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Mortgage Rates Hover Near Record Lows, Could Decline Further

May 22, 2020

The 30-year fixed-rate mortgage continued to near its lowest average on record. The lowest average on Freddie Mac records dating back to 1971 is 3.23%, which was set the week ending April 30. This week, 30-year fixed-rate mortgages averaged close to that, at 3.24%.

“For the fourth consecutive week, the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage has been below 3.30 percent, giving potential buyers a good reason to continue shopping even amid the pandemic,” says Sam Khater, Freddie Mac’s chief economist. “As states reopen, we’re seeing purchase demand improve remarkably fast, now essentially flat relative to a year ago. Going forward, mortgage rates have room to decline as mortgage spreads remain elevated.”

For Some, 30-Year Rates at 2.5% Are Possible

Mortgage Applications Continue Surprising Rebound

Freddie Mac reports the following national averages with mortgage rates for the week ending May 21:

  • 30-year fixed-rate mortgages: averaged 3.24%, with an average 0.7 point, falling from last week’s 3.28% average. Last year at this time, 30-year rates averaged 4.06%.
  • 15-year fixed-rate mortgages: averaged 2.70%, with an average 0.7 point, falling from last week’s 2.72% average. A year ago, 15-year rates averaged 3.51%.
  • 5-year hybrid adjustable-rate mortgages: averaged 3.17%, with an average 0.4 point, falling slightly from last week’s 3.18% average. A year ago, 5-year ARMs averaged 3.68%.

Freddie Mac reports average commitment rates along with average fees and points to reflect the total upfront cost of obtaining the mortgage.

Source: 

Freddie Mac

Posted by Yates Nobles on May 23rd, 2020 2:01 AM

Home Sellers May Need Some Patience

May 22, 2020

Homeowners trying to sell during the pandemic will likely need some patience and a degree of expectation that the process could take longer. Homes are taking about an average of 15 days more to sell—or about 27% longer—than a year ago, according to realtor.com®’s data reflecting the week ending May 16. This marks the largest increase in the number of days that homes have spent on the market since 2013.

Days on the market have been gradually increasing since the pandemic began. During the first two weeks of March, prior to the outbreak’s growth in the U.S., homes were selling four days faster than a year ago.

“Mid-May is normally the time of year when homes sell the fastest,” says Danielle Hale, realtor.com®’s chief economist. “Today’s median time on the market is more like what we usually see in late February or November.”

But stay-at-home orders and unemployment have prompted a slowdown in the market. The National Association of REALTORS® reported on Thursday that existing-home sales dropped 17.8% in April compared to March. Many economists view the sales slump as temporary, particularly given the sudden uptick in mortgage applications for home purchases.

Prices Strong Despite Lockdowns Hindering April Sales

Mortgage Applications Continue Surprising Rebound

But, while days on the market have increased, consumers shouldn’t assume it’s a buyer’s market now, housing analysts say. Home prices are staying firm. NAR reports that existing-home prices for all housing types jumped 7.4% in April compared to a year ago.

“This may be surprising to a lot of people,” Hale says.

But a tight inventory of homes for sale persists. The number of new listings dropped 39% year over year for the week ending May 2.

Hale predicts that days on the market will drop again in the late summer as more cities loosen restrictions and more potential buyers return to work.

Source: 

Home Sellers Should Channel Patience as Time on Market Shoots Up During the Crisis,” realtor.com® (May 21, 2020

Posted by Yates Nobles on May 22nd, 2020 8:43 PM



- Buyers take the first tour of  appropriate homes online

- Realtor and clients narrow down number of homes to be visited to those most relevant and interesting to the buyer

- Sellers leave their property prior to and during showings

- Realtor and buyers drive in separate cars to tour a property

- Realtor opens doors and locks up after the showing

- All wear masks and gloves

- No one touches anything in the house

- Realtor and clients stay 6-20 feet apart

Realtor and clients discuss each home and the buyers thoughts and questions while outside at a distance (and/or by phone later)

An offer is made electronically

Negotiation occurs by phone and email 

Final documents are signed electronically

In this way Realtors are able to assist their clients while supporting safety for all involved.  I can help you navigate this unusual time for selling and buying.  Please contact me at 434-996-0888 or by email at yates@yatesnobles.com.

It is not surprising to hear leading economists discuss how real estate is the fundamental structure that holds up and brings back the economy.  We are fortunate that the state of Charlottesville area's  real estate market was strong at the outset of COVID-19 and that we remain in good condition compared to many other areas of the U.S.   The real estate sales and prices in this area have a history of being among the last to go down in a bad economy and among the first to rebound as we recover.   

