded specific versus blind pool and almost all short-term mortgages will pay interest only, thus keeping the principal intact.

However, all income-producing investments carry some risk -- and its often misunderstood, even by sophisticated financial advisors. For example, money market funds generally are only backed by the mutual funds integrity to honor the 1 share price because all they are holding are short-term obligations, both government and corporate. However, in the early 1990s, when many corporate bonds went sour, investors suddenly learned that their 1 share price was not guaranteed; they could actually lose principal. The mutual fund families that sponsored the money market funds paid out of pocket to subsidize the share prices, thereby preserving the sacred cow.

Corporate bonds carry the risk of strength and integrity of the corporation that issued the bonds. Independent rating services such as Standard and Poors and Moodys have been shown to misjudge the security of many corporate bonds -- whether through conflicts-of-interest or simple mistakes. Even without misjudgments, the price of a corporate bond fluctuates based on the performance of the company, its industry, and the economy overall. In addition, as interest rates rise, the value of the bonds decrease.

The risks that a mortgage investor faces primarily involve the borrower and the underlying real estate. An investor may choose to work with a borrower with less than perfect credit if there is sufficient equity in the property that it is worth the risk. Alternatively, a property may be marginal, but the borrower has excellent credit. These are the main factors determining the interest rate that an investor can expect on his mortgage investment.

Another factor in determining the rate on a mortgage is the competition for these types of investments. In the past, they were considered one of the best kept secrets in investing. No longer. The competition for mortgage investments has heightened to where lenders are competing for loans. This, in turn, drives down the rates. Good for the borrowers; not so for the investors. On the positive side, what once was considered an illiquid investment has risen to a semi-liquid investment. Although there is not a trading market for mortgages as there is for stocks and bonds, new companies have come to the marketplace in search of purchasing existing loans; thus, a market has opened up providing liquidity to those holders of mortgages who want to sell their loans. Giving up yield for liquidity has been attractive to some investors. The yield may be upwards of 1 lower for this ability to sell, but many have decided it is worth it. An Internet search of purchasers of mortgage investments provides many companies willing to buy them.

With the Great Recession now more than five years in the rear view mirror, many financial institutions have loosened some of their lending restrictions. This has also caused interest rates to remain competitive for borrowers. However, because of strict regulations with Dodd Frank and the ATR [Ability To Repay] requirements imposed upon both conventional and private lenders, many borrowers are facing difficulties obtaining the financing necessary to purchase owner occupied real estate used for their primary residence. Otherwise, >

One of the major problems holders of long-term debt instruments be they government or corporate bonds encounter is not so much the risk of failure, but the opportunity cost during rising interest rates. As interest rates rise as we are slowly starting to see now, the investor is caught holding investments that are losing principal, albeit temporarily. Sure, these investors can hold on to lower-return investments until maturity, but the price they pay in the lack of opportunity to participate in higher yielding instruments usually outweighs the wait. Of course, in times of declining interest rates, one would be better served to be in the longest-term bond possible and to sell just as interest rates begin to rise. The question then becomes one of using a crystal ball in which way interest rates are headed.

One solution for the risk-averse investor is to look to short-term mortgage investments no more than 5-year maturities for >

Where do investors and their advisors find these short-term real estate mortgages? There are lenders called "private money real estate lenders" who provide private financing to borrowers who may not be able to obtain conventional loans for a variety of reasons. Advisors should primarily deal with lenders who have a good reputation and record the deed of trust. In some cases, investors may want to invest in a specific mortgage because they know exactly which property is securing their investment; however, the down side to this strategy is that there is now a lot of competition for these types of loan investments and one may be sitting on the sidelines waiting for an opportunity to invest. If the investors money sits too long [in a low interest, liquid account waiting to deploy funds for a new loan], the blended rate of return after the loan is found and invested in may be lower than if the investor invested in a Fund that holds mortgages. For example, if an investor allows his/her money to rest in a money market fund paying 1 and it takes six months to find an 8 note, after one year, the average rate of return for that year was only 4.5 as compared to a Fund that may pay 7. Something else to consider is that a Fund may allow for a reinvestment of monthly distributions thereby compounding the yield. With an individual mortgage, the lender has to take the monthly payments with no reinvestment allowed. In addition, a Fund allows for diversification because the Fund has many mortgages, similar to a mutual fund holding a variety of stocks. Because this type of investment is no longer a secret, many individual investors are competing for mortgages. When a broker presents a potential scenario to an investor, that broker usually also sends the same scenario to many other potential investors, as the broker wants to make sure that he can fund the loan in a timely fashion to the borrower. Many an investor has gotten upset when, after giving the broker the green light for the loan, the broker informs the investor that he was too late and some other investor snapped up the loan. This creates a frustrating situation for the investor and wastes his time. At some point, the investor may tell the broker to stop sending him deals, as he never knows if he will be allowed to invest in the specific loan [because another investor was faster in saying, "yes"].

Many investors choose to invest in a Fund to avoid those disappointments. In addition, many Funds provide a liquidity feature, so the investor can withdraw his money if he needs to. Advisors should look for Funds that charge no load to get in or out and make sure the manager of the Funds interests are aligned. One way is for the Fund to participate in the points being charged to the borrower. This lends itself to make sure the manager does not charge a large amount of points [which the manager could retain] and a small interest rate [which is paid to the Fund].

Although short-term mortgages and mortgage Funds are not the "end all" investment, they may play a prominent place in many investment portfolios looking to provide high yields for >

Edward Brown is in the Investor >415-883-2150
www.pacificprivatemoney.com


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Backyard DIY Projects

You dont have to pay through the nose to have the best backyard on the block. If you have a few simple DIY skills and know how to use a tape measure and level, you can easily upgrade and update your backyard all on your own.

If youve ever dreamed of a lovely garden path, perennial garden or a privacy fence, but youve hesitated because of cost, now is the time to invest a little sweat equity to create the backyard of your dreams.

Plant a Perennial Garden

Tending perennials may seem daunting to inexperienced gardeners, but in reality, theyre some of the easiest flowers to grow. Best of all, plant them once and they return to bloom every year. Perennial gardens make lively backgrounds for your annual plantings. Use them along fences and border porches and decks to add color from early summer to late fall.

To ensure the stability and livelihood of your perennial plants:

  • Keep the roots wet until you put them in the ground
  • Plant them in improved soil
  • Apply regular helpings of water and fertilizer
  • Place a 3-inch layer of mulch around, but not touching, the plants.

Install a Privacy Fence

Photo by tristanf via Flickr

If you crave a secluded backyard oasis, consider installing a 6-foot or 8-foot section of privacy fence. Your local home improvement store sells this type of fencing in sections. All you have to do is level the terrain and dig the post holes. Use a quick-setting cement to anchor your fence posts, making sure everything is level and square before moving on to the next section.

With a little tenacity, you can install a privacy fence in one weekend. Done properly, it adds privacy and enjoyment to your backyard and value to your home.

Replace Your Pool Liner

Photo by Creative Ignition via Flickr

It sounds like a difficult challenge, but replacing your pool liner is quite simple when you start with the right tools and quality supplies. Visit webpages such as poolproducts.com inground liner to find the materials you, as a DIYer, need to perform simple maintenance on your in-ground pool. Keep the following points in mind as you replace your pools liner:

  • Replace your liner during warm weather
  • Remove all water and debris from your pool
  • Avoid over-stretching your replacement liner
  • Utilize sandbags to secure the base seal
  • Have a comprehensive understanding of the process before starting.

Hardscape Your Backyard

Photo by ARNOLD Masonry and Concrete via Flickr

The addition of pavers, retaining walls, fire pits and patios all add value and comfort to your backyard, but many homeowners dont realize they can easily complete these upgrades without the help of professional landscapers.

Lay decorative pavers on a bed of tamped sand to make an easy patio that stands up to the elements, or layer simple bricks with or without mortar to make attractive and functional retaining walls. A meandering garden path guided by decorative cobblestones can lead to a simple water feature or wooden bench in your garden. Delight your backyard guests and yourself this summer by creating a simple hardscape that complements the design of your home.


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How Much Home Can You Really Afford?

So, youre getting ready to buy your first home, and you feel like youre at the mercy of the market. And your mortgage lender. In some ways, it might even feel like theyre working against each other - especially if youre in a really hot market in which you cant qualify for the amount youd need to buy what you want.

When it comes to providing pre-approvals for would-be homebuyers, lenders today are more careful than they were in the years leading up to the market crash, and that means your financial picture will be more rigorously scrutinized to determine your credit-worthiness and develop your max approval amount. Trust us, thats a good thing. The last thing you want is to be house poor. Having a great place to live that you cant enjoy or furnish or even leave because you have no money left wont be fun.

"Just because a lender says younbsp;cannbsp;afford a certain mortgage doesnt mean younbsp;should," said TIME: Money. "Consider your take-home pay - what actually goes into the bank after taxes, health insurance, and savings for retirement and college. Then add up all your monthly bills, not just debt but also things like utilities, phone, and groceries. You want to feel comfortable that you can cover all your household obligations while still meeting your other financial goalsnbsp;andnbsp;keeping six months of expenses in annbsp;emergency fund."

Thats why its so important to consider all of your monthly expenses >

Increased commuter costs

Are you moving out to the lsquo;burbs? That hour-long commute each way is going to add to your bottom line. Of course youll be using more gas. Will you also incur tolls? Then there is the wear and tear on your car, which could mean additional costs. You can estimate your commuter costs here.

Higher utility bills

A larger place could mean higher utility bills. Then again, more energy-efficient appliances, windows and doors, and HVAC could potentially result in lower bills, which could be a reason to look for a newer home over something older. Its not out of line to inquire about utility bill costs from the existing owner through your Realtor is probably best. This information could be critical in helping to make the best decision when buying a new home.

Homeowners association

Your pre-approval amount is an all-in number, but that number only includes principal, interest, taxes, and insurance. If you are buying in a community that has a Homeowners Association, your fee will be a separate cost that needs to be considered. An HOA fee can range greatly depending on your location, the number of homes in the community, and the amenities and services included.

Home improvements

Youre likely going to have a mailbox full of credit card pre-approvals and offers from places like Home Depot and Lowes after you close escrow - and they can be tempting. Reeeaaallly tempting, especially if you need new appliances or countertops or flooring or all of the above. Ditto for furniture stores, because, like Lowes and Home Depot, those offers are often zero-interest deals. It may make sense to take advantage of one or more of them to make some necessary or wanted updates to your home - if you can swing the payments. They obviously add to your monthly obligations, even at no interest. And keep in mind that if you miss, or are late on, a payment, that zero interest is replaced with a much larger number, and that means youll face a much larger balance to pay.

Landscaping

If youre coming from an apartment or a rental where the outside maintenance is taken care of by someone else, get ready to either: buy a lawnmower and an edger and spend your Saturday mornings in the yard, or pay someone else to take care of it.

Warranty

If youre buying a brand-new home, youll typically have a warranty provided by the builder or developer, often for one year. You have the option of extending that, or buying/extending an existing warranty on an older home, and all of those options will cost you.


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Nine Must-Haves For Your New Home, Valentines Day Edition

Sure, the right number of bedrooms is important. And, of course, you wouldnt even consider a house in the wrong school district. But what are the other things that really matter when buying a home? You know, the things that make your life easier - or at least a little less chaotic - on a daily basis and that support your life>

Whats true of >

The right location

If youve never had to sit in traffic for three hours a day, you probably dont know exactly how much it completely sucks. It may be worth it to you because a long commute is the only way youll be able to afford a home, but have a serious talk with yourself first.

The right overall layout

Sure, walls can be moved and floorplans reimagined, if thats what youre into. But some things you might not be able to change, perhaps because you lack budget or spacemdash;or both. If the idea of being on a different floor than your children stresses you out and you fear youll never be able to >

Enough bathrooms

Nothing kills the mood like having to squeeze your knees together while your honey is in the only or only functioning bathroom. If youve ever watched House Hunters and seen a couple buy an old home with one bathroom, which they justified because the place was "just so charming," let us set the record straight: Theres nothing charming about peeing your pants.

Dual sinks

So the house youre considering has an updated master bathroom, and what it lacks in space it makes up for in >

A good family gathering space

Whether or not you have kids or ever plan to, a good family room or living room is key to long-term enjoyment of a home. The amount of square footage is obviously important, but also pay attention to the key features of the room. Otherwise, youll end up with a space you hate being in because the west-facing windows make it too hot in the summer and too cold in the winter and the TV niche is shoved into the corner, making it hard to see unless youre sitting directly across from it. Or perhaps thats just us.

Upstairs laundry

Back to House Hunters for a moment. Who else cringes every time someone buys a house with a laundry room in a creaky old basement? Just the thought of having to carry laundry baskets down two flights of stairs is enough for us to say a hard "No" to that. Many basement-free homes have laundry rooms on the first floor, when all the bedrooms are upstairs. This may be an acceptable feature for most peoplemdash;and it may be all youve known to this pointmdash;but trust us: Once youve enjoyed the convenience of an upstairs laundry room, youll never want anything else.

A sufficient garage

Burning your butt on a hot car seat in the summer and having to run the engine for 10 minutes before you get into a freezing cold car in the winter might anger you every single time you do it.

The right size backyard

Taking the kids to the park instead of letting them loose in a backyard you dont have. Getting out of bed to walk the dog in the middle of the nightmdash;and in the rainmdash;because, again, no backyard. Not having a backyard at all, or a tiny patch of grass that doesnt give you space to move, might not be the kind of compromise you want to make. On the flip side, a large back yard that requires time and effort to maintain may take away from family time and create stress or anxiety.

A kitchen you can work with

Yes, you can replace a dishwasher or repaint your cabinets. Heck, you can rip the whole thing out and start over if you want, but most people arent looking to drop that kind of money on a brand-new kitchen. Is the kitchen workable as is? Are there small tweaks you can make that would create a space you want to cook in? Being honest with yourself about what you need, what you can handle, and what is realistic can help you make a good choice instead of one you may soon regret.


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Design Tips for Upgrading Your Sunroom

The bones of your sunroom are all there - windows, floors, ceiling and maybe even some >

Big Changes for Big Effects

Take a good look at your space. What do you see? The "bones" of your space set the tone for everything that goes in it: this includes flooring, wall color or wall finish, ceiling, and other architectural elements that give your room its distinctive atmosphere. Tile and stained concrete are both tempting options for sunroom floors since they lend a breezy, sophisticated atmosphere to a sunshiny space.

Overhaul Your Floor with Tile

If youre looking to make a big impact with your floor, tile is a fantastic choicemdash;its sophisticated, you can do it yourself with a bit of practice and know-how, and your options are endless. Opt for a cozy, rustic brick feel, or perhaps Moroccan elegance with colorful tiles boasting a cool, casual feel. This Old House offers step-by-step instructions to lay your own tile floor. Keep in mind that when youre laying your own tile, the simpler the pattern, the better.

Treat Your Walls

For a Tuscan feel, go with a light Tuscan plaster wall treatment, and offset the coziness of your wall color with breezy, cream-colored sheer curtains or other light window treatments. Coupled with sophisticated furniture, youll love your understated Italian-inspired getaway, but make sure you dont overdo the accessories and clutter up the look.

Create an Atmosphere with Accessories Alone

If you live in an apartment or a rental home that doesnt lend itself to major overhauls, you still have plenty of options for updating your sunrooms look. ForRent.com offers countless ideas for designing your rented space. Something as simple as new patio cushions, candlesticks, brightly-colored pillows, or wall art can make your space look like something out of a design magazine. The best part about this kind of design: Its easy to overhaul your look without repainting Just view your space as a blank canvas, and fill it with colors and textures representing the >


Photo by Wickerfurniture via Flickr

Patio Cushions and Curtains

If youre handy with a needle and thread, sew your own patio cushions and curtains without paying the exorbitant prices that custom design firms charge. Check out SewMamaSew for step-by-step instructions to sew your own patio cushions.

Centerpieces/Decorative Accents

Paint is your friend here. The hardest part about this step is harnessing your creativity, so choose a palette and run with it. Try picking up some old candlesticks from an antique store or flea market, then update them with high-gloss paint. Going for a beachy feel? Print a few sepia-toned beach shots you took on your last vacation, then frame them in simple wooden frames youve painted to match your >

Woodworking Projects

Repurpose an old wood pallet into a coffee table that adds rustic >


Photo by Wickerfurniture via Flickr


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Death And Taxes: Not Always Inevitable

Question. My husband recently died of a massive heart attack, leaving me a widow at a young age. I was thrust into a new life status that was not my choice or my desire. I believe I am being penalized for something that has already devastated my life in many ways.

We were fortunate to have invested wisely in our principal home many years ago, and have made more than 250,000 in profit. I want to sell, and it now appears I will have to pay the tax on any profit over 250,000, since I no longer file a joint return. If couples are making the life choice to divorce, they can sell their home prior to the divorce and get the 500,000 exemption recently enacted by Congress. A widow has no option or choice in the change that has happened in her life.

Please advise me how I should proceed; I need the money for my future more than the government.

Answer. It has often been stated that two things are inevitable: death and taxes. However, there is a measure of hope based on an often forgotten concept in the tax law known as the "stepped-up" basis. And, fortunately, this was not modified or repealed under the new tax law that was just enacted.

Oversimplified, this means the value of a persons real property on the date of his/her death becomes the basis of the person who inherits that property.

Let us take this example: in 1995, you and your husband purchased your first home for 100,000. You took title as tenants by the entireties -- which is the common form of ownership for married couples. Your husband died in 2017, and the property was valued at 800,000 on the day he died.

Your basis is as follows:

Initial basis: half of purchase price 50,000

Inherited stepped up basis: 400,000

New basis: 450,000

Please note that since the property was worth 800,000 on the date your husband died, you inherited his half of the property -- namely 400,000.

If you sell your property today for 800,000, your profit before excluding such items as real estate commissions, legal fees and fix-up costs will be 350,000 800,000 - 450,000. As you correctly pointed out, since you are now filing a single tax return, under the current tax laws, you are entitled to completely exempt the first 250,000 of this gain. Once again, Congress did not repeal or amend this important homeowner benefit.

Thus, your capital gain tax will be on 100,000 350,000-250,000. Because the income tax brackets were changed under the new law, please talk with your financial advisors as to what your tax obligation will be.

However, lets analyze this even further. Did you and your husband make any improvements to your house over the many years of your ownership? If you put on a new addition, installed a new kitchen, or significantly improved the back yard, all of the costs of these improvements are added to your basis. Thus, if the costs of your improvements were at least 100,000, you will not have to pay any capital gains tax at all.

Furthermore, try to find the settlement statement when you first purchased the property. There were a number of costs which you incurred -- title examination, title insurance, legal fees -- which can properly be added to basis.

Keep in mind that for every dollar you add to basis, you are going to save from paying capital gains tax. Clearly every dollar can add up to a considerable tax saving.

Although you did not raise this next issue, I want to take the opportunity to comment on a question I often get: should you put your children on title now?

Generally speaking, my answer is no. The reason is the same as discussed above -- on your death, your children will get the benefit of the stepped up basis, and indeed under the circumstances may not have to pay any capital gains tax. For example, were you to die when the property is valued at 800,000, if your children sold the property for this price, they would have no gain at all -- and thus no tax to pay.

However, if you were to gift them the house now, during your lifetime, their basis for tax purposes would be your basis -- i.e., 450,000. The law requires that the basis of the donor becomes the basis of the donee. If they sold the property for 800,000 -- and the house was not their principal residence -- they would have to pay capital gains tax on profit of 350,000 800,000 - 450,000 At the maximum rate, this could be a nice gift to Uncle Sam.

