Oct 11, 2021

Understanding Residential Real Estate Commissions

In most parts of the United States, standard real estate commissions to sell a home are usually between 5 - 7%.  So, when listing a home for sale if working with a licensed real estate agent who is affiliated with a broker in the area, the commission rate will be indicated in the listing agreement.  In many cases, the listing agent will end up splitting the commission with an agent representing the buyer in the transaction.   In some cases if the listing agent also sources the buyer, he or she can earn both sides of the commission.  

But that is not the end of the story.  The commission is ultimately paid to the broker, who may also get a cut of the commission based on the splits agreed to between the real estate agent and the managing broker.  High producing agents tend to keep more of what they earn.  Less experienced agents usually end up paying the managing broker a bigger split.   

So if the commission is 6%, the first split occurs between the listing agent and the buyer's agent so 3% on each side.  Then based on the arrangement they have with their managing brokers, the commission is further split.  It is important to recognize that if a sale is not closed nothing is earned by any agent.  The real value the real estate agents bring to the table is in making sure that a sale does not fall out because without a closing, they earn nothing.  As a result, once a contract of sale has been executed by the seller and the buyer, the agents stay very close to the transaction to make sure that the sale closes.  Commission is a very powerful motivator specific to attention to detail and dealing with any impediments to closing the sale. 

Real Estate agents earn their money.  Their job is to negotiate a price a willing seller will accept from a willing buyer.  That sounds simple; but a lot can happen during a transaction to kill the deal.  The real estate agent is there to make sure the deal closes to everybody's satisfaction.  Discount brokers are not quite as motivated, since they are not earning much if a sale does happen.  They work on very high volume in the hopes that a good percentage of the sales they manage will close.  

Oct 6, 2021

Rising Home Prices Have Resulted In Homeowners With Lots Of Equity

With rising home prices, the 63% of people in the United States that own homes are sitting on about $3 Trillion in home equity.  This may be unprecedented and it is very good, but also little scary.  Homeowners could be tempted to take out home equity loans and or to refinance to pull cash out of homes.  This would be ok if for a home renovation that adds value to the home; but not ok if being used to buy a car or anything that will depreciate in value over time.   

This could be a way to pay for a college education for children; but again it will come at the expense of retirement income later on so be careful.   It would not be a good idea to borrow more than 70% of the value of the home because if a correction comes, which is likely sometime in the future, it would be possible to owe more on the home than the amount of the mortgage.  This is called being upside down.  

And, then there is the federal government looking at what is called unrealized capital gains.  There are some in Congress that want to tax unrealized capital gains even though the home has not be sold.  The reasoning is that your home value has gone up and so Big Brother wants a share of the gain.  Let us hope this never happens, but with all the new entitlement programs under discussion, this $3 Trillion pot of gold sitting in home equities could be a target.  Keep your ears open and your dialing finger ready to call your members of Congress if there is any mention of taxing unrealized capital gains.  It would be a disaster for many homeowners.   


Sep 26, 2021

Living Near Great Medical Services Is For Everybody

Generally, people think that older people need to live near great medical services and that is true; however, all families need to live near great medical services.  Children get sick and have accidents.  We have certainly seen the need for the emergency room services for our grandchildren more than once.  Now that people can work from home, there is some thinking about moving to second and even third tier cities where medical services will be less than adequate.  It is not the best idea to be further than a hour away from a major hospital.

At a minimum, the town should have a decent smaller hospital to deal with emergency services.  Even then, it is likely that for anything serious, the patient will have to be sent to a major hospital in a big city.  And, then there is regular care by a family doctor.  Second and third tier cities often lack enough doctors to care for people in the area.  Many doctors just don't want to live in these small towns because they lack various amenities.  The same is really true for specialists.  This leads to doctor shortages.

We don't often think about getting sick especially related to younger people.  However, is is important to realize that not everybody lives to be 90.  Sometimes something relatively easy to treat in a big city can turn into a life threatening event in a small town.   In some instances, time matters to get the right treatment to prevent a serious problem.  So before choosing a location to call home, make sure your insurance will work in that area and make sure there are doctors and hospitals nearby that can treat serious illnesses.  

Sep 20, 2021

Single Family Home Zoning Is Under Attack

Owning a single family home on a little bit of ground has always been part of the American dream; however it does come at a cost.  The land used for single family homes is not then available for multi use residential apartments, duplexes and condos.  And, since our country is now short about 5 million dwellings, there is pressure from some politicians to eliminate single family zoning.  That would be a mistake.  A better solution is to change zoning on obsolete commercial properties to include more multi use residential, higher density living.  

California recently passed a law that would allow a single family homeowner to subdivide the property to build a duplex or even more units on the lot.  This might be acceptable in areas where the homes are 50 years older; but should not be happening in areas with newer homes because it will lead to all sorts of non conforming land use that in the end will devalue remaining home values.  Many areas with much older homes should be redeveloped to include apartments and condos; but that is already happening in many places because ultimately it represents highest and best use for the land.  

Clearly, there are office buildings, malls and other commercial developments that can and should be reinvented to include more housing.   It is already happening; but we should accelerate the trend to make it happen sooner.   Older buildings that are not energy efficient would best be torn down and replaced with new buildings that are energy efficient.  This would kill a few birds with one stone; more housing and lower energy consumption.  

We do need to add to our housing availability in the United States including more affordable housing in many cities.  Higher density is the way to do it; but we need to use common sense not knee jerk political reactions to get there.  

Sep 19, 2021

Dealing With Mold

Many parts of the country have experienced flooding from hurricanes and or lots of rain.  When homes are flooded and particularly in hot, humid climates, there is a pretty good chance that the end result will be mold.  There are various types of mold; but none of them are good.  Generally, mold must be dealt with by professionals preferably before moving back into a home with serious flooding.  Obviously, any standing water must be drained from the home; but that is the easy part.  

Once the water is gone, the dry wall will have to be removed to get to the mold behind the walls.  Mold is a living thing that must be killed using chemicals to prevent it from multiplying and becoming even worse.  Before repairs occur, usually big fans are used to dry out the home removing the moisture that caused the mold in the first place.  

Mold can occur from any plumbing leak not just flooding by a natural disaster.  Once there is sitting water anywhere in the home, it must be checked for mold.  Mold is a major health hazard that can't be ignored.  If it results from flooding, depending on circumstances, it may be covered by home insurance; but check your policy for the fine print.  Either way, mold must be remediated to continue living in a home.  There is no other choice.  

Sep 15, 2021

Home Prices In The US Starting To Stablize

While home prices in many parts of the United States are still high, they may finally be starting to stabilize.  Some of this may be seasonality, since the spring and summer tend to be the time of the year when demand is strongest; but it could also be that buyers have had enough of sellers demanding high prices with no contingencies.  We still are five million housing units short to fill demand; but at some point reason starts to prevail. 

The end result is fewer bidding wars though they are still happening for desirable properties than was the case at the peak of the market.  And, buyers are less likely to sign deals with out contingencies for repairs that may be identified by inspections. So, this could be a good time for buyers to strike particularly those with lower down payments while mortgage interest rates are very low.  Sellers may be willing to negotiate a big off their list prices.  A very good time to buy could be between Thanksgiving and Christmas when the real estate market traditionally tends to slow down. 

There are so many what if's that can impact the real estate market.  Unfortunately, what happens in Washington DC does not stay in Washington DC.  New government spending if approved by Congress could add to inflation.  If inflation goes up, it will force the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates charged banks.  If banks have to pay more for money, they will raise mortgage interest rates, which actually could bring housing prices down a bit.  However, if inflation goes through the roof, it will raise the cost of construction for new homes, which is always the base line for the value of existing homes.  So, we are not likely to be in down market that favors buyers for a few years.  

In any case, buyers are getting a glimmer of hope as really hot real estate markets may cool down just a bit.  Always remember, there are no bargains in real estate.  If you buy crap, you will own crap.  So buy in great locations with good schools because those will be the safest investments if we have a swing in the market.  And, don't buy unless your horizon in the home is at least 5 years just in case we do have a downturn related to real estate values.   Look at a home as an investment, not just a place to live.  

At Paragon, we work clients to sell and buy homes at the best prices possible all over the country.  We can provide expert advice in the process, since we assist people with life decisions.  

Sep 14, 2021

Too Many Eggs In One Basket

It is often said that owning a home is someone's most important investment and for many it is true.  However, for those with other investments as well, it is probably best that there be some balance between home ownership and stock or bond investments.  For example, if someone owns a home worth $300,000; but has $700,000 invested in stocks and or bonds, it could be that it would be better if the ratio was 50/50.  So just maybe some of that $700,000 should be invested in home ownership so that the family owns a home worth $500,000 and has a stock portfolio worth $500,000.

