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Homeownership

NAR continues efforts to protect the MID

(HOMEOWNERSHIP) With no currently formed tax proposal on the table, much political uncertainty and anxiety remains surrounding MIDs.

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taxes provisions mid reform

Whenever the United States enters into a new political administration, there is no guarantee that a previous president’s policy priorities will be kept intact.

However, one policy that has been held over many a president’s administration is the Mortgage Interest Deduction (MID), which was enacted in the 1950s.

That may change soon.

With the newest administration pushing hard for tax reform, the MID could come onto the chopping block, to the chagrin of the National Association of Realtors (NAR), who has been protecting it for many years.

“We would have strong objections over any effort to cap or eliminate the MID,” spokesperson said. “It’s our hope that leaders in Congress will move forward [with tax reform] with homeowners in mind.”

NAR took the opportunity to testify before the Senate Finance Committee earlier in October to urge senators to keep the current MID alive as written in the federal tax code.

With talks in August of trying to cap the MID by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, NAR has been very interested in what this era of potential tax code overhaul could mean for homeowners and buyers.

The MID started in the middle of the 20th century as a way to make home buying and ownership more accessible and attractive for the middle class. According to economist Bruce Bartlett, the MID offered the new middle class of the 1950s a new way to “reduce their tax liability.”

The MID does this by allowing a homebuyer to write of interest accrued on a home loan as a deduction on their federal income taxes. A homebuyer then would able to consider this information when they look at how much they can borrow and how much they can afford to invest in a home.

If the MID was removed, or capped, this could change how much your potential homebuyer would spend in taxes.

The Tax Foundation, a nonpartisan tax policy research institute, found that a cap on the MID would essentially raise taxes sharply on the the highest income–the 1 percent–income bracket.

The middle class may experience a small increase as well, but only a tenth of one percent. This cap would also increase revenue in Uncle Sam’s pocket, to the tune of $95.5 billion after the first decade of a cap being enacted.

But to every policy there is another element, outside the areas of dollars, cents, and percentages: the human element. The targeting of the MID during a tax reform could send the wrong message about the faith in many American’s dream goal of homeownership.

It could impact the market for real estate agents and Realtors alike with smaller incentive and ability to buy a home.

Time will only tell if the NAR is successful in protecting the Mortgage Interest Deduction from tax reform efforts.

Alexandra Bohannon has a Master of Public Administration degree from University of Oklahoma with a concentration in public policy. She is currently based in Oklahoma City, working as a freelance filmmaker, writer, and podcaster. Alexandra loves playing Dungeons and Dragons and is a diehard Trekkie.

Homeownership

Consumer confidence about money is up, but not optimism about buying a home

(REAL ESTATE) Consumer confidence is way up about the economy, but many still don’t feel it’s a good time to buy – here’s the data behind this contradiction.

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consumer confidence

In the first quarter of this year, consumer confidence regarding their personal finances and the economy rose, yet this confidence is not translating to optimism that now is a good time to buy a home, according to the National Association of Realtors (NAR) “Housing Opportunities and Marketing Experience” (HOME) survey.

In fact, positive feelings that it’s a good time to buy a home is at its lowest share in the past two years, and even lower among renters. The strongest concentration of those that did feel positive about buying are homeowners in the South and Midwest where housing is more affordable.

The survey also indicates that owners feel positive about selling, while non-homeowners are feeling anxious about qualifying for a loan and saving for their down payment.

NAR Chief Economist, Dr. Lawrence Yun says extremely challenging market conditions to start the year are chipping away at homebuyer optimism. “The critical shortage of listings in most markets continues to spark a hike in home prices that is not easy for many buyers – and especially first-time buyers – to overcome.”

“Adding more fuel to the affordability fire is the fact that mortgage rates have shot up to a four-year high in just a few months,” added Dr. Yun. “Many house hunters are telling Realtors® that they are dispirited by the stiff competition for the short number of listings they can afford.”

He notes that if more homeowners decided that spring is the best time to list their home (especially after amassing equity), supply conditions would “improve measurably, and ultimately lead to more sales.” We would add that the HOME survey’s confidence indices would also shift.

Consumer confidence is up, but of particular note, non-homeowners are anxious about saving for a down payment. Nearly half indicating limited income was a primary reason, followed by student loan debt (30 percent), rising rents (28 percent), and health expenses (14 percent). Only 14 percent said nothing was holding them back.

The survey also indicates anxiety over qualifying, with 45 percent claiming the reason is income uncertainty. One in three said their credit score would hold them back, and 26 percent said they were carrying too much debt. Nearly one in three said they don’t know the first step they’d need to take in order to qualify, so a lack of financial literacy is holding a portion of the market back.

