2015 Report Card: Where Housing Was Worth the Most

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By Jordyn Lee

In 2015, the value of all homes across the U.S. increased $1.1 trillion, growing 4.1 percent over the past year. At year end, the entire housing stock is expected to be valued at $28.5 trillion — $10 trillion more than 2015’s third quarter U.S. gross domestic product.

The most valuable market going into 2016 is the Los Angeles metropolitan area, with a total value of $2.4 trillion. California as a whole accounts for almost a quarter of the country’s cumulative home value, which isn’t surprising considering it’s home to such high-valued markets as Los Angeles, San Francisco, and San Jose.

Renters spent $535 billion nationally on housing in 2015 — nearly as much as the total budget of the Department of Defense ($575 billion). That’s almost $20 billion more than in 2014, due to 1.8 million new renter households and rental prices rising at record pace.

Renters in the New York/Northern New Jersey market spent the most on rent in 2015 — about $56 billion.

Here are the 10 most valuable housing markets and the 10 markets that paid the most rent in 2015.

Total Home Value at Year End

  1. Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, Calif. – $2.4 trillion
  2. New York/Northern New Jersey – $2.3 trillion
  3. San Francisco – $1.2 trillion
  4. Washington – $939 billion
  5. Miami-Fort Lauderdale, Fla. – $773 billion
  6. Chicago – $741 billion
  7. Boston – $634 billion
  8. San Jose, Calif. – $614 billion
  9. San Diego – $574 billion
  10. Philadelphia – $567 billion

Total Rent Paid at Year End

  1. New York/Northern New Jersey – $55.9 billion
  2. Los, Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim – $34.5 billion
  3. San Francisco- $16.7 billion
  4. Chicago – $16.5 billion
  5. Washington – $14.0 billion
  6. Boston – $13.4 billion
  7. Houston – $13.1 billion
  8. Dallas-Fort Worth – $12.8 billion
  9. Miami-Fort Lauderdale – $11.2 billion
  10. Seattle – $10.2 billion

 

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Mortgage Rates Only Slightly Higher at 3.81% in Quiet Week

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ZillowThe weekly mortgage rate chart illustrates the average 30-year fixed interest rate in six-hour intervals.

By Lauren Braun

Mortgage rates for 30-year fixed loans rose this week, with the rate borrowers were quoted Tuesday on Zillow at 3.81 percent, up six basis points from last week.

The 30-year fixed mortgage rose throughout the week, reaching 3.86 percent on Saturday before falling Monday.

“Mortgage rates increased modestly early last week, mostly due to market anomalies associated with the holiday-shortened week,” said Erin Lantz, vice president of mortgages at Zillow. “We expect another quiet couple of days in mortgage markets this week.”

Additionally, the 15-year fixed mortgage rate was 3.02 percent, and for 5/1 ARMs, the rate was 3.05 percent.

Check Zillow for mortgage rate trends and up-to-the-minute rates for your state, or use the mortgage calculator to calculate monthly payments at the current rates.

 

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Real Estate Appraisals and the True Value of Your House

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By Devon Thorsby

It can be hard to place a monetary value on something that carries sentimental value.

But when you’re ready to sell your home and find yourself tasked with pricing the place you hold so dear, how do you do it right?

Gregory Barr, chief appraiser for Graham Appraisal in Glasgow, Kentucky, explains that all too often homeowners expect a higher appraisal value for their home when they put it on the market. “When we come by, everyone thinks their house is worth a lot more. When the tax assessor comes by, it’s worth a lot less,” he says.

At the end of the day, your home is worth as much as someone else will pay for it — and it’s an appraiser’s job to estimate what that value could be. “The market value is what a prospective buyer is willing to pay for the subject property,” explains Kelly Kellogg, owner of Appraisal Experts Inc. near Orlando, Florida. Kellogg is the author of “ABCs of a CMA,” which provides real estate agents with a breakdown of comparative market analysis to price and sell properties.

An appraisal can be used at different stages of the home selling or buying process by the buyer, seller or lender to determine the market value of a home. The appraisal process is often helpful for owners preparing to put their home on the market and especially when a seller and real estate agent have trouble agreeing on an initial asking price.

If you’re told your home is worth less than what you thought it was, what could be the cause? Appraisers weigh in on some of the major factors that could be dragging down the value of your home.

