Though Teresa and Joe Giudice's legal fate is scheduled to be determined today at their sentencing on fraud charges, the future of their real estate is still unclear. The "Real Housewife of New Jersey" reality stars recently listed their over-the-top, Towaco mansion for nearly $4 million. The almost 4-acre property includes:
Two, gold-trimmed Cinderella staircases
Imported marble floors
Gourmet kitchen with butler's pantry
Master bedroom with three walk-in closets
Master bath with steam shower and soaking tub.
The couple's New Jersey shore beach house also is on the market. The canal-front home in Manahawkin is listed for $315,000 and includes:
4 bedrooms and two baths
50 feet of waterfront
Deck, dock and tiki-style outdoor bar.
Both houses have been featured in "RHONJ" episodes, where the couple's lavish lifestyle, legal problems, and the fate of their four, young daughters have been a running story line on the Bravo hit series. The possibility of the couple serving prison time -- or "going away" as they call it -- has been discussed by and wept over by the other housewives throughout the current season.
The couple pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, and to three types of bankruptcy fraud. Joe also pleaded guilty to failing to file tax returns between 2004 and 2008.
The Brooklyn carriage house featured in the 2010 movie "Eat, Pray, Love" is back on the market for $6.995 million, down $1 million from its original asking price. Author Elizabeth Gilbert's home in Frenchtown, N.J., had a "skybrary" upstairs. The home of her fictional character, played by Julia Roberts in the movie adaptation of the best-selling memoir, instead features a sky-greenhouse off the upstairs bedroom.
The historic turn-of-the-century home (seen in a slideshow below) was first a firehouse, and it's huge, for a historic home in the area, with 2,125 square feet on the main floor alone. Exposed beams run across the ceilings, and the wood floor is made of 12-foot-wide planks. The living room has a large brick fireplace.
The home is currently split into two units but could be used as a single residence.
The carriage house has a uniquely convenient Cobble Hill location. Deborah Rieders of The Corcoran Group holds the listing.
Four years after the EPA implemented strict guidelines for lead paint removal from houses built before 1978, an alarming number of hardware stores and painting contractors reportedly are pooh-poohing the dangers of lead paint exposure -- like brain, kidney, digestive and fertility disorders -- and downplaying precautions that contractors should take to keep you safe.
That's what Angie's List's "secret shoppers" found when they asked 200 randomly selected contractors and hardware stores around the country about the best way to strip paint and renovate a child's room in a 1920s house.
Here's some sage advice the shoppers collected.
"It's just a bunch of B.S., really."
"Lead only harms you if you eat it."
"Just close the door and wear a mask."
"The whole lead thing is very overblown unless your kids are chewing or gnawing on the windowsills."
According to Angie's List, nearly 20 percent of contractors and hardware stores gave "poor advice," including dry-scraping old paint or removing it with a heat gun, two no-no's when it comes to removing lead paint.
Hardware stores were the worst offenders, Angie's List says, giving dangerous advice 47 percent of the time.
Any contractor who removes lead paint is supposed to have an EPA certification that shows they understand safety precautions associated with lead paint removal. However, even certified contractors can scrimp on costly precautions that will protect your family and neighbors from lead paint exposure.
"You have to be an educated consumer in this process, and understand the risks of lead paint and how it affects your family," says Angie Hicks, founder of Angie's List.
So, if your house was built before 1978 (when most paint contained lead) it's a good idea to backstop your contractor by knowing some EPA basics of lead paint removal.
1. Minimize dust by misting surfaces with water before sanding or scraping.
2. Only use sanding and grinding machines with protective shrouds that are attached to a HEPA vacuum.
3. Never use an open flame torch or high temperature heat gun (above 1,100 degrees) to remove lead paint.
4. Cover indoor work areas and 5 feet beyond with protective sheeting.
5. Cover exterior work areas with protective sheeting extending 10 feet from the work surface.
6. Keep children away from work areas.
7. Thoroughly clean work areas after painting.
WASHINGTON -- U.S. construction spending fell in August, the second decline in the past three months, with housing, non-residential and government projects all showing weakness.
Construction spending dropped a seasonally adjusted 0.8 percent after a 1.2 percent increase in July, the Commerce Department reported Wednesday. The July increase followed a 1.6 percent June decline.
The weakness was apparent in all sectors. Housing construction declined 0.1 percent, reflecting a big drop in spending on remodeling. Non-residential construction fell 1.4 percent while spending on government projects dropped 0.9 percent.
In addition to the August decline, the government revised lower its estimates for activity in the previous two months. This could call into question expectations that building activity will support economic growth in the second half of the year.
Overall construction spending totaled $960.96 billion at a seasonally adjusted annual rate in August, 5 percent higher than a year ago.
Spending on housing totaled $351.7 billion at an annual rate in August, 3.7 percent higher than a year ago. The August decline reflected a 14 percent drop in home remodeling work. Spending to construct new single-family homes rose 0.7 percent and apartment construction was up 1.4 percent.
Spending on non-residential projects totaled $333.3 billion, 9.2 percent higher than a year ago. In August, spending on office buildings, shopping centers and hospital construction all declined.
Government building projects totaled $253.4 billion, just 1.9 percent higher than a year ago. Construction activity at all levels of government has been held back by tight budgets. For August, state and local construction spending was down 0.9 percent while federal projects dropped 1.9 percent.
The overall economy went into reverse in the first three months of the year, shrinking at an annual rate of 2.1 percent, in part because of weakness in construction. Housing construction was contracting at a 5.3 percent rate in the first quarter, one of a number of sectors that were hurt by the unusually severe winter.
