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Home Values Cooling Off

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

Brandon Farber

 

Economy Shifts The Balance of Housing

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

Brandon Farber

 

2018 Natural Disaster Damages Exceed $1 Billion

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

Brandon Farber

 

The Right Path for FHA?

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

Brandon Farber

 

How the Shutdown Impacted Housing

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

Brandon Farber

 

Expect delays CSX closing nearly 30 Wilmington rail-crossing intersections.

Breaking: CSX closing nearly 30 Wilmington rail-crossing intersections, contractor delays could keep them closed indefinitely Drivers should prepare for traffic disruptions and detours as 27 road-rail intersections close this week; it's not clear how long the closings will last.    Angela Nelis, spokeswoman for Southern Commercial Development,  states that, a contractor for CSX, workers will begin removing current crossing this week in order to replace them. However, the contractor hired to provide asphalt is experiencing a breakdown at it's plant, leading to an indefinite delay. 

Brandon Farber

Brandon Farber

 

3 Simple Steps You Can Take to Halt Junk Mail in 2019

3 Simple Steps You Can Take to Halt Junk Mail in 2019 Start the new year by stopping unwanted mail from clogging your mailbox and trash can. Here's how. 1. Stop prescreened offers If you receive but don’t want preapproved offers for credit cards or insurance — also known as prescreened offers — visit OptOutPrescreen.com and opt out of these offers.  2. Opt out with your financial institutions Federal law also allows financial companies like banks to share their customers’ information with certain third parties for specific purposes. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. (FDIC) details this on its “Privacy Choices” webpage. Privacy notices that you should receive from your financial institutions at least annually also detail the institutions’ information sharing practices as well as opt-out instructions. The Data & Marketing Association (DMA), a trade group formerly known as the Direct Marketing Association, maintains a consumer website called DMAchoice.orgto help you manage the direct mail that you receive. According to the site, direct mail includes: Credit offers Catalogs Magazine offers Other mail offers “You can request to start or stop receiving mail from individual companies within each category — or from an entire category at once,” the website says. Registering with DMAchoice.org is not free, though. It entails a $2 processing fee
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7 Effective Ways to Cut Clutter in 2019

Are you feeling a little overwhelmed by the post-holiday excess around you? Have the past several years of your family’s success with Santa left your closets, garage, attic and office filled to the rafters? If so, it might be time for some creative clutter-busting strategies. Start by letting three questions cut through your material clutter. With each item you consider, ask yourself: Do I love it? Do I use it? Will I ever need it?   Here are seven ways to kick off the new year right by kicking the clutter habit now: 1. Target one area at a time It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the sheer volume of stuff that most of us live with. Instead of diving right in and burning out quickly, focus on one area of your home or office at a time. Because a little positive reinforcement never hurts, start with the easiest areas first. Declutter: A chest of drawers A hall closet One kitchen cupboard A single drawer in your desk Then, move on to the next spot. If it helps, make a list of all the clutter hot spots that need attention and check each one off as you calm the chaos. 2. Get rid of one item per day If taming the clutter in your environment seems like an impossible task, start slowly. Decide to rid yourself of just a single item per day, but be determined and relentless. As the weeks and months pass, you’ll begin to notice and enjoy the extra elbow room your efforts have created. Build on your success by accelerating the clutter-busting schedule and letting go of two or three items each day. 3. Adopt a zero-accumulation rule To achieve and maintain a clutter-free home or office, adopt a zero-accumulation habit. For every new item that comes into your space, make sure one item goes out. Donate or sell usable items, and toss what’s left. For a more aggressive approach, try a one-in, two-out rule and watch those prodigious piles and cramped closets slowly disappear. 4. Think inside the box(es) The four-box method is a tried-and-true way to quickly get a handle on large amounts of clutter while still ensuring that each item is consciously considered. To begin, get four large boxes and assign each box one of these labels: Donate Sell Trash/recycling Keep but relocate This system will prevent you from just moving piles around and help you sort what’s needed from what’s not. When you finish organizing one area, empty the boxes according to their labels and start over. 5. Do the dozen Choose a regular time each week or month for a “12-12-12” decluttering project. Here’s how it works: Find a dozen items in your home or office to donate, a dozen to toss or recycle and a dozen to return to their proper places. In short order, you’ve gone through at least 36 items and rid yourself of 24 of them. MoneyTalksNews.com Kentin Waits 
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2019 Bathroom Design Trends

