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Aug. 19, 2019

NAR: Cheap mortgage rates are improving home affordability

Low Rates - Affordable Homes

BY: Katheleen Howley

The cheapest financing in almost three years is making it easier for Americans to buy homes.

The Housing Affordability Index from the National Association of Realtors increased to 151.9 in June from 137.7 a year earlier in June. That’s a jump of 10 percent. A higher reading means homes are getting more affordable, per NAR’s magic sauce that measures prices, incomes and financing costs. 

Americans trying to buy homes have been challenged with a shortage of available properties and prices that have increased at a faster pace than incomes. 

The U.S. median price of an existing single-family home was $288,900 in June, up 4.5% from $276,500, according to the data behind NAR’s affordability index. The median family income was $78,916, up 3.5% from $76,217 a year ago.

The big difference between this June and a year earlier was mortgage rates. The average 30-year fixed rate was 3.84%, NAR said, compared to 4.74% last year. That meant the average monthly mortgage payment, measuring principal and interest, was $1,082 in June, compared with $1,153 a year ago. The payment as a percentage of income was 16% in June, down from 18% a year earlier.

Rates have dropped since June. The average U.S. rate for a 30-year fixed mortgage is 3.6% this week, matching last week, according to Freddie Mac. That’s the lowest rate since November 2016. A year ago, the rate was 4.53%, Freddie Mac said.

VIA: Housing Wire

Posted in Market Trends
Aug. 18, 2019

A good home security tip

Screw This?

A good home security tip that you may have never thought about.

Most contractors install the plates with the supplied screws which are only a half inch long and come out with one kick by a burglar. He installed 4 inch screws in their place that go through the door frame and into the framing of the house. They can kick for a long time before they get tired! 

You can see in the picture the screw in his hand is the screw supplied with the door hardware. Making a burglar make a bunch of noise and be foiled in their initial plan can not only give you time to arm yourself but they will most likely move on to an easier target.

VIA: Modern Nest R.E.G.

Posted in Healthy Home Tips
Aug. 14, 2019

FHA brings back condo spot approvals

The Sky's the limit with condo's now

BY: Jessica Guerin

The Federal Housing Administration has finally issued a long-awaited update to its condominium rules, announcing Wednesday that it is bringing back spot approvals and taking other steps to loosen requirements that make these properties eligible for FHA financing.

Under the revised guidelines – which take effect Oct. 15, 2019 – an individual condo unit in a building of 10 units or more may be eligible for spot approval if no more than 10% of the units are FHA-insured. For units in buildings with fewer than 10 units, no more than two units can have FHA insurance.

The FHA is also extending the recertification deadline for approved condo projects from two to three years, and it will insure more mixed-use projects, or those with more commercial space, to be eligible, stating that approved projects can now have up to 35% of their square footage dedicated to non-residential use.

The agency also loosened restrictions on owner-occupancy rules, stating that eligible condo projects can now be just 50% owner-occupied.

It also said it will insure up to 50% of units in any given project.

The FHA said it expects the updated guidelines to qualify an estimated 20,000 to 60,000 more condo units per year for financing.  

Currently, of the more than 150,000 condo projects across the country, only 6.5% are approved for FHA financing.

This is something the FHA is aiming to change with the updated guidelines, Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson said on a call with reporters Wednesday.

“FHA is publishing a new rule in the Federal Register that we believe will offer significantly more options for individuals and families to buy a home, specifically the kind of home more and more people are looking for in order to achieve homeownership, and of course that is a condominium,” Carson said, adding that the new rules “will open many doors to buyers who have been waiting on the sidelines, waiting to become homeowners, waiting to share in the American Dream.”

FHA Commissioner Brian Montgomery said the agency has been working alongside stakeholders for three years to update its condo policies.

“It had become clear for many years that we needed to update our condo project approval regulations so that, while not exposing the agency to more risk, they are more flexible and less prescriptive and more reflective of the current market than the previous condominium project approval provisions,” Montgomery said on the press call.

The National Association of Realtors was among the of the first trade associations to applaud the agency for finally making the long-awaited move.

NAR said the changes, which it has championed for more than a decade, should help alleviate affordability issues for many prospective homebuyers.

“We are thrilled that Secretary Carson has taken this much-needed step to put the American Dream within reach for thousands of additional families,” said NAR President John Smaby.

“It goes without saying that condominiums are often the most affordable option for first-time homebuyers, small families and those in urban areas,” Smaby continued. “This ruling, which culminates years of collaboration between HUD and NAR, will help reverse recent declines in condo sales and ensure the FHA is fulfilling its primary mission to the American people.”

Specific changes regarding condo approvals can be viewed in an updated version of FHA’s Single Family Handbook, found here.

