Why housing numbers are not as horrible as they look

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September housing starts came in 9 percent below August and 12 percent below September 2015, according to the U.S. Census, but those big drops belie a huge improvement for the market, at least in this monthly read.

Those numbers are totals, based on both single-family homes, which are desperately needed, and multifamily apartments, which have seen a construction boom over the last three years.

The drop in housing starts was driven entirely by a big swing lower in multifamily construction. That may be a one-month phenomenon, because numbers on multifamily can be swayed dramatically by just a few large-scale apartment developments.

“Bottom line, the bizarre plunge in multifamily starts is inexplicable but the rise in permits says it was an outlier,” said Peter Boockvar, chief market analyst with the Lindsey Group.

Whatever the case, the apartment market is starting to cool slightly, as thousands of brand new, albeit mostly luxury, units come on line and occupancies start to level off from their climb to historic highs. Construction reached a cyclical high last year and is only moderating slightly this year.

Single-family home construction, which is what the housing market desperately needs, rose 8 percent for the month and 5 percent from a year ago. That is a positive for a sector that has been wildly conservative following the worst crash in history.

5 Top Home-Staging Mistakes

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Few home renovation reality show hosts are as enjoyable to watch as Chip and Joanna Gaines from HGTV’s “Fixer Upper.” And for good reason: One, let’s face it, they’re a cute couple. Two, as the show’s before-and-after pics make clear, Chip (a contractor) and Jo (a designer) are a potent combo when it comes to transforming humble hovels into gorgeous homes.

And now fans craving more about this pair can get their fill with their first book, “The Magnolia Story,” out Oct. 18. This biography reveals how they first met (at an auto repair shop), the highs and lows of raising their “babies” (four kids and their home remodeling business, Magnolia Homes in Waco, TX), and plenty of lessons learned along the way about renovations, real estate, and relationships.

One of the keys to a successful home sale, says Jo, is home staging, where you arrange your furniture and décor (or some rented stuff) in a way that entices buyers to make an offer. Yet home staging is a highly misunderstood practice, one where home sellers can easily make missteps that can undermine these efforts.

Here, Jo reveals the top five home-staging mistakes she’s seen, so you’ll know to avoid them when selling your home.

Mistake No. 1: Purging all your family photos

“You’ll hear staging experts say to take down your family photos, kids’ artwork, and anything personal, so that a potential buyer can picture their family in your home, rather than seeing yours everywhere,” says Jo. “Personally, I love knowing that a house is well-loved, and seeing those personal touches displayed reminds me that my family would be happy there, too.”

Mistake No. 2: Including too much furniture

“Trying to put too much furniture in one space makes it look smaller than it really is,” Jo explains. “Try to stick with three large pieces at most per room to keep the house feeling big and open.”

Mistake No. 3: Not cleaning up

“It’s true that leaving your house a mess can keep a potential buyer from seeing how beautiful your space really is, so a quick cleaning blitz before a showing can do a lot of good,” says Jo. “When the house is clean, buyers can see you love your house—and know they will, too.”

Mistake No. 4: Stuffing clutter into closets

On the other hand, “if you’re scrambling to clean up when a real estate agent schedules a last-minute showing, don’t stuff your closets full of laundry, toys, odds, and ends,” says Jo. “Potential buyers will definitely want to know how much storage space your home has, so no closet will be safe for concealing messes. If you’re in a pinch, a last-ditch effort to hide a mess is under a bed.”

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Saving for a House in Los Angeles Costs $68 Per Day

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Saving for a home is tough, especially in a competitive (and expensive) market like Los Angeles. Putting away enough money to make a hefty downpayment requires discipline and firmly established goals. That’s why Realtor.com has released a handy new guide to saving in the nation’s 15 largest cities.

The site has calculated exactly how much aspiring homeowners should be squirreling away each day to save for a downpayment in their respective towns. The calculations are based on median home prices and the average percentage buyers put down in those areas. The real estate website also figured out how many Caramel Macchiatos you’d need to skip each day to reach that saving goal.

So, how much do LA homebuyers need to avoid Starbucks? Quite a bit. Realtor.com found that an average downpayment in the city is 18.3 percent of the sale price. With median home prices hovering around $678,000, that’s a savings goal of $124,074. Over five years, that’s $67.95 per day. Over 10 years, it’s $33.97 each and every day.

