How the Pandemic Has Reshaped Office Design

During the lockdowns, businesses had an excuse to try out work-from-home models and see how well it works. Is it better than office spaces? Worse? Just different? Offices and and work-from-home models both have their advantages and disadvantages, and the experience will be different for different people. By surveying employees who had a chance to work from home, some companies are rethinking whether they want an office space at all. Those who are keeping their offices are also learning what they can do to make the office a better place to work.

The main advantage of office space has frequently been assumed to be that workers are more productive without the distractions of home. While this is true for some people, especially those with young kids, by and large productivity has actually been higher using a work-from-home model. Some of this can be attributed to employees specifically focusing on work because they don’t want to appear unproductive, but for the company, this achieves the same result.

According to employees at advertising and marketing firm R/GA, the purpose of the office was not productivity. It’s human connection and collaboration. Two of the biggest disadvantages they saw while working from home is that they missed seeing their coworkers and weren’t able to coordinate with them efficiently. Many of them wanted to keep working from home, but still be able to access the office a few days a week to meet with coworkers. R/GA saw that as a pointer for how they could change the office experience to prioritize it being a collaborative space. Individual desks and cubicles serve little purpose here — what’s needed is more informal meeting rooms. There are larger conference rooms, but those don’t allow for smaller teams to work together without interruptions from other groups coming and going.

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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, affecting replacement property by homeowners who are over 55, severely disabled, or whose home has been substantially damaged by wildfires or natural disaster. It allows 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 the replacement home to have equal or lesser value than the original home. Prop 19 has provisions for an adjusted rate in a circumstance where the value is greater. The adjusted rate is 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.

With Prop 19 also came a change to intergenerational transfers. Previously, a child or grandchild could inherit a property with no change to the property tax amount. Effective February 16, 2021, that exemption from reassessment applies only while the heir is using the property as their primary residence, and only if the heir claims a homeowner’s or disabled veteran’s exemption within one year of the transfer. The new law also requires that the property continue to be used as the child or grandchild’s primary residence. Once the property is no longer their primary residence, the property will be reassessed.

If the value of the inherited property is more than one million dollars greater than the original purchase value, there will be a partial reassessment. Essentially, the heir is allowed to use the original purchase value, plus one million dollars as the baseline property value. Above that, normal property taxes are applied.

In addition, family farms are now also included in properties that can retain their taxable value when transferred. Farms are not subject to the primary residence test, however all other qualifications and exemptions apply.

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Manufactured vs Prefab Homes: What’s the Difference?

There are many terms thrown around when talking about factory-built housing — manufactured home, mobile home, prefab, modular housing — and many of them are used interchangeably. These are all factory-built, but in some cases, there are important differences you should be aware of.

Two terms that actually do mean the same thing are manufactured home and mobile home. This refers to a home that was fully built in a factory and transported to the site whole, without any customization possible. The law varies by state, but in California, a mobile home must be registered with the DMV because it is a vehicle, not a house. There are legal provisions to consider it real estate if it is affixed to a foundation. In any case, being vehicles, mobile homes actually depreciate over time rather than appreciate. They also are not necessarily well-built to begin with, since the regulations that govern their construction are different and more lenient than the regulations for prefab housing.

Speaking of prefab housing, this is actually a category of types and not a single type. All prefabs have components that are built in a factory, then shipped to the site to be composed on-site. Modular housing is just one type of prefab, with the other being panel built housing. The modules of modular housing are large sections which can be quickly combined for more efficient construction, but they are less customizable than panel built homes, which are constructed one single panel at a time from the bottom up. Some prefabs combine both modules and panels to get the best of both worlds. Prefab houses are actually houses and are subject to the same rigors of quality as traditional stick-built houses, and may even be higher quality since they are factory-tested before being sold.

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Builders Aren’t Able to Keep Up With Demand

In many cases, high-profile construction companies will purchase large areas of land and build many homes at once. In theory, this ensures that once this project is finished, they will already have homes available to purchase while they start their next project. This theory has started to break down in the current market, as demand has far outpaced construction in the wake of the pandemic lockdowns.