VIA: Housing Wire

Posted in Mortgage
Aug. 13, 2019

More than 8 million borrowers can now benefit from refinancing their mortgage

Your Money Tree Is Here

BY: Jessica Guerin

Freddie Mac’s fixed mortgage rate fell to its lowest level in three years, bumping the pool of refinance candidates up significantly.

At the end of June, approximately 8.2 million homeowners with mortgages could benefit from a refi, according to the latest data from Black Knight.

That’s 1.5 million more than before the recent interest rate drop, and it’s the greatest number since late 2016 when the pool was as large as 8.3 million.

That also means that there are nearly 4.5 times more refi candidates than there were when rates peaked in November 2018.

According to Black Knight's data, borrowers who refinanced could reduce their mortgage rate by 0.75%, amounting to an average savings of $266 per borrower per month.

Notably, among the 8.2 million mortgages that could benefit from a refi, 35% were originated in 2018.

Black Knight said the refi pool could swing either way depending on the directions rates take, and making the potential size of the refinance market worth watching in the months ahead.


VIA: Housing Wire

Posted in Market Analysis
Aug. 11, 2019

This Is What Makes You Annoying According To Your Zodiac Sign

Zodiak Signs

BY: Mary Wright


ARIES

You deeply believe you are deserving of all the great things in the world. Yes, you are highly driven and motivated to achieve them all, but your constant need of worship gets on people’s nerves. Your competitiveness and eagerness to succeed at all cost are annoying as hell.

Sometimes, you forget how it is to be a part of a team which makes it hard for other people to collaborate and work with you because you like everything to be done your way. You are determined and headstrong, but your take charge attitude can be your downfall because you may make rash and hasty decisions that you’ll end up regretting.

Your impulsivity just doesn’t let you think twice before acting on something. Most of the time, you are focused on you and your needs which makes others feel as if they can’t talk with you about their problems. Plus, your hot-tempered nature is making them feel like they are dealing with a child that is constantly having tantrums.

TAURUS

You are known as being the most stubborn of all zodiac signs. You don’t make compromises when it comes to your ideas and beliefs of the world and are unwilling to change them as well as your habits. You are not the only one who is always right, Taurus. That’s why people are annoyed by you. You are so set in your ways that you are not willing to take any risks and try something new that is out of your comfort zone. You sometimes tend to withdraw from people and shut out those who love you because you want to be alone, but this behavior of yours hurts them. Moreover, your laziness gets on their nerves because they all want you to just get your ass off from the couch and do something different for a change. Finally, you never like to admit that you are wrong and that infuriates people. Maybe you should learn how to apologize and swallow your pride before you lose your friends.

GEMINI

People see you and they think, “Can you just shut the f*ck up?!” Yes, your extrovert nature is often attractive, but sometimes you are too chatty that you annoy everyone around you. You can sound like a broken record and repeat the same story over and over again not letting anyone get a word in. Sometimes, you don’t know how to listen to others and that frustrates people. Also, you are very energetic and sometimes people just want you to sit down and drink your coffee in silence without that excitedness and enthusiasm in the morning. Finally, your fickle nature and your inability to make up your mind make you come off as superficial and people have a hard time trusting you.

CANCER

Oh, cancer! I can talk all day about your whininess but you are so easily hurt and so emotional, I just can’t. Okay, I’ll try to be subtle. You are whiny, Cancer. You are whiny when things don’t go as you planned. And when you are not whining about the “terrible thing” that happened today, you are busy crying for everything you’ve gone through in your past. Get over it, already. You are moody as well. You are very unpredictable and people don’t know what mood are you going to have today. Some of them even feel as they need to walk on eggshells around you, not knowing what goes in your head and worrying that they will make the wrong move to piss you off. You have a hot and cold behavior and that’s what makes your romantic relationships extremely difficult. Deep down, you fear rejection and you make other people responsible for your insecurities. Please, learn how to let go.

LEO

Okay, Leo. Put down your mirror and take a moment to read about some annoying traits you have that piss off others. Your love to be always in the spotlight is known to everyone. You enjoy being the center of attention and your overconfident nature makes you look like a vain, self-obsessed, and egotistical creature. People just can’t know what’s hidden in your heart and what’s the real you because you are so busy telling them how amazing you are. Moreover, you are very dramatic, especially when you don’t get what you want. Then, you lose your temper and you get loud and say things without thinking through. As a result, you make other people feel as they should tiptoe around you.

VIRGO

Virgo, you are hard to please and that’s what makes you utterly annoying to people. You are a perfectionist that is never content with anything. You spend a great amount of time and energy analyzing other people’s behavior and looking for flaws in them, which annoys the hell out of them. No one wants to feel like they are under a microscope the whole time. Plus, with all your demands and criticism they can’t stand you. You are a know it all, the person who just has to succeed in everything. Your overly calculative nature can cost you some great people if you are not being careful. Take a deep breath and relax a little.