The economy rebounded in the April-June quarter, growing at an annual rate of 4.6 percent, the best showing in more than two years. Part of the rebound reflected a recovery in residential construction, which grew at an annual rate of 8.8 percent in the spring, the first positive growth after two quarters of declines.
Economists are hoping that construction will continue to grow in the July-September quarter and that will provide support for the overall economy. Economists are forecasting growth of around 3 percent in the gross domestic product for the third quarter but the recent weakness in construction spending could cause revisions in those estimates.
If you plan to help your family member purchase a home, take heed: Transferring money among different bank accounts is going to make their homebuying process stickier. Furthermore, if you're unable (or refuse) to document the origin of the monies you transferred, you can only impede your family member's home purchase. Here's the scoop.
Donor funds must be documented, sourced and paper-trailed. Let's say you're helping your daughter buy her first home. The amount you plan to give her is $20,000. Her mortgage lender or broker originating her loan will need you to sign a gift letter stating the relationship, and to identify the account where the money is coming from. Formerly, you were required to show only the most recent
You can make the process quick and easy by moving the monies one time....
statement on this account. However, new lending regulations now require two months of statements showing where these funds are coming from.
Where Things Become Sticky: If you plan to provide gift funds for your family member buying a home, keep it simple and have the funds in the account ready to go for use in the transaction. If your checking account, for example, has $10,000, and a new deposit or transfer comes into this account from another source totaling the $20,000 you plan on donating, things just got more technical. The lender will need to see where the additional funds came from, and sourcing the money movement.
All monies must be accounted for to fully support that there is no money laundering or fraud-related activity. Mortgage companies must adhere to this level of scrutiny, but it doesn't necessarily have to be difficult. If the money to be donated is not in the account you plan to use, take this example as guide. Say the money is coming from a money market account where all your assets are kept. It would be tremendously easier to simply wire the monies from the asset account where the monies normally reside directly to escrow, bypassing your child's checking account, which typically has daily transfers and withdrawals as most people use a checking account for their normal daily and/or monthly spending activities. Moving the money directly into their checking account or even your account is not necessary, and in fact it creates a scenario on paper that the donated funds for the home purchase are being spent.
If the damage if already done, re-gift the monies to escrow, otherwise it may appear your family member has shorted gift funds to close escrow.
More Movement of Money Equals More Work: If the main account where the gift funds are coming from does not have an average monthly balance equaling a reasonable amount of the gift funds due to a transfer or deposit, you'll need two extra months' statements! The lender will need the additional two months' statements from the other account showing where the transfer took place. In total, expect to give four statements, each for the last recent 60 days, detailing the origin of the money and each movement of that money and where it is presently.
The solution? You can make the process quick and easy by moving the monies one time, from wherever they originate directly to the title company your family member is using, bypassing all of the other potential accounts.
Mortgage Tip: If your family member has not yet found a home, no need to move the monies around yet, keep things status quo. Once they get into contract, then move the money to escrow for them.
Eligible Gift Money Sources: Can it be documented? If yes, then generally those monies can be used to help your family member buy a home. Here's a look at the various eligible sources:
Monies in some type of an asset/bank account.
Cold hard cash can be used as long as the money is seasoned, meaning it's been in a bank account for at least 60 days.
Sale of personal property will work with an executed bill of sale along with an account showing where these funds came from.
When planning to donate monies to a family member buying a home, just be prepared when the lender asks for supporting documentation on the origin of these funds as well as a gift letter. By knowing what to expect up front, you can help make the process of buying a home much easier for your family member, especially if they are a first-time buyer.
Keep in mind that the homebuyer will need to clear other mortgage-qualifying hurdles than just a down payment. They'll need good credit, a qualifying debt-to-income ratio and can't just be coming out of a bankruptcy or short sale. (You can see where your credit scores stand for free on Credit.com.)
Scott Sheldon is a senior loan officer and consumer advocate based in Santa Rosa, Cali. His work has appeared in Yahoo! Homes, CNN Money, MarketWatch and The Wall Street Journal. Connect with him at Sonoma County Mortgages. More by Scott Sheldon
We know that our environments affect our moods, and that buildings play a major role in that, but how can we change the way we build our homes to help improve our sense of well-being? There is growing evidence that suggests being cooped up in buildings is bad for our health and that having connections to the exterior environment has positive health outcomes. Studies have found that views of nature from the home provide a significant improvement in general well-being.
Improving the connection between the interior and the exterior of a building is the driving force behind the organic architecture movement started by Frank Lloyd Wright in the early 1900s. And that connection is integral to designs by contemporary organic architects. Take a closer look at how this style of architecture might work for you.
It's all in the geometry. Organic architecture is almost always governed by a strict set of geometric patterns consistent in every scale of the building, from the overall plan down to the cabinetry and door handles.
Patterns help us understand the world. They allow us to predict the weather, anticipate a valley over a mountain and know when the next train is to arrive. People understand their environment when it is governed by patterns. A home built on patterns will be comprehensible and comfortable.
Below, Bart Prince's Scherger/Kolberg residence in Albuquerque, New Mexico, is arranged around a radial floor plan. Walls and roof framing members extend to a central point, helping to create a comprehensible pattern.
Materials from nature. To blend an interior space with the external environment, organic architecture utilizes local natural materials to finish the home. Organic homes usually incorporate local stone and timber. Where large, artificially smooth surfaces are used, they are usually broken up with patterns to introduce textures that give the building a natural feel.
Above, Bruce Goff's Ford residence in Aurora, Illinois, uses local materials, including coal, which was quarried nearby. Coal stones in the interior and exterior connect the house to the area's geology.
Harmonizing the masses. Organic architecture usually incorporates a combination of heavy, massive objects and more ephemeral, lightweight structures.The mass objects are used to tie a building to its site like a trunk does for a tree, while a lightweight canopy often provides shelter that does not feel constrained by massive walls and is free and open.
