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Buyers Beware: Senior Living Comes With Risks

January 9, 2020 - 4:35pm

(TNS)—The market for housing communities intended for those ages 55 and older recently got a big makeover, marked by a much wider selection of amenities, homes and target buyers than in the past. Developments featuring hiking and biking trails, big-name entertainment, athletic sports, community gardens and upscale and solar-powered homes are in. Golf courses and country clubs are no longer required features.

Top developer Del Webb continues to build massive projects with resort-like features, adding in more modern perks like a BMX pump track. Smaller developments target niche populations, such as equestrians, small plane hobbyists or retirees from specific professions. Private beaches, pickleball, film festivals, RV clubs and serious cooking classes are popular. Safety—most developments are gated—continues to be a key sales driver.

Rules defining these “active adult communities” are changing too. In addition to traditional 55-plus developments that prohibit younger buyers, the market now includes more developments that cater to older residents but don’t dictate ages of residents or visitors.

Meanwhile, the nation’s baby boomers have aged into willing and able target buyers. The generation holds about $8 trillion in home equity—an almost two-thirds cut of the entire nation’s—and it has made 55-plus developments one of the hottest markets going for U.S. home builders. Today’s developments are attracting buyers that never would have gone for traditional golf and tennis communities.

To get a sense of what’s on offer in active adult communities, check out the searchable resources at 55places.com, a brokerage firm that offers research, photos and reviews of thousands of these developments. (They don’t take money directly from builders of these developments but do hope to hook you up with an agent selling property in one. No endorsement implied here.) Numerous articles from real estate brokers and seniors organizations offer good basic advice on factors to consider when comparing 55-plus communities.

We’ve added below a few less-noted quirks of active adult communities that could have major implications for your happiness. While each of these points is a potential pitfall for buyers, they aren’t intended to deter sales in this evolving market. Rather, consider this information a basis for forming questions to ask in order to avoid unpleasant, post-relocation surprises.

Children may be closer than you think. “Active adult community” is a neutral term that can mean strict rules for age or none at all. While 55-plus restricted developments bar younger residents by law, “age targeted” developments can have any number of kids. It’s trendy for developers to broaden their potential buying pool, sometimes with a creative blend of both.

It’s important to ask where the lines are drawn now and in future development that may share facilities. Almost every community allows young visitors, but restrictions will vary widely. Can teenagers stay all summer and use the pools? Will the future club house for the family part of the development be isolated from the adults-only facilities or next door?

That pickleball court may never look so good again. Development companies typically maintain the pools, golf courses, bike paths and other amenities as long as there’s ongoing home-building. Once development is complete, they often hand over those responsibilities to another entity, such as an on-site country club, a professional management company or a homeowners association.

Going forward, who will manage the perks that attracted you? The quality of those amenities will depend on their skills, priorities and budgets.

Local politics affect your fun and finances. The homeowners association within a 55-plus community can be extremely powerful, oftentimes controlling the community’s budget and rules. In other words, it can determine how much you pay in fees, the length of the grass on your putting green and the size of your beloved garden ornament.

All of those factors—fees, rules and budget priorities—can change. Tennis courts may get pushed out in favor of pickleball, for example. The association probably can ban your cigar smoke at whim. Even age restrictions aren’t always set in stone. Find out how much control you have over these decisions, or in choosing the team that will make them.

You need an exit plan. While it’s hard to predict when health will fail, most of us will need continuing help eventually. And if you live in an active adult community, you may have to sell to get it. Those underage caretakers may be reticent or even barred from moving into a restricted community to help.

What level of fitness is required for continuing residency? While the development’s marketing materials probably tout the convenience of nearby medical facilities, few are set up for people that cannot live independently.

©2019 Rate.com News
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

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Categories: Real Estate

Who Keeps the Earnest Money When a Real Estate Transaction Falls Through

January 2, 2020 - 3:58pm

Who Keeps The Earnest Money Deposit in a Home Purchase?

When buying a home, many folks have no idea what role earnest money plays in a real estate transaction. The earnest money payment forms part of almost all real estate contracts and agreements. It is a payment that you make to the seller of the property in good faith, proving you can back up your offer with cold hard cash. The idea is to show you are serious about buying the property. The money will be held in an escrow account.

If this is the first time you are purchasing a home, it may seem like you are handing over money and getting nothing in return. That, however, is not the case. Once the earnest payment has been received, the seller will take the property off the market, and the earnest payment will go towards the cost of the home. It forms the financial cement indicating you’re a sincere home buyer.

Does it always work out that way? No, it doesn’t, and since the earnest payment can be rather large, it is a good idea to understand what can go wrong before you hand over the cash.

It is also vital not to confuse a down payment with an earnest money deposit. A house down payment and earnest money are not the same things. The resource at Maximum Real Estate Exposure does an excellent job explaining what earnest money is, how it works, and how it differs from down payment funds.

How Much Should I Put Down?
It is only serious buyers who should put down an earnest money deposit. Let’s be honest; we are talking about a substantial amount of money. An earnest money deposit can be anywhere between 1 – 5% of the purchase price of the home.

So, if you are buying a home for $500,000, the earnest money will range from $5,000 to $25,000 and potentially more. That is a lot of money to put down to ask someone to take a property off the market.

Before you hand it over, you need to make sure that you have a contract covering the payment. That purchase and sale should include all of the obligations of each of the parties. From a buying standpoint, you will want to make sure there are essential contingencies, such as a home inspection and procuring financing.
When making an earnest payment, you’ll want to consult with your real estate agent on what is a traditional amount in the local market.

The Earnest Payment Makes the Purchase Contract Official
Handing over the earnest money effectively seals the deal. Once all of the financial issues have been settled, the property is now yours. That is unless something goes wrong. This is where it is crucial to have a buying agent on your side. He or she will look after you and make sure that everything stays on track.