In fact, many buyers not able to find what they’re looking for among the low inventory of homes are actually purchasing homes that haven’t even been built yet. New residential construction sales went up 20% between November 2019 and November 2020. In some cases, buyers will contract builders to build new homes on a plot of land they have bought, but this isn’t the norm and doesn’t explain the surge in new construction sales.

A big part of the problem is that builders aren’t building. During the past year, they simply couldn’t, as lockdowns and rising costs of business made it near impossible to finish construction projects. But the issue started long before then. California’s most recent peak in SFR construction starts was in 2018 at 62,600, but this pales in comparison to the 2005 number of 154,700. And this is just SFRs — multi-family construction is also dropping. Meanwhile, more and more homes are needed, as California’s population increased by 17% between 2000 and 2018.

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Securing a Home Loan After the Pandemic Struggles

With interest rates being low, many people are going to want to refinance or secure a new loan while they’re able to get a rate under 3%. They’re going to need to act quickly, though, since rates are starting to go up and the average is currently hovering around 3% for a 30-year fixed rate loan. But what if you’re in forbearance or were forced to declare bankruptcy as a result of economic pressures? Can you still refinance or get a loan? The answer is, well, maybe. There are different categories of lenders and different requirements.

If you’ve been able to keep up with your payments despite being in forbearance, you shouldn’t have issues qualifying, especially if your new loan is backed by the FHA or FHFA. You can also qualify immediately for an FHFA loan if you’re able to repay any missed payments in a lump sum, though FHA loans have a waiting period for lump sum repayment. If your new loan isn’t backed by a federal agency, the requirements could vary widely, but they’re generally more understanding about losses due to economic situations outside of your control.

If you had to file for bankruptcy, you will probably have a waiting period. If the pandemic was the sole cause of your bankruptcy, you may be able to get a new loan immediately from non-federal lenders, but the interest rate will likely be higher. For FHFA loans, the wait period is generally four years from the discharge or dismissal date for Chapter 7 bankruptcies. For Chapter 13 bankruptcies, it’s still four years from the dismissal date, but two from the discharge date. In either type of bankruptcy, the four years may be reduced to two if a one-time event out of your control is what caused the bankruptcy. The periods are lower for FHA loans — two or one year from a discharge, or zero from a dismissal for Chapter 7. It’s possible to qualify for a loan, with bankruptcy administrator approval, after being in the repayment period for at least one year of a Chapter 13 bankruptcy.

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2020/2021 Housing Summary & Forecast for the South Bay

The year 2020 was very nearly the least predictable time in local real estate history. Seriously, what other time have we experienced massive unemployment and rising home prices simultaneously? All indications suggest 2021 will be a tad more conventional.

Home Values Grew in 2020

Despite “turmoil” being the watchword of 2020, the year produced some remarkable results in the Los Angeles South Bay. The Beach cities recorded a 28% increase in median price for December compared to December 2019. The cost of building didn’t rise at that rate, so clearly there was a heavy investment in anticipated value. As the chart below shows, Even with all the up and down motion, during the final half of the year buyers & investors were betting heavily that things were headed for calmer, more profitable waters.

That activity was spread across the spectrum of prices, as you can see tracing the community lines shown above.

Note that May reflects the sudden market contraction from the Covid announcement the beginning of March. This is a rare moment when the chart shows how much delay there is between signing a purchase agreement, and closing escrow. In April, 30 days after the announcement of a Covid pandemic, escrows were starting to drop off and were at or slightly down from March closings. By May, 60 days later, the number of closed sales had fallen by ~50K units in each of the four market areas. It took the classic 45 day escrow period to show that the pandemic took away nearly 30% of the business in the local real estate market.

How Many Sales? Where? Why?

While the Beach and the Harbor areas fought it out for the highest total sales dollars throughout the year, the Harbor clearly enjoyed the highest number of units sold every month as we see in the chart below. While the number of sales climbed across the South Bay, at the end of the year it was the Harbor with the largest increase in sales. Starting 2020 with 315 sales in January, the number climbed consistently through the year to a strong finish with 476 in December.