Your home doesn’t compare to that house down the street. Appraisers use recent transactions of similar homes in the area to assess your home’s potential value — but the houses must have the same amenities, features and condition to be truly comparable.

According to Carole Christensen, owner of Appraisal Minnesota in Northfield, Minnesota, homeowners are often confused when they receive an appraisal value lower than expected, and argue that the neighbor’s house down the street sold for X more dollars. “Well, [your] neighbor’s house has a brand-new kitchen and baths and is 30 percent larger than your house and is a different design,” Christensen says.

The number of bedrooms, in particular, is a key factor in selecting comparable sales. Kellogg says appraisers aim to compare prices of homes with the same number of bedrooms because the detail changes what the potential buyer is willing to pay.

“Typically we find that three-bedrooms sell for a higher value variance than a two-bedroom dwelling. You want to compare apples to apples if possible,” Kellogg says.

Planes, trains and automobiles are always zooming past your house. There are a lot of things you can control when it comes to ensuring at least a certain value in your home, but some are outside your reach — and outside your property lines.

Christensen says while a lake or pond can add value to a home, property backing up to a busy road, airport or power line is typically less desirable. “If you have a highway or a railroad, that’s not conducive to a good sales price. But that’s the exterior stuff you can’t do anything about,” she says.

You upgraded too much. Updates and added amenities can be a great way to increase the value of your home, but don’t expect to get back what you paid for those changes when you sell the home.

Many subdivisions with homes that are similar to each other will often sell within a 20 percent price range of each other, depending on the age of the homes and renovations, Christensen says. For instance, a homeowner could make major upgrades, such as “a pool and a sauna, and an outdoor kitchen,” she says.

But spending $100,000 on improvements doesn’t mean you’ll sell your house for $100,000 more — and especially not in a subdivision where homes sell for $150,000 to $200,000. “They’re not going to get that back because the area does not support that,” Christensen says.

Barr says improvements made for the purpose of selling your home might not have the return on investment you’re hoping for either. “If you put in $10,000 worth of landscaping, it might help you sell your house faster, but no one’s going to give you back that $10,000,” he says.

What You Can Do With a Low Appraisal

If your home appraised for less than you were hoping for, you’re not doomed. The calculated value isn’t set in stone; it serves as a snapshot of the market at a certain time, rather than an everlasting price.

“If I’m at your house on the 15th of December and I do an appraisal, and the next day the house across the street sells, that could have changed [the value] dramatically,” Barr explains.

You can’t guarantee changes in the market, and you can’t change your neighborhood, but appraisers recommend doing a few things to ensure you understand your home’s value, and they offer some easy fixes to increase interest from buyers.

Talk to the appraiser. It doesn’t hurt to talk to the appraiser about what led him or her to the specific value of your home. And if you think something is missing from the conclusion, mention it. Lance Coyle, president of the Appraisal Institute and an appraiser in Dallas, says human error can potentially lead to a mistake in the analysis. “If it’s not factually correct, 99.9 percent of appraisers out there are going to fix it, with no questions asked,” Coyle says.

Even when all the facts are right, it’s possible the appraiser is unaware of a similar house on the market that isn’t available in the public record, and any missing transactions can have an impact on your home’s value.

“Maybe you know your neighbor sold their house in the last six months. It sold off of the [multiple listing service] and so not a lot of people know about it,” Coyle says. “If you have a situation like that, then that’s certainly something you’d want to convey to the appraiser.”

Ask for the price you think is best. An appraised value lower than expected doesn’t mean there isn’t a possibility you could sell your home for more money. If you believe you can get a higher offer, go for it.

“A seller can still sell the home or put the home on the market for what they believe the value is. But at least when a buyer comes along and makes an offer, now the seller has the appraisal to go back and say, ‘Oh, there’s something here, because I’m getting a similar offer [to the appraisal],’ and then they can negotiate,” Kellogg says. “Or if they get a lowball offer, the seller may decide to pull the appraisal out and share it with the potential buyer.”

Just keep in mind, it’s not easy to pass off a home for more than it’s worth. “Buyers and sellers of homes are pretty astute as to what they’re looking for and what they’re willing to pay for,” Coyle says. The appraised value reflects what people would be willing to pay, and it can be hard to find an outlier who will pay significantly more.

Fix things up. A new coat of paint and tidying up around the property can go a long way. Any real estate professional will encourage you to make your home clean and clutter-free , both inside and out, before potential buyers start touring.