Robert Oshatz's Chenequa residence, above, consists of separate roof forms that pinwheel around a central stone-clad elevator core. The core anchors the roof to the ground, while the roof appears to float in the air. The roof also extends into the glass, helping to bring the outside in.
Using glass for flow. Glass is a critical medium for organic architecture. Carefully designed windows allow interior and external spaces to flow freely between one another, with the enclosure of the space being prominent. To achieve this, organic architects usually ensure that window frames are hidden and that materials run unhindered through the glass.
Working within the site. Tying a building to its site is critical in ensuring that it belongs in its location. Frank Lloyd Wright said that a building should be "of the hill and not on the hill," and so organic architecture should appear to grow from its site. When the distinction between the site and the building is eliminated, the outdoor environment is invited into the home.
For example, Bruce Goff's Eugene Bavinger house (above) in Norman, Oklahoma, emerges from the earth as a stone wall that spirals inward and upward. As the house reaches toward the sky, the roof appears to lift off and begin to fly on its own. The stone wall, which was constructed from locally sourced stone, is built in a dry-stacked arrangement to ensure it appears as a natural element. This spiral wall moves in and out of glazing lines and runs through the interior.
Today architects such as Robert Oshatz and Bart Prince create buildings in the organic tradition that forge a harmony with their environments. Their work is idiosyncratic and highly individualized, but so too are their sites and their clients. By following the concepts developed by organic architects, contemporary designers are developing homes that allow their inhabitants to connect with the environment around them. In an increasingly urbanized world, and one with challenges to well-being and mental health, organic architecture provides a road map for healthier buildings.
The pink stucco home once shared by leading man Clark Gable and actress Carole Lombard is for sale in Palm Springs. The four-bedroom, six-bath home is owned film producer Joel Douglas, as was reported by the Los Angeles Times; his father is Kirk Douglas and brother is Michael Douglas,
The mustachioed Hollywood legend lived in the estate in the Las Palmas neighborhood during his brief marriage to Lombard, who died in a 1942 plane crash. The two were married in 1939, Gable's third of five marriages.
Built in 1925, the charming home (see the slideshow below) has more than 3,000 square feet and has been restored. It has beamed ceilings and decorative Spanish tile in the kitchen and bathrooms. The pool adjoins a vintage-style pool house with French doors to a vine-covered patio, and the half-acre lot also includes a separate guesthouse.
It is offered furnished, complete with a pool table built for Kirk Douglas, for $2.195 million. It last sold in 2003 for $965,000.
Where do you find ideas for your home? For one couple, inspiration came from A-lister Reese Witherspoon's living room in her former home in Ojai, California.
Celeb interior designer Kathryn Ireland decorated the actress' ranch, which was featured in magazine spreads in "House Beautiful" and "Elle Decor." Orlando Soria, an interior designer and West Coast creative director for Homepolish, wanted to give the clients the same feeling of Witherspoon's Spanish Revival-style home, but in a way that would work for their two small children.
"I wanted the space to feel sophisticated and grand while being approachable and cozy," Soria explained.
Currently 10.85 million American households rent a self-storage unit, according to the Self Storage Association, a non-for-profit lobbying entity that represents the self-storage industry. Rachel Kessler is one such renter. Her New York City apartment was feeling a bit cramped with all of her stuff, she tells AOL Real Estate. "I was going to move to a larger apartment because I like a clutter-free house, but the timing to move was off." So instead, the PR professional rented a storage unit this past July.
"Problem solved. My closets can breathe, nothing is stored under the bed, and the cabinets are not overflowing with stuff," she says.
Even if 1 in 11 families, or 8.96 percent of all American households, up from 6 percent in 1995, are renting storage space, the amount of stuff each household puts into storage has also increased.The
We are a nation devotedly attached to our stuff.
demand means there is a growing number of storage facilities to accommodate all of our stuff.
"If you add up all the McDonald's, Burger Kings and Wendy's franchises in the United States, their total number is still fewer than the total number of self-storage stores in this country," says Mike Scanlon, CEO and president of the Self Storage Association, who spoke this summer at an SSA conference in Illinois. There are 48,500 self-storage operations, like Publix, and CubeSmart, and, yes, even U-Haul is in on the game. By comparison, there are only a total of 4,713 Walmarts and Sam's Clubs in the U.S.
"A state legislator is likely to drive by far more self-storage facilities than hamburger joints on his or her way to the state capital. We're way too big to hide," says Scanlon.
Big indeed. There are 2.47 billion total rentable square feet of self-storage space in the U.S. That's about 7.3 square-feet of self-storage space for every man, woman and child in the nation; thus, it is physically possible that every American could stand -- all at the same time -- under the total canopy of self-storage roofing, according to estimates by the SSA.
So what are Americans storing in all this space? "I store out-of-season items like boots and coats and comforters and blankets in the space," says Kessler. But that's not all. "I have a lot of things from my deceased grandmother that my heart won't let me give away. I also store sentimental things like my beaten up childhood stuffed Panda bear (pictured right) and my Girl Scout uniform. These are items that I don't want to give away, but I prefer an organized, clutter-free home," she says.
Due to our desire to hold onto so much stuff, the self-storage industry in the United States generated more than $24 billion in annual U.S. revenues in 2013, according to estimates by the Self Storage Association. And all of our stuff is sending dividends from self-storage REITs through the roof. (Self-storage trusts are the hottest REITs right now on the Bloomberg Markets ranking.) Extra Space is the top performer, with an annualized return of 36.7 percent for the last three years, reports Bloomberg.