Now Realtors are gaining recognition for the many other ways they help the market.  Please read the article below that addresses one area where Realtors are making a big contribution:


May 14, 2020

 

Graham Wood


James Clyburn (left) Tim Scott (right)


Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.), Tim Scott (R-S.C.)


Real estate will be essential to the nation’s economic recovery from the COVID-19 crisis, two congressional lawmakers said Wednesday during the virtual 2020 REALTORS® Legislative Meetings. House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn and Sen. Tim Scott, both of South Carolina, said at the General Session that because homeownership is a primary means of building wealth, expanding access for buyers will be crucial for helping Americans recover financially from the current crisis. “I believe that the foundation upon which this democracy is built and people thrive is homeownership,” Clyburn said. “The real estate community ought to get creative and think about ways that tools can be created so that families can begin to build wealth early.”


2020 REALTORS® Legislative Meetings Logo




The lawmakers thanked REALTORS® for their steadfast support of two major issues facing current and prospective homeowners today: access to broadband internet and remote online notarization. Lack of internet access in rural communities especially hinders schoolchildren who are now reliant on home computers for remote learning, Clyburn noted. This issue could stifle homeownership, dissuading prospective buyers from moving to smaller, more affordable communities around the country, he added.

The National Association of REALTORS® sent a letter to Capitol Hill on Monday calling for increased investment in broadband infrastructure and services. “COVID-19 has created an unprecedented need for reliable and affordable high-speed internet,” NAR President Vince Malta wrote in the letter. “REALTORS® support a comprehensive national policy to stimulate the deployment of broadband, increase data speeds, and lower broadband prices.”

Scott, who worked in the real estate industry before being elected to Congress, called remote notarization—an increasingly important step for completing closings without in-person contact—“the future.” He also noted that activity in many housing markets remains healthy, which speaks to the need for national remote notarization guidelines. The local MLS in his hometown of Charleston, S.C., he said, reported its highest number of contracts on record in the last week. “We’re working to make sure it’s easier for closings to happen” because owning a home means “you have skin in the game of America,” Scott said.

In March, NAR sent a letter to Congress in support of the Securing and Enabling Commerce Using Remote and Electronic Notarization Act of 2020. The bill would permit immediate nationwide use of RON, with minimum standards, and provide certainty for its interstate recognition.

Clyburn, chair of the House Select Committee on the Coronavirus Crisis, said the HEROES Act, intended to provide another $75 billion in stimulus funds to Americans, would help homeowners directly. The bill, currently under consideration in the House, would “also protect the livelihoods of teachers, first responders, and other essential workers,” he said. “Direct payments are needed for all Americans to sustain themselves so losing your job doesn’t mean losing your home.”

On a personal note, Clyburn added, “I have interacted with your profession my entire career. You guys have been interconnected with the communities in which I work. Though I admire you professionally, I appreciate you personally.”


Comment

Posted by Yates Nobles on May 18th, 2020 11:45 PM

Tax Benefits of Home Ownership

There are many valid reasons why purchasers are interested in buying a home. Those could be to start a family, more space, the perfect school district, a desire to be closer to family, or to achieve that good ole American Dream. There are also tax benefits to buying a home if tax deductions are itemized. Here are some benefits:

  1. The biggest benefit of homeownership is the mortgage interest deduction that allows you to deduct the interest you pay on your mortgage. This is typically the largest tax deduction you can take. The buyer may also be able to deduct mortgage points paid at closing. This is generally paid over the life of the loan; however, if you meet a series of tests outlined by the Internal Revenue Service, a client may be able to deduct the full amount of points in the year paid.
  2. A homeowner may also benefit from deducting state and local property tax. This is limited to $10,000 for single and married filing jointly and $5,000 for married couples filing separately.
  3. For those who work from home or have a home-based business, they may qualify for the home office deduction as well. Be sure to set up your home office properly so you meet the set standards to qualify.

For much more tax information for homeowners, reference the IRS Publication 530 on Tax Information for Homeowners. This will surely come in handy for you and your clients.

Posted in:Real Estate
Posted by Yates Nobles on April 30th, 2020 3:27 PM

Why Can’t I Get That Low Mortgage Rate Too?

October 21, 2019

When home shoppers are looking around for the best mortgage rates, they may wonder why they aren’t quoted the ones they see advertised online or by banks. Lenders usually advertise the best interest rates that are available only to their borrowers with the highest credit scores.

Credit scores can have a big impact on what borrowers are quoted with mortgage rates.