You must, of course, fully discuss these issues with your tax advisors. These are not easy questions, and the answers are even more complex.

So much for "tax simplification."
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Home Seller Tips To Having A Successful Open House

Holding an open house for your soon-to-be-listed or newly on the market home is a lot like being on a game show where edging out the other contestants in a short period of time is key. In TV game shows, such as "Jeopardy," the contestants donrsquo;t automatically know answers to so many trivia questions; they study and they plan and they make it appear to viewers like they walk around with that body of knowledge every day. Open houses need to be thought of similarly. Once your home is on the market, an open house is your opportunity to plan and strategize how you are going to win over buyers in very short time.

Even in a strong real estate market where houses sell quickly, itrsquo;s still important to ask your agent to hold as many open houses as possible until the home sells. One reason is that even buyers with agents still like to look at homes on their own without feeling the pressure of a home tour. Sometimes their agent is out of town when your house goes on the market. Many buyers are not represented by an agent and the only way for them to tour a home is through an open house. Your agent will plan the open house to include everything from signage to freshly baked cookies. As a seller, you should take the following steps:

Depersonalize

Back to the game show analogy, think of depersonalizing as studying the answers and questions before trying out for "Jeopardy." Your house is lovely for how you live in it, but buyers donrsquo;t want to see you in your house. In fact, the more your house makes it difficult to guess who lives there age, >

Declutter

While you are depersonalizing itrsquo;s also a good time to declutter as the two go hand in hand. The more simple and understated your home is, the more likely buyers can see the home for what it is and imagine themselves in it. When you have too much stuff cluttering walls and counters and shelves, buyers turn their focus toward those things and sometimes even make the assumption in logic that if you are cluttery, then you are disorganized, which means maybe you donrsquo;t take care of the house as well or as on time as you should. A good rule of thumb is to box up or store at least half of the smaller items displayed in your home.

For example, how much is on your kitchen counter right now? Now imagine reducing that number to just three things. What would you choose to keep versus store? Some sellers are benefited by going to other open houses in their area and looking at how other people have decluttered and arranged what is left. Online pictures, such as what is found on Pinterest, can help too. Often you can get some good ideas on what works visually just by seeing how others do it. When you are all done decluttering, clean your home like never before because buyers notice dirt and grime. Hire a maid service if you have to.

Lure Them In

The outside of your home is as important as the inside, especially the front entry area. Before an open house, take care of simple yard maintenance such as mowing, edging and weeding flower beds. A fresh layer of mulch adds color especially in winter months when not much is blooming. At your front door, clean off spider webs, blown leaves, and place a large, colorful pot of annuals or anything you can buy in season.

Complete Your Honey-Do List

While you have the yard power tools out, dust of your workbench and take a walk around your house inside and out. Make a list of all maintenance issues such as wiggly door handles, missing fascia, paint that has chipped, etc. and repair them before the open house. Buyers see even the smallest of maintenance issues as an extension of the condition of larger items such as roofs, plumbing and major appliances and assume you havenrsquo;t taken care of the home. You might talk to your realtor about a pre-inspection to deal with all home maintenance and problems upfront, before you get into contract with a buyer.

Be Cautious

Once you have taken the above steps and you are ready for the actual open house, therersquo;s one last thing to plan. Protecting your valuables and identity. It might be rare, but criminals do use open houses as a way to case a house or to find collateral to steal identities. Make sure indoor safes are locked and hidden. Store heirlooms, checkbooks, prescriptions, and valuable jewelry away from prying eyes. Utilize a >
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New Recording Fees Will Fund Affordable Housing
Effective January 1, 2018 there is a whole new set of fees that will be charged to Californians who are recording real-estate->

It is important to note that it is not the kind of instrument that is important, but, rather, the context in which it is being recorded. If, for example, you are refinancing your property, part of the transaction involves recording a new trust deed. That will cost you 75 in addition to whatever other costs might be incurred. If, however, you are recording a trust deed in connection with the sale of a property, the extra charge will not be imposed.

Also, no charge will be imposed on a transfer of property -- even if it is not a sale -- to a person who will be an owner occupant.

What kind of documents might a property owner want to record, even if no sale is occurring? A short, incomplete, list might include: deed of trust, reconveyance, assignment of trust deed, declaration of homestead, easement, mechanics lien, notice of completion, and covenants, conditions, and restrictions. Theres plenty more, and they all cost an extra 75 a pop up to 225 per transaction.

This is all the result of Senate Bill 2 Atkins, the Building Homes and Jobs Act, which the Governor signed into law September 29, 2017. It made additions to both the California Government Code 27388.1 and the Health and Safety Code 50470.

The purpose of the bill was to provide a permanent source of money that could be used to provide, "an adequate supply of homes affordable to California at all income levels"

Prior to this, affordable housing programs, including those to assist the homeless, were financed through voter-approved bonds and through a 20 set-aside that was imposed on redevelopment agencies. Bonds do not provide a permanent source of funding, and nearly all the existing voter-approved funding had been awarded. Moreover, redevelopment agencies have been eliminated.

According to the Legislative analysis, California has a shortfall of approximately 1.5 million affordable units for low and very-low income households. This includes rental housing. Furthermore, with 12 percent of the U.S. population, California has 20 percent of the nations homeless population. It is estimated that 118,000 Californians are homeless on any given night.

According to the Senate Appropriations Committee, the new fees will generate 200-300 million annually. SB2 specifies the manner in which the funds are to be spent. In the first year, half of the money will go "to local governments to update their general plans, housing ordinances, and other planning documents to increase the production of housing. The other half of the funds in the first year will go to assist people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. In all subsequent years, the bill requires 70 of funds deposited into the Trust Fund to be distributed via formula to cities and counties to be used in a variety of ways to address the unmet housing needs of the jurisdiction." For a full and more detailed accounting of the use of the Trust Funds, the reader is invited to check out 50470 of the Health and Safety Code. It is very detailed.

Since the implementation of Senate Bill 2, the California Association of REALTORS CAR has received complaints "that title companies and potentially some county recorders have been improperly charging buyers for exempt documents." The association has prepared a variety of documents to assist property owners in preventing and/or recovering inappropriate overcharges. They are available to REALTORreg; members on car.org.
Full Story >


Get Ready to Buy This Spring

Once you decide that this Spring you want to buy a new home mdash; or your first house mdash; the question is, "Where do we start?"

The answer lies in two sets of decisions:

1. Start With Success: Begin by deciding what success means to you. Clarify what you really want and why, not just whats "in" right now. Explore this practical side before viewing properties. What matters is not the number of homes you see, but zeroing in on genuine good matches. For instance, a couple who wanted to add a mortgage-paying basement suite to their next home, decided to search for houses with an existing basement bathroom since this would be the most expensive part of creating a rental unit.

2. Whos "We"?: The other essential to a good start is to decide who "we" is going to be:

  • Will friends or family come along to share their construction or real estate ownership expertise?
  • Will you have a contractor on-call to provide renovation-cost estimates to back up your offer price?
  • Who will you select as your local real estate professional to be sure you see all the best matches without being dragged through definite "nos." For instance, a condominium specialist may not be the best match if you are intent on a detached house with rental suite potential. How much do you need to learn about real estate before you will be comfortable when its time to sign on the dotted line? If you have a steep learning curve, youll benefit from a real estate profession who is well equipped to inform as well as provide access to the best-fit real estate. Then theres the professional negotiation skills youll want to tap into.

If you want to buy this Spring, when should you start?: How quickly you can find a home to buy and move into it depends on many factors:

  • The transition from searching for an ideal property to moving in can be condensed into a few weeks. This is often the pace for corporate >At the other extreme, stretching the search for that "perfect forever home" over many seasons or even years may work for those who want a specific location or type of property and are not displeased enough with their current home to accelerate the process.

Somewhere in between those extremes lies your ideal time line:

  • Buying within a market cycle, enables your real estate professional to identify specific properties that present the best return in that buyers, sellers, or flat market.
  • If you have a busy work and personal life, carving out time to consider listings, view properties, explore neighborhoods, investigate financing, and deal with all >When the goal is to enroll children at the start of school year or to arrive at a new job on time, back calculating with your real estate professional will reveal when the search should begin. When in doubt, start sooner, so you dont end up faced with time-pressured decisions.
  • Hot real estate markets are the hardest to plan timing in. You may be eager to purchase, but lose out on property after property in multiple offers. Decide what your worst-case scenario would be and act accordingly.
  • Waiting for your local real estate market to change gears so prices drop is risky. Timing the real estate market is no easier than timing the stock market. The best advantage in any market lies in selecting ighly-knowledgeable, experienced professionals fully committed to working with your best interests as their top priority.
  • You may not be 100 certain this is the Spring for you to plunge into the market, but if youre more sure than not sure, invest time finding the right professionals. If the timing is not right for you, that will become evident and youll discover what your options are and why.

Real estate professionals, committed to understanding market pace in areas they work, can help you manage timing. One thing they may suggest, is not to wait for the Spring Market, but to get ahead of the mass of spring buyers and jump into real estate now. For instance, sellers who are listed now are serious about selling and, depending how long their property has been on the market, they may be more receptive to negotiation.

Whether you decide to wait until Spring or jump in now, here are Five Savvy Buying Tips that ensure youll get the best property for your needs, at the best price, with the minimum amount of hassle and disappointment:

1. Apply Smart Buying Rules: If you consider yourself a smart buyer when purchasing a car, a phone, or travel, apply that savvy to buying real estate. Understand what you need and why. Set a realistic budget. Learn how things work. With all these issues, the right professional should save you time, stress, and money.

2. Ensure Location Overrules Features Decor: Real estate is an immoveable object. That reality dictates that where you buy is the prime value concern. Smart buyers look for the least property in the best area, so their real estate improvements result in increased market value. Values within a neighborhood or community are not uniform. There are specific streets, even ends of streets, that represent the highest local value just as boundary streets and other locations may represent lower prices. Particularly in urban areas, proximity to the most highly-regarded schools, popular shopping areas, and sought-after local features like parks dictates price, as your real estate professional will explain.

3. Maximize Move-In Timing: The more flexible your move-in date, the more room to negotiate with sellers. Agree to their ideal move date and that may generate concessions in price or inclusions. When you have a fixed move-in date, you may find yourself paying more to buy what you want, when you want it. Timing is a significant consideration when deciding whether to buy your next home before you have sold your current property, that is, taking the risk of paying on two mortgages at once. Since the market where you are selling may be different from that where you want to buy, timing decisions should involve the experience of a real estate professional or two.

4. Own The Money Factor: Affordability encompasses costs ranging from purchase price including legal fees and other costs, mortgage financing, and the cost of customizing the living space to including ongoing expenses like heating, cooling, commuting, and anything else that matters. With mortgage rates on the rise, reducing consumer car loans and credit card debt may open up borrowing room.Mortgage professionals can help you shop a wider range of lenders. These money experts can also explain why there is so much more to consider than just interest rate.

5. Face Reality Head On: Compromises to your "must have" list can maximize value and returns.

  • You may want four bedrooms, but if two younger children share a large room until the eldest child goes to college, maybe that 3-bedroom with significantly-better location and greater appreciation potential will really work for your family.
  • If cosmetic or minor renovations dont daunt you, this could also provide a location advantage and may even mean a larger home is affordable.
  • Compromising on location can also mean more living space, just be sure that commuting costs, including needing an extra car and possible lower appreciation rates, dont swallow up that saving.
  • Your buying perspective is also an important consideration. Do you expect to stay until a second child appears or until all the kids finish school or are you in for the long haul? Shopping for a "forever home" is a popular approach. Just take care that projections are fact based and not fantasy that leaves you buying more home than you can comfortably afford in a rising interest-rate world.

Most people have more real estate choices than they realize. Are you sure you want to wait for Spring to get started?
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The HOAs Maintenance Plan

The purpose of a Maintenance Plan is to instruct a homeowner association board and property manager how to properly maintain common element components. Following a well prepared Maintenance Plan will help extend the useful life of the components and reduce costs to the members.

An effective preventive maintenance plan should satisfy the following five key goals:

1. Preserve owners investment. Preventive maintenance can extend the life of building components, sustaining and enhancing the propertys value.

2. Help buildings operate at peak efficiency. Because preventive maintenance keeps equipment functioning as designed, it reduces inefficiencies in operations and energy usage.

3. Prevent failures of building systems. Buildings that operate trouble-free allow the occupants to enjoy the property as intended. Preventive maintenance includes regular inspections and replacement of equipment crucial to building operations.

4. Sustain a safe and healthy environment. Protecting the physical integrity of building components preserves a safe environment for residents.

5. Provide cost effective maintenance. Preventive maintenance can prevent minor problems from escalating into major failures and costly repairs. Preventive maintenance can be handled >The objective of the Maintenance Plan is to provide clear direction to the board and management how and when to provide repairs to building and grounds components. If consistently followed in conjunction with a properly prepared reserve study schedule, the components will enjoy their maximum useful lives and >For more innovative homeowner association management strategies, see www.Regenesis.net.
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Tips For Creating A Luxe Bedroom

Creating a >Get the lighting right

You dont want to feel like youre being interrogated in the bedroom. Super bright lights dont set the mood, nor are they useful for helping you to >Choose the right color

Fire-engine red walls will create energy, which could be helpful to your love life, but might keep you up at night for all the wrong reasons, too. Use the principles of Feng Shui to choose colors that will help "bring the best energy into yourspace," said MyDomaine. According to certified Feng Shui expertLaura Cerrano, earth tones, beige, and cream are "ideal for someone looking to create a restful bedroom," while colors like blue, blue-green, and black "can translate into a deeper connection between you and your partner."

Indulge in a luxurious headboard

A headboard isnt just a finishing touch to the room. Its an essential part of the space that gives it a well-put-together, finished look and that also make the bed feel plush. "An attractive headboard will really make a statement in your bedroom and transform the space," said Houzz. "It will also make your bed a much more comfortable place to be.When choosing a headboard, think about the size of your room and the height of the ceiling to get the proportions right. If you have a really high ceiling, you can afford to scale the headboard accordingly to create a real impact."


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Pick cushy sheets

Theres just no reason to live with scratchy sheets. High thread counts matter, and they can get expensive. But the weave and fabric of the sheets can also help them to feel more - or less - comfortable. Business Insiders exhaustive test of the best sheets came out with a clear winner: "After reviewing dozens of contenders, our top pick for bed sheets are the280-thread-count Pima Cotton Percale Sheets from L.L. Bean," they said. "Crisp, cool, and comfortable against your skin, these sheets make bedtime a treat."

Add texture

Creating any stylish space is about layering, and the bedroom is no different. Start with the bed. "Dont be that person with just a top sheet," said Elle Dcor. "Okay, we know youd never commit that cardinal design sin, but in our opinion, layering is key to a beautiful bed. Throws, bed runners, the works It will give your space an instantly glamorous upgrade, plus youll be beyond cozy in the wintertime."

Wallpaper or a feature wall behind the bed and accessories like cushions and decorative items sprinkled throughout the room can add another layer of interest.
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Creative Ways To Save For A Down Payment

Youd love to buy a house, and if it werent for that pesky down payment, youd be sitting pretty in a place of your own, right? Youre not alone. Not surprisingly, the "top challenge for would-be homebuyers is thedown payment requirement," said The Mortgage Reports. In a recent study, "Over half of potential buyers claimed saving a down payment was a bigger issue thancredit scores, income needed or housing prices."

There are some creative ways to get there.

Look for down payment assistance

Many homebuyers dont realize that these programs even exist. "Down paymentgrants are designed to help eligible buyers bridge the gap between their savings and the required down payment for a mortgage," said The Mortgage Reports. "This money doesnt usually have to be repaid."

Grants are available through the Department of Housing and Urban Development HUD and typically have eligibility requirements that are tied to income. In addition, "You must be a first-time buyer purchasing a primary residence," they said. You can check for available grants here.

Save your pennies

Every little bit helps Get used to paying for things with cash, which is another tip financial analysts recommend to keep track of spending. At the end of the day or week, put aside any change. Youll be surprised how it can add up over a few months.

Shop for a better savings account

Some banks offer special rates or even kick in money if you open a new account and maintain a certain balance. If you already have a good head start on your down payment, this could be a great way to get a bump. Also pay attention to any fees you are currently paying at your bank just to have your savings and checking accounts. If you cant negotiate to get them removed, it might make sense to open fee-free accounts elsewhere.

Among the best out there: "Discover Online Savings has no minimum deposit requirement and offers a competitive APY of 1.40. In addition, theres no monthly fee and no minimum balance requirement," said NerdWallet in their review of the best savings accounts of 2018. "Discover is a decent choice for simple, stress-free savings." Discover also offers bonuses that are tied to a 15,000 minimum deposit.

Do automatic transfers

Setting up an auto transfer from your checking to your savings on payday is a >Get a gift

For many types of loans, the down payment can come via a gift. Just make sure you know the rules so you dont run into trouble. "Even though lenders do allow gift funds, they also require mortgage applicants to disclose the source of these funds," said Cherry Creek Mortgage. "There are specific rules for using gift funds as a down payment. For starters, your lender will need information about the donor. Donor requirements vary by lender and mortgage program. Some programs only allow gifts from a blood >Save all raises and bonuses

If you get a raise or a bonus during your saving period, dont celebrate by blowing it on a new living room set. Pretending it didnt happen and socking the money away will pay off in the end. "For a set period of time, consider saving all extra income you receive from work," said Quick and Dirty Tips. "For instance, if you get a 3 raise, increase your down payment savings percentage by at least that amount. Or if you get quarterly or annual bonuses, transfer the full amounts to savings."

Shift some money toward repairing your credit

That might seem counterintuitive if youre trying to get together as much cash as possible to buy your house, but it might just be that doing a little credit repair can improve your buying position, which could lower your interest rate and lower the amount of money required by the bank for your down payment. A conversation with your lender or broker and a detailed look at your credit history may yield some surprising suggestions.

Pare down

This is a great time to take a good look at your stuff and decide whats going with you, and whats not making the trip to your new place. "You likely have some used furniture you no longer use or old clothes that are no longer in >Call your cable, Internet, and phone providers

There may be lost money floating around out there. Bundling your services with one provider can create dramatic savings. It might also be time to look at new providers - just make sure you wont incur a penalty or cost when you move and have to have your services set up again.

Make your coffee - and your lunch - at home

"If there are two people buying one coffee each at 4 every day, or 8 total, that adds up to 240 per month So by getting a good coffee maker and putting it in a TO GO cup, you can potentially save more than 2,880 over the course of a year," said Blue Water Credit. "If you think coffee was expensive, add up all of those 12, 20, and 25 lunches at restaurants when you step out from work. Even if you only buy lunch three times a week, that could easily end up with 50 a week in savings per person, or about 400 a month, or 4,800 per year"
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Will The Stock Market Affect Your Home Purchase?

The wild stock market of the past week has sent some into a panic and caused many others to take a closer look at their financial picture. But what is the stock markets impact on real estate, and should you worry if youre getting ready to buy a new home? Not much at this point, and not really, say financial experts.

So why isnt a 1,175-point drop - the largest single-day dip in history - not a concern? First, because most financial experts saw some sort of correction coming because of the robust market over the last two years and, as many expected, the market bounced back with a 567-point gain on Tuesday, although there could be more volatility in the short term.