WHITE AND GREY MARBLE     Photo: Simon Upton; Design: Jean-Louis Deniot "White and grey marble continue to be strong, popular materials into 2019 for bathrooms and kitchens alike. They are classic and timeless, can go from traditional to modern in terms of aesthetics, and are also great for resale. Man-made materials, such as quartz and porcelain tiles that look like natural stones, are also workhorses from a durability perspective and will continue to be popular in the new year." — Ariel Okin     Nicole Franzen/Sarah Elliott “Pewter and gunmetal is the trend we are loving. It’s not as harsh as pure black or specific as brass or gold, but it gives fixtures some texture and depth.” – Highlyann Krasnow    
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Prep Your Home for Winter With These 16 Low-Cost Tricks

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

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

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

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

Oak Island:  The Town boasts 65 public beach accesses on miles of sandy beaches, as well as fishing docks and piers, boat ramps and many other access points to the Intracoastal Waterway and the Davis Canal, making it the perfect location for fishing, boating, kayaking and other water activities. The Town also has a municipal golf course and eight parks, ranging from a fishing T at the west end of the island to a large park on the mainland complete with baseball and football fields. There is a skate park, a dog park, a cabana on the oceanfront with an observation deck and plenty of places to find a quiet spot to relax and enjoy the view. Area businesses, like piers and marinas, restaurants and ice cream shops, also help make vacationers feel welcome while catering to full-time residents. Now work is to begin on Oak Island’s new splash pad, to open before summer. Oak Island residents will soon have a freshwater option to splash in, just one block from the ocean. The town’s Parks and Recreation Department announced Friday that a splash pad, years in the making, will be installed before the summer.        

Will new ‘megadecks’ be harmful to Surf City’s fragile dune system?

Will new ‘megadecks’ be harmful to Surf City’s fragile dune system? Officials from Surf City and the state's Division of Coastal Management respond to concerns that some beach homeowners have raised of the negative impact these structures could have on a beach dune system left heavily damaged and vulnerable after Florence.   PENDER COUNTY, NC (WECT) - Surf City could see more mega decks in its future even though residents have mixed feelings about it. Town council in a 3-1 vote Wednesday night approved a motion for mega decks, which are structures up to 500 square feet on the oceanfront where a house would not be able to be built. Some residents aren’t in favor of the new development because of possible deck parties that could result in loud music or the deck becoming an eyesore. However, Bill Pelon, who owns two mega decks, couldn’t think of a better way to use the lots. “We utilize it not just going up and laying out but also, we’ve got a bar there," Pelon said. “We have a refrigerator, freezer. It’s just nice things to have along with the grill. We can grill out and have access to the ocean.” The town has two Coastal Area Management Act-approved mega decks. At Wednesday night’s meeting, Surf City resident Marcus Norton said mega decks will eat away at available parking space, which could cause people to avoid the area altogether.   Full article: http://bit.ly/2FbPbYJ

A green idea, Cape Fear Solar Systems planning carbon-neutral development

A green idea, Cape Fear Solar Systems planning carbon-neutral development New development and conservation are typically not used in the same sentence, but amidst all of the razing of trees and packing apartments into already crowded road corridors, one development is hoping to limit its carbon footprint in Wilmington.   Plans have been submitted to the City of Wilmington’s Planning Commission for a special-use permit that will allow the development of a 75-foot tall office structure in a planned mixed-use development. The project is being brought forward by Cape Fear Solar Systems and would be located at the currently vacant property at 901 South Front Street. “The proposed project includes a multi-phased solar system design and installation company containing a 5-story, 75-foot office structure and a 14,994 sqft warehouse where solar system kits will be stored and placed on trailers for deliveries. Additional phases will include a net-zero exhibition home, solar-powered car charging stations, and multi-family residential buildings,” according to the application.     Source and full article provided by Port City Daily - our local reporters.http://bit.ly/2VCDqPV  
 

Here is your 2019 Tax Calendar!