Two factors play into the volume of Harbor area sales. Part is the sheer number of homes in what is physically a larger area. The more interesting aspect of Harbor area sales increasing while the rest are relatively flat is the reason.

Homes in the Harbor cities are lowest priced in the South Bay by about $100K. Interest rates are currently running below 3%, and it’s in the lowest price points of the market where low interest rates are most effective. The low rates mean more buyers can afford to purchase at the same price point, on the same income stream. The larger number of buyers competing creates multiple offers and drives the price higher, which is a major factor pushing the market today. If we are to believe the Federal Reserve Bank, current interest rates are expected to remain historically low for the foreseeable future. The demand should hang around for just about as long.

Different Strokes for Different Folks

In the chart below, it’s interesting to note that the Inland and Harbor cities progress across the months with stability and only a slight change from beginning to end. At the same time, the Beach and PV cities gyrate through the year, sometimes with $200K jumps from one month to the next. One is tempted to say it’s the comparative size of the market area, but the Inland cities have very nearly the same number of homes as the Beach cities.

This difference is often thought of as reflecting the nature of the home buyer in these communities. Looking at stereotypes, it’s easy to imagine an owner in Torrance or Long Beach, for example, who buys in their early twenties and doesn’t move again until retirement–very stable. In the Beach and PV price ranges, where a home is often considered more as an investment vehicle than a residence, it’s easy to see where market forces can result in sudden changes to where one lives.

Moving From 2020 to 2021

The beginning of 2021 marked the end of some of the more impactful aspects of 2020. A ferocious political battle is ended, and a new Federal administration looks inclined to use “all the available tools” to bring our collapsed economy back on line quickly. Time will tell how much that helps us here in the South Bay.

The ever-changing story of the international pandemic may be coming to an end with the approval of multiple vaccines for Covid-19. Rumors still abound as to the actual efficacy of the drugs, and rates of infection are still climbing dramatically, especially here in Los Angeles county. It will end, whether sooner or later. The big question today is if the price increases we’ve seen as a result of bidding wars will sustain as the pandemic eases and government assistance is strengthened.

Looking at December activity, we see big increases in sales volume for Month over Month (M-M) and Year over Year (Y-Y) statistics. A continuance of this trend could make 2021 an exceptional year for real estate in the South Bay.

Median prices show a large variation from area to area, and importantly show a slowdown in the climbing prices. Y-Y price growth was strong in December, reflecting the high demand at current interest rates. However, M-M prices predominantly showed a reversal in price growth. Some of the slowdown could be seasonal, but if you’ve been reading our blog posts you already know there’s a growing backlog of homes poised on the edge of foreclosure. The only thing preventing a mass of short sale and foreclosure properties on the market is the forbearance rules put in place to prevent a sudden jump in homelessness during the pandemic.


December activity in Beach cities showed insane growth for M-M and Y-Y sales, both in the the number of sales, and especially in the prices of sold homes.

As if annual growth of 28% in median price wasn’t crazy enough, look at that monthly increase of 18.2%! Annualized, that would be over 114% growth! Statistics with this much reach can only be attributed to a profound belief that prices will continue to increase at a similar rate. Or, continue until the property can be flipped, that is.

Palos Verdes

Palos Verdes in December was almost a reverse image of the Beach cities. The explosive growth in PV came in the number of home sales which shot up 18%, bringing the annual number to a phenomenal 42% growth in volume for the year.

Median prices in PV showed modest increases, ending the year only slightly higher than the Fed’s target growth rate. The shift from positive growth to shrinkage in December hints at an overall market trending toward lower median sales prices.

A side note: Homes on the hill have not maintained the “investment quality” image of those on the Beach. PV was once considered the place to buy a home from a prestige angle and from an investment perspective. New money moving into the Beach cities has diminished that role in recent years. I predict a rebirth of property values in the Palos Verdes cities over the next few years, which will make having a home on the peninsula key in local business and society.


