Homeowners still recovering from Harvey become do-it-yourselfers

By By Diane Cowen If you think Houston has put itself together and moved forward, look again. Between a shortage of labor and a shortage of cash, thousands of homeowners affected by Hurricane Harvey’s flood waters are still recovering.Those with money or insurance checks grabbed available contractors and resources. But of the estimated 170,000 flooded homes, some 80 percent of them were not covered by flood insurance. FEMA checks covered just a fraction of repair costs.Faced with five- and six-figure contractor bids, many have become do-it-yourselfers. They had no choice but to learn to hang drywall, lay tile and handle other construction tasks. And their work is still under way.

From: Gardening

    

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New Data Finds Homeowners Struggle When Selling, Despite Hot Market

By Susanne Dwyer

Krishnan_Sonia

Twelve days before Thanksgiving, Mark and Sue Meaney decided to put their 109-year-old house on the market. They looked at comps of similar-sized homes near their St. Paul neighborhood, agreed on a price with their agent and waited anxiously for their first offer to roll in.

Mark and Sue knew their timing wasn’t ideal. The holidays loomed, and the market was slowing; worse, St. Paul was entering its notorious subzero season.

The couple felt torn. After one year of searching for a new home, they had found the perfect place a few miles away. It was spacious enough to raise their kids and had a first-floor bedroom and bathroom for Sue’s aging parents.

As first-time sellers—Mark and Sue had lived in the house for 20 years—the couple took a leap of faith. They bought the new home, moved in Sue’s parents and dropped nearly $20,000 to spruce up their old house to help it sell quickly.

Several weeks later, their vacant home remains for sale, its exterior weathering the forces of yet another Minnesota winter.

Selling a Home: Truth in Data
Skim any number of news articles on the U.S. housing market and chances are you’ll run across the phrases “low inventory,” “sellers’ market” and “strong demand.” This rings especially true in larger metropolitan areas, where stories of bidding wars abound, leaving the impression that sellers in these markets simply list their homes, sit back and receive offers above the asking price.

For much of the U.S., however, the data reveals a starker reality.

According to new findings from Zillow Group—which used data from the Zillow Group Consumer Housing Trends Report 2017—selling a home in the U.S. is not only fraught with anxiety, but often culminates in unmet expectations.

In fact, close to one-third of sellers said they felt unsatisfied with the selling process. Of first-time sellers, nearly 30 percent were unprepared for how long it took to sell their homes and said they wished they would have started the process sooner, according to the analysis.

Furthermore, 76 percent of sellers across the U.S. ended up making at least one concession, with lowering the price the most-cited compromise. Thirty-six percent said they either struggled to sell their homes within their desired price range or time frame.

“This data shows there is a huge opportunity to create a better end-to-end experience for sellers and help them turn over their homes faster,” said Jeremy Wacksman, chief marketing officer at Zillow Group.

More Information, More Stress
Much of the stress sellers feel stems from that nail-biting wait to get the right offer. Fueling this collective anxiety is, of course, more access to information.

While the internet has greatly democratized the buying and selling process, it has also created a state of seller vigilance. Sellers are more involved than ever in the sale of their homes—and more stressed out.

Take Mark, for instance. He’s constantly monitoring how many views his house gets on Zillow and how it ranks compared to other homes coming on the market. Despite working with an agent, Mark is immersed—and stressed.

While Zillow’s findings show that 82 percent of sellers valued having an agent guide them through the process, America has entered a new era of how deeply involved homeowners are in selling their most expensive investment, Wacksman said.

Sonia Krishnan is a senior writer at Zillow Group. This article was originally published on the Premier Agent Resource Center on Feb. 16, 2018. See the full story here.

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From: Consumer News and Advice

    

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How to Avoid Problems With Your Spring Renovations and Repairs

By Susanne Dwyer

As soon as winter weather starts giving way to fairer days, folks start itching to get any planned repairs, maintenance and renovations started.

If you want to protect yourself from rogue and incompetent builders, take some advice from the Connecticut Better Business Bureau’s Howard Schwartz, who suggests a few time-honored procedures.

Schwartz says it is essential to obtain multiple estimates before signing a contract. Study these estimates to learn what type of work is needed, the quality of materials they plan to use, how long the job may take, and its total cost.

Schwartz says details may vary, but if one estimate is substantially lower than the others, ask why. Here are a few more tips:

Check bbb.org to learn how long a contractor has been in business, contact information, verified customer reviews, complaint details, and how the business responded.