Barr also recommends painting any rooms that might have bright or unique colors, and using neutral tones. “Neutral sells because people want to be able to go in and visualize their stuff in the house,” he says.

Get the neighbors to help. To draw more interest and potential bids, ask your neighbors to park in their driveway, which will make the street less crowded. Kellogg says the fewer cars parked on the street in a subdivision, the better for any homes on the market.

It’s only a slight inconvenience, and Kellogg explains the neighbors will benefit in the long run. “As a neighbor, you want the person who’s moving to sell their home for the highest [price] the market will bear,” he says, “because that affects your real estate value indirectly.”

Sorry if these tips burst your home value hopes, but at least you’ll be ready for an appraised price tag below the one you may have in your head — and maybe even be prepared with a few tricks to increase interest and add value to your home.

 

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4 Steps to a Clean Kitchen, Fresh Start

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By BobVila.com

Most of us make a daily effort to keep our kitchens and food preparation areas fairly clean and tidy. But if you think your kitchen is really clean, you may have to think again.

There are literally dozens of places in your kitchen that are rarely touched in those regular mop-ups, and these areas can detract from the overall appearance and function of one of your most-used rooms. The solution: a kitchen deep-clean.

Every kitchen could use an intense scrub every couple of months, but don’t let that daunt you. Follow this strategy, and your cleaning day will be as painless as it is productive.

1. Clean out your kitchen cabinets.

The kitchen typically is the focal point of most household activity, and therefore accumulates a number of items that don’t necessarily have any business being there. Grab a box or bag, and fill it up with any items – such as books, electronics, and mail – that belong elsewhere.

Once the obvious miscellany are removed, empty all the cupboards and drawers. As you remove dishes, glassware, cookware, and gadgets, separate out any pieces that are damaged or infrequently used into another pile for repair, donation, or trash.

Give your pantry’s contents a quick once-over, too. Throw away any items past their expiration date, and donate anything you won’t eat to the local food pantry.

Before you move your curated collection back in, wipe down all the cabinet interiors and shelves with soapy water. A diluted vinegar spray is ideal for pantry shelves, since its main ingredient is both non-toxic and anti-bacterial. Dry with a clean cloth or paper towel, then line the shelves with paper for a more visually streamlined appearance.

Finally, fill up your cabinets, making sure the things you use the most – and those closest to expiring – are the easiest to reach.

2. Say goodbye to grime and grease.

Cooking inevitably leads to a sticky buildup of food particles and grease on your cabinets, walls, and countertops, so once you’ve dealt with the interiors, turn your attention to the exteriors.

— Wipe down all surfaces with a kitchen degreaser, then polish the wood and metal with an appropriate polish.

— Unscrew whatever parts can be removed (knobs, pulls, and handles), and place them in a mixture of lemon juice and water. While they soak, you’ll be able to better clean the surface where they attach. Rinse well with water and replace.

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Remedies for splotches and stains vary depending on the countertop material. If yours is a wooden butcherblock counter, for example, remove stains with a solution of one teaspoon of lemon juice or hydrogen peroxide per two ounces of water. For laminate, treat stains with a baking soda and water paste. In any case, stick with soft cloths and sponges to avoid scratching up your surface.

— If you have a tile backsplash, scrub the grout lines with lemon juice and salt to get rid of stains and discoloration; rinse with warm water.

— Wipe down door knobs, light fixtures, light switches and switch plates, and any other surfaces that could possibly collect dust, including spice racks, pot hangers, and clocks.

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3. Give your appliances some extra TLC.

The surfaces of your fridge, oven, and dishwasher tend to get completely covered in fingerprints, smudges, and germs over time. Start by cleaning their exteriors using the cleanser recommended by the manufacturer. Then target each appliance individually.

— Treat the refrigerator as you did the cabinets. Pull everything out, and toss any food and condiments past their expiration dates. Wipe down all of the emptied appliance’s shelves, drawers, and bins using a vinegar and water mixture. Attack any stubborn spills with the additional scrubbing power of a pinch of baking soda. Refill the fridge, and repeat with your freezer. Before you’ve finished, thoroughly dust and vacuum the unit’s fan and coils.

–Clear your stovetop of any burners and move them to a bucket or sink full of warm, sudsy water while you wash the surface where they sit. Don’t forget to wipe down the front, sides, and knobs, too. Soapy water works for a light cleaning, but if you need to scrub off a stain, mix equal parts water, baking soda, and salt into a mild abrasive paste and let it sit on your spill for a few minutes. Apply the paste to any splotches on the stovetop, then wait a few minutes. Use a little elbow grease to rub off the spot, and wipe away the paste. Rinse and towel off the grates before you replace them.