"The stock market has been on a roller-coaster ridenbsp;since late last week, with anbsp;historic one-day plunge in trading, and a ripple effect that struck the rest of the globe Tuesday," said Inman. "But most economists will tell you the historic highs over the past two years were bound to result in a correction of sorts as investors reckon with the possibility ofnbsp;inflationnbsp;andnbsp;rising interest rates."nbsp;

Second, and most important to homebuyers, is the fact that any potential impact on real estate is expected to be nominal. "Real estate professionals, and potential homebuyers and sellers arent immune to the fears that reverberated across trading floors on Friday and again on Monday, they said, "but analysts say the effect on home prices, sales volume and lending activity will be minimal and temporary."

Play the long game

Of course, the stock market isnt one size fits all, and, depending on where your investments lie, you may, understandably, be worried. Economists and financial planners have generally had similar advice to "average investors" wondering how to respond to the stock markets volatility: Think about your objectives and, "Stay put," said CNN Money. Its all about playing the long game.

"Are you saving for retirement? A future home purchase?nbsp;If those goals are more than 10 years away, you probably dont have much to worry about.nbsp;While its hard to ignore the noise when the market experiences a dark day, its important to take the emotion out of trading."

On the other hand, if you have a more immediate goal of buying a home and your down payment is tied to your investments, its probably time to call your financial advisor and reevaluate your portfolio.

What does all of this mean for real estate?

That depends on what aspect of real estate youre talking about. Publicly traded real estate-based companies including "Realogy,nbsp;Zillow,nbsp;Redfin,nbsp;News Corp, andnbsp;Re/Max "posted modest losses between end of trading on Thursday and Mondays close," said Inman. Real estate investors also felt an immediate pinch. "The plunge also resonated through real estate investment trust stocks, resulting in a 2.9 drop in the FTSE NAREIT All Equity REIT Index Monday," said BISNOW.nbsp;But, National Association of Real Estate Investment Trusts NAREIT "economist Brad Casenbsp;said the 2.86 drop in the All Equity REIT index, though sizable, will be short-lived."

The potential for dipping consumer confidence can have a far greater impact on the overall economy and, specifically, the real estate market.

"Consumer confidence is a major consideration when people purchase durable goods and real estate," said ZACKS. "Few people are likely to commit to a big mortgage payment if they feel that their economic future is uncertain. When the stock market retreats and the value of portfolios declines, investors are impacted psychologically. Even if the portfolios are in IRAs, which will not be touched for years, peoples confidence is shaken. Loss of confidence can spread like a virus, affecting others who have not been financially hurt but have nevertheless become unnerved."

Which leads us back to the overall economy. U.S. jobs data >

The stability of real estate as an asset should shield the industry - and those who are looking to be a part of it, even as stocks rise and fall. "Back when the internet bubble burst in the year 2000, during that period, thats when the housing market began to steadily rise," National Association of Realtors Chief Economist Lawrence Yun told Inman. "That means that as people felt their financial assets to be very volatile, people were looking for more stable assets, which they perceived that real estate could provide."


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Lessons Learned From a Master Bathroom Remodel

Ive never really shared my own home with you before, and Im a little nervous. But I learned so much from my recently completed bathroom renovation that I wanted to tell you about it.

The project started out as a fairly light makeover but blew up quickly as it evolved. I am not an interior designer, but the wealth of information and inspiration Ive gleaned from interviewing hundreds of them over the years was a big help throughout the process.

Bathroom at a Glance:

Who lives here: Homeowner and Houzz contributor Becky Harris
Location: Atlanta
Size: About 100 square feet 9.3 square meters
Contractor: Innovative Construction

Bathroom Before

It all began with this grungy shower stall. I dreaded showering in here. First of all, it was tiled in travertine. Not super-pretty vein-cut travertine but just yucko builders-special travertine that was popular in the late 1990s and early 2000s. No matter how well it was sealed and scrubbed and resealed over the years an expensive process, it was porous and a magnet for mold. And then there was no cleaner I could use to get the reddish iron marks from Atlantas water out of the grout without removing the sealant. A built-in moldy bench made the shower feel cramped. The dated framed translucent glass surround never felt clean and made it feel even more cramped and dark. And there was just no way to get some of the grunge out of that frame.

By Becky Harris - See more Home Design Photos

I should mention here that I did not receive any discounts or special treatment in exchange for this story. But my brother owns the construction company that completed the renovation, and he passed along his friends-and-family trade discount perks at a few vendors. He also stayed far away from being involved in my project. I cant imagine why.

By Becky Harris - See more Home Design Photos

What I learned: Wow, you really dont see your own clutter until you take a photo of it. Or is that just me? I also learned that it can be hard to take a good, well-lit "before" photo. This one is dark even though all the lights are on and the blinds are open. Hey, at least my toilet seat is down.

I really liked this vanity, and I wanted to try to preserve the countertops. They were made of reclaimed pine boards from my attic floor and were about 80 years old. Thats a good trick to know, by the way. An older homes attic floorboards are a great source of reclaimed lumber. The mirror frame is made of the same wood. Although I knew that tiling the wall and placing mirrors atop it would be a more updated look, I loved having this huge mirror and decided to keep it. It bounces so much light around and makes it easy to get ready in here and check my hair and makeup.

I used to have beadboard wainscoting around the room. But what I had noticed was that dust and grime would collect in the grooves of the paneling and be hard to get out.

Photo by Innovative Construction Inc. - Look for bathroom design inspiration

The inspiration: Once I found this tile, most of my plans revolved around it. Warm gray, light blue-gray, charcoal gray, black and white, and powdery blue came into play in my color palette.

The meeting: So on day one of the construction process, several of us crammed into my bathroom. My brother, Clark Harris; his second-in-command, Eric Bain; my projects day-to-day manager, Junior Zenil; and Clarks amazing office manager, Aisling Bell. They looked at what would be changing and approximated the schedule.

Eric, whom I know pretty well and know to be fairly fiscally conservative and often a man of few words, kept looking at me and saying, "Radiant heat would feel really nice." I mean, if Eric was in favor of heated floors, that was powerful. As they looked at the adjacent closet, which was carpeted, they suggested extending the heated tile floors in there as well. Now the closet became part of the project, just like that, and I was going to go for heated floors. The radiant heat portion added about 1,500 to the budget. And I cant wait for it to get cold outside.

What I learned: Be prepared for a mistake. One thing my brother said to me as he very officially went over everything we were going to do was, "I tell all my clients that there is probably going to be a big mistake made along the line. Just know that when it happens, we will fix it, and it will be fine." I thought this was a very smart thing to say. Also, the morning after a mistake did happen, Eric brought me an Egg McMuffin and a regular Coke, the first one Id had in many years. And the team fixed it that day.

Liria Negro encaustic cement tile: The Tile Shop

By Becky Harris - See more Home Design Photos

Prep Day

What I learned: Living at home through a renovation will make you feel like John Travolta in The Boy in the Plastic Bubble. They prepped by laying down cardboard over my floors along the path from the front door to the bathroom and creating a plastic tunnel that led upstairs from the front door to keep the house from filling with dust. Zipping and unzipping plastic doors to get to certain places in my house became the norm.

They also vacuumed and swept their way out the door each day. Ask your contractor if the team does this when youre getting your estimate. Also make sure items like the dumpster and the port-a-potty are included, along with their servicing. Youll find that unrealistic low-ball offers leave out necessary line items like this.

By Becky Harris - See more Home Design Photos

Demo Day

What I learned: Demo day is crazy. It was good to get out of the house to shop for faucets and fixtures because the noise from demolition was unreal. Earplugs were fine while I was writing stories, but I dont know how I thought I could attempt phone interviews with Houzz pros while this was going on. I had planned to make the calls from my porch, not remembering that my porch is just below my bathroom and it was even louder out there.

What I learned: While you have a dumpster in your driveway, make good use of it. Although I did not go full-on Marie Kondo, I completed a major purge, donating and recycling whatever I could along the way, but throwing a few things that were no good for anyone into the dumpster. It felt great to get rid of so much. When I was done, I also had 15 lawn bags full of stuff for two charities that picked up the donations on my doorstep. Both of these charities send email alerts about once a month with dates theyll be in the neighborhood. Ever since the big purge, I keep a donation bin going and try to sign up every time, knowing that it will spur me to clean out another closet or cabinet by the deadline.

Project Management

What I learned: I am not much of a techie, but project management software was helpful. Innovative Construction set me up with an app, which was a great tool for all of us to communicate. I could keep up with the schedule, invoices, paint colors, lighting choices, work order changes and everything else right from my phone.

Shopping List

Aisling provided me with a thorough checklist of what Id need to procure for my project, with vendor and showroom suggestions and other tips on the app.

What I learned: Sometimes the highway falls down Around day six, the portion of Interstate 85 where I usually hop off and on caught fire and collapsed, which put a crimp in my plans for running around Atlanta looking for tile and faucets and lighting. I was able to check out a lot online before braving the crazy traffic to hit the showrooms and walk to stores.

What I learned: I saw the true power of the traffic-navigation app Waze. I also learned to order things way ahead of time. Almost everything I ordered was on back order, double back order, triple back order or we-have-no-idea-if-it-will-ever-be-ready back order mdash; or it was made-to-order, broke on the way to the store, got lost within the store once it arrived intact or is still missing in action and untrackable. There is still one toilet for the downstairs bath I was going to have installed while I had a plumber in the house that su>

Had I been less picky and ordered way ahead of time, the renovation would have taken about five weeks. Due in large part to a chandelier I simply had to have, the job ran from April 1 to mid-July, though the bulk of it was done in two months. This was solely due to my back-order curse.

Shower

What I learned: Be flexible and find a great associate at showrooms to help you. I was really set on all antique brass, but I also knew that I wanted some graphic black and white in the bathroom. Beth Moon at Plumbing Distributors, or PDI, was instrumental in the decision to mix in matte black fixtures by Jason Wu for Brizo in the shower. I also learned to always use the restroom at a bathroom showroom; PDI has a luxury toilet that does everything except hand you toilet paper, and it is quite an experience.

What I learned: In your initial meeting, ask the plumber which brands he or she loves to work with. They will have good insights about which fixtures they install with ease, which may have the rough-ins ready and which will have replacement parts readily available if you need a repair down the line. It can help inform your decisions when you are shopping for fixtures.

Photo by Innovative Construction Inc. - Search bathroom pictures

Shower tile: I have loved >

And after writing "pebble tile feels wonderful underfoot" so many times for Houzz, I wanted my feet to feel wonderful too, so I found a reasonably priced granite pebble tile at Floor amp; Decor.

What I learned: Pebble tile feels wonderful underfoot. Also, I learned the hard way to make sure the grout is totally dry before you try to feel how wonderful the pebble tiles feel underfoot. Whoops.

Subway tile: Daltile; Absolute Black granite pencil-tile trim: Floor amp; Decor; Delorean Gray grout: Home Depot

What I learned: Although I had a very dark charcoal, almost black, grout picked out for the shower floor, the tiling crew made me realize that the pebbles were not black and that the grout I had chosen would look bad.

What else I learned: Some details dont matter that much mdash; let some things go. I had ordered a very design-y black square shower drain that worked well with my shower fixtures, but I forgot to communicate that with the tile installers or enter it on the app. When I saw they had installed a round one, I realized that it worked better with the pebbles anyway.

Photo by Innovative Construction Inc. - Look for bathroom design inspiration

What I learned: Some details do matter. Because matte black is a >

What else I learned: Sometimes when you think youre being crafty and tracking down the exact Ladder Pull you want online, they accidentally send you a different item directly from China instead. But they eventually straightened it out.

Tub faucet: Fortuitously, I happened to choose a tub faucet with cross handles rather than lever handles. The plumber let out a sigh of >

Roman tub faucet : Newport Brass

Photo by Innovative Construction Inc. - Browse bathroom ideas

Toilet Room

I decided to go for a comfort-height toilet in the bathroom. This Memoirs model from Kohler has a really nice top on the tank with an edge that keeps things from falling off.

What I learned: This paint color changes dramatically from day to night. Its a light gray, but at noon, it has a very bluish look. At night, its a true gray.

Gray Screen SW 7071 wall paint and Ceiling Bright White SW 7007 trim paint: Sherwin-Williams; bath mat: Urban Outfitters; shower glass: Chattahoochee Shower Doors; Memoirs Stately two-piece toilet: Kohler via Houzz; robe hook: Anthropologie

What I learned: Not many people can pull off looking fierce when hung over a toilet. But Diana Ross can.

"Diana Ross Goes Shopping, 1965" photograph: Michael Ochs Archive via One Kings Lane; light fixture: Restoration Hardware

Photo by Innovative Construction Inc. - More bathroom photos

Counters

Somewhere down the line, I realized that I didnt want to have all this work done only to have my reclaimed-wood counters eventually rot and ruin the whole thing. They had put in a good 15 years but had some damage around the faucets, and, sadly, it was time for them to go. I planned for some practical, durable quartz instead.

What I learned: Its highly likely that once you see Statuario Venato marble at the stone vendor, youre not going to want quartz anymore. I went for the marble.

What else I learned: If you have a waterfall countertop with a prominent veining pattern like mine, have the installer place the template pieces continuously on the stone slab. That way the veining pattern continues down and across, uninterrupted. Also, make absolutely sure that you are present to approve the templating on the slab and that you take a photo of it while youre there. I worked on the countertops with Simona Tivadar at Custom Kitchen. She has great taste, and with her keen eye, she also helped me figure out which backsplash tile was just the right white to complement the marble.

The photo: I need to get that photo on the wall professionally matted and framed, but I didnt have time before photo shoot day. Its an iconic photo within my family of my giant dad in a tiny claw-foot tub giving the victory sign back in the 60s. My uncle Tommy Calder took it back then. He tracked down the negative and had it blown up for me.

Pewter Cast SW 7673 vanity paint: Sherwin-Williams; hardware and glass shelf: Anthropologie; Irvine double sconces: Schoolhouse Electric amp; Supply Co.

Photo by Innovative Construction Inc. - Look for bathroom design inspiration

Shower Niche

What I learned: Unless you have really detailed drawings from an interior designer of where every piece of tile will go and how it should be cut, you want to try to be around during tile installation. There are small design decisions that will come up on the fly.

For example, I had pieces of marble cut for the shower threshold, the top of the half wall and the shower niche from the same slab as the countertops. I then had the tile installers put in a border of the same Absolute Black granite pencil-tile trim around the inside. There are also funky things that will happen around corners and in tighter spaces where you may want to give your input on the pattern, even with something as simple as subway tile.

Storage

What I already knew: I hoard. As was obvious from the "before" photos, I have a problem with countertop clutter. So I invested in a large medicine cabinet to hold everyday stuff. Also, the huge drawer clean-out I had to do on the vanities so that they could be removed and painted provided a ton of new storage space. I also knew that I was stretched for towel storage so I bought a train rack for them mdash; no more towels shoved willy-nilly in a cabinet under the sink.

Make use of things or ditch them. I organized my shampoo, conditioner, lotion and face cream samples that were still usable in a hanging cosmetic bag. I hung it on the back of the door and vowed to use them every day. I havent had to buy a bottle of any of that stuff for several months now as I go through them all.

Photo by Innovative Construction Inc. - Browse bathroom photos

Splurge: Besides the sink faucets and the heated floors, my other big splurge was this fabulous beaded chandelier. With such a high vaulted ceiling, the room really needed one. It appears somewhat turquoise in this photo, but its more of a powdery blue in person.

Savings: I reused the original vanities, mirror and bathtub. The planks were already on the ceiling, and I already had great doors with hardware that worked well with the new finishes.

Although I think a freestanding tub would best suit this space, I love the very nice Jacuzzi bathtub that came with my house, and the thought of anything less comfortable gave me pause. Plus, tubs are expensive.

What I learned: Keep your eye on the price of your back-ordered items. If you see that something has gone on sale while you are waiting for it to arrive, call the retailer.

This renovation experience was so educational and a lot of fun. Some days, I even miss the plastic and all the activity. If you have any questions, please ask, and Ill do my best to answer them.

Malibu beaded six-light chandelier: Regina Andrew via Horchow; train rack: Restoration Hardware

Also See:
  • Get Inspired by the Right Tile Selection
  • How to Budget for Your Bathroom Remodel
  • Optimize Storage With the Right Medicine Cabinet

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What Is Your Property Really Worth?

Qustion. Over the years, I have been involved in questions dealing with the value of certain property. This has involved such diverse issues as appealing the Countys assessment for tax purposes, obtaining a refinance mortgage to avoid private mortgage insurance, and recently challenging an IRS valuation of property we just inherited.

Is there a way to determine what our property is really worth. We have often obtained different appraisals on the same property, and would like to determine our true net worth. How do the appraisal prices work?

Answer. The most commonly used method to determine the value of ones property is to obtain an independent appraisal from an experienced appraiser. However, appraising market value of real estate is an art -- and not a science. And at best, it is an inexact art. My own experience with appraisals and appraisers has led me to question the validity of a number of appraisals.

It should be understood that an appraisal is an estimate and an opinion of value. The appraisal will not determine or establish the value of your property, but it can only estimate what that value is. The Supreme Court of the United States has defined fair market value as "the price at which the property would change hands between a willing buyer and a willing seller, neither being under any compulsion to buy or to sell and both having reasonable knowledge of >All too often, however, the appraiser does not understand -- or even know -- the neighborhood, and brings to bear his or her subconscious prejudices while considering the value of your house. This is even worse now since lenders often have to >There are three methods used by appraisers. First, the cost approach. Under this method, the cost of reproducing the building is added to the value of the land, and a discount is applied for depreciation and deterioration that the buildings might have suffered.

A second approach is known as the capitalization of income. Since this is generally used in considering income-producing property, and is complicated and controversial, this column will not enter into a discussion of this approach.

The third formula is known as the market comparison. Here, the appraiser must consider the value of comparable properties, and once again, this is a highly subjective task. For example, your next door neighbors house recently sold for 410,000. Your house looks identical to your neighbors from the outside.

But inside your house there are major differences. You have a finished basement; your neighbor does not. You have wall-to-wall carpets; your neighbor does not. You have recently installed a very modern kitchen; your neighbors kitchen is from the l940s.

Needless to say, unless the appraiser actually visits and inspects both houses, the comparable method may adversely affect you.

Nevertheless, this market comparison method is widely utilized by appraisers in determining property values for mortgage lenders.

This does not mean to imply that you must take the appraisal without question. Here are some tips in dealing with your appraiser:

  • 1. Insist on obtaining a written report from the appraiser. Obtain the appraisers name and address, and inquire as to the methods used to determine the value of your property.
  • 2. If the appraisal was obtained by a mortgage lender, appeal that appraisal through that lender. Advise the lender you are dissatisfied with the value placed on the property, and that you will insist on a second appraisal being done, by an appraiser of your selection.
  • 3. Although it may be considerably more expensive for you, it may be worth your effort to hire your own appraiser. While they have to give you an objective, independent market value determination, you certainly have the right to obtain your own evaluation as to the worth of your property.

    Several years ago, the United States Tax Court was called upon to determine -- for estate tax purposes -- the value of certain property located in New York city. The Court concluded that a 19 percent discount from market value should be applied to the property because the decedent owned a small percentage of the property and could not -- by himself -- exercise full control over the property. Furthermore, the Court discounted another 26 percent because of market conditions in New York in the late l980s. Barudin v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo. 1996-395. Thus, each property is different, and you -- and your appraiser -- should be completely familiar with all of the factors to be considered when determining the market value of your property.

    Incidentally, there is a legal provision contained in the Equal Credit Opportunity Act of 1991 that should utilized by every mortgage borrower in this country. In Section 701e of the Act, Congress made it clear that every creditor "shall promptly furnish an applicant, upon written request by the applicant made within a reasonable period of time of the application, a copy of the appraisal report used in connection with the applicants application for a loan that is or would have been secured by a lien on residential property." The law does permit the creditor to require the applicant to reimburse it for the cost of the appraisal.

