What Every Homeowner Needs to Know About Contractors

When you’re building or renovating a home, having the right team on your side makes all the difference.

Building or renovating a home is a complex project with plenty of moving parts. Even if you’re planning to take a DIY approach, it’s likely you’ll need some help from contractors along the way. Here’s a guide to the types of contractors you might enlist to help you complete your dream home.

General contractors

If you think of a general contractor like a general in the military, you have the basic idea of what a general contractor does. Like a general leading a military campaign, a general contractor organizes the strategy of a building or remodeling project. The general contractor decides when to bring in the plumbers, electricians, and roofers; makes sure they do their jobs correctly; and checks details, like ensuring that the carpenters install the porch handrails according to code.

Especially if there is no architect involved, the general contractor ensures that the building permits are in order and that the project is legal — meaning that it is being done to city or country building codes. (If it isn’t, your city’s building inspectors will make you redo it. Ouch!) Like a military general who is ultimately responsible for the success of a campaign, the general contractor is responsible for the outcome of remodeling project.

Subcontractors

Subcontractors are specialists who work under the direction of the general contractor. Subcontractors include plumbers, electricians, tile setters, carpenters, framers, roofers, painters and cabinetmakers, among others.

Ideally, they show up at your construction or remodeling project when they are needed. If the subcontractors are reliable and efficient, the pace of your project continues to move steadily along, and it is finished when it is supposed to be. If all that happens, it is usually because a good general contractor has been overseeing their work.

Owner as general contractor

Homeowners who are skilled at organizing multimillion-dollar sales campaigns at their office or at running three local volunteer organizations in their spare time sometimes like to act as their own general contractors. There is no law that says you can’t. As a rule of thumb, general contractors charge about 15 to 20 percent of the total cost of the job, so acting as your own general contractor can save money.

But before you leap into the general contractor role, consider whether you really have the time, expertise, and patience to run a remodeling project, especially a complicated one. How much time can you spend on site? Can you take phone calls at unexpected times of the day?

The one thing you can count on with any remodel is that something will go wrong at some point. It may not be a big deal, but it will mean making new arrangements, often on short notice, and rearranging schedules for subcontractors and suppliers.

This could mean dozens of phone calls in a single afternoon. It could mean running around hunting down some piece of hardware or building material that is needed on site right now. If this sounds like fun, you may have what it takes to act as your own general contractor.

Design/build firms

An alternative to hiring a general contractor or acting as your own is to hire a design/build firm. Design/build firms are companies that offer start-to-finish building and remodeling services. They employ architects or designers as well as the skilled builders.

A design/build firm essentially offers the services of architect, general contractor, and subcontractors. The obvious advantage to using these firms is that the entire project should be a fairly smooth operation, since the firm takes responsibility for everything.

While general contractors, subs, and independent architects can, in the worst scenarios, blame each other for mishaps and toss the responsibility for correcting the mishaps back and forth, design/build firms know the buck stops with them. They have to make it right.

Carpenters

If your home improvement project really is as straightforward as installing a wall of built-in bookshelves in your living room, your best bet is probably to find a good carpenter or cabinetmaker.

People who bill themselves as handymen may be fine at installing new light switches or doing minor carpentry, but, as always, ask to see some of their work. If you want your new bookshelves to look like elegant additions to your living room, find an expert in cabinetry.

Related:

Source: zillow.com

The Best State Capitals to Call Home

Capital idea!

A lot happens in a state’s capital city. It’s where the local government governs, but these centers of activity are usually so much more. Most are cities full of opportunity and infrastructure that make an effort to honor local history and culture.

Highlighting the best state capitals in America

Should you shoot for a capital city when thinking about making a move? Maybe. Especially if you’re interested in local politics or want to live in an area that’s guaranteed to have a lot to do, it’s probably worth taking a look.

There is a lot to consider when selecting the best state capitals where you should live, but we’re making the decision a little easier for you. From economic factors such as cost of living and median income to professional considerations like overall business counts and commuting time, we created a formula that looks at all 50 state capitals in the U.S. and measures in terms of overall livability.

We then scored each city to rank the capitals in every state from 1 to 50. Without further ado, we give you the best state capitals to live in our country.

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The 10 best state capitals in the U.S.

While all of the state capitals are the best in their own way, there are 10 that stand out from the pack. These cities are located all across the country — from the Midwest and the Rocky Mountains to the South and from New England all the way to Hawaii (let’s be honest, who wouldn’t love a tropical paradise?).

These state capitals really do have it all, so if you’re considering a move, think about one of these cities that cracked our top 10 list.

They’re truly some of the best state capitals to call home.

