November 14th, 2018

Builders feel pinch of fewer young workers

Posted by at 5:44 pm

There is a shortage of construction workers, especially in the Northeast and California. The nation lost tens of thousands of workers during the economic downturn. Even as demand has returned, the industry is having trouble replenishing its ranks. The share of workers 24 years old or younger has declined in 48 states, according to an analysis of U.S. Census data. After hitting a peak of 11.7 million during the Housing Boom years, the number of construction workers fell to 10.2 million by 2016. States hit hardest by the housing bust saw the greatest decrease in younger workers between 2005 and 2010, led by Delaware, Vermont, Maryland, California and Arizona. Home construction per household has dropped to the lowest level in 60 years – a big reason why U.S. home prices are rising, and why the home ownership rate remains stuck...
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October 26th, 2018

Refinancing student loan requires careful consideration

Posted by at 12:03 pm

With untapped home equity at an all-time high of $14.4 trillion, homeowners could be poised to start cashing in. One way you can do that is to roll other debt into your mortgage. In 2017, Fannie Mae added the Student Loan Cash-out refinance option. With Fannie Mae adjusting the loan level depending on risk, some borrowers may pay as little as 1 percent of the loan for this arrangement. As of 2018, student debt in the U.S. totals a staggering $1.5 trillion. For many, rolling it into their mortgage seems like a viable option. Also referred to as debt reshuffling, paying one loan with another may seem amazing – after all, you have seemingly made a big chunk of debt “disappear.” But it’s no magic trick. You still owe the money, you’ve just changed the terms. Attaching student debt to...
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October 19th, 2018

Think pickles

Posted by at 9:15 am

How does your garden grow? Well, after the uncommonly warm growing season of 2018, the answer is probably “pretty darn well.” With bountiful backyard harvests coming in faster than families can eat, many home gardeners are making up more farm-to-fork soups, pies and salads than they ever thought possible. But the onslaught continues. As the late season crops come in, this prodigious produce inevitably makes its way to the office, to church and the family reunion. At first, the people in your life may appear to appreciate it, but there’s a limit! Remember, they have their excesses too! Have you considered pickling? Pickling is an old-school, economical method for keeping fruits and vegetables out of the compost bin. The basic process is simple. First, add slices of fruits and/or vegetables to sterilized jars. Pretty much everything that grows can be...
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October 17th, 2018

Itemize cut down to size

Posted by at 9:36 am

It’s hard to believe, but it’s almost 2019. Time to start thinking about your 2018 tax return in the first year of the Trump-Republican tax reform. Whether the changes help or hurt you, there’s one thing that seems nearly certain – a lot fewer filers are going to be itemizing. The standard deduction has nearly doubled, from $6,350 to $12,000 for single filers and from $12,700 to $24,000 for married filers filing jointly. Theoretically, far more taxpayers will be discouraged from itemizing, leaving a lot fewer deductions for IRS workers to verify. Even with the lower standard deduction, only about 30 percent took the time to itemize last year. With the big increases, it could go down to single digits. But the increased standard deductions aren’t the only reason taxpayers might skip itemization. Many deductions have been reduced or eliminated...
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October 4th, 2018

Millennials moving out from the middle

Posted by at 4:32 pm

Cities across America are facing similar infrastructure problems – a lack of housing suitable for middle-income residents. Starter homes within city limits are increasingly hard to find, forcing new workers to move further and further into the periphery. An appropriately balanced housing stock helps cities retain college graduates and other skilled workers. For most of the last decade, young adults have often been targeted as the reason for slowing home sales, supposedly shunning suburbia in favor of rentals in hip urban neighborhoods. But the number of Millennials buying homes in urban areas is declining – dropping from 21 to 17 percent in recent years. Millennials now make up the largest share of suburban buyers, according to the National Association of Realtors (NAR), and the rising prices are only pushing their search further out. Their younger counterparts in Generation Z are...
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September 28th, 2018

A bit about buying via blockchain

Posted by at 7:20 pm

Though Bitcoin still hogs most of the blockchain headlines, it’s only the tip of the iceberg in terms of applications likely to be affected by this burgeoning technology. However, Bitcoin does provide a simple way to illustrate how many different blockchain transactions might be conducted in the future. As a publicly-accessible ledger, blockchain record-keeping is far more efficient and secure than traditional central-server transactions. When a Bitcoin sales transaction occurs, imagine the users of the blockchain as members of a large audience. The seller and buyer are on a digital “stage,” in front of thousands, or millions, of “people.” In front of all those people, the seller transfers an item to the purchaser, and the purchaser hands over the Bitcoin. Thousands of witnesses can now vouch that the buyer owns the item, and the seller received payment. Since all the...
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September 20th, 2018

Bidet making headway in America’s bathrooms

Posted by at 3:44 pm

Surveys today show Americans are open to all kinds of home innovation, and the bathroom is no exception. But acceptance of the bidet – the common personal cleaning fixture that graces commodes throughout much of Europe and Asia – has been a bit of a tough sell. It’s unquestioned that the quality of cleaning with a bidet fixture is superior to toilet paper alone, so why the American reluctance? One of the keys to selling a better toilet is marketing. And in America, talking about the best ways to clean up after the loo has always been a bit taboo. Many anthropologists believe American GIs coming back from World War II associated the bidet with bordellos visited overseas. Given America’s puritanical past, they may have been uncomfortable introducing the bidet to neighbors, afraid they might have to explain exactly where...
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September 12th, 2018

Is a home warranty for you?

Posted by at 10:46 pm

Spend any amount of time watching television, and you’re likely to encounter a barrage of advertisements for home warranties. Well-written and engaging, the ads play on consumers’ well-founded fears of suddenly being faced with a major repair bill on an appliance or vital home system. Right after purchasing a home, a nominal monthly fee in exchange for peace of mind can be very enticing. Maybe you even know someone who saved plenty when their home warranty covered multiple breakdowns. Trouble is, home warranties often don’t deliver what’s expected. These “service contracts” cost $350 to $500 in premiums a year, but unlike insurance policies, don’t cover losses from theft, or catastrophes like floods or fires. The basic package usually covers breakdown of your plumbing, most kitchen appliances, water heater, heating and electrical components, sump pump and fans. Optional coverage is available...
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August 31st, 2018

Lending in the gig economy

Posted by at 7:20 pm

Plans are underway at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to make home loan qualification easier for people earning money in the “gig” economy. For those not familiar, the “gig” economy refers to the pursuit of flexible, freelance employment instead of full-time work on a traditional career path. In today’s ever-changing economy, finding stable, salaried positions that cover the bills isn’t always so easy. Other people simply find working as an independent contractor better fits their lifestyle. Workers in the gig economy often make similar income to salaried positions. Arguably, their income is more dependable than that of salaried employees, whose jobs are closely tied to the success of their employer and stability of their field. But in many cases, gig earnings don’t qualify as income under existing mortgage-industry guidelines. Typical mortgages tend to require W-2 forms and IRS information going...
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August 22nd, 2018

Escalating the situation

Posted by at 6:58 am

In the increasingly vigorous – and competitive – real estate market, motivated homebuyers may want to consider an “automated” method for making bids on a property of particular interest. You can often match or beat offers that come in later than your own by including an “escalation clause.” Here’s how it works: Say you put in an offer of $260,000, and someone comes along later and offers $265,000. Your escalation clause might come with instructions to match it, or to offer $5,000 more than the highest offer, so your offer automatically goes up to $270,000. The escalation clause can also include a “cutoff” or a maximum amount you are willing to pay – say $275,000. If someone comes along and bids $280,000, you’re not going that high. In situations where a property is likely to see multiple offers and even...
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