LIBRA

Oh, Libra. Your friends get so annoyed at you every time you dump them when you get in a relationship. They are so tired of it. You are someone who can’t be alone, you always need to be surrounded by people because you can’t seem to find your identity. This is only because you love being in a relationship and when you are in one, you become so obsessed with it that it starts getting unhealthy. It not only annoys your friends; it suffocates your partner. You are terrified of being alone and that’s why you attach so much to others to a point it gets exhausting for them. On the other hand, you are easily distracted which makes you unable to stick to a decision or even to people. You are a people pleaser who never likes to pick sides and that’s why people can’t expect much honesty from you as you always tell them what you think they want to hear.

SCORPIO

You can be such a vengeful, manipulative, secretive, and hostile bitch. Your intense and passionate nature can quickly turn into anger, especially when you don’t get what you want. You use manipulation as a tool to get others to behave as you want. You never take anything lightly because of your intensity. You also become very emotionally invested in people and because of that, you fear to lose them, so you try to “protect” them using any means you have. You have very deep trust issues which make you look paranoid and it annoys people. They can’t deal with your intensity. You are all about extremes and not everyone is like you. Moreover, you are so secretive about your things and endeavors, but you expect others to be 100% upfront with you and that’s not fair.

SAGITTARIUS

Oh, Sagittarius. You don’t know how to stay in one place, do you? You are unpredictable as hell and you have so much energy in you that people can’t keep up with you and it makes them crazy. You live to explore and learn new things, but others always interpret it as you being childish and inconsistent. You are very fun and friendly, you are the life of the party, but you tend to also be careless and easily distracted which is annoying. You look as if you lack empathy and compassion because you are so focused on living your life to the fullest not caring about others.

CAPRICORN

Your ambitious and goal-oriented nature sometimes can come off as you being arrogant and cold. You always think you are right, and other people get annoyed by it. You seem to lack the ability and willingness to hear other people’s point of view even when you know in your heart that you may be wrong. You always stick to your guns and defend your cause and this stubbornness gets on other people’s nerves. Moreover, if someone is not as ambitious and hard-working as you, you look down on them which makes you look like a snob. People get annoyed by you being so concerned by your reputation and image. Chill, Capricorn. Let things be. Go with the flow for a change, not everything needs to be pre-planned.

AQUARIUS

You are so annoying because of your robotic nature which makes others very uncomfortable. They feel they cannot interact with you properly because they feel they are interacting with a robot. It’s just so hard to connect with you because of your aloofness and devil may care attitude. You are so detached when it comes to your feelings. You lack emotional intelligence and this is what makes you so annoying to those around you. You are stubborn, impatient, and a little immature. You are also eccentric, extremely individualistic, and you don’t care about what others think of you (which I admit, it’s not a bad thing).

PISCES

You are so messy, Pisces. You are also very impractical. A hot mess, both physically and emotionally. You can’t keep anything in order and honestly, people are exhausted from dealing with you and clearing your mess. You are very compassionate and you are there to help others, even though you are a mess yourself. Everyone can count on you when they have a problem, but you are unreliable because you tend to easily forget things and promises. Also, you are extremely sensitive and because of that, you have a tendency to jump to conclusions. Get your head out of the clouds and be more practical. Not every cute person you meet is the love of your life. Get real and leave your fantasy world for a moment.

VIA: The Power Of Silence

Posted in Life Style
Aug. 7, 2019

Gmail keeps a record of your purchase history in plain sight, and it’s not alone

 

Google does what

BY: Joel Winston

It’s no secret that Google gathers up large amounts of your data based on your search history. But far less known is that the company has also been automatically tallying up your digital and real-world financial transactions based on receipts found in your Gmail accounts and other Google services. It’s just another sign of the enormous reach of tech titans, including Facebook, mining our real-world transactions to generate new insights into our behavior and new revenue streams.

If you have a Google account, see for yourself: In the Google Account Activity section, a tab called “Payments & subscriptions” reveals a page of your Purchases, Subscriptions, and Reservations, along with your stored Payment Methods. The page—which I stumbled upon recently, and which CNBC also reported on—includes transactions, like deliveries and online orders, gathered from receipts or confirmations received in Gmail as well as from Google services like the Google Play Store. (View yours at https://myaccount.google.com/payments-and-subscriptions by clicking on “Manage purchases.”)

The data can be eye-opening: a partial catalog of years of purchases that you probably didn’t know Google had yanked from the depths of your digital life. Like many, I’ve long used Gmail like a cabinet or shoebox to keep track of receipts. But I was unaware that I had consented for the Google bots to scan my inbox, identify specific emails, and assemble a dossier of my purchases.