10. Honolulu, HI

honolulu hawaii

Long before Hawaii was part of the United States, Honolulu became its capital. In 1850, King Kamehameha III gave the city its status in honor of the previous King, Kamehameha I, who moved his court thereafter conquering Oahu in 1804. However, between the two kings, Russia, Britain and France all occupied the area, each at a different time.

The beauty of Honolulu back then, is still very present today, even among the modern buildings and resorts. That’s thanks to the world-famous Waikiki Beach and Leahi, the 760-foot tuft crater you’re able to climb.

Drawing in the majority of Oahu’s population, this scenic capital city has a business score of 9, which puts it toward the top. Residents also bring in a relatively high median income of $71,247. Top industries in the area include food service, healthcare and retail.

Living in Honolulu will cost you about $1,918 per month for a one-bedroom, which is a nice deal to call this laidback, diverse city home. Where else can you tour Pearl Harbor, walk on an extinct volcano, go surfing and grab an authentic poke meal all in a single day?

9. Des Moines, IA

des moines iowa

When Iowa first became a state, Des Moines wasn’t the capital. That happened 11 years later after over a decade of debate. Originally, the capital was Iowa City, but lawmakers believed the capital belonged in a more central location, which is why in 1857 it moved to Des Moines.

Calling Des Moines home today is a very budget-friendly choice. The city is one of the most affordable in the U.S. Rent averages at about $1,168 per month for a one-bedroom and the overall cost of living here is 12 percent below the national average.

Residents get a lot out of living in Des Moines. As one of the fastest-growing cities in the Midwest, it’s the food, the culture and the natural surroundings that draw in people.

For outdoor enthusiasts, there are over 4,000 acres of parkland and 81 miles of trails to explore. You’ll also find four colleges and universities within the city limits including Drake University and Grand View University.

Working in Des Moines means having the opportunity to dabble in a variety of industries including insurance, government, manufacturing, trade and healthcare. Just remember, if you’re relocating to the city, don’t pronounce the S’s in Des Moines.

8. Columbus, OH

columbus ohio

Named after that famous explorer, Columbus became the capital of Ohio in 1816. This was the third capital city in the state’s history, but thankfully it stuck. Before that, Ohio’s capitals were Zanesville and Chillicothe.

Today, Columbus is a diverse town with lots of fun waiting around every corner. A highly walkable and bikeable city, it’s easy to get around as you check off all the must-see items on your list. These should include trips to the German Village, the Botanical Gardens and the city’s array of cultural and historical museums. There are also plenty of trails and parkland to explore.

With a highly-developed economy, most locals find jobs in education, insurance, banking, fashion and more. The city ranks first in job growth in the Midwest as well. Seventeen Fortune 1000 companies call Columbus home thanks to the affordability of the city. Living here will cost you $1,201 per month for a one-bedroom apartment.

7. Boston, MA

boston massachusetts

With a long history as one of the oldest cities in the country, Boston earned its capital status way back in 1632. This was while Massachusetts was still a colony. Boston would have to wait over 100 years before it became the capital of a state.

History continues to come alive in this city, where you can easily walk from one end to the other in a single day. Along your trip, you can see Paul Revere’s house, tour the graveyard where Sam Adams and Mother Goose lie and revisit the site of the Boston Tea Party. Even the architecture speaks to the history of the city, with beautiful brownstones sitting beside each other on tree-lined streets.

Boston is a busy town with accessible public transportation on top of being easy to walk through. The city’s walk score of 89 puts it at the top of our list. It also means you’ll often see people on foot whether rain or shine. This includes tourists walking through Boston Common, commuters rushing to the office and even children on their way to school.

Although the cost of living here is almost 50 percent higher than the national average, Boston does have the highest median income, $71,834, of our top 10. This comes in handy since rent here is also on the higher side. Expect to pay an average of $3,461 per month to rent a one-bedroom.

5 (tied). Denver, CO

denver colorado

Denver found its way to Colorado’s capital city in 1867, while the state was still a territory. Colorado wouldn’t join the union until 1876, but Denver stuck since it was already where the governor lived and all the important government meetings took place.

The Mile High City has continued to grow and attract more residents since back then. With its proximity to picturesque, snow-capped mountains, and plenty of sunshine, Denver today is an outdoor lover’s dream. There are more than 200 parks within the city limits and 20,000 acres of parkland in the nearby mountains. The city even has its own herd of buffalo.

The largest city in Colorado, Denver serves as a central hub for industry and transportation. Primary businesses include telecommunications and biomedical technology in addition to tourism, mining and construction. It’s also worth mentioning the fast-growing cannabis industry (in the city and the entire state) too.

With plenty of culture and a lot of sports, living in Denver combines natural beauty with plenty of activity. There’s also thriving nightlife and amazing restaurants. To rent a one-bedroom apartment here will set you back about $1,928 per month, on average.

