Zillow is said to be interested in buying its competitor, Trulia.com. If so, let's hope they don't ruin what makes Trulia so great.
UPDATED—July 28, 4:25 P.M.
In case you haven’t heard, rumors are swirling that real estate giant Zillow.com plans to purchase real estate slightly-less-giant Trulia.com. Both companies’ stock have shot up on the news, and if the deal succeeds in going through, the new company (Trillow? Zulia?) will have almost 50% of the online listings market.
That’s good for shareholders. What about for consumers? When two businesses decide to tie the knot, you never know what aspects of your favorite company will make it through to the other side. And in the case of Trulia, it would be a tragedy if a ZillowTrulia mashup killed its best feature: Trulia’s amazing visualization of local data.
Sure, Zillow has local data too. And it’s not bad. There’s the average and median sales price, stats on specific neighborhoods (demographics, education, home prices over time), and even a nice little map showing the quality of schools in your chosen area. But Trulia takes all this to another level. Here’s a Zillow data visualization on schools:
Trulia has pretty much the same thing. But it also has these.
Heat maps of crime rates:
Local listing price heat maps:
There’s even a national home price heat map:
And that’s not even all of the data maps Trulia offers (I just assumed you might be tired of scrolling). The site also has similar visualizations for hazards (like flood zones), demographics, and amenities.
It’s hard to overstate how useful all of this is. When you’re looking for a house in a large area, getting the big picture is absolutely essential in making the right decision. How far am I from work if I live here? How much cheaper are home prices if I move a few blocks that way? Which areas are safe enough to live in, and what kind of stuff is there do in this neighborhood? These are all questions every buyer asks, and Trulia makes it very, very, easy to get the answers. Its amazing maps have long been cited as a competitive advantage.
So Zillow, if you do end up buying Trulia, you’re getting a pretty amazing product. Just please don’t screw it up.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article stated that together Zillow and Trulia received 90% of online listings web traffic. According to Zillow, that number is actually 48% (not including local sites).
One Minute Money: Thinking of buying a home? Money's Kristen Bellstrom shows you what you should do before you make an offer on your dream house.
A new luxury high-rise on the Upper West Side of Manhattan will include a separate entrance for tenants in "affordable" housing units.
New York City has approved plans for a new luxury high-rise on the Upper West Side of Manhattan that will include a separate entrance for tenants in “affordable” housing, reports the New York Post. Even the conservative Post manages to see the class angle, calling this a plan for a “poor door.” (The quotation marks are the Post‘s.)
This controversy has been roiling in New York for a while. The Daily Mail unearths a 2013 quotation in a real-estate trade paper from the developer of another project (not the one on the West Side) defending separate entrances. It’s one for the ages:
‘No one ever said that the goal was full integration of these populations,’ said David Von Spreckelsen, senior vice president at Toll Brothers. ‘So now you have politicians talking about that, saying how horrible those back doors are. I think it’s unfair to expect very high-income homeowners who paid a fortune to live in their building to have to be in the same boat as low-income renters, who are very fortunate to live in a new building in a great neighborhood.’
Let’s keep the rich and not-so-rich in separate boats. Nice. You can make arguments for what the developers are doing here—here’s one—but, wow, that’s not it.
If you don’t live in New York and you aren’t familiar with the crazy real estate market here, this story might need a little translation. Your questions answered:
If the developers don’t want to mix different tenants, why include “affordable” units at all?
Because they are getting subsidies—pretty valuable ones—to build them.
There is not enough of any kind of housing in NYC, but housing for people with low-to-middle incomes is especially scarce. The long-term answer to that is to build lots more housing, and there’s a case to be made that building in NYC should just be a lot easier than it is. The fear on the other side is that new construction will mostly go to the luxury end of the market.
One stop-gap has been to encourage developers to encourage builders to include various kinds of affordable units in their projects. There may be tax benefits passed on to buyers of condos in buildings with affordable units, for example. The Upper West Side project, developed by a group called Extell, got zoning rights to build more units, says the blog West Side Rag, and Extell can sell those rights to other nearby developers.
West Side Rag also says the developer argues that, since the affordable units are in a separate part of the building, it legally must have its own entrance. That could have been avoided had the affordable units been mixed throughout the building. But this particular high-rise offers coveted views, including of the Hudson River. Spreading the units around would presumably have meant giving up some prime spots to affordable units, cutting profits for the developer.