Forbes.com paints the following scenario in a recent article: Two neighbors are both applying for a $300,000, 30-year fixed-rate mortgage. The only difference is one has a credit score of 750 and the other has a credit score of 620. In that scenario, the borrower with a 750 credit score may be able to get the 3.75% advertised rate with a $1,390 per month mortgage payment. On the other hand, the borrower with the 620 credit score may be quoted a 4.50% interest rate with a $1,520 per month mortgage. The difference in payments is $130 more per month and a 0.75% higher mortgage rate.

The other borrower can still get a lower interest rate, but they would need to pay extra for it. In order to get the 3.75% interest rate that the other borrower gets, that borrower would have to pay points to buy the 4.50% rate down to 3.75%. That could cost anywhere between $3,000 to $6,000, but could offer thousands of dollars in savings over the life of the loan.

Lenders use a risk-based pricing to determine the interest rates to quote borrowers. Credit scores are weighted heavily. Lenders will offer the same exact loan to a person with a higher credit score at a lower interest rate because they view them as lower risk. On the other hand, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau defines its risk-based pricing with higher risk borrowers who have a lower credit score and they will likely be quoted a higher interest rate.

Posted by Yates Nobles on October 21st, 2019 10:07 PM

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Yates Nobles, Realtor Receives 2019 Best of Charlottesville Award

Charlottesville Award Program Honors the Achievement

CHARLOTTESVILLE October 11, 2019 -- Yates Nobles, Realtor has been selected for the 2019 Best of Charlottesville Award in the Real Estate Consultant category by the Charlottesville Award Program.

Each year, the Charlottesville Award Program identifies companies that we believe have achieved exceptional marketing success in their local community and business category. These are local companies that enhance the positive image of small business through service to their customers and our community. These exceptional companies help make the Charlottesville area a great place to live, work and play.

Various sources of information were gathered and analyzed to choose the winners in each category. The 2019 Charlottesville Award Program focuses on quality, not quantity. Winners are determined based on the information gathered both internally by the Charlottesville Award Program and data provided by third parties.

About Charlottesville Award Program

The Charlottesville Award Program is an annual awards program honoring the achievements and accomplishments of local businesses throughout the Charlottesville area. Recognition is given to those companies that have shown the ability to use their best practices and implemented programs to generate competitive advantages and long-term value.

The Charlottesville Award Program was established to recognize the best of local businesses in our community. Our organization works exclusively with local business owners, trade groups, professional associations and other business advertising and marketing groups. Our mission is to recognize the small business community's contributions to the U.S. economy.


Posted by Yates Nobles on October 18th, 2019 2:53 PM

Home Improvement Projects That Make Homeowners Happier

October 3, 2019

Certain home remodeling projects are making homeowners happier and proving to be well worth the cost and time when they sell their properties, according to a new survey from the National Association of REALTORS®, which includes insights from the National Association of the Remodeling Industry.

After completing a home remodeling project, 74% of more than 2,100 consumers surveyed reported having a greater desire to be in their home, 65% say they experienced increased enjoyment, and 77% felt a major source of accomplishment, the 2019 Remodeling Impact Report shows. Researchers examined 20 projects and surveyed REALTORS® and consumers on home renovation projects.

“REALTORS® and homeowners alike recognize the value of taking on a major home remodeling project,” says NAR President John Smaby. “While these tasks can be time-consuming and costly, the projects are well worth the temporary inconveniences, as this report shows, and the final products ultimately reward us with feelings of accomplishment, satisfaction, and higher home values.”

NAR calculated a “joy score” for each home remodeling project studied. The score, a scale from one to 10, is based on homeowners’ overall perceived happiness with their renovations. The higher the joy score for the project, the more homeowners felt satisfaction from it.

Some of the highest joy scores for interior projects centered on complete kitchen renovations, closet renovations, full interior and interior room paint jobs, kitchen upgrades, and basement conversions to living areas.

The exterior jobs with the highest joy scores were new fiberglass or steel front doors, new vinyl and wood windows, and new roofing.

The Resale Benefit

Remodeling can be money well spent at times of resale. Overall, the top remodeling projects for recovering costs at resale were from new roofing, hardwood floor refinishing, and new hardwood floor installation.

NARI remodelers say that homeowners spend on average about $7,500 for new roofing, but real estate pros estimate that sellers will recover $8,000 at resale—an estimated 107% of the value recovered.

On new wood flooring, the average cost homeowners spend on an update is $4,700, but a 106% potential return is possible at resale (real estate pros estimate $5,000).