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

Why Utilization Rate Affects Credit Scores A high utilization rate is a sign that you may be experiencing financial difficulty and is a strong indicator of lending risk. As a result, high utilization hurts credit scores and can cause lenders to be reluctant to extend additional credit. If you have a high balance-to-limit ratio on one card, that negative can be significantly off-set by having a low overall utilization rate. That is why we caution against closing unused cards if your scores are low and eliminating that open credit limit might increase your total utilization ratio. Keep Credit Card Balances as Low As Possible VantageScore recommends an overall utilization rate of no more than 30 percent. However, the lower your utilization ratio, the better for your credit scores. Ideally, you should pay your balances in full each month so that you never pay finance charges and don't spend more than you can afford to repay. But, don't expect paying in full to lower your utilization. The balance reported is the amount owed when you receive your billing statement. The only way to have a zero balance is to not use the card for an entire billing cycle or pay the balance well before the due date so that your billing statement will show a zero balance due. If your scores are not as good as they need to be to be approved at the best rates, paying down balances is often the best action you can take to improve your risk.
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How lenders view your credit

How lenders view your credit 1. Capital This is the money or cash that is available to you through savings, investments or any other assets that you can use for repayment of a loan. Your household income is viewed as the main source of repayment, but any extra capital you show lenders tells them that you have saved money and manage your finances well, making you less of a credit risk. Additional capital on hand can help you in case of emergencies such as losing your job. 2. Capacity This is your monthly income and how stable it has been over an extended period of time. Lenders want to see that you can afford your payments. Often lenders will do so by reviewing your income, work history, and stability along with your earning potential as a way to project your ability to pay back the borrowed debt. This can be done by evaluating your debt-to-income ratio (DTI), which compares the total amount of debt you owe each month with the total amount you earn. A higher debt-to-income ratio could mean that you are seen as a credit risk and may not be able to afford your loan payments. Lenders can even predict a borrower's likelihood to make payments on time during the length of the loan. 3. Collateral This is something that you own that can be used for any loans or lines of credit that you apply for that are secured by that possession. A secured loan, such as an auto or home equity line of credit loan (HELOC), means that you will pledge something that you already own as collateral. That collateral will have a value assigned to it, and any debt that you already have will be subtracted from the value. What is left is the remaining equity that lenders will consider as a factor in their lending decision. For example, on a home loan, lenders can take possession of your home if you default on the mortgage. They will get an appraisal of the home to get an accurate value of what it's worth to make sure it is worth at least as much as the loan amount you are borrowing. Your collateral is then seen as the officially appraised value of the home. 4. Conditions This can include the interest rate for a credit card or loan or the amount of money you are borrowing as the lender decides whether to approve you. Conditions can also include the lender asking how you plan to use the money you are borrowing. The amount you plan to borrow and how you plan to use it can influence a lender's decision. Other conditions that can be considered include the current state of the economy or even different lending trends for that industry, such as the impact of the Great Recession on the mortgage industry in 2008. 5. Credit History This plays a large role in a lender's decision to qualify you for a loan or credit card. Your credit history is your financial track record that shows how you have managed credit and made payments over time. This history can be seen in your three credit reports, which provide all the information from lenders that have previously given you credit. This data can vary among the different credit reporting agencies but will include the same information such as the names of lenders that extended credit, the types of credit, your payment history, and more. Most lenders like to see a good payment history, low amounts of debt and no missed or late payments. Your credit history is captured into a single number known as credit scores. Your credit scores are one of the first things that lenders look at when assessing your credit history. Having a good credit score increases your odds of getting approved for a loan and helps with the conditions of the offer, such as what the interest rate will be. There are many different types of credit scores. FICO® Scores and VantageScore® are two of the more common types of credit scores, but other industry-specific scores also exist.
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The Housing Market's New Normal?