To qualify for these units, a tenant would need to earn less than 60% of the area’s median income, adjusted for family size, says West Side Rag. For a family of four, that’s about $52,ooo a year. That’s twice the Federal poverty line and above the median U.S. household income, though making ends meet in NYC on that much, with a couple of kids, isn’t easy. That family could rent a two bedroom under this program for about $1,100 a month. So yeah, New York’s version of affordable is different than in other places.
One year ago today Detroit became the largest city in US history to file for bankruptcy. See what changes took place in the city in the years leading up to the momentous declaration.
The Motor City, the former automotive capital of the nation, has seen a steady and precipitous decline in population and economic growth over the last half-century. The automotive industry’s move out of Detroit, poor political decision-making, and the collapse of the housing industry can all be viewed as causes for the city’s decline, among other reasons. On July 18, 2013, unable to pay its looming debts, Detroit became the largest city in U.S. history to enter bankruptcy.
However, this momentous step did not happen overnight. Detroit was hit with a housing crisis in 2008, a sign of economic trouble that foreshadowed the city’s bankruptcy. A major outcome of that crisis is the city’s ongoing blight epidemic. Vast stretches of abandoned residential property lay on the outskirts of the once sprawling 139-square-mile city.
As Steven Gray wrote in 2009, “If there’s any city that symbolizes the most extreme effects of the nation’s economic crisis and, in particular, America’s housing crisis, it is Detroit.”
While many of the buildings and houses within the city have disappeared, evidence of a former era can be found in the more than 80,000 blighted houses remaining combined with an estimated 5,000 incidents of arson each year, according to the New York Times Magazine.
Despite all this, the Motor City could have a bright road ahead. There has been a recent surge in growth, spurred by a sense of opportunity in the ever-evolving city. New businesses are popping up and property is being rebuilt and re-purposed for urban farming, startups and public art.
Google Street view images, compiled here into GIFs, offer a unique look at how Detroit’s landscape has changed over the past four to six years leading up to the city’s bankruptcy a year ago.
Under a tech mogul's proposed breakup plan, some "states" are more equal than others.
Tim Draper, the Silicon Valley venture capitalist behind companies like Tesla and Skype, has a crazy idea. In order to make California more responsive to the needs of local communities, it should be broken up into six separate states: South California; Central California; North California; West California; Silicon Valley; and Jefferson.
This concept might seem more fit for a speculative novel than reality, but Draper’s dream may actually get its moment in the sun. On Tuesday, he informed USA Today that his Six Calfornias campaign had received 1.3 million signatures—far more than the roughly 808,000 required for the initiative to appear on the 2016 ballot.
Draper’s proposal still has virtually zero chance of ever happening. Even if the ballot initiative is approved (a December Field Poll showed only a quarter of residents support it), a California breakup would require the approval of Congress. And it is all but impossible to imagine a GOP-dominated House ever approving a plan that could potentially create 10 new Democratic senators.
That said, the venture capital mogul has apparently captured the imagination of many Californians who yearn for a more representative and responsive government than the one in Sacramento. In that light, it’s worth examining what six new Californias would really look like.
The major flaw in Draper’s plan is that the six new states he has outlined are not economically equal. In fact, they’re so unequal that many have wondered if the whole concept isn’t just a techno-libertarian plot to free Silicon Valley from having to share its wealth.
Under the breakup plan, some new “states” would be getting a pretty good deal. Others, well, not so much. Here’s a breakdown of each region and how it compares on various economic metrics. (All state comparisons are relative to the current United States.)
The common theme: Things look pretty darn good for Silicon Valley and West California (which includes Los Angeles), at the expense of making Jefferson and Central California two of the poorest states in the union.
