MONEY home improvement

June Home Maintenance Guide: Do These 11 Things This Month

Garden with pathway
Peter Starman—Getty Images

Make sure your home is ready for summer, with these maintenance projects from Porch.com.

June has the longest daylight hours, making this month perfect for getting outside and enjoying warmer weather. In some parts of the country, June is the start of summer storms and homeowners may need to prepare for sudden showers or power outages. In other parts of the country, June brings increased heat and dryness; homeowners will want to focus on water conservation and shade. Regardless of your particular weather pattern, there are plenty of ways to keep your home beautiful, safe and functional in June.

Gardening checklist

  • keep your raised beds and container gardens moist
  • deadhead spring blooms
  • plant sun-loving herb seeds like basil, chives, thyme, and sage
  • plants edibles like pumpkins, melons, beets, carrots, beans and summer/winter squashes

Weekend projects

  • check smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors
  • service air conditioning unit
  • swap out seasonal clothes and bedding
  • turn over mattresses
  • organize garage for summer activities
  • power wash the patio and clean off outdoor furniture

Check out more maintenance calendars from Porch.

Tip of the Month

Create a summer car emergency kit! Fill a container or box with bug spray, bug bite relief, sunblock, hats, and an umbrella. Keep an extra gallon of water to make sure everyone stays hydrated while on the road.

More from Porch:
Moving Time: DIY or Hire Movers?
Do You Really Need Professional Pest Control Service?

Anne Reagan is the editor-in-chief of home improvement website Porch.com.

 

MONEY Tourism

7 Cities Where the Sharing Economy Is Freshly Under Attack

140529_FF_NerdWallet_Lyft_1
A Lyft car in San Francisco courtesy of Lyft

As Uber, Lyft, and airbnb expand around the globe, even smaller cities like Grand Rapids are feeling forced to regulate sharing economy businesses.

Big cities such as San Francisco and New York have been confronting the unusual tax and regulatory conundrums posed by sharing economy businesses like Lyft, Uber, and Airbnb for years. Now it’s Grand Rapids’ turn.

As rideshare services like Uber and Lyft expand rapidly around the globe, and as short-term rental operations like airbnb grow to the point of being genuine competitors to hotels, local officials don’t quite know what to make of them—and the kneejerk reaction of regulators is often to side with the tradition businesses these sharing economy services intend to disrupt.

It hasn’t helped that sharing economy businesses have been featured in a string of ugly incidents lately. There was the “XXX Freak Fest” orgy that took place when an unsuspecting tenant rented out his New York City apartment on airbnb last Month. Then there was an Uber driver accused of assault in Oklahoma City, and another Uber driver in San Francisco who was charged with hitting a passenger, and who was found to have convictions for felony drug dealing and misdemeanor battery, despite being subjected to Uber’s background check.

What’s more, no fewer than 14 states have issued warnings–fairly vague, sometimes misleading, but still scary warnings–about the insurance risks in driving or being a passenger in rideshare operations. The companies whose business models are being threatened by the sharing economy are taking action too: In Las Vegas, for instance, a local cab company posted a memo warning that it would terminate any “driver that picks up a passenger using an Uber, Lyft or Sidecar application” in a company taxi or limo. And even cities that seem more open to rideshare businesses sometimes aren’t entirely on board with how these tech companies operate. The Times-Picayune reported that the New Orleans city council is discussing new regulations that would allow Uber’s ridesharing service, but would keep certain taxi rules–such as $25 minimums for luxury sedan rides–that defy “Uber’s insistence on open market pricing.”

As for individual cities in the U.S. and Europe that are stepping up efforts to rein in or ban sharing economy businesses entirely, here are seven hot spots:

Albuquerque, New Mexico
In late May, the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission voted unanimously to order the ridesharing service Lyft to cease operations in the state. Why? The same reason most often cited against ridesharing companies: They’re accused of being commercial taxi services whose drivers don’t have the appropriate licenses and certificates, and who haven’t paid the same fees as taxis. The commission warned Lyft and its drivers that each violation is subjected to a fine up to $10,000.

Barcelona, Spain
After being pressured by taxi companies and hotels, among others, officials in Barcelona are trying to crack down on Uber and airbnb and other sharing economy businesses, with tough fines for unlicensed drivers and a temporary freeze on licenses for owners who want to rent apartments as tourist lodging.