Don’t be lured into signing a contract if someone offers a “today only” special. That is a sales tactic designed to get you to sign a contract or put down a deposit without giving you an opportunity to do your research.

Obtain references from recent customers. You may want to speak with other property owners who had work done recently.

Get everything in writing. All verbal promises should be contained in the contract, as well as a detailed description of the type of work needed, the quality of materials, how long the job may take, specifics about the deposit and payment schedule, and guarantees for the quality of work and materials.

Pulling permits. Contractors should obtain necessary permits as part of the job. If they’d rather not go for permits, it might be a warning sign.

Compare apples to apples. Choosing a prospective contractor is simpler if you ask for quotes based on the number of hours needed and the same quality of materials.

Finally, avoid putting down a large deposit. Schwartz says a typical schedule follows the “Rule of Thirds.” The first payment is made when signing the contract, the second when work begins, and the final payment when the job is finished and you are satisfied with the quality of work.

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From: Home Spun Wisdom

    

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Weighing Risk and Reward: Crypto-Investing in Home Equity

By Susanne Dwyer

Dominguez_Liz_60x60_4c

For homeowners that are looking to access home equity funds, but don’t want to take out a second loan, a home equity line of credit (HELOC) or a reverse mortgage, there are not many options; however, blockchain technology is looking to change that by offering investment opportunities that are tied to a home’s equity and rising values.

Quantm Real Estate (quantmRE) is a membership-based real estate investment network built on blockchain technology. It allows the primary issuance and secondary trading of investment tokens backed by fractional equity interest in single-family homes. This means that quantmRE invests in a fraction of the home by paying the homeowner a pre-determined amount of money (USD) to later benefit from rising home values when the homeowner decides to sell.

Any funds gained are used by quantmRE to continue investing in single family homes—of which the portion purchased goes into a pool of other equity from other homeowners. The company also invests in non-homeowner occupied single-family homes that are held as investment properties.

“Having to borrow from a bank simply to access the wealth that you have built up in your home is deeply unsatisfactory,” said Matthew Sullivan, CEO and founder of quantmRE, in a statement. “Our ability to digitize the value of a homeowner’s equity and realize the locked-up value will solve a huge problem for homeowners worldwide. It’s time for people to be able to access more affordable homeownership options, flexibility and less financial risk.”

Although the company makes a consistent effort to stay away from the term loan—because the process lacks monthly payments and interest charges—it is, in fact, a type of loan that needs to be paid back. The company does not charge interest, but homeowners are required to pay more than the original sum provided as quantmRE becomes a partner with the owner of the property and is entitled to a fraction of home value gains—a lien is placed on the property to make sure of that.

So, what’s in it for homeowners? At the moment, fast cash without having to worry about monthly payments and a small chance to profit should the property values dramatically increase from the time of investment. Of course, quantmRE funds are on the line if the property doesn’t appreciate; but if it does, homeowners will typically receive less for the sale of their property than if they had not engaged in a shared equity contract in the first place.

The question is, do these blockchain investment properties make out better than the homeowners? That may be the case. QuantmRE will always make its initial investment amount back, and has the chance to profit from home value appreciation. Homeowners, on the other hand, are automatically in debt—a term quantmRE chooses to refuse—and are then on the line for an even larger balance should their home’s value rise.

The pros? Risk of volatility is reduced, as the tokens deal with only real estate assets instead of other less reliable crypto-investments. When it comes to home improvements, quantmRE is not entitled to a fraction of the property value gains earned from these updates. Homeowners can also pay quantmRE before the sale of their home; however, the company may add provisions to ensure they don’t take a loss in the case of unfavorable market conditions. Although quantmRE’s website states that tax consequences are not known until a future date, homeowners should speak to their tax advisors to confirm before participating.

As with most investments, profitability is determined on a case-by-case basis. While this is a chance for homeowners to participate in a blockchain-based investment, they should consult a financial advisor to determine if this is the right choice for them or if traditional equity-funded loans make more financial sense.

Liz Dominguez is RISMedia’s associate content editor. Email her your real estate news ideas at ldominguez@rismedia.com. For the latest real estate news and trends, bookmark RISMedia.com.