The housing market continued to cool down in December with properties staying on the market for a longer time, especially in the large markets and 15 percent of listings seeing price reductions, according to a report by Realtor.com. The report indicated that while inventory increased by 5 percent across the nation, it rose by 10 percent in the larger markets in December. While homes sold at a pace of 80 days in December, three days faster than December 2017, the pace at which they're selling is decelerating. "December 2017 saw homes sell six days faster compared to the previous year," the report said. Nineteen of the top 45 metros saw properties spend more time on the market compared to December 2017 and included real estate in the hot housing markets of San Jose, California; Seattle, Washington; and Nashville, Tennessee. Homes in these markets spent 14, 10 and six more days on the markets respectively. In comparison, properties in Birmingham, Alabama; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; and Richmond, Virginia sold at the fastest pace at 12, 11, and 10 days respectively. Even as the median listing price grew 7 percent year-over-year to $289,000 in December, it was lower than the 8 percent listing price seen in December 2017. Despite the lower pricing, listings that saw price reductions increased to 15 percent in December compared with 13 percent in 2017 as home sellers adjusted their strategies in "slowing, pricey markets with growing availability of homes for sale." The report found that some of the largest housing markets in the nation were driving these price reductions with 38 of the 45 top metros seeing an increase in such discounts. Charlotte, North Carolina, topped the list with the share of price reductions growing by 10 percent, from 14 percent in 2017 to 24 percent in December. It was followed by San Jose that saw an increase of 10 percent, Tampa (+9 percent), Phoenix (+9 percent), and Seattle (+8 percent). The steepest declines in median listing prices were seen in San Jose and San Francisco where listing prices declined by $130,000 and $33,000. @DS News
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Why 2019 Could Be a Buyers Market

Home prices rose 5.1 percent in November 2018, compared to the same period in 2017, according to CoreLogic's Home Price Index (HPI) and the HPI forecast released on Wednesday. The report projects home prices calculated using the CoreLogic HPI and other economic variables. While home prices showed an increase year over year and month over month in November, the report forecast a decrease in home price growth in 2019 projecting home prices to grow by 4.8 percent on a year-over-year basis from November 2018 to November 2019. Month over month too, the report forecast a drop in home price growth by 0.8 percent from November 2018 to December 2o18. "The rise in mortgage rates has dampened buyer demand and slowed home-price growth," said Dr. Frank Nothaft, Chief Economist at CoreLogic. "These higher rates and home prices have reduced buyer affordability." The report also included the CoreLogic Market Conditions Indicators (MCI), which analyze the housing values in 100 largest metropolitan areas across the U.S. It indicated that while 35 percent of the metros had an overvalued housing market, 27 percent were undervalued, and 38 percent remained at value. The projected drop in home prices during the year as well as recent declines in the stock market are likely to see homeowners changing their selling strategy. In fact, according to Nothaft, home sellers are already responding to the reduced buyer affordability by "lowering their asking price, which is reflected in the slowing growth of the CoreLogic Home Price Index." "A strong economy helps homeowners feel confident about the value of their property," said Frank Martell, President and CEO, CoreLogic. "If recent declines in the stock market shake consumer confidence in the national economy, we may see homeowners' perception of home value change and a subsequent buyers' market emerge in 2019." At a state-level, the report found that North Dakota was the only state to show a year-over-year decline in home prices in November, while Idaho and Nevada showed double-digit growth. At a metro level, Las Vegas posted the maximum gains in home prices at 11.7 percent followed by Denver (6.6 percent); San Francisco (5.9 percent); Los Angeles (5.3 percent); and Boston (5.1 percent). Radhika Ojha, Online Editor at the Five Star Institute
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Regaining Value