If you think that self-storage is mainly driven by those on limited incomes living in small apartments or cramped cities like New York, you'd be incorrect. According to data from the SSA, 51 percent of self-storage renters have a household income of $50,000 or more per year, with 15 percent of them earning $125,000 or more. (In 2007, only 9 percent reached the $125,000-plus bracket.) Additionally:
o. 68 percent of self storage renters are from single family households.
o. 65 percent have a garage but still rent.
o. 47 percent have an attic but still rent.
o. 33 percent have a basement but still rent.
Of the rental facilities, 52 percent are in suburban areas, 32 percent urban, and 16 percent rural facilities.
"My storage unit was costing me $80 per month and the cost was rising each year," says Sarah Hart (pictured left), who lives in San Francisco. "When I looked at the cost over a five-year period, I could have bought the storage unit!"
Although Sarah retrieved her items from the storage facility to save money, she didn't exactly purge these stored things from her life. Instead, she tells AOL Real Estate, "I switched to Boxbee."
Boxbee is a storage startup. Rather than pay for a whole storage unit in a dedicated facility, Boxbee renters pay just for the space of each box that they store. They do not consider themselves self-storage because Boxbee drops off plastic boxes at your doorstep, and picks up the filled boxes. Cost: $6 to $7.50 per bin, per month, with no more having to drive 10 or 15 minutes to a storage facility.
Given that the National Association of Home Builders reports that the size of the average American home has grown 60 percent in 40 years -- from 1,660 square feet in 1973 to about 2,600 square feet in 2013 -- one would think that with the additional 1,000 square feet of household space there would be less need for stuff put in self-storage, rather than a growing demand.
But we are a nation devotedly attached to our stuff. And sentimental attachments that come along with marriage, divorce, death, retirement, up-sizing and downsizing, simply make it that much harder for us to want to get rid of the things we just don't have room for in our living spaces.
So maybe we just need to evaluate some of the best and worst reasons for keeping items in storage -- and keeping them there for longer periods of time. According to the 2013 edition of the SSA's 347-page Self Storage Demand Study, surveyed Americans are renting at the facilities almost twice as long as they were in 2007. A full 30 percent of those surveyed said they had kept their units longer than two years. (In fact, 46 percent of self-storage customers are long-term renters, up from 38 percent in 2007, according to the SSA.)
1. You're staging your home for a sale and need to remove some furniture and other belongings. The plan is that all of these items will soon move into your new home, or sold at a garage sale during the moving process.
2. You're preparing for an estate sale of a relative and need time to sort through the items you're going to keep and toss, but it's too hard to do the sorting while you're still in the early stages of grieving.
3. Seasonal items. Whether it is Christmas decorations, hockey equipment, or off-season clothing, these can be good items to store provided that you will go back and retrieve them and use them when they are in-season.
4. You're in the military or college. More than 1.5 million self storage units nationwide are rented to military personnel (6 percent of all units), according to the SSA; however, in communities adjacent to domestic U.S. military bases, military occupancy can be from 20 percent to 95 percent of all rented units. Those in the armed forces are essentially waiting until they can put down permanent roots. College students leaving for the summer or other extended period might have the same need.
5. Musical instruments. A rock band from Hawaii used a storage unit to keep their instruments and sound equipment, and found that it was easier to set up the band on site to practice their material, according to ABC Self Storage in Loveland, Co. The band, Breath of Fire, found that it was simpler and cheaper to practice at the storage facility instead of the expensive music studio they were using before. Note: Not all facilities will let a band play on site, or otherwise let an office set up shop. But even if you don't play on site, self-storage can be a good use for oversized musical equipment.
1. You're downsizing to a smaller home but hope that one day you'll be able to afford a bigger house again, but you don't know when that day will come. Instead, get rid of the belongings. It could end up being 5 years later, or maybe you'll never move. That's what writer Max Wong discovered about a friend who had spent nearly $48,000 over 5 years keeping items in storage after downsizing. Save the money. Buy new stuff when you upsize.
2. You need a place to live. Do not use the storage facility as an inexpensive apartment. They are not living quarters and all facilities ban such use. However, that hasn't stopped some people. After one mom was arrested on unrelated charges, her two sons ages 5 and 10, were found inside a storage facility where they had been living.
3. You're a funeral director looking for some extra storage space, or temporary resting place, between embalmings and cremations for deceased loved ones. This was the case of funeral director Alfred Pennine. Decomposing bodies where found after his death in a storage space he rented for his business.
4. You have toxic material. Storing toxic chemicals is against the rules for most self-storage facilities. So running a meth lab is just wrong on so many levels. But that's what police in St. Paul, Minn., found earlier this year when a man rolled open the door on his unit, reported the St. Paul Pioner Press.
5. Your garage is overflowing so much that you can't park a cars there. There's tons of clutter in your home and you just move some of it to a storage facility, but you still can't fit your car in the garage. You're mostly likely saving junk. Typical rule of thumb, if you haven't touched it in six months, you don't need it. But we'll give you two years. Toss it if you're not using it.
So have you rented a self-storage space? Use the comments below to tell us what you stored in the facility, why and for how long.
Sheree R. Curry is an award-winning, 20-year veteran journalist who has been writing for AOL Real Estate since 2009. Send her your tips & ideas. Follow her on Twitter at shereecurry.
Mortgage rates for 30-year fixed mortgages fell this week, with the current rate borrowers were quoted on Zillow Mortgages at 4.08 percent, down from 4.13 percent at this same time last week. The 30-year fixed mortgage rate hovered around 4.13 percent for most of the week, falling to 4.04 percent on Monday before rising to the current rate.
"After holding steady for much of the week, rates dropped to three-week lows on Monday, driven down by political unrest in Hong Kong," said Erin Lantz, vice president of mortgages at Zillow. "We expect rates to remain volatile this week as the European Central Bank will make an economic policy announcement on Thursday, and U.S. employment data will be released on Friday."
