Monthly Archives: September 2016

Create A Great Accent Wall

Bringing color into your space doesn’t require you to splash paint up everywhere. Sometimes, focusing on just one wall can have even greater impact, or at least allow you to slowly get used to the idea of color before you take the four-wall plunge.

“An accent wall can be a perfect way to break up a large room, to emphasize a particularly great architectural feature, or to instill a sense of the extraordinary in an otherwise completely ordinary space,” said homedit.

So how do you choose a color? And how do you know where to put it? Will it go with your existing stuff, or do you need to redecorate?

“To change only one wall in your room, a good first step is to choose a color that will pair well with your existing wall color,” said Behr. “For instance, if you have soft mocha walls, paint an accent wall in chocolate brown. If your room is painted a neutral color, add a bold color to highlight that area. Opposing colors in the color spectrum work well together, for example a classic combination of cool blue with a warm orange. Adjacent colors on the color wheel also mix well together, such as shades of green and blue. There is an endless combination of colors to choose from; you will find your perfect match with a little experimentation.”

Here are a few ideas to get you started.

The color: A strong jewel tone, like peacock blue.

Where to paint it: Looks great on a wall that draws the eye across the room

Goes with: Bright white for contrast, and layered with other strong colors as pops

Additional considerations: Dark colors will suck up the light in a space, which is why an accent wall is sometimes preferable to painting all the walls in a space. If you’re doing it yourself, you may need several coats to create an even finish. Be sure to use sufficient light when painting so you can see all the imperfections.

Painting the wall right next to the dining table might make it feel like the wall is closing in. Using the dark blue paint across the room creates a focal wall against the white chest and collection of mirrors.

The bright pink desk and red chairs shine against the bright blue wall – a great way to bring in primary colors and unexpected pops in a unique way.

Easily Create That Plush Hotel Bed At Home

We’ve all been there. You come back from vacation all nice and rested only to return to a bed that seemed fine before you left, and now is just a sad reminder of reality. The good news is, while you probably can’t live your life on vacation, you can have a bed that makes you feel like you’re permanently on one. And it’s actually it’s pretty easy to pull off.

 

1. Go white

When was the last time you saw any color on a hotel room bed? That’s not a coincidence. “Color scheme is of utmost importance,” said Huffington Post. “When Westin hotel designers trial tested their now-famous Heavenly Bed, they noticed a peculiar trend: “The all-white bed created this halo effect,” says Erin Hoover, vice president of design for Westin and Sheraton. “People thought a room had been renovated, even if it was just the bed that had been changed. It had a huge impact.” Hilton and Park Hyatt feature all-white beds in their rooms as well – stick to their color scheme (or lack thereof) to connote ultimate luxury in your bedroom.”

2. Focus on thread count

The sheets on hotel beds feel so sumptuous because the thread count generally starts at about 300. They manage to feel both soft and crisp because they are always cotton -“specifically Egyptian cotton,” said Apartment Therapy. That makes them “breathable and help you stay cool.”

If you’re trying to replicate the hotel bed feel when buying sheets, stay away from microfiber. The fabric doesn’t breathe, which makes temperature control difficult. It’s also a lint and hair magnet, which is problematic for many reasons, especially if you have animals.

3. Buy lots of flat sheets

Once you’ve identified the type of sheets to buy, you may want to get them in bulk. You may not have noticed that hotels don’t use a fitted sheet, but you probably noticed that how nicely tailored the bed is. That’s because they place a flat sheet on the bottom instead of a fitted sheet, and get it nice and tight against the mattress by using hospital corners.

To get the full hotel bed experience, you’ll need a couple more flat sheets – one to go against your skin, and one on top of the down comforter.

4. Add a down comforter

Speaking of down comforters…”Part of achieving the look and feel of luxury bedding includes multiple layers,” said The Balance. “Because of this, you may prefer choosing a lightweight down blanket for year round comfort. The Westin Hotel queen size down blanket has a 100% cotton baffle-boxed stitched cover and is filled with European goose down and it sells for $200.”