Silicon Valley: San Francisco, Oakland, San Jose
North California: Sacramento, Santa Rosa
West California: Los Angeles, Santa Barbara
South California: San Diego, Anaheim
Central California: Fresno, Bakersfield
Jefferson: Redding, Chico
West California: 11.5 million (8th in the U.S., similar to Ohio)
South California: 10.8 million (8th in the U.S., similar to Georgia)
Silicon Valley: 6.8 million (14th in the U.S., similar to Massachusetts)
Central California: 4.2 million (27th in the U.S., similar to Kentucky)
North California: 3.8 million (29th in the U.S., similar to Oklahoma)
Jefferson: 949,000 (45th in U.S., similar to Montana)
Personal Income Per Capita
Silicon Valley: $63,288 (1st in U.S., similar to Connecticut)
North California: $48,048 (7th in U.S., similar to Wyoming)
West California: $44,900 (15th in the U.S., similar to Illinois)
South California: $42,980 (21th in the U.S., similar to Vermont)
Jefferson: $36,147 (40th in the U.S., similar to Arizona)
Central California: $33,510 (50th in the US, similar to Idaho)
Percentage Living in Poverty
Silicon Valley: 12.8% (35th highest U.S., similar to Colorado)
North California: 13.7% (28th highest in U.S., similar to Illinois)
West California: 15.2% (21st highest in U.S., similar to California)
South California: 17.8% (7th highest in U.S., similar to West Virginia)
Central California: 19.9% (2nd highest in U.S, similar to New Mexico)
Jefferson: 20.8% (2nd highest in U.S., similar to New Mexico)
Median Home Price in Largest City
Silicon Valley (San Jose): $708,500
West California (Los Angeles): $520,500
South California (San Diego): $494,500
North California (Sacramento): $247,400
Jefferson (Redding): $207,600
Central California (Fresno): $165,000
Number of State Universities
West California: 9
Silicon Valley: 7
South California: 7
North California: 4
Central California: 4
Alejandro Bedoya, midfielder for the U.S. World Cup team, talks about blowing a paycheck, investment strategies, and an important money lesson from his father.+ READ ARTICLE
Bedoya on his biggest money mistake:
My first paycheck, I remember, I put in the bank. And the second one…you know, in Europe everybody is always…they want to look good…and it’s probably buying one of those brand name designer things that, I remember, for that month it was like probably my whole paycheck. Buying things like that. I mean, those things are cool to have, but it’s not really important.”
Bedoya on what he’s learned from his father about money:
He’s always taught me that it’s not what you’re worth, it’s what you negotiate. That holds true in every aspect. It’s really how you handle things and how you go about what you think you deserve. I feel like that has helped me out a lot with the opportunities I’ve gotten with money and investments.”
Average rents in big cities rose more than 5% in the 12-month period ending in June 2013, while wages rose a measly 1%
Rent prices are going up in cities across the country even as wages stagnate, making it ever harder to afford to live in big cities.
In the 25 largest rental markets in the country, rents rose faster than wages, according to the latest data published by the real estate website Trulia.
Miami, New York, Dallas and Phoenix and 21 other big cities saw average rent increases of 5.5% in June compared with the same month last year. Meanwhile, annual average wages increased nationwide just 1.0% in 2013 compared with 2012, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The two data sets reflect slightly different time periods, but the trend is clear, said Jed Kolko, chief economist at Trulia: affordability is worsening.
“Wage data is up one percent,” said Kolko. “Rent is rising at a pace much faster than that.”
San Francisco had the highest median rent for 2-bedroom apartments, at $3,550, according to Trulia, while Miami residents paid the highest percentage of their wages on rent for an average 2-bedroom, or 62% of wages. New Yorkers paid 56% of their wages on rent, while on the other and of the spectrum, St. Louis residents forked out just 24%.
Rents are soaring in smaller cities like Denver (10.8% increase) and Atlanta (8.6% increase) as well.
San Francisco saw the highest increase in rents in June compared with last year at 13.8%.
Households headed by 70-year-olds will surge 42% by 2025. Who will drive them to the store?
The graying of the American homeowner is upon us. The question is: Will communities be ready for the challenges that come with that?
The number of households headed by someone age 70 or older will surge by 42% from 2015 to 2025, according to a report on the state of housing released last month by the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University, or JCHS.
The Harvard researchers note that a majority of those households will be aging in place, not downsizing or moving to retirement communities. That will have implications for an array of support services people will need as they age.
But the housing age wave comes at a time when federal programs that provide those supports are treading water in Washington. Consider the signature federal legislation that helps fund community planning and service programs for independent aging, the Older Americans Act. The OAA supports everything from home-delivered meals to transportation and caregiver support programs—and importantly, helps communities plan for future needs as their populations get older.
States and municipalities use the federal dollars they receive via the OAA to leverage local funding. The law requires reauthorization every five years, a step that has been on hold in Congress since 2011. Funding has continued during that time, with one exception: During sequestration in March 2013, OAA programs were cut by 5%; many have since been reversed, but other cuts now appear to be permanent.
A survey last year by the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging (NAAAA), which represents local government aging service providers, found that some states had reduced nutrition programs, transportation services and caregiver support programs.