‚Äč–You’ll have already wiped the worst off the outside of your dishwasher, so freshen the inside by running a couple of almost-empty loads while you work in the kitchen. First, fill a dishwasher-safe bowl with 1 cup vinegar, place it in the top rack, and run a full hot-water cycle. Then remove the bowl, sprinkle a cup of baking soda over the bottom of the appliance, and run it on a short hot-water cycle.

–Wipe down the garbage disposal. Run a few pieces of cut citrus fruit through the garbage disposal to kill any stench, followed by a rinse with boiling-hot water. Even if you don’t have a disposal, at minimum wipe down the tub of your sink, faucet, and knobs. Then flush any potential clogs from its drain with a half-cup baking soda and a half-cup vinegar.

And don’t neglect small countertop appliances in your deep-clean:

–Toaster: Remove the crumb trap, brush away any food particles, and wipe down the exterior.

Coffee maker: Run a 50-50 vinegar-and-water mixture through the machine, then do several water-only brews to wash out the lingering acidic flavor.

–Microwave: Nuke a bowl full of water and cut lemons for 10 to 15 minutes so their steam soaks away all the burnt-on food bits. Wipe the interior clean with a damp microfiber cloth.

4. Finish with the floor.

While wiping down every last surface in your kitchen, you’ve likely knocked more than a few crumbs to the ground. That’s why it’s best to end your deep-clean with a good sweep or vacuum.

Grab your dust-busting instrument of choice, and zero in on the collection along baseboards and heating registers. Use a lightly damp mop and an appropriate cleanser for your flooring to wipe up.

Send soiled towels, oven mitts, rugs, and curtains through the wash and replace.

Return your cleaning supplies to their homes.

Then wash your hands of all the hard work in the fresh sink in your bright, shiny kitchen.

 

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How to Give a Boring Apartment a Jolt of Style

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By Brie Dyas

Unless you’re lucky enough to live in a grand older building, a loft, or one of the high-design modern luxury developments that are popping up everywhere, your apartment might best be described as a plain white box defined by a distinct lack of character. After all, apartment complexes are generally built to appeal to just about everyone.

That’s where decor comes in. But decorating that new apartment isn’t necessarily about what you like — it’s also about what won’t affect your security deposit. The following apartment decor ideas will help you bring personality to your pad without freaking out your landlord. (Just make sure to read the fine print of your lease or get the OK from said landlord before reaching for that paint roller.)

Repurpose a Craft Staple

Washi tape is all over Pinterest, and for good reason. The adhesive-backed paper strips are affordable and come in a rainbow of patterns and colors. Since it’s basically pretty masking tape, washi tape presents endless DIY options for renters. We love how Molly Madfis of the blog Almost Makes Perfect used washi tape to create a pattern on her plain white closet doors that’s reminiscent of architectural molding.

Can’t Paint? Go for Temporary Wall Coverings

“Look into removable wallpaper. The stuff has grown leaps and bounds in recent years — there are so many cute varieties on the market,” says designer Jacqueline Clark. “It’s a great way to personalize your space, without any permanency.” Chasing Paper is just one of the many companies offering an impressive range of motifs and solids that rival “real” wallpaper, with precut options backed with a low-tack adhesive that allows you to simply peel away panels once moving day rolls around.

Use Color Strategically

Whether you use removable wallpaper or can actually paint your apartment, a “statement wall” makes the task easy. By focusing the attention on one wall through color or pattern, you’ll create a visual illusion that makes a room seem longer or wider (depending on the dimensions of the wall you choose).

Hide Visual Clutter

Apartments never quite have enough outlets, which leads to a mass of wires, cables, and extension cords. However, this inconvenience presents an option to get creative. “When it comes to hiding wires, try your best to camouflage them into your existing decor,” says designer Kristin Jackson of Hunted Interior. “I like to use garden stools for hiding wires and routers to keep my desk area clean and stylish.”