5 (tied). Boise, ID

boise idaho

Location is what made Boise the obvious choice for Idaho’s state capital. Sitting at the crossroads of the Oregon Trail and routes to the Boise Basin and Owyhee mines, it became the capital in 1864. Technically though, it wasn’t the state’s first choice, and the capital moved from Lewiston to Boise after only a year.

Boise is both urban and outdoorsy, with a comfortable cost of living, less than a percentage point below the national average. Renting a one-bedroom apartment here averages out to about $1,340 per month.

Opportunities abound here in technology, manufacturing, food production, energy and outdoor recreation, giving the city a business score of 9, a second-place rank.

Nicknamed The City of Trees, Boise takes a portion of the state’s 4.7 million acres of wilderness for its residents to use. On nice days, you’ll find people out biking, horseback riding, fishing and even skiing. There are plenty of hiking trails, boat docks and more.

Adding to the activities in Boise are the museums, theaters and energetic downtown area. It’s a city with a small-town feel that’s not lacking in any big city amenities.

4. Madison, WI

madison wisconsin

Wisconsin became a state in 1848, the same year Madison got named the capital. The debate over this selection lasted for two days, and even then it wasn’t a unanimous pick. It may seem silly to us now, but locals took their selection seriously. The final vote passed in a close call of 15 to 11.

Locals will tell you Madison is one of the happiest cities in the country — thanks to the weather. Situated between two lakes, Madison enjoys a constant breeze of fresh air. That’ll get you outside quick, but the miles of biking and hiking trails will keep you outdoors. In fact, Madison has the third-highest bike score at 75.

Downtown, you’ll find a centralized hub for both work and play. Primary industries in the city include manufacturing, government and agriculture. Nearly one-sixth of the state’s farms are within the Greater Madison area, and diversified farming is a primary contributor to the local economy. After a long workday, the same area offers up plenty of shopping, culture and restaurants.

Living here mixes the outdoors with urban amenities to fit any agenda. To rent a one-bedroom apartment, you’ll pay an average of $1,223 per month.

3. Cheyenne, WY

cheyenne wyoming

Wyoming set Cheyenne as the state capital in 1869. The city itself got its name from the Cheyenne Indians who lived in the area.

If you’re looking for a city with a solid cost of living and easy commute time, Cheyenne is for you. The cost of living is 8.2 percent below the national average and rent for a one-bedroom apartment averages out at $930 per month.

Getting to work is easy, too. The city has an average commute time of just under 16 minutes, putting it in third place.

Major industries here include light manufacturing, agriculture, military and government and tourism. Sitting in the southeast corner of the state, you’ll find the F.E. Warren Air Force Base here along with plenty of train-centric attractions. After all, Cheyenne is sometimes known as the Railroad Capital of the country.

Many who come to visit imagine a place full of rodeos and cowboys, but really Cheyenne is both a rugged and modern city.

2. Austin, TX

austin texas

A year after Texas’ annexation into the United States, Austin became its capital. Originally, the capital of the state was Houston, but in 1839 it moved to a city named Waterloo. In 1846, that city’s name got changed to Austin in honor of the “Father of Texas,” Stephen F. Austin.

There are plenty of good neighborhoods to call home within the modern city of Austin, many of which surround the University of Texas. Between the college, the rivers and the music and bar scene, there’s a lot to bring people to this state capital.

Austin received the highest business score on our list at 9.3. With the nickname, “Silicon Hills,” the city offers up a lot of opportunities in technology and innovation. You’ll find a lot of startups call Austin home as well. Even Apple is getting in on things, creating a campus in this Texas town.

A mild climate, and about 300 days of sunshine per year, make Austin a great place to have fun both inside and out. There’s also plenty of amazing Tex-Mex to chow down on when the craving for tacos hits.

Living here will set you back about $1,417 per month if renting a one-bedroom apartment but luckily it’s also an affordable city with the cost of living just a touch over the national average and a median income of over $71,500.

1. Salt Lake City, UT

salt lake city utah

Earning the distinction of state capital when Utah joined the union in 1896, Salt Lake City has long had a reputation of acceptance. The city itself was a popular choice for the capital because its ideals aligned with the country at the time — growth, expansion and religious freedoms.

Today, you’ll find Salt Lake City an active community with a lot of potential for professional growth. It earns near-top scores in its walkability, bikeability and business opportunity.

With an urban center invigorated by a buzzing tech scene, the downtown area is where you’ll find a lot of the action. From craft beer to theater, amazing dining to culture, Salt Lake City provides eclectic fun.