At the moment both the residential real estate market in many areas and the stock market are at record highs.  Having lived through at least three boom and bust cycles, this makes me very nervous.  It is never good to have too many eggs in one basket.  Even if the homeowner remains a bit under invested in home ownership, a diversified stock and bond portfolio is really important.  In terms of asset allocation, it is important to recognize that if you own 3 apples in real estate and 7 apples in the stock market and then you switch to 5 apples in real estate and 5 applies in the stock market, either way you own 10 apples. 

We have seen times where there have been wild swings in both real estate prices and the stock market.  They don't always happen at the same time.  When interest rates go up usually home values and the stock market tends to go down.  However, they don't always happen in the same ratio.  Supply and demand often determines home values.  Stock market prices can be predicted on various factors beyond just interest rates.  In any case, having a balanced portfolio that takes home value into consideration is a good idea.  


Sep 9, 2021

Wine A Part Of Daily Living

Most Europeans drink wine as their beverage of choice for lunch and dinner.  Some of the colder countries also drink beers.  More and More Americans have added wine to their daily beverage intake as part of meals at home.  Companies in the US typically frown on drinking any alcoholic beverage during the work day; but in Europe it is common.  My Italian grandfather made his own wine.  He maintained 5 fifty gallon barrels.  Like typical vintners he made his red wine as a blend of Zinfandel and Muscatel grapes.  He would only drink wine that had been aged for five years; hence the five barrels. 

Today, wine is sold on just about every street corner.  Matter of fact, Costco is the biggest seller of wine in the United States.  They offer many great wines at great prices.  Whether buying red or wine wines, you can find good wines at $15 - $25 a bottle that are rated at 88 points are higher.  Whatever you pay, all that matters is that you like the taste. 

Wines should be kept in a dark place at around 56 degrees to maintain the best taste and freshness.  In general, white wines should be drunk within a few years of bottling.  Most red wines can age for years and still be great.  You can buy a wine refrigerator that holds 50 - 75 bottles at Home Depot or Lowes.  Most families would never need anything bigger unless you decide to be a wine collector.  

Wines like everything else are in style or not. Years ago Merlot was the rage; now not so much.  Today, the most popular red wines are Pinot Noirs, Zinfandels, Chianti's and Brunello's.  Of course, there are many others as well.  Chardonnay seems to be the most popular white wine followed by Sauvignon Blanc and again many others.  Rose, which is a light red wine is popular on hot summer days.  

Have fun with wines.  Try the many varieties on the market to determine the ones you like best.  A great glass of wine with dinner makes for a very nice evening with friends.  Red wines in particular, drunk in limited quantities are supposed to be good for the heart.  Naturally, drinking any alcohol in excess is never good.  And, always remember, just because wine is lower in alcohol content than hard liquor driving after drinking several glasses is not a good idea.  

Sep 6, 2021

Spending Time With Family & Friends At Home

Three day holidays often lead to spending time with family and friends at home.  Since home is where the heart is to use an old cliché, it is never more important than when it is used to bring people together for food and fun.  Many times this means an old fashioned barbeque with hot dogs, hamburgers, chicken and other meats.  A lot of people just default to store bought hamburger patties because they are easy; but not as good as hamburgers with the fixings.  First, the ratio must be 80%/20% fat to make them juicy.  Next, my recipe calls for eggs, Italian bread crumbs, parmesan or Romano cheese and diced Italian parsley.  Add a little olive oil, the food of the Gods to complete the recipe,   Add cheese after half cooked on the grill on request. 

And, then there are the pork and beans, which again require some work.  Start with the maple bourbon Bush's beans.  Half cook up a half a pound of bacon in small pieces to drain the grease before putting in the with your beans.  Add some bourbon, one diced white onion and loads of ketchup.  Bake at 350 for two hours.  Believe me, everybody loves these pork and beans.

Your backyard is key to entertaining during good weather.  In addition to your gas or propane barbeque, you will need plenty of tables and chairs of various sizes to accommodate your family and friends.  If you happen to have a pool, the kids love pool toys.  If not you can buy an inflatable pool just to add some water to the mix.  

Grandparents get to spoil grandchildren.  Sneaking an Oreo cookie that Mom says are illegal is a best kept secret.  Giving an extra scoop of ice cream, also illegal goes over big.  These are the little things grandchildren will remember after we are long gone.  Spending time with family and friends over a three day weekend is an important part of living a great life.  It is all about food and fun.  Doing it a few times a year adds to to the qualify of life.  


Sep 3, 2021

Getting Past The Politics Of Climate Change

Like so many issues in our country, Climate Change is highly politicized which gets in the way of solving problem.  The left believes that Climate Change is caused by carbon emissions and therefore wants to eliminate carbon energy even before we have a viable energy source to replace it.  The right believes that Climate Change is happening as a result of normal climatic changes that have occurred on earth for thousands of years.  The fact is, it does not matter who is right.  Since homes and other buildings are being destroyed by floods, fires, tornados, hurricanes etc., we need to focus on the effects of bad weather by dealing with ways to mitigate damages.

So, we need comprehensive forest management, which means logging and clear cutting.  It certainly means cutting down dead trees both of which would make forest fires less intense.  Power lines that cause fires must be buried or put in above ground pipes.  Areas prone to flooding require building more flood control channels to get water away from homes and other structures.  Homes in areas built on low ground, which could be impacted by storm surges should all be built on stilts.  And of course, homes should be built to withstand Category 5 hurricanes and or be retrofitted to make them stronger.  

California suffers from drought yet has not built a new dam since 1985 so when monsoon rains come, that water just goes out to the sea.  There is all this talk about Infrastructure spending, which is fine; but some of this money should be going to solve problems that could be happening because of Climate Change.  So rather than argue about the causes of Climate Change, we should instead focus on dealing with the impact of weather that effects so many parts of our country.  

Sep 2, 2021

President Biden Proposing Billions To Build or Renovate Housing

President Biden is proposing to spend billions of dollars to build new lower cost housing and or to create more rental units.  The country is short about 5 million homes, which is why prices have gone through the roof.  There is just far more demand than supply, which is Economics 101 related to sky rocketing prices.  Biden is proposing to add 2 million homes and apartments to help fill the gap.  The problem with all of this is that sometimes government good intentions do not always work as planned.  Many Government projects built after World War II are today massive slums.  We really should not go down that road again.  

However, what Biden is proposing is to do is the following:

Constructing or rehabilitating rental housing units using federal subsidies;

Expanding and strengthening the low-income housing tax credit;

Offer tax credits to those who build and rehabilitate homes for low- and middle-income homebuyers and homeowners;

Incentivize the removal of exclusionary zoning and harmful land use policies;

The most controversial of these notions is rezoning presumably away from Single Family housing to higher density apartments and condos.  This could be fine in repurposing many commercial properties that may today be obsolete.  It could be too that in big cities with homes that are 75 or more years old, it is time to scrape those homes to build apartments and condos.  Clearly, we do need to add housing units to meet supply.  Let's just hope that the heavy hand of government makes things better instead of worse.  

Aug 31, 2021

Housing Needs As We Grow Older

What I discovered in caring for my 87 year old mother when she moved into a senior living community was that over time, services and security or feeling safe were far more important than space.  Initially, when my mother moved in to a very nice senior community, she had a larger one bedroom apartment while she was pretty much in independent living for the first 3 years of the 7 she lived in the senior community.  Once she needed more care, which added monthly expense, it became pretty obvious that it was time to downsize her apartment to a smaller one bedroom so we could buy her more care.  

During the last year of her life at about 93, we downsized her again to a much smaller apartment because at that point she needed around the clock care with staff right outside her door rather than the larger apartment.  Fortunately, we were able to do all of this within the same senior community that offered independent living, various stages of assisted living and memory care.  Of course, more care came with much higher monthly fees. 

As we all grow older and even before the need to move into a senior community, the odds are pretty good that many people over the age of 55 are probably living in a lot more space than they really need.  Certainly, once the kids move out and couples become empty nesters, it may be time to downsize to a home that meets current needs.  That may mean fewer bedrooms and maybe a great room instead of both a living room and family room.  And, just maybe at that point, the need for a formal dining room no longer exists.  The trend is moving away from formal living to a more open concept that combines space. 

It could be too that in planning for retirement cutting housing expenses long before age 65 is logical for typical working people.  Clearly none of this matters much for the rich that have more than enough money to last them to age 90 or older; but to most people, it could be necessary to stretch savings to cover additional medical and other expenses that will occur as we all grow older. 

At Paragon, we assist clients with selling and buying homes through all the stages of life.  We understand that needs change as we grow older.  What made sense at 40 years old may not make any sense at 55 years old.  Ultimately, it is about living a great life to the very end.  Housing decisions are important to making this happen.    