“It’s never too early for those wanting to own a home in the future to sit down with a lender to discuss their current financial situation,” said NAR President Elizabeth Mendenhall, a sixth-generation Realtor® from Columbia, Missouri and CEO of RE/MAX Boone Realty. “Homeownership could be a more attainable goal once an interested buyer finds out how much they can afford to buy, as well as what steps, if any, are needed to improve their chances of obtaining a mortgage.”

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Homeownership

6 smart locks that will knock off your socks

(TECHNOLOGY) Smart locks are a growing part of the smart home – know these for yourself and/or your clients and you’ll be sock-less (get it?).

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lockitron

Smart locks can offer a great deal of flexibility and convenience, but there are a few things you might want to consider before installing or recommending one to a client.

Smart locks give you and anyone you choose, the freedom to come and go without carrying a key, however, that’s also the first thing you may want to consider: in order for smart locks to be “smart,” they need power. This means you’ll need plenty of good quality batteries and the foresight to change them regularly; otherwise your smart lock won’t function. 



Also, renters will need to check with the landlord before making any changes to the existing locks, as some leases do not allow you to alter your locks in any way (although there may be a sneaky way around this if folks are so minded, but please bear in mind, you could be evicted or even be breaking the law by installing a smart lock, or any lock, without permission).

Aside from these few considerations, and the rare possibility of the lock malfunctioning, the benefits for most people, over using a traditional, physical key, outweigh the drawbacks. Here are seven of our favorite smart locks on the market:

1. Kevo Kwikset Smart Lock ($215)

kevo smart lock

The Kevo Smart Lock by Kwikset is a favorite for a few reasons. First, Kevo uses a Bluetooth-based close-range authentication system (which is more secure than the geofence auto-unlocking that many other locks utilize). Kevo also gives you several different options for controlling the lock: you can use a physical key, the smartphone app, or a wireless key fob (like the one you likely use for your car).

By accessing the app, you can control eKeys, as well who has access to the eKeys. Kevo also offers a “Kevo Plus” upgrade ($100), that allows you to monitor your Kevo when you’re away from home. This includes the Kevo Plus wireless gateway for monitoring. 

To unlock your door, simply tap the top of the door lock and it will communicate with your phone via Bluetooth and unlock; if your phone battery happens to die before you get home, you can use a physical key, the fob, or log in to your Kevo account from another smartphone and your eKeys will be transferred allowing you access.

The Kevo lock uses multiple levels of encryption to increase digital security and contains Kwikset’s patented SmartKey technology, which is tested to the most stringent lock picking, key bumping, and physical security standards. Nothing will be 100% secure, but Kwikset has been manufacturing locks for more than 60 years and the Kevo is an American National Standards Institute (ANSI) Grade 2. There are 3 levels, 1-3, with number 1 being the highest rated.

2. August Smart Lock ($200)

august smart lock
Remember when I said there might be an exception for apartment dwellers and renters? The August Smart Lock is the exception. It is a good solution (remembering the caveats mentioned above) for renters who want a smart home but aren’t explicitly allowed to change their locks.

The drawback to this lock is, you’ll need a gateway, the August Connect, much like Kevo Plus, for remote access. The August replaced just the interior plate and lever of your existing deadbolt, so the exterior hardware remains unchanged.

You can also add a few accessories: a keypad, the app, and a wireless connection bridge. In order for the August to be compatible with Echo/Alexa, HomeKit/Siri, or Google Home/Assistant, you will need the Wi-Fi Bridge which is not included. There have also been reports that this lock is particularly bad at draining batteries. While it does have a few drawbacks, it is a good choice for anyone happy with their existing locks, but still looking to add a lock to their smarthome setup.

3. Schlage Connect Touchscreen Deadbolt ($230)

schlage
The Schlage Connect Touchscreen Deadbolt is the most unique smart lock on this list because you’ll never have to deal with a key or an app to use it. Instead, you use the digital touchscreen. Schlage’s lock integrates with several different home automation systems, including Amazon Alexa.

One of the most unique features about this smart lock is that if anyone tampers with the lock/door, you’ll be notified and if anyone pushes against the door too forcefully, a piercing alarm will sound and you’ll be alerted to help deter break-ins. Schlage’s lock is also the only lock in this list rated one by ANSI. If you’re looking for a lock that will still let friends and family in without giving out a code, this lock still has you covered. You can lock and unlock from nearly anywhere using Schlage’s Z-Wave® technology.

This technology was developed by Schlage in 1999 and uses wireless radio frequency (RF) communication for home devices allowing you to give access on-the-go.

4. Yale Assure Lock SL ($219)

yale smart
Yale Real Living Assure Lock SL is the slimmest smart lock on the market, and if purchased with a Yale iM1 Network Module, it is HomeKit-compatible, so it can be controlled using the Apple Home app, the Yale Secure app, and via Siri voice commands.