For the most part, Inland homes are family homes. They are the places with hoops in the driveway and lemonade stands at the sidewalk. Investment here is a long term concept.

So, when we see over 20% M-M growth in number of homes sold accompanied by nearly 30% Y-Y, we’re seeing market movement rather than shifts in investment strategy. As it is throughout South Bay, the cause of that movement appears to be the sub-3% interest rate which enlarged the entry level market segment. More buyers flooding in created bidding wars and drove sales and prices higher.

Compared to last December, median prices in the Inland cities were up 5.5%, peaking at $733K. That’s a good healthy increase, only slightly above the expected Consumer Price Index (CPI) numbers. Caution though–the M-M median is down 2.3%. It could be a momentary blip; a result of the holiday season, or the Covid surge. That year end drop may also indicate that the $750K median from November is the market ceiling.


In addition to the largest home sales volume in the South Bay, the Harbor area boasts the most entry level homes. There’s a good deal of lifestyle overlap with the Inland cities, to be sure. The Harbor dramatically displays the same message we see across most of the South Bay. Everything was going strong until December, then buyers put the brakes on.

Today’s environment in the Harbor points the direction to the future. Sales here had a stronger growth than the Inland cities over the months leading up to December, and show a more pronounced decline in December.

Some of the slowdown will ultimately prove to be driven by the holiday, and some the election, and some by the pandemic. Even then, it’s hard to avoid the feeling that some of the decline is a recession held back by a thin wall of regulations temporarily preventing foreclosure and eviction.

We can certainly hope for better news from the new year, but as of the end of 2020 many of our indicators are calling for a deeper recession in coming months. It’s possible. Somewhere in the range of 20%-40% of homeowners are in forbearance now, and a roughly equivalent number of tenants are building up deferred rent payments. If adequate measures are taken to protect both sides of the debt, all of this will amount to footnote in history. Otherwise, it’ll be the second worldwide recession in this generation.

Photo ‘Work From Home’ by Nelly Antoniadou on Unsplash

Long Beach Affordable Housing Policy Pending Final Approval

On Jan. 19th, the Long Beach City Council voted unanimously for preliminary approval of two ordinances designed to increase affordable housing. The policy is still subject to objections prior to final approval, but if it continues as written, 11% of rental developments and 10% of housing developments will need to be set aside for affordable housing, else be subject to a fee. This would apply only to developments of 9 or more units in certain areas of Long Beach.

The City doesn’t want this to be a temporary solution, so ideally the policy will be the best it can be. However, it’s already been the focus of some criticism, ironically that some aspects end after a certain number of years and the policy therefore looks a lot like a temporary solution. There were also objections to the long phase-in schedule and the rather lenient option of developers replacing nearby properties with affordable housing if they don’t want to include them in the development itself.

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Why Are Short Term Rentals Restricted?

If a property is available to rent for a period of 30 days or less, this is called a short term rental. One common example is Airbnb. Various jurisdictions within California have laws limiting short term rentals and requiring permits. You may be wondering why short term rentals are treated differently from standard rentals. There is actually a good reason for this.

In many respects, a short term rental is actually more like a hotel stay than a rental. Even though the definition allows for stays up to 30 days, both short term rentals and hotel stays tend to be significantly less than a month. In both situations, the rooms change hands frequently. Being quite similar to a hotel in this respect, it makes sense that short term rentals would be regulated as a business rather than a real estate transaction. And in fact, hotels may actually be less of a problem for the real estate market — they were never designed to be stayed in for long periods, while short term rentals detract from available housing supply. With reduced supply, this also increases rent prices and forces out some longer term renters. That’s why large cities with high rent prices like Los Angeles and San Francisco require owners of short term rentals to restrict the number of days per year that the property is rented out, or to reside in the property themselves a certain length of the year.