    It is strongly recommended that everyone request and obtain a copy of the appraisal report from the mortgage lender.

    There are, of course, on-line websites that attempt to project -- or perhaps predict is a better word -- the value of your house. While all these are helpful, I would not
    Full Story >


    Save Some Green By Going Green

    Is your commercial real estatenbsp;energy efficient? Did you know the cost of power alone represents, on average, 9 of your operating costs? Are you doing what you can to use less energy to provide the same service?

    As the commercial property market grows more competitive by the day, property owners are constantly searching for new ways tonbsp;add valuenbsp;to their properties. The good news is that there are numerous ways to trim expenses and the better news is that most apply to a single 5,000 square foot property as much as they do to a million-square-foot portfolio.

    Not every building needs to perform like a trophy asset in Midtown Manhattan, but they should all be optimized to best serve the needs of the most likely mix of tenants. But, one thing is true across all asset types - lighting and HVAC account for up to 71 of energy consumptionnbsp;in commercial buildings. So, it only makes sense to make them the primary focus of an energy efficiency strategy. Some of the most common solutions include:nbsp;nbsp;

    • Window tint amp; films
    • Bulb and fixture replacement
    • Voltage optimization
    • Automation of utility usage using a Building Management System BMS
    • Interior amp; exterior roof insulation
    • Solar power installation

    With utility rates expected to rise 26 to 42 by 2020, professional property owners and managers recognize that in order to remain competitive and increase the value of assets, energy efficiency needs to be on the top of the to-do list. Lets get down to the numbers.nbsp;

    • Implementing these solutions can result innbsp;30-50 monthly cost savings
    • ROI averages 6 months,nbsp;but depending on the building and which solutions are implemented, it could be anywhere from 1 to 24 months
    • Tax incentives and rebates are available at both local and state levels
    • Specialized financing is available, up to 5.5MM per building to do "green" improvements
    • Energy efficient properties can generatenbsp;up to a 10 premium on exit sale pricing

    EXAMPLE:

    Office Building with Monthly Power Bill of 12,000 50 is Demand = 6,000

    EE applications installed save minimum of 30 of demand 6,0000.30 = 1,800/month

    OR:

    30 of 50 = 15 of net Cost Savings every month

    Assume, Electric costs on Pamp;L account for 7

    Therefore, 70.15 = 1.0 savings on Pamp;L = Pure Profit

    There are multiple goals in the practice of sustainability. Increasing NOI by decreasing operating expenses is clearly in the interest of every property owner. Perhaps more important is the fact that delivering a better overall workplace experience for tenants helps them attract and retain the top talent they need to be more successful.nbsp;

    nbsp;

    When you increase the energy efficiency of your building, you win, your tenants win and the planet wins, too.nbsp;

    Interested in learning more? Contact Marc Brener directly at 949 365-5823 or
    Full Story >


    Portability Initiative Is Designed To Help 55 and Over To Sell Their Homes And Buy Another

    The California Association of REALTORSreg; CAR is attempting to qualify a ballot initiative, The Property Tax Fairness Initiative, that will restructure the way property taxes are calculated for buyers over the age of 55 and also the disabled and/or natural disaster victims. In many cases REALTORSreg; are already circulating petitions asking for ballot-placement of the initiative, and, in short order, professional signature-gathering organizations will be engaged as well.

    CARs approximately 200,000 members have been assessed 100 each in support of the effort; and there are expectations that the Associations substantial reserves will also be tapped in efforts to support the initiatives passage.

    What would this accomplish and why is it needed? In what follows I will seek to summarize CARs answer to those questions. First: the why?

    As is well-known, California is currently experiencing a shrinking inventory of housing available for sale. This lack of supply has driven up prices, which makes it extremely difficult -- in many cases, impossible -- for first-time buyers to enter the market. In many cases, it also makes it difficult for move-up buyers to find replacement property.

    There are, no doubt, multiple causes for this, but, no doubt, a major one is this: nearly 75 of California homeowners 55 years of age and older have not moved since the year 2000

    Why? Because of the way property taxes are calculated under Californias Proposition 13. For tax purposes, properties are valued on the basis of purchase price, not current market conditions. Example: Suppose I bought my house for 600,000 a few years ago; and that my neighbor bought the same model -- as identical as can be -- in this heated market for 800,000. My tax will still be calculated on 600,000, whereas his will be based on 800,000.

    CAR says, "A large part of the reason why [55 and overs are not moving] is that, even if they want to downsize or move closer to family, the prospect of a property tax increase of 100, 200, or even 300 percent, effectively locks our parents and grandparents in their homes." Thus, CAR maintains, "hellip;The Property Tax Initiativehellip;will help these homeowners to sell their current homes and move without being subjected to a what is effectively a massive "moving penalty."

    How will it help? By modifying current law to expand the conditions under which those over 55 would be allowed to transfer their current tax base -- based on their original purchase price -- to a replacement home that they are purchasing.

    Currently there are only limited conditions under which someone over 55 may transfer his or her old tax base to a newly purchased home. The Initiative would expand this. "C.A.R.s Property Tax Fairness Initiative would allow homeowners 55 years of age or older to transfer their Prop. 13 tax base to a home of any price, located anywhere in the state, any number of times."

    CARs talking points offer two examples of what would happen if the Initiative should pass.

    Buy Up Example

    • Original Purchase Price: 100k
    • Estimate Property Taxes: 1K/annually
    • Existing Home Sale Price: 300k
    • New Home price: 400k
    • New Property Taxes: 2k/annually

    The 100k difference between the 300k sales price and the 400k purchase price is added to the original Prop.13 property tax base of 100k for a new Prop. 13 tax base of 200k. The buyer still pays their fare share of taxes but isnt blocked from making the move.

    Buy Down Example

    • Original Purchase Price: 100k
    • Estimated Property Taxes: 1k/annually
    • Existing Home Sales Price: 300k
    • New Home Price: 200k
    • New Property Taxes: 1/3 of 200k = 67k [value] or 670/year for property taxes

    If a homeowner buys a less expensive home, the property taxes will be proportionally the same as for the original home. In other words, if the tax base was one-third of the sale price, the new property tax would be one-third of the new sale price. Buying down reduces the homeowners annual property tax bill.

    Among the objections raised to the Initiative is that it will reduce revenues to local governments. In response to this, CAR says: "The revenue loss is the result of a lsquo;static analysis -- it only looks at the revenue lost, not the revenue gained which a lsquo;dynamic analysis would do. All buyers of homes formally owned by a senior homeowner will have the home reassessed to market value and pay property taxes based on the reassessed value."

    Lots to think about. Theres an election coming.


    Full Story >


    Ask the HOA Expert: Changing The Governing Documents

    Question: Our homeowner association has 30 single family detached homes. Our governing documents were basically written for townhomes. One of the bothersome issues is that the governing documents state that the HOA is responsible for replacing roofs, painting, gutters and other things that are commonly done with condominiums. Many owners object to building up a reserve fund to pay for repairs that may be as much as 20 years or more down the road.

    The covenants also state that the board cannot special assess for anything other than common area improvements. So that leaves us with pretty much the options of building up the reserve fund or changing the governing documents. Can you provide us some sample wording for a single family home HOA that would allow homeowners to pay for major repairs themselves but would allow the board architectural control of those repairs?

    Answer: While its unusual for a single family HOAs to do exterior maintenance, repairs and replacements, its not unheard of. I doubt that the developer made a mistake on this since its a huge issue. And its doubtful that you can muster the votes to change this which may take 100 of the owners to approve it including their mortgagees. You need to consult with a knowledgeable attorney to determine the requirements. If it is possible, the attorney can assist the board with the proper wording of the amendment.

    So barring you pulling off a major governing documents amendment, yes, you need a reserve plan that includes a funding plan to collect money systematically from each owner every year. The 20-years-down-the-road thinking is flawed. While a reserve event like a roof may take place 20 years down the road, the reserve plan will only charge each owner a share of the future cost directly proportional to the benefit received. For example, if a particular owner owns for five years and sells, he would only pay 5/20ths of the future roof cost. He only pays for the benefit received and not a penny more. This is the fairest way to fund future costs.

    Question: Our board is being badgered by a delinquent owner because his account was turned over to collection. In hard economic times, should the board back off of collections?

    Answer: As long as the board is enforcing collections uniformly, consistently and fairly, it is the boards responsibility to enforce the Collection Policy regardless of circumstance or economic climate. There is no government bail-out for HOAs.

    Question: Is there an average that HOA management companies charge for managing a homeowner association? How do they base their fees...by size, number of units, expectations, etc.? Do they usually charge a flat fee or percentage? How do they charge for maintenance...as a flat fee, by the job?

    Answer: Percentages are not used to determine HOA management fees. Commonly, the management fee is expressed as the cost "per door". But behind the per door concept is an analysis of how much time it takes the management company to execute the routine duties described in the Management Agreement. This can vary a lot from HOA to HOA. And within the fee structure, there is usually several levels and costs of service included in the routine duties like management, accounting and administrative mailing, making copies, etc..

    Maintenance and repairs are charged over and above the basic duties on an hourly or bid basis. So, for a management company to make a profit, an annual estimate of all the levels of service multiplied by their hourly charges multiplied by the number of hours for each plus a profit margin equals the annual cost of management. Keep in mind, however, that most Management Agreements provide for extra charges for non-routine tasks like assisting in insurance claims, arranging contractor bids, overseeing larger renovation projects and performing special tasks requested by the board.

    For more innovative homeowner association management strategies, see www.Regenesis.net
    Full Story >


    The Agent with Heart Program Kicks off 2018 with Record-Setting Donation Month Thanks to Six Generous Realtors

    Las Vegas, NV February 1st, 2018 ndash; PinRaise, the company that connects real estate agents with local clients and nonprofits, announced today that six of their esteemed real estate professionals each made donations on behalf of their clients to the nonprofits of their clientsrsquo; choice.

    Brittany Howe of Realty One Group in Goodyear, AZ has made a donation to Arizona Animal Welfare League on behalf of her client, Amy Kroening.

    Terri Repetto of Realty One Group in San Diego, CA has made a donation to the American Cancer Society on behalf of The Bowmans, as well as an additional donation to Allina Health Hospice Foundation on behalf of her client, Julie Olson, in memory of Gary Olson.

    Dana Roberts of Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in Irvine, CA has made a donation to Families Forward on behalf of her clients Ava Chii and Shige Itoh.

    Geri DeVille of RE/MAX Top Producers in Brea, CA has made a donation to St. Jude Childrenrsquo;s Research Hospital on behalf of her client, Yolanda Ishak.

    Dawn Veronica Curry of Keller Williams in Fredericksburg, VA has made a donation to Maryrsquo;s Shelter on behalf of her client, as well as an additional donation to the Disability Resource Center on behalf of her clients David and Caroline Seawell.

    Tammy Dollar of Town amp; Country Realtors of East Tennessee, Inc. in Maryville,TN has made a donation to St. Jude Childrenrsquo;s Research Hospital on behalf of her clients, Richard and Sandra Nuttall.

    ldquo;To already be starting 2018 on such a high with a new record of donations is incredible, and I would like to personally thank Brittany, Terri, Dana, Geri, Dawn, and Tammy because without their generosity this would not have been possible,rdquo; says Mr. John Giaimo, President of PinRaise.

    ldquo;Irsquo;d also like to give special thanks to Tammy Dollar as she is a recent addition to our program, only having joined in January, and already made her first donation in the same month. Kindness like that is precisely why our program was created, and Irsquo;d like to thank her for her generosity.rdquo;

    ldquo;All of us at PinRaise are continuously grateful for the dedication that Brittany, Terri, Dana, Geri, Dawn, and Tammy have shown by being committed to paying it forward within their own communities. We are incredibly proud to have agents like them in our program to assist us in reaching our goal of donating to nonprofits nation-wide, and we look forward to their continued generosity throughout the year to come,rdquo; concludes Mr. Giaimo.

    About the Agent with Heart Program: Through the PinRaise app, the Agent with Heart program connects homebuyers and sellers with local nonprofits who agree to donate a percentage or fixed dollar amount of their real estate commission to the nonprofit of their clientrsquo;s choice after closing. This provides needed revenue for the nonprofit and makes a real difference in their community. For more information, please visit www.AgentwithHeart.org.

    To contact Brittany Howe, please call 632-302-4542 or visit www.Facebook.com/BrittanyHowe.RealtyONEGroup.

    To contact Terri Repetto, please call 619-348-5122 or visit www.TerriRepetto.com.

    To contact Dana Roberts, please call 949-433-6694 or visit www.DanaRobertsRealEstate.com.

    To contact Geri DeVille, please call 714-392-1001 or visit www.GeriDeVille.com.

    To contact Dawn Veronica Curry, please call 571-436-8321 or visit www.DawnCurryHomes.com.

    To contact Tammy Dollar, please call 865-982-5000 or visit www.TammyDollarHomes.com.


    Full Story >


    Torontos Traffic Congestion: REALTORS Seek Solutions

    Traffic congestion, overcrowded public transit and Torontos Land Transfer Tax are combining to make life more difficult for the regions residents -- and costing them millions of dollars, REALTORSreg; attending a Toronto Real Estate Board TREB event were told recently.

    The board reached out to local governments and policymakers to ask what they are doing about issues of mobility and traffic congestion.

    "Everywhere I go in this city, people tell me that traffic and congestion remain their number one issue," says Toronto Mayor John Tory in a statement sent to TREB. "Thats why addressing traffic and transit continues to be one of my key priorities."

    These initiatives include accelerating road construction projects to get work done faster, increasing enforcement on illegally parked vehicles during rush hour and better management of road closures. "Weve moved marathons, co-ordinated construction projects and injected a good dose of common sense into the whole process," says Tory.

    Public transit in the Greater Golden Horseshoe region has failed to keep up with the explosion in population and residential development in recent decades. A report by the C.D. Howe Institute, presented at the TREB event, says, "Anyone who has followed transportation debates in the region has seen a lack of political will to reduce congestion. The province quashed Torontos plans for road tolls, and politicians cant decide on where to build new transit."

    A recent study of young professionals by the Toronto Region Board of Trade found that "commute times across the region are depriving them of time with family and friends, which as our survey shows, is a major factor influencing their housing decisions," says Jan De Silva, president and CEO of the board. "As the city and region continue to grow, connected communities with an array of amenities will be key to ensuring our talented young professionals want to and can work here."

    The survey found that 76 per cent of young professionals ranked commute to work as the most important factor when choosing a home. Sixty-five per cent of respondents said they would purchase a "less ideal" home or rent to be closer to work, while 77 per cent said they would consider living further away if they had better access to public transit.

    The C.D. Howe Institute report blames Torontos Land Transfer Tax for making congestion worse.

    "The tax tends to reduce the moves within a city rather than longer-distance moves or job changes," it says. "That means the economic cost to homeowners of transfer taxes is when they have to suffer through growing traffic congestion year after year to get to their same job because they cant afford to move closer.

    "Land transfer taxes exacerbate what we call the hidden economic cost of congestion when people decide to make a trip," says the report. "The hidden cost of congestion is that workers do not take jobs that are the best fit for them. Companies lose out, because the pool of workers they may draw from is shallower than otherwise."

    The institute estimates these additional costs to be "at least 1.5 billion and as much as 5 billion per year in lost wages."

    The cash-strapped City of Toronto isnt about to give up the Land Transfer Tax soon -- it is hoping to collect more than 800 million from the tax in 2018. But the C.D. Howe research says the "estimated dollar value of lost mobility is about 13 per cent of every dollar of revenue that the LTT generates for Torontos coffers."

    Among other things, the institute advocates the introduction of high occupancy tolling lanes, in which drivers who want to travel a little faster will have the option of paying for that privilege.

    De Silva says the Toronto Region Board of Trade was "excited" when the City of Toronto voted to start tolling two local expressways and were then disappointed when the idea was rejected by Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne.

    "The road tolls got us all fired up," De Silva told the TREB audience. "We decided that weve got to start thinking boldly about the issue."

    That led to the boards proposal to form a single provincial agency called Superlinx. All transit planning, construction, operations and real estate commercialization in the region would be uploaded to the new entity, eliminating the existing 11 transit authorities. The proposal would maximize land use for housing, commercial and public services, says the board.

    It says the initiative could result in annual savings of more than 93 million for the City of Toronto and savings of 7.4 million for Hamilton and 13 million for York Region.

    In addition, "for the regions transportation plan to be successful, our primary focus on moving people must expand to include the efficient movement of goods, and until there is collaboration, better data and policy alignment across all levels of government, congestion will be a major impediment," says De Silva.

    Congestion delays cost 500 million to 650 million per year in higher prices for goods nationally, says the board.

    "Our products are not reaching their destination on time, which negatively impacts our productivity," says De Silva. "If we dont manage our competitiveness challenges, our economy -- like our goods and people -- will remain stuck in traffic."
    Full Story >


    Are Barn Doors Here To Stay?

    If it seems like what was dismissed as a flash-in-the-pan trend has stuck around a lot longer than many of us predicted, youre right. Barn doors are now becoming a staple in homes from new construction to renovations for their unique appeal and space-saving properties. If the word "barn" is turning you off, rest assured that there are a variety of >

    "Its official: Barn doors are incredibly hip," said Pro Remodeler. Anbsp;recent study "found that these contemporary yet rustic sliding doors can help a home sell as many as 57 days faster and at a higher price point. The study analyzed descriptions on the listings of more than 2 million homes sold between January 2014 and March 2016 to see how certain keywords affect a homes sale. Of all the terms analyzed, lsquo;barn doors brought the highest premium, with homes whose listings mentioned this door type selling for an average of 13 percent above expected values."


    pilotproject.org

    According tonbsp;Google Trends, interest in barn doors "quadrupled between 2012 and 2017," said Victoria Advocate. Another advantage of barn doors: theyre easy to install, and are even DIY friendly for the average person.

    "In addition to their powerful visual appeal, barn doors can also be an effective way to partition open spaces," said Pro Remodeler. "Many homes today have two larger rooms, such as the kitchen and living room, connected by a wide opening. While a barn door added to such spaces will likely stay open more often than not, it can act as the perfect feature to suggest spatial separation."


    sandtownmillworks.com

    These oversize, reclaimed wood barn doors look great in a commercial space, creating privacy for a conference room in the same way they would in a living space.


    sebringdesignbuild.com

    These more traditional doors set off a private living room.


    slidingdoorco.com

    Black-framed, glass-paneled doors are on trend and bring a modern look to the space. Plus, you can close off the kitchen without losing light.

    Instead of more traditional doors

    A little bit rustic with contemporary flair, this barn door has some heft to it, which gives it a substantial feel and the size required to slide past a wide bathroom door opening.


    luxurylivingfortlauderdale.com

    Steel is another material that is being used for barn doors, and one that brings in an industrial feel. In this space, a steel sliding door looks is the perfect choice to separate the living space from the bedroom.


    pinterest.com

    Theres a bedroom tucked behind there. A swinging door may take a way from the flow of the room or impede into the living space. Instead, the blue door adds an architectural element to the space.


    wayfair.com

    This version looks like a decorative wall, but its actually a 12-foot barn door that slides away to reveal a hidden laundry room.


    amazon.com

    Beyond room-sized doors

    Barn doors or even showing up in items like bathroom vanities, which are especially useful in a small space that might not allow for a swinging door.


    slickdeals.net

    Theyre also being woven into furniture, like this entertainment unit.


    dutchcraftfurniture.com

    Full Story >


    Trend Alert: Colored Ranges

    Looking to add some interest to your kitchen but arent sure where to start? Many people choose to paint their cabinets. But that can be a painful undertaking. A growing trend is colored ranges; theyre a great way to keep a sleek profile in your kitchen while integrating a standout pop of color.