The outdoor recreation of the area is also worth mentioning. Living in Salt Lake City, you’re not only close to some incredible skiing, but also within reach of five national parks. The city itself also draws residents outdoors with a festive atmosphere you can walk through all year long.

Calling this part of Utah home means plenty to do and even more to see. It’s a perfect combination of natural beauty and urban design. Renting a one-bedroom apartment here means budgeting for about $1,233 on average, per month.

The best state capitals by rank

We’ve given you a taste of what some of our state capitals have to offer, but see how all 50 of them rank. Check out the complete chart below.

Methodology

To find the best state capitals in America, we used the following data points:

  • Median household income reported by the U.S. Census Bureau
  • Cost of living reported by the Council for Community and Economic Research
  • Average commute times reported by the U.S. Census Bureau
  • Walk Score
  • Bike Score
  • Overall business score determined by the number of variety of business listings in a particular city compared to other cities of similar size across the country

We ranked each city from 1 to 50 (with 1 being the best) in each of these six categories. We allowed ties in these rankings. Then, we added up the rankings for each of the six categories to determine a final score for each city. The cities with the lowest overall score were determined to be the best state capitals.

Rent prices are based on a one-year rolling weighted average from Apartment Guide and Rent.com’s multifamily rental property inventory of one-bedroom apartments as of April 2021. Our team uses a weighted average formula that more accurately represents price availability for each individual unit type and reduces the influence of seasonality on rent prices in specific markets.

The rent information included in this article is used for illustrative purposes only. The data contained herein do not constitute financial advice or a pricing guarantee for any apartment.

Source: rent.com

The Best Places to Live in Wisconsin in 2021

When people think of Wisconsin, they usually think of cheese, the Green Bay Packers or its largest city, Milwaukee.

The best places to live in Wisconsin are scattered throughout the state and include communities both big and small. After all, this Midwest state is home to 777 cities, each with its own strong community and unique personality.

So, whether you’re looking for an apartment while attending one of their excellent universities or colleges, making a move for a new job or looking for something new and different, there is a city and community waiting for you.

Here are 10 of the best places to live in Wisconsin.

Appleton, WI.

Photo source: Fox Cities Convention & Visitors Bureau / Facebook
  • Population: 73,637
  • Average age: 40.8
  • Median household income: $58,112
  • Average commute time: 22.3 minutes
  • Walk score: 41
  • Studio average rent: N/A
  • One-bedroom average rent: $918
  • Two-bedroom average rent: $1,281

Creative outdoor murals line the buildings, while cute boutiques, cozy coffee shops, and delicious food is found throughout historic downtown Appleton.

The city is among more than a dozen that make up the Fox Cities community and overlooks the Fox River.

It’s family-friendly and has a dense suburban feel with highly-rated schools. It’s also home to Lawrence University, a residential liberal arts college and conservatory of music.

Eau-Claire, WI, one of the best places to live in wisconsin

Photo source: Visit Eau-Claire / Facebook
  • Population: 67,250
  • Average age: 40
  • Median household income: $55,477
  • Average commute time: 20.9 minutes
  • Walk score: 47
  • Studio average rent: $608
  • One-bedroom average rent: $722
  • Two-bedroom average rent: $844

Whether it’s gathering with friends and neighbors to enjoy some of the many live music options throughout the city, including the Jazz Fest in the spring, followed by Country Fest, Rock Fest and Blue Ox Music Festival in the summer, or taking in some local art or walking along the historic bridges, Eau Claire is known for its welcoming vibe.

It’s especially welcoming to independent artists who create art installations, building murals and more.

According to a study released by Smart Asset, Eau Claire is also the third most livable small city in the country.

Fond-Du-Lac, WI.

  • Population: 43,145
  • Average age: 42.8
  • Median household income: $52,724
  • Average commute time: 22.4 minutes
  • Walk score: 49
  • Studio average rent: n/a
  • One-bedroom average rent: $822
  • Two-bedroom average rent: $895

Fond du Lac is a family-friendly community with a strong sense of history. The Fond du Lac County Historical Society connects residents to the local history of the town.

The public library and several sporting centers offer programming year-round and there is no shortage of restaurants and bars to enjoy dining and imbibing.

Green Bay, WI, one of the best places to live in wisconsin

  • Population: 104,984
  • Average age: 39.8
  • Median household income: $49,251
  • Average commute time: 22.8 minutes
  • Walk score: 45
  • Studio average rent: $955
  • One-bedroom average rent: $1,152
  • Two-bedroom average rent: $1,252

Most people know Green Bay for its football team (Fun fact: the Green Bay Packers football team is the only NFL team owned by its fans) but there is more than football in this northeastern part of Wisconsin and at the mouth of the Fox River.