Aug 30, 2021

Pocket or Whisper Real Estate Listings

Since we have a very hot real estate market in many parts of the country, in some cases real estate agents are not even putting listings on the MLS, the multiple list service and or they are not even listing the property for sale.  In essence, they are hoarding sellers in an attempt to get both sides of the sale to increase their commission income.  There is nothing illegal about doing this; but once a property is officially for sale as a listing, it really should be put on the MLS to get maximum exposure.  

In some cases a real estate agent may know of someone that might be interested in selling the property at the right price; but is not actively looking to sell the property for the moment.  In that situation, if an agent brings a buyer to the table without listing the property at all, there is nothing illegitimate about that transaction.  Of course, the commission will be subject to negotiation when that happens.  It is not likely that a seller will pay a full commission in that quick sale scenario. 

Greed is obviously at play in Pocket or Whisper listing.  The real estate agent is attempting to keep a great home that will sell quickly off the market even though it may have officially been listed.  Sometimes, the real estate agent will wait a week or two before putting it on the MLS to work with any potential buyers that they know of.  Again, nothing illegal; but in this market where listing sometimes get multiple offers above the list price; not listing on the MLS would prevent a bidding war, which is not in the best interest of the seller.  In any case, real estate agents often get creative to maximize their commission earnings, which is all fine provided they abide by the law.  

At Paragon, we work clients to sell and buy homes all over the country.  When selling a home, we work to get our clients the highest price possible so we would insist that the property after listing be placed on the MLS because we know that competition is the best way to get the highest price.  

Living In An Area Prone To Natural Disasters

If you live in an area prone to forest fires, hurricanes, tornadoes, or floods as many do, are you prepared if you need to evacuate and or be without electricity for days or weeks.   Since we live in an area that has forest fires and earthquakes, we have had to evacuate more than once.  And, we have been without electricity for a number of days and it is not fun.  If you think it will never happen to you, think again. 

When growing up, we lived through the Sylmar and Northridge earthquakes in California and they were both devastating.  Matter of fact the apartment building I lived in while going to university completely collapsed as did many buildings on my university campus.  We have had to evacuate three times for fires that burned right up to our homes in three different locations and two states; California and Nevada.  In another case, we were visiting our son and family in Dallas when the tornado sirens went off, which required moving to the middle of the house, since they have no basement.  It was pretty scary.  

If the day comes when you have to evacuate, you better know what you are going to take with you because you will not have much time to react.  So, things like important documents should all be in one place.  Family photographs that may be irreplaceable should be in one big box.  If you own valuable jewelry or art that you can be put in an SUV or car get ready to take it with you.  And by the way, take all cars, since if your home burns down the last thing you need is your cars lost too.  Clothing can all be replaced; but you will need enough things to get you by for a week or two.  

If you plan to stay in your home after the natural disaster occurs, there is a pretty good chance that you may not have drinking water so having several gallons of bottled water in storage is a good idea.  This also means that toilets may not be functional so staying in your home may be impossible.  And, if you own a generator make sure it is operating outside your home to avoid asphyxiation from the smoke it releases.  

Most important, if you live in an area where natural disaster frequently occur, you better make sure you have insurance to cover the complete destruction of your home.  Regular home insurance does not cover floods or earthquakes.  You must buy specific insurance to cover damage from those events.  And, make sure you have enough coverage to rebuild your home.  It is a good idea to meet with your insurance agent every few years to determine if your coverage is currently sufficient to cover building cost.  We see terrible things happen in various areas of the country and we assume it could never happen to us.  Well think again because natural disasters can impact anyone.   

Aug 29, 2021

Public Schools And Real Estate Values

90% of children in the United States attend public schools.  10% attend private or non-government controlled charter schools.  Generally, areas with the best public schools and or neighborhood schools tend to have the highest home values.  So, when searching for a home even if you don't have children, it is a good idea to buy in an area with a great school district, or at least great neighborhood schools that would service the area where the home is located even you don't have children.  One day you may choose to sell that home and so though you will pay more to be in a good school district,  resale value will also be higher because many people shop school districts.  

The good news is that there is lots of information on the Internet related to public schools.  You can check out the Great Schools Rating for the school district, or even individual schools.  If the rating is below 8 out of 10, it means that the particular school may have some issues that cause a lower score.  It may be a good reason to buy in another area.  

We could see public schools become even more important in the future because there is talk in Congress of funding pre-school for children as young as 3 years old.  If that happens, local public schools could end up with more children attending them.  

Public Schools have become controversial as of late.  Some school districts are making curriculum decisions that are opposed by parents.  We are seeing parents show up at school board meetings in some cases for the first time to voice their opinions.  That is a good thing.  However,  you should be aware of what is happening in your local school district before you make a buy decision to be sure you agree with whatever curriculum design is being proposed.   Because of all of this, there is a movement to allow for School Choice so that parents have more say as to the schools their children attend.  That is a good thing.  Parent should have options.  In any case, real estate values are directly tied to public schools in the area.  Before buying a home, do your homework. 

Aug 27, 2021

Rules In Real Estate

In every real estate class, the question is always posed, "What Are The Three Most Important Elements of Real Estate Value"?   And, the answer is always, Location, Location, Location.  And, while it is absolutely true that location is critical, there are also other rules that are just as important as follows:

1. If you buy crap, you will own crap.  

2. There are no bargains in real estate.

3. Buying in a great school district is critical.

4. Real Estate always go to it highest and best use.

5. Land values drive total value.

6. Once real estate becomes a non performing asset, it is time for redevelopment.

7. Crazy government regulations result in higher home prices.  

8. If it is cheaper to own a home in terms of the payment than renting, it is time to buy.

Each of these rules have their own reasoning.  Buying a home on a busy street, too near commercial property, or in view of power lines will be cheaper, but you will be buying crap.  If the home is cheaper than surrounding homes, it is because it has a fatal flaw.  Good schools matter and add to value.  So even if you don't have children buying in a good school district is all about resale value.  Eventually, when land values are very high, it is probable that higher density housing will be built on the land because single family homes are no longer practical.  Very old homes that become tear downs happen when it is cheaper to tear down the home than repair it.  In those cases, you are really just buying the land.  Some cities, counties and states have crazy regulations that significantly add to the cost of building a new home driving up prices.  And, finally today with mortgage interest rates so low, it may be cheaper to own than to rent.  

There are many rules related to real estate value beyond just location, location, location.  Understanding them all will help you get a better deal when buying or selling a home.  Paragon works with customers all over the country to sell and buy homes.  We understand all of these factors to help our customers get the best price when selling or buying.  


California - People Voting With Their Feet

Between 2015 and 2019, 3.3 million people have moved out of California.  The go to states have been Texas, Arizona, Nevada, Washington, Oregon, Colorado and Florida.  Las Vegas and Phoenix in particular have been big winners.   The loss in people is so bad that California for the first time in its history has actually lost a congressional seat with some of the other states gaining seats.  People are leaving for several reasons; very high taxes of all kinds, very high cost of living driven by crazy regulations, high energy prices, crime, homelessness and in many large cities bad public schools.  

Clearly, moving to any of these other states will allow someone to buy a home for half the cost it would be in California.  And, if moving to one of the no income tax states, the person or family immediately increases their disposable income.  Of course, people who can now work from home can live anywhere; but even if not possible, jobs are plentiful in these growing states.  

California has been losing people and companies for years.  A dwindling number of large companies still headquartered in California do their manufacturing in other states or overseas and or maintain large employee populations in no income tax states to avoid California corporate income taxes.  California is still a very large economy because agriculture and Silicon Valley make up a big part of state revenues; but that source of tax income is threatened because of dwindling water supply.  California has not built a new dam since 1985 so when monsoon rains do come most of that water just runs out to the ocean. 

The Golden States is not so golden any more because of very bad political decisions that drive people away.  Taxes of all kinds are the highest in the nations.  Regulations drive up the cost of new home building, which then creates less supply causing higher home prices.   Energy costs are also among the highest in the nation because of environmental requirements.  California can be fixed; but not if the state continues down the same path, business as usual.  It will take a new direction and some common sense.  


Aug 25, 2021

California & New York Income Taxes Are Driving the Texas Real Estate Market

Studies show that high income taxes in California and New York are driving the Texas real estate market as more and more people and companies leave high tax states and move to low tax states.  The big winners states like Texas, Florida, Arizona, Nevada and Tennessee continue to grow population because they offer a great quality of life and low or no state income taxes.  And, even though home prices have gone up in low or no income tax states, they are still much lower than home prices in California and New York.  So homebuyers are taking their equity when they move to buy more house in these low or no income tax states.  

Clearly, now that so many people are working from home and can live anywhere, they are looking for a greater quality of life, which not only includes the ability to buy a nice home at a reasonable price; but also more disposable income.  It is not about how much you earn so much; but how much you get to keep.  We can't avoid federal taxes no matter which state we live in; but choosing a low or no income tax state raises the amount of money we get to keep. 

