Made a Resolution to Exercise More? This is the Year

“Exercise more” is a common New Year’s resolution, but few are able to keep to it for long. They may go to the gym for a couple months, but the lack of time or energy makes it difficult. The simplest solution is actually something that many people are planning to do already as a result of the pandemic forcing them to stay at home: Build a home gym.

If you don’t know where to start, here are some tips for you. The first step is to designate the space where you want your home gym to be. Dedicating an entire room allows you to work out without distractions, but that may not be possible for everyone. A couple alternatives are a section of your garage or basement. Next, lay down some rubberized flooring, and make sure there are mirrors to check your form as you work out. Now for the actual equipment: at least one cardio machine, weights and a bench, and a yoga mat for post-exercise stretches. There are many types of cardio machines variously suited to different types of exercise. Common ones include treadmills, elliptical machines, stair steppers, and stationary bikes, or, if you don’t have the budget for expensive machines, simply a jump rope will do just fine.

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First-time Homebuyers Struggling in Current Market

There are many factors leading to the current housing market being a rough time for first-time homebuyers. This group is already at a disadvantage from the outset, not having the ability to sell their existing home to help pay for a new one, and frequently already saddled with rent payments. In addition, first-time homebuyers tend to be lower income workers. This is further exacerbated by high home prices, low rates of construction for affordable housing, and an ongoing pandemic.

Home prices have been high for quite some time, and are continuing to climb. In a volatile market, sellers want to be sure to get as high of a return on investment as possible, and with the majority of buyers now being higher income, they can afford to raise prices. There is buyer demand at all income stages, as a result of low mortgage rates, further incentivizing price increases. However, the pandemic causing job losses for those unable to work from home, who are primarily lower-income workers, means they’re unable to take advantage of the moment. Lack of affordable housing construction also plays a part in higher prices. It’s not that we aren’t building. It’s that the construction demand currently is primarily for higher income housing, which is also preferred by builders, since high-density, low-income housing is more costly to build.

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Prop 19’s New Laws for Property Tax Exemption

Proposition 19 has now passed in California, and with it brought changes to how property tax is reassessed for some purchases, effective April 1, 2021. The new law replaces Prop 60 and Prop 90, and affects replacement property by homeowners who are over 55, severely disabled, or whose home has been substantially damaged by wildfires or natural disaster, allowing the homeowners to transfer their original home’s taxable value to a replacement property. It’s unclear as of yet how properties sold prior to April 1 will be treated if the replacement purchase occurs after this date. Regardless, the replacement purchase must occur within two years of the original property’s sale.

Under prior law, this type of reassessment could only be applied if the purchase was made in the same county as the prior residence or in specific counties. Under new law, it applies throughout California. Additionally, prior law required by the replacement home to have equal or lesser value than the original home. Prop 19 has provisions for an adjusted rate in the circumstance that the value is greater, calculated as the original home’s taxable value plus the difference between the replacement home’s purchase price and the original home’s sale price. This reassessment can be applied up to three times, or indefinitely any time that it is applied under the provisions for substantial property damage.

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Pandemic Prompts Shifts in Home Use

The increasing popularity of home offices has been mentioned ad nauseum, but how else have homeowners changed their behavior in the house as a result of the pandemic? The America At Home Study, a nationwide survey with about 4000 respondents, may have some answers.

One of the biggest answers should be obvious: Disinfecting more. In addition to this, though, homeowners are reorganizing to save space, particularly in their garages. Some are buying shelving for their garages, others are converting part of their garage into a home gym. Other rooms are also becoming multipurpose, and backyards are being used more frequently as entertainment spaces. Homeowners are also interested in updating their home technology. While interest in germ-resistant countertops and flooring has decreased between April and October, it’s still incredibly popular with 50% of respondents still showing interest.

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What Your Local Grocery Store Says About Your Area

Whether a high priority on the checklist or just a nice-to-have, most everyone wants to live near the places where they shop. While some people remain loyal to their store of choice regardless of distance, others are perfectly happy to live nearby any place that serves their shopping needs. But which stores are local can say a lot about another important criterion for buying a home — price.

ATTOM Data Solutions releases an annual comparison of properties near three grocery stores: Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, and ALDI. The data analyzed are current average home values, 5-year home price appreciation, current average home equity, home seller profits, and home flipping rates. Based on their data, Trader Joe’s is the best bet for homeowners wanting to sell, while ALDI reigns supreme for investors look to flip homes. Whole Foods is in the middle of the pack for all measures except home price appreciation, where it is weakest.

Near a Trader Joe’s, the winning scores are average home value of $644,558, average home equity of 37%, and home seller ROI of 51%. ALDI leads in flipping ROI with 58% and 5-year home price appreciation at 41%. It’s important to note that despite ALDI’s advantage in appreciation when measured by percent, the rather low average price of $250,850 means the gross appreciation amount is still lower than the 35% appreciation near Trader Joe’s and 33% appreciation near Whole Foods. Overall, buying near Whole Foods is a pretty safe bet as long as you don’t plan on flipping, since you’d lose out on a 22 percentage point difference in flipping ROI at 36%, still higher than Trader Joe’s at 30%. Of course, whether or not you actually want to shop at the store you’re near is also important!

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Pandemic Relief To Include Legal Assistance for Renters

A moratorium is currently protecting many renters from evictions, but it’s going to end eventually, and many renters will still owe a backlog of payments. What’s more, the legal process for acquiring protection can be difficult to grasp for some renters. The bottom line is that renters are going to need help understanding their rights — as well as fighting for them in court. I’m sure most everyone is aware of their guaranteed legal right to an attorney if they cannot afford one, but not everyone realizes that only applies in criminal cases. People struggling with evictions don’t have that same guarantee.