The Happiest Home Projects

But remodels aren’t just for the potential payback at resale. “The NAR report shows us that people often remodel for resale purposes, but it also reminds us that homeowners remodel too, with the desire to make a home their own,” notes Lawrence Yun, NAR’s chief economist.

Here’s a closer look at the study results on the home improvement projects that made homeowners the happiest:

Kitchen renovation

Joy score: 10

Ninety-three percent of consumers said they had a greater desire to be at home since the completion of their kitchen remodel; 95% said it’s increased their sense of enjoyment when at home. “The kitchen is a space homeowners frequent regularly throughout the course of the day,” Yun says. “So when that area is remodeled to owners’ exact preferences—as they enter and exit the room—they continually experience the satisfaction of a job well done.”

The biggest reason behind a kitchen renovation was to improve functionality and livability, according to 46% of respondents. Also, 24% said they wanted to upgrade worn-out surfaces and materials, while another 20% said they had recently moved into their home and wanted to customize the kitchen to fit their particular tastes. “Kitchens serve as the ‘heart of the home’ for many, and whether you like to entertain or cook, updating a kitchen ensures greater access and use as homeowners age, especially when the upgrades take accessibility into account,” says Robert Kirsic, a certified kitchen and bath remodeler and also NARI’s 2019–2020 president.

Closet renovation

Joy score: 10

Upgrading home closets also made for instantly happier homeowners. Sixty-eight percent of consumers surveyed say they feel a major sense of accomplishment when they think about a completed closet renovation project. More than half say the most important result is improved functionality and livability.

Full interior paint job

Joy score: 9.8

A fresh coat of paint can do wonders for improving the look of a house—but it also improves the mood of those living there. Eighty-eight percent of respondents reported a greater desire to be home since having their home freshly painted.

New fiberglass front door

Joy score: 9.7

The installation of fiberglass front doors can also help for resale and happiness, the survey found. Seventy-nine percent of respondents said that they’ve had a greater desire to be home, thanks to their new front door. Sixty-seven percent say they have an increased sense of enjoyment when they’re home.

New vinyl windows

Joy score: 9.6

The happiness around new windows mostly comes from the result of improved functionality and livability. Forty-seven percent of respondents said they were motivated to update their windows to improve their home’s energy efficiency, and 23% want to upgrade worn-out surfaces, finishes, and materials.

top remodeling projects. See story for more details.

© National Association of REALTORS®

Source: 
"2019 Remodeling Impact Report," National Association of REALTORS® (October 2019)
Posted by Yates Nobles on October 4th, 2019 9:06 AM

How to Know You’re Ready to Stop Renting and Buy a House

Signs You Are Ready to Become a Homeowner

Signs You're Ready to Stop Renting and Buy a HouseThere is no denying the flexibility that renting offers—you can move relatively easily when you want, and you do not have to carry a mortgage for decades to have a place to live. However, if you are like many renters, you are probably at least considering the idea of owning a home.

But how do you know if you are ready for homeownership? Here are some reasons why you might be prepared to become a homeowner. If some or all of these resonate with you, it’s probably time to talk to a real estate agent you trust to start looking for a place you can be happy owning and living in.

The opportunity to become a homeowner can be both emotionally and financially rewarding when you have a long term horizon. By following some sound first-time buyer tips, you’ll ensure that your journey from renting to owner goes smoothly.

The following are some of the most common reasons why renters decide now is the time to own a home:

1. Your rent keeps increasing.

In most areas of the country, rents are rising and rising. The increase in rental prices can be frustrating for numerous reasons. You cannot anticipate what your housing costs will be over the long-term, which makes it hard to plan your finances.

You also probably feel some frustration with landlords—after all, who likes being told that they need to fork over yet more rent money in the coming year? There is also the uncertainty of the whole situation that can get to you. Your income is probably not shooting up and up each year, so why should you be expected to pay more and more rent?

When rent is going up, and mortgage rates are low, it can be a good sign that you should start shopping for a home. If you think about it – when you are renting you’re probably helping to pay someone’s mortgage. Unfortunately, that person isn’t you!

Some folks aren’t quite ready to go right from renting into becoming a homeowner. Often the reasons are financial ones. It could be not enough of a down payment or high amounts of debt, possibly from student loans. At times, if you can find the opportunity, renting to own a house might make sense. Of course, there are pros and cons associated with rent to own arrangements, so make sure you understand them.

2. Interest rates are incredibly attractive.

One of the better reasons to go from renting to owning a home is when money is unbelievably cheap. When interest rates on mortgages are desirable, it’s like a flashing sign that says “buy buy buy.” Interests rates won’t stay at record lows forever. History shows us that they can turn rather quickly.

