A home to be thankful for

The season of reflecting and being thankful is upon us, and this morning I found myself thinking about the past year I’ve been in my own home and how we so often forget to be thankful for what we have.

Two years ago my life took a turn that I was unprepared for, and during that time I took steps into the unknown. One of those unknowns was where I was going to live and how I was going to pay for it. I find that many people face these same stressors regardless of their income, marital status, job prospects, etc. We all struggle to cover our basic needs.

I’m very lucky to have a loving family that could help me, and my home is a symbol of that love and support as I figure out my own crazy, upside-down life. It’s also the place where I’m learning to experiment, express myself and feel comfortable.

Homeownership projects seem to never be done, and it’s teaching me about my anxiety and about letting go. Nailpops in my drywall are not a major deal. I’m learning not to rush the process, but to keep taking steps… as small as they may be. For me, my home is an expression of where my life is and the journey that I’m on. Sometimes things are great and everything is in its place, and sometimes I’m sitting on the couch eating Cheetos with dirty dishes in the sink. And both extremes are ok.

For my clients, I see their homes grow and change depending on their own journey. Do they have small kids? Are they soon-to-be empty nesters? Are they excited to live in only a few hundred square feet so they can be a stone’s throw to shopping, restaurants and public transportation because they’ve never had the opportunity to live like that before?

I am so thankful for my own home and the challenges it brings me, I’m thankful for the love and support I have from those around me, and the struggles that have allowed me to see all of that love and support available to me. And I’m thankful that I get to help my clients navigate their own housing journey regardless of where their path may lead them.

What could a year REALLY cost you?

Waiting a year for a lease to end or a promotion to be awarded can sound like a great thing when looking to buy your first home, but with  mortgage interest rates expecting to trend upward over the coming year, a small percentage increase could mean big money over the life of your loan.

When I talk about 1% interest it sounds tiny, but what if I told you that amounts to an additional 50,000 you’ll be paying to your lender if you’re gearing up to purchase a median priced home in Charlotte?

Now it sounds serious!

So here’s the scenario:

According to the Charlotte Regional Realtors Association, the median price of a home sold in Mecklenburg County was $250,000 during October 2018. Currently, mortgage interest rates are hovering around 5%, with increases expected in the next year. Based on these statistics and with the help of MortgageCalculator.org, here’s the math for what that actually means for someone buying a house today, and a the same house a year from now (of course I’m not taking into account price inflation… that’s a discussion for another post)

Here’s the math:

Today vs 1 Year

** This analysis is brought to you by MortgageCalculator.org and my super-sweet Microsoft Excel skills**

Assumptions: again, I assumed that the price of the home was the median price for Charlotte of 250k, and that the loan is a conventional, conforming loan (aka 3% down with PMI until the borrow has 20% equity in the home, at which point PMI goes away). I estimated property taxes, which were a bit high as compared to what I saw on recent sales in the MLS, but we’d rather be a bit conservative, right? Homeowners insurance for this example was a downright guess and is dependent on each home/homeowner/insurance company/etc.

What this means for you (even if you don’t like math): With all things being equal, a 1% increase in your mortgage interest rate could cause you to pay $152 more each month for the SAME HOUSE. And this $152 a month causes you to pay PMI for a longer period of time (because it takes longer to get to the required 20% equity in the home). On a yearly basis you’re paying an additional $1,825 for the SAME HOUSE. Over the entire 30 year life of your loan, this means you’re paying an additional $55,973 to your lender… why? because of a measly 1% increase in your mortgage rate.

 

Part II : Green living – A few of my favorite things – Kitchen

When I started trying to transition to a more sustainable lifestyle I began by becoming more self-aware when I was throwing something into my kitchen trash can. I’d ask myself these questions:

  • what is this item?
  • has this item served me or has it served a real purpose?
  • is there a better option for when I need this again?