Recovery since then has been uneven, according to Sandy Markwood, chief executive officer of the NAAAA. “In some cases, states made up the differences, but many programs still are not back to pre-sequestration levels.”
But here’s the more critical point: Even if all the cuts had been restored, treading water wouldn’t be good enough in light of the challenges communities will soon face.
“From a planning perspective, putting in place things like infrastructure and transportation services takes time,” Markwood says. “We don’t have the luxury of time here.”
Indeed, aging of communities is shaping up as a signature trend as the housing industry continues its slow recovery after the crash of 2008-2009.
Young people typically drive household formation, but the Harvard study notes that millennials haven’t shown up in big numbers because of the economic headwinds they face. Real median incomes fell 8% from 2007 to 2012 among 35- to 44-year-olds, JCHS notes, and the share of 25- to 34-year-old households carrying student loan debt soared from 26% to 39%. Meanwhile, home prices have been jumping, and qualifying for mortgage loans remains difficult.
Millennials eventually will account for a bigger share of households as more marry and start having families, according to the study. But for now, boomers are the story.
The oldest boomers start turning 70 after 2015, and the number of these households will jump by 8.3 million from 2014 to 2025. Most will be staying right where they are. Mobility rates (the share of people who move each year) typically fall with age: Less than 4% of people over age 65 moved in 2013, compared with 21% of 18- to 34-year-olds and 12% for those 35 to 45.
Mobility has been on a downward trend since the 1990s, and the housing crisis accelerated the trend, according to Daniel McCue, research manager at JCHS.
Aging in place could create problems in suburbs, which are designed around driving, McCue says. “People are going to need a more distributed network of services for transportation, healthcare and shopping in the suburbs. They’ll need some way to get to services or for the services to get to them.”
There is one possible silver lining in this story: The needs of aging-in-place seniors could spur better community planning. If so, the elderly won’t be the only group that benefits.
“When you do things to make roads safer or increase public transportation, or add volunteer driver programs, that’s good for everyone in the community,” Markwood says. “It’s not a zero-sum game.”
Related story: Why Most Seniors Can’t Afford to Pay More for Medicare
Related story: The State of Senior Health Depends on Your State
Brown patches and weeds getting you down this summer? To keep your turf lush and thick, try some of these cost-effective tactics.
Does it feel like the grass really is greener in other people’s yards? Summer’s heat and low rainfall are tough on turf, so neighbors sporting lush lawns this time of year probably have better species of grass, higher-quality topsoil, and automatic irrigation. You, too, can have all that—for perhaps $10,000 or more—with a complete lawn replacement. Or you can try more affordable approaches to keeping your existing grass verdant.
“Taller grass holds more moisture and stays greener than short grass,” says Mark Schmidt, principal scientist at John Deere. “Plus, it shades the soil, helping to keep the roots wet.” Set your mower deck to three inches (or as high as it will go). Also, inspect the grass right after mowing. Jagged tears indicate that the blade is dull, and these wounds sap moisture from the plants. Get a replacement blade for $10 to $40 or take your mower for a tune-up ($75 to $200), which includes blade sharpening.
Do not feed the plants
When a lawn turns brown, it’s not dead—it’s just gone dormant to save energy for cooler, wetter times. You may be tempted to apply fertilizer and weed control, but if not done right, those chemicals can burn a heat-stressed lawn, says Oregon State University horticulture professor Alec Kowalewski.
Water on schedule
Dragging around the hose and sprinklers to hydrate parched grass may do more harm than good. “Coming in and out of dormancy can kill the lawn,” says John Stier, a playing-field consultant to several National Football League teams. “So don’t water unless you’re going to be superconsistent about watering all season long.” That’s probably not realistic with manual efforts, so either let nature take its course or go for automatic irrigation, a $2,000 to $4,000 expense for which there really isn’t a good low-cost workaround. To maximize your investment, ask the installer to arrange sprinkler heads into zones based on the quirks of your property so that shady, sunny, poorly drained, and sloped areas can get programmed for their own watering needs. Opt for a rain sensor too (around $150), which will override sprinklers when Mother Nature provides irrigation for free.
Aerate in autumn
Whether or not you irrigate, think of lawn restoration as a multiseason project. In the fall, plan to aerate—cutting hundreds of holes to loosen the soil—and top with compost and a mix of grass seed bred for your climate ($500 to $1,000 to hire out the job). Repeat for several seasons, and you’ll gradually improve the soil and grass type, making your lawn more drought-resistant, and yours the greener side of the fence.