Google says the purchase data is not used to target ads and is only viewable by the individual user. “To help you easily view and keep track of your purchases, bookings and subscriptions in one place, we’ve created a private destination that can only be seen by you,” a Google spokesperson explained in an email. The idea is to help you do things like track a package, cancel a reservation, or renew a subscription, according to Google. “We don’t use any information from your Gmail messages to serve you ads, and that includes the email receipts and confirmations shown on the Purchase page.”

Plus, says Google, “you can delete this information at any time.”

NOT EASY TO DELETE

But there is a catch. Removing data from “Purchases” requires users to click each purchase individually: There is no way for users to easily delete their entire purchase history from Google’s servers. Removing the original emails doesn’t work either: When CNBC reporter Todd Haselton bravely deleted every single email in his Gmail, the transactions in his purchase history still remained.

In other words, unless you delete each purchase record individually, Google keeps a tally of your purchases. And there is no way for users to simply turn the data mining off.

On mobile devices, users may struggle to find the settings page: When viewed on a mobile browser, the “Payments and subscriptions” tab is mostly obscured.

While Google insists that users’ transaction data isn’t currently used to power its giant ad business, that may provide little solace to anybody concerned about privacy. The data could still be used to enrich already detailed user profiles. And eventually, knowing what you pay for—what medical products you purchase, which hotel you’re sleeping in tonight, or that you have a soft spot for late-night shopping—could prove irresistible if Google intends to keep improving ads to increase purchases. Google’s terms of service allow it.

Cynics will point to those terms and gloat that Gmail users should expect this, along with all other forms of surveillance that Google deploys to monetize user data. After all, Gmail is free, and users of free tech products have signed up to have their data harvested by those companies.

But Google is also data-mining the inboxes of paying customers—including corporations, nonprofit entities, small businesses, and schools—for transaction data. In addition to regular Google users, the company is scanning the inboxes of G Suite and Google for Education users to create individual purchase histories, even though those users’ Purchases pages do not list those transactions for review. As a Reddit user first pointed out, the transaction data only appears when G Suite users use the Google Takeout service to export “Purchases & Reservations” in JSON format.

By scanning enterprise inboxes for purchase data and partially concealing the results, Google raises important privacy and security questions for certain professionals who use G Suite, like accountants, journalists, and medical professionals. Lawyers, for example, have an obligation to maintain the confidentiality of client materials. The hidden Purchases data may also generate concern among the millions of Google for Education users (and their parents), who are students ranging from elementary school through university.

A Google spokesperson told Fast Company that the data was not used for ad targeting but said the company had updated the Purchases page “to clarify the information listed,” including purchases made using Search or Maps and order confirmations in Gmail. “We appreciate the feedback from our users, and are always looking for ways to simplify our settings and make it easier for people to control their data,” the spokesperson said.

Google has also offered users a valuable if inadvertent lesson in how difficult that control is. The Purchases page offers a glimpse into how Google’s services—and a growing number of giant digital platforms and mysterious data brokers—quietly watch what we buy.

And yet when it comes to Big Tech’s ability to mine users’ financial activity, the Purchases ledger is only the tip of the iceberg.

‘SECRET’ CREDIT-CARD-DATA DEALS

While the “Purchases” page is sopping up data from our digital receipts, Google is also buying access to our credit card transaction data.

In 2017—the same year that the company said it would stop scanning emails in free Gmail accounts to display targeted ads—Google began tapping into users’ real-world purchases, through undisclosed partner companies that at the time “had access to 70 percent of transactions for credit and debit cards in the United States,” according to the Washington Post.

As part of the program, Google signed an agreement with Mastercard by which the tech giant paid millions for “anonymized” transaction data on cardholders. Bloomberg, which reported on the arrangement last year, described it as a “secret ad deal” between the companies because it was not publicly revealed or shared with cardholders. In 2017, the Electronic Privacy Information Center submitted a complaint about the tool to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission.

In an email last month, a Google spokesperson said the program was currently being beta tested only in the U.S. and was only used to create aggregate and anonymous measurements of ads. The spokesperson declined to name the company’s credit-card-data partners but said Google did not share any personally identifiable information with those companies.

Google, the spokesperson stressed, does not gain access to any individual user’s credit card data and only learns that a certain percentage of users made a purchase, not who the users are or what they purchased. (Users can opt out of ad tracking using Google’s “Web and App Activity” console.) The credit card data is also encrypted so that even Google cannot read it, the spokesperson said. In 2017, Google said it held a patent on the custom encryption technology.

But there’s only one method that protects the privacy of customers even more than Google’s patented encryption formulas: not trying to match every scrap of digital data with our real-world purchases.