Your buying agent will explain to you that the earnest money deposit is one of the four components that form part of the sales agreement. Without earnest money, the contract is likely not considered legal in most American states and foreign countries for that matter. One of the many things a buyer’s agent does is protect a buyer’s earnest money deposit by keeping up with contract performance time frames.

The Earnest Money Deposit – When Will It Come Through?
The earnest payment is best described as partial payment for the home you are about to buy. On average, the earnest money is handed over soon after an offer has been accepted. That is generally between 24 – 48 hours.

Some buyers who invest in prominent expensive properties may be asked how they obtained the money to make the deposit. This is to make sure there is no fraud, and that the money has come from legit sources.

Most of the time, buyers are asked to provide bank statements, deposit slips, and proof that the money has been in your account for at least 60 days. In some countries, it is easy to make offshore transactions, but that does not go for the United States. This can make it hard for foreign investors who often rely on financial resources from abroad or offshore.

Once the earnest money deposit is submitted, it is held by a third party, such as a real estate company or lawyer, until the completion of the home has gone through.

Specialist escrow companies have sprung up around the real estate industry, and many buyers and sellers turn to them.

What Happens If the Deal Falls Through?
Should the seller presume the earnest money is theirs the moment it has been submitted? Absolutely not. The seller will never see the money unless there is a default on the buyer’s part. Most of the time, a buyer’s lawyer or buying agent, will make sure there are clauses in the contract that protects the buyer.

There are many things that can still happen. If the home inspection brings up certain red flags, the buyer may just say thanks, but no thanks. The appraisal process might also affect the earnest money deposit. If there is an appraisal contingency that states the home must appraise for the purchase price and it doesn’t, the buyer will not have to proceed.

Financial problems such as the mortgage falling through will also mean the buyer can have his money back. Too many issues discovered in the home inspection are perhaps the most common reason for the earnest money being returned to the buyer. Yes, you can try to negotiate a new deal, but it doesn’t always work out.

The buyer being unable to sell his own home is another reason a sale could fall through. In real estate circles, this is known as a home sale contingency. The seller failing to stick to a moving out schedule is yet another problem that creeps up from time to time.

Does the Seller Ever Keep the Earnest Money?
Yes, the seller has the right to keep the money under certain circumstances. If the buyer decides to cancel the sale without a valid reason or doesn’t stick to an agreed timeline, the seller gets to keep the money. These are the most common ways a buyer will lose their earnest money.

Adhering to an agreed schedule is very important when it comes to buying and selling a home. The real estate business is all about making commitments and following them through. You may be one in the chain of many, and making sure that everything works out for all of you, is a bit like walking a tightrope in a circus. It is not easy, and you should not underestimate the skill of your local real estate agent.

If you are the buyer, it is imperative to have a professional with experience on your side. A buyer’s agent will help you to negotiate the earnest money deposit, make sure the entire home buying process runs smoothly, and ensure that you get the best value for money as far as the total purchase price of the property is concerned.

Final Thoughts on Earnest Money Deposits
So when answering the question “who keeps the earnest money when a home sale falls through?” it boils down to who violated the terms of the contract. If a buyer defaults on one of their commitments or time frames, they will lose their money. If, however, the buyer backs out of the transaction due to one of their contingencies, the seller will not be able to keep the earnest money.

Both buyers and sellers need to know the ins and outs of earnest money.

Bill Gassett is a nationally recognized real estate leader who has been helping people buy and sell Metrowest Massachusetts real estate for the past 33 years. He has been one of the top RE/MAX REALTORS® in New England for the past decade. In 2018, he was the No. 1 RE/MAX real estate agent in Massachusetts.

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Categories: Real Estate

How to Protect Your Money From Online Crooks While Holiday Shopping

December 11, 2019 - 4:44pm

(TNS)—As shoppers whip out the plastic for online deals, the holiday angst only heightens when it comes to threats to your credit card accounts and other personal information.

Even consumers who shop online through a major retailer, like Macy’s, can fall victim to some of these incredible hacking incidents. During a one-week period in early October, for example, sophisticated intruders targeted online shoppers at Macys.com to secretly collect addresses, emails, names, credit card numbers and other personal information. As a shopper, you would have had no idea there was any sort of trouble when you used your card to buy merchandise. Later down the line, though, you likely received a letter from Macy’s explaining that you were a victim of this limited data breach.

The Macy’s breach mirrors a proliferation of specific e-skimming attacks outlined earlier by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The FBI said in October, before news of the Macy’s breach broke in November, that the bureau was seeing a number of e-skimming cases open up.

The danger of this latest cyber attack: Cyber criminals are getting our data in real-time, which can make that information more valuable in the underground market. Such theft can happen whether you’re buying something online through a legitimate website or mobile app.

How E-Commerce Attacks Work
Fraudulent websites, apps, emails and texts are particularly dangerous on big shopping days, such as Black Friday and Cyber Monday, when everyone’s in a rush to quickly snag the best bargains.

The attack on e-commerce sites, like the one experienced by Macy’s, is known as Magecart, a scam that skims card numbers of online shoppers using widely distributed malicious software. In the Macy’s breach, the criminals were able to access information when customers used credit card data at the checkout page and the “place order” button was hit.

Experts say the Macy’s incident is similar to the digital skimming techniques and code used in a number of other Magecart attacks lately. The skimming code would capture your information in real-time and send it to remote server where the data is collected by the criminals behind the scene. The consumer’s credit card data would either be sold or used to make fraudulent purchases from that point going forward.

The e-skimming incident at Macy’s won’t be the last that we’re likely to hear about this holiday. Unfortunately, it’s not something that a consumer can readily spot or avoid while shopping online.

“E-skimming is easy to deploy, hard to detect and extremely lucrative,” says Adam Levin, founder of CyberScout. He notes that e-skimming victims often are none the wiser because the attack doesn’t interfere with the processing of the credit card.

“The first sign of trouble is usually a notification from a credit card company or bank regarding a suspicious transaction.”