Additionally, the 15-year fixed mortgage rate this morning was 3.18 percent, and for 5/1 ARMs, the rate was 2.95 percent.
Purchase Mortgage Application Activity: Zillow predicts tomorrow's seasonally adjusted Mortgage Bankers Association Weekly Application Index will show purchase loan activity decreased by 5 percent from the week prior. To learn more about this Zillow analysis, click here.
In one month, ghouls, goblins and The Little Mermaid will be at your front door. Are you prepared?
We aren't talking candy-bought, decorations-up prepared. We mean, what happens if Glenda the Good Witch breaks her arm or your house is egged? Are you covered for that? Or will a night of tricks and treats become an expensive horror?
Note: Not all insurance policies are created equal! The following guidelines are standard, but there are exceptions. It's important to get to know your insurance policy before you have to file a claim.
Here are three possible Halloween problems, and the skinny on what is and isn't covered by a typical policy.
Trick-or-Treater Slips and Falls: Trick-or-treating can be really exciting! So exciting that little kids run and trip. And fall. Fortunately, most homeowner policies provide liability coverage if someone is injured
If you had a bonfire in your living room, that's negligence. If you're planning an ambitious flame display this year, check with your insurance company to determine how they define "negligence."
on your property. The standard amount per occurrence is $100,000, but you may be able to increase this amount depending on your policy.
The Potential Loophole: If you're sued because of the accident, your policy may also pay to defend you in court. But keep in mind that you're typically only covered for negligence. You aren't covered for intentional injuries -- meaning if little Glenda the Good Witch hurts little Kevin the cowboy, you won't be covered!
Jack-o-Lantern Catches Fire: Do you light your jack-o-lantern with a candle? If so, you're not alone. Over the last three years, an average of 15,500 fires per year were caused by an open-flamed jack-o-lantern, according to the U.S. Fire Administration.
Fortunately, most homeowner policies cover fire from a lit candle or a string of decorative electrical lights. If the fire displaces your family, insurance will typically cover the cost of additional living expenses.
The Potential Loophole: Coverage may be limited due to "negligence" depending on the origin of the fire -- for example, if you had a bonfire in your living room, that's negligence. If you're planning an ambitious flame display this year, check with your insurance company to determine how they define "negligence."
"Tricks" Dent Your Siding: For the most part, "trick-or-treat" is heavy on the treat part. But, not always. Sometimes, tricks happen, too. And next thing you know, your house is egged (or worse), and there's damage to your siding!
If this happens to you, it's considered vandalism under most standard insurance policies, which means you will be protected. If the repair cost exceeds your deductible for vandalism, the insurance company will cover the repairs. If you're concerned about any mischief on Halloween, double-check your homeowners insurance policy to make sure vandalism is covered.
The Potential Loophole: Many policies don't cover vandalism if a property has been vacant for 30 days or more. If you're planning an extended trip or have a second home, speak with an agent about the vandalism portion of your policy.
WASHINGTON -- U.S. home prices in July increased at the slowest pace in 20 months, reflecting sluggish sales and a greater supply of houses for sale.
The Standard & Poor's/Case-Shiller 20-city home price index rose 6.7 percent in July from 12 months earlier. That's down from an 8.1 percent gain in June and the smallest increase since November 2012.
Sales of existing homes have been weak for most of this year. They picked up over the summer but then fell in August and are 5.3 percent lower than a year ago.
The slowdown has occurred partly because investors are pulling back from the housing market. Meanwhile, many would-be buyers are unable to obtain a mortgage, particularly first-time buyers. Nineteen of the 20 cities in the index reported lower annual gains than in June. And a new broader index of nationwide home prices compiled by S&P rose just 5.6 percent.
The Case-Shiller 20-city index covers roughly half of U.S. homes. The index measures prices compared with those in January 2000 and creates a three-month moving average. The July figures are the latest available.
Even cities that have seen the biggest price gains are cooling off. Las Vegas' 12.8 percent price increase from a year ago was the highest of the 20 cities tracked by Case-Shiller. But that's down from a nearly 30 percent jump last year.
The second-largest increase was in Miami, where home prices rose 11 percent from a year earlier, and the third-largest was in San Francisco, with a 10.3 percent climb.
Nineteen of the 20 cities reported higher prices in July from June. Costs fell 0.4 percent in San Francisco that month.
A larger number of homes for sale is helping slow price gains. Last fall, bidding wars emerged in many cities as buyers chased after an unusually low housing inventory.
There are 2.3 million homes on the market nationwide, according to the National Association of Realtors. That's about 4.5 percent higher than a year ago.
In many states, the supply growth has been bigger. And unlike earlier in the recovery, they aren't dependent on foreclosures. More homes are being listed for sale by regular homeowners, many of whom were likely drawn into the market by last year's big price increases.
The number of homes for sale has jumped 46 percent in Nevada, according to Michelle Meyer, an economist at Bank of America Merrill Lynch. It has risen 38 percent in California and 33 percent in Arizona. That has helped slow price gains in those markets. Meyer forecasts annual price increases will decelerate to 3.9 percent by the end of the year.
Among other factors, median home values can vary drastically depending on the state, city, and neighborhood. According to the Zillow Home Value Index, or ZHVI, the median home value in California, for example, is $430,700 -- the highest median home value out of all 50 states. If that sounds massive, try the median home value in San Francisco, which currently sits at an astronomical $993,100. Hop across the bay to neighboring Oakland, and that drops down to $493,400.
The median home value in the United States is currently $175,600. Have you ever wondered what you could get for twice that amount? We rounded up homes in well-known cities across the nation, all valued at roughly $350,000.