THE SPECTER OF PRICE DISCRIMINATION

Of course, Google is not the only tech titan mining our real-world transactions to generate new insights into user behavior and new revenue streams. Facebook, the world’s other ad behemoth, currently helps advertisers link real-world data from a host of payment platforms and other data providers to help determine the effectiveness of its ads.

Facebook has also sought deeper access to users’ financial data. As the Wall Street Journal reported last year, the company previously approached some of the country’s largest financial institutions about partnerships for its Messenger app that would reveal users’ “card transactions and checking-account balances.” Facebook already offers similar features with American Express, Mastercard, and PayPal integrations for Messenger.

Facebook said at the time that the data would not be used to target ads. Like Google’s Purchases page, the promise is convenience. “People can keep track of their transaction data like account balances, receipts, and shipping updates,” the company explained in a statement.

Still, according to one source who spoke to the Journal, the data “could be used to offer services that might entice users to spend more time on Messenger.”

Facebook’s proposal for a cryptocurrency, to be called the libra, has raised new questions about its ambitions for financial data. Facebook says the libra transaction information will be kept separate from the rest of the company’s data and won’t be used to target ads. Those pledges did not satisfy many members of the U.S. Senate Banking Committee at a hearing earlier last month, where the Facebook executive in charge of the libra project, David Marcus, was pelted with questions about how the company would treat users’ transaction data.

Google and Apple already handle many everyday transactions through Google Pay and Apple Pay, services that allow customers to store their debit, credit card, or PayPal information with the companies and to pay at participating stores using a click or an app. Google says it may share transaction data with “authorized partners” like banks, billers, and merchants but also says it does not use the data for “any monetization purpose,” including ads. Apple says it retains “anonymous” payment data only “to improve Apple Pay and other services.” For its peer-to-peer Apple Pay Cash service, the company stores transaction data “separately from the rest of Apple” and has pledged to make user privacy a cornerstone of its forthcoming credit card.

The concerns surrounding the privacy of our transactions go beyond targeted ads. Armed with info on what we buy, Facebook, Google, Apple, or any digital platform may ultimately hold an unfair advantage to determine the prices it shows individual users.

Matt Stoller of the Open Markets Institute, an anti-monopoly think tank, voiced his concern in a recent New York Times op-ed. “Imagine Facebook’s subsidiary Calibra knowing your account balance and your spending, and offering to sell a retailer an algorithm that will maximize the price for what you can afford to pay for a product,” he wrote. “Imagine this cartel having this kind of financial visibility into not only many consumers, but into businesses across the economy. Such conflicts of interest are why payments and banking are separated from the rest of the economy in the United States.”

Dynamic pricing, also known as discriminatory pricing, is the practice of charging people different prices for the exact same product. With growing piles of data about shoppers’ behavior, it is already a best practice on the web. One of the most notorious forms of dynamic pricing is Uber’s “surge pricing” model: When supply is low, Uber discriminates against users who don’t want to pay normal rates and routes cars to users willing to pay higher prices.

By combining comprehensive purchase data with their troves of other information about us, companies could also make determinations about our financial health and calculate something akin to credit scores. In a report released in June, the global Bank for International Settlements warned that the big tech firms that are charging into financial services—including Alibaba, Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Tencent—could use their stores of user data to favor their products or to “engage in price discrimination and extract rents.”

Google holds a 2012 patent on dynamic pricing: The system it describes is capable of “adjusting the base price upward based on determining that the particular user is more likely to repurchase the particular item of electronic content than the group of users; and adjusting the base price downward based on determining that the particular user is less likely to repurchase the particular item of electronic content than the group of users.” Asked about its policy on dynamic pricing, a spokesperson for Google said the company relies on merchants to provide price information and does not itself control the price of products it shows users.

Major digital retailers already rely on so-called “customer value scores” that enable them to render “instantaneous, automated judgments about a consumer,” which may result in some paying more than others, according to a recent petition filed with the Federal Trade Commission by the Consumer Education Foundation, a California nonprofit. In one example found by the group’s researchers, different Walmart online customers saw different prices for a box of ballpoint pens: $9.69 when the retailer had access to the customer’s personal data; $4.15 when it didn’t have the data.

Even without transaction data, tech companies can make determinations about users’ financial health. According to a recent report by The Intercept, some advertisers have been able to use specially provided data from Facebook to target ads based on a user’s perceived creditworthiness. Facebook told the publication it has not rated users’ credit scores for ads, but the company already assigns “trust scores” to users, and it has patents on systems for linking social media accounts with data from financial institutions and on determining the riskiness and “legitimacy” of users based on their financial data and those of their friends.

If Facebook’s scoring systems illustrate the potential value that tech platforms see in users’ financial behavior, Google’s mining of our inboxes illustrates how we lose our data to begin with, often without knowing it.