Data From Initial Hack Can Be Used Later
Given that the Macy’s attack exposed customer names, addresses, email addresses and phone numbers, those customers could see more phishing attempts later, Levin says. Scammers may try to get more information on these calls to be used in further identity-related fraud.

Levin also suggests that given the breadth of the personal information stolen in the recent Macy’s attack, it is possible that data could be connected to other stolen information readily available for sale on the Dark Web. If so, that would make it possible for a criminal to open new accounts in a victim’s name.

“Be on the lookout for suspicious activity,” he warns.

What You Can Do to Protect Data, Money
The proliferation of cyber crime gives consumers more reason to lock their doors, if you will, to their personal information. Consider the following tips:

  • Nearly half of Americans admit to using one password when logging in to various accounts, according to a new study from PCI Pal, a payment compliance provider. Changing your password—and using different passwords for different accounts—becomes even more important if you are planning to shop online during the holidays. You can check out various password managers online that can help ensure unique and random passwords.
  • It should be obvious, but you don’t want to use information that could have been obtained elsewhere for your passwords. Don’t use your birthday, phone number or even the last four digits of your Social Security number.
  • Another obvious point: Change your passwords if you are alerted that you’ve been involved in any sort of data breach or identity theft. Attackers who steal data from companies know that you’re only using the same password over and over again.
  • Impulse purchases are the name of the game on big bargain days. Yet you don’t want to access sensitive information, such as payment information, by using the free Wi-Fi at the coffee shop. There’s a risk that such information could be stolen “in transit.”
  • As much as they tell us not to click on links or attachments, people keep doing it anyway, according to the PCI Pal research. Almost a third of those surveyed admit they can’t resist on clicking on attachments—which could explain why the scammers keep sending them.
  • Unusual purchases often can often be spotted by credit card companies as part of their fraud flagging process, but Levin warns that the holidays generate unusual charges galore, which makes it easier for fraudulent charges to go unnoticed.
  • Use credit cards when shopping online. “There is generally more protection with a credit card because when using a credit card, it’s not your money,” Levin says. “When using a debit card, it is. Your bank account can be frozen during an investigation of bogus charges, and unlike a credit card, it also provides a gateway directly into your bank account.”

©2019 Detroit Free Press
Visit Detroit Free Press at www.freep.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

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Categories: Real Estate

Some Great Travel Spots for the Holiday Season

December 10, 2019 - 4:07pm

(TNS)—Tie a bow around your travel plans. Here are five family-friendly ways to share the gift of travel with those you love.

1. Snow Lovers: For those who relish the white stuff, the gift of travel to Colorado ski country will be a high-altitude hit. At multiple resorts throughout the state, kids under various ages are offered the opportunity to ski free. For example, kids under 5 always ski free at Arapahoe, Aspen Snowmass and Loveland. Steamboat’s Kids Ski Free and Grandkids Ski Free programs enable children 12 and younger to ski free the same number of days as their parent/grandparent with the purchase of a five-or-more-day adult lift ticket. In Vail, family activities might center around Adventure Ridge, a mountaintop snow park reached by gondola with activities that include ski biking and tubing to a mini snowmobile course and a zipline. Adventure Ridge is open into the evening, providing a family-friendly add-on to the ski day. Other resorts offer lift ticket deals as well as lodging, lesson and gear discounts. Contact www.coloradoski.com.

2. National Park Lovers: In Williams, Ariz., board a historic train for a 65-mile scenic adventure across the Kaibab Plateau to the awe-inspiring South Rim of the Grand Canyon. In Georgia, bypass the crowds and head for the Cumberland Island National Seashore, the state’s largest and southernmost barrier island. Pristine beaches, mud flats, dune fields and salt marshes provide respite for shore birds, sea turtles, wild turkeys and wild horses. Kayak, fish and hike by day. Enjoy the bounty of stars visible from your family’s campsite. (No other lodging is available on the island.) Accessible only by float plane or boat, the Katmai National Park and Preserve on the Alaskan Peninsula near Kodiak Island, spans nearly 5 million acres. Families visit to observe the dense population of brown bears and to fish for trophy rainbow trout, salmon and Dolly Varden trout that run in Katmai’s streams and rivers. Contact thetrain.com.

3. Museum Lovers: Make a plan to visit our nation’s capital with your family and immerse yourselves in the depth and breadth of opportunity provided by the Smithsonian Institution, the world’s largest museum, education and research complex. From art and history to the National Zoo and the Air and Space Museum, where kids can climb aboard an interactive flight simulator or take an exciting virtual trip on board a passenger ride, there is plenty to explore in Washington, D.C. At the National Museum of the American Indian, families can sample basketry or sit inside a full-size tipi to learn about Comanche life. Before your trip, consider a review of the online resources that inspire, prepare and educate. Contact www.si.edu.

4. Music Lovers: In Nashville, Tenn., home of the Grand Ole Opry and the best in country music, learn how a simple radio broadcast spawned a global entertainment phenomenon. From industry legends to the latest luminaries, you’ll get a taste of history along with a contemporary dose of the genre in the “home of American music.” Take in the Country Music Hall of Fame, Ryman Auditorium, the Bluebird Cafe and the Johnny Cash Museum. Ask about backstage passes, behind-the-scenes tours and family packages. Or, indulge your teen with tickets to see his or her favorite pop star on stage in Vegas. Avoid some of the bright lights by staying at the Four Seasons, a nongaming oasis. Contact www.opry.com.

5. Island Lovers: Pack your sandals and sunscreen and enjoy quality island time. In Hawaii, explore torch-lit paths, indigenous birds and flora and a world-famous luau at the Big Island’s Hilton Waikoloa Village. Dig in for toes-in-the-sand dining and hula dancing on Kauai, snorkel on Maui or surf and swim while relaxing on Oahu. In Costa Rica, wake to a chorus of tropical wildlife in the only lodge located inside the Arenal Volcano National Park. The majestic and perfectly shaped volcanic centerpiece, in a rich rainforest setting, can be observed from most guest rooms, the dining room and an expansive deck. Horseback riding, biking and hiking trails wind through old lava fields and soft jungle trails where howling monkeys, slithering snakes, butterflies and colorful birds beckon visitors. Contact www.gohawaii.com.