People vote with their feet and it has been happening for years.  But now people are even more mobile since jobs are plentiful and or people are choosing to work from home.  Elected representatives in high tax states should heed the warning signs.  They are turning people away by high tax policies.  They could be left with few people paying taxes since generally lower income people in those states pay little or no income taxes.  Then what?


Aug 24, 2021

Refinancing Your Home Mortgage

If you plan to remain in your current home for at least five years and your current mortgage interest rate is 1% or more higher than current rates, you probably should consider refinancing your mortgage.  For most people, it is not too horrible a process.  You will have to choose between Interest only loans, adjustable rate mortgages, or 15, 20 or 30 year fixed rate mortgages.  Interest only loans will usually result in the lowest monthly payments, since no monies are going to pay down principal.  They could make sense for many people that have other expenses that will hit them in the next 5 to 10 years like child care expenses.  

Personally, I prefer mortgage companies to the big banks to fund a mortgage because they tend to be easier to work with and the service is often better.  You can find them on the Internet and they will provide you a mortgage consultant to help you figure out if refinancing makes sense for you.  You have to compare the cost to refinance with the lower payments you may realize to see if it makes sense.  Certainly, if you do plan to stay in your home for 5 years or more, it could make very good sense.  

I don't believe it makes sense to pay points, which are really prepaid interest to get a lower mortgage interest rate, since rates are so low now even without paying points.  And, just know if the mortgage company is offering you a no cost deal, it just means that the interest rate will be higher.  Further, your credit rating will determine the mortgage interest rate you are offered.  So, ideally if your credit rating is 750 or higher, you should be in great shape.  If your credit rating is below 700, the mortgage interest rate you can get may be a little higher.  In any case, it is worth the time to see if refinancing your mortgage makes sense for you.  

Aug 23, 2021

US Home Prices - What Goes Up Must Come Down

We have seen unprecedented increases in home values and prices all over the United States primarily driven my very low mortgage interest rates and increased demand way beyond supply.  Having lived through at least 3 real estate cycles, I start to get very nervous when I seen prices this high.  It is great for sellers and not so great for buyers.  Certainly, any buyer with a short term horizon is at risk if suddenly it becomes necessary to sell the home in a down market.  It probably should not be a problem provided the buyer has put at least 30% down; but if the market shifts badly, with much less down payment, the owner could find themselves upside down meaning that they owe more than the mortgage amount. 

It is bad enough to lose some or most of a down payment; but it would be much worse to owe money to close out the mortgage.  In those instances, sometimes it is possible to do a short sale where the lender agrees to take the hit beyond the monies the owner may have lost to stop a foreclosure from happening.  Let us hope we don't get there; but if markets fall dramatically for those buyers who purchased with very little down payment, it is possible. 

In the next few years because we are still short 5 million housing units, the market should stay relatively strong; but buyers just need to be very careful.  Condos tend to fall in value in down markets more than single family homes so buyer beware.  And remember, location, location, location and if you buy crap you will own crap.  So, make a wise decision when choosing a home to buy.  In down markets, crap will be go down even more.  There are no bargains in real estate.  Homes in good locations, with great curb appeal in good school districts will always be worth more than homes without these attributes.  

Aug 22, 2021

Discount Real Estate Agents & Brokers

We often hear television commercials advertising selling your home for as little as a 2% real estate commission instead of the traditional 6 or even 7% in some markets.  The reality of those offers is that what they are doing is simply listing your home for sale with the multiple list agency in your area.  And, then just hoping that a buyer comes along.  

Since real estate commissions are usually split between a listing agent and a selling agent if the commission is 2%; that would mean that each side would earn just 1% of the sale price of the home.  If the listing agent and the selling agent are the same person, they would keep both sides of the commission.  This 1% is then split between the agent and his or her managing broker.  If the agent is also an independent broker, he or she may be able to keep the entire 1%.  But here is the problem.  Why would any real estate agent show your home, when he can show the one down the street that is paying a full commission.   

In essence, if you list your home for sale through a discount broker, you are basically doing a for sale by owner because there will be very little service provided for so little money.  Real Estate agents earn their money.  They make sure that the potential buyer is pre qualified for a mortgage if the deal is not all cash.  They don't waste time on looky lou's, people who just want to tour your home with no intention of buying it.  They manage the negotiations to get you the best price possible because their earnings are predicated on the sale price.  And, once you do have a signed purchase agreement, the real estate agent deals with any problems that come up during the escrow period to make sure that the sale is closed and you get your money.  

At Paragon, we work with clients to sell and buy homes are all over the country.  We work with the best real estate agents and brokers in the nation committed to providing high quality services to achieve the best sale price for our clients.  Discount real estate agents and brokers are just looking to earn a quick buck.  It may be possible in some cases in a seller's market.  It is definitely not possible in a buyer's market market when it takes hard work to sell a home.  

Aug 21, 2021

Dealing With Smoke From Forest Fires

Many of us living in the West seem to deal with smoke every summer and fall from forest fires that happen in various Western states.   It is now so bad in many areas from fires in California that it is not safe to go outside.  These levels of smoke not only have respiratory health implications; but also economic ramifications.  Many businesses with outdoor activities must close in what is often peak season costing them millions of dollars.  And, of course what is worse is that many homes and other structures end up in the path of the fire.  Entire little cities have burned to the ground during this fire season.  

Like everything these days even forest fires are being politicized.  Environmentalists claim these fires are happening because of drought caused by climate change, which is the result of carbon emissions.  Others say we are experiencing normal cyclical climatic change not something necessarily caused by carbon emissions.  We need to get past the politics and solve the problem, please.  First, we must have comprehensive forest management, which means cutting down dead trees often impacted by a beetle that is killing these trees.  And, we must have clear cutting of big swatches of forest to create fire breaks.  That means allowing lumbering again in many of these forests.  

Further, electric companies must be forced to put their lines either underground or above ground in pipes because many of these fires are caused from power lines sparking.  We are hear talk about infrastructure projects.  Well this should be one of them.  And, we must build more dams to collect water rather than allowing it to run out to sea.   We can't control fires caused by lightening strikes; but we can control these man made issues.  

Forest fires have an immense impact on people and businesses.  Many people lose their homes because of these forest fires.  Some even lose their lives.  We have to put politics aside and solve the problem.  We cannot continue business as usual because every summer and fall seems to get worse.   

Aug 20, 2021

Government Eviction Moratorium Will Hurt The Poor Most

The best of intentions of Government very often hurts the very people they are trying to help.  53% of 1 - 4 unit rental properties are owned by Mom and Pop investors.  58% of renters have failed to pay rent during the pandemic.  Since only $3 Billion of the $47 Billion of the rental assistance payments approved by the federal government has actually been paid out, landlords have not been paid back rents.  And, in many instances when tenants either got increased unemployment insurance and or rental assistance, they simply did not pay the rent anyway because they knew they could not be evicted.

This has caused some landlords to refinance their loans to take money out if they could, which eventually will lead to higher rents.  And, or they sold their rental properties to other investors who are likely to increase rents sometime soon.  Since we are experiencing inflation, rents are going up anyway.  While higher rents hit all renters, they will be most painful for low income renters.  

Further, smart landlords use comprehensive rental applications to screen out deadbeats and further will not rent to tenants with lower than a 600 credit score.  Tenants who failed to pay rent could very well see their credit scores go down as landlords eventually file to evict them.  Further, rental applications ask for references including past landlords.  When called, the landlord is likely to reference the eviction, or failure to pay rent.  When that happens, the next landlord is not likely to rent to the tenant with a bad credit history.  

Federal and state government programs to deal with rental assistance during the pandemic have failed miserably.  The money for back rents owed should have gone directly to the landlords not the tenants to insure payment.  In the end, this failure will hurt lower income people and the poor most.  There may still be time to fix it; but unfortunately government bureaucracy often gets in the way.  This is another classic case where government is the problem not the solution.  

Aug 18, 2021

Factors Important To Deciding On A Town, City Or State

 Now that more people are working from home and can live anywhere and or older people are looking to move where they want to retire before they are 65,  sometimes the question arises as to where the best town, city or state is the place to go.  Considering the following 16 factors will help people arrive at the right answer to the question.  

1. Do you want to move to a state with no personal income taxes to lower your tax burden?  Currently, there are nine including Alaska, Washington, Nevada, Wyoming, Texas, South Dakota, Tennessee, New Hampshire and Florida.  New Hampshire does tax dividend and interest income.  Keep in mind that some states with no personal income taxes often have higher property and sales taxes.  

2. How about weather.  If you don't want snow and cold, or extreme heat and humidity some of the states with no personal income taxes should be eliminated. 