When they do, it will be a lost opportunity if you were in a position to buy.

3. You have a history of managing your debt well.

Low Debt - Time to Buy a HomeLenders look closely at the amount of debt you have and how you have managed that debt. Ideally, a lender wants you to have 43% or less debt-to-income ratio, although some conventional loans will allow you to have a 50% DTI.

You can calculate your debt to income easily by adding up all of your monthly debt payments. Once you know what all your monthly debts cost, then you can divide that number by your gross monthly income.

If you have high balances on your credit cards, you can pay them down in order to look more appealing to lenders. You do not have to pay them off completely. Instead, pay them down enough to hit the right DTI. Then, you can put that extra money into building an emergency fund for your home.

4. You think it’s time to put down roots in a specific place.

Purchasing a home requires paying a lot of costs at the beginning that cannot really be recouped in the first few years of ownership. In other words, for a home purchase to make financial sense, you need to be ready to stick around for a while. Over time, the investment can prove quite positive, but it does take time.

Real Estate has been shown over and over again to be an excellent long term investment. Like other investments, it is not for someone who might need to move quickly because of a job relocation.

Lenders prefer you to have had the same job for a while as well, a job you are probably going to stay at for years after you purchase the home. They prefer you to have a steady, stable income so that you are less of a risk. Your regular income ensures you won’t miss mortgage payments.

5. You have a specific home or neighborhood you’ve pictured yourself in.

The desire to live in a particular property or neighborhood can be powerful. Maybe your parents are getting ready to downsize, and you have always thought that owning their place would be a great idea? There may have been a house in the town you’ve always wanted to own if it became available?

Some buyers have always pictured themselves living in a desirable neighborhood in town that has all of the amenities close by that you love. There are different strokes for different folks, and emotional attachment can be highly influential in that thinking.

6. You are sick of pouring money into someone else’s mortgage.

As a renter, your rent payments are paying the mortgage of the landlord or property owner. If you are ready to put all that money towards your future, buying a home makes sense. Each mortgage payment you make will increase the equity in your home, which is an investment for you.

A home purchase is not always a guaranteed home run—all investments carry risks. But, generally, you can expect that over the life of your mortgage, you will gain a lot of financial benefits out of putting money into property.

There are also tax advantages of owning a home as well.

7. You have the financial stability to save for an emergency fund.

Going From Renter to HomeownerOne standard piece of advice for every potential homeowner is to have an emergency fund in place for the unexpected. As a renter, your landlord pays for emergencies.

If a pipe bursts, a refrigerator breaks, or an air conditioner stops working, the landlord has to come in and fix it—and pay for those repairs. But as a homeowner, you are the one responsible for those expenses. You want to be confident you have enough money set aside to weather such emergencies.

I have written about things you need to do before buying a home, and that includes having a down payment and money set aside for emergencies.

If you are seriously considering buying a home, you definitely need to start saving to create an emergency fund. That way, when something goes wrong—which is going to happen eventually—you can handle it without breaking a sweat. Vanguard has an excellent resource that discusses some of the problems that can rear their ugly head you need to be prepared for.

8. You just got married, and your apartment doesn’t work anymore.

One of the most common reasons from going from renter to homeowner is a significant life event such as getting married. It is not unconventional thinking at all for two people to decide to find a home that blends common goals.

Having an apartment usually does not satisfy the needs of blending two families,’s especially if there are kids involved.

9. You need room for a growing family.

Having more room is another substantial reason for purchasing a home. If you are expecting to have a child shortly, it makes sense to start considering homeownership.

While renting is sometimes a necessity for growing families, if you are fortunate enough to be in a position where you can buy a home, doing so can offer a lot of benefits for you and your growing family.

Your new home can give you room to expand, such as providing your family bedrooms, bathrooms, and all the other spaces that make life easier. The house can also serve as a stable location for peace of mind for you and all your loved ones.

By becoming a homeowner, you’ll be able to pick and choose the kind of property that will serve the needs of your lifestyle. Buying a home can not only be rewarding but fun as well. It is a chance to spread your wings and take another step towards becoming an adult.

10. You are ready to pay a down payment and closing costs.

I've got money for a down paymentOne of the most significant signs you are ready to move from renting to owning a home is having a down payment. Financial stability is a significant indicator that you are prepared to buy a home—particularly when it comes to down payments and closing costs.

You want to be able to pay the down payment so you can get a mortgage, and you want to be able to pay the closing costs so you can finalize your purchase. And don’t worry if you don’t have 20% down—many loans do not require so much for a down payment.