That patter of little footsteps may be mice. Mice like to stay warm and dry, just like you. So as cool and wet weather rolls in, mice invite themselves into your home, chewing through electrical wires and making nests in your attic insulation. And since the gestation period for mice is about 20 days, once mice get in, they're birthing machines that will produce an infestation before you can say "cheese!"
The best way get rid of a mouse problem is to prevent one. Keep counters clean of food and crumbs, and throw out old newspapers and boxes of clothes that provide nesting material.
Also, keep mice from getting into your home in the first place. Seal up holes and cracks around your house, especially where cable lines and plumbing enter. Also, make sure your chimney caps and vent covers are secure.
But mice, like water, will find a way in, and then you've got to get rid of them.
You can call an exterminator, and spend $300 to $500 to wipe out the mice in your home. Or, you can get creative and try some of these "wacky" repellents that will chase the rodents away.
Warning: Anything that can kill mice, can probably hurt you and your pets, too. So make sure you put toxic repellents out of reach by kids, Fido and Mr. Fluffy. Safety first; getting rid of mice, second.
Peppermint: Mice don't like mint, so start cleaning with mint-scented solutions, or add a few drops of mint essential oil to your all-purpose cleaner. You also can pulverize peppermint Altoids, and sprinkle around mice nesting areas. To keep mice away from your house, plant mint around your foundation. But be warned, mint spreads quickly. So unless you want mint fields forever, plant the herb in pots with saucers, and place them around the outside of your house.
Soda Pop: Mice can't burb, so when they drink soda pop that makes them gassy, they eventually perish. Pour any sugary soda (not diet) into a shallow dish, and place where you think mice are nesting. They'll drink, and die.
Tabasco Sauce: This hot sauce keeps mice away in droves. Sprinkle the sauce around your home's foundation to deter mice from entering. Or add 2 tsp. Tabasco and 1 tsp. dish detergent to 2 cups hot water. Pour into a spray bottle, and spritz where you think mice are hiding.
Dryer Sheets: You may love their fragrance on pillowcases, but mice hate their strong smell. Stuff dryer sheets beneath attic doors, or press them into the baseboards around rooms where mice are living.
Ammonia: When animal urine decomposes, it produces ammonia, a smell mice avoid because they fear it's from large animals that could eat them for supper. To repel rodents, clean with an ammonia-based solution, or sprinkle drops of ammonia where mice are nesting. But don't go crazy and slop ammonia around the house. It can be harmful to the heath of humans and pets, too.
Strange Noises: Several companies sell gizmos that emit high-frequency sounds that mice supposedly find irritating, kinda like how you feel about your kids' rap music. But mice naturally communicate with each other at high frequencies that humans can't hear, and little evidence exists that mice truly are repelled by sonic or ultrasonic noises. These devices may be more whacky than effective.
Cayenne Pepper: This stinging seasoning repels mice. Sprinkle some on areas where mice enter your house. A horseradish and water solution will work, too.
Cloves: The strong scent of cloves is known to repel mice. Wrap whole cloves in cheesecloth, and place in attics, basements, and in front of walls where you've heard mice scampering about.
Toilet Bowl Freshener: You buy them to make your toilet bowl smell sweet, but mice hate the strong aroma of toilet bowl fresheners. Place fresheners on a tin plate, or hang clip-ons from a hook on walls to prevent leaking on or staining wood floors.
Antifreeze: As a last resort, place a dish of antifreeze in mice nesting areas. The sweet smell attracts the rodents, who then drown in or drink the poison. Antifreeze, of course, is toxic to other living creatures. So be careful when using this whacky method to get rid of mice.
At-risk homeowners trying save their homes from foreclosure during the mortgage meltdown complained for years that banks were systematically stonewalling them. On Monday, federal regulators accused a financial institution of doing just that, alleging that Michigan-based Flagstar Bank (FBC) intentionally frustrated homeowners and pushed some into foreclosure.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau said Flagstar "failed ... at every step in the foreclosure relief process." At one point, the bank had 13,000 active loss-mitigation applications but only assigned 25 full-time employees and a third-party vendor in India to review them. In some cases, it took nine
The bank must ... engage in active loss-mitigation efforts for current loans, including "a door knocking campaign and translation services,"
months to review applications, and the backlog of loss-mitigation applications numbered well over 1,000, the CFPB said.
The firm's website says that it has assets of $9.9 billion and is one of the nation's top 10 largest savings banks.
"This resolution is in the bank's best interest," said Alessandro DiNello, president and chief executive officer for Flagstar. "The dedicated employees of Flagstar Bank have completed thousands of successful loan modifications and work incredibly hard to meet and exceed the needs of our customers. With this matter now behind us, everyone at Flagstar Bank is committed to building on the significant progress we have achieved while continuing to operate with integrity, responsiveness and a commitment to our core values."
The CFPB said Flagstar must return $27.5 million to 6,500 consumers, including 2,000 who suffered foreclosure as a result of Flagstar's actions. The bank must also engage in active loss-mitigation efforts for current loans, including "a door knocking campaign and translation services," and it will pay a $10 million civil penalty.
Other allegations in the CFPB consent order claim:
Flagstar would close applications because of missed deadlines and stale documentation, even though "documents had expired because of Flagstar's delay."
The bank misled borrowers about their appeal rights. Under the CFPB's rules, banks must provide certain borrowers the right to appeal the denial of a loan modification. But Flagstar failed to provide this notice, and it wrongly stated that borrowers have an appeal right only if they reside in certain states.
Flagstar put borrowers in "trial period purgatory." The bank needlessly prolonged trial periods for loan modifications. This caused some borrowers' loan amount under the modified note to increase and, in some cases, jeopardized borrowers' permanent loan modification.