3.  Do you want to be near family and existing friends?

4.  Do you have any chronic diseases?  If so, you will want to be near a big city with great medical facilities and doctors.

5.  Are you into professional sports.

6. Are you into the performing arts?

7. Are you a shopper who needs to be near major stores?

8. Are you a Foodie who needs to be near great restaurants?

9. Are you limited by home price in terms of your budget?

10.  Do you need to be near a major international airport to get non stop flights?

11.  Do you want or need to be near a major university to continue your education?

12. Are you influenced by Politics, Red State Versus Blue State?

13. Do you want to be in a gated master planned community with amenities and an HOA?

14. Are you a golfer?

15. Do you like outdoor activities like hiking, jogging, fishing etc.  

16. Would you prefer small town or big city living?

Answering the  questions listed, will get you to just the right town, city or state.  Do your homework and research to make sure that the must have's on your list exist in the location you  focus on to buy your next home.  

Aug 17, 2021

Where To Live - That Is The Question

Now that more people are working from home and can live anywhere and or older people are looking to move where they want to retire before they are 65,  sometimes the question arises as to where the best town, city or state is the place to go.  Considering the following 16 factors will help people arrive at the right answer to the question.  

1. Do you want to move to a state with no personal income taxes to lower your tax burden?  Currently, there are nine including Alaska, Washington, Nevada, Wyoming, Texas, South Dakota, Tennessee, New Hampshire and Florida.  New Hampshire does tax dividend and interest income.  Keep in mind that some states with no personal income taxes often have higher property and sales taxes.  

2. How about weather.  If you don't want snow and cold, or extreme heat and humidity some of the states with no personal income taxes should be eliminated. 

3.  Do you want to be near family and existing friends?

4.  Do you have any chronic diseases?  If so, you will want to be near a big city with great medical facilities and doctors.

5.  Are you into professional sports.

6. Are you into the performing arts?

7. Are you a shopper who needs to be near major stores?

8. Are you a Foodie who needs to be near great restaurants?

9. Are you limited by home price in terms of your budget?

10.  Do you need to be near a major international airport to get non stop flights?

11.  Do you want or need to be near a major university to continue your education?

12. Are you influenced by Politics, Red State Versus Blue State?

13. Do you want to be in a gated master planned community with amenities and an HOA?

14. Are you a golfer?

15. Do you like outdoor activities like hiking, jogging, fishing etc.  

16. Would you prefer small town or big city living?

Answering the  questions listed, will get you to just the right town, city or state.  Do your homework and research to make sure that the must have's on your list exist in the location you  focus on to buy your next home.  

Aug 16, 2021

The Villages In Florida - Fastest Growing City In The Last Ten Years

The Villages in Florida, a 55 or older master planned community about an hour Northwest of Orlando was the fastest growing city in the United States in the last 10 years growing by 39%.  This should be no surprise because Florida has become the go to state for many people retiring from all over the country.  Currently, there are about 90,000 people living in the Villages with many more new homes coming on line.  Since the Villages is inland, it would not be as subject to the devastating hurricanes that hit the East and West coasts of Florida every year.  And, with the proximity to Tampa and Orlando, it means two good airports nearby and lots of amenities are just down the road.  The Villages is about 40 miles from the West coast of Florida and 70 miles from the East Coast of Florida so beaches are not too far away.  

Average home value in the Villages is $335,000, which is reasonable.  With more than 54 golf courses and lots to do and amenities in the Villages, it is a perfect retirement location.  Since Baby Boomers are turning 65 at the rate of 10,000 a day for the next 15 - 20 years, there is no doubt that communities like the Villages in many parts of the Sunbelt will be in demand.  

There are many positives to living in a place like the Villages in terms of amenities.  However, there are some negatives too.  All of these amenities come with fairly high HOA and other membership fees.  And, then there is the weather.  Summers in Florida are very hot and humid.  Being inland means even hotter weather, since ocean breezes are not there to mitigate the heat.  And then because Florida is swampy, there are big bugs including termites, snakes including some that are poisonous and even alligators wherever there are standing ponds. So, lots of bug spraying is needed monthly.   Finally parts of Florida, including in the Villages sometimes have sink holes because the water table can vary.  However, all in all none of this is stopping retired people from moving to the Villages.  For me, I prefer Arizona because at least the summers that are hot as hell are dry heat.  And, Yes there can be rattle snakes and scorpions; but I have never seen one in Phoenix.  

Investing In Rental Homes

53% of 1 - 4 unit rental properties are owned by Mom and Pop investors.  Many right now are being hammered by the government's Eviction Moratorium; but eventually things will get back to normal.  People invest in Rental homes presumably for income potential and long term appreciation.  Investment in Real Estate also provides certain tax benefits, which may lower someone's overall income taxes.  However, there are many things to think about related to being a landlord.  

First, if you buy crap, you will own crap.  There are no bargains in real estate.  In many parts of the country, it may be possible to buy older homes for under $150,000.  The problem is that unless they have been fully renovated including new plumbing and electrical, the odds are pretty good that expensive repairs will eat into any potential income or even appreciation gain that may occur over many years.  Stay away from older homes unless they have been renovated.  

It is also possible to get "deals' on homes in poor locations; next to a railroad track, near power lines, near commercial properties, or on a busy street.  Just remember all of those objections will limit the number of renters interested in living in the home.  Fewer renters will mean lower rents possible. 

Most important, the way to increase return on investment is to manage the property personally rather than hire a property management company.  That does not necessarily mean doing actual repairs; but it does mean having a good plumber, electrician etc. on call when things go wrong.  It also means the tenant calling you directly to solve a problem.  

Finally, it is absolutely critical to screen tenants.  That means a very lengthy rental application to scare away dead beats and running a credit report.  Rental applications are available on the Internet.  An owner should not rent to anyone that has a credit score below 600.  Anything less mans a bad credit history, which is a pretty good indicator that you may not be paid the rent.  To avoid all of this, you can invest in a Real Estate Investment Trust that owns rental properties all over the country.  The returns may not be quite as good; but then you won't be getting a call from a tenant at 2 am in the morning.  Investing in a REIT, will give you the advantages of owning rental properties without the hassle.  

Aug 15, 2021

Getting Your Home Ready For Sale

Even though real estate markets are hot in many areas and it is still a seller's market, to get the highest price possible, you need to get your home ready for sale.  Ideally, it would be great to create a biding war with multiple offers to get even more than your list price.   For that to happen, you need to do some things.  First, get rid of clutter.  Your home needs to be neater and cleaner than it has ever been.  If you have old furniture you plan to get rid of anyway, donate or sell it now to make your place look bigger.  

If you have painted your walls purple, it might be a good idea to paint them a neutral color.  I know painting involves some cost or work, but it could pay off in getting you a higher price.  And, then there are the smells.  If you have indoor pets, there are smells in your home that you don't smell anymore.  And, or if you cook with certain spices, you could have the same problem. To get rid of the offensive smells, you have to do a deep clean of any carpets, drapes, upholstered furniture etc. and at a minimum as long as your home is on the market, stop cooking with those spices and or you either need to board your pets, or keep them outside once the cleaning has occurred.  This is necessary because the smells are offensive and some people are actually allergic to dogs or cats.  

There is the easy stuff related to curb appeal.  Plant some flowers to spruce up the front of your home.   If you have stained wood work outside, have it stained.   Otherwise, paint the front door a bright color.  For some reason, blue seems resonate with buyers.  Get rid of dead or over grown plants that may be covering a view of your home from the street.  The outside of your home will determine if a potential buyer will even get out of the car to see the inside, so spending a few bucks to spruce things up will get you a higher price. 

Then there is the tougher stuff.  If you have a neighbor on either side of your home whose front yard is an eyesore, having a talk with the neighbor to clean it up should happen.  If they won't do it.  Offer to pay to have it done.  Nobody will buy your home if they see that your neighbor is a slob.  If you live in a community with an HOA and rules are being violated, let the HOA handle it.  Otherwise, tactfully, you will have to deal with the problem to get the highest price for your home.  Doing the things I have listed will not only help you sell your home quicker, in this market, it will get you more money,  

Aug 13, 2021

Borrowing Money To Do A Home Renovation

Since home values have gone up so much in the last year and mortgage interest rates are so low, it may make sense to borrow money to do a home renovation; but be careful.   First, don't go crazy.  Kitchen and bathroom renovations are the best return on investment.  They add value to a home, particularly over the long term.  If you are planning on selling your home and doing a renovation to increase the sale price, you must be very aware of what comparables in the neighborhood are selling for so that you will get back your investment and more otherwise why bother.   