©2019 Lynn O’Rourke Hayes
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

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Categories: Real Estate

Scams Heat Up During Medicare Open Enrollment

November 19, 2019 - 4:17pm

(TNS)—Medicare open enrollment is ongoing and ends December 7. And you better believe the scammers know it.

Maybe it’s someone making a call, claiming to be from your insurance company and demanding information on the spot. Some scammers say you’ll need to buy a gift card or wire money soon so that you won’t lose your health care benefits. Others are trying to get your Social Security number or other information to use in identity fraud.

Signs of a scam include someone who calls and claims to be able to “help you” sign up for coverage or demands to “confirm billing information” so that you don’t lose coverage. Remember, the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the Social Security Administration will not call you and claim that you must update your information.

Other warnings about scams include:

Watch Out for the Old Back Brace Scam
Con artists are back in action and calling seniors covered by Medicare with all sorts of deals on “free” or “low-cost” back braces, knee braces and other medical equipment. No one from Medicare, of course, is making such calls. It’s only a scam that’s designed to get your Medicare information, according to a recent alert by the Federal Trade Commission.

“If you give them your information, they’ll use it to fraudulently bill Medicare for braces and other medical equipment,” the FTC warns.

Such a move can hurt you because you’d use up some medical benefits and might not be able to get the appropriate equipment, if your doctor later prescribes it.

Smart moves: Never give your Medicare or personal information over the phone to someone who calls asking for it. Check your Medicare Summary Notice to make sure you’re only being charged for services you really got. Don’t fall for paying for things that you didn’t order.

Beware of Calls From Social Security
Consumers are seeing a sizable uptick in callers from impostors claiming to be Social Security Administration agents. Social Security-related calls are now the “go-to” for phone scams after skyrocketing in the first six months of 2019, according to BeenVerified’s Spam Call Complaint Monitor. The scam unseats calls from fake IRS agents, which had been the No. 1 source of complaints during the previous three years, according to the nationwide analysis of more than 200,000 spam call reports.

Spam and robocalls from fraudsters claiming to be from the Social Security Administration accounted for nearly 10 percent of user complaint comments during the first six months of this year—a more than 23-fold increase compared to the first half of 2018, according to BeenVerified, which provides services like reverse call look-up to search who called or texted you.

If you receive a suspicious call from someone alleging to be from Social Security or the Office of the Inspector General, report that information online at oig.ssa.gov/report or call the Social Security fraud hotline at 800-269-0271 weekdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Eastern Time.

The FTC also has a specific site for Social Security scams: identitytheft.gov/ssa. The site has tips for what to do if you gave your Social Security number to a caller and now are worried about identity theft. One such tip: Consider placing a free credit freeze on your credit file to restrict access to your credit report and make it more difficult for identity thieves to open credit in your name.

The FTC site also gives you a spot for reporting Social Security-related robocalls.

©2019 Detroit Free Press
Visit Detroit Free Press at www.freep.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

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Categories: Real Estate

Considering a Video Doorbell? Read This First!

November 13, 2019 - 3:46pm

Smart home lovers likely rejoice at the continued flood of smart house accessories on the market, one of which are video security doorbells.

According to the experts at Alarm New England, installing a doorbell camera can help secure your home and eliminate risks associated with opening the door for strangers, and law enforcement agencies across the nation are generally in support of the devices as a tool for reducing crime.

The site SafeHome.org offers these additional points to review before you buy:

Most doorbell cameras max out at 1080p resolution, and the higher the resolution, the sharper the image, generally speaking.

Night Vision
Night vision capabilities will allow you to clearly see who is at your door even when it’s dark out, giving you security 24/7.

Field of View
If the video doorbell you are considering says it offers 180 degrees, it means the camera can see everything in front of it, and to the sides, while 90 degrees means it can only see to the front, and a tiny bit to the sides. A wider field of view is preferred for nearly all scenarios.

Audio Features
One of the biggest benefits of doorbell cameras is being able to communicate through it to speak with whoever is at the door.

Motion Detection
Look for advanced features such as monitoring specific zones while ignoring others—perfect for houses near a busy street to avoid getting motion alerts every time someone walks or drives by.

Cloud Storage
For security purposes, having a cloud storage option can be helpful. In the event of someone vandalizing or stealing from your property, you’ll have some video evidence ready.

App Support
Be sure the video doorbell you’re buying has excellent app support so you can actually connect to it fast to see who is at your door.

Many web sources remind homeowners that since all video doorbells require a Wi-Fi network, many manufacturers advise placing the device as close as possible to an internet router. If the internet router is located far from a video doorbell, homeowners may want to consider adding a modestly priced internet signal booster plugged into an outlet adjacent to the newly equipped video doorbell to enhance signal quality and speed.

John Voket is a contributing editor to RISMedia.

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Categories: Real Estate

New Survey Reveals Holiday Travel Planning Trends

November 12, 2019 - 4:03pm

(TNS)—One of the busiest travel seasons of the year is right around the corner. As the holiday season approaches, new research from the Travel Channel reveals insight into the travel plans and preferences of Americans—most importantly, how many of them are planning to take an end-of-year vacation.

Clearly, U.S. travelers have been saving vacation days. The Travel Channel survey found that 67 percent of Americans plan to use vacation days and/or paid time off to hit the road this holiday season. Nearly a quarter of these travelers (24 percent) are planning to travel for longer than six days.

Forty-two percent of respondents said that they are traveling to their hometowns to visit family and friends, while 48 percent indicated that they are traveling elsewhere.