Brussels, Belgium
Uber launched in Brussels in February, and in April, officials banned the service in the city, threatening to hit drivers with a €10,000 fine for picking up a passenger via the app.

Buffalo, New York
A month after Lyft introduced its rideshare service in Buffalo in late April, the city’s director of permits and inspections recommended that police issue summonses to Lyft drivers, who he has determined to be the equivalent of unlicensed livery cab drivers. He also threatened that cars used in rideshare operations could be impounded.

Grand Rapids, Michigan
Strict new regulations are being proposed for owners who want to rent rooms via airbnb or other short-term services. If accepted, a homeowner would have to pay $291 for a license, the home must be owner-occupied in order to advertise room rentals (i.e., no vacation rentals), and only one room in the home can be rented at a time. Also, the city would grant no more than 200 licenses, and owners would have to notify all neighbors within 300 feet of the property about the rental situation. As tough as these rules seem, they could have been worse: A year ago, Grand Rapids was suggesting that homeowners would have to pay $2,000 for a license to advertise and rent via airbnb.

Kansas City, Missouri
Police began issuing tickets to Lyft drivers in Kansas City soon after the service was launched in late April. City officials had deemed that the rideshare service was illegal because drivers hadn’t gone through the training and certification required of taxi drivers. After some legal maneuvering, Lyft is still in action in the city, and a lengthy court battle is expected before the situation is settled.

Malibu, California
The Malibu city council recent voted in favor of issuing subpoenas to over 60 short-term lodging rental websites, including airbnb, according to the Los Angeles Times. There are hundreds of ads for short-term vacation rentals in Malibu, but only around 50 are officially registered with the city and pay the same 12% tax that hotels pay. Officials want to make sure that the city isn’t missing out on hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxes from other rentals. They’re also hoping to crack down on the “party house” atmosphere in neighborhoods that have become popular for vacation rentals.

MONEY buying a home

Half of Millennials Will Ask Mom and Dad to Help Them Buy a Home

For millennials struggling to buy homes, it's mom and dad to the rescue, a new survey says.

When debt and lack of savings stand in the way of homeownership, what’s an eager millennial to do? Ask mom and dad to pitch in, according to a new Trulia survey.

Half of young adult homebuyers, unable to make the investment on their own, said they plan to ask family members for help with a down payment. Meanwhile, 65% said they would not give up their car in order to save to put money down — and 45% said they need their smartphone. For 15%, parting with their Netflix subscription was also not an option.

Almost half of respondents said they didn’t know how much money they’d need to put down in the first place. Of those who did know, nearly two in five said they would put down less than 10%. A 20% down payment is considered best, because it qualifies buyers for the best interest rates and generally eliminates the need for mortgage insurance.

The combination of asking family for money and putting so little down could be “a little bit of a recipe for disaster,” said Michael Corbett, Trulia’s real estate expert.

“I would rather someone not purchase a home, than purchase a home they can’t afford or have to stretch to afford,” he added. Because it creates a “nasty catch-22”: a smaller down payment means a larger mortgage, which means lenders will impose a higher income requirement.

Money 101: What Should I Do Before I Buy a Home?

They may be stretching to afford it, yet millennials comprised the largest group of recent buyers, 31% of purchases, according to the National Association of Realtors’ Generational Trends Study.

This was no surprise to NAR chief economist Lawrence Yun, who noted that younger buyers have the same “American dream” aspiration to own property as the older generation. Which poses a conflict: they “have the desire but not the capacity.”

Indeed, for many, existing debt doesn’t allow them to save enough for a down payment. Student debt delayed homeownership for 54% of first-time buyers, according to a NAR study. Of those facing difficulty, 56% of “Gen Y” attributed the delay to student loans.

The numbers show that young buyers need to wait until they’re ready, Yun and Corbett agreed. Given that homeownership is a major expenditure, buyers should have a good sense of whether they’ll need to relocate in the near future, and how secure their job is.

Money 101: Should I Rent or Buy a Home?

In the event of unemployment, Corbett said, a millennial buyer is unlikely to have enough saved up.

“You don’t want to be strapped,” he added. “When the music stops, you don’t want to be caught.”