There are numerous loan programs available for first-time buyers. It can be very confusing to a first-timer because of how many mortgage choices are out there. An experienced mortgage broker can come in handy to answer all of the questions you should be asking a lender. Remember, you should be interviewing them as much as they are interviewing you.

For first-time homebuyers, FHA mortgages have become really popular. Some FHA loans only require 3.5% down, while loans backed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac only need 3% down. If you can come up with 3% down and qualify for the right loan—and have your closing costs in order—you can likely become a homeowner.

11. You have improved your credit score.

The credit score you bring to lenders is going to play a significant role in the type of financing you can get. The worse your credit score, the fewer options you have available when buying a home. That is why it is essential to do what you can to improve your credit score before you go to try and buy a home. The better your credit score, the more options you will have, and the more money you can save on your mortgage.

If you have improved your credit score, it may be time to talk to a lender about what you can do to get a mortgage. You can sometimes qualify for a mortgage with a credit score of 500—but that does not mean it will be a mortgage that you want.

The mortgage will have an undesirable rate and will require a higher down payment. But, if you have a higher credit score, the loan will have a better rate and require a lower down payment.

If you need to improve your credit score, get a free copy of your credit report, and address any issues that might be hurting your credit score. Mortgage professionals and real estate agents continuously preach about the importance of the best credit scores – this is why!

Final thoughts

Going from a renter to a homeowner is not something that should be made as a snap judgment. There should be a lot of planning involved in buying a house for the first time. Those who are unprepared typically make buying mistakes they regret later on. Don’t be one of them!

Posted by Yates Nobles on October 1st, 2019 12:18 PM

W

Would you ever set up home in someone else’s garage? Or let a stranger move in to yours?

More and more people are asking, “why not?”

Let’s consider just how hard it’s becoming for people to afford housing in big cities. From Berlin to Singapore to Stockholm, rents have soared. And forget buying: research last year showed that 40% of young adults in England, for example, can’t afford to buy even the cheapest homes in their area – even with just a 10% deposit.

Could living in a converted garage be an answer?

Maybe. In parts of the United States, a lack of affordable housing means garage conversions are taking off. In car-centric Los Angeles, for example, 117 garage conversion permits were issued to residents in 2016 – but in 2018, thanks to a change in the law, that number rocketed to 4,171.

These garage flats could represent a lot more than the opportunity for an extra stream of income for homeowners. Proponents say they could help remedy cities’ housing problems, and even fight homelessness.

According to a survey by the state's housing authority, California will need to build 180,000 homes each year to 2025 – but currently builds only 80,000 (Credit: Alamy)

‘Essentially invisible’

In an April CityLab article, three urban planning experts made the case for how single-family garages could ease California’s housing crisis. They pointed out how the number of garage conversions has rocketed in Los Angeles – a city brimming with garages.

“Is this an opportunity to swap cars for people?” asks Anne Brown, assistant professor at the University of Oregon and co-author of the CityLab article. “The really interesting thing is that this type of housing is essentially invisible – the built environment [of the neighbourhood] won’t look that different.”

In other words: it’s a way of housing more people, without having to actually build more houses.

So, who lives in these garages? Boomerang kids, older relatives who need care, Airbnb guests. And this shift is not limited to converted garages. Backyard cottages, repurposed garden shacks, those famously twee tiny homes – they’re all known as ADUs, or accessory dwelling units. In the UK, they’re sometimes known as granny flats or annexes, referring to the intergenerational nature of these units: today’s tool shed can be your gran’s pied-a-terre tomorrow.

The potential of a garage

Cherry Tung is a YouTuber living in Los Angeles who found her converted garage flat on a Chinese version of Craigslist. She says the biggest reason she chose it was the price: rent is $950 a month, compared to a more typical $2,000 in her area. She has a kitchen, a bathroom and a wall that separates the living and bedrooms.

“It’s actually decent. I do have enough space for myself and two cats. It’s relatively quiet, cheap, no upstairs neighbour, and separate entry from my landlord,” Tung says. “The garage rental situations are pretty common on the Chinese Craigslist.”

Today’s tool shed can be your gran’s pied-a-terre tomorrow

She does think that garage flats could help tackle the affordable housing problem, but caveats that with “the legality of it can be quite tricky and risky, depending on the local laws and regulations.”

That’s something fellow LA resident Ira Belgrade knows all too well. He and his wife ran their own talent agency in Hollywood. But after his wife died 10 years ago, Belgrade relied on rent from his converted garage, now a two-story house, as an extra stream of income.