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From: Consumer News and Advice

    

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April calendar of gardening events

By By Kathy Huber TUESDAYS-
SUNDAYS
The Mercer Society Gift and Plant Shoppe
10 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays, 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Sundays at 400 Main, Old Town Spring; 281-651-5475, themercersociety.org/ways-to-give/donate. Sales proceeds benefit flood-damaged Mercer Botanic Gardens.
SATURDAY
Brazoria County Master Gardeners’ 20th Annual Spring Plant Sale
8 a.m.-noon at Brazoria County Environmental Education Station, 799 E. Hospital, Angleton; brazoria.agrilife.org. Free.
Educational Classes
Session 1: Gardening in the Shade: 8-10 a.m. Session 2: Herbs! 10:30-12:30 p.m. at Montgomery County Master Gardeners, 9020 Airport, Conroe; mcmga.com, 936-539-7824, $5 per session or $8 for both.

From: Gardening

    

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Prepaid Property Tax Debate Undecided

By Susanne Dwyer

Dominguez_Liz_60x60_4c

Just a few days shy from the 2018 tax deadline on April 17, and controversy surrounding the new tax law—the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act—is leaving multitudes of homeowners uncertain about whether they should claim their prepaid property tax deductions. The new law imposes a $10,000 cap on state and local tax write-offs (previously unlimited) for both single filers and married couples, leaving tax consultants and taxpayers searching for ways to make the most of the decreased cap before it takes effect in next year’s filing.

Interpretation of the new law has been varied. The ruling clearly states that state and local income taxes are not eligible for prepayment. With no mention of property taxes, many homeowners rushed to prepay in December; however, on December 27, the IRS released a statement, clarifying that prepaid taxes are only deductible under certain circumstances—homeowners cannot deduct the prepayment for property taxes that have not been assessed prior to 2018.

The IRS provided the following examples:

“Assume County A assesses property tax on July 1, 2017 for the period July 1, 2017-June 30, 2018. On July 31, 2017, County A sends notices to residents notifying them of the assessment and billing the property tax in two installments with the first installment due Sept. 30, 2017 and the second installment due Jan. 31, 2018. Assuming taxpayer has paid the first installment in 2017, the taxpayer may choose to pay the second installment on Dec. 31, 2017 and may claim a deduction for this prepayment on the taxpayer’s 2017 return.”

“County B also assesses and bills its residents for property taxes on July 1, 2017, for the period July 1, 2017-June 30, 2018. County B intends to make the usual assessment in July 2018 for the period July 1, 2018-June 30, 2019; however, because county residents wish to prepay their 2018-2019 property taxes in 2017, County B has revised its computer systems to accept prepayment of property taxes for the 2018-2019 property tax year. Taxpayers who prepay their 2018-2019 property taxes in 2017 will not be allowed to deduct the prepayment on their federal tax returns because the county will not assess the property tax for the 2018-2019 tax year until July 1, 2018.”

Not all tax experts agree, and several members of the Ways & Means Committee are petitioning the IRS for higher deductions of reasonable estimates, according to the Wall Street Journal. The issue has not been resolved across the board, but with a low audit risk due to limitations on IRS resources, some taxpayers are urging their tax preparers to claim the deduction without disclosing the write-off on the required IRS form (8275).

“There is no reason to believe that Congress made a mistake in omitting property tax prepayments, and there was certainly no basis for the IRS to substitute its own policy judgements that departs from the act of Congress, especially when the consequence of the IRS’s determination may have cost taxpayers millions of dollars,” states the Ways & Means Committee letter.

Stay tuned to RISMedia for more developments.

Liz Dominguez is RISMedia’s associate content editor. Email her your real estate news ideas at ldominguez@rismedia.com. For the latest real estate news and trends, bookmark RISMedia.com.

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From: Consumer News and Advice

    

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Planning Your Spring ‘To Do’ List? Don’t Forget to Go Outside!

By Susanne Dwyer

I know it’s warm and cozy doing your spring cleaning inside, but remember that spring cleaning plans should include a thorough walk around outside, as well.

The Marsh & McLennan Agency LLC (MMA) in Minneapolis tells homeowners that an early inspection and maintenance of their property is extremely important to prevent risk. To assist in that, MMA has compiled a checklist of things to inspect each year:

Review the roof. The company suggests starting by inspecting your roof for broken or missing shingles and interior rafters for water stains. Most water stains will be found around or below an inadequately flashed chimney, skylight and other openings.