You can find them for less – We Googled “European goose down comforter” and found this one for $137 on Amazon. If you’re going to be using a duvet cover over your comforter (look for Egyptian cotton here, too, for the softness and breathability), it doesn’t matter what color your comforter is, and you might find a deal on one that is something other than white.

5. Address the pillows

Part of what makes the hotel bed so luxurious are the pillows. Buy one of the Westin Hotel “Heavenly Bed” feather and down king-size pillows, and you’ll pay $85 each, said The Balance. “The pillows have 50 percent goose feathers and 50 percent down. We found good alternatives for as low as $28 on Overstock.

To get the plush look of the hotel bed when it comes to pillows, alternate sizes and shapes – a couple of Queen or King-sized pillows, depending on the size of your bed, a few European pillows with shams, and maybe a boudoir or bolster pillow.

Home Projects For Your Specific Budget

Going green has been a trending topic over the last decade and will continue to be one of the real estate industry’s most talked about subjects moving forward. Unfortunately, many homeowners feel that improving the environmental friendliness of their home is an expensive and unattainable goal. The reality is that most green improvements actually save you money in the long run. So, as good weather returns and extra money from tax returns arrives, it’s the perfect time to take a fresh look at green home projects you can do now–at different price points that will meet your specific budget.

1. Replace your traditional light bulbs with LED bulbs

The price of LED bulbs has fallen drastically in the last few years, but homeowners can still get sticker-shock at seeing the upfront cost of replacing all their light bulbs (anywhere from $2 to upwards of $30 each). That being said, due to their long life and significantly lower energy use, LED lights have the potential to save homeowners a significant amount of money over the course of their lifespan as well as decrease the overall amount of greenhouse emissions. Energy.gov states that “widespread use of LED lighting has the greatest potential impact on energy savings in the United States.” This is a simple step that any homeowner can take to make their home more green and save money. Depending on your budget, you can replace several of your most used bulbs at once or simply replace one at a time.

2. Seal your ducts

Experts estimate that air leakage from ducting in homes can reduce heating and cooling efficiency by 20-30%. Sealing ducts is a very inexpensive solution that can save you up to $100 per year in energy bills as well as decrease the burning of fossil fuels. Sealing ductwork can be a DIY project that anyone willing to put in a little work can do successfully. For less than $40 and a few hours of time, you can make your home more efficient and save money on cooling costs during the hot summer months that will soon follow.

3. Replace fixtures with low-flow options

Water heating is the 2nd largest energy expense, so those long showers can really add up. Not only does it cost you more on your monthly bill, it increases water usage, and burns fossil fuels to heat the water. Swap out your showerhead with a low flow option for as low as $20 and you will see immediate savings. You can also move to low-flow faucets to further improve your water and energy use.

4. Landscape using water-saving methods

Spring is the perfect time to update your landscaping. If conserving water and lowering your bill is important to you, seek out ways to make your yard more environmentally friendly too. Use drip systems to water flower beds or gardens rather than over the top irrigation, which uses considerably more water. Look into swapping out that grass parking strip for bark and plants, which conserves water and provides curb appeal. In dry climates, ditch some or all of the grass in favor of drought-resistant plants or xeriscaping. Depending on the size of lawn, these changes can save tens of thousands of gallons of water yearly.

5. Find a Green Builder

If you are truly committed to going green with your home and you are looking to move in the near future, building a new home might make the most sense for you. Green home builders are in high-demand because they can seal, insulate, and use the right products so that your home is as air-tight and energy efficient as possible. Doing this during the building process is usually more cost-effective than trying to do it later as a remodel. A Boise home builder recently stated, “Green Building means two things: homes that are easier on the planet, and easier on your wallet.” If this is your philosophy and you have the means available, green home building might be the right option for you.

Helps First Time Buyers Drive Market

Despite rising price houses across Canada and much concern about affordability in hot Ontario and British Columbia markets, young people are still buying homes. The Toronto Real Estate Board reports that just over half of the buyers in the Greater Toronto Area in 2016 were first-timers. The board predicts that percentage will rise this year, even though the price for an average property rose by more than 17 per cent last year.