While it can get cold during the winter months, Green Bay residents love spending time outdoors whenever possible. Easy access to the Fox River also means water-based activities such as fishing.

As the state’s oldest settlement, it’s also known for its family and business-friendly community.

Kenosha, WI.

  • Population: 98,545
  • Average age: 40.5
  • Median household income: $55,417
  • Average commute time: 29.2 minutes
  • Walk score: 51
  • Studio average rent: $1,254
  • One-bedroom average rent: $1,344
  • Two-bedroom average rent: $1,581

Located on the southwestern shore of Lake Michigan and at the northern border of Illinois, Kenosha is sometimes called a bedroom community between Chicago and Milwaukee.

Outdoor activities are popular, whether it’s water-based activities on Lake Michigan or playing a round of golf at one of the Kenosha County golf courses.

Kenosha is also home to Carthage College and the University of Wisconsin-Parkside.

La Crosse, WI, one of the best places to live in wisconsin

  • Population: 51,965
  • Average age: 39.1
  • Median household income: $45,233
  • Average commute time: 19.2 minutes
  • Walk score: 60
  • Studio average rent: $773
  • One-bedroom average rent: $1,100
  • Two-bedroom average rent: $1,245

Nestled along the Mississippi River, La Crosse is the largest city on Wisconsin’s western border. It’s home to a few colleges, including the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, Western Technical College and Viterbo University.

La Crosse has charming historic homes that have since been converted into bed and breakfasts, such as the Castle La Crosse Bed and Breakfast, while the Dahl Auto Museum pays tribute to the eight oldest Ford dealership under continuous family ownership in the nation.

Nature lovers can enjoy scenic views from 600-foot-high Grandad Bluff which overlooks the city of La Crosse.

Madison, WI.

  • Population: 249,409
  • Average age: 39
  • Median household income: $65,332
  • Average commute time: 23.7 minutes
  • Walk score: 64
  • Studio average rent: $969
  • One-bedroom average rent: $1,350
  • Two-bedroom average rent: $1,935

Madison is the home of Wisconsin’s state capital as well as the University of Wisconsin-Madison. It’s also one of the best cities for millennials.

The second-largest city in the state, Madison is a progressive urban city that is both affordable and offers great employment opportunities.

Outdoor lovers will appreciate the hiking and biking trails and the walkable downtown has bookshops, coffee shops and restaurants around every corner.

Milwaukee, WI, one of the best places to live in wisconsin

  • Population: 599,058
  • Average age: 37.8
  • Median household income: $41,838
  • Average commute time: 27.5 minutes
  • Walk score: 70
  • Studio average rent: $1,276
  • One-bedroom average rent: $1,428
  • Two-bedroom average rent: $1,803

Milwaukee is Wisconsin’s largest and most populated city, with almost 600,000 residents calling it home.

Located in the southern part of the state and along Lake Michigan, it’s known for its many cultural offerings, from the architecturally significant Milwaukee Art Museum to the Milwaukee Repertory Theater to its wildly popular annual Summerfest, one of the largest music festivals in the world.

It’s also home to the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Marquette University campus as well as two major professional sports teams: the Milwaukee Bucks and the Milwaukee Brewers. Several Fortune 500 companies have headquarters here too, including WEC Energy Group, Northwestern Mutual and Harley-Davidson.

Wauwatosa, WI.

Photo source: Discover Wauwatosa / Facebook
  • Population: 47,772
  • Average age: 43.9
  • Median household income: $82,392
  • Average commute time: 24.6 minutes
  • Walk score: 57
  • Studio average rent: $1,221
  • One-bedroom average rent: $1,504
  • Two-bedroom average rent: $1,962

Wauwatosa, sometimes called Tosa by locals, is just 15 minutes west of downtown Milwaukee. Residents love the small-town feel and having easy access to independently-owned shops and restaurants.

A major employer is the Milwaukee Regional Medical Center and Wauwatosa is home to several colleges and universities.

Tosa Village, originally called Hart’s Mill in the 1800s, is a popular destination for locals and visitors alike as the thriving historic district includes parks, cultural attractions, restaurants, and bars.

Architecture fans will appreciate a trip to Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church, designed by architect Frank Lloyd Wright in 1956 and completed in 1961. The church is on the National Register of Historic Places and among Wright’s last works and completed after his death.

Waukesha, WI, one of the best places to live in wisconsin

  • Population: 71,536
  • Average age: 41.3
  • Median household income: $65,260
  • Average commute time: 26.7 minutes
  • Walk score: 33
  • Studio average rent: $898
  • One-bedroom average rent: $1,012
  • Two-bedroom average rent: $1,299

Waukesha is a city of neighborhoods, filled with strong schools, great shops, and an abundance of green spaces to play.