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Rental Statistics Shifting Across the US

We’re all aware that the pandemic has disproportionately affected lower-income residents, including renters. But there are many statistics to look at when examining trends in the rental market, and some of them may not be so obvious. Who, when, where, and how much are all questions to consider.

The when is the most obvious — as a result of the pandemic, there were very few rental applications in the spring when the lockdowns began. What you may not know is that this is approximately when rental application volume typically goes up, so the normal rental market was effectively delayed by about two months. The period was shorter as well, ending in July rather than August as usual.

In prior years, the most frequent age group for renters was Millennials, followed by Gen-Xers. While Millennials are still at the top, their percentage among renters is shrinking, and Gen-Xers have lost their second place spot to a new group, the Gen-Zers. This is particularly striking because most people in Gen Z are not actually old enough to sign a rental agreement. What happened is that Gen Z was the only group to have an increase in percentage of renters, as every other category dropped, including Boomers who still retain 4th place. 16 of the 30 largest cities in the US had an overall decrease in rentals, and even in those few cities where the percent of people moving in was increasing, the percent of people leaving accelerated even more.

The good news for renters is that average rent prices in expensive cities are dropping from last year, which is particularly important because average income for renters stagnated in 2020. Only one city among the 30 largest, Baltimore, had an increase in rent prices leaving it above $1300. All the others with prices above this figure had a drop in rent prices. The largest dollar increase was $62 in Phoenix, from $1120 to $1182. By contrast, average rent prices dropped $640 in San Francisco, from $3695 to $3055.

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Pandemic Relief FAQ

There’ve been plenty of articles written about the ever-changing details of the eviction and foreclosure moratoriums. Less has been said about other forms of pandemic relief, such as federal rent relief stimulus. While the stimulus was passed already in December, there are still some things you may not know about it.

The federal pandemic relief bill includes $25 billion in rent relief, approximately $2.6 billion of which is going to California. We haven’t yet heard the details on how to apply for rent relief, except that there is an option to give your consent to your landlord to allow them to apply on your behalf, but there is information about who qualifies. One need not be a citizen of the US or have documents to qualify, though it’s possible that individual states and jurisdictions could limit this. The main qualification is that the pandemic have caused you risk of homelessness or housing instability. Qualifying households must make 80% of the area’s median income or less, and there must be at least one person in the household who qualifies for unemployment or has experienced financial hardship as a result of the pandemic.

A qualifying household can get a maximum of 15 months worth of relief, as determined by their need, usable for unpaid and future rent and utility payments. It’s possible that some of the money could be used for other purposes, however, because the money is intended to be primarily for rent and utilities, it will be paid to the landlords and utility companies. Only if the landlord refuses it will the tenant be paid directly.

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The Evolution of California’s 2020 Market

California’s housing market saw multiple shifts during 2020 as different sectors reacted differently and regulations changed with the times. When 2020 began, we already had high home prices and a construction deficit. The lockdowns of the pandemic propelled an economic recession that was already in the making, causing it to arrive faster than expected. Normally recessions cause a drop in prices, but the circumstances of this recession were forced, and therefore not necessarily subject to the same natural tendencies.

In the beginning of the lockdowns, real estate agents were not able to meet with clients or show property, causing the market to grind to a sudden halt. As the year progressed, regulations loosened somewhat, allowing showings under safe conditions. That prompted a spike in demand, as people who were itching to buy, especially with low mortgage rates, were finally able to start looking again. However, that did nothing to change available inventory. Inventory is low as a result of lack of construction, and what little construction there was being halted by lockdowns. In addition, most of the construction being done was for higher-end single-family residences, even as many prospective buyers were losing income due to the pandemic. With high demand and low inventory, prices simply continued to go up.

The market itself isn’t the only thing that changed, though. Prospective buyers are no longer looking for the same types of properties they wanted before 2020. If people are going to spend more time at home, they want the type of home that they’ll be happy living in. Move-in ready. Plenty of space. Home offices. Room versatility. It even extends to the outdoor amenities — houses with pools and outdoor living space are selling quickly, since people are able to be outside without leaving the confines of their property.

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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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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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