MONEY home prices

Why You Should Be House Hunting for Foreclosures Right Now

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Tetra Images—Alamy

If you bought a foreclosure a year ago you probably overpaid. Good news: The discounts are back.

Last year, if you went shopping for a bargain foreclosed home, chances are you were thwarted by investors – some of them Wall Street-backed firms with massive bank accounts – thrusting wads of cash at every decent under-$200,000 home in sight.

And, in fact, investors were buying up so many homes, so fast, they pushed prices of foreclosures past what they were worth, according to new data from RealtyTrac. For three months last summer, the average foreclosure sold at a premium to its market value.

Well, looks like it’s safe to go shopping again. As investors have pulled back on their buying, discounts on bank-owned homes have drifted up again this year to 7% in March, RealtyTrac says.

Foreclosure Discounts
Source: RealtyTrac.

That’s good news for buyers willing to put in the effort on some renovations in exchange for a deal. After all, that’s the whole point of buying a foreclosure. Sure, it often needs work – maybe even a lot of work if it’s one of those “anger management” homes exited by a bank-hating owner – but if the subsequent gain in home value exceeds the cost of improvements you’ve just set yourself up for a nice profit whenever you sell.

Back in 2011, those discounts got as high as 15% (this is for bank-owned property listed on the open market, not foreclosures sold at courthouse auctions – those discounts are much steeper). Such values lured investors onto the scene seeking to tap increased rental demand.

Over the last year, institutional investors (defined generally as investors buying 10 or more properties) have cut back, though not in all markets. They’ve generally shifted out of boom-bust hotspots like Phoenix and southern California into more stable areas in the Midwest and South.

So too, the discounts vary by city. The best deals tend to be found in places where the number of foreclosures remain relatively high and economies are struggling—Ohio, for example, and Rochester, N.Y. and Scranton, Pa. But they’re pretty juicy in some large metropolitan areas too, like 11% in Chicago, according to RealtyTrac data.

City Discount
New York City 10%
Los Angeles 2%
Chicago 11%
Philadelphia 10%
Houston 21%
Washington, D.C. 2%
Miami/Ft. Lauderdale 5%
Atlanta 9%
San Francisco/Oakland 2%
Detroit 18%
Riverside, Calif. 4%
Phoenix 5%
Seattle 8%
Minneapolis 7%
San Diego 3%
St. Louis 21%

The trend toward bigger discounts, notes Chris Clothier, co-owner of Memphis Invest, may reflect the quality of the foreclosures now on the market: The more renovation they require, the higher discount they need to offer to attract buyers.

Plus, he says, more banks are making repairs themselves before putting them on the market. Such nicer properties might not even be listed officially as foreclosures and therefore wouldn’t show up in the numbers, Clothier says. “They’d rather fix them up and sell them at a higher price than take the steep discount,” he says. “You might be buying a foreclosure and you don’t know it.”

It’s certainly true that the number of foreclosures on the market has declined significantly, to 9.2% of sales in April, according to RealtyTrac, though it really does depend on the area. Take California, says vice president Daren Blomquist. Foreclosures are way down in hot markets like San Diego and Los Angeles, but in inland California cities (Modesto and Stockton) the percentage of sales that are bank-owned top 20%.

“Distressed property may be more rare, but you’re also buying in a housing market that’s improving and growing,” so it’s not as risky, Blomquist says. “Arguably the best time to buy a distressed property is in a market more like the one we’re entering right now.”

More from Money: When Wall Street Becomes a Landlord

 

MONEY buying a home

Buyers Guide: How to Beat the Competition in a Hot Housing Market

Buying a home in a city where homes go fast? These strategies will help you win the bidding war.

The average home spent 86 days on the market in April, according to Realtor.com. But that’s downright luxurious compared to areas like Denver, for example, where the average house sold in just 25 days. In these cities, bidding wars are the rule: Tyler McKenzie of the Seattle-King County Association of Realtors, says one Seattle home spent a mere week on the market and received over 40 offers.

More: 12 CitiesWhere Homes Are Flying Off the Market

How can buyers compete? These tips will help your offer come out on top.

Be prepared to move fast

When houses are selling fast, you’ve got to be faster than rival buyers. “No buyer can succeed if they don’t pull out all the stops,” says McKenzie.