Louisa Gummer (Streep's youngest daughter with husband, artist Donald Gummer) recently purchased a 1,571 square-foot condo in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn for $1.5 million. The 23-year-old model is now the proud owner of a three-bedroom, corner loft apartment at 180 S. 4th Street, which overlooks Continental Army Plaza.
In June, 31-year-old actress Mary Willa "Mamie" Gummer purchased a two-bedroom apartment with three exposures at 315 West 23rd Street in the Chelsea section of Manhattan. Mamie is best known for her role as Emily Owens on the TV series "Emily Owens, M.D."
WASHINGTON -- Fewer Americans signed contracts to buy homes in August, suggesting that real estate sales will remain sluggish over the next few months.
The National Association of Realtors said Monday that its seasonally adjusted pending home sales index fell 1 percent during the past month to 104.7. Higher prices and weak wage growth has limited buying, as the index is 2.2 percent below its level from a year ago.
The five-year recovery from the Great Recession has been uneven, such that historically low mortgage rates have failed to propel buying back to usual levels. Price increases going back to 2013 have led to fewer homebuyers, while many families have lacked the income to save for down payments. Investors making all-cash offers on homes have also begun to retreat, reducing the total number of sales.
Pending sales are a barometer of future purchases. A one- to two-month lag usually exists between a contract and a completed sale.
The Realtors project that 4.94 million existing homes will be sold this year, down 3 percent from 5.09 million in 2013. Analysts generally associate sales of roughly 5.5 million existing homes with a healthy market.
August contracts fell in all four geographical regions -- Northeast, Midwest, South and West -- compared to the prior month. The index had registered overall gains in four of the previous five months.
Combined with homebuilders catering to higher-income buyers instead of the mass market, the contracts index points to trivial improvements in home sales in September.
"We hope this lost ground will be recovered gradually, but with investors disappearing from the market and homebuilders gaining market share from private sellers, it will take time," said Ian Shepherdson, chief economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics.
The housing rebound started to struggle in the middle of 2013. Mortgage rates started to rise from historic lows, even though they remain below their historic averages. Fierce winter storms delayed construction and slowed foot traffic at open houses at the beginning of 2014. Sales, however, never quite showed much strength during the summer buying season because wage growth has been so modest coming out of the downturn.
Purchases of existing homes fell 1.8 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.05 million in August, the Realtors said last week. Sales fell from a July rate of 5.14 million, a figure that was revised slightly downward.
New-home sales did show greater strength in August, but they continue to be below the 1990s pace of more than 700,000 sales a year.
Sales of new homes climbed 18 percent last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 504,000, although much of the gains were concentrated in the West. More importantly, 28 percent of the new homes sold in August cost more than $400,000, compared to just 18 percent a year earlier.
Do you find yourself surfing homebuying websites while at work? Or gazing out the window wishing for a better work/life balance? A career in professional real estate might be more satisfying for you. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job outlook for real estate agents is on par with job growth in the U.S. and the education barrier is relatively low for entry-level agents. Check out some reasons to make the jump and become a real estate agent.
1. You Make Your Own Schedule: Perhaps the best-known advantage of working in real estate is that you are essentially self-employed. Most agents work as independent contractors. You are essentially your own boss, ideal for an entrepreneurial spirit. You set your own hours and can work them as flexibly as you like. As an agent, you will likely have unlimited earning potential -- a salary with no cap.
However, this does mean you may not be able to vacation at a moment's notice. Athough the field is time-sensitive and clients like constant updates, you will enjoy more wiggle room in your schedule than other professionals. While you can set your own hours, weekends are popular for showing homes and open houses. Also, there are certain times of the year that are busier than others.
2. You Get to Work With People: The job of a real estate agent is very people-centric. You have the ability to interact and help others. Building valuable relationships with clients and co-workers can be a good way to help you sell more and find a more emotionally rewarding experience. If you are watching a lot of real estate shows and looking at homes online, this can be a way to put that passion to work.
Of course, in addition to communication and people skills, it's a good idea for real estate agents to be up on industry trends, know the numbers behind the transactions and understand real estate laws. Since real estate agents usually work on commission, you may work for weeks or months with someone and never make any money for that time if they never buy or sell a home.
3. Reduced Fees on Investments: If you are thinking about going into real estate as a business, either flipping homes or owning rental units, becoming a real estate agent can save some money. This way you don't have to pay the fee to someone else when you buy a home.
A typical real estate agent fee is 6 percent of the price of the house. This is then split between the buyer's and the seller's agents. If you remove the buyer agent fee, you can reduce the cost of purchasing a home by about 3%. Over the cost of several purchases, this can add up to a significant savings.
The safest mortgage on the market since the housing crash is one where most buyers put $0 down. Wait, huh? Welcome to the surprising world of VA home loans.
About 9 in 10 buyers using this historic benefit program purchase without making a down payment. Despite that, these government-backed mortgages have had the lowest foreclosure rate of any loan type for 19 of the last 26 quarters, according to figures from the Mortgage Bankers Association. The safety and stability of the VA loan program remains one of the more under-reported trends in all of housing. An Urban Institute study released this past summer highlighted the VA's foreclosure track
Since 2008, the VA has helped more than 320,000 homeowners avoid foreclosure, saving an estimated $11 billion in potential foreclosure claim payments.
record, but it's a mostly under-the-radar success story. That's not to say the lending industry needs some seismic shift away from "skin in the game." There's clearly a benefit to and place for down payments.
VA loans are also a hard-earned benefit reserved for those who serve our country. It's a special program, and it should stay that way. But these zero-down loans do offer some lessons worth a closer look.