Fortunately, the federal COVID-19 relief package has taken that into account. In addition to $25 billion in rental assistance and an extension of the eviction moratorium through January, the most recent package also includes $20 million in legal assistance for renters. The vast majority of landlords can already afford an attorney, so aid to renters is aimed at levelling the playing field. The prediction is that it will do more than that, though. An estimated 92% of renters in Baltimore, Maryland, would win their cases if they had legal counsel, yet only 1% do, compared to 96% of landlords.

This brings us to the next step in helping renters get back on their feet: extending the guarantee of legal counsel to renters facing eviction, which is what the aforementioned city of Baltimore has just decided to do. The city has been given four years to complete implementation of this new requirement. It’s even expected to save the city and state money in the long run by reducing costs elsewhere, such as homeless shelters and foster care. Baltimore was only the most recent city to try this, though. It was first accomplished by New York City in 2017, and similar laws exist in San Francisco, Philadelphia, and Newark, New Jersey.

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Should You Buy a Townhouse or SFR?

If you’re looking to buy, but aren’t quite sure what you want to buy, this article may help you. There are a few factors you want to consider when deciding between a townhouse and a single-family residence (SFR). The factors we look at here are cost, maintenance, space, and proximity to neighbors.

If price or maintenance are big concerns of yours, you probably want to look at townhouses. Townhouses are generally less expensive than SFRs, both in up-front cost and future costs. Many of your maintenance costs will be handled by the community association. This also goes for the maintenance tasks themselves, so you don’t need to spend as much money or time on maintenance. In addition, the smaller size of townhouses means there will be less maintenance to do in the first place.

Speaking of size, if you want a lot of it, SFRs are the better bet. SFRs are frequently larger and have more flexible space, allowing for the increasingly popular home office. You can also rearrange and redecorate as you please, or add or renovate rooms. Another type of space you’ll have more of is the space between you and your neighbor. SFRs are more private and often quieter with no shared walls.

Remember that there’s no right or wrong answer; it depends entirely on your budget and preferences. If you need help making a decision, though, don’t hesitate to call or email us.

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AB 725 Aims to Help Middle Income Californians

Many attempts have been made, and are still being made, to help lower income people to acquire affordable housing. We haven’t been worried about higher-income housing; those who can even consider affording it don’t particularly need the help. But there’s a group we’ve mostly been forgetting about: the dwindling middle class. The income gap has increased dramatically, but there are still those few who earn too much to get subsidies, yet too little to afford higher priced housing.

To this end, California lawmakers have passed AB 725, which modifies California zoning laws to allow for more moderate-density housing in metropolitan and suburban areas. 25% of the Regional Housing Needs Allocation must be for moderate income housing zoned for 4 or more units. Interestingly, a further 25% must be for above-moderate income housing, also zoned for 4 or more units. This is potentially because there could be significant backlash from a major drop in home values in areas that are already primarily high income neighborhoods.

AB 725 definitely has its flaws, though. Of course, it does little to nothing to further affordable housing, only increasing the density of housing, but that wasn’t the objective. The more pressing issue is that there are no provisions to improve infrastructure for higher densities, fund new constructions, or guarantee that new constructions will qualify for the required income range. Essentially, California lawmakers are saying “You better do this,” without providing any assistance in making it feasible.

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Despite Rebound, Job Future Not As Bright As It May Seem

With the pandemic creating an employment nightmare, the unemployment rate has been a closely watched statistic. Employment is still below pre-pandemic levels, but has rebounded fairly well. That may be giving us false hope, though, since there are other jobs-related statistics to consider.

In a previous article ( we looked at the difference between employment rate, measuring what percentage of those in the labor force have jobs, and labor force participation rate, measuring what percentage of people are able to hold jobs, whether they currently do or not. We already saw there that LFP dropped as a result of the pandemic, indirectly reducing the unemployment rate without actually creating jobs.

But there’s another statistic that sheds some light on what the pandemic has done to the jobs market. The long-term unemployment rate specifically measures what percentage of those looking for a job have been searching for 27 weeks or more. Before this recession, the LTU rate has been around 20%. This means that 80% of unemployed people were finding jobs, retiring, or giving up entirely within six months. This rate has been going up rapidly and was at 37% as of November 2020. Not only have more people given up or been forced into retirement, but more of those still searching for jobs aren’t able to find one quickly.

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Mortgage Applications Skyrocketed in 2020

When the pandemic began towards the end of the first quarter in 2020, people were understandably reluctant to start purchasing houses. As a result, mortgage applications saw a sharp decrease. However, they rebounded quickly, surpassing 2019’s numbers even while trending downwards again in December. In the week ending December 23rd, 2020, mortgage applications dropped 5% from the prior week, yet remained 26% higher than the same week in 2019. As a result of low mortgage rates, refinances shot up in 2020, increasing 4% in the aforementioned week to end 124% higher than the prior year.

So we know that more people sought new mortgages in 2020 because mortgage rates are low, but what does the recent downward trend mean for the market in the near future? Well, probably not much. While some attribute the decrease to the housing shortage and rising prices, the fact of the matter is that this has been the case for quite some time. It’s actually more likely just seasonal variation — mortgage applications already have a tendency to decrease near the holiday season. The pandemic could have some impact, but we’ve already seen that the sharp decline earlier in the year was completely mitigated by low rates increasing demand. A more telling statistic is the average loan balance, which set a record high of $376,800. This is because much of the available housing is on the higher end, pointing to a deficit of affordable housing.

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