A new global survey by HSBC says 82 per cent of Canadian millennials expect to buy their first home within the next five years.

“This study challenges the myth that the home ownership dream is dead for millennials — be it in Canada or around the world,” says Larry Tomei, executive vice president at HSBC Canada. “In fact, more than three in 10 Canadian millennials already own their home.”

The HSBC survey found that 37 per cent of millennials homeowners in Canada got financial help from their family — “the Bank of Mom and Dad” — to fund their purchase. Another 21 per cent moved back in with their parents so they could save money for a down payment. Some also admitted that they needed help from family after buying a home and exceeding their budget.

Several organizations have recently tried to quantify how much first-time buyers are counting on family to help out with their first home purchase. A report by ratehub.ca says that 44 per cent of millennial homeowners had financial help from family.

“Millennials get all the attention when it comes to saving up for a down payment on a first home, but our research reveals generation Xers may have the most to complain about,” says Ratehub.ca’s Jordan Lavin, referencing the company’s 2016 Digital Money Trends Report. “Canadians in the 35-54 cohort were most likely to have put down only five per cent on their first home. Thirty-five per cent of generation Xers made the minimum down payment, compared to just 18 per cent of millennials.

“When it comes to surpassing the magical 20 per cent mark, after which CMHC insurance goes away and qualification becomes easier, generation Xers also scored last with less than one-third making a standard down payment on their first home. That could be because the Bank of Mom and Dad is favouring the younger generation. Millennials are 47 per cent more likely than generation Xers to have help from family when buying a first home.”

However, Mortgage Professionals Canada’s Annual State of the Residential Mortgage Market in Canadahas a different take.

“The data indicates that there is truth to the suggestion that parents are providing more help, but it also shows that this help is less significant than may be imagined,” says report author Will Dunning. In the most recent survey, 15 per cent of first-timers reported receiving a gift from parents or family, while another three per cent received a loan from family to help with the down payment. The total of 18 per cent is not much more than the long-term average of 14 per cent for family gifts and loans, says Dunning.

“Even at this recently elevated share, we cannot say that this source of funds has become an important driver of home buying, contrary to some often-heard opinions,” he says.

Dunning’s report concludes that rising house prices in Canada mean that it now takes about twice as long to save for a down payment as it did 15 years ago.

“Down payments by first-time buyers have been consistent over a long period of time, at about 20 per cent of purchase prices,” he says. “Given the greatly increased burden of down payments relative to incomes, that stability is surprising. It implies that it is now taking longer for first-time buyers to get ready to buy than it did in the past.”

The Seller Remains In a Property

In a residential real estate transaction, it is not unusual for the seller to want to remain in the property for a few days to a couple of weeks after the closing occurs. This is in no small part due to the fact that savvy sellers (or their savvy agents) know that closing dates are frequently delayed, and that sellers who schedule the movers and the next possession on the basis of a projected closing date, do so at their own peril.

The situation is common enough that, for some years, the California Association of REALTORS® (CAR) has produced a form (Seller in Possession Addendum) to facilitate the arrangement. (Writing up such an agreement is not something you would want to leave to an agent.) The form is intended for a short-term occupancy (i.e. less than thirty days). For any longer period, CAR has a more elaborate agreement called Residential Lease After Sale.

The short-term occupancy agreement specifies its term either as a number of calendar days or until a specific date. It also indicates the amount to be charged and provides for a late charge if an outside-of-escrow payment is not timely.

It is specified who shall pay for utilities and the maintenance responsibilities of the occupant. No assignment of the agreement or subletting is permitted. The new owner is to be allowed entry for a variety of purposes, as is typical of most lease/rental agreement. 24 hour notice is stipulated, unless there is an emergency. A security deposit is called for, and the seller/occupant is advised to obtain insurance for personal property.

In all, this one-page agreement might be called a Rental Agreement Lite. It is not as thorough as most lease/rental agreements (the CAR standard lease/rental agreement is 6 pages), but it covers the major issues.