Choose Dual-Purpose Pieces

Jennifer Koen, vice president of business development at the designer furniture consignment site Viyet, has noticed a demand for furniture that can serve more than one purpose. “Dual-purpose pieces such as ottomans with storage inside, small x-base benches that can be tucked under a console and pulled out for extra seating, pull-out sofas, and nesting tables for entertaining are always on trend,” she says. Koen also points to the trend of bar carts, which can add style and be of endless service. You can use the cart for entertaining, as a movable bookshelf, or as display space for small items and art. Use it by the door to bring a welcoming touch to your entry (no matter how tiny).

Accessorize with Storage

There’s only so much that can fit in an under-the-bed box. Baskets and decorative bins provide a spot to hide clutter while adding a little personality to your space. You can also pair them with open shelving or a storage piece, a la Liz Fourez of the blog Love Grows Wild. She used rustic bins to bring a vintage feel to the credenza.

Fix a Boring View with Window Decals

Peel-and-stick film ranges from privacy-boosting frosted effects to patterns reminiscent of stained glass. No matter what you choose, it’s one of the cheapest ways to add a little extra interest to a window.

 

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Will an Adjustable Rate Mortgage Cost an Arm and a Leg?

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By Geoff Williams

If you’re buying a house soon, you may be mulling over the idea of getting an adjustable-rate mortgage. Or you were, until you heard about the Federal Reserve’s recent decision to raise interest rates a quarter point. That likely put a chill on many homeowners’ desires to have an adjustable-rate mortgage, also known as an ARM.

If you currently have an ARM, you might be in full-blown-panic mode, wondering if your interest rate is going to climb soon.

“My voicemail and email has been inundated by my clients, friends and partners all asking the same question, ‘What should I do about my ARM mortgage and when?'” says Drew Grandi, a loan originator with Wintrust Mortgage in Massachusetts.

What should you do? It really depends. An ARM can be a terrific strategy for paying a mortgage, or a terrible one. Before you get one, or get rid of one, you need to think about how you want to proceed.

What Is an ARM?

It’s a home loan with a fixed interest rate, usually for five years — but after that, it can adjust every year. (That’s why you’ll often hear ARMs referred to as a 5/1 ARM, although you could have a fixed interest rate for a different period, like a 7/1 ARM or 10/1 ARM.)

After those five or more years are up, the interest rate can go up or down for the duration of your mortgage.

Because the interest rate could go up, it can be risky to have an adjustable rate. Nobody wants an ARM to cost them an arm and a leg.

So why get an ARM if your monthly mortgage payment can turn on you like that? Because the fixed rate for those five years or so is lower than a traditional fixed mortgage rate. It hasn’t been all that much lower in recent years, of course, since all mortgage rates have been low. Still, even a percentage point can reduce a mortgage payment enough to save a homeowner thousands of dollars in the long run.

How High Can an ARM Go?

While your monthly mortgage payment can adjust every year to a higher and higher rate, there is a limit to how much financial pain you’ll endure.

“There are protective caps, so the loan cannot adjust higher than the designated annual cap or lifetime overall rate cap,” says Staci Titsworth, regional manager of PNC Mortgage in Pittsburgh. This is looked upon as insurance against risk.

“Most ARMs are capped so that your interest rate will not exceed more than 5 percent above your original rate,” Grandi says.

That doesn’t sound so bad, but it can add up. Grandi offers an example of the homeowner who has a 5/1 ARM at 3 percent on a $300,000 mortgage. That would mean you’re paying $1,264.81 a month for the first five years, he says. If interest rates shot up, the most you would pay is 8 percent on that $300,000, which would mean a max monthly payment of $2,201.29, or about $936 more than your original payment.

If you are thinking about an ARM, Titsworth suggests having the loan officer run a few examples of payments, including the worst-case-scenario payment. It may be eye-opening.

What if You Have an ARM Now?

Don’t panic, Grandi says. “Everyone currently in an ARM should not necessarily be hounding their mortgage expert to refinance into a fixed-rate mortgage,” he says.

In fact, if you have a low-rate ARM now and you refinance into a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage, you’d likely pay around 4 percent and your monthly payment would jump a little. With that previous $300,000 ARM example, Grandi says, the homeowner’s payment would go up less than $200 a month.

That may well be worth it to have the comfort of knowing you have a fixed mortgage payment. But if you’re planning to move in the next couple of years, you’re probably better off keeping the ARM. That’s because one of the biggest factors in whether you should get an ARM is how long you plan to live in your house. Generally, if you’re going to live in your home for a short time before selling it, an ARM is considered a financially shrewd move.