An active farmers market during the summer takes place in downtown Waukesha, where families and friends meet up.

It’s ideal for those who want a suburban environment with access to urban amenities and residents include families as well as young professionals.

The city is also conveniently located close to Milwaukee, just 18 miles west of the largest city in Wisconsin, and 59 miles east of Madison, making it easy to get to either place.

Experience the best cities in Wisconsin

Wisconsin checks off a lot of checkmarks when it comes to living in a vibrant Midwest state with great attractions, schools, outdoor and recreational activities.

Whether you’re looking for a slower pace of life or the energy of a busy city, there is a Wisconsin community ready to welcome you. We hope this list of best places to live in Wisconsin helps you choose your next home.

Rent prices are based on a rolling weighted average from Apartment Guide and Rent.com’s multifamily rental property inventory of one-bedroom apartments in March 2021. Our team uses a weighted average formula that more accurately represents price availability for each individual unit type and reduces the influence of seasonality on rent prices in specific markets.
Other demographic data comes from the U.S. Census Bureau.
The rent information included in this article is used for illustrative purposes only. The data contained herein do not constitute financial advice or a pricing guarantee for any apartment.

Source: rent.com

Understand the Type of Homeowners Insurance You Need

Home is where the heart is. Often, it is also where the heartache is when disaster strikes. Long before something goes wrong, you need to ask “How much homeowners insurance do I need?”

Homeowners insurance protects your home and possessions against a variety of perils including damage or theft, and also natural disasters such as flood, hurricanes, fires and earthquakes.

“Homeowner’s coverage provides financial protection, that’s really what it’s all about,” said Mark Friedlander, director of corporate communications at Insurance Information Institute in New York.

Mortgage companies require a certain amount of coverage, but unlike car insurance, there aren’t any state mandates requiring people to have it.

“If you don’t have a mortgage, you are not obligated to buy homeowners coverage and we think that’s a critical error that people make because unless you have a lot of money set aside, you’re going to have financial hit and you’re not going to be protected,” Friedlander explained.

Even if you do the minimum to satisfy your mortgage company, it often isn’t enough. Friedlander said most people make the mistake of not having enough insurance to adequately protect themselves and their families.

So how much homeowners insurance do you need?

Home Insurance Basics

If you’re doing the smart thing and asking yourself, how much homeowners insurance do I need, it’s best if you understand some of the basics of the policies.

Policies generally cover:

  • Damage to the interior or exterior of your house from a covered disaster. The types of disasters are listed in the policy. Usually if the specific event is not listed, it is probably not covered.
  • Contents of your home if damaged or destroyed in a covered event or if they are stolen.
  • Personal liability for damage or injuries caused by you, a family member, or pet.
  • Housing and other expenses while your home is repaired or rebuilt after a covered event.

Within each policy, there are basically three levels of coverage. This becomes important after a covered event when you begin to repair or rebuild.

  • Actual Cash Value: This covers the house (structure) plus the value of belongings inside with a deduction for depreciation. You will get paid for what the items are currently worth, not necessarily what you paid for them. This is the least expensive coverage.
  • Replacement Cost: This covers the house plus the value of belongings without depreciation. This coverage would allow you to rebuild or repair up to the original value of the home and policy coverage limits.
  • Guaranteed or Extended Replacement Value/Cost: This is the most expensive but most comprehensive of coverages and provides the best financial protection for you. It covers the cost to repair or rebuild even if more than the policy limit, usually with a ceiling of 20 to 25%. In addition to this, many policies have additional coverage you can buy that will cover the cost to comply with current building codes that may not have been around when the house was initially built.

“A lot of times, actual cash value policies are for homes that don’t qualify for replacement cost policies. They are not in as good of shape or have an older roof or something like that,” said Craig Peterson, an agency owner for American Family Insurance in Overland Park, Kansas. He usually recommends no less than replacement cost policies to his clients.

As important as it is to know what types of coverage you have and what situations are covered, it is as important to know what is not covered at all or may be covered with additional restrictions or different deductibles.

Different policies cover different perils for different types of structures like a condo, renter’s policy, etc. The policies have designinations from HO-0 to HO-8.

There are also differences when it comes to paying things like additional living expenses, hotels, meals, etc., if your home is uninhabitable.

For more information about the basics of home insurance polices and what they cover, What Home Insurance Actually Covers (and Where You’re on Your Own) can answer many of your questions.

How Much Homeowners Insurance Do I Need?

So how much home insurance coverage do you need to buy? There are many factors to consider.

Basically, you need to look at what your house would cost to rebuild, the likelihood of certain types of disasters in your area, the value of your possessions and your liability exposure.