“Everything fell apart in my life. I had a two-and-a-half-year-old son and I needed to make my mortgage,” he says. “If I could convert the whole [garage], make it a kitchen, I could rent the whole thing out. The city said no.” But he did it anyway. Four years after successfully (but illegally) renting out the finished space to a tenant he found on Craigslist, an anonymous neighbour reported the activity to the city’s authorities.

Los Angeles-based Ira Belgrade converted his garage into a rent-ready home that he has used to help pay off his mortgage (Credit: YimbyLA, LLC)

Belgrade became one of the city’s most vocal advocates to make ADU permits easier to obtain. That California law was finally passed in 2017, which has led to that increase of permits in LA. Now, not only does Belgrade continue to rent out his converted garage, but he runs his own company that helps others navigate the legal waters of building an ADU.

Since the law changed in 2017, LA has “seen a more than 1,000% increase in the number of permits requested by homeowners to build both new construction ADUs and convert existing structures – garages and pool houses, for example – to ADUs,” says Alex Comisar, press secretary for Eric Garcetti, mayor of Los Angeles.

Los Angeles isn’t the only city on the West Coast where this trend is on the rise. Portland and Seattle, in the US states of Oregon of Washington respectively, have also prioritised ADU development. Plus, around 200km north lies another world leader: Vancouver, in the Canadian province of British Columbia. (And yes, you guessed it – rents in all three cities have steadily climbed over the past couple of years.)

The Vancouver versions of converted garages are called “laneway houses”: tiny detached units, but still around 700 to 1000 square feet – enough for a studio space, bedroom and bathroom. They’re built on the city’s extensive grid of very small side streets (laneways) that snake their way between the houses. The city says in the last 10 years, over 4,000 new laneway permits have been issued, and it hopes to add another 4,000 in the next 10 years.

The city says in the last 10 years, over 4,000 new laneway houses have been built, and it hopes to add another 4,000 in the next 10 years

“Even though we’ve been doing laneway houses for a decade, there’s been a pretty marked upswing,” says Graham Anderson, community planner at the city of Vancouver. “It is adding new housing choice – a gentle form of providing new density that doesn’t result in mass redevelopment.”

As the demand for affordable housing has become bigger than ever – a 2018 survey found that 90% of 200 cities polled were considered unaffordable – these cities have eased up the relevant planning laws. In LA, there were over 50,000 illegally run ADUs of all types prior to 2016 – an informal market that signalled a need.

Vancouver, where rents have risen substantially in the past decade, has seen an upswing in laneway houses – small units built on the city's side streets (Credit: Alamy)

ADUs have increasingly become the norm in Vancouver, too. The city says that 75% of new, single-family homes in the city – about 800 a year – come already built with either a laneway house, or some kind of secondary suite. For urban planners, this is a blindingly bright signal, and something cities should pounce on. We have “potential housing at our fingertips. It’s very low-hanging fruit,” Brown says. “And we should grab it.”

Helping homelessness?

Besides adding to the overall housing stock, could ADUs help fight homelessness? LA hopes so.

Los Angeles County saw a 12% increase in homelessness since last year, and the city proper saw a 16% climb. Close to 60,000 people in the county were sleeping rough during a January count, the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority has revealed.

Last October, a large philanthropy firm donated $1 million to LA to help Angelenos turn their garages into dwelling units for that very purpose as part of a new pilot programme. (It hasn’t been a perfect rollout, though – hangups like the locations of power lines have denied building permits to some residents.)

“We thought, what a great way to add to the many strategies that we have to try to end homelessness in LA to try to match folks who are building these units with folks who are coming off the streets,” Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti said in a radio interview in October.

Press secretary Comisar says that “homeowners will be part of the solution to end homelessness, and will benefit from steady rental income and increased home equity.” LA’s goal by 2022 is to “house at least 200 housing-insecure people across nearly 150 ADUs.”

The California researchers also highlight additional benefits: more sets of eyes in the neighorhood could keep the area safer, and an additional stream of income for the renter: “I have friends [in LA] who moved into the garage, and rented out the house itself,” Brown says.

So, what did that old California law require? That each single-family home have two covered parking spaces off the street. But no more.

Donald Shoup, urban planning professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, who worked on the garage project with Anne Brown, estimates it costs around $80,000 to convert a garage into a flat. Before the laws were relaxed in California, many of those illegal conversions led to electrical fires, as the buildings weren’t necessarily up to city standards. Now, the relaxed permits allow residents to do this in a safer (and legal) way.