“I’m a big believer in ARM loans and have one now,” Titsworth says. “Adjustable rate mortgages are a good option for consumers that have a shorter-term need, and also those that are comfortable with a little risk,” she adds.

Who Shouldn’t Get an ARM?

Do what you want, but if you’d like some general rules of thumb, there are three types of homeowners who should likely avoid an ARM.

First-time homebuyers. Ali Vafai, president of The Money Source, a national correspondent lender and mortgage loan servicer on New York’s Long Island, says first-time homebuyers or those with little down payment should not choose ARM loans. Since rates are near historic lows today, he says it’s very likely rates will be higher in five years and payments would increase after the fixed period. Even if you’re not planning to stay very long, maybe you’ll discover you hate moving and and realize you don’t want to go anywhere.

— People on a tight budget. So you scraped up your down payment, barely, and you figure you can afford to live in a house if you pare back your budget a bit. It sure doesn’t sound like you would do well if, in five years, your monthly mortgage payment shot up a couple hundred dollars a month.

— Natural-born worriers. As has been duly noted, ARMs are a risk. Before you get an ARM, ask yourself some risk-related questions, Grandi suggests.

For instance, when you’ve been living in your home for two years, will you suddenly have sleepless nights because you aren’t sure what your mortgage payment will be in three years?

“Do you expect continued doom and gloom for the United States’ economy with unemployment increasing and inflation staying low?” Grandi asks.

In other words, if you a worrier, the ARM is probably not for you.

Titsworth agrees. She loves the ARM, though, and points out what isn’t often emphasized: When your fixed rate ends and it adjusts, your monthly payment doesn’t necessarily have to go higher. “It’s possible the rate could drop,” she says.

Still, all in all, “ARM loans are typically not the product of choice for someone that believes they will be in their home long term and wants [the] peace of mind of knowing what their payment will be,” Titsworth says. “The long-term fixed rates come with less risk and therefore a higher rate.”

 

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How to Turn Up the Heat on Your Landlord

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By Devon Thorsby

The radiator’s crapped out in your apartment, and your landlord hasn’t responded to your emails or answered the phone for two days. As much as you love your new winter coat, wearing it while you watch TV — and while you sleep — isn’t your idea of fun. The arctic chill may have you thinking: At what point is my landlord required to make repairs?

That would be two days ago.

The relationship between a landlord and tenant can get sticky when things go awry. The only way to successfully protect yourself from housing law violations is to know your rights as a renter, and act when you feel you are being unfairly treated.

Here are some basics to get you started on understanding tenant and landlord laws.

Federal law protects against civil rights violations in housing. The Fair Housing Act dictates no landlord can refuse housing to a potential tenant based on race, nationality, sex, familial status, religion or disability.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development, the federal government’s authority on housing, aims to provide affordable housing options and protect consumers from discrimination. HUD recently reported it received more than 3,500 complaints of housing discrimination in 2012 and 2013, of which 40 percent were settled, charged or sent to the Department of Justice for further action.

HUD spokeswoman Elena Gaona notes that federal regulations often also carry through to state, county or municipal laws, particularly with fair housing. “There’s always local protections, too,” to help reinforce the policy, she says.

Many of your tenant rights are spelled out in state or local laws. In a situation where you feel you are being treated unfairly for any reason, check with your state’s laws on tenant and landlord rights. For the most part, tenants’ rights fall under the jurisdiction of the state or local government, which means they vary throughout the country, explains Dean Preston, executive director of Tenants Together, a nonprofit that advocates for renters in California.

“There are some states, for example, that the state laws prohibit rent control entirely. Then there are other states that are like California where there isn’t state rent control, but they allow local rent control laws,” Preston says.

You have a right to livable conditions. All tenants have a right to be provided with a space considered habitable — including working plumbing, electricity and heat. Beyond these basic details, it varies by state how a landlord is required to provide them and what tenants may do when their needs are not met.

David Merbaum is an attorney based in Georgia who handles landlord-tenant disputes, among other real estate and business-related litigation. He says he has seen a number of situations where tenants have trouble with mold in their apartments, which poses a safety issue while they work out the dispute of mold removal.

Merbaum says Georgia has legislation regarding constructive eviction — where the landlord effectively forces the tenant out because the place is no longer habitable. In mold cases where tenants fear for their health, he says leaving and explaining the claim of constructive eviction in court will at least remove any immediate danger. “I can’t guarantee [a judge will agree with you], but I wouldn’t stay there if I didn’t feel safe,” he says.