“You are preparing for the worst case scenario, not for a minor claim. You need to be prepared for a catastrophic loss,” Friedlander said. “That’s possible whether it’s hurricanes, tornadoes, wildfires. In virtually any part of the country you are living somewhere where you could sustain a catastrophic loss and lose your entire home.”

A village is flooded from a hurricane in this aerial photo.
Getty Images

Rebuilding Cost

After a disaster, you want to make sure you can cover the costs of repairs or rebuilding.

The cost to rebuild your house is not the same as your home’s market value. In most cases, the land your house sits on will still be there after a catastrophe, so you do not need to insure that value.

“What we typically see is a majority of homeowners are underinsured,” Friedlander said. “Unfortunately, many of the homeowners purchase insurance protection to satisfy their mortgage lender but they confuse the real estate value of their home with what it would cost to rebuild it.”

So don’t focus on what you paid for the house, it’s market value, how much you owe on your mortgage or the property tax assessment.

“Most companies use a replacement cost calculator where we plug in the square footage, bedrooms, bathrooms, all the features we can about the house,” Peterson explained. “It gives us a valuation based on the cost to rebuild and we base the coverage on that.”

Consider what type of coverage you want (actual cost, replacement cost, or guaranteed replacement cost) when you are shopping for policies.

Friedlander said actual cash value saves some money on premiums, but warns you will get less in the event of a major loss. Replacement cost coverage is about 10% more in premiums but you will get about 30 to 50% more when you file a claim.

Peterson said it is important to make sure when you’re shopping for insurance that unique things that happen in your area are covered. Depending where you live, you  might need additional coverage for earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, wildfires, sinkholes, etc., that are not generally part of coverage.

Value of Possessions

To know how much coverage you need, you need to know what you own. Placing a value on your possessions is important.

“The important thing is to do a home inventory and kind of assess what your valuables are and determine what the value of everything is so that you’re at the right level of protection.” Friedlander said.

Go room by room and consider taking photos or videos. Make sure to include things like:

  • Kitchenware
  • Furniture
  • Clothing
  • Electronics
  • Expensive valuables
  • Camping and sports equipment

You do not need to include your cars in this property inventory because vehicles are not covered by homeowners policies even if they are parked in the garage.

“Most of the time the personal property coverage is a straight percentage of the dwelling coverage, typically, 70 to 75%,” Peterson said, adding that is usually enough to cover contents.

On most policies, there is often a limit on pricier items like jewelry, art, furs, silver, or electronics. So if a fire destroys your house and you lose $10,000 worth of jewelry, your policy might only cover $1,000 of that.

To make sure all of your items are covered, Peterson recommended a separate personal articles policy to protect those pricey items.

Liability Coverage

The liability section of your homeowners policy covers bodily injury or damage that policyholders or their family members (including pets) cause to others.

If your dog bites your neighbor and sues you for medical care, this part of policy could cover you. If your child throws a ball and it accidentally breaks the neighbor’s window, this part of the policy could cover you. If your friend falls at your house on a chipped floor and sues you, this part of the policy could cover you.

Liability coverage will also pay for the cost of defending yourself in court and any court awards up to the limit of the policy.

“The risk of not having enough liability coverage is that you’re going to be on the hook for anything beyond your coverage,” Peterson warned.

He said dog bites are his most common liability claims and he sees people all the time who do not believe they need it because they think nobody would ever sue them.

“We find that a lot with insurance. People don’t want to pay for things until they have a problem and then they wish they had. People are nice until something happens.”

The Insurance Information Institute recommends at least $300,000 in coverage but many policies only include $100,000. The more assets you have, the more coverage you need.

If you have more in assets than you have liability coverage for in your homeowners policy, you might consider an umbrella policy which extends your coverage to an amount you decide.

To determine how much liability coverage you need, add up the value of your assets, including your home. Make sure to include the following assets when figuring liability:

  • Vehicles
  • Investments
  • Future wages
  • Personal belongings
  • Money in bank accounts
  • Real estate besides primary residence

Peterson said if you have something that could pose a risk to others like a pool or trampoline on your property, you need to be especially aware of the amount of liability coverage you have.

You don’t need to figure out everything alone. A good insurance agent should be able guide you through the process of answering the question of how much homeowners insurance do I need.

“We always recommend meeting with your insurance professional once a year. We call it an insurance checkup,” Friedlander said. “Review all your coverages and make sure you are protected.”

Not having enough coverage can be a big mistake.

“People think that things can never happen to them and then they wish after the fact that they had taken a little more time and maybe gone for some of the coverages that they decided not to take,” Peterson said. “The biggest mistake people make is they try to save money on their policy iInstead of making sure that they’re covered properly.”