Google CEO Sundar Pichai wrote in a New York Times op-ed in May, “We give you clear, meaningful choices around your data. All while staying true to two unequivocal policies: that Google will never sell any personal information to third parties; and that you get to decide how your information is used.”

But Pichai’s op-ed about privacy does not give any real privacy to any Google user. The words that really matter, as for any company that depends upon our data, are the terms of service and the privacy policy:

“We also collect the content you create, upload, or receive from others when using our services. This includes things like email you write and receive, photos and videos you save, docs and spreadsheets you create, and comments you make on YouTube videos. We collect information about your activity in our services, which we use to do things like recommend a YouTube video you might like. The activity information we collect may include: Purchase activity.”

In other words, we already made the choice to let companies watch us when we clicked “yes.” We may not have known it, but increasingly that means giving the tech giants a peek inside our wallets too.

VIA: Fast Company

Posted in Interesting
Aug. 2, 2019

Freddie Mac: Mortgage rates remain near 3-year low

Freddie Mac Rates

BY: Alcynna Lloyd

This week, the 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage averaged 3.75%, matching last week. A year ago, the rate averaged 4.60%, according to the Freddie Mac Primary Mortgage Market Survey.

“Mortgage rates have essentially stabilized over the last two months, which reflects the recovery and improvement in the economy from the malaise earlier in the year,” Freddie Mac Chief Economist Sam Khater said. “Going forward, the combination of low mortgage rates, tight labor market and high consumer confidence should set up the housing market for continued improvement in home sales heading into the late summer and early fall.”

The 15-year FRM averaged 3.20% this week, slightly rising from last week’s 3.18%. This time last year, the 15-year FRM came in at 4.08%.

The five-year Treasury-indexed hybrid adjustable-rate mortgage averaged 3.46%, sliding backward from last week’s rate of 3.47%. This rate is much lower than the same week in 2018 when it averaged 3.93%.

BY: HousingWire

Posted in Mortgage
Aug. 2, 2019

What Happened When I Didn’t Complain for 30 Days

Stop Complaining

BY: Mary Carlomagno

Mark Twain once said that “habit is habit and not to be flung out of the window by any man, but coaxed downstairs a step at a time.” I have lived by these words, coaxing change in my life by giving up 12 indulgences and conveniences (chocolate, shopping and cellphones among them), one per month for a year. Then I literally wrote the book on my experiences.

As I sacrificed something I liked month to month, I unfortunately adopted complaining as a coping mechanism. It was time to stop the carping and rebalance my life, so that’s how I came to accept another monthlong challenge: I would not complain for the entire month. Or at least I would give it my best effort.

By the end of day one, I was prepared to denounce Twain’s approach and fling him down said steps. But deep down I knew he was right: Ritualistic practices for this exercise required the same level of effort, and the same step-by-step progress, as a concert pianist preparing for a performance. As my childhood flute teacher once said, practice does not make perfect, it makes permanent, something I proved when I kicked my four-cup-a-day coffee habit cold turkey.

Like my coffee challenge, complaining was an ingrained habit. This was most apparent when my kids returned to school for the fall semester; coffee and complaining are early-morning musts on many schooldays. The first day presented a gantlet of obstacles, from my kids’ finicky eating habits to constant clothing changes, despite preparation well ahead of day one: a bag packed with a healthy lunch, new school supplies in tow and an apple for the teacher.

I was ready for everything except the complicated drop-off system for parents who drive their kids to school. Before I could say, “Hope you had a nice summer,” a wave of panic and insecurity took over. I told my husband, “The car drop-off queue is totally flawed!” What I thought was a simple declarative statement did not resonate in that manner. Yes, I had strayed into… (cue scary music)… The Complaint Zone.

Once I started complaining, I couldn’t stop: forgotten passwords, misplaced homework assignments, those widowed socks that never find a mate, to name a few.

As most parents would agree, the complaint urge begins early in the day. For me, it starts with that step into the shower, when exuberant children play peek-a-boo with the curtain. From the outside, this sounds sweet, planting a memory of the cute faces of my 5- and 7-year-olds. But during the reality of the moment, I told them, “Just give me five minutes, for the love of Pete!”

During my trying month, I realized that smartphones and other computers are the ultimate complaining enablers. These devices make it far too easy to launch a text blast or even (novelty alert!) place a call to gripe to my BFF about the cable man not showing up during his four-hour window. You can multiply that exponentially if you join in the gazillion social media conversations ranging from religious viewpoints to reality television diatribes to sports. The opportunities to voice opinions in online forums are endless. (Were we all more content before Facebook invited us to vent all over the walls? Or is it simply a natural human impulse to opine on everything that crosses our screens?)