    "For those of us who survived avocado green and harvest goldnbsp;kitchens of the lsquo;70s, its no wonder neutral appliances have anchored kitchens for the past few decades," said Sebring Design Build. "From bisque and white of the lsquo;80s and lsquo;90s to modern stainless steel, homeowners have been wary of new appliance colors for a long time. But after a long break from more vibrant appliance colors,nbsp;trendsnbsp;are shifting back in that direction."

    Here are a few ranges that will get you inspired to bring a little color into your kitchen.

    KitchenAid commercial->


    badboy.ca

    In addition to stainless steel, black, and white, Viking also offers apple red, cobalt blue, grey, and burgundy in their traditional line. The distinctive Tuscany Series has fewer color options - dark blue, antique white, graphite black, and bordeaux - but brings a unique European look to the kitchen.


    Pinterest.com

    Lacanches Chassagne is a French range that comes in a variety of colors. The cost - this version is 9,600 - may give you pause, but the function is preferred by chefs around the world, sizes are available from a compact 28 inches to a massive 87-inch version, and the color options go beyond the norm to include pink, orange, pea green, and sky blue.

    "Available in many different >


    vintagerevivals.com

    Big Chill is a favorite of designers and homeowners thanks to their endless array of choices. "I love that they dont have just one >

    For gourmet chefs, perhaps nothing inspires like a La Cornue range. You can get one for under 7,000hellip;or you can buy one that costs as much as a home. "La Cornue, which has been handcrafting ovens for more than a century in the French countryside town of Saint-Ouen-lAumocirc;ne, plays upon that emotional connection by engraving each range with a customers family name or crest, and offering customizable features that are completely personal, such as an indoor gardening system or wine cooler thats integrated into the brands island module, ranging from 168,000 to more than 500,000," said Architectural Digest.


    fillyourhomewithlove.com

    Bertazzoni is another Italian brand, and their heritage series is priced at 10,500, "with a striking finish thats a bit textured in matte burgundy, cream, or black that mimics the look of the brands first-ever wood-burning stove, but even its less expensive models employ a precise technique," said Architectural Digest. "Ovens in the Professional series, for example, are painted in the same manner as a luxury Italian sports car. An artisan applies a layer of paint in seven different color options that are sealed with a gloss lacquer." Colors outside of the expected standards include yellow, orange, red, burgundy, and turquoise."

    "Create a unique kitchen >

    The sheer variety of Bluestar ranges makes it possible to bring to life pretty much anything you envision. This sleek orange range is a modern showpiece.


    distinctiveappliances.net

    This more ornate version shows how further customizations in the knobs and hood can create an eye-popping look.


    sebringdesignbuild.com

    Full Story >


    2018 Interior Home Design Trends

    As we have closed the door on 2017, its time to look ahead at home trends in 2018. Interior designers, experts at Pantone, and researchers for home dcor websites have predicted whats hot for the upcoming year and what trends are staying behind. Check out the top ten home trends below to keep your home updated and fresh.

    1. Vibrant Colors

    While 2017 saw a lot of grey, 2018 is all about a vibrant color palette. This trend can be applied nearly anywhere in your home. Consider a bright sofa or colorful accent pieces. Kitchens and baths are a great place to add color. Watery blues, stimulating greens, and deep reds are the most popular choices for everything from decorative pots to large appliances.

    2. Geometric Patterns

    This trend can be attained in a variety of ways, making it accessible for nearly every home. Keep it small with a patterned throw pillow, or go big with geometric wallpaper. Youll also see this design in coffee tables, light fixtures, area rugs, backsplash tile, and wall art. Find a pattern you love, and apply it anywhere youd like a pop of texture in your home.

    3. Barn Doors

    These popular sliding doors are replacing traditional doors in many homes. Theyre compact, versatile, stylish, and, HomeAdvisor says, add major resale value. Houses listed with "barn doors" in their description currently sell on average 57 days faster and for 13 more than expected. With a variety of materials available, you can combine trends. Create a metallic door, place a geometric pattern, or just stick with natural wood.

    4. Metallic Finishes

    This trend started small with items like gold-threaded throw pillows. In 2018, expect to see coffee, accent, and dining tables in all-metal designs. Pairing a traditional upholstered sofa with an all-metal table is a great way to make a room more modern and luxe. While brass tones are popular right now, copper and rose gold are holding strong.

    5. Quartz Countertops

    According to interior designers, granite is out Quartz is more durable, only needs be sealed once, and has more finish options. This is the priciest of the 2018 home trends. The cost of installing quartz countertops around 100 sq. ft. ranges from 5,900 to 14,000. The resale value of quartz and granite is currently the same, but that may change as quartz gains popularity.

    6. Wood

    Wood treatments around the home help to anchor the space. Youll see this trend in small items like planters, decorative bowls, and picture frames. However, it may also manifest in more unexpected places, such as ceilings and accent walls. Use this trend in conjunction with the others listed here to achieve a rich, textured, and modern look.

    7. Cozy Fabrics

    Velvet and suede are making a big comeback. These fabrics are soft and rich, providing excellent texture and warmth against metallic tables and wood accents. Use these fabrics in throw pillows and blankets, or go bigger with upholstery on a couch or chair.

    8. Fringe

    This is another trend that youll see included on many home decor items. Area rugs, ottomans, lamps, and pillows are great contenders for added fringe. If you dont want to buy all new pieces, this trend is very DIY-able with a trip to a fabric store and a hot glue gun.

    9. Vintage Light Fixtures

    Pendant lights are making a huge comeback right now, especially those with warm metal accents. Copper is especially popular. The cost of installing a light fixture varies, with pendant lights running 95-250, according to HomeAdvisor. Keep in mind that these updated fixtures increase the resale value of your home.

    10. Typography

    More than other design trends, typography allows us to be more literally expressive. This injection of personality into a room can be done on pillows, picture frames, and wall decals. Keep in mind that this is a trend best kept on removable items. A potential home buyer may not love that saying painted on the wall as much as you do.
    Full Story >


    How Much Commute Is Too Much Commute?

    Rising home prices send buyers further out of the city in search of an affordable home - or more home than they can swing closer to where they had rather be. Its an age-old tale and one that forces buyers to accept a cringe-worry tradeoff for a home of their own: a longer commute.

    Currently, the average commute is around 26 minutes, but anyone in Los Angeles or New York or Dallas or Chicago or any one of the dozens of cities across the country with a lengthy commute would scoff at that number.

    WNYCs cool commuter map allows you put your cursor on different cities and areas throughout the country and see its average commute time, like the 60.5-minute average in Sonoma County, CA and the 18.3-minute average for North Canaan, CT. Overflow Datas similar interactive map uses census data of the average commute times throughout the U.S.nbsp;"Zoom in on a state, or check out the range within each state," said Lifehacker. "Commutes are worst along the East coast; L.A. traffic still isnt as bad as New York subways. And the worst commutes of all are in Pike County, PA, a three-hour drive from New York."

    According to Census Bureau data, commutes have increased by 20 percent since they first started tracking them in 1980. The combination of continued urban sprawl and rising home prices will likely cause this number to jump even further over the next few years. The good news is that remote work and flexible schedules are also on the rise. "The number of telecommuting workers has increased 115 in a decade, according tonbsp;a new reportnbsp;from Global Workplace Analytics and FlexJobs," said CNN: Money. "That translates to 3.9 million workers, or almost 3 of the total U.S. workforce, working from home at least half the time in 2015, an increase from 1.8 million in 2005." Negotiating some flexibility into your schedule or new job offer could reduce the number of days you have to drive to work and make a longer commute easier to deal with.

    How much is too much?

    The question of "How much commute is too much commute?" is one that each individual has to answer for themselves. Twenty minutes each way may not seem like a big deal, but what if it creeps past 30? And what if youre considering becoming a "super commuter," defined as someone who commutes three hours per day, like nearly four million American workers do? "That works out to more than a full month out of the year commuting," said the Washington Post. "Imagine spending the entire month of August - 24 hours of every day - stuck in your car or riding the bus."

    Chances are youll go through the five stages of grief - denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and, finally, acceptance when weighing the advantages of owning a home against the disadvantages of never being there. But the acceptance here can take two roads: In one, you realize you dont want to spend so much time in the car and ask your Realtor to start looking into areas that are closer in; the other requires you to resign yourself to this new reality of a daily date with a packed freeway, a grande mocha, and endless morning radio shtick.

    The dangers of long commutes

    Before you pull the trigger on a house with a 45-minute commute each way, there are a few things youll want to ask yourself:

    How much will this actually change your life? If youre buying a new home for your family but you never see them because youll be leaving for work at the crack of dawn and getting home after the kids go to bed, is it worth it? The fact that townhomes are currently the "fastest-growing segment of the single-family housing construction market," according to the National Association of Home Builders, is important to note. "They madenbsp;up about 12.4 of all new construction in the single-family home market last year, according to U.S. Census Bureau data," proving that many homebuyers are seeking out attached residences that are often well-located for their needs and more affordable than single-family homes in the city.

    How much time can you really see yourself spending behind the wheel before you lose it? Are you able to zone out and enjoy the ride, or are we talking potential road rage situation?

    Have you considered the added costs? More gas, tolls, and wear and tear on your car can add to your bottom line and chip away at the savings you thought youd enjoy with a home out in the suburbs.

    What about the cost to your mental health? Its not just about road rage. You may think you can adapt to anything, but commuting can be a serious buzzkill. "In happiness studies, commuting consistently ranks at or near the bottom of human activities," said Smartasset. "The biggest offender is commuting alone in a car. It makes us feel more isolated and powerless, and cuts into our time for community engagement, exercise and sleep." Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman and economist Alan Kruegernbsp;did a study with 900 Texas women and found that, "People hate their commutes more than just about any other activity in their lives," said the Washington Post. "The morning commute came in dead-last in terms of positive emotions, behind work, child care, and home chores." Higher rates of divorce andnbsp;depressionnbsp;have also been linked to long commutes.

    Have you thought about the effect on your body? Longer commutes have been linked to everything from high cholesterol,nbsp;high blood pressure, and obesity to back and neck issues.

    Smartassets site has a useful resource for figuring out a potential commute. Just plug in your home and work address and see how good - or bad - its going to be.


    Full Story >


    8 Ways to Love Your Small Space More

    When we run stories on living in homes with petite proportions, you often tell us, "Small? You should see my house" Because we aim to please, weve rounded up some of the tiniest rooms on Houzz, picking those that pack plenty of ideas and function into a small space. We think that these are indisputably compact. But, more important, do you?

    Pack it in. This bedroom may be minute, but it is perfectly formed. Rather than conventionally putting the headboard on the back wall, the owners found just enough space to turn it so that the side of the bed runs along the back wall.

    This could look cramped and messy but instead looks airy and designed. Heres why.

    • Crumpled bed linen allows the bed not to be made perfectly which can be a pain when a bed is surrounded on three sides but still looks clean, stylish and, especially, cozy and inviting.
    • Deep storage drawers beneath the bed take the place of bulky furniture elsewhere.
    • An almost one-color palette - the drawers are the same pale color as the bed and walls, and the floor is pale too - banishes harsh boundary lines and visually expands the space.
    • A wall light is nearly always the best solution for teeny spaces, since it frees up surface area that might otherwise house a table lamp.

    The high shelf enhances the feeling that the room is bigger than it is, especially since its use is decorative and not functional. Why? If a room appears to have space to use shelves pu>

    Photo by Bambugrave; / Olivier Bourdon - Discover living room design ideas

    Scale your furniture. This wee living room, which flows into a small dining space, shown in the foreground, has lots of smart tips to pick up.

    Furniture is scaled down, so as to give the room the impression of being bigger than it is and to avoid overcrowding. Take the spool coffee table: Not only is it low and compact, but its also circular, often a wise shape in small spaces since curves can intrude less into a space than corners.

    The side table next to the petite sofa and the armchair are interesting choices too, as each is designed to let light through them, meaning they dont block space and light.

    Incorporating up-and-over storage, which makes use of otherwise unused areas above a door frame and high-up wall space, is an absolute winner of a way to pack more into a little space without making it feel cramped.

    Photo by Stephan Bidoux Studio - Discover dining room design ideas

    Divide and conquer. Picture, for a moment, walking into this studio apartment before that shelving unit had been built and before the glass screen went up. Youd risk feeling as if youd arrived home and straight into the dining table. Subtle and interesting divisions of space mdash; especially those that dont close it off, as shown here - are your friends.

    Photo by PAVONETTI Office of Design - Look for bathroom pictures

    Highlight cuteness. This teeny sink could get swallowed by a vanity, but with the hairpin legs, its petite proportions are really highlighted. The legs also make it look more elegant and important. As already discussed, something may be small, but if you make it really special, no one will be thinking about whether its big enough. Instead, theyll just be admiring it, as hopefully you will also do daily. Distraction as a tool should not be underestimated

    Another great idea here is to have wall-mounted faucets when you have to have a smaller-than-average sink mdash; the last thing you want is deck-mounted ones impinging on the little space you have. Act out washing your face exuberantly before you buy -- if none of the water has a chance of going back into the sink, think again. Or design a wet room around it where it wont matter.

    Photo by Moon Design Build - More home office photos

    Go custom. This little home office is clever on several fronts. First off, rather than feeling thwarted by that low, skinny window, the owners simply worked around it. The desk cuts through it, but by painting the desktop and the window frame the same color, the two features work with rather than against each other.

    Investing in custom design for a space that needs to be functional is also a good tip to take from here: Just look at how much storage has been packed in and at how deep the desk is. It looks so obvious when you see it now, but the secret of good design is that its so often deceptively simple.

    Photo by Nicolas Matheus Photographe - Look for deck pictures

    Lie low. This rooftop garden plays with proportions. Opting for furniture thats low to the floor gives an impression of more head height. Its a trick that works more obviously in rooms with low ceilings, but you can see how effective it is at also making this area feel like a welcoming lounging spot.

    Another tip to take away is not to scrimp on planting. You may think that crowding the space with greenery will shrink it. In fact, doing so is likely to make you feel as though youre in a lush, extravagant secret garden. But do choose plants that are easy to prune and handle, and that have soft foliage you can brush past without ducking, diving and contorting.

    Photo by Jessica Helgerson Interior Design - Look for bathroom pictures

    Ignore convention. No space for that statement slipper or roll-top tub? Are you sure? Of course, having wall space on both sides would be more conventional, as would generally putting a fancy bath in a more generously sized room, but a small bathroom hasnt stopped these homeowners from going big on their bathing spot. And what better way to make the most of a lush view like that?

    Photo by Chris Snook - More living room photos

    Build your own sofas. When you cant find the right sofa for a very small living room, consider copying this idea. The homeowner had her own bench seating built around the room, and beneath the cushions, shes bagged loads of extra storage to boot.

    Ensure that you design benches to be deep enough for slouchy TV-watching comfort, and invest in good-quality, thick cushions, which you can get made at a foam-cutting shop. This is furniture youll spend a lot of time on, so before you go ahead, make it your mission to seek out and try out every bench seat in your area - in cafes, friends homes, shops - so you can figure out what you do and dont like.

    Also See:

    • Outfit Your Space With Savvy Storage Cabinets
    • Splurge on a Cool Clawfoot Tub
    • Space-Saving Ideas for Tiny Bathrooms

    Full Story >


    New Kitchen Cabinetry: Make Your Investment A Smart One

    At an average of 50,000, a kitchen remodel is a major undertaking. A good return on that investment means different things to different people. You may be considering resale value, your bank balance at the moment, the elements of your dream kitchen-or all of the above. Whatever the case, kitchen cabinets are a key component of every remodel.

    In order to make the best choices for your particular needs and desires, and to make an investment of time and money that really pays off, a little homework is in order. Lets get you started with a little background on the basics that will have you making decisions with confidence and cooking in >

    Talk to the Pros

    When it comes to considering the return on investment for remodels, youre really talking about what your home will sell for after that remodel is complete. No one will be able to answer that question better than real estate professionals and professional interior designers who work in your neighborhood. Consult with at least one of each to find out what finishes and extras other clients in your area are looking for, and what theyre willing to pay for those amenities.

    Start With a Great Floor Plan

    So much happens in the kitchen-a good floor plan can really help you direct activity flow in that high-traffic space. Buyers are looking for their dream kitchen, and they are surprisingly informed about what makes a good floor plan. Make sure your cabinets are conveniently placed for maximum accessibility. Whether thats surrounding the refrigerator with floor-to-ceiling pantry cabinets, or giving up some cabinet space in order to mount the oven on the wall, think carefully about how you operate in the space. Where are the prep, cooking and cleaning zones in your kitchen, and how will cabinetry best serve them?

    Keep It Simple

    Any real estate agent will tell you that, if resale value is a consideration in your remodel, you should avoid ornate or trendy >

    Make a Good Match

    Of course, open floor plans are very desirable right now, so thats definitely a consideration to make if your remodel budget will allow it. If youre already working with an open floor plan, be sure that your new cabinets are faced with doors that complement the design >

    Its All in the Details

    With kitchen remodels, it really is all in the details. One thing buyers today are willing to pay for are those little extras that make cooking and cleaning a much more pleasant affair. Roll-out drawers are definitely worth consideration and are really not the budget buster most of our clients expect them to be. A vertical, pull-out pantry near the fridge or cook top is another favorite, as are quiet-close drawers. We love the look and warmth of under-cabinet lighting, which also makes for great task lighting. And while glass front cabinets are not for everyone, if you do make that choice, be sure to go the extra mile with interior lighting-it makes the kitchen a show stopper.

    The Nitty Gritty

    Now youve got a sense of the choices and amenities available and those that buyers are currently looking for. But when it comes to a return on your remodel investment, what should you look for in the cabinets themselves-high-end for the high rollers or down-and-dirty to make that sale? Its true that you can see the difference in upscale cabinetry created from specialty woods, but most buyers arent expecting that extra. On the other hand, you dont have to be a real estate agent or designer to spot cheap cabinetry, and buyers definitely dont want to walk into a kitchen they know theyll have to remodel themselves.

    In our experience, there are lots of quality, mid-range cabinets out there that give you the best chance of making your money back. You need cabinets with the design and craftsmanship that allow you to offer those quiet-close drawers and sliding shelves in the cabinets, and finishes that work with all kinds of design >

    What are you looking for in your next set of kitchen cabinets?

    Award winning interior designer, Kerrie Kelly, writes for The Home Depot about what kitchen remodel features will give you the most resale value. For more info on kitchen cabinets like the ones Kerrie talks about in this article, visit the Home Depot here.

    Full Story >


    The Pitfalls Of Holding Title To Real Estate As Joint Tenants

    Many older people add an adult child or grandchild to the title of their assets especially their home as a joint owner in order to avoid probate. However, this type of property can create all kinds of problems, including:

    1. When a joint owner is added, the original owner loses control. To sell real estate held in joint tenancy during your lifetime, you must have the signature of both joint tenants. If your joint tenant is uncooperative or becomes incapacitated, you may not be able to readily sell or transfer your property.