I know, I know, you have seen all the shows on HTDV showing great renovations of fixer upper homes that they then sell for a lot more money than the cost of the home.  Yes, it can work that way, or not. But, believe me, they are not showing you the deals they lost money on.  Having done a major renovation, what I learned is that it cost a lot more than I originally intended and it took twice as much time than what was promised.  And, specific to older homes, once you start opening up walls, you will find plumbing, electrical and sometimes foundation work that needs to be done even before you get to the great kitchen or bathrooms.   If the home is more than 20 years old, plan on it.  

These days on HTDV, we are seeing a lot of bold tiles with busy patterns installed.   They look nice; but from an investment perspective, I question how wise that really is because I am always focused on when it comes time to sell the home.  You want to attract as many potential buyers as possible.  So stick to tiles and flooring that will work for most people.  You can get bold with paint colors and or other décor that are easy to change.  Buyers can deal with those kinds of changes because they are not incredibly expensive; but changing out tiles and flooring is very expensive. 

So, it could make sense to borrow money to do a major renovation particularly if you plan to live in the home for at least 5 more years.  But, remember the market is crazy right now with prices that may not be sustainable.  Try not to have total debt on your home of more than 70% of its current value so that if the market goes down and you have to sell, you will not owe more than the home is worth. Think ahead.  Be smart about your decisions.  

The Five - Ten Mile Rule - Everything Close By

If you live in a small town, the five - ten mile rule should be easy to achieve.  That is, it is best if everything you need for daily life is within 5 - 10  miles of your home.  Living in a big city may make the five - ten mile rule harder to achieve; but at least implementing a 10 mile rule would be a good substitute.  Aside from just the convenience of having everything close by, we are likely to see higher gas and even electric prices, for those that have electric cars go up in the next few years.  The federal government is currently implementing polices that will raise all energy costs. 

If you are buying a home, consider the 5 or at most 10 mile rule.  Sometimes people buy homes in the middle of nowhere to get lower sale prices; but doing so could be short sighted.  What ever you save in house payments could be eaten up by additional energy costs not to mention time on the road.   With interest rates being so low, it would be better to have a higher tax deductible mortgage in order to move closer in to amenities and or your job, if not already working from home.  

As someone who drove 40 miles to work each way years ago, I would never do that again.  The bumper to bumper traffic seriously impacted my quality of life.  I hated it.  Many times of the year, I never saw my home during day light hours except on weekends.  It was miserable, which is why today I implement the 5 to 10 mile rule.  I want everything I need close by.  So, think about the amenities that are important to you and buy a home near them.  

At Paragon, we work with customers to sell and buy homes for the best price possible.  We take the stress out of moving by providing counseling concerning every aspect of the process.  We love the 5 - 10 mile rule and can make it happen for you.  

Aug 12, 2021

Landlords Dealing With The Illegal Eviction Moratorium

Joe Biden has extended the Eviction Moratorium by Executive Order.  The Supreme Court ruled that this was only possible through an act of Congress.  Joe Biden did it anyway.  This is the 7th time the Eviction Moratorium has been extended, which is killing mom and pop landlords.  What many do not understand is that 53% of rentals are 1 - 4 units owned by small investors many times as part of their retirement portfolio.  While billions have been approved to assist tenants and landlords, the states have been slow to get the money out.  

And, in many instances tenants have gotten the rent money from the government; but not paid the rent to the landlord because they knew they could not be evicted.  The landlords who still must make mortgage payments along with paying other expenses have gotten the short end of the stick.  This money in lost income should have gone directly to the landlords not the tenants; but that is not what is happening.  

However, landlords have three options to deal with this as follows:

1. Apply for Federal Aid - Good luck with that in terms of timing.  If it works anything like other government agencies, it could take months for the money to come through. 

2. Refinance the Mortgage - Good luck with that unless the landlord has significant assets and is not relying on rents for income.  

3. Ask the current Mortgage Lender for Forbearance - This may be the best option in terms of timing.  Lenders will work with landlords to delay mortgage payments because they really don't want to foreclose because it takes months.  

23% of Mom and Pop landlords have been forced to sell their rental properties to big investors with deep pockets who can see this crisis through.  This is another example of government good intentions gone bad.  Unfortunately, huge bureaucracies get in the way of success.  This is just one more example of government failure.  As Ronald Reagan often said, "Government is not the solution to our problems, government is the problem."  


Aug 10, 2021

Home Buyer Check List - Needs & Wants

Before you start searching for a home to buy, it might be a good idea to sit down and actually write down your needs and wants before you start working with a real estate agent to actually view homes.  Couples need to be on the same page, which sometimes is not the case.  Argue it out before you start looking for homes.  If this is going to be your first home or your retirement home, needs and wants could be very different.  Most people will end up living in 3 or more homes during their lifetimes as personal needs change.  It is probably not a bad idea to buy a little more home than you need; but not a lot more home than you need right now because you will be paying for square footage, maintenance, utilities, property taxes etc. for a home that may be too big at this stage of your life. 

Whatever you buy always look at location.  If you buy crap, you will own crap.  And always remember, there are no bargains in real estate.  A home that sells for less than others in the neighborhood usually has some bad features related to location of the property and or the need for major repairs.  Don't buy on a busy street. Don't buy with high voltage wires in sight.  Don't buy too near commercial property.  Curb appeal matters.  If the home is an ugly architectural style, it will be harder to sell when you want to sell it.  And, schools matter so even if you don't have kids of school age; buy in an area with highly rated public schools.  You will pay more for the home; but you will get more when it comes time to sell the home years down the road.  

Specific to a fixer upper, just remember what you see on the surface may be much worse once the walls are opened up.  The odds are pretty good if you are buying an older home, it will require plumbing, electrical and maybe even some foundation work before you even get to the new kitchen or bathrooms.  Assume the cost will be much higher than you might think and that the renovation will take more time than originally promised.  

Buy enough bedrooms so that one can be used for a home office unless the home already comes with a den.  Today everybody wants "open concept", which is actually historically pretty funny because in the old days the kitchen was usually in the back of the house to be hidden from your guests.   Now when people have guests visiting, they often cook together as part of the entertainment for the evening.  

In any case, make a check of list of your must have's and nice to have's to provide the real estate agent.  Of course, budget is critical.  Fortunately, you can get pre qualified for a mortgage so you will know exactly what you can afford.  It is best if you can put at least 20% down to avoid Private Mortgage Insurance, which will add to your monthly house payment.  Buying a home can be both fun and stressful.  At Paragon, we work with couples to sell and buy homes all over the country.  We make it as stress free as possible because we provide counseling on all the issues that come up in the process.  

Read The Fine Print - Keep All Documents - Identity Theft

There is rampant Identity Theft happening in the United States.  Apparently, crooks are able to steal someone's identity to take out presumably a second mortgage against the home.  Once they get the money, they are long gone.  The Homeowner may not even be aware that there is a second mortgage on the home with another lender until they start getting delinquent payment notices from the lender.  If the payments are not made, it could lead to foreclosure, which would be a nightmare scenario.  There are security firms people can retain to help prevent something like this from happening.  These companies monitor any potential change in title, which might prevent the theft from happening.  

In a case we encountered just today, one of our past customers had obtained a loan with our assistance from one of the major banks.  Sometime later, they decided to refinance the mortgage again with our assistance because interest rates had dropped.  In the process, the initial mortgage on the home was paid off by the new lender.  However, the pay off apparently never got recorded.  The good news is that the initial lender did send a lender indicating that the pay off had occurred.  And, the customer still has the original loan number.  This is all coming up because this couple is selling their home and the encumbrance related to the initial mortgage is still listed on title.  This one is an easy fix.  Either the title company that closed the deal needs to record the loan as paid off and or the mortgage company just needs to record the pay off.  This was a simple error that should be resolved quickly.

What is important is that this transaction took place in 2015.  The couple kept all documents so it should be very easy to get this cloud on title removed so that they can close the sale with their buyers.  The lesson here is read the fine print and keep all documents for many years.  In this case, the problem has come up 6 years later.  The most important thing is that the initial mortgage was paid off at the closing table so this money is not floating around somewhere in somebody else's hands.  Sadly, we live in a world full of crooks.  We can't be too careful.  Never give out Social Security numbers or a Driver's License number over the phone to anybody, or company you don't know.   

Scams are happening every day.  One that occurs shows your computer locked up and requires you to call Microsoft, which is not Microsoft; but rather scammers.  They require you to give them your password to open up your computer.  Never, Never do it.  They are attempting to get into your computer to steal any information that may be of value to them.  They are crooks.  

Aug 8, 2021

Principal, Interest, Taxes And Insurance (PITI) plus HOA

Very often you will hear realtors, lenders and others talk about (PITI) to determine house payment affordability.  They are referring to your mortgage payment, which will include Principal to pay off the loan, unless it is interest only, interest on the debt, property taxes and insurance and then very often a monthly Home Owners Association payment.   It is the total of these expenses that make up your monthly home expense.  Of course, you still must pay utilities and maintenance to see the rest of the picture.  But, it suffices to say that if you can't afford PITI, you probably do not have the income to buy the particular home.  