Get ready for busy roadways during Thanksgiving and winter breaks. The vast majority of travelers (72 percent) said that they will drive to their destinations. Forty-four percent are planning to travel by air.

The holidays don’t come cheap. The Travel Channel research showed that nearly one-third (28 percent) are planning to spend in excess of $500 on the trip.

Many (27 percent) are traveling with family while one in 10 travelers are traveling to a vacation destination with a significant other or friends.

Mariel Clark, vice president of Digital Video and Editorial for the Travel Channel, provided a number of tips.

For families traveling in groups, she advises keeping options open:

“When traveling with a large group or multiple generations, not everyone will be interested in the same activities. Be sure to allow for some time to divide and conquer, giving everyone the space for their must-see activities,” she said.

Involving older kids in travel plans is also a smart move, noted Clark.

“If traveling with a teenager, make them a stakeholder in the trip by having them pick activities they’ll enjoy, too,” she said.

Streamlining your gear is a good way to make traveling with small children a breeze.

“If traveling with a young child, downsize your bulky stroller for a simple umbrella stroller to travel—it’s easier to carry, tote and pack,” said Clark.

“Pack by outfits, especially for younger kids,” she added. “Try coordinating pants, shirts, underwear and socks in a stack together with PJs. Repeat for the number of days in the trip and add extras like jackets, as needed.”

©2019 Travelpulse
Visit Travelpulse at
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

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Categories: Real Estate

Is Your Family Safe From Tipping Furniture?

November 6, 2019 - 3:36pm

While many of us think about safety in our vehicles, safety at home is often less front and center, especially when it comes to furniture safety. Lawmakers recently introduced the Stop Tip-Overs of Unstable, Risky Dressers on Youth Act (STURDY) that would direct the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) to adopt a stronger, mandatory stability standard for household furniture.

According to lawmakers, furniture or items on top of them like TVs have caused at least 363 deaths between 2000 and 2011 from children being trapped or crushed by unstable products.

Sadly, more than eight of every 10 victims were under the age of eight.

The American Academy of Pediatrics’ HealthyChildren.org agrees that dressers seem to be especially dangerous, as kids can pull out a drawer to use as an unstable step to get to the TV. A study this group cites found:

Most of the overturned TVs fell off a dresser or armoire (46 percent), an entertainment center or TV stand (31 percent) or a table or nightstand (8.8 percent).

Kids under age five represented 64 percent of all injured patients; boys accounted for 61 percent.

The most common injuries were lacerations (37 percent) and soft tissue injuries (35 percent). The injuries most often affected the head and neck region (63 percent).

SafeKids.org offers these important suggestions to prevent tipping injuries:

Secure TVs. Mount flat-panel TVs to the wall and place older, box-style TVs (CRTs) on low, stable furniture that can hold the weight.

Attach furniture to the wall using anti-tip brackets, braces or wall straps, and install stops on dresser drawers to keep them from being pulled all the way out.

Rearrange household items. Store heavy objects on lower shelves or in lower drawers.

Recycle old TVs. To find a location that safely and easily recycles unwanted TVs, go to www.GreenerGadgets.org.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission also reminds parents and caregivers to remove anything that might tempt kids to climb, such as toys and remote controls, from the top of the TV and furniture.

John Voket is a contributing editor to RISMedia.

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Categories: Real Estate

For Boomers Reframing Aging, Age-Proofing a Home Won’t Come Cheap

November 5, 2019 - 4:03pm

(TNS)—Chris and Dennis Cavner, in their early 70s, are preparing to move less than two blocks away into a 2,720-square-foot, ranch-style house they bought this year. But first a renovation is underway, taking the 45-year-old property all the way back to its studs. When the work is completed, these baby boomers are confident the move will land them in their forever home.

“We wanted to find a house that we could live in literally for the rest of our lives,” he said. “We were looking specifically for a one-story house—and one that had a flat lot, to age in place.”

Aging in place is a major financial commitment, one that may be at odds with retirees’ plans to downsize their lives and budgets and squirrel away cash in anticipation of rising health care costs. The Cavners are rebuilding this house—assessed at $700,000 around the time of the sale—from a shell. The updates will easily cost $300,000 in the hot Austin market.

Leaving nothing to chance, the Cavners are making a number of modifications they might never need. For instance, neither uses a wheelchair, but contractors are making all doorways three-feet wide for accessibility throughout—just in case. The master bath roll-in shower, flat and rimless, will provide room to maneuver and the master bath vanity is also at wheelchair-accessible height. Kitchen drawers, rather than cabinets, will allow easy access in a wheelchair. The Cavners are closely watching details of the renovation, but it wasn’t a hard decision.

For some seniors, aging in place might amount to simple home modifications, such as adding shower grab bars and handrails or replacing a standard toilet with one that sits taller. But many seniors anticipate a financial crunch as they try to plan for their future on a fixed income, uncertain their savings and retirement funds will last.

With an average 10,000 people a day turning 65, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, the 65-and-older segment of the population is the nation’s fastest-growing: By 2050, almost one-quarter of Americans will be at least 65. A host of surveys conducted over the past decade show that older adults overwhelmingly want to age in their homes. Two in five U.S. homeowners are baby boomers, according to a 2018 report released from Fannie Mae.

But for many people, aging at home isn’t in the cards. Abbe Will, associate project director of the Remodeling Futures Program at the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University, said that many houses aren’t suited to “aging in place.”

“Currently, a lot do not have single-floor living—especially in certain parts of the country. There are lots of stairs and multistory homes when land is more valuable,” she said, and “many households and homeowners don’t necessarily have the funds to do aging in place.”

Home modifications and costs vary widely, starting with those simple safety features in the bathroom or lever doorknobs throughout the house, to more extensive changes, such as widening doorways to accommodate wheelchairs, replacing kitchen cabinets with drawers or lowering light switches to wheelchair height. Will said simple retrofits, such as grab bars and railings, “could be several hundred dollars,” but a “whole bathroom remodel would be in the thousands or tens of thousands.”