    2. Part of the asset could be lost to the joint owners creditors; if your joint tenant has creditor problems, the creditor of the other joint tenant can garnish the jointly held asset to satisfy the debt. This could ultimately cause you to lose the asset

    3. The assets could become part of a joint owners divorce proceedings. The last thing you want is to have your property dragged through the divorce court proceedings with its attendant delays and expenses.

    4. Individuals often look at joint tenancy as a vehicle to avoid probate. However, when a parent places a child on title as a joint tenant on their real estate, they are often unaware that they have made a gift of one-half of the value of the property. If that value exceeds 14,000 in one year, the gift is a taxable gift causing the parent to have to file a gift tax return.

    5. When someone inherits an asset, the cost basis of the asset is the stepped up to current value on the date of death. Say for example that an elderly parent leaves a home to their children that is valued at 400,000 on the date they pass away and the cost basis of the property is only 100,000. The home was purchased 20 years ago. While the beneficiaries may have to pay estate e taxes depending on the size of the estate, they will not be responsible for capital gains tax on the 300,000 worth of gains. Since they received a step-up in basis, they will only be responsible for gains that might occur from the point they inherit the asset and then sell it. On the other hand, with joint tenancy property only a one-half step up is basis is permitted.

    In summary, although there are advantages to using joint tenancy, they are usually outweighed by the disadvantages.

    Attorney Mark D. Klein, Esq. of Lighthouse Legal Services.nbsp; He may be reached at or at 949 453-7979


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    Declutter Thinking to Increase Productivity

    Whether you acknowledged the new year by decluttering your home or not, decluttering physical space is second in importance to regularly and deliberately decluttering the space between your ears.

    As a new year begins, its common to self-confidently, even joyfully, toss out "stuff" thats accumulated over the past year:

    • Attacking closets to dig out long-forgotten stuff clogging up this storage.
    • Sorting through drawers to discover whats essential and whats not.
    • Rummaging around in workshops, play areas, hobby rooms, and other once-productive corners to decide what is truly useful and whats just taking up space.

    For real estate professionals mdash; and many of their clients mdash; productivity-enhancing brain decluttering will ensure that 2018 is a stellar year:

    • Attack touted areas of expertise to dig out long-forgotten or dated core material that is undermining modernization and >professional expertise. The resulting improved communication effectiveness enriches >
    • Sort through > with clients, past clients, and everyone else who matters, to discover whos essential to your success and that of clients and who is dead weight or destructive. Save time and energy to enhance focus in marketing, strategizing, and goal achievement for you and your clients.
    • Rummage around to discard out-dated dreams, mis-calculated goals, missed opportunity, failed strategies, and other persistently-distracting past experiences mdash; personal baggage. Decide what is truly useful about your past and worth integrating, and whats just taking up brain space.

    Move from unconscious to conscious to remove brain clutter.

    Just as your tongue cannot stop poking at a sore tooth, your brain keeps poking at wrongs youve committed or feel were committed on you as well as at many other "sore spots." Take an honest look at what continues to bother you. Which past experiences, from distracting injustices to ego-pumping triumphs, crowd out productive future thinking? What keeps you awake at night? Whatever disrupts your routine becomes your routine if it is not addressed. Get on with life.

    Let your brain explore these Five Essential Good Brain Habits.

    Five, so you can count them on one hand and keep track of how youre doing:

    1. Self-Determined Wellness is the result of a series of good health habits that keep you eating, moving, thinking, living... in your own best interest. Wasting time on what you havent done or should do but dont, gets you nowhere. Concentrate on what you do and why, and what you can successfully convince yourself to add to your healthy routines.

    2. Productive Self-Discipline is the result of confidence in yourself, commitment to what you want to spend your life doing, and what you want your reputation to stand for. Feedback from forward thinkers and mentors will help you progress.

    3. Valued Sense of Humor is the result of practice stressing the positive side, removing bias, searching out ridiculous, thoughtless perpetrations, and focusing on laughter that makes everyone feel better. Humor has taken serious turns, so take care to stay current.

    4. Persistent Curiosity is the result of an actively engaged brain and a belief in endless possibilities. What anti-clutter inspiration mdash; not just mindless screen time mdash; keeps your thinking fresh and >

    5. Constructive Compassion is the result of belief in the importance of contributing to the lives of others by helping them improve their forward thinking. This is not about you, but how your contributions will be valued by prospects and clients.

    This is my list. Make it yours or build your own. Ask people what they value about you and how you can improve your approach to the work you love. First, thank them for their suggestions without making judgements or "yeah but" comments. Then, spend time constructively evaluating their suggestions from the perspective of clients and your 2018 goals.

    For example, after years in real estate, you have a long list of past clients. When you think of and refer to those on this list as "clients," you do them and you a disservice. Clients are those you are contracted to serve; those who are legally bound to you and your broker.

    Once they have bought or sold, even if they become friends, these buyers and sellers are not clients any more. They owe you nothing, not even loyalty. They are prospects mdash; perhaps warm or even hot prospects mdash; but prospects none the less. Passively sending out newsletters will not attract these prospects as quickly and effectively as employing the strategies you successfully use to engage new business.

    Think of past business as "clients" already committed to you mdash; when they are not mdash; and thats clutter. Shift to constructive-prospecting strategies for those who at least know your name and stand back

    Decluttering is an ongoing, never-ending process since your brain is continually bombarded by "junk" in this 24/7 vortex of information and what passes for it these days. As you carve out space in your decluttered brain, youll discover room for amazing ideas and creative thinking mdash; yours and those of others.

    As professionals, you can also help buyers and sellers attack their brain clutter and clarify their 2018 real estate goals.

    In your decluttered state, you decide how 2018 is going to unfold for you and clients.


    Full Story >


    New California Law Clarifies Condominium Owners Right To Install Solar Systems

    Effective January 1, 2018 a new law makes it easier for a California condominium owner to install a solar energy system on the roof the building in which he or she resides. The law also covers the installation of such a system on a garage or carport adjacent to the building that has been assigned to the owner for exclusive use.

    The new law is the result of Assembly Bill 634 Eggman. It was approved by the Governor on October 15, 2017. It amends Sections 714.1 and 4600 of the California Civil Code. It also adds Section 4746 to the Civil Code.

    The California Solar Rights Act of 1978 established that it was state policy that any provision of a Common Interest Subdivision that prohibits or restricts the installation of a solar energy system is void and unenforceable. The Act did allow Homeowner Associations HOAs to impose reasonable restrictions. AB 634 was said to provide further guidance on what would be "reasonable."

    The passage of AB 634 prohibits an HOA from establishing a general policy prohibiting installation of a solar system on the roof of a building in which the system owner owns a unit.

    The new law also prohibits requiring a vote of the members owning units to approve the installation of such units. Generally, the law requires a vote of the membership to grant anyone exclusive use of what is normally common area. This law exempts solar units from that requirement.

    The new law requires that each unit owner in the building be notified of any applicants application to install a solar unit on the roof of the building. It requires that they be notified, but it does not require their approval.

    There is now a legal obligation for the owner of the system to "maintain a homeowner liability coverage policy at all times and provide the association with the corresponding certificate of insurance within 14 days of approval of the application and annually thereafter."

    AB 634 included a provision that allows the HOA to require the applicant for the system to submit a solar site survey, conducted by an appropriate professional, showing the placement of the system and "including a determination of the usable solar roof area among all owners sharing the same roof, garage, or carport."

    The HOA may also require the owner and all successive owners to be responsible for any damages to the common area or other units, and costs for any maintenance and/or repairs of the system.

    Finally, the owner of the system may be required by the HOA to disclose the system and its >

    AB 634 was opposed by the California Alliance for Retired Americans. I dont know why.


    Full Story >


    Representing A Community Association

    Question: I am an owner in a mid-sized condominium complex, and we are having trouble with our Board of Directors and our management company. A number of us are convinced that the Board is not complying with our Association documents. Unfortunately, the Board refuses to recognize this. We want to obtain a legal opinion from the Associations attorney, but have been advised that the law firm represents the Board and will not give the owners such an opinion. Please explain who the lawyer represents?

    Answer: Although there is no doubt in my mind that the lawyer should represent the Association as a whole, this question is often hotly debated -- both among Association attorneys and unit owners --throughout the country. This columnist has also received a large number of questions about this issue.

    At the outset, I want to state my position: when a lawyer is retained by a community association, that lawyer must represent the entire association. It is true, however, that the lawyer takes his or her "marching orders" from the elected Board of Directors, but the client is the Association -- and not the Board. But even before the lawyer is retained, the Board should be advised -- in writing -- as to whom the lawyer represents.

    It should also be pointed out that the discussion >This does not mean that an association lawyer must answer each and every question posed by individual unit owners. The lawyers fees are controlled by the Board of Directors. It would be clearly unfair for all owners to have to bear the cost of increased legal fees just because one or two owners constantly contact the lawyer with questions. Indeed, owners may even ask personal questions of the association lawyer -- such as estate or employment issues -- that have absolutely nothing to do with the nature of the lawyer-client >Furthermore, if an individual owner of the community brings legal action against the Association and/or the Board for whatever reason, the Associations lawyer has the obligation to communicate -- in private -- with the Board without such privileged communication being open to all owners. A lawsuit against a Board or an Association directly impacts on the entire community. It can potentially affect the budget, and it can also have an impact on the ability of potential purchasers to obtain financing in the secondary mortgage market. Clearly, litigation can have an impact on the reputation -- and thus the resale value -- of community associations.

    For this reason, the laws and legal condo documents permit the Associations lawyer to strategize in executive session with the Board of Directors.

    However, in general, an Association lawyer must represent the Association, and not just its Board or its management agent. For example, many years ago, a Board hired a construction engineer to conduct a "reserve analysis" of the condominium building. The purpose of this study was to assist the Board and management in determining how much money the association had to keep in reserves. Reserves are generally used to pay for such major improvements or repairs as elevator upgrades, roof replacement or air conditioning enhancements.

    During the course of the reserve study, the engineer learned there was asbestos in the building. It was, however, encapsulated, and according to the engineer did not pose a threat to anyone in the building. The Board of Directors did not want to "scare" the owners and decided not to advise them of the situation. A legal opinion was sought, and the Boards lawyer recommended that everyone be informed that although there was no immediate health hazard, there was asbestos in the building. The Board objected; it believed that such a notice would cause unnecessary panic and fear throughout the building, and since there was no health hazard, no such announcement should be made. Incidentally, the lawyer was terminated.

    What should the lawyer do? In my opinion, he or she should advise the Board -- in no uncertain terms -- that it owes a fiduciary duty to the owners who elected them, and that this duty requires that everyone be informed of the situation. What happens if the Board still does not heed the lawyers advice? Does the lawyer withdraw as counsel for the Association? Or does he or she, without Board approval notify the owners of the asbestos?

    This is but one illustration of the potential conflicts that a lawyer -- and a property manager -- often confront when dealing with a Board of Directors.

    It is true that the Board has the responsibility of managing and operating the Association. But the Board -- its lawyer and its management agent -- obtain their basic powers from the people, and it is to the people that accountability is owed. Such situations clearly put the lawyer and property managers on the "hot" seat. Offend the Board, and you may lose a client. However, as professionals and as agents for the entire Community Association, should be strong enough to keep the best interests of the Association first and foremost.

    This issue is highly controversial within the community association field. There are lawyers and property managers alike who claim they only represent the Board of Directors. Clearly they are entitled to their opinion, but this columnist believes that the loyalty and fidelity is owed to the Association as a whole.
    Full Story >


    9 Places to Shop Online For Furniture and Home Furnishings

    These days, there isnt much we dont shop for online. But if you have been hesitant to buy your furniture and other home items with a few clicks instead of being able to walk into a store and see them in person, it might be time to rethink that strategy. With so many great sites that offer easy delivery and returns and tons of reviews that can give you confidence in your purchase, furnishing or updating your home online is easier than ever. We have curated a few of our favorite sites.

    Home Depot

    Architectural Digest just extolled the virtues of Home Depots beautiful furniture No, really, and you wont find these items in the stores. "Thats right,nbsp;Home Depotnbsp;sells not only furniture, but good furniture," they said. "Were talking solid wood dining tables and cushy sofas covered in realnbsp;linen.nbsp;Theyre not outrageously expensive, either. It might be hard to believe now, but Home Depot is going to be your new home decor go-to."nbsp; The Ambrose Desk 499 is "factory-chic" and "will look right at home in an office or living room with a modern or industrial design scheme," according to Home Depot. We also love this Brooklyn Floor Lamp.


    homedepot.com

    Amazon

    Amazon probably isnt your first choice when you think about furniture or home decor, but maybe it should at least be in your top 10. "Turns out you dont need to schlep to Ikea to find cheapnbsp;bowlsnbsp;andnbsp;dish towels," said New York Magazines The Strategist. "Amazon is actually full of handsome and well-pricednbsp;home deacute;cornbsp;- you just have to do a little digging."nbsp;Well take this Dikoaina Mongolian Faux Fur Pillow Cover, which looks like it costs hundreds, but will set you back just 12.99.nbsp;

    Wayfair

    No list of best online stores for home shopping would be complete without the inclusion of Wayfair. Not only do they have more than 5,000 brands with everything from furniture to lighting to deacute;cor to cookware, but they also offer free shipping on almost everything.

    Etsy

    You may have to do a bit more hunting and pecking on this site, and return policies will be up to the individual seller, so make sure you read the small type before you hit "purchase." But the great news about Etsy is that items are not mass produced, so you wont see your cool new piece of art in 12 other homes in the neighborhood.

    Target

    Yes, theres a Target in practically every neighborhood. And thats actually one of the upsides to shopping at the store online. Should something not work out for any reason, you can always return it right to the store. Of course, online shopping at Target is ideal for many reasons, not the least of which is being able to have large pieces delivered. Their Project 62 line is the new budget darling of the interior design world, with pieces ranging from the pretty rose gold bath collection to the Edmund Mid-Century Dining Table to great lighting options that allow you to incorporate modern trends at a fraction of what some of the items would cost elsewhere. The site also offers a cool feature that allows you to view a space in 3D.

    Snowe

    This one is for you if youre looking for upscale finds without having to get in the car. "Have you even been to a well-curated home store and wish you just can live in the space? Thats exactly wherenbsp;Snowe comes in: The brand sources premium products from factories in Europe and America to bring you a minimalist edit optimized for thoughtful living," said Refinery 29. Our favorites from the retailer include theirnbsp;dinnerwarenbsp;from Limoges, a French town famed for porcelain production, and high thread countnbsp;bedsheetsnbsp;from Italy and Portugal.

    AR

    Developing a space that is stylish and current but also reflects your individuality is a constant challenge. Thats where AR comes in. "Chock full of playful modern furniture from designers all over the globe, AR is a great place to branch out from your typical design >


    curbed.com

    One Kings Lane

    "Were obsessed with the flash shopping sitenbsp;One Kings Lanenbsp;that offers daily sales from the likes of Ralph Lauren and Martha Stewart,nbsp;vintage and market findsnbsp;you wont find in anyone elses home andnbsp;salesnbsp;curated by tastemakers with amazing >

    Uncommon Goods

    Were big fans of Uncommon Goods for unique gift items and handmade crafts, but their homewares with "fascinating stories behind them," as Refinery 29 mused, have us captivated, too. "From city-inspired bookshelvesnbsp;made in India tonbsp;sculptural clocksnbsp;exclusively sold at the site, this is the retailer to watch for one-of-a-kind home upgrades," they said.


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    7 Lighting Trends For 2018 That Will Instantly Update Your Space

    If theres one thing that can make your home look dated, its lighting. Old fixtures, out-of->

    "One aspect many homeowners neglect is lighting and the impact it has on yournbsp;home deacute;cor," said Improvenet. The good news is that changing out or adding new fixtures can be an easy fix that gives your home some new sparkle.

    And, while many of these light fixtures can run into the thousands of dollars, there are more affordable options, like Targets Project 62 line, which has been a big hit with both consumers and interior designers for its modern looks and low prices.nbsp;"In many cases, your light fixtures are often a budget-friendly way to upgrade the deacute;cor. In 2018, theyll be an important part of both interior and exterior decor."nbsp;

    Here are some trends to keep in mind.


    hunker.com

    1. Mix and match

    For a stylish, eclectic look, give your pendant lighting some flair by mixing it up. "A row or cluster of pendants is a >

    2. Large fixtures

    Scale is always an important factor when designing a space, but modern lighting trends are veering toward larger fixtures that also make a larger impact. "For certain areas of the house, homeowners are falling in love with bigger fixtures," said Sebring Design Build. "The aim is to create a lsquo;Wow factor and attract instant attention. More than lighting, these fixtures act as centerpieces. Some come with ornate designs that focus all the attention in a space on the fixture. nbsp;Large pendant lighting fixtures can be used over the kitchen island, over the dining table, at the foyer and along exterior footpaths among other areas."

    3. High-impact chandeliers

    Beyond scale, chandeliers for 2018 are also focused on exciting shapes. The starburst >


    pinterest.com

    Today, however, this >

    4. Smart lights

    There are several products you can buy today that go beyond your typical light bulb and that integrate smart technology into your lighting. Expect this trend to only continue to grow as more variety is offered, but, for now, experts laud the Philips Hue light bulbs for their ease of use and smart features. "Thenbsp;Philips Hue light bulbsnbsp;are the best ones you can buy because they are >

    5. Glass bubbles

    Whether they cluster or cascade, glass bubbles bring a whimsy and wonderment to any space. Expect to see both clear and iridescent colored versions this year. The Doneger Group featured glass bubble chandeliers in its recent trend forecast for HomeGoods.


    kellyelko.com

    6. Metallics

    We could have specified brass or gold or any number of other metallic finishes here because there are several that are trending individually. And, the truth is that its hard to go wrong today with any of them. Sebring Design Build likes soft gold for 2018, a choice they call "right within this spectrum of soft colors that work so well for contemporary decors to choose for yournbsp;remodel. Soft gold falls somewhere in the middle of brushed silver and brushed gold. It borrows the soft matte finish of these two hues while bringing out the warmth and mellowness of gold. This also means that it can blend in with almost any kind of deacute;cor from modern urban to farmhouse."

    Cant choose just one? Thats not a problem. "The rules of interior design are meant to be broken and when done right the results can be inspiring and stunning," said Bellacor. "Mixing metallic design elements, either within a single lighting fixture or within a larger design environment, is a great way to break the rules and create a harmonious visual plane at the same time. In 2018, gold, silver, brass, rose gold, copper and other metal lighting fixture elements can all work together to create an intentional and thoughtful look within a designer space."

    7. Vintage lightingnbsp;

    Going vintage with your lighting is a great way to bring character to a space. "Homeowners are gravitating toward vintage->
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    Does Adding A Gym In Your Home Add Any Value?

    Its that time of year of again. Seemingly everyone is dedicating the next few days, weeks, and months to getting in better shape. That being said, traditional gyms are absurdly crowded right now and will most likely be for the next few months.

    So how about just building one in your home? Sounds expensive and it probably will be as exercise equipment is both pricey and difficult to move. That being said, as a society we are very unhealthy and many of us are overweight. To combat this there has been a plethora of movements to help prevent obesity. One such movement has been the increase in home gym ownership.

    So we have to ask ourselves, "Does having a home gym truly increase the value of my home?" The short answer is absolutely not In spite of this, it most certainly will increase the desirability of your home to a certain set of buyers. Think of it like a pool. Study after study has revealed that even if you live in Arizona, a pool will not increase the real value of your home, only the perceived value.