I quickly found that I throwing out drinking straws (I can’t live without them), plastic produce bags from the grocery store, and paper towels… A lot of paper towels. Then, armed with this information and my beloved Amazon Prime membership, I started shopping for replacements. Then, as I was throwing out less of these original items, I’d notice I was throwing away other random things. Like plastic cling wrap that I used to cover my dog’s half-empty dog food cans when they were stored in the fridge, and the cycle continued. This cycle of attempted self-awareness continues even today.

Below are some of my favorite items that I’ve switched to, and the Amazon link to help you if you’d like to take a look at making a similar change. (the links below are affiliate links and I could earn a small portion if you purchase using them. I doubt that this will occur, but in the spirit of full-disclosure, now you know!)

Grocery bags

It seems like every store has their own line of earth-conscious grocery bags, but most of them just plain suck. Why do they all have handles that are too long to carry by hand, but to short to sling over your shoulder? That’s why I’ve fallen in love with canvas totes from Trader Joe’s. The straps are long enough to easily get on and off your shoulder, the straps are wide to distribute the weight of your haul, and these things are built for battle. Seriously. I took one of these bags to Petsmart and used it to carry an entire case of canned dog food. I don’t see the other stores’ weird, boxy, plastic-coated reusable bags doing that.

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Produce bags

We seem to be very well-versed in carrying reusable shopping bags, but when I noticed I was using mine to carry an absurd amount of produce in plastic bags, I saw issue with this. The ones I bought are nylon, so if I could do it again I’d go for cotton, but these are still really easy to use, wash (if needed) and throw back in your reusable grocery bag for the next trip. And I have noticed that most produce lasts longer than when you keep it in the store’s plastic bags.

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Drinking straws

I’ve struggled with the Save the Sea Turtles movement that’s trying to outlaw straws in restaurants. I like sea life, but I also like an easy-to-drink beverage. Plus, straws make me drink more water without realizing it. So at home I’ve switched to metal drinking straws. These are perfect for water tumblers and smoothie cups, and the scrub brush they come with is a game-changer. Word-to-the-wise, rinse your straw as soon as you’re done with something.  You and your scrub brush will thank me later.

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Non-paper towels

The ease and cleanliness of paper towels was something that I begrudgingly gave up, but these cloth paper-like towels are probably my favorite new item in my kitchen. When they’re wet they actually feel like a sturdier paper towel, and they bleach easily in the wash. Because they’re so much sturdier I use much less of them on a daily basis, but I still feel good cleaning up things like raw meat juice and then immediately throwing them in the wash. win-win.

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What kitchen items would you like to see added to this list? How do you make your cooking routine earth-friendly?

Part I : Green living – City girl goes green(ish)

About a year and a half ago I had the opportunity to live with my aunt and uncle in Asheville, NC. I knew that this experience was going to change me (there was a LOT going on at that time) but I didn’t know that it would change the way that I think about HOW I live.

This was the first time that I had lived on well water and a septic system, understood some general green building principles (geothermal heating, solar power, composting and rain water collection) but I didn’t learn all of these day-to-day changes all at once, because living there each day didn’t FEEL different. It took me a few months to figure out that a few small tweaks brought about a serious dent in my carbon footprint, and my life wasn’t lived any differently.

So when I moved back to “city life” I started to question why these same ways of living couldn’t follow me. The answer was that they could, and the secret was to implement these green ways of living in the same way that I had discovered that my aunt and uncle were using them; Only one little bit at a time.

These days, as friends and family see those small differences in my day-to-day, they’ve begun to ask what I actually “do” to live a slightly more sustainable city-dweller life, so here’s some of my rules for change. Stay tuned for Part II when I talk about some of my favorite products. Enjoy!

Rule 1: Curate your life

This is basically a fancy way of saying purge stuff you don’t need or don’t want out of your house. I was lucky to move to NC with only a few worldly belongings (that’s a story for another day), however, I also promised myself that I wouldn’t keep things around that I didn’t love. This proved to be especially hard as I moved into my new home and everyone wanted to give me furniture to get me started. I also struggle when friends and family buy me gifts, but my mom is now well-versed in the idea that anything she sends me will be loved and enjoyed, just not necessarily by me and in my house (unless it’s edible… Then yes. All. The. Yes.)