So, if you happen to consume eight Macchiatos a day, you’re in luck; all you’ll need to do to afford a downpayment is cut that expense out of your budget for the next decade. Everyone else, get more creative.

Author and TV host Michael Corbett tells Realtor.com prospective homeowners should consider putting tax refunds and annual bonuses toward a future down payment. Of course, given that saving goals in LA amount to nearly $25,000 annually for five years, buyers will probably have to look for plenty of other income sources as well.

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6 Way You Can Save On Storage

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Owning a smaller home definitely has its perks, you save on rent/mortgage, cleaning is less daunting, and heating and cooling becomes cheaper. The list goes on, but one drawback is the lack of storage. It’s good to rid ourselves of unneeded clutter that happens to pile up over time, but what about the things we do need? Ask any New Yorker; storage is probably one of their biggest struggles, but they seem to find a way. Here we will teach you six simple ways in which you can save on space.

  1. Add shelves to existing fixtures

Cabinets, for the most part, provide more room than are used. This is because of the way they are designed. By adding shelves to an already existing cabinet will allow for more storage. Adding vertical dividers to kitchen cabinets are ideal for storing cooking trays and pot lids. You can also glue/screw/nail vertical paper tray holders to the inside of kitchen cabinet doors to hold packaged items like garbage bags, foil, and plastic bags.

  1. Double duty

Living in a smaller home, you can’t afford to have furniture that doesn’t have a dual purpose. For example, a bench in the entryway that acts as an umbrella or boot holder. In the living room, an ottoman that can store blankets and other linens or a trunk for a coffee table that you can flip up and use for additional storage.

  1. Use baskets and boxes

Using baskets or boxes are not only great for storage, but can spruce up your decor. They’re perfect for storing jewelry on top of dressers or top of counters for kitchen items. Find boxes or baskets that fit your decor and you can add them to bookcases, coffee tables, and even armoires.

  1. Think outside the box

Just because an item is used in that room doesn’t mean it has to stay there. For example, your holiday dishes don’t have to stay in your kitchen year round, taking up space. Carefully wrap your dishes and store them in a hall closet or under the bed. If you’re not much of a cook, you can take inspiration from Carrie Bradshaw and store your shoes (or other items) in your oven, but remember they are in there before you turn it on.

  1. Clear plastic bins

Clear plastic bins are life savers. You can stuff them full of items and then stack them. When it comes time to retrieve those items, the bins are clear so you can see where they are. You can even try this in the kitchen, store and stack all your dry food that is not used often.

  1. Raise the bed

Your bed takes up much of your bedroom, so why not use it for storage. If you have a low sitting bed, you can purchase bed risers from any Target or Walmart. You can also purchase bed frames with built drawers. It’s time to utilize this extra space.

4 Ways the Real Estate Market Changes After Labor Day

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The time between Labor Day and Thanksgiving, known as Fall, is best spent outside since this is usually when Southern California experiences its best weather. If you’re in the market for a new home, this poses the best time to stroll neighborhoods looking for your next home. Some prospective home buyers throw in the towel after Labor Day and wait until next spring. Because of this, you will find that beginning your pursuit in September will be to your advantage. Find out how the housing market changes after Labor Day.

  1. Fall is more of a buyer’s market

The market typically favors the buyer in the fall because the competition declines. As the season begins, families settle back into their routines with school, and home buying is put on hold. If you don’t have school-aged kids or don’t mind moving while they are in school, this is your best season. The market slows down, so negotiating a better deal becomes easier.

  1. Vacation home-sellers see action

Summer is the vacation season, even Congress breaks for August. After you’ve experienced a particularly fun summer in your favorite vacation spot you may be tempted to buy a home so you can have that experience every year. Perfect for you, you can purchase and have your new home furnished just in time for spring. Purchasing in the fall is also an excellent way to experience your favorite vacation spot in the off-season.

  1. Like the leaves, home prices fall

People usually list their homes during what they think is the best time of the year to sell, summer. This is because summer is the peak selling season. But when sellers aren’t successful and Labor Day comes and goes, they then have to reassess their asking price and be more open to negotiations.