But would it work in other countries?

Shipping it elsewhere

Places like LA or Vancouver have idiosyncrasies that might make the plan difficult to transfer beyond the North American West Coast, like the car-centric nature of these cities. But for any big city that thrives on driving, garage ADUs could have a huge impact on urban planning in the future. It’s why places outside of North America, like New Zealand, have recently begun examining the potential of ADUs in their cities. (Although, in New Zealand’s case, living in garages has served as a worrying symptom of the housing crisis, rather than a solution.)

“There is this larger idea of, in planning – especially in a car-centric place – planning gets driven too much by the needs of how do we park our cars, what happens to them,” says Vinit Mukhija, professor of urban planning at UCLA, who collaborated with Shoup and Brown. “It takes over, increases housing costs, becomes the driving force – everything starts getting driven by this one factor. We’re hoping to change that. We don’t need to provide so much off-street parking.”

Instead, people can park their cars on their driveways, and turn their garages – houses for their cars – into houses for people. Especially those people who can’t typically afford any kind of house.

Shoup thinks that the more cities can identify ways to house people in already-existing structures (like garages), and make it easier to issue permits to convert the spaces and rent them out, the better off the cities will be.

This might take the form of basement flats in New York, Shoup says. For instance, one setup could be a “richer family and a lower income young tenant, especially near universities. This allows for more diversity in a single-family neighborhood – people who otherwise couldn’t afford to live in a good neighborhood.”

If the numbers are any indication, garage conversions are becoming more and more mainstream. It could change the way we plan cities – and help us house all the people in them.

“It’s a bright spot,” Shoup says. “To think we spent so many years building a city around cars – now we can make it more around people.”

Bryan Lufkin is BBC Worklife's feature writer. Follow him on Twitter @bryan_lufkin.

Posted by Yates Nobles on September 27th, 2019 12:15 PM
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Whole-House Electrical Surge Protection is Coming
September 17, 2019 

by Barbara Ballinger
Today’s homes are filled with sensitive, sophisticated electrical appliances that may take commands from phone apps and voice-activated devices. But they can’t yet ward off increasingly unpredictable weather.  Bad storms bring powerful lightning and hurricane-force winds that cause an increase in power surges that shut off lights, stop refrigerators, and in worst cases, overheat and fry appliances.  Replacing equipment can become costly.  Plugging electronic devices into surge protector strips may help. But connecting every device throughout an entire house to surge protector strips isn’t always practical.

The National Electrical Code, which is updated every three years to keep pace with changing technology, recently was updated to its 2020 edition. Sponsored and published by the National Fire Protection Association in Quincy, MA, the revised edition contains a new requirement for whole-house surge protection in new homes. The new rule also applies to existing homes when the service panel is updated. The goal is to protect appliances, computers, and other electronic equipment from electrical surges, says Jeff Sargent, principal electrical specialist at the NFPA. 

Since the 2020 code has yet to be adopted by any government entity, the recommendation for whole-house surge protection is currently not required under law. The decision to install whole-house surge protection is advisory, Sargent says. However, builders of new homes and owners of existing homes may decide to add a system simply to protect their investment.

Whole-house surge protection systems could become a state-by-state requirement when building code departments adopt the 2020 NEC.  Each state has the power to make that decision according to its code adoption cycle, which varies, Sargent says.  Because these systems are expected to give homeowners peace of mind in protecting their assets, real estate professionals may want to inform clients of the option now, Sargent says.

Advice: 
  • Learn your state’s adoption cycle. 
  • Visit the NFPA website's adoption page, which lists each state’s revision timetable.
  • Check with a local electrical contractor. 
  • Have a qualified electrician do the work. Most states require they be licensed or certified; always check your state or community’s regulations. That person should be able to provide code requirements where they work.
  • Consult a home insurance agent. Some policies may offer a price reduction for having surge protection systems, in the same way that some do for fire and burglar alarms. If not yet, keep checking, since such benefits may become available.Buy the best system. 
  • If you purchase surge protection devices that plug into wall outlets, make sure they bear the mark of a nationally recognized testing laboratory. The U.S. Department of Labor has a list of participating organizations. “Already, numerous counterfeits or untested devices are available in the marketplace,” Sargent says.
  • Consider this investment a selling feature. As states change their requirements and as more homeowners install whole-home protection systems, they may become a desired feature in the same way a new roof, energy-efficient furnace, or updated kitchen and bathrooms are. “They could make one house appeal more than another,” Sargent says.
Posted by Yates Nobles on September 17th, 2019 9:28 PM

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