Do your research ahead of time to hone in on exactly what you’re looking for. Paula Swayne, president of the Sacramento Association of Realtors, says buyers should check out houses in their target neighborhood four-to-six months in advance.

Hire a realtor with local expertise who can prepare you for what homes will cost. That way, when you do find that dream home, you’ll feel comfortable making an offer that will be taken seriously.

More: How to Choose A Real Estate Agent

When you’re ready to house hunt in earnest, don’t just rely on general searches of listings sites like Trulia and Zillow. Ask your agent to put you on an email list so you’re notified as soon as houses hit the market.

Have your finances in order

Unless you’re paying cash, you’ll need to demonstrate to the seller that you’ll be able to seal financing and close on time. Get pre-approved—not pre-qualified—for a mortgage in advance. In Denver, “pre-qualification is not worth the paper it’s written on,” says Denver Metro Association of Realtors’s Anthony Rael.

Even the type of mortgage may affect seller perceptions. A low-down-payment FHA loan, for example, may lead sellers to assume the buyer has less-than-excellent credit and may not be able to close when the time comes, says Ruby Grynberg, founder of Salmon Bay Community Lending.

Have all your paperwork in order, and be ready to document the funds you’ll use for your down payment.

Don’t pussyfoot around

If you’re financially ready to buy, waiting around won’t do you much good. There’s no “gem under the rock,” McKenzie says. Not only do you risk prices going higher, but interest rates as well.

Byron Bogaard, CEO of the Central Valley Association of Realtors in northern California, recommends researching pricing trends in your market (ask your agent and check the Data page of Realtor.com) to help you gauge how quickly you need to move.

Then, once you find a home you love, you must put in an offer immediately. Talk negotiating strategy with your agent ahead of time. In the case of multiple bids, where homes are going for above the asking price, you might consider what’s called an “escalation clause” that automatically tops any other offers by $1,000. Just be sure to set a cap to ensure your bid doesn’t go above your comfort zone, says Don Frommeyer, president of the National Association of Mortgage Brokers.

Make the seller’s life easy

You don’t have to pay cash or even offer the highest price to win the deal. Be an easy customer. Show the buyer you’re serious by scheduling a home inspection immediately, no later than a week after agreeing on a price, Rael says.

Offer to rent the house back to the seller once you own it. Brendon Desimone, consumer blogger for Zillow.com, says sellers often need the proceeds from their home sale to buy a new one but don’t want to move twice. Giving them the option to rent for a month or three while they search for a new house might give you an edge.

Pay your seller’s closing fees. If there’s a bidding war, offering to take care of closing fees (not the agent’s commission, which can run as high as 7% of the sale price) may satisfy the seller more than increasing your bid, Swayne says.

“Seller’s closing costs aren’t that much,” says Swayne, and covering that expense “makes the seller feel really good.”

More: What closing costs do sellers pay?

Write a letter to the seller

It might sound corny, but tugging on the seller’s heartstrings can win the day. Swayne advises clients to send a letter to the seller, along with a group photo, explaining how owning the house would affect their lives.

In one case, a buyer wrote that they could picture their young daughter, all grownup, walking down the home’s staircase in her prom dress. It worked. Not only did that family get the house, but Swayne says the seller even accepted a lower offer.

A personal letter increased an offer’s chances of success by 9% in 2013, says Redfin.

MONEY real estate

Retiring? Stay or Go, You’ve Got Moves to Make

Housing accounts for the biggest part of your costs in retirement. So spend wisely.

Once you start looking at retirement over a horizon of five years or so, it’s time to start thinking about how you’ll manage your biggest single asset: your home.Whether you intend to stay put or move to that lake cottage, keeping real estate costs under control is key to your security.

Those costs may be larger than you think. On average, housing makes up one-third of spending for those ages 54 to 74—the largest single category. More than half of Americans ages 55 to 64 are carrying mortgages, higher than in previous generations. “Paying mortgage debt into retirement reduces your lifetime wealth and limits your spending,” says Pam Villarreal, a senior fellow at the National Center for Policy Analysis.