While most states have thorough legislation when it comes to habitability, Preston says it’s one of the most common issues he sees from renters seeking assistance from his organization. “The problem is one of enforcement,” he says, citing local and state code enforcement offices that are often underfunded or lack the motivation to effectively police conditions of rental properties.

You have to pay your rent. Landlords have a right to pursue eviction when they stop receiving rent, regardless of the reason. Some state or local laws will allow landlords to lower the cost of rent or prorate rent for the number of days a unit is unlivable. However, you cannot refuse to pay rent to provoke your landlord to perform maintenance or other duties.

Merbaum explains that rent is not a bargaining chip to get what you want from the landlord. “The obligation to pay rent is always independent of the landlord’s obligation to fulfill his duties. So if the air conditioning’s not working, the tenant cannot hold the rent back — the tenant will be in breach of the lease and they can be evicted,” he says.

Georgia is one of many states with a “right to deduct” policy for the tenant, which means if something is broken and you have given your landlord repeated notice and ample time to fix it, you can personally have it repaired or replaced and subtract the cost from your next month’s rent.

However, the right to deduct can be a dangerous game to play. California also has right to deduct policies, and Preston says he often only recommends it as a last resort for tenants seeking repairs, because the landlords can still pursue eviction if they dispute the deduction. A worst-case scenario would leave the tenant with the bill for the repair and without a home as well.

The lease you sign doesn’t surpass the law. In many cases, landlords can be unaware of the specifics of tenant and landlord rights, or they may try to take advantage of the fact that you don’t know your rights. If you sign a lease that includes rules that violate tenants’ rights, the fraudulent policies cannot be enforced by the landlord or law. For example, Merbaum says major repairs needed to make a property livable, like water and plumbing, cannot be placed in the renter’s hands. according to Georgia law. “If it’s in the lease, that’s it’s the tenant’s responsibility, it’s not even enforceable,” he says.

In New York, state law dictates all tenants living in privately owned buildings have the right to sublease their rental unit to another person. This excludes public or subsidized housing, nonprofit buildings, co-ops and tenants with controlled or subsidized rent. Even if your signed lease states you cannot sublease your apartment, that clause of the contract is not legally enforceable, and the landlord cannot pursue legal action against you if you sublease your space.

You should document everything. No one moves into a new apartment planning to get into a fight with their landlord, but it’s best to be prepared for the possibility. “It doesn’t matter what system of laws you’re operating under, if you’re going to try to enforce them at some point, you need to document the situation,” Preston says.

When you move in, photograph every room and note any needed repairs. Also keep dates and documents of every repair request should you need evidence of attempts to fix problems. When you move out, if the landlord tries to charge you for damages you documented when you moved in, you’re far more likely to successfully avoid the fee.

You have advocates who will help. There are countless tenant rights organizations throughout the country to ensure renters have access to the resources and understand the privileges afforded to them by law. For instance, Preston says Tenants Together operates a statewide hotline in California to field renter problems and requests for information.

In the event of discrimination violating the Fair Housing Act, Gaona advises contacting HUD directly, whether it’s the headquarters in Washington or one of the dozens of local offices nationwide. HUD has its own investigators to look into possible infractions and can pursue violators.

 

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How to Design a Restful Bedroom

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Courtesy of Zillow Digs

By Kerrie Kelly

November through January is a busy, busy time. With family dinners, office parties and Christmas shopping, lack of sleep inevitably follows and full-blown burnout becomes a very real possibility. Don’t forget to think about yourself. A restful bedroom can be the key to combating fatigue.

Clear the Clutter

It’s often said that a cluttered room is the sign of a cluttered mind. Having too much “stuff” obstructs from the flow of a serene space, and doesn’t tie in well with any design concept.

Take what you love and move it somewhere safe, and get rid of everything else. Having a clear and collected space will lead to a clear and collected life. Don’t you feel better already?

Courtesy of Zillow Digs

Soothe with a Calm Color Palette

Nothing whispers “rest” quite like a soft and soothing color palette. From cozy cream to serene beige, color is key when creating a restful bedroom. Refrain from bold colors like red, green, or yellow, and instead use those shades to accent your calming paint choice instead.

Courtesy of Zillow Digs

Total Texture

Sink into a sound slumber quickly and easily with plush pillows, dreamy duvets, and cozy throw blankets. Layer different textures, prints, and soft colors to create a bed as irresistible as a 3 o’clock nap.