The housing market has come a long way from its lowest point recorded in 2012, regaining $10.9 trillion in value over the past six years, according to a study by Zillow. The market, which was worth a cumulative $33.3 trillion in 2018 is now worth $4 trillion more than what it was at the peak of the housing bubble, the study revealed. On a year-over-year basis, the market gained $1.9 trillion in value over 2017. Of all the markets across the country, one state accounted for nearly one-third of the value gained during the nationwide housing recovery—California. The report indicated that the housing market in the Golden State grew by $3.7 trillion since early 2012, making it the only state that gained more than $1 trillion in value since the market fell. Despite coming in a close second in terms of dollar contribution to the national housing recovery (a contribution of $937.9 billion, or 8.6 percent of the overall recovery), "the total value of all the homes in Florida is still $263.9 billion below its peak level," the study indicated. "Seen from the rearview mirror, 2018 was a year of unusually strong, stable home value growth across the country," said Aaron Terrazas, Senior Economist Zillow. "But cracks in the foundation are clearly starting to emerge. During the second half of the year, appreciation slowed sharply in the priciest corners of the country while it picked up in affordable hotspots. Periods of stability often precede periods of instability, and the outlook for 2019 is certainly both cloudier and blurrier than the outlook a year ago." Breaking down the growth in home values even further, the study stated that the New York/New Jersey area was the single most valuable metro worth $3 trillion, or 9.1 percent of the national housing market. Four California markets–Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Jose, and San Diego–were among the 10 most valuable metros in the country. Radhika Ojha, Online Editor at the Five Star Institute,
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The State of Housing Finance

The change in direction at the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) would be one of the most important things to happen in housing finance this year, according to experts at the Housing Finance Policy Center at the Urban Institute. "I’ll be watching to see if whatever changes are made will bring more private capital into the market," said Laurie Goodman, VP, Housing Finance Policy Center at the Urban Institute. These experts will closely follow the actions of Mark Calabria, who was nominated by President Trump to lead the FHFA. "Though he would be in a uniquely powerful position" to do "something" about the government's role in the housing finance system, Jim Parrott, Non-resident Fellow at the Urban Institute said, "But we’ll be heading into an election year and possibly an increasingly weak housing market, so it will be interesting to see how that tension between ideology, politics, and economics plays out." Some of the other questions that these researchers would be seeking answers to during the year include, the future of the government-sponsored enterprises (GSEs) as well as the actions being taken by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) to mitigate risks related to the risk profile of its book of business. That, apart from how the "various proposals and policies that are being introduced legislatively and administratively, will affect housing affordability," would be the key issues that the market will have its eye on in 2019, according to Alanna McCargo, VP, Housing Finance Policy Center at the Urban Institute. Ed Golding, a Non-resident Fellow at the Urban Institute and former Head of the FHA, said that 2019 could well be the year when home price appreciation "comes back down to earth." "They can’t continue to go up at 7 percent a year in an environment where interest rates and inflation rates are in the 2 percent range," Golding said. "The tax code increased the user cost of housing in some (upper-end) markets by as much as 30 percent but created little discernable change in house price momentum." In 2018 the housing market showed early signs of a slowdown in home price growth, softening of the housing markets, and rising inventory in even the hottest markets, like San Francisco and Seattle, according to Bing Bai, Research Associate at the Urban Institute who said that he was interested in seeing the shifting trends in the housing  and mortgage market. "Rising interest rates cut down the refinance volumes, and a slowdown in the purchase mortgage market would put further volume pressure on the mortgage industry," he said. Senior housing would be another focus area that will be on their radar. "Not only are we about to have more senior renters (many on fixed incomes), but also fewer senior homeowners with any significant home equity (and some with large mortgages, especially compared with their incomes), more in need of structural modifications to be safe in their homes," said Ellen Seidman, non-resident Fellow at the Urban Institute.   Radhika Ojha, Five Star Institute 
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5 Money Resolutions to Boost Your Bottom Line in the New Year