Staying in your house, with your mortgage paid, doesn’t free you from making decisions. Few pre-­retirees think about adapting their homes for retirement living. “It’s hard for active people in their fifties or sixties to think about what they might want 15 years from now,” says Bonnie Sewell, a financial adviser in Leesburg, Va.  Should you end up not being able to get around easily, though, you’ll have fewer choices and less ability to make them. So take action now:

Moving? Don’t take your mortgage with you. Nearly 30% of boomers plan to relocate when they retire, according to a new AARP survey. Many of them are seeking to cut costs by moving to a lower-tax state. Carry a mortgage, however, and this strategy may not have a big impact on your cash flow, as a recent analysis by Villarreal found. Mortgage debt can easily erode the benefits of lower taxes. Run your own numbers at whynotmove.org.

Cash flow

Sure, if you’ve got plenty of cash, mortgage payments may not seem like an issue. But there’s security, and flexibility, in not carrying debt. “Many of my clients see having no mortgage payments as a way of freeing up cash for future health care costs,” says Philadelphia financial planner Cathy Seeber.

If you plan to stay, renovate now. By your late fifties, your kids are probably out of the house, and the tuition bills are behind you—or nearly so. Time to renovate? Use this opportunity to make a few additional changes that will let you stay in your home for the next couple of decades. “The last thing you want to do in your seventies or eighties is manage a major rehab in an emergency,” says Sewell.

If you have a house with stairs, make sure you can live on one floor if necessary, says Mary Jo Peterson, a design consultant in Brookfield, Conn.  That may mean expanding a powder room to a full bath. You can also add design touches that appeal to people of all ages—a sloped ­entrance-walk instead of steps is more convenient for moms with strollers and college students dragging suitcases, not just the elderly. Find more ideas at aarp.org/­livable-communities, and your family home can last for generations.

 

MONEY buying a home

Homes You Can Buy For $250,000 in … Portland, Nashville and Philadelphia

If your home shopping budget is around $250,000, here are some choice examples of what you’ll get for your money in three very different cities. Listings from Realtor.com.

MONEY buying a home

Did a Heartfelt Letter to the Seller Land You a Home (or Fall Flat)? Let Us Know!

Were you competing to buy a house, and wrote a letter to the seller to persuade them to pick your offer? MONEY wants to hear about it.

For a new project, MONEY is looking for people who tried to win a bidding war or multiple offer situation (and maybe saved money in the process) by telling the seller something about themselves and connecting on a personal level.

Whether your letter scored you the property or wasn’t enough to win over the seller, we’d love to speak with you. If you’d like to participate, email realestate@moneymail.com with your story and the letter you wrote (if you still have it).

We won’t use your story unless we speak with you first.

MONEY

30-year Mortgage Rates Flat This Week

Average mortgage rates edged up a hair to 4.14% with an average 0.5 points from last week’s 4.12%, according to Freddie Mac data. That’s up from 3.91% a year ago.

Related: Which Mortgage is Right for Me?

The rate on the average 15-year mortgage was 3.23% with 0.5 points, up from 3.03% a year ago. For adjustable-rate mortgages, the rate on a five-year ARM averaged 2.93% this week with a 0.4 point and a one-year ARM averaged 2.40% with a 0.4 point.

MortgageRates060514
Source: Freddie Mac survey.

 

 

MONEY Housing Market

The Most Underwater Homes — That Aren’t in CA, FL, AZ or NV

It's not just the states hit hardest by the housing bust where homes are underwater, though it may seem that way from the stats.

It’s no surprise that lots of homeowners in the states hit hardest by the collapse of housing prices – California, Florida, Arizona and Nevada – don’t yet have enough equity to pay off their mortgage. That’s despite the healthy increase in home prices.

See our story: Where Are the Most Underwater Homes

Nine of the top 10 most underwater cities (using the largest 170 metros) are in Florida, with Las Vegas rounding it out, according to research firm CoreLogic. Finally, we get to Flint, Mich.

So, here, just to mix it up a bit, we give you the most underwater cities that are NOT in what’s known among real estate geeks as CANFLAZ:

City % Underwater
Flint, Mich. 27.5%
Detroit 26.9%
Elgin, Ill. 24.4%
Toledo 24.1%
Cleveland 23.9%
Chicago 22.4%
Memphis 21.2%
Akron 21.2%
Cincinnati 20.8%
Lansing, Mich. 20.3%
Atlantic City 20.3%
Dayton 20.1%
Atlanta 19.5%
Lake County, Ill. 19.3%
Savannah 19.2%

Source: CoreLogic

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