An empty cupboard necessitated my leaving the computer. I sought solace at the supermarket, where the bread aisle turned out to be a trap. Before I could put the brakes on my tongue, I muttered about the high sugar content in bread. A fellow complainer who supported my bread assessment voiced my next thought: “There is sugar in everything,” she said. Complaining not only loves company but is also contagious—and self-fueling.

Finding that contented state enriched my life. And the month of no complaining had a bonus for my husband and kids: They were happier, too.

Once I started complaining, I couldn’t stop: forgotten passwords, misplaced homework assignments, those widowed socks that never find a mate, to name a few.

After struggling through much of this 30-day challenge, a lightbulb finally went on: If I don’t start complaining, I won’t have to stop. If I moved through the perfunctory tasks of the day concentrating on finishing them quickly, I reduced the window for whining.

I also found a way to manage my now-reduced urges: I replaced my complaining with something therapeutic, the music of Buddhist monks. And guess what? My day went better. I boarded the happy-mommy train and made all the usual stops—cheerleading practices, birthday parties, soccer games and Cub Scout meetings—amid the chanting of om, namaste and shanti with zero complaints. The mellow sounds served as a relaxation device and as a reminder that neither Buddha nor Krishna nor Gandhi would scream at someone who cut them off in traffic. Like these spiritual teachers, I was living in the moment.

Finding that contented state enriched my life. And the month of no complaining had a bonus for my husband and kids: They were happier, too.

What is your “complaining type”?

A certain degree of complaining is inevitable, but when it becomes habitual, it can negatively affect your mood and those around you. As Lao Tzu said, “The journey of one thousand miles begins with one step.” Your first step is to determine what kind of complainer you really are.

• Superior Steve

Steve stands in line at the checkout and mumbles under his breath to others that the cashier is incompetent and slow. Steve may think he’s in control, but he is really a victim giving the play-by-play on a situation that won’t change unless he reports the problem to the store manager.

Change your attitude to change the outcome.

• Donna Downer

Donna uses complaining as a conversation starter the way most people use hello. Complaining helps people unite over a common enemy and can often lead to bonding, but when Donna types take this too far, they become social pariahs. She sees herself as creating something positive over this shared disdain, but others just want to run for cover.

Here’s how to handle the negative energy.

• Venting Veronica

Meet up with her, and you have signed up for Monday morning quarterbacking on everything from a reality-show faux pas to her significant other’s slovenly housekeeping. She is that negative friend who can’t wait to unload all of life’s problems on you. Sessions with her do little besides fostering an environment of feeding on the flaws of others.

Use these tips to avoid information burnout from chronic venters.

• Bobby Blamer

Bobby doesn’t view himself as a complainer, nor does he ever see any fault in his own actions. He spends his time blaming every mishap, mistake or accident on anyone he can find. In that legend in his own mind, Bobby does no wrong.

If you see yourself in one or more of these profiles, pause before you speak. Then filter your words or keep your thoughts to yourself. Take responsibility for your actions and refrain from being a black cloud. Others will appreciate it, you’ll radiate more sunshine and less gloom, and you’ll strengthen (instead of weaken) your relationships.

Stop making excuses—you’ll be much happier.

VIA: Success

Posted in Life Style
July 31, 2019

How To Avoid Putting 20% Down On Your Home

Mortgage Financing Solutions

BY: Jennifer McMurray

If you’re starting your home search, you may have been told that you will need to put 20% down. While there are many benefits to putting 20% or more down on a loan, for many home buyers, it’s simply not possible. Due to student loan debt, increased interest rates, and a seller’s market, home buyers, especially rookie buyers, don’t have the resources to pay 20% down and closing costs. Rather than give up on the homeownership dream, home buyers would benefit from familiarizing themselves with options that don’t require 20% down to purchase a home!

How To Avoid Putting 20% Down On Your Home

FHA Loans

One of the most common loan programs that assist home buyers in avoiding 20% down is an FHA loan. FHA is a government-backed loan. The benefit of an FHA loan to a home buyer is a much lower down payment! Based on a borrower’s credit score, FHA loans can have down payments that range from 3.5%-10%.

An FHA loan is a good option, especially for a first-time home buyer; however, there is some fine print buyers should be aware of before they sign on the dotted line.

  • Mortgage Insurance is required
  • The home being purchased must pass FHA safety standards
  • Homes owned for less than 90 days by the current owner are not FHA eligible

Rural Development Loans

Another loan option that appeals to borrowers who are struggling with the 20% down is a rural development loan. With RD loans, borrowers can avoid putting any money down! This particular loan program is designed for low to moderate income borrowers and is strictly limited to certain geographic areas.