Courtesy of Zillow Digs

Go Stress-Free with a Sitting Area

Don’t want to ruffle your restful bed sheets? Create a cozy corner instead with a chair, side table, and a great reading lamp. Grab a cozy blanket, sip a cup of tea, and get lost in a good book while relaxing the day away in your rest-inspiring oasis.

Courtesy of Zillow Digs

Finish with Lush Lighting

When you’re about to drift off to dream land, nothing’s worse than switching from light and bright to dull and dark. Opt for lighting that is dimmable or masked by an opaque shade. Layer lighting with pendants, recessed cans, and tableside lamps for the perfect amount of sparkle.

Courtesy of Zillow Digs

The holidays don’t have to mean all-nighters and dazed mornings. Create your restful bedroom using the above elements, your favorite sleep-inducing rituals, and personal touches that you find particularly restful. Sit back, relax, and lull yourself to sleep knowing that the New Year is just around the corner.

 

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Average 30-Year Fixed Mortgage Rate Falls to 3.75%

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ZillowThe weekly mortgage rate chart illustrates the average 30-year fixed interest rate in six-hour intervals.

By Lauren Braun

Mortgage rates for 30-year fixed home loans fell this week, with the rate borrowers were quoted on Zillow at 3.75 percent Tuesday, down five basis points from last week.

The 30-year fixed rate fell throughout the week before settling at Tuesday’s rate.

“Mortgage rates fell last week despite the [Federal Reserve’s] decision to raise short-term lending rates,” said Erin Lantz, vice president of mortgages at Zillow. “The announcement, which had largely been priced in, contained few surprises and signaled a slow upward path for rates moving forward. This week we expect rates to be flat, as markets will be quiet for the end-of-week holiday.”

Additionally, the 15-year fixed mortgage rate was 2.95 percent. For 5/1 ARMs, or adjustable-rate mortgages, the rate was 3.00 percent.

Check Zillow for mortgage rate trends and up-to-the-minute mortgage rates for your state, or use the mortgage calculator to calculate monthly payments at the current rates.

 

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U.S. Existing Home Sales Dive in November

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housing market concept image...
Shutterstock / Tyler Olson

WASHINGTON (AP) — Home sales plunged sharply in November, as buyers faced rising prices and new regulations that might have delayed some closings.

The National Association of Realtors said Tuesday that sales of existing homes collapsed 10.5 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.76 million. It was the weakest pace in 19 months.

The setback follows solid gains in real estate for much of 2015. Sales of existing homes are on track to rise roughly 5 percent for the entire year. But the introduction of a new disclosure form in October likely prevented many homebuyers from closing on sales in November. Home values are also rising at more than double the pace of wages.

The median home sales price was $220,300 in November, a 6.3 percent annual increase from a year ago. Sales fell in all major geographic regions — the Northeast, Midwest, South and West.

The new rules introduced by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to inform homebuyers about interest rates and fees may have delayed the completion of sales last month. It took 41 days to close a sale in November, compared to 36 days a year ago. The extended timeframe means that some sales may have been pushed back into December.

“The effect should be a one-time hit to the data and we expect the uptrend in sales to get back on track next month,” said Jim O’Sullivan, chief U.S. economist at High Frequency Economics.

Still, an improving job market and relatively low mortgage rates have encouraged home-buying for this year. Unemployment at a healthy 5 percent has endowed more people with a sense of financial certainty.

But tight inventories and rising prices have curbed further gains. Sales have cooled after accelerating to a rate of 5.58 million in July. Relatively few properties are on the market as the economic expansion has crossed the six-year mark, with many homeowners still recovering equity lost during the Great Recession and the bursting of the housing bubble.

The number of listings on the market has dropped 1.9 percent from a year ago, a shortage that has restricted options for buyers and fueled escalating prices. As a result, more people have no choice but to rent. The share of homeowners has slipped to 63.7 percent from a high of 69.2 percent in 2004.

Low mortgage rates have minimized some of the financial pressure. Still, rates are higher than a year ago. The Federal Reserve hiked a key short-term rate last week, the first increase of its kind in nearly a decade as the economy appears solid enough to manage higher borrowing costs.

The average, 30-year fixed mortgage rate has risen to 3.97 percent from 3.8 percent a year ago, according to mortgage buyer Freddie Mac.

 

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