It’s available at major retailers, including Lowe’s, Best Buy, PC Richard & Son, and on Amazon. This lock has a reputation for ease of use and reliable integrations.

5. Lockitron Bolt ($99)

lockitron
The Lockitron Bolt is a great choice for users looking to try out smart locks, but are also a bit more budget conscious. The Lockitron is compatible with both Bluetooth and Wi-Fi.

It can be integrated and automated through IFTTT (If This, Then That). If you’re not familiar with IFTTT, we’ve written extensively about it. Lockitron is introducing what they call Key Match, so this will be another great option for renters as this will allow you to keep your current set of house keys and still use a smart lock. Soon, they will also be introducing the Lockitron Bridge so you can control your lock from anywhere in the world, giving you gateway connectivity. The Bolt is more secure than you might think, given the price tag. They use robust encryption using open, published standards. It is secured at both the protocol and application layers and if you’re worried about security, you can check their security page.

The Lockitron Bolt gives you a basic, affordable smart lock, with a sleek, easily accessible mechanism that is still secure and functional. If you’re looking for a smart lock with all the bells and whistles, however, the Lockitron Bolt, may not be your best option.

6. Friday Lock ($249)

friday
Friday Lock is a true competitor for the August Smart Lock in a sleeker design. Friday Labs ambitiously bills itself as the world’s smallest smart lock at a mere 2.7”. It is ergonomic, small, and functional for everyone. Friday lock securely connects to your phone wirelessly, giving you the ability to lock or unlock your door as you leave or approach, as well as effortlessly share access with anyone you choose. You’ll also receive notifications on your phone for every action your lock takes (every lock/unlock).

Friday Lock comes in seven colors and can also be connected with the Apple HomeKit and Secure Remote Access. It works with all single cylinder deadbolts and can easily be installed with a screwdriver. Friday replaces the thumb latch on the inside of your door, so changing out the lock is simple.

It also has a rechargeable battery in the baseplate, saving you money on batteries. While this lock is a bit on the pricey side, Friday rotates 360 degrees, making it compatible with any deadbolt. If you’re looking to add a sleek, small smart lock to your home automation, Friday is a great choice. 



The takeaway?

While smart lock technology has come a long way, there are still several things to consider before recommending one to a client or installing one yourself: do you still want to be able to use physical keys? Do you need remote access? Should it be compatible with your home automation system? Are you going to be replacing batteries or recharging them?

And for most people, can you afford to switch out all your locks at once, or will you need to do it one at a time? Smart locks certainly offer a level of convenience that cannot be beat by physical key locks, but there are some drawbacks mentioned above.

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Homeownership

LifeDoor automatically closes doors to save homes and lives

(TECH NEWS) LifeDoor is one of the smartest devices we’ve seen in ages and could save peoples’ lives and protect their homes.

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lifedoor

The way that we build our homes, with synthetic materials, furniture, and cheaper construction is making our homes more flammable – House fires spread 600% faster today than 40 years ago, according to the National Institute of Standards and Technology. This means that every second counts.

And while most us have some warning system: smoke detectors, and maybe even fire suppression systems built into our homes, there is a very easy way to help slow the spread of fire in your home: closing your door.

Research by the UL Fire Safety Research Institute concluded that closed doors do a number of things including:

  • A closed door can help keep back heat and prevent rooms reaching dangerous temperatures.
  • A closed door keeps more oxygen away from the fire so it allows you to breathe better.
  • Closing the bedroom door at night gives you more time to react to a smoke alarm.
  • Closed doors keep dangerous smoke away from you – smoke and toxic gasses can incapacitate you and keep you from escaping the fire.
  • Closing door cuts fire off from a fuel source and can better contain the fire.

And of course, where there is an opportunity, our internet of things has a solution.

In case you don’t automatically shut your doors (perhaps you’re a free spirit, a Gemini? Who knows?) There is a gadget for that. Lifedoor is a gadget that integrates with existing smoke detectors and does three things: it closes the door of the room, illuminates the room to help the occupant make a better decisions, and sounds a secondary alarm that can help wake your more heavier sleepers.

The product easily installs onto the hinge of a door and then attaches to the door with screws or even double sided tape. It activates when it hears the tone of the triggered smoke alarm (which is standardized at 85 decibels, #FunFacts).

For those of you who may fear the worst – this does not render the door unopenable and the battery should last 18-24 months depending on use. The product is currently in pre-order and is set to ship in the fall. (if you’re interested, there is a promo code floating around).

One particular note about this new product is that its support has largely come from firefighters – and those guys know their stuff.

Hopefully, you won’t have to experience a housefire. But even if you don’t invest in LifeDoor – remember that closing your own door can keep you safe by giving you more time. And nothing is more important than being prepared: make sure you follow the best home fire practices you can – learn more from the American Red Cross.

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