    That being said, geography does matter and much like having a pool when it can be over 110 degrees is equivalent to not having to worry about driving to the gym when its -5 degrees outside. For starters I have slipped on ice and knocked myself out walking to the gym. No such worries if you have your own gym

    The fact is that by having a home gym, the appeal of your home will increase to a certain subset of buyers. In essence, its simply a differentiator. The only positive investment would be that of your health. Its one of the few things in life that you can actually control.

    Ideas for an ideal exercise room:

    First off, it is probably a good idea to get a cardiovascular machine such as a Treadmill, Stairmaster, or an Elliptical machine to get off to a good start as they are by far the most popular machines.

    Stationary bikes are good as well but they involve sitting which most of us do enough in a day. A yoga mat is an excellent choice as well. A kettle bell, a couple sets of dumbbells, a medicine ball and maybe even a Bowflex It Really Does Work would be more than enough to start your own setup

    If you choose to buy all of the equipment brand new, expect to spend at least 1,500 for lower end equipment. For top of the line gear expect to spend at least double that. Should you buy used equipment, the cost will be much lower. However, shiny equipment would be more enticing to the potential buyer psychologically. As mentioned, it is a great differentiator and that can be the difference between a quick sell and a prolonged and expensive one.


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    Understanding Hard Water and How to Solve It

    Do you have hard water? If you notice spots and films on glasses that come straight from the dishwasher, or you cant seem to work up a good lather when washing your hands, its a good bet that you do.

    You are not alone. The U.S. Geological Survey estimates that 85 percent of the countrys population has some degree of hard water coming into their homes.

    While the outward signs of hard water are annoying, the effects on your plumbing can be serious. Hard water can produce scale that clogs pipes, reducing water pressure. It can also cause mineral deposits to form in major appliances like water heaters, affecting the efficiency of the heater and shortening the life of the appliance.

    How Do You Find Out for Sure?

    Hard water has high levels of dissolved minerals in it, especially calcium and magnesium. You can determine the hardness of your water by checking the Consumer Confidence Report supplied by your water company. An even better idea is to test the water that comes into your house, because the amount of hardness is one of the factors in determining the size of the water softener to buy. Do-it-yourself tests are inexpensive and easy to use. Some water softener manufacturers and salt companies will supply test strips for free.

    The water treatment industry measures hardness in grains per gallon GPG. The table below lists common >

    Degree of HardnessGrains Per Gallon GPG
    Softlt;1
    Slightly Hard1.0ndash;3.5
    Moderately Hard3.5ndash;7.0
    Hard7.0ndash;10.5
    Very Hardgt; 10.5

    Source: Water Quality Association

    Whats a Water Softener?

    Water softeners are often point-of-entry appliances, meaning they treat all the water used in the home, but point-of-use systems are also available. Most water softener systems consist of a resin tank and a salt brine tank. The resin removes the hard water minerals from the water, while the brine tank regenerates the resin.

    The size softener you need depends on the hardness of the water and the amount of water your household uses. A qualified water softener installer can calculate the size of the system.

    Once installed, the water softening process is automatic. You simply need to keep it supplied with salt. On some softeners, you set the regeneration schedule. Newer, more advanced models feature demand-initiated regeneration, which regenerates the resin as needed. These systems typically use less water and are more energy efficient. Other features include:

    • Products that include water softening and water filtration in one unit
    • Easy access for replenishing salt supply
    • Low salt indicators

    What Is a Water Conditioner?

    Where water softeners remove hard water minerals, water conditioners alter them so that they cannot attach themselves to pipes, faucets and appliances. There are a few ways to do this, including the use of electronics. Water conditioners do not require salt and are easy to install. Consider a water conditioner if your hard water doesnt bother you but you want to protect your pipes, or if traditional softeners are not allowed in your municipalitys water and sewer system.

    Hard water can lead to serious problems for your homes plumbing. Fortunately, the right water softener or conditioner can virtually eliminate those issues before they lead to frustrating repairs.

    Fran Donegannbsp;writes for The Home Depot on home improvement topics, including water filtration systems and planning. Fran also is a longtime DIY writer and the author of several DIY books. You can review a large variety of water dispensers and filters on the Home Depot website here.


    Full Story >


    Ask the HOA Expert: Improving Neighbor Relations

    Question: We are planning to rebuild a wood boundary fence. When the original fence was built, we had no neighbors but now we do. We received a complaint from our neighbor that our fence was "illegal" because the "bad side" of the fence was facing them. Can our defense in this matter be that we are restoring the original fence design and are grandfathered?

    Answer: You have a golden opportunity to improve neighbor >Question: We have a unit owner who installed a large wind chime on his balcony. We have received a number of complaints about the noise. How can we approach him about this?

    Answer: Complaining about a wind chime sound seems pretty extreme but if your location is given to high winds, the sound could get loud and obnoxious. If this is the case, wind chimes, just like loud music are subject to the "nuisance" restriction which exist in virtually every HOA. This owner needs to remove the wind chime or install one that is small and less noisy.

    Question: We recently changed the date of our annual meeting to three months later than in the past. Two director terms expire this month. Is there some protocol to follow to keep them on until the annual meeting?

    Answer: Directors terms are tied to the annual meeting which conforms to their term one, two or three years. Changing of meeting date doesnt change their term of office. This time around, it will simply be three months longer.

    Question: Do you have an opinion about front yard vegetable gardens? Our governing documents only restrict "noxious use of property" and "unsightly growths".

    Answer: The board has the authority to enact reasonable standards to preserve property values. Generally speaking, HOAs should have standards when it comes to landscaping which restricts vegetable gardens to backyards or out of view from the street to promote curb appeal.

    For more innovative homeowner association management strategies, see www.Regenesis.net
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    Is Your Home A Burglar Magnet?

    The thought of a home break-in is terrifying, but are you doing everything you can to prevent one? You might be making critical mistakes that make your home a burglar magnet, or, at least failing to take advantage of easy fixes to make your home less attractive to thieves.

    While break-ins have been declining over the past decade, "Its estimated that a home burglary occurs every 15 seconds in the United States," said Safety.com. "That means that during the 10 minutes it takes you to read this post, approximately 40 homes will have been burglarized." Taking a few steps now can help ensure youre not one of the unlucky ones.

    Protecting your house during the day

    "When someone breaks into your house, its usually in the middle of the night - a masked, anonymous man swipes your jewelry before fleeing in an unmarked car. Right? Nope," said Architectural Digest. The publication quoted Dr. Joseph Kuhns, a professor of criminology at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte who was part of a groundbreaking study on the effects of alarms on crime and criminal behavior. "Myths about burglars abound," he said. The reality is that one in four robberies involve a known associate or the homeowner or renter, many robberies take place during the afternoon - female robbers, and there are plenty, tend to prefer this time - and most often the victims medicine cabinet is the real target. Most burglaries are drug-involved."

    That means making sure a home is secure during the day is every bit as important as securing it at night.

    Examining the exterior of your home by walking the perimeter and taking note of areas of concern is the first step. "The best way to protect your home from the outside is to survey it with the eyes of a burglar," said HomeAdvisor. "If you can easily tell that a window could be pried open, a thief will definitely be able to come to the same conclusion. You can even contact your local police department and theyll provide a courtesy home assessment that can help you identify your homes weak spots."

    Leaving doors or windows open

    The number of burglars who are able to access a home through a window or door that was left unlocked is disturbing. Making sure locks are strong and in good working order is key to protecting your place.

    "Most burglars reported entering open windows or doors or forcing windows or doors open," said Alarm.org. In fact, security experts estimate that almost 70 of burglars enter your home through a door. "Only about one in eight burglars reported picking locks or using a key that they had previously acquired to gain entry."

    Upgrade your door

    You can help make sure youre not one of the ones who comes home to a kicked-in door by making a smart upgrade. A solid wood door that cant be easily breached might just make someone turn around and move on to another home.

    Get a deadbolt

    New door or not, adding a deadbolt is a great deterrent for criminals. A Reddit postnbsp;on the topic of home burglary asked thieves how to keep a home safe from theft. The consensus: The sight of a deadbolt will likely make a burglar choose another home. Other types of locks can be easily picked, and often it takes no more than the swipe of a credit card.

    Change the locks

    Did you change the locks when you moved in to your house? Whether you just took possession today or have lived in the home for a few years, getting a fresh new lock and set of keys is easy, and smart. You never know if there is a key floating around out there that could give someone immediate access to your place.

    Dont hide a key

    While were talking about keyshellip;that whole key under the rock thing isnt fooling anyone. Its time to cut that out.

    Secure sliding doors

    Sliding patio doors can be an open invitation to burglars because they typically create a simple forced entry opportunity. A curtain rod or pole cut to size and placed in the sliding track can keep the door from budging. This easy, budget-friendly tip can make the difference between a home that is an easy target and one that causes a criminal to look elsewhere.

    A poorly lit yard

    When the sun goes down, its time time to apply another layer of protection to keep your home and your family safe, and lights are a great place to start. Not only will a good lighting system out front highlight your home and landscaping, but it will make it less likely that your home will be targeted. Motion sensor lighting is great, especially for darker areas, and newer products combine motion sensors with video playback.

    Be smart about lighting

    Just as you want your home to be well-lit to discourage a would-be burglar, you dont want it to be too lit at certain times. A home whose lights stay on all night long for a few days in a row is a tipoff to someone casing the neighborhood that the residents are probably on vacation. That makes your home a great candidate to be burglarized.

    Trim those hedges

    Tall hedges or other greenery close to the house can act as hiding places for burglars. If you do want landscaping up close to your house, HomeAdvisor suggest planting "thorny shrubs by your windows to make it not only difficult to break in, but painful"

    And dont forget about second-stories. A tree can be climbed for access to a window, so prune those branches

    Get to know your neighbors

    You know when nosy neighbors can come in really handy? When they notice and alert you to questionable activity around your home. HomeAdvisor reports that, "Crime tends to be lower in tight-knit communities becausenbsp;neighbors are more likely to look out for each othernbsp;and can easily spot a stranger. Your neighbors can be one of your best assets in home crime prevention because they offer extra eyes and an outside perspective. Plus, if they have a different work or school schedule from yours, they might be around during the day when youre away and can alert you to any suspicious activity that may occur in your absence."

    If youre somewhat of an introvert and dont want to physically meet your neighbors, at least join Nextdoor to keep up with neighborhood happenings online. You might learn about a crime spree or suspicious individuals in your neighborhood to look out for.

    Keep your plans to yourself

    You may want to brag online about your European vacation and post pictures from every city on your month-long tour, but consider whos seeing or hearing what youre putting out there.

    "Whether you announce your big vacation on Facebook or you and a friend discuss an upcoming business trip at a coffee shop,nbsp;mentioning travel in public forums is dangerous," said A Secure Life. "In these types of situations, anyone could overhear you and know that your home is going to stand empty for a few days, creating the perfect opportunity to target your home. Its especially important to emphasize to children that when they mention outings innocently on their social networking pages, they are opening the door to strangers who might want to burglarize your home while youre out."

    Get an alarm

    If youre on the fence about the expense of an alarm system, consider this: According to the University of North Carolina at Charlotte study, "A majority of burglars considered the presence of deterrents such as alarms, outdoor cameras and other surveillance equipment when choosing a potential residential or commercial target," said Alarm.org. "Approximately 83 percent of the offenders said they would attempt to determine if an alarm was present before attempting a burglary, and 60 percent said they would seek an alternative target. This was particularly true among the subset of burglars who were more likely to spend time deliberately and carefully planning a burglary."

    A key piece of data from the study is the fact that, "Among those who discovered the presence of an alarm while attempting a burglary, half reported they would discontinue the attempt, while another 31 percent said they would sometimes retreat. Only 13 percent said they would always continue the attempt even after an alarm had been discovered."

    Get a security camera

    The University of North Carolina at Charlotte study also found that video surveillance was a top choice for theft deterrent. "Nearly 60 percent of the burglars said they would consider the presence of cameras or other video equipment when selecting a target, and more than 40 percent said that would be a factor in prompting them to choose another target," said Safety.com. "Youll need indoor and/ornbsp;outdoor security camerasnbsp;with night vision and a decent hard drive to record a few days worth of video. If you cant afford the real thing, fake cameras can also work as a good deterrent; just make sure theyre quality fakes and not cheap plastic that thieves will easily identify as dummies."

    Mind your porch

    Package theft is one of the fastest-growing crime categories around. Home deliveries are tempting for would-be crooks looking to snatch your stuff. And, if thieves think youre an easy mark for stealing packages, they may come back for more, or get more aggressive about their tactics. You can eliminate this temptation by only scheduling deliveries for when youll be home.


    Full Story >


    Realty Times Finds New Partner in Paying it Forward Through Agent with Heart Program

    In the wake of Realty Times changing hands to industry vet John Giaimo, positive changes are making their debut on the Realty Times website, most notably the induction of PinRaise Inc.rsquo;s Agent with Hearttrade; Program. This innovative program is designed to connect local nonprofits to real estate agents within the community, with the goal of raising funds for nonprofits nation-wide. Because of their mission to pay it forward paired with their distinctly unique tie to the real estate community, Realty Times has formed a partnership with PinRaise in order to bring the opportunity to the forefront of the real estate community.

    ldquo;PinRaise and their Agent with Hearttrade; Program is a perfect fit for Realty Times,rdquo; says David Orsquo;Hara, COO of Realty Times. ldquo;Not only are they an organization that is propelling the concept of paying it forward within communities nationally, but they have also found a unique niche in agent marketing that we are eager to explore.rdquo;

    As an Agent with Hearttrade;, agents receive a customized marketing kit to promote themselves as an agent who gives back within their community. PinRaise also promotes the agent on their company website, through social media, and to nonprofits. Additionally, each time an agent makes a donation to their clientrsquo;s charitable cause of choice, PinRaise launches a round of social media marketing praising that agent for their generous donation, made on their clientrsquo;s behalf. The donation amount is always decided by the individual agent and is never disclosed in donation promotions. A press >

    ldquo;We are currently working to integrate their program with our own Realty Times website by featuring Agents with Heart as well as nonprofits on a special Agent with Hearttrade; page,rdquo; says Mr. Orsquo;Hara. ldquo;We are also including Agent with Heart membership in our newly reinvigorated Agent Publicity Package, as it has become apparent that consumers, especially millennials, are eager to do business with companies and individuals that are willing to give back to the community. Itrsquo;s important to us to be able to offer this option to our agents, with hopes that it will be advantageous for them by setting them apart from other agents in the marketplace for the very reason that they are willing to give back.rdquo;

    PinRaise Inc., is just as thrilled with the newfound partnership. CCO of PinRaise, Ms. Celeste Orsquo;Hara, noted that, ldquo;Our Agent with Hearttrade; Program is the perfect fit for a renowned organization like Realty Times. We pride ourselves on bridging the gap between the consumerrsquo;s desire to give back and the world of real estate, and we look forward to all of the good we will be able to accomplish alongside Realty Times.rdquo;

    All agents are welcome to join the Agent with Hearttrade; Program. Donations may benefit any valid 501c3 nonprofit. Interested agents should visit www.PinRaise.com to sign up and learn more.


    Full Story >


    Defining Principal Residence: Its Your Home

    In order to take advantage of the up-to-500,000 exclusion of gain or up-to-250,000 if you file a tax return as a single taxpayer the house you sell has to be your "principal residence". Under most circumstances, we do not need a legal definition of this concept. "This is my house, and I have lived here for many years; whats the problem."

    But as we all know, life is often not that simple. And, unfortunately, there is no definition provided in the Tax Code.

    Even the Internal Revenue Service has admitted that "whether or not property is used by the taxpayer as his principal residence.... depends on all the facts and circumstances in each case, including the good faith of the taxpayer."

    When you sell your home, there are different tax benefits available to you -- depending on whether your home was your principal residence. And the exclusion of gain provision for principal residences was not repealed or even amended in the new tax law that the President recently signed.

    There have been very few court cases in which this concept has been defined. Basically, the answer given by the courts is the same as the IRS: we determine principal residence on a case-by-case basis.

    There is no question that if you have been living in the same house for a number of years and consider it your principal home, it will be your "principal residence."

    On the other hand, if you moved out of your house and have been renting it for some time, can you still claim the property as your "principal residence"? We must examine all the facts >In its regulations, the IRS has stated that "the mere fact that property is, or has been, rented is not determinative that such property is not used by the taxpayer as his principal residence."

    The IRS gives the following illustration: "if the taxpayer purchases his new residence before he sells his old residence, the fact that he temporarily rents out the new residence during the period before he vacates the old residence may not, in light of all of the facts and circumstances of the case, prevent the new residence from being considered as property used by the taxpayer as his principal residence."

    In recent years, this has been a common practice -- and problem -- for homeowners all over the country. You buy a new home but find you cannot sell your old home as quickly as you would like -- or at the price you want and need. Rather than risk the financial burden of carrying two homes for a period of time, you decide to rent out either the old one or the new one for a little while.

    The tax courts have consistently held that a taxpayer is not required to actually occupy the old residence on the date of its sale. Again, we have to look to the particular facts and circumstances. More importantly, we have to look to the good faith of the taxpayer.

    If you can demonstrate that in good faith you tried to sell your old house but were unable to do so because of market conditions, there should be no question that your old home will still be considered your principal residence for tax purposes.

    However, keep in mind that to benefit from the tax saving laws, there are statutory time limits that have to be honored in order to qualify for the exclusion of profit. Specifically, you have to have owned and used the home as your principle resident for two out of the last five years before sale. This is known as the "use and ownership test". So legally, you can rent it out for no more than three years. Neither the IRS nor the courts have authority to extend the time restrictions.

    Why does it make a difference whether the house was or was not your principal residence. There are times when a homeowner would prefer to have the house considered as "investment" rather than principal residence. For example, if you have made a significant profit -- and even taking the up-to-500,000 exclusion you still will have to pay a lot of money to the IRS -- you may want to consider doing an exchange under Section 1031 of the Internal Revenue Code -- and you can only exchange investments properties, not principal residences. Incidentally, the 1031 Starker exchange was also not changed nor amended by the new tax law.

    All of these factors will play a role in determining the facts and circumstances of your particular case.

    One tax case suggested that the important elements were abode and the intention of remaining. Neither bodily presence alone nor intention alone were sufficient to create a residence; the court required a combination of acts and intention.

    Thus, there is no easy answer to the question. But keep in mind that the up-to-500,000 or 250,000 is an extremely important tax benefit -- especially for older Americans who want to downsize from the large family home. You certainly do not want to make a mistake and lose that benefit.
    Full Story >


    Millennials Look To Smaller Canadian Cities For Dream Homes

    A recent ranking of the top "millennial hot spots" in Canada had some surprising results. The countrys biggest cities -- Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal -- didnt make the top five, despite their standing as employment and cultural hubs.

    To determine the best Canadian cities for millennials, research by Point2Homes looked at nine factors: housing affordability, unemployment rate, life satisfaction, low crime rate, healthcare, climate, education the percentage of the population with a bachelors degree or higher and the percentage of millennials in the total population.

    Quebec City was named the No. 1 city for millennials out of 85 cities examined. It ranked high in housing affordability and enjoys the third-lowest unemployment rate in the country, along with an above-average yearly income and a low crime severity index.

    Second was Victoria, B.C., which many people think of as a retirement destination rather than "a magnet for young, educated Canadians" as the Point2Homes research found. Victoria "boasts the second-highest percentage of millennials in the country, many of whom have a bachelors degree or above. Aside from having a low unemployment rate, this city also holds top position for climate," says the report. Victoria took the No. 1 ranking for life satisfaction for millennials.

    Third is Guelph, Ont., where the average house sells for less than half of Torontos prices. "This peaceful city is the ideal destination for those looking to combine the benefits of a strong job market with a thriving living environment," says the report.