Recently (December, 2016), CAR published a revision of the Seller in Possession form. Most notably, it is titled Seller License To Remain in Possession Addendum (my emphasis).It begins, “This Addendum is intended to grant Seller a license to remain in possession of, and use, the Property after the Close of Escrow.” In the section specifying the length of term it says, “Seller is granted a license to remain in possession of Property for ___ calendar days After Close of Escrow (or to ____ (date) until _____AM / PM.”

In the Consideration (formerly, Compensation) section, instead of the seller agreeing to pay for the term, “Seller agrees to pay Buyer (i) a non-refundable License Fee for the term…” There is no longer a security deposit, but there is a “delivery of Possession Fee” which is to be returned to the seller if the property is maintained as agreed — just like a security deposit.

Aside from the differences just noted, the former and revised versions are the same. It would seem, then, that the differences are more semantic than they are substantive.

But, if there really is no substantive difference, why introduce licensing language — which is relatively unfamiliar — into a document that everyone had found to be quite understandable?

The purpose is to (attempt to) make it clear that allowing the seller to remain for a short period is not creating a tenancy. A person who occupies a location by virtue of being granted a license to do so is not a tenant. (Think of having a ticket to a football game.) They may have the right to use a certain space under certain conditions, but they do not have an interest in that space. They can be removed for violating the terms of the license, but they are not evicted.

Now, as a matter of probable fact (different from a made-up one) it seems most likely that a court would treat the new Seller in Possession form as a rental agreement just like the old one. It walks like a duck, sounds like a duck … etc. A court would probably treat the seller/occupant like a tenant who has the rights of a tenant. To remove him would require a standard eviction.

But there is another “audience” who, hopefully, might find that the new license agreement makes a significant difference: mortgage underwriters.

Many residential lenders have strict guidelines (or, guidelines that are interpreted strictly) that require that the property be occupied by the borrower and that it not be rented to another party. Reportedly, more than a few loan problems have occurred because a seller-in-possession agreement was deemed to violate such a no-rental provision.

Accounts Serve No Purpose

Question: Why do we really have to give the lender money, which is held in non-interest bearing accounts, to guarantee we will pay our own taxes and our own insurance policies? Your comments would be appreciated.

Answer: This is a subject on which consumers should make their voices heard in the halls of Congress and in your own State legislatures.

Lenders usually want a borrower to pay what is referred to as “P.I.T.I.” This stands for principal, interest, taxes, and insurance, and if the borrower obtains a loan with equity of less than 20%, the borrower generally has to also pay for private mortgage insurance required by the lender.

The principal and interest portion of the mortgage payment is used to pay the monthly interest which accrues on the loan, and will reduce, ever so slowly, the outstanding principal balance.

But the extra payment for taxes and insurance is generally held by the lender in a non-interest bearing account, and when those real estate taxes and insurance premiums become due, the lender will then make the payment.

On a personal level, I am categorically opposed to any such escrow arrangement.

Consumers — homeowners — fully understand that if they do not pay their real estate taxes, their house can be sold at a tax sale. Consumers — homeowners — also fully understand that if their house is not insured, they can lose their house if a major catastrophe such as a fire occurs.

Most consumers are not going to let their home go to a tax sale, and are not going to let the insurance policy lapse. They usually have equity in their house, and they want to keep the roof over their head.

The practice works as follows. Let us assume the real estate taxes are $1,200.00 a year, and that the insurance policy is $600.00 a year. Dividing these total payments by 12, the homeowner is required to pay $150.00 each and every month to the lender. In approximately 15 states, the lender is required to pay interest on this escrow balance. (Search “states that pay interest on escrow accounts” on the internet.) But in the great majority of states in this country, consumers give hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars to lenders, who keep this money — presumably in escrow — and then when the tax bill and the insurance premium comes due, the payment is made out of these escrowed funds.

The Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act permits a lender to have a cushion of two months above the actual amount needed to pay these taxes and insurance policies. Thus, lenders often take advantage of this extra requirement, and the consumer ends up paying even more than would be normally required.