  • As with FHA loans, borrowers should be aware of the guidelines associated with RD loans:
  • Homes must in a designated rural area. Not all geographic areas qualify for RD loans.
  • Applicants must meet certain income criteria in order to be eligible
  • Mortgage Insurance is required

VA Home Loans

A more specific loan program dedicated solely to active or retired military personnel is a VA home loan. This particular loan is not eligible to civilians; however, it has tremendous benefits for military personnel. With a VA loan, borrowers can avoid any down payment and avoid PMI. This loan is guaranteed by the Department of Veterans Affairs. While these loans are designated for military personnel, not all qualify. In order to qualify for a VA loan, the borrower must:

  • Meet the service time requirements
  • Have received an honorable discharge
  • Spouses of a veteran who died in the line of service could be eligible

Home Ready by Fannie Mae

If borrowers are seeking a conventional loan with a lower down payment, Fannie Mae’s Home Ready program might be a good fit. With as little as 3% down, buyers can have a minimal down payment with this program. Like with other government-backed loans, mortgage insurance is required; however, this program has the option to have mortgage insurance removed once 20% equity is reached. Other factors are also important to consider:

  • Borrowers may be required to attend a home education course
  • Minimum credit score is required
  • Free from geographic restrictions
  • Designed for low to moderate income borrowers
  • Good Neighbor Program

One of the most enticing options to help home buyers is also one of the most restricted options. The Good Neighbor Program is intended to assist with the purchase price, not down payment. This program is not a loan program, but a program that offers incentives to teachers, firefighters, law enforcement and EMTs. The Good Neighbor Program offers half-price homes to eligible individuals. Not all homes are eligible and must meet certain criteria. However, a $100,000 eligible home could be purchased for $50,000 to qualified candidates.

In addition to a reduced purchase price, if a borrower secures an FHA-insured mortgage, they are eligible for a $100 down payment! While the Good Neighbor Program sounds incredibly enticing, there are very strict guidelines to be eligible:

  • Borrowers must agree to occupy the home for 36 months
  • Borrowers must sign a second mortgage for the discounted portion
  • You may be required to pay back the discount if you fail to meet the occupancy time
  • You must be employed full-time
  • Only certain properties are eligible for the Good Neighbor Program

VIA: Homes

Posted in Mortgage
July 25, 2019

Antibiotics Used In Food Production Are Fuelling A Major Global Health Crisis

Antibiotic's Over-Used

BY: Alanna Ketler

Approximately 80% of all antibiotics used in the United States are given to animals raised on factory farms for human consumption. This means that the majority of the population consuming meat and animal products are also consuming large amounts of antibiotics, most of the time without even knowing it.

Most of the antibiotics used are given to healthy animals to either promote growth or prevent disease, which is caused by the unsanitary living conditions that come with factory farming. This means animals that don’t even need antibiotics are still being fed them — a problem worsened by pharmaceutical reps, who convince farmers that using antibiotics will help them increase sales.

When in doubt, follow the money.

How Does This Happen?

While many argue that the use of antibiotics in meat has nothing to do with antibiotic resistance in humans, there is just too much evidence to the contrary to brush this off.

One study, published by the American Society for Microbiology, shows how an antibiotic-susceptible staph germ passed from humans into pigs, where it then became resistant to the antibiotics tetracycline and methicillin. The antibiotic-resistant staph then learned to jump back into humans.

One author of the study, Paul Keim, says the report shows that “our inappropriate use of antibiotics is now coming back to haunt us.” He believes that the solution is clear, and that is to ban all antibiotics in livestock feed, just like the European Union has already done.

The more antibiotics that are being used, the more superbugs will develop that are resistant to current antibiotics, rendering the antibiotics that are being prescribed for human illnesses effectively useless, as the bacteria will have evolved to withstand these prescriptions.

The presence of superbugs in meat and poultry puts humans at risk. As they spread into the environment, they can transmit their antibiotic immunity to other bacteria in our environment, including those that make us ill.

We Are Now Facing the Effects

While this is an immensely important issue and something that we should continue to raise awareness on, initiatives are already underway to stop this problem in its tracks. The public is waking up to the horrors that go on in factory farms via documentaries, investigative journalism, and social media, and as a result, people are already starting to eat less meat, make more ethical decisions about the meat and animal products they do consume, and avoid fast food restaurants.

Because of this consumer awareness, many farms are starting to completely drop the use of antibiotics in their livestock, and popular restaurants and fast foods chains are proudly advertising that their products contain no antibiotics. This is certainly a huge step in the right direction.

Wondering What You Can Do?

Spread the word! And, most importantly, vote with your dollar. Do your research — do not support the companies that are using copious amounts of antibiotics. Consume less meat and animal products, and avoid those coming from factory farms. If everyone just ate considerably less meat, we could eliminate the need for factory farms in the first place, and therefore antibiotic use would be kept to a minimum, only used when an animal actually needs it.

VIA: Collective Evolution

Posted in Health