And a lot of people won’t have the money for extensive modifications. A new survey of 1,000 people age 65 and older by the California-based nonprofit SCAN (formerly the Senior Care Action Network) found 80 percent of respondents were concerned about their ability to age in place. The driver appears to be financial: About 60 percent said they have less than $10,000 in savings (including investments and retirement plans), while 28 percent reported minimal or no retirement savings.

A study in the journal Health Affairs published this spring illustrates the shaky situation for middle-class aging adults who can’t afford modifications to stay at home but who have too much money to qualify for federal housing assistance. Over the next decade, the researchers expect the number of middle-income seniors 75 and older to more than double to over 14 million. And, of that group, more than half (54 percent) won’t have the assets they will need to cover the projected average yearly cost of $60,000 for assisted living and other out-of-pocket medical costs.

“We don’t know what’s coming down the pipeline as we age,” said sociologist Deborah Thorne of the University of Idaho in Moscow, Idaho, lead author of a study that found skyrocketing bankruptcy rates among those 65 and older.

The research, to be published in the journal Sociological Inquiry, finds the share of older Americans filing for bankruptcy has never been higher, with a filing rate increase of more than 200 percent from 1991 to 2016 among those 65 and older. “And bankrupt households are more likely than ever to be headed by a senior—the percentage of older bankrupt filers has increased almost 500 percent since 1991,” the study found.

James Gaines, an economist with the Real Estate Center at Texas A&M University, attributes the increase “to the labor market and employment downsizing and letting older people go first. It can force them into retirement whether they’re ready for it or not. Retirement income may not be enough to carry their debts, and they don’t have enough savings.”

“The leading edge of baby boomers has not hit 75 yet,” said Jennifer Molinsky, whose work at the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University focuses on housing for older adults. “When you think about the next five, 10 or 15 years when they’re in their 80s, you’re really going to see the needs shift.”

Because disability rates will rise with chronic illnesses and conditions, requiring more assistance, Molinsky said, communities need to think more about transportation for seniors, as well as “different kinds of housing than we have now.”

Don and Lynn Dille, both 75, built their Austin home with the intention of staying there for a long time. After living in California, Virginia and elsewhere in Texas, they moved to Austin in 2012 and, within a year, began drawing plans with an architect for an energy-efficient home to age in place. Their home was featured this summer in Austin’s annual Cool House Tour for its design making the most of natural light, cross-ventilation and solar panels, as well as wider-than-normal doorways and level floors for a wheelchair.

One key feature of the construction acknowledges that they might need live-in help down the road to avoid long-term nursing care. Just as the Cavners may convert a bedroom and bath on the opposite side of their new home into caregiver quarters, the Dilles constructed a second floor above their detached garage that could easily convert into living space.

“We think having a separate apartment where we could have a caretaker or part-time help to maintain our property makes us able to stay where we’d like to be and be independent,” said Don Dille, who retired from the federal government.

But, as adults consider whether to plunge ahead with simple modifications or undertake more extensive renovations, there are always unknowns.

Cavner, an investment adviser and co-founder of a new health care startup, said he believes what they’re spending to renovate the house for the years ahead will prove a sound investment. “The modifications we’re making are not going to make it less desirable. It will feel more spacious.”

©2019 Kaiser Health News
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Categories: Real Estate

How the Fed’s Interest Rate Decisions Affect Mortgage Rates

November 3, 2019 - 1:02pm

(TNS)—The Fed lowered rates by a quarter of a percentage point Wednesday, for the third time this year, in an 8-2 vote. Citing “global developments for the economic outlook as well as muted inflation pressures” in a statement released by the Federal Reserve, policymakers dropped the target range for the federal funds rate to 1-1/2 to 1-3/4 percent.

The mortgage holders that will benefit from the rate cut are those with adjustable rate mortgages or ARMs, as a Fed cut means another reduction to their mortgage bill. Variable rates usually move in the same direction as the federal funds rate. The federal funds rate, however, doesn’t directly affect long-term rates, which include financial products like 30-year fixed-rate mortgages; those tend to move with long-term Treasury yields.

“Fed rate cuts have very little direct correlation to long-term fixed mortgage rates. We have seen mortgage rates moving in the other direction of the rate cut or not moving at all in the past,” says Shashank Shekhar, CEO of Arcus Lending in San Jose, Calif. “However, in the short term, a Fed rate cut usually boosts the stock prices and takes the money away from bonds. Also, a rate cut is intended to increase economic growth which can be inflationary. All of this is usually bad for mortgage rates and could result in higher rates for the borrower in the immediate future.”

How Fed Rate Affects Short-Term Loans
Most variable and short-term rates are linked to two benchmark rates: the prime or the London interbank offered rate (LIBOR) plus a margin, which is a number of percentage points. These rates usually march in step with the federal funds rate, so today’s rate means an extra jingle in some borrowers’ pockets.

One thing to note is that LIBOR as the key rate in mortgage contracts is on its way out, which is important for consumers to keep an eye on. Loans might get more expensive once LIBOR is replaced, says Greg McBride, CFA, Bankrate chief financial analyst.

“The future for many adjustable-rate mortgages is further clouded by the coming demise of LIBOR as a loan index. There is an open question as to whether the replacement index and margin will mean a higher rate for borrowers than the current LIBOR plus margin,” says McBride.

Addled with credibility issues, largely due to manipulating rates in order to drive profit, LIBOR will likely be replaced by risk-free rates or RFRs. The major flaw in LIBOR is that it depends on empirical data, which means banks report rates without being required to provide numbers to back up their claims. This process led to some LIBOR banks underreporting their interest rates for profit, which meant higher loan prices for some borrowers.

Unlike LIBOR, RFRs would promote transparency by calculating rates based on real transactions in the market.