Usually, no more than 33% of your income should be going to make your total house payment.  Generally, lenders will not approve loans for more than 33% of your income.   You will need the other 67% to buy things like food, clothing, medical services and many other things.   We sometime hear the term being "house poor".   It means that people want to own a home so badly that they are willing to pay a large share of their monthly income for the privilege.  In the long run it may make sense.  In the short run, it could be painful.

The good news is that mortgage interest rates are so low today that owning a home can be pretty affordable for many people especially dual income couples.  The problem is often the down payment.  First time home buyers can purchase a home with as little as 3% down; but naturally the lower the down payment the higher the monthly payment.  Buying a home with less than 20% down will usually require private mortgage insurance or PMI, which will raise the payment $100 or more a month depending on the amount of the loan.  

In any case, when buying a home, you must focus on PITI plus HOA to understand the full impact of monthly payments.  Some people prefer impounds meaning that they pay the mortgage company for taxes and insurance to include it as a monthly payment.  Property taxes depending on local jurisdiction are usually due 2 to 4 times a year.  Insurance can be paid monthly, quarterly or semi-annually,  People who choose impounds sometimes just prefer to make one payment each month to cover it all.  When you do that, the lender holds the money and then pays the amounts due when they are due.   It does make it easier from a budgeting standpoint.  

Barbeque and Outdoor Kitchens

Barbeque has been a tradition in the United States since long before the founding of our country.  People have been cooking food outdoors on open fires since prehistoric times.  In the case of frontier America, cooking outdoors was integral to our Westward expansion across the country.  There is a reason they were called Cowboys.  And, this is something Men just do; though frankly probably because it is a lot easier than cooking complex meals in the kitchen that require a lot of preparation.  I like to do both because as an Italian cooking comes naturally.  

People living in apartments often have something as small as a hibachi to barbeque foods, or propane barbecues on tiny terraces.  Of course, those with large backyards and big budgets may have incredible outdoor kitchens that include all sort of appliances from the large barbeque itself to refrigerators, ice makers, sinks etc.  Either way, barbeque is extremely popular in the United States. 

For the most part, many people have moved away from charcoal because it can cause cancer to either natural gas or propane barbeques.  They both provide for cleaner, safer cooking.  Cooking all types of meats, chicken, fish and vegetables all work great on the barbeque.  Food cooks fast on a barbeque so turning ones back is not the best idea if avoiding burnt food is the objective.  Slow cooking usually works best on lower heat.  And, don't forget to spray the grill with oil.  

Barbeque is a great source of backyard entertainment.  People often gather around the barbeque, with beer or a wine glass in hand. Barbeque is a great excuse to entertain family and friends.  So, any time of year is a good time to barbeque unless of course it is raining, or snowing outside.  Otherwise, heat up the barbeque and cook up some great food to have some fun.    

Aug 7, 2021

Home Insurance - Not So Simple

If you have a mortgage on your home, the lender will require that you have home insurance to protect them in the event of a total loss.  However, getting home insurance is not always easy.  If you live in an area prone to wild fires and particularly if you live too near a canyon, it is possible that it will be very difficult to get home insurance.  Insurance companies can Google Earth your home to see how close you are to a natural open brush area and if you are too close, they will decline to provide home insurance. 

Further if you own a dog on the vicious dog list like a pit bull, some insurance companies will not provide home insurance.  What you also may not know is that any time you file a claim to repair some damage to your home, your home ends up on a liability list that all insurance companies can access.  Your home's claim history remains available for years so if there are too many claims, conceivably an insurance company may turn you down and or the premiums will be higher. 

Finally, with building cost going up dramatically, it is time to check with your insurance agent to make sure you have enough insurance coverage on your home to rebuild it in the event of total destruction.  If you don't have specific earthquake or flood insurance and your home is destroyed from one of these events, you may have little or no coverage.  So, you need to make sure you are covered for events that are likely in your area.  Buying home insurance is not so simple.  Make sure you understand what is covered and what is not covered.  The fine print matters.   

Aug 6, 2021

Eviction Moratorium Extended - A Government Program Mess

President Biden has extended the moratorium on eviction of renters as a result of Covid impact, even though the Supreme Court has declared it unconstitutional.  Apparently, there are billions of dollars that have not been paid out either to renters or landlords because of the bureaucratic morass to get it done.  This particular program is a mess.  First of all, renters who got the money in many cases have just kept it and not paid back rents to landlords.  

Many do not realize that many landlords are Mom and Pop investors that may own one or a few rental homes.  They have to make mortgage payments on those properties, plus pay insurance, property taxes, maintenance etc.  Without rent money coming in, landlords are out of pocket for these monies and or cannot make their payments.  The reality is that landlords should have been able alone to apply for their losses not the tenants because there was no guarantee that tenants living rent free so to speak would pay landlords the monies owed if they were provided government assistance.  That said, local and state governments have failed miserably to get the money out the door either way. 

But this is all part of a bigger problem.  Because the extra $300 a week in federal unemployment insurance does not expire in many states until September, even though there are jobs available, about 10 million across the country, many people have chosen not to go back to work because they are making more money staying home than going to work.  Further, getting a job might require them to pay rent.  The money they are getting in unemployment insurance in addition to living rent free makes not working a better deal for them than going back to work.  This is a classic case of well intentioned government programs gone wrong.  

In all probability, Biden's executive order will be challenged again in court and he will probably loose again.  And, an act of Congress would have been necessary to extend the Eviction Moratorium and the votes were not there to do it because it is bad policy.   All President Biden did was add to the uncertainly and confusion making things worse for landlords already in trouble.  



 

Aug 5, 2021

Community Property Versus Tenants In Common

Most married couples own their homes as Community Property.  That means if one dies, the other inherits 100% of the property automatically generally with no tax implications.  Tenants In Common is used when two people buy a property together based on the percentage of down payment each has contributed.  So, if each person puts 50% down, they each person owns 50% of the property.  If one dies, the percentage of ownership goes to that person's heirs not the other partner.  This also means that both partners are on the mortgage application and both must qualify for the mortgage.  

The Community Property designation is very straight forward.  The remaining person gets the property in the event to death.  It is Tenants In Common that probably requires a separate operating agreement to deal with the What If's.  What if one of the owners wants out of the deal.  One of two things would have to happen.  Either the home would have to be sold and the proceeds distributed to both owners, or the other partner would have to buy out the other owner, which probably means refinancing the loan.  Death of a partner could be more complicated because the ownership position could be left to his or her heirs.  That means that now the remaining partner will own the home with other people.  

In all likelihood, once again the partner would have to buy out the heirs, one way or another, or sell the property to distribute the proceeds to all owners.  If the property was bought as an investment, there probably should be a time window that requires a sale to say either the earlier of the partner's agreeing to sell the home, or perhaps ten years, which ever comes first.  

In any case, if a property is purchased as Tenants in Common, there does need to be an operating agreement to deal with the What If's.  It may be that an attorney should help in drafting this document to make sure both partners are clear as to eventualities.  

Aug 4, 2021

Advantages Of Living In A 55 Or Older Community

Once the kids leave the nest and people approach 55 or older, it may be time to think of buying in a 55 or older community.  There are many advantages.  It could be a good time to downsize because supporting a big home is costly.  Two or three bedrooms with a home office could be plenty.  Open concept with a great room and dining area and a nice yard could be sufficient for entertaining.  Most important will be all the things that you have in common with other people who live in the community.  There is a good likelihood that you all will be at similar stages in life, which causes commonality.  And usually because of it, it is easy to make new friends because you have so much in common. 

One thing to beware of is making sure the community is grandchildren friendly, if you have some, so that when you have family visits, you can take your grandchildren to the community pools.  Some 55 or older communities do not allow visitors to use the facilities, which for us anyway would be a problem.  

I recommend gated communities as best.  You will pay a little more both in home price and in HOA dues; but as we get older security is paramount.  Next are amenities and activities.  Buy in a community with a great club house with pools, pickle ball, bocce etc.  Using a common area pool is preferable to having your own pool in the backyard to avoid the maintenance expense.  

We are seeing many 55 or older communities springing up all over the country.  They are growing in popularity because 78 million baby boomers are turning 65 at the rate of 10,000 a day for the next 15 to 20 years.  The demand is there and builders know it.  Paragon can work with you to make the move.  We specialize in assisting customers with selling and buying homes, moving household good etc. to make moving as easy as possible.  Maybe now is the time to make the move.  Think about it.  