    Rounding out the top five spots are Halifax, "an attractive destination for young professionals" and Ottawa, which provides a good economy, well-paying jobs and "a thriving cultural scene," says the report.

    Ranking dead last as a destination for millennials is Langley Township, B.C. Despite having the second lowest unemployment rate in Canada, it has a high crime rate and a low percentage of millennials living there.

    Although housing prices are much lower than in Vancouver, affordability is still a problem, says Point2Homes.

    Kawarthas Lake, Ont., Brantford, Ont., Chilliwack, B.C. and Sault Ste. Marie, Ont. also make the bottom five spots on the list.

    A recent market report by Re/Max confirms that many people are leaving the big cities for more affordable locations. "These move-over buyers leaving the Greater Toronto Area and Greater Vancouver have contributed to increased demand and considerable year-over-year average price increases in Kelowna, B.C., London-St. Thomas, Ont., Hamilton-Burlington, Ont., Barrie, Ont., Durham Region, Ont., Niagara Region, Ont., Kingston, Ont. and Ottawa," says the report.

    Statistics Canada says that "younger adults aged 20-34 -- those often referred to as the millennial generation -- are slower to get into the housing market than was the case for the baby boomers at that age."

    Comparing the homeownership rate of baby boomers at age 30 in 1981 with millennials aged 30 in 2016, Statistics Canada says, "At the age of 30, among millennials who lived in their own home, just over half 50.2 per cent were owners in 2016, compared to 55.5 per cent of boomers in 1981."

    About one-third of millennials aged 20 to 34 still live with their parents, "a share that has been rising since 2001," says Statistics Canada.

    "Young adults in 2016 were also more likely to live in apartments than their 1981 counterparts," it says. "This is one example of how the housing landscape has changed across generations because of housing trends such as urbanization and increased apartment building construction."

    A survey commissioned by Royal LePage last year found that although 87 per cent of those aged 25 to 30 called "peak millennials" to describe the largest cohort of the millennial demographic believe that homeownership is a good investment and that 69 per cent hoped to own a home within the next five years. But only 57 per cent of those surveyed thought they would be able to afford one.

    "The pent-up demand for housing from millennials is enormous," says Phil Soper, president and CEO of Royal LePage. "Facing challenges their baby-boomer parents never encountered, peak millennials are confronted with significant obstacles that vary depending on where they live," noting that while finding employment in the largest cities is >"For the large cohort of millennials establishing their own households, renting may be the only option if they choose to reside in Canadas highest-cost urban centres," says Adrienne Warren at Scotiabank Economic.

    "In Toronto, the cost of mortgage debt servicing, property taxes, fees and heat as a share of median household income to purchase an average-priced condominium is already pressing up against the maximum gross debt servicing ratio qualifying threshold of 30 per cent. In Vancouver, it exceeds this level by about 10 percentage points."

    Adding to the affordability problems now are increasing mortgage interest rates and strict "stress test" requirements when applying for a mortgage at a federally regulated bank.

    Royal LePage is calling for a co-ordinated federal, provincial and municipal government approach to help make housing more affordable, "with a keen focus on the supply side of the equation in the countrys most populated regions, where housing shortages have put immense upward pressure on prices."

    Soper says, "The future of Canadas urban centres will
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    New California Law Requires Additional Pool Safety Devices

    Effective January 1, 2018, California law requires that when a permit is issued for the building or remodeling of a swimming pool or spa, that pool or spa must be equipped with at least two of seven specified safety devices. Moreover, home inspectors are now required to make note of the presence or absence of such devices.

    Under state law, this will apply to any structure, in or above the ground, that is intended for swimming or recreational bathing and that has a water depth of at least 18 inches.

    The legislative act that brought this new law about was Senate Bill 442 Newman. It amends section 7195 of the Business and Professions Code and sections 115922 and 115925 of the Health and Safety Code.

    The Senate Bill Analysis notes that drowning is the second leading cause of death for children between the ages of 1 and 4. Additionally, for every drowning in this age group, five or more suffer from near-drowning injuries that can cause life-long disabilities.

    In 1997, Californias Swimming Pool Safety Act went into effect. That law required that any single-family home pool built thereafter had to be equipped with at least one of the five following safety devices: 1 a permanent fence, of specified dimensions, that isolates the pool or spa from the home; 2 a pool cover meeting certain safety standards, 3 exit alarms on doors leading from the home to the pool, 4 self-closing, self-latching devices on doors leading from the home to the pool; or 5 any other safety device feature providing as much protection as the specified four and as verified by the American Society for Testing and Materials ASTM.

    In 2006, the act was amended to include 6 removable mesh fencing that meets ASTM standards and a gate that is self-closing, self-latching and can accommodate a key lockable device, and 7 a pool alarm that sounds when someone or something of a certain size determined by ASTM enters the water.

    The new law requires that any pool or spa built or remodeled after January 1, 2018 must have at least two of the specified safety features. The bill does not apply to any of the estimated million-plus pools that were built before 1997, unless they are to be remodeled. It also does not apply to public swimming pools, hot tubs with ASTM-approved locking covers, nor to apartment complexes or any residential setting other than a single-family home.

    The bill also requires that, if a home inspection report is issued for a single-family home that has a pool or spa, "hellip; the report shall identify which, if any, of the seven drowning prevention safety features [as listed] the pool or spa is equipped with and shall specifically state if the pool or spa has fewer than two of the listed drowning prevention safety features."

    The new law does not specify any penalty for a home inspectors failure to include this information in his or her report. Nor does it make installation of any safety device a requirement of property transfer.

    In 2016, an identical bill was vetoed by the Governor. In his veto message he wrote, "Nothing prevents a homeowner from adding as many additional safety features as they desire to their own pool. The choice on how to protect children is best left to parents."


    Full Story >




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    Updated: Thursday, February 22, 2018


    How Much Home Can You Really Afford?

    So, youre getting ready to buy your first home, and you feel like youre at the mercy of the market. And your mortgage lender. In some ways, it might even feel like theyre working against each other - especially if youre in a really hot market in which you cant qualify for the amount youd need to buy what you want.

    When it comes to providing pre-approvals for would-be homebuyers, lenders today are more careful than they were in the years leading up to the market crash, and that means your financial picture will be more rigorously scrutinized to determine your credit-worthiness and develop your max approval amount. Trust us, thats a good thing. The last thing you want is to be house poor. Having a great place to live that you cant enjoy or furnish or even leave because you have no money left wont be fun.

    "Just because a lender says younbsp;cannbsp;afford a certain mortgage doesnt mean younbsp;should," said TIME: Money. "Consider your take-home pay - what actually goes into the bank after taxes, health insurance, and savings for retirement and college. Then add up all your monthly bills, not just debt but also things like utilities, phone, and groceries. You want to feel comfortable that you can cover all your household obligations while still meeting your other financial goalsnbsp;andnbsp;keeping six months of expenses in annbsp;emergency fund."

    Thats why its so important to consider all of your monthly expenses >

    Increased commuter costs

    Are you moving out to the lsquo;burbs? That hour-long commute each way is going to add to your bottom line. Of course youll be using more gas. Will you also incur tolls? Then there is the wear and tear on your car, which could mean additional costs. You can estimate your commuter costs here.

    Higher utility bills

    A larger place could mean higher utility bills. Then again, more energy-efficient appliances, windows and doors, and HVAC could potentially result in lower bills, which could be a reason to look for a newer home over something older. Its not out of line to inquire about utility bill costs from the existing owner through your Realtor is probably best. This information could be critical in helping to make the best decision when buying a new home.

    Homeowners association

    Your pre-approval amount is an all-in number, but that number only includes principal, interest, taxes, and insurance. If you are buying in a community that has a Homeowners Association, your fee will be a separate cost that needs to be considered. An HOA fee can range greatly depending on your location, the number of homes in the community, and the amenities and services included.

    Home improvements

    Youre likely going to have a mailbox full of credit card pre-approvals and offers from places like Home Depot and Lowes after you close escrow - and they can be tempting. Reeeaaallly tempting, especially if you need new appliances or countertops or flooring or all of the above. Ditto for furniture stores, because, like Lowes and Home Depot, those offers are often zero-interest deals. It may make sense to take advantage of one or more of them to make some necessary or wanted updates to your home - if you can swing the payments. They obviously add to your monthly obligations, even at no interest. And keep in mind that if you miss, or are late on, a payment, that zero interest is replaced with a much larger number, and that means youll face a much larger balance to pay.

    Landscaping

    If youre coming from an apartment or a rental where the outside maintenance is taken care of by someone else, get ready to either: buy a lawnmower and an edger and spend your Saturday mornings in the yard, or pay someone else to take care of it.

    Warranty

    If youre buying a brand-new home, youll typically have a warranty provided by the builder or developer, often for one year. You have the option of extending that, or buying/extending an existing warranty on an older home, and all of those options will cost you.


    > Full Story

    Backyard DIY Projects

    You dont have to pay through the nose to have the best backyard on the block. If you have a few simple DIY skills and know how to use a tape measure and level, you can easily upgrade and update your backyard all on your own.

    If youve ever dreamed of a lovely garden path, perennial garden or a privacy fence, but youve hesitated because of cost, now is the time to invest a little sweat equity to create the backyard of your dreams.

    Plant a Perennial Garden

    Tending perennials may seem daunting to inexperienced gardeners, but in reality, theyre some of the easiest flowers to grow. Best of all, plant them once and they return to bloom every year. Perennial gardens make lively backgrounds for your annual plantings. Use them along fences and border porches and decks to add color from early summer to late fall.

    To ensure the stability and livelihood of your perennial plants:

    • Keep the roots wet until you put them in the ground
    • Plant them in improved soil
    • Apply regular helpings of water and fertilizer
    • Place a 3-inch layer of mulch around, but not touching, the plants.

    Install a Privacy Fence

    Photo by tristanf via Flickr

    If you crave a secluded backyard oasis, consider installing a 6-foot or 8-foot section of privacy fence. Your local home improvement store sells this type of fencing in sections. All you have to do is level the terrain and dig the post holes. Use a quick-setting cement to anchor your fence posts, making sure everything is level and square before moving on to the next section.

    With a little tenacity, you can install a privacy fence in one weekend. Done properly, it adds privacy and enjoyment to your backyard and value to your home.

    Replace Your Pool Liner

    Photo by Creative Ignition via Flickr

    It sounds like a difficult challenge, but replacing your pool liner is quite simple when you start with the right tools and quality supplies. Visit webpages such as poolproducts.com inground liner to find the materials you, as a DIYer, need to perform simple maintenance on your in-ground pool. Keep the following points in mind as you replace your pools liner:

    • Replace your liner during warm weather
    • Remove all water and debris from your pool
    • Avoid over-stretching your replacement liner
    • Utilize sandbags to secure the base seal
    • Have a comprehensive understanding of the process before starting.

    Hardscape Your Backyard

    Photo by ARNOLD Masonry and Concrete via Flickr

    The addition of pavers, retaining walls, fire pits and patios all add value and comfort to your backyard, but many homeowners dont realize they can easily complete these upgrades without the help of professional landscapers.

    Lay decorative pavers on a bed of tamped sand to make an easy patio that stands up to the elements, or layer simple bricks with or without mortar to make attractive and functional retaining walls. A meandering garden path guided by decorative cobblestones can lead to a simple water feature or wooden bench in your garden. Delight your backyard guests and yourself this summer by creating a simple hardscape that complements the design of your home.


    > Full Story

    Considering the Argument for Adding Individual Mortgages to Your Investment Portfolio

    Investing in mortgages should not be looked at with trepidation. As with other cash flow investments such as corporate bonds, government notes, or money market funds, mortgage investments can be looked at in the same vein. Mortgage investments have an attractive risk-return ratio in comparison to other income-producing investments. If you choose your investment intelligently, individual short-term mortgages which I define as first deeds of trust on real estate with 65 loan-to-value LTV ratios, maturing in two years or less are considered more risky than money market accounts or US Treasury bills, but they offer yields at the level of high yield corporate bonds, or even higher with potentially lesser risk.

    Chart 1 shows the general risk of short-term mortgages as compared to other income producing investments.

    Risk in terms of loss of principal taking into consideration opportunity costs if interest rates rise. Generally, individual mortgages do not trade in the open market; thus, the principal is not subject to market fluctuations as compared to Govt T-Notes, Govt Notes, and Corporate Bonds. In addition, mortgages that have a 65 LTV enjoy some protection if the underlying property declines in value. Govt Notes and Bonds have no collateral backing but are Govt backed and Corporate bonds usually have no specific collateral and are based upon the full faith and credit of the issuer.

    Chart 2 shows the general return of mortgage investments on a current rate of return as compared to other income producing investments.

    Chart 3 is a grid that shows the comparative advantage of mortgage investments over alternative income producing investments when considering opportunity risk/reward ratios by combing Charts 1 amp; 2.

    For purposes of this article, we have defined the following:

    Govt T-Bills -- 1 yr obligations guaranteed by the US Government
    Govt T-Notes -- 5-10 yr obligations guaranteed by the US Government
    Govt T-Bonds -- 15-30 yr obligations guaranteed by the US Government
    CDs -- 1 yr FDIC insured
    Money Mkt Funds -- liquid mutual funds maintaining a 1 share price
    Corporate Bonds -- 15-30 yr obligations guaranteed by a US corporation rated BBB or better
    Mortgage Investments -- 1st deeds of trust on real estate with 65 loan to value maturing in two years.

    Risks involved in mortgages vary from the other investments that financial advisors might be more familiar with and more due diligence is required. First of all, unlike CDs or US government obligations, mortgage investments are not FDIC-insured and have no government guarantee. Do not confuse these types of mortgage investments with past GNMAs, the pooled investments created by the quasi-governmental mortgage company Ginnie Mae and sold to the public. GNMAs are mortgage-type investments and have a quasi-government backing. By contrast, the mortgages used in the above examples are individual mortgages; thus, the principal is fixed and does not fluctuate unlike GNMAs, which return a portion of principal with each interest payment and trade in the open market and are thus subjected to market volatility. The mortgage investments backing is primarily going to be the underlying real estate on which the mortgage is recorded specific versus blind pool and almost all short-term mortgages will pay interest only, thus keeping the principal intact.

    However, all income-producing investments carry some risk -- and its often misunderstood, even by sophisticated financial advisors. For example, money market funds generally are only backed by the mutual funds integrity to honor the 1 share price because all they are holding are short-term obligations, both government and corporate. However, in the early 1990s, when many corporate bonds went sour, investors suddenly learned that their 1 share price was not guaranteed; they could actually lose principal. The mutual fund families that sponsored the money market funds paid out of pocket to subsidize the share prices, thereby preserving the sacred cow.

    Corporate bonds carry the risk of strength and integrity of the corporation that issued the bonds. Independent rating services such as Standard and Poors and Moodys have been shown to misjudge the security of many corporate bonds -- whether through conflicts-of-interest or simple mistakes. Even without misjudgments, the price of a corporate bond fluctuates based on the performance of the company, its industry, and the economy overall. In addition, as interest rates rise, the value of the bonds decrease.

    The risks that a mortgage investor faces primarily involve the borrower and the underlying real estate. An investor may choose to work with a borrower with less than perfect credit if there is sufficient equity in the property that it is worth the risk. Alternatively, a property may be marginal, but the borrower has excellent credit. These are the main factors determining the interest rate that an investor can expect on his mortgage investment.

    Another factor in determining the rate on a mortgage is the competition for these types of investments. In the past, they were considered one of the best kept secrets in investing. No longer. The competition for mortgage investments has heightened to where lenders are competing for loans. This, in turn, drives down the rates. Good for the borrowers; not so for the investors. On the positive side, what once was considered an illiquid investment has risen to a semi-liquid investment. Although there is not a trading market for mortgages as there is for stocks and bonds, new companies have come to the marketplace in search of purchasing existing loans; thus, a market has opened up providing liquidity to those holders of mortgages who want to sell their loans. Giving up yield for liquidity has been attractive to some investors. The yield may be upwards of 1 lower for this ability to sell, but many have decided it is worth it. An Internet search of purchasers of mortgage investments provides many companies willing to buy them.

    With the Great Recession now more than five years in the rear view mirror, many financial institutions have loosened some of their lending restrictions. This has also caused interest rates to remain competitive for borrowers. However, because of strict regulations with Dodd Frank and the ATR [Ability To Repay] requirements imposed upon both conventional and private lenders, many borrowers are facing difficulties obtaining the financing necessary to purchase owner occupied real estate used for their primary residence. Otherwise, >

    One of the major problems holders of long-term debt instruments be they government or corporate bonds encounter is not so much the risk of failure, but the opportunity cost during rising interest rates. As interest rates rise as we are slowly starting to see now, the investor is caught holding investments that are losing principal, albeit temporarily. Sure, these investors can hold on to lower-return investments until maturity, but the price they pay in the lack of opportunity to participate in higher yielding instruments usually outweighs the wait. Of course, in times of declining interest rates, one would be better served to be in the longest-term bond possible and to sell just as interest rates begin to rise. The question then becomes one of using a crystal ball in which way interest rates are headed.

    One solution for the risk-averse investor is to look to short-term mortgage investments no more than 5-year maturities for >

    Where do investors and their advisors find these short-term real estate mortgages? There are lenders called "private money real estate lenders" who provide private financing to borrowers who may not be able to obtain conventional loans for a variety of reasons. Advisors should primarily deal with lenders who have a good reputation and record the deed of trust. In some cases, investors may want to invest in a specific mortgage because they know exactly which property is securing their investment; however, the down side to this strategy is that there is now a lot of competition for these types of loan investments and one may be sitting on the sidelines waiting for an opportunity to invest. If the investors money sits too long [in a low interest, liquid account waiting to deploy funds for a new loan], the blended rate of return after the loan is found and invested in may be lower than if the investor invested in a Fund that holds mortgages. For example, if an investor allows his/her money to rest in a money market fund paying 1 and it takes six months to find an 8 note, after one year, the average rate of return for that year was only 4.5 as compared to a Fund that may pay 7. Something else to consider is that a Fund may allow for a reinvestment of monthly distributions thereby compounding the yield. With an individual mortgage, the lender has to take the monthly payments with no reinvestment allowed. In addition, a Fund allows for diversification because the Fund has many mortgages, similar to a mutual fund holding a variety of stocks. Because this type of investment is no longer a secret, many individual investors are competing for mortgages. When a broker presents a potential scenario to an investor, that broker usually also sends the same scenario to many other potential investors, as the broker wants to make sure that he can fund the loan in a timely fashion to the borrower. Many an investor has gotten upset when, after giving the broker the green light for the loan, the broker informs the investor that he was too late and some other investor snapped up the loan. This creates a frustrating situation for the investor and wastes his time. At some point, the investor may tell the broker to stop sending him deals, as he never knows if he will be allowed to invest in the specific loan [because another investor was faster in saying, "yes"].

    Many investors choose to invest in a Fund to avoid those disappointments. In addition, many Funds provide a liquidity feature, so the investor can withdraw his money if he needs to. Advisors should look for Funds that charge no load to get in or out and make sure the manager of the Funds interests are aligned. One way is for the Fund to participate in the points being charged to the borrower. This lends itself to make sure the manager does not charge a large amount of points [which the manager could retain] and a small interest rate [which is paid to the Fund].

    Although short-term mortgages and mortgage Funds are not the "end all" investment, they may play a prominent place in many investment portfolios looking to provide high yields for >

    Edward Brown is in the Investor >415-883-2150
    www.pacificprivatemoney.com


    > Full Story



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