  1. There’s no deadline for most fall home buyers

If getting into your new home before the first day of school is no longer an issue, there is no longer a deadline. You might want to be in your home before the holidays, but the stakes aren’t as high. Your deadline is more flexible, especially depending on the financial implications. You may want to be in your new home before Thanksgiving, but waiting may save you money.  

Mortgage rates remain stuck at a low level, spurring refinances

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Mortgage rates remained at their near-standstill this week after a so-so employment report.

It’s good news for homebuyers because interest rates on home loans continue to hover just above the modern-day record low. The lower the rate, the more homebuyers can afford to borrow.

It’s also good for the shrinking number of homeowners who would save by refinancing their mortgages but haven’t done so yet. Last week, 64% of mortgage applications were from homeowners who wanted to refinance, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association.

“However it would take another significant move down in mortgage rates to see a large increase in refinance activity,” Bill McBride wrote in his economics blog, Calculated Risk.

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4 Reasons You Should Consider a 15-Year Mortgage

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When it comes to our mortgage payments, we’d all like to make half as many payments and save thousands of dollars on interest, all while paying a low-interest rate. If this sounds like a fantasy then you’re wrong. People across the country are doing exactly this by picking a 15-year mortgage. If the situation is right, here are a few of the reasons you should consider a 15-year mortgage.

  1. Save Money

Taking out a 15-year loan saves you greatly because it cuts your loan repayment time in half. This can save you tens of thousands of dollars on interest. Also, 15-year loans usually offer better interest rates than other loans because you are low risk. If you’re curious about how much money you can save there are plenty of online tools that can help you calculate and compare the amount of payments, interest rates, and more. Seeing the difference may give you the motivation for choosing a 15-year loan.

  1. Build more equity

Besides saving a great deal of money, you would also be building more equity, faster. A shorter mortgage payback period combined with rising home prices could increase your equity exponentially. This is great for people who want to refinance their homes down the road.

  1. Reduce pressure on your monthly budget in retirement

If you plan to retire within the next 10 to 20 years, a 15-year mortgage is perfect. Many retirees like to downsize, this puts less of a strain on you during your retirement period. It’s better to take advantage of your stronger cash flow while you’re working and make the bigger 15-year mortgage monthly payments before you retire. When you do retire, you’ll have to spend less of your savings on housing since that will be paid off.

  1. Take advantage of built-in discipline

Some people choose to accelerate their payments when they choose a 30-year mortgage, which does save money. This sounds like a great plan because you aren’t tied to a higher monthly payment and still save on interest, but many people don’t stick with it. When you don’t have the commitment of paying at an accelerated rate, it is easy to slack off. It is too easy to fall off and make smaller payments. 

6 trends moving California’s housing market this summer

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No. 1: Prices are still rising

The median selling price of a California home hit a nine-year high at $441,250, up 6.3 percent in a year, according to PropertyRadar. Gains are fairly widespread with prices in 18 of California’s 26 largest counties reaching similar heights. And for those who like pricey: San Mateo County hit $1.27 million, the highest median of any county in PropertyRadar records that date to 2001.

No. 2: Many buyers are still paying up

In June, 35 percent of sales sold at prices above the sellers’ asking price, says the California Association of Realtors. Those premium payments are down from May’s record 38 percent but above 33 percent in June 2015. That’s probably because 72 percent of the homes sold in June drew multiple offers in June vs. 65 percent a year earlier.

No. 3: Sales were down

Prices too high? The 41,291 California single-family homes and condominiums sold in June were down 4.5 percent in a year, PropertyRadar says. Year-to-date, sales are off 2.8 percent. Is it a shortage of shopper choices or are house hunters antsy about the economy?

No. 4: Even cash buyers are slowing down

PropertyRadar reports no-mortgage purchases were 19.7 percent of all June sales, but these all-cash deals were down 7.8 percent from June 2015. Purchases by shell companies, often investors using cash to buy, were down 2 percent from a year ago.

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10 Places to Buy Affordable Furniture That Aren’t IKEA

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Don’t get us wrong. We like IKEA. Yes, it’s a pain to assemble a bed frame using only an illustration of a humanoid creature and an allen wrench. But it’s the go-to place for affordable furniture.