Gut the gutters. MMA says gutters are able to perform when kept clean, so remove dirt and debris from all gutters and downspouts.

Look at lights. Lighting maintenance includes inspecting street lights, outdoor light fixtures, and indoor common-area lighting to promote safety and security. Make sure lights are clean and void of any dust, dirt or salt, which can result in lost energy and money. If lights are burnt out, think about replacing them with high efficiency CFL or LED bulbs.

Don’t miss the deck. When inspecting a deck or porch, look for peeling, splintering or rotting boards, and whether the wood is unprotected. If left unprotected, wood will soak up moisture and could lead to very serious damage. If a deck or porch needs to be resealed, clean it first with soap and water to clear off any mildew or mold, then after it is clean and dry, apply sealant, stain or paint.

Take care of trees. Remove dead wood and broken branches from trees or bushes. Replant shrubs, bushes and/or flowers that have worked their way out of the soil, and rake the ground.

Freshen with fertilizer. If necessary, add new soil, mulch and/or sod and lay fertilizer. Then, plant any new seeds or plants and implement a watering schedule.

Patch potholes. Finally, MMA says spring is a great time to repair cracks and potholes. First, determine the source of the issue so you can address and fix the root of the problem. It is always best to make these repairs as quickly as possible to prevent any type of hazardous conditions.

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From: Home Spun Wisdom

    

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With Fast-Growing Prices, Gains in Equity Are Exceeding Minimum Wage

By Susanne Dwyer

Zillow_Equity_Wage

For many Americans, homeownership is a vehicle for wealth—an appreciating asset that, more often than not, earns a profit at resale.

In the market today, homeowners are all but promised to reap the rewards. According to an analysis recently released by Zillow, appreciation is so healthy that homes in many markets are producing more than a job for minimum wage would. Although the average homeowner is earning $7.09 in equity for every hour spent at work—16 cents less than the federal minimum wage—homeowners in half of the 50 largest markets are earning more in equity than their local minimum wage. The analysis assumed eight-hour days, or 2,087 hours of work per year.

“As home values continue to rise at a rapid clip, many homeowners have earned more in home equity over the past year than they would have by working a minimum wage job—and in some areas, more than they’d have earned even if they had a job paying a six-figure annual salary,” says Aaron Terrazas, senior economist at Zillow.

The areas earning the most are on the West Coast: San Francisco, San Jose and Seattle. In San Francisco, appreciation has been $60.13 per hour worked; in San Jose, $99.81; and in Seattle, $54.24.

In the 25 largest markets:

“Equity ‘earnings’ are a lot different than the salary typically taken home on the first and fifteenth of each month; it is not money that accumulates directly into a checking account or that can be spent on daily needs,” Terrazas says. “Equity is only available once a homeowner chooses to sell a home, and even then is often subject to various taxes and other expenses. Still, particularly for homeowners that have already or are very close to paying off a mortgage, this supplemental ‘income’—especially if allowed to accumulate over several years—can essentially serve as a kind of second job that pays directly to a homeowner’s bottom line, without nearly as much actual work involved in collecting it.”

For more information, please visit www.zillow.com.

DeVita_Suzanne_60x60Suzanne De Vita is RISMedia’s online news editor. Email her your real estate news ideas at sdevita@rismedia.com. For the latest real estate news and trends, bookmark RISMedia.com.

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From: Consumer News and Advice

    

Remember I am just a phone call away to help with all of your real estate needs!

Nancy Wey
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How to Catch the Lowest Possible Airfares

By Susanne Dwyer

(TNS)—Let’s get one thing clear from the start. Airfares are volatile. While it’s true that flying on a Tuesday or Wednesday is cheaper than on a Friday or Sunday, there is no magic time of day, day of week or month of year to book a low airfare. Airfares can change in a heartbeat, high one minute and low the next, and the trick is to buy when a fare on your route becomes a bargain.

Fare Drop Alerts
First, sign up for airfare price drop alerts. Many websites now offer these at no charge, sending out lists of unusually cheap fares (some of them “fat finger” mistake fares), that while valid for travel over several months, usually expire quickly. Take a look at theflightdeal.com, hitlistapp.com, secretflying.com, exitfares.com and Fly4free.com. They often have the same deals, but I suggest signing up for all of them and to follow them on Twitter if you use it. Other sites, such as Kayak.com, Yapta.com and GoogleFlights.com, will track fares on specific flights and dates and alert you to price drops. When you see a great deal, buy it (you can always change your mind and cancel within 24 hours, per U.S. DOT regulations).