Aug 3, 2021

More Affordable Housing

There is a housing crisis in the United States and I am not just talking about the homeless living in tents in many cities.  We are short 5 million housing units to meet demand.  In other words, supply is not keeping up with demand, which is the reason that home prices are going through the roof.  The only way to get there is higher density housing in the suburbs.  It is not uncommon to see high rise apartment and condo buildings in some major cities where land is scarce.  And, while we don't need 20 story buildings in the suburbs, it is likely that we do need to see 4 - 6 story buildings on available land. 

Further, excess commercial property needs to be torn down and redeveloped into housing.  This will mean rezoning to include multi use residential; but using the land differently is essential to filling our nation's housing needs.  Clearly, when apartments are built whether for all age groups or 55 or older some number of apartments must be set aside for government subsided housing to provide for more affordable living.  This approach would be far more preferable to building government projects that often turn into slums 10 or more years later.  

As a country, we have to rethink housing to create more affordable housing.  The key is land use.  Getting more units on less land with parks and other amenities nearby.  This also means getting rid of burdensome regulations that can add up to 30% to building cost.  We see the impact in places like California where home prices are extremely high thanks to land values and regulations that add to costs.  

We need 5 million more affordable housing units in the United States.  With some creative approaches we can get there; but business as usual is not working.  

Aug 2, 2021

Removing Private Mortgage Insurance On Your Loan (PMI)

Home buyers who purchased a home with less than 20% down likely were required by the lender to have Private Mortgage Insurance on your loan often referred to as PMI.  This will increase your monthly house payment sometimes by a few hundred dollars a month.  The good news is that there are ways to get rid of it.  First, it goes away automatically, once you are half way through the mortgage provided you are up to date on your payments, but that could take years.

More likely, one of two other ways are more probable.  If your home has appreciated in value in the last five years, which is likely given the escalating real estate markets, you can do one of two things.  You can refinance your loan perhaps today at a lower interest rate assuming you now have more equity in the home.  Or, you can go to the lender with an appraisal to prove the higher value and request that they remove the PMI from your loan. 

First, just Zillow your home to get an idea of its current value.  If there has been significant appreciation, which in many cases may have occurred, choose the best option for you.  Since it cost money to refinance your loan, unless current mortgage interest rates are 1% or more below what you are paying now and you plan on staying in your home for 5 years or more, the best option may just be to have your current lender remove the PMI if you qualify.  PMI can be eliminated.  Take the first opportunity to get rid of it to lower your monthly payments.    

Aug 1, 2021

Bacon Lovers - Time To Fight Back

Since there is nothing better than the smell of bacon cooking on a stove in the morning probably in most homes in the country, all should know that bacon is under attack.  A new law in California, surprise, surprise requires that Pig farmers house pigs in bigger pens, basically 4 square feet bigger to give Pigs more room to spread out.  Get the pun.  So instead of 20 square feet 24 square feet.  Supposedly, the extra 4 square feet is more humane.  Let's remember, these pigs are being raised for food not pets.  

Since Pig farmers based in California cannot supply the 250 million pounds of bacon consumed in California each year, most of the bacon needed will come from Iowa and other states.  I say the hell with California.  Don't take my bacon away. This means that Pig farmers would have to make a major investment to supply California with bacon.  Even if they choose to do so, which is questionable, they can't meet the time frame.  So, not only will bacon be 30% more expensive in California going forward, we could all end up paying more.  This is a national disaster.  The reality is we can't live without bacon.  

It is time for bacon lovers to fight back.  Contact your members of Congress to demand national bacon laws.  Since federal laws overrule state laws, if the Feds keep the same standards in place,  the California law, which makes little sense, will be null and void.   4 square feet is just 2 feet by 2 feet bigger.  I doubt the Pigs can tell the difference.  We just can't have a bacon shortage in our country.  It would be a national emergency.  

Jul 30, 2021

An Interest Only Mortgage Can Be A Great Option

Most people don't realize that during the first 30 years of a fully amortized mortgage, very little money is actually going to pay off the principal.  During the first 10 years, most of the payment is interest only, however, the payment is higher than would otherwise be the case if it was actually an interest only loan.  So for some people living in real estate markets where homes tend to appreciate, it might make more sense just to get an interest only loan to get the lowest payment possible to invest the money in the stock market, 401K's or other investments, or perhaps to pay for things like child care.  If the home appreciates at just 3% a year, the homeowner will be growing equity in the home anyway even though nothing is going to pay off the principal. 

Certainly for people who will only be in the home for 10 years or less, for whatever reason, an interest only loan could make perfect sense provided homes in the area tend to go up in value over time.   Yes, you will owe the original loan amount whenever you sell, but if the home goes up in value, you paid a much lower payment for the time period allowing you to grow savings elsewhere or to cover other family needed expenses. 

Consult a good accountant to see what might be best for you based on your personal circumstances.  In many instances an interest only mortgage loan could be cheaper than paying rent.  If that is the case, home ownership is always the best option.   


Jul 29, 2021

Slight Uptick in Home Inventory in June

The number of homes in the US on the market was still 37.5% less in June, 2021 than in June 2020, which has led to skyrocketing home prices in many markets.  Clearly, there is more demand than supply so that the national median sale price actually rose from $320,000 in April to $336,000 in June.  The good news however, is that inventory across the country rose by 1.9%, which means at least there was a few more homes for sale than months before.  

This is not much of an uptick unless it becomes a trend.  The fact is that the country is short 5 million housing units, which in particular is a killer for first time home buyers that tend to drive markets.  In fact, first time home buyers have been driven out of the market because they just could not compete with either all cash buyers, or buyers able to put 20% or more down to purchase a home.  And, of course, since many homes have been selling in bidding wars above list price, first time home buyers with low down payments just could not compete.  So, they have been forced to continue paying rising rents until the markets cool down. 

I suspect it will take two or three years for demand and supply to equalize.  It may not be a buyer's market for a while, which would take a downturn caused by much higher mortgage interest rates, but at least there may be more inventory to choose from, which should moderate prices.  The last year has been one of the most interesting in decades in the real estate market.  To say it has been a seller's market is an understatement.  

Jul 27, 2021

High Crime Rates Negatively Impact Property Values

Aside from the threat to life, high crime rates impact property values.  Clearly, given a choice people would not want to buy a home in a neighborhood, or city with a high crime rate.   Fewer buyers means lower prices.   As as a result of some calls to defund the police, which is irrational, we are seeing a crime wave across the country.  Robberies, assaults and murder rates are way up in some of the largest cities in the nation.  

Regardless of your politics, it is time to call on elected leaders of both political parties to take action.  We need more cops on the street and they must be empowered to do their jobs.  This does not mean police brutality or use of force that is unnecessary; but given the criticism cops have faced, they are standing back rather than making arrests.  

This can't be allowed to continue because the murder rate in the United States is sky rocketing in many urban areas.  Also, dumb laws need to be eliminated.  California does not prosecute theft under a $1,000 in goods.  So thieves are going into stores with large plastic bags to steal up to the dollar limit.  Some stores in various areas are closing because the theft is unstainable.  In addition, some jurisdictions release criminals with no bail.  So crooks and murderers are back on the street the next day after an arrest.  This has to stop.

All Neighborhoods should have Neighborhood Watch to assist the cops with preventing crime.  High crime should be everyone's concern.  Aside from the threats to personal safety, it is costing people money.  Theft results in higher prices.  And high crime rates absolutely impact property values.  

Jul 26, 2021

Trading Commuting Time For Bigger Homes At Lower Prices

Years ago, when I was first married, we bought our first home in California 40 miles away from our work.  We were able to buy a large home at half the cost it would have been just 20 miles closer to work.  The end result was a 90 minute commute in bumper to bumper traffic, which we did for 8 years.  It was miserable.  During the winter, I left my home in the dark and I came home in the dark.  I did not see our home during daylight hours except on weekends.  We did not know how miserable it really was until we no longer had to do it with a job transfer, when we bought our second home.  

This is a common story.  There are many people around the world who commute 60 - 90 minutes or more each way to go to work whether driving, or taking public transportation usually trains in those regions that have them.  At least on the train you can read or nap.  The question is whether the trade off of buying a bigger home at a lower price is really worth it.  Certainly, for people with families that need more space, it may be the only option.  However, there is no doubt that it impacts quality of life.  

That is why when Covid hit and many people were given the option of working from home, they jumped on it.  So much so that now that they have been able to work from home, many are fighting going back to the office.  A lot of this has to do with commuting time, which in many cities is 60 - 90 minutes each way.  Fighting bumper to bumper traffic is stressful.  Certainly, after we moved and my commute fell to 30 minutes each way, I knew I would never take a job again that required long commuting distances.  

So when considering a home purchase, factor in both the cost of commuting in terms of time and money.  Just maybe it makes more sense to buy a smaller home closer into work if you are still required to go into the office.  The best of all worlds is the ability to work from home because then you can live virtually anywhere in the country.