But maybe you’re sick of IKEA. Maybe you’ve gotten lost in their store one too many times. Maybe you want a little variety. If so, here are ten other affordable furniture stores like IKEA–minus the maze.

1. Amazon

Amazon’s prices are all over the place. But with some filtering, and you can find great deals on furniture.I once bought a comfortable, executive desk chair for $25. That’s an extreme example, but it’s worth a look.

2. Sears Outlet 

Yep. Sears has an online outlet, and you can find some incredible deals. In my own search, some discounts were up to 82%. Some of their sofas–not futons–were as low as $280. The caveat is, not all items can be shipped, and some of them may not be available for pickup near you. The good news is: you can browse by pickup location to find a store nearby.

3. Muji.com

If you’re into minimalist design, you’ll appreciate Muji. They’re very similar to IKEA in price, quality, and aesthetic. Muji has locations throughout Europe and Asia, but in the States, their storefronts are limited to New York and California. You can order items online, and you’ll have to pay shipping. But their prices are pretty affordable, so it may be worth the extra cost.

4. Urban Outfitters

Frankly, a lot of their stuff is overpriced. But some of their furniture items are comparable to IKEA prices. And if you check their clearance section, you can usually find some decent deals.

5. Stores that Sell Floor Models

It might be a long shot, but it’s worth asking. Some furniture stores will sell their floor models for a fraction of the price. At one frou-frou store here in L.A., I nabbed two fancy floor model barstools for $70 each. IKEA prices, better quality.

6. AllModern.com

Here’s another online retailer whose prices are all over the map. Some of their stuff is, frankly, insanely expensive. But a lot of is it surprisingly affordable–and not just by comparison. Oddly, depending on the day and time, I’ve noticed their prices fluctuate.
So here’s a tip: if you’ve got your eye on something, monitor it for a while. Also, consider searching in Private or Incognito mode. Sometimes, you’ll find lower prices.

7. Overstock.com

You probably know that Overstock is a discount surplus site, but maybe you didn’t know their prices rival even Amazon’s. I’ve found a few of the exact same Amazon products cheaper at Overstock. So make sure compare prices.
Bonuses: free shipping if you spend more than $50 and a 10% off coupon if you sign up for their email list.

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The Worst Home-Selling Advice You May Actually Believe

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Now that you have finally decided to sell your home, brace yourself for the hurricane of “been there, done that, you have to do it like this.” Everyone loves giving their two cents, thinking they are an expert. While most people give advice with the best intentions, it may not always be correct and just because something worked for them doesn’t mean it’ll work for you. Here are a few of the worst home-selling advice you may actually believe:

“Sell your home only in the spring or summer”
While spring and summer are traditionally the hottest seasons to sell or buy a home, it doesn’t necessarily mean you should. You may have nicer weather to pack, clean, and move while the kids are also on summer vacation, but everyone else is thinking the same, making demand high. In the end, everyone just wants the right house and finding it only in the summer is not exactly correct.

“The market is slow, you best wait until it heats up again”
While a hot market is ideal for selling or buying, it does not limit you to only doing so during then. There are many factors that affect the market from natural disasters to elections. If you need to sell your home there is no better time than the present.

“Don’t stage or fix anything up – let the buyer use their imagination”
You do want to leave some stuff up to the imagination of the buyer, you should take down any family photos, personal awards or religious decor. But this does not mean you should neglect your paint stained walls. A home that is not properly prepared to be sold is like showing up to a first date with your hair not combed, it’s not going to give the best first-impression. Let the buyers feel as if they are valued.

“iPhone photos are just fine for listing photos”
Just because you got 80 likes on your last Instagram photo doesn’t mean it’ll translate into a good listing photo. Today, almost all homes sold are discovered online meaning the photos are the first thing prospective buyers will see. Even though iPhones have great camera features, they can’t capture what professional cameras can.

“The market is hot, you don’t need an agent”
It may seem like you can do the job yourself, how hard can it be? You may think you’re saving money by not hiring an agent, but this is not the case. Agents help negotiate on your behalf, either fighting for a higher asking price or to cover closing costs or other fees. Closing means dealing with everything from the bank’s appraisal coming in to low to haggling over inspection items—all of which involve negotiation best gleaned from years of experience.