What ARM Borrowers Should Know
Variable-rate loans, such as 3/1 and 5/1 ARMs, as well as home equity lines of credit, or HELOCs, get more or less expensive as the Fed boosts or lowers rates. This can be a boon for borrowers or a drain on their wallets, which makes variable-rate loans a sometimes-risky proposition.

Products like 5/1 ARMs give consumers the first five years with a fixed rate; after the fixed-rate period ends, there are annual rate adjustments for the remainder of the loan. So, if your rate drops during the adjustment period, the cost of your ARM drops, too.

Many HELOCs are also variable-rate loans, which means a win for borrowers in a falling rate environment.

The problem is that rates don’t always drop. So, it’s important for borrowers to analyze all scenarios: how much they’ll spend as well as how much they’ll save if rates rise and fall. It’s important to ask yourself: Can I afford my mortgage payments if rates spike? Although your initial out-of-pocket payment will likely be lower with an ARM, that low cost might not last if rates rise.

“My brother and sister-in-law have a 5/5 ARM with a great rate and a low down payment. But, if rates go up in five years, their payment might go up by a couple hundred bucks a month. That’s a big increase,” says Sean Murphy, associate vice president of Equity Lending at Navy Federal Credit Union.

A 5/5 ARM is a 30-year adjustable-rate mortgage with a principal and interest payment that stays the same for the first 60 months, and after that, the interest rate could rise or fall every five years.

Often borrowers choose ARMs to get the lowest initial rate possible, regardless of the variable-rate risk. This can be a cost-saving strategy if the borrower is certain they’re going to sell before the fixed-rate period ends or can refinance into another mortgage.

For borrowers who plan on staying put or might not be able to refinance later (due to credit or employment issues, for example), that upfront cost savings likely isn’t a worthwhile gamble.

“There is only about one-quarter percentage point difference between the rate on a 7/1 ARM and a 30-year fixed. For a quarter percentage point, are you going to subject yourself to potentially higher rates seven years from now? You’ve got to be awfully certain you’ll be out of that house within seven years to make that risk pay off,” McBride says.

Consumers May Want to Keep an Eye on These Indicators
The Fed’s decisions on rate movement are often influenced by several economic factors, which consumers can easily track. Employment, inflation and consumer price index are essential data the Fed considers when deciding what to do with rates. One thing consumers may want to look at is the employment report, which is published monthly by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The target inflation rate is another yardstick for rate changes. Currently, inflation is still dipping just below the Fed’s target 2 percent rate, which—in concert with other economic trends—could nudge the Fed toward future rate cuts.

As long-term rates hover below 4 percent, many borrowers are in a good position to save money.

©2019 Bankrate.com
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Categories: Real Estate

Check In on Holiday Airfares

October 9, 2019 - 4:29pm

(TNS)—Filled your gas tank recently? You probably noticed an uptick in prices and may have attributed it to the recent attack on Saudi oil facilities. Then, if you’re a worrier, you said, “If I’m paying this much at the pump, can airfares be far behind?”

No, because…

It takes time for fuel increases to cycle into the airfare flow. “The short answer is months—maybe four to six months—before we see a noticeable change in airfares, if the airlines believe the higher fuel prices are more than fleeting,” Seth Kaplan, an airline and transportation analyst, said in a September 18 email.

“Airlines can’t really adjust prices per se based on fuel price movements. What they do control is the supply of seats in the marketplace.”

But airlines can’t just willy-nilly cut supply, Kaplan said. “Too disruptive.”

“Once you get about four to six months out, you’re looking at flights that don’t have many people booked on them, where an airline can take a few flights out of the schedule and just move the few booked passengers onto other flights, and that’s where you are seeing meaningful fare increases,” he said.

By our count, four months from September 18 is mid-January.

Thanks to basic economy, fares have been reasonable this year, and basic economy continues to gain ground. Once U.S. fliers caught on that they could swap comfort for savings, they’ve warmed to no-frills fares.

“There is such fierce competition for the airlines to attract customers, basic economy tickets are priced very aggressively, which will always attract people to travel,” said Tom Spagnola, senior vice president of Supplier Relations for CheapOair. “Even if there were a slight fare increase in ticket prices, the fares are still very affordable.”

One of the most recent entrants in the basic fare rodeo is Hawaiian Airlines, which on October 21 will roll out its long-planned reduced-rate tickets.

If you look at the Honolulu market from LAX, you’ll find round-trip fares for November 6-13 (both Wednesdays, because those tend to be cheaper) of $358 on several carriers; basic on Hawaiian is $20 more.

Consider also that Southwest is now flying to Hawaii.

Given that competition for passengers has increased and has kept a lid on fares, is it time to panic about holiday fares? A bit, because…

Airline growth has slowed. In an email September 30, Kaplan, the airline analyst, noted that growth in the number of seats this year should have been on par with 2018, a good year. But then came the 737 Max grounding, which slowed things.

“The impact of slower growth, in the context of what seems to be still-robust travel demand, is higher airfares, not dramatically higher because of 4 percent versus 6 percent growth, but every bit matters during a high-demand travel period,” Kaplan said. Your “fare might be cheaper. But it will not be cheap.”

Should you go into raving lunatic mode now? Maybe, because…


Airlines, you’ve made flying (at least price-wise) so easy to love that record numbers of us want to do it, especially at the holidays.

“The airlines are expecting yet another year of record numbers of passengers during the Thanksgiving and Christmas/New Year’s travel period,” Spagnola said. “Demand is high so flights will be sold out for the peak travel days within the week of the actual holiday.”

Bottom line, he said: “Don’t wait. Buy now.”

So how jittery should we be? Based on a quick price comparison on a single route, pretty jittery.

Let’s say you want to fly from LAX to Washington, D.C., (any airport) for Thanksgiving. You want to leave November 27 (Wednesday) and return December 1 (Sunday). You do not want to spend your kids’ inheritance, so you’re looking for a basic economy fare.