The theory of this cushion is that if the taxes, for example, become due on the 15th of the month, the lender may not yet have received the homeowner’s last payment before the lender has to pay the amount to the taxing authority. Thus, the lender obviously does not want to dig into its own pocket to make payments for the consumer.

The argument is made by lenders that if the consumer does not pay the real estate taxes, the house could be sold at a tax sale, and the lender would find that they have lost their investment. However, the United States Supreme Court, in a 1983 case entitled Mennonite Board of Missions v. Adams, made it clear that before any taxing authority can sell a house at a tax sale, all interested parties — including lenders — must be notified and given an opportunity to bring the tax bill current. Thus, the lender, as well as the homeowner — should have ample opportunity to protect the house if a tax sale is scheduled by the taxing authorities.

Also, dealing with insurance, most lenders require the insurance company give the lender, as well as the homeowner, thirty days notice of cancellation before the policy is in fact terminated. Again, both the homeowner and the lender should have ample opportunity to bring the insurance policy current if there is a threatened cancellation of the insurance policy.

Let’s face it. Lenders like the opportunity to play the float. While many lenders claim they do not have the use of these escrowed funds, they clearly can use them as compensating balances, or for other governmental financial requirements. And some unscrupulous lenders actually have been known to tap into these so-called escrowed funds until the tax and insurance bills are due.

Shooting for The Moon or Failure to Launch

We saw the commercial during the Super Bowl. The one that explained, “Here’s what we were thinking: What if we did for mortgages what the internet did for buying music, and plane tickets and shoes?” That talked about turning “an intimidating process” into “an easy one.” That said you could get a mortgage on your phone. It was what many called mortgage’s “iPhone moment,” for obvious reasons.

But, a little over a year after that eye-opening – and eyebrow-raising – moment from Rocket Mortgage, the fully digital arm of Quicken Loans, how’s it going?

Pretty well, apparently.

The 3…2…1…launch of Rocket Mortgage resulted in “a traffic spike of ‘thousands of people’ in the minutes following the ad,” said CNN Money. And in the time since? “One year after Quicken Loans’ Rocket Mortgage Super Bowl ad ignited a nationwide conversation about the power of the American homebuyer, the largest FinTech lender funded $7 billion of its record $96 billion in total closed loan volume in 2016 through Rocket Mortgage,” the online lender said. “In just 11 months Rocket Mortgage’s closed volume alone would already rank as a top-30 national mortgage lender, among the nearly 50,000 banks, credit unions, brokers and mortgage companies in the United States.”

That accounted for more than “$7 billion through its proprietary online engine. As the country’s second-largest overall home lender, Quicken closed more than $96 billion in 2016, setting an all-time company record.”

How did that happen?

At a time when the industry was desperate for greater participation from millennials in the real estate market, Rocket Mortgage spoke their language. “You mean, I can get a mortgage right here on my phone? Interesting.

Subsequent Rocket Mortgage commercials have featured young and young-ish folks of varying ethnicities, plus one showcasing a Vulcan couple and another pandering to college students. Language focuses on appealing ideas like, “Skip the bank, skip the paperwork, and go completely online,” and focuses on the hassle of conventional routes by offering “a mortgage solution in minutes.”

It’s pretty clear who they’re talking to, and, in fact, “According to Quicken, the growth of Rocket Mortgage comes from its appeal to a “new generation” of homebuyers,” said HousingWire. “Per Quicken’s data, 80% of Rocket Mortgage users were first-time homebuyers, while two-thirds of Rocket Mortgage customers used the platform for a home purchase mortgage, rather than a refinance.”

Those numbers aren’t surprising considering millennials are precisely who Rocket Mortgage was going after with their pointed language, promise to streamline loans, and, especially, shorten the process (by up to 12 days, they say). Breaking down those numbers a bit further reveals that “of the first-time buyers that used Rocket Mortgage, 43% were 35 years of age or younger, while 57% were over the age of 35,” they said. That second part is surprising, especially since many of these people still remember the last real estate crash and may still not be over it.