Rule 2: Analyze only one or two areas of your life at a time

For me, I started by analyzing my laundry routine and switching to a reusable water cup. It was a small start but it’s grown exponentially. I only thought about making changes when I was about to go and purchase something less sustainable because I was out of some kind of supplies. This was how I re-thought paper towels, dryer sheets, plastic straws, plastic forks for packing lunches, disposable makeup remover pads, etc.

Rule 3: Things are going to cost more up-front, think about the savings over time

I work for myself and try not to spend a ton of money, so when it was time to purchase cotton make-up remover pads it was hard to swallow the $14 for reusable bamboo facial pads when you can buy disposable cotton pads for less than $5. Ask yourself how long you think the item is going to last before you need to replace it. For the facial pads, I anticipate at least a year or two (if not more). In that same time period I would spend closer to $40 in the cheap ones. So, money was saved, right?

Rule 4: If it’s annoying to do, it gets ditched (or outsourced!)

I was very apprehensive to purchase replacements to paper towels, but I reminded myself that they HAD to be ditched if they were annoying to use, so I gave them a shot. Now they’re one of my favorite things in the kitchen. The same thing happened when I traded in traditional bottled shampoo and tried a shampoo bar from Lush.

I’m also in the midst of trying to decrease the amount of food waste that I throw in the trash, but I am the last person that should be composting and in less than 900 square feet of living space. So I’m on a quest to find a community resource like Crown Town Compost to take over that burden.

This same rule is why I don’t go zero-waste and become that weirdo that makes their own laundry detergent… “Ain’t nobody got time for that”

Seriously.

 

Fed rate, T-bills and Mortgage rates… Oh My!!!

Around every water cooler in America we’ve all been discussing that the Federal Reserve has been steadily increasing rates from the historic lows we’ve seen for the past 10 years, and is currently hovering between 2 and 2.5% as of the writing of this post.

But what is the Federal Funds rate? (and honestly, why do I care?)

The Federal Funds Rate is the interest rate that banks extend short-term, overnight loans to eachother so that they meet minimum bank reserve requirements. As the Fed increases rates, banks must keep more funds on-hand at the bank or they must elect to pay more to borrow from another institution to meet these requirements. So, banks have to hold tighter to the money that they have. From a 10,000 foot perspective this restricts the overall availability of cash within the US economy and slows investment. This causes business to grow and hire workers more conservatively and keeps the US economy as a whole operating at a sustainable level. When the US economy weakens (i.e. high unemployment numbers, etc.) this process is reversed and Fed rates are decreased.

While the Fed rate does not have an immediate impact on things like mortgage interest rates, it does have an overarching impact on the economy, consumer and investor confidence, and investment decisions made based on the consumers’ and investors’ level of confidence.

A better indicator of mortgage rate changes is the treasury bill (T-bill rate) as investors compare all fixed-income investments against one another. In this comparison, T-bills are fixed income investments that are backed by the US government, meaning that their risk is very low, therefore, to be deemed as attractive to investors other fixed-income investments must offer a higher rate of return to counter-balance the additional risk that the investor must take on with things like mortgage-backed securities. Instead of being guaranteed by the US government these investments are supported by the value of the consumer home loans they contain. Relying on consumers to pay their mortgages and associated interest payments carries significantly more risk to an investor than the US government. Therefore, as treasury rates of return increase, the returns available to investors in mortgage-backed securities must also increase (i.e. mortgage interest paid by the consumer), otherwise these investors would switch into the less-risky government bonds.

While the Fed rate does not have a direct impact on mortgage rates for consumers, overall, an increase in the Fed rate and treasury bill rates of return cause pressure on consumer mortgage rates to keep the balance of risk and reward in the investment arena. So, without any signs of decreasing Fed rates, expect mortgage rates to continue to climb over the foreseeable future.