1. Shore Up Your Credit The higher your credit scores, the better. Why? Because good credit can unlock a world of benefits, such as significant savings on big-ticket items (like car loans and mortgages), insurance discounts and access to credit cards with the best perks. The first thing you should do to improve your scores is to see where they're at. Review all three credit reports maintained at each credit bureau: TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian (the publisher of this piece). Get your free credit report from Experian, where you can also obtain your FICO® Score. You are entitled to one free credit report every 12 months from Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion at AnnualCreditReport.com. Review each credit report to make sure all the information is accurate. If you find mistakes or inaccurate information, initiate a dispute with the appropriate credit bureau. Examining your credit report will also help you figure out what you need to do to improve your scores. Maybe you have a history of missed payments or you are using too much of your available credit each month. Your credit reports will help provide a roadmap for what to do next. And remember, the easiest thing you can do to improve your scores is to pay your bills on time. 2. Pay Down Your Debt One of the best things you can do this year to fatten your wallet is whittle down your debt—especially high-interest credit card balances. Paying off debt quickly helps improve your financial health because you save money in interest, cut down on stress and improve your credit scores. Start by making a list of all your credit card balances and loans with the monthly minimum payments and the APRs for each. Make sure you're making at least the minimum payments on each bill, and if you have extra money after you've paid your monthly fixed expenses, apply that extra amount to the debt with the highest interest rates first. Once you've paid off the debt at the highest rate, focus on the next highest rate, until you've knocked out all your debt. If you need help paying off your debt, you may want to consider a debt consolidation loan, which involves taking out one new loan to pay off others. Such a loan can save you money by rolling your debts into one at a lower interest rate and minimizing the number of payments you have to make. Shop around for the best consolidation loan for you through Experian CreditMatch. You can also transfer your current credit card balance to another card at a lower interest rate. Many balance transfer credit cards will offer an introductory rate, sometimes at 0%, for a certain period of time—giving you the opportunity to pay down the debt in that window without incurring any interest. Find the right balance transfer credit card here. 3. Beef Up Your Savings Nearly half of all Americans surveyed by Experian in fall 2018 said saving money is a top New Year's resolution for 2019. Of course, saving money is easier said than done. That's why behavioral economists suggest automating your savings as much as possible so you don't even have a chance to touch the money you want to save. If your employer allows it, direct a percentage of your paycheck to be deposited into a separate savings account. That way, the money you want to save never even appears in your checking account, tempting you to spend it. If that's not possible, set up a recurring transfer with your bank that transfers money into your savings account on the same day your paycheck is deposited. 4. Protect Your Identity In a world where stories of data breaches and phishing scams fill the headlines, you must be vigilant about protecting your identity. In addition to monitoring your credit reports, run a free dark web scan to find out if information like your Social Security number, phone number or email addresses are on the dark web. If you suspect you are a victim of identity theft, you might want to file a free initial security alert, which remains active on your account for one year, at the Experian fraud center. (You only need to file it with one credit bureau—they are legally required to share such alerts with their counterparts, so you don't need to file with all three.) This fraud alert will notify any lenders pulling your credit report to take extra steps to verify your identity—a measure that can frustrate and dissuade identity thieves. You can also freeze your credit reports, which prevents lenders from issuing new credit in your name. Or try Experian CreditLock, a benefit of your Experian membership, which allows you to lock and unlock your report in real time with no waiting period. You also receive daily monitoring of your credit file, up to $1 million in identity theft insurance, and access to your Experian credit report and FICO® Score. 5. Make Your Credit Cards Work for You Be sure you have the best credit cards in your wallet for your spending needs. If you tend to carry a balance, find the card with the lowest interest rate possible. If you don't carry a balance, a cash back card or rewards card can put money back in your wallet. Check out Experian CreditMatch for personalized credit card offers that match your credit profile so you can apply for your next card with confidence.   By
Ismat Mangla
December 19, 2018
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Brandon Farber

Brandon Farber

 

2019 Is Looking Bold - Interior Design for 2019

Regardless of the type of space you're decorating, there's nothing more important than paying attention to details. Right now Floral farbrics and wallpapers are making a bold statement for 2019.    IN: FLORAL  FABRICS AND WALLPAPERS "The traditional beauty of floral patterns, either abstracted or straight up chintz, will be the pattern to use." — Erin Gates of Erin Gates Design GO BOLD IN SMALL SPACES Graphic prints can have a major impact in small spaces such as a powder room. Here, an Ellie Cashman floral wallpaper is the star of a powder room a New Orleans manse designed by Sara Ruffin Costello.     
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Brandon Farber

Brandon Farber

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