Big Benefits: VA loan volume has soared 372 percent since the crash, driven mostly by a tighter lending climate, a tough economy and bottom-barrel interest rates. VA loans feature more flexible and forgiving requirements than conventional loans, including lower credit score benchmarks, no mortgage insurance and closing costs limits.
But the single-biggest benefit is the ability to purchase with $0 down. Qualified borrowers in most parts of the country can purchase up to $417,000 before needing to factor in a down payment.
Since 2008, nearly 90 percent of VA buyers have purchased without a down payment. Yet, for almost five full years, these loans had a lower foreclosure inventory rate than all others, including prime loans.
The reasons why have a lot to do with common-sense underwriting and a commitment to helping veterans not just get into homes but keep them.
Residual Income: One is VA's unique requirement for discretionary income. This standard, known as residual income, requires borrowers to have a minimum amount of money left over each month after paying their mortgage and other major expenses. How much varies based on geography and family size.
For example, a family of four in the Midwest would need at least $1,003 in residual income each month. Buyers with a debt-to-income ratio above 41 percent must meet an even higher benchmark and exceed the guideline by at least 20 percent.
Debt-to-income ratio is still the major focus in mortgage lending. But residual income can offer a more realistic look at affordability and a borrower's ability to keep up with their mortgage payments if emergencies occur.
Closing out its look at why VA loans outperform FHA in terms of default, the Urban Institute encouraged other loan programs to consider adopting a residual income standard.
"We believe this test can be a powerful indication that the borrower will find the mortgage payments sustainable," the authors noted. "We believe the residual income test can have applicability beyond the VA market."
In addition, unlike with FHA financing, the VA guaranties only a portion of the loan in case of default. Lenders pay a steeper price when loans go sour, which has historically encouraged flexible-but-prudent underwriting.
Helping hands: The VA doesn't actually make or directly service home loans, but it has the authority to intercede on behalf of borrowers on the edge. More than 150 loan program employees focus solely on homeowners facing default.
These foreclosure specialists receive a notification whenever a VA-backed loan is more than 60 days past due. They follow up directly with the veteran and often push lenders to offer alternatives to foreclosure, like loan modifications, repayment plans or forbearance.
Veteran Makeup: VA borrowers themselves deserve a lot of credit for the program's success. You didn't see a lot of military members walking away from their homes during the peak of the foreclosure crisis.
This is a group that takes seriously the idea of duty and obligation, even when it comes to a mortgage payment. That sense of commitment is also applicable beyond the VA market.
Fall officially began Sept. 23, but that doesn't mean you should scrap plans for selling your home this year. In fact, October, November and December can actually be good months to sell. Now is the time to plan for it if you've even considered putting your home on the market.
For decades, the conventional thinking was that if you missed the spring selling season, you missed the boat. Once summer rolls around and school starts shortly after that, families are more settled, the thinking went, and therefore less inclined to pick up and move (unless a job change or other
Spring is still the busiest time overall. But there's plenty of action happening after Labor Day through Christmas....
circumstance forced them).
Also, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's and the January cold snaps follow the start of school. In the past, no one wanted to take time to drive around looking at homes when all of this was happening.
Things have changed. Today's buyers aren't necessarily timing a home purchase or sale around school schedules because people tend to settle down later in life and live longer. The result is urban expansion; more single, first-time and millennial buyers as well as baby boomers looking to buy (and sell). Also, a lot of home-shopping, at least initially, happens online and via apps. Buyers don't have to take time out of their busy schedules to drive around -- they can just sit down with a tablet on the couch.
As a result of the Internet, our hectic schedules and mobile lifestyles, the fall months are no longer a real estate dead zone. True, spring is still the busiest time overall. But there's plenty of action happening after Labor Day through Christmas, enough to make it worth your while to put up the 'For Sale' sign.
Buyers are still out there: As mentioned, buyers never stop looking. A serious buyer is looking at new homes online 24/7, even through the holidays. If the right home appears, they're ready to move. In fact, it could be that buyers in the early winter months are even more motivated than buyers in warmer months because there is less going on. They have fewer distractions and are laser focused on finding a home.
There's less competition: A lot of people still buy into the old thinking that real estate slows to a crawl by October and virtually stops from Thanksgiving until, say, Valentine's Day. As a consequence, many potential sellers figure there's no reason to go on the market during these months. So they wait for spring. And that's good news for you, because less inventory on the market = less competition for you.
Even January can be a good time to sell: By now you're probably thinking about all the disruptions to your life that selling a home during the holidays might cause. For instance, you're in the middle of wrapping Christmas gifts when your agent calls. She wants you to leave the house right away so she can bring a motivated buyer by for another look.
If the potential for disruptions concerns you, put your home on the market in January. Inventory will still be very tight, and there will still be buyers out there looking. In fact, with the holidays over, there may even be more buyers out in January than in December. Also, January buyers may be more motivated. They've started doing their taxes and realize they need to buy. Or they've set a New Year's resolution to buy a home within the next 12 months.
Ultimately, as we enter the final quarter of 2014, there will no doubt be plenty of motivated buyers in the market, searching for just the right home at a time when there's less inventory. Doesn't that sound like a good time to sell?
Brendon DeSimone is the author of Next Generation Real Estate: New Rules for Smarter Home Buying & Faster Selling, the go-to insider's guide for navigating and better understanding the complex and ever-evolving world of buying and selling a home. DeSimone is the founder and principal of DeSimone & Co, an independent NYC real estate brokerage providing individualized services and a fresh, hands-on approach. Bringing more than a decade of residential real estate experience, DeSimone is a recognized national real estate expert and has appeared on top media outlets including CNBC, Good Morning America, HGTV, FOX News, Bloomberg and FOX Business. Consumers often call on Brendon for advice and to help them find a real estate agent. You can follow him on Twitter or Google Plus.
Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of Zillow or AOL.