Here’s What I Use
My go-to sites when I arrange personal travel are Kayak.com (I love using its flexible month and flexible weekend options) and two Google offerings: Google.com/flights/explore and Google.com/flights. The “explore” site allows you to choose a trip length, departure city and an arrival city or region (such as “United States,” “Europe” or “Boston”) and then displays a selection of the lowest fares available over the next few months. It’s perfect for anyone with flexible travel dates and destinations. The “flights” site asks you to choose origin city and destination along with specific travel dates so it’s more geared to those with less flexibility; however, none of these sites include Southwest Airlines, so you also need to compare at Southwest.com. If you’re date-flexible, use Southwest’s low-fare calendar option.

Don’t Forget Online Travel Agencies (OTAs)
It may be cheaper to fly out on one airline and back on another using one-way fares, and OTAs such as Expedia and Priceline are a good place to find out. They also sell air plus hotel packages that usually cost less than buying separately and they sometimes have fares that are much lower than the same flights and dates sold directly by the airline sites (I recently saw fares on Priceline to South Africa on Dutch airline KLM that were hundreds less than if bought on KLM.com and fares on Delta to Italy that were much cheaper on Expedia than on Delta.com).

Make Sure the Site Covers Delta
Speaking of Delta, that airline restricts where its airfare data appear on some popular third-party sites such as Hopper, Hipmunk, TripAdvisor and FareCompare.com, so beware. JetBlue recently removed its fare data from several “meta search” sites as well.

Choose ‘Basic Economy’ Fares With Care
Copying ultra-low-cost airlines such as Spirit and Frontier, now Delta, American and United also sell bare-bones economy class fares. On domestic routes, they typically cost $40-$60 (round trip) less than regular economy, although the savings can be greater to international destinations. Buy one of these fares and, except on Delta, you’ll pay even for a carry-on bag, unless it’s small enough to fit under the seat in front of you; you won’t be able to choose a specific seat before check-in (which means you’ll end up in a dreaded middle seat); and your fare will be entirely non-refundable and non-changeable. Although I’d never buy one of these airfares, my millennial friends, who apparently travel with just a change of clothes and a toothbrush stuffed into a backpack that slides under the seat, tell me that they’re worth the inconvenience.

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

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From: Home Spun Wisdom

    

Remember I am just a phone call away to help with all of your real estate needs!

Nancy Wey
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Spring: Time to Rev Your ‘High-Performing’ Home

By Susanne Dwyer

Did you know that just three basic home improvements—updating insulation, maintaining heating systems, and checking for proper ventilation and air-sealing—can transform your humble abode into a “high-performing,” clean, efficient and healthy home?

Experts at the utility company Eversource developed these three tips homeowners and renters can follow to make your home is high-performing:

1. Make sure your home is air-tight with proper insulation.
Don’t let frosty air into your home. Sealing cracks and gaps in walls, attics and crawl spaces, as well as around wires, pipes, windows and door frames, will help keep the warm inside air from escaping. Don’t forget about properly insulating those same walls, attics, and crawl spaces, and around your ducts, too.

2. Keep on top of home energy maintenance.
Be sure you have your heating and cooling system serviced annually by a qualified professional. Clean or change air filters every three months, or more often if you smoke or have pets. Consider upgrading to a smart Wi-Fi thermostat, which automatically adjusts the temperature and cuts down on energy usage when you’re not home.

3. Go for top-quality indoor climate and air.
Enjoying clean air and a comfortable climate in your home begins with proper ventilation and air-sealing, which not only keeps pollen and dust at bay, but also moderates humidity levels and temperature swings. Proper ventilation and air flow also reduces the chance for mold growth, whether it’s from leaky ducts or condensation in your attic and crawl spaces.

According to the U.S. EPA, there are many home pollutants that can accumulate in a poorly ventilated home, and can cause health problems such as sore eyes, burning in the nose and throat, headaches or fatigue. Other pollutants cause or worsen allergies, respiratory illnesses (such as asthma), heart disease, cancer and other serious long-term conditions.

Learn more about household pollutants that may be compromising the air you breathe at www.epa.gov.

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From: Home Spun Wisdom

    

Remember I am just a phone call away to help with all of your real estate needs!

Nancy Wey
281-455-2893