In reviewing fares on September 30, I found basic economy for those dates was mostly sold out on United, American and Delta. Southwest, which doesn’t have basic, had little availability in its “Wanna Get Away” fares, its lowest-priced ticket.

The most reasonable ticket was United’s round-trip at $642.

So thanks a lot Mom, Dad, Granny, Sissy or whoever is waiting for you at the other end. Our apparently insatiable desire for low fares and our ability to find them most of the time made us believe we’d find a good fare—and most of the time we can, except when, for many of us, it matters most. It’s a lump of coal in the stocking, but at least we have the stocking. Happy holidays.

©2019 Los Angeles Times
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Categories: Real Estate

How Retirees Can Check If They’re Having Enough Taxes Withheld

October 8, 2019 - 3:54pm

(TNS)—If you’re retired or soon to retire, one big thing you’ll need to ask is: Am I going to be socked with a huge income tax bill come April?

“During the first year or two of retirement, it’s a big transition tax-wise,” said George W. Smith, a certified public accountant with his own firm in Southfield, Mich. “It’s a whole new tax reporting ballgame for them.”

Many times, newbies to the retirement game get caught short on how much they’ve withheld for taxes out of their pension checks. And many times, they’re not even aware that they’re dealing with a new set of retirement-related tax forms.

“No more W-2s. Now it’s 1099-Rs for pension and IRA distributions,” he said. “And SSA-1099s for Social Security benefits.”

This summer, the Internal Revenue Service launched its much-anticipated Tax Withholding Estimator. For those still on the job, the idea is to spend some time plugging in your own numbers to calculate whether you’re having enough money withheld from each paycheck to cover your income tax bill.

There’s much publicity about getting a “Paycheck Checkup” to review your potential income tax bill now. Someone who just bought a home, had a baby or just saw one of their kids turn age 17 is going to want to use the estimator. (Tax breaks are less generous for families who have children age 17 and older.)

But what about a checkup for those pension checks? It’s a smart idea for retirees. The IRS has begun making a push to alert retirees that the new estimator can help judge where you’re at tax-wise if you’re retired and getting a pension check or withdrawing money from a 401(k), too.

The task is essential if you’re unsure how your tax deductions changed under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017.

Are You Withholding Enough?

The new tax rules included a higher standard deduction—$12,000 for singles and $24,000 for married couples on the 2018 return—and that may mean that you’re not going to itemize and deduct as much in charitable contributions as in the past.

But retirees may even have a higher standard deduction than that. An additional standard deduction can apply for those who are 65 or older, or blind. Single filers 65 and older can claim an additional $1,600, and married filers who are both 65 and older can claim an extra $2,600. Another $1,300 is available if an elderly taxpayer is blind.

A married couple filing jointly, for example, might have a standard deduction as high as $26,600 if both meet the age requirements or both are legally blind. So you need to take into account some specifics in your own situation.

The IRS notes that people most at risk for having too little tax withheld include those who itemized in the past but now take the increased standard deduction. “They also include households with two wage earners, employees with non-wage sources of income and those with complex tax situations,” the IRS said.

And yes, some retirees.

“Retirees are one of many groups of taxpayers that may be left owing (money) at year’s end if they do not have enough taxes withheld and fail to make the estimated tax payments during the year,” said Andy Phillips, director of The Tax Institute at H&R Block.

A retiree, for example, can use the tool to enter any pension income or Social Security benefits that a couple might be receiving. The estimator goes over your finances, line by line, to give you a more accurate picture.

The IRS online estimator is broken into six sections: information about your household, income, adjustments to your income, deductions from income, tax credits and your results.

You need some paperwork on hand. You must know how much in taxes has been withheld already, for example. The taxpayer can use the estimate to calculate their projected tax liability for the year. And then, if necessary, they can withhold more money now from their payouts.

The estimator makes things a bit easier for retirees by linking directly to Form W-4P, the withholding certificate for pension and annuity payments. Retirees can get a specific withholding recommendation by using the estimator to review their own tax situation. Many times, retirees would want to talk with their tax professional, too, to get a better idea of how much money to have withheld.

Someone who is getting two or three pension checks—maybe from earlier jobs—wants to take particular care with withholding enough money to cover taxes. If you’re working part-time now, you’d want to take that into consideration as well. The same’s true if you have income that you’re receiving from your investments.

 Where You Get Retirement Dollars Matters

Where you’re getting your tax dollars in retirement matters, too.

Most often, distributions you receive from a 401(k) plan are taxable, too, and you’re automatically going to see 20 percent withheld from those payouts if it’s not a required minimum distribution. But that doesn’t necessarily mean enough in taxes are being withheld.

In general, income tax will be withheld from your pension or annuity distributions unless you choose for it not to be withheld, Phillips, at H&R Block, said.

Even so, retirees can get caught short and need to pay more than they’d expect at tax time if they don’t carefully review their own situation.

One point to consider: Did you retire early and end up taking an early distribution from your 401(k) plan when you were younger than age 59? Early distributions may be subject to a 10 percent penalty unless one of the long list of exceptions applies.

“The key thing to remember here is the issuer is not going to determine that a taxpayer is subject to the 10 percent early distribution penalty,” Phillips said.

So the taxpayer would need to take that 10 percent penalty into account and consider taking action to have more taxes withheld or submitting an estimated payment during the year. At the very least, the taxpayer needs to be prepared for the potential tax liability when they file their tax return for the year when the early distribution was made.

Stay on Top of Your Situation

Of course, your tax situation can change year to year, even in retirement. So you may want to review how much you’re having withheld for taxes even after you’ve been retired a few years. Sure, no one wants to sit down and run their the tax numbers as part of fun and festivities in retirement. But it’s an exercise well worth doing.

Anyone who changes their withholding later in the year needs to do another checkup in January, too, so they’re having the correct amount withheld for all of 2020.

©2019 Detroit Free Press
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Categories: Real Estate