Tiffani Sherman is a Florida-based freelance reporter with more than 25 years of experience writing about finance, health, travel and other topics.

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Source: thepennyhoarder.com

FreeWill Review: Pros & Cons

FreeWill Review: Pros & Cons – SmartAsset

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your financial details.

FreeWill is an online estate planning tool that allows you to create or update a legally binding will in as little as 20 minutes. It offers products such as the ability to document funeral wishes, create a durable financial power of attorney, advance healthcare directives (living wills) and give charitable contributions from your retirement or stock brokerage account. As the company’s name implies, FreeWill’s services are completely free. Funding comes from FreeWill’s partnership with more than 100 nonprofit organizations who sponsor these services. You can access the service online, giving users the ability to change or download their will at any time without needing to create a new one.

If you’d rather have a professional personally help you with your entire estate plan, consider working with a local financial advisor.

FreeWill Overview
Pros
  • Fairly robust service for free
  • Online access – Once you create you can update at any time
Cons
  • No live support
  • Relatively smaller range of products
Best For
  • Cost (free)
  • Charitable giving

FreeWill: Services & Features

For a completely no-cost service, FreeWill’s offerings are fairly robust.

First, it can cover an individual’s most important needs for a last will and testament. The website offers a questionnaire via an easy-to-use interface, asking basic information as well as other pertinent details such as current income, family information and whether users have any children or pets that they’d like to cover in their will.

For users who need to create an advance healthcare directive (also known as a living will), filling out the form will involve answering questions about some personal information, selecting a preferred physician and hospital for end-of-life care as well as selecting an agent or healthcare proxy. Then users can share what they need to about the values they wish to be upheld and other specific instructions, before finalizing with signatures and any further instructions specific to their state.

For a durable financial power of attorney, individuals will need to provide some personal information and also select an agent or agents to make financial decisions for them if they become unable to do so. Then users can choose the powers that any agent(s) will be allowed to exercise, list any specific limitations and provide other important details (i.e. compensation, monitors, guardians, revocation and how documents will be executed).

Additionally, in keeping with its commitment to charitable giving, FreeWill offers individuals ways to give a charitable contribution from a retirement account or a stock brokerage account.

FreeWill: Pricing

FreeWill’s Fee Structure
Membership Tiers
  • $0 / Free for individuals
Extra Features

FreeWill’s pricing model is straightforward, as it is free to use for individuals. As an individual user, you can draft your will, durable financial power of attorney or advanced healthcare directive via the website.

Funding comes from FreeWill’s partnership with more than 100 nonprofit organizations who sponsor these services. Nonprofit organizations can learn more about a range of tools that FreeWill offers – like a Bequest Tool, a Qualified Charitable Distributions (QCD Tool) and a Stock Gifts Tool – in order to make gifts easier for both supporters to give and organizations to receive.

FreeWill: User Support

FreeWill’s website offers a streamlined design that’s fairly easy to use. For a last will and testament, its questionnaire form is divided into parts and users can track their progress so that they know how many sections remain to fill out. For services such as advance healthcare directives and durable financial power of attorney, the site outlines the form sections and the information you’ll need to gather before you begin.

If you’re looking for immediate support from customer support representatives, FreeWill unfortunately does not provide this kind of a feature. It does, however, have a contact page as well as a help center page where users can find the answers to some frequently asked questions addressing troubleshooting and technical issues.

Thanks to insight from experts around the country, FreeWill makes sure that a user’s will complies with each state’s specific legal requirements. Of course, FreeWill makes it clear that it is not a law firm and therefore cannot provide legal advice. If you need to enlist the services of a professional attorney or even a professional financial advisor, you should do so separately.

FreeWill: Online Experience

FreeWill does not have any further mobile or online platforms available through its service, as all the final documents will be available to users once they finalize the questionnaire process on the site. There is no app or other software that a user would need to download. Given the company’s no-cost pricing model, this is probably to be expected.

How Does FreeWill Stack Up?

Comparing FreeWill to Other Services
Service Pricing Features Accessibility
FreeWill
  • $0 / Free for individuals
  • Last will & testament, durable financial power of attorney, advance healthcare directive, charitable contributions
  • No legal services or support
TotalLegal
  • $14.95 – $19.95 for legal documents
  • TotalLegal Plan subscription $89/year or $9.95/month
  • Create documents
  • With subscription: Legal services from attorneys
  • With subscription: Document storage vault service
Tomorrow app
  • Mobile app free for families
  • Free for employees covered by employers who buy Tomorrow Plus plans
  • $39.99/year for Tomorrow Plus plan not through employer
  • Mobile creation of estate planning documents, such as will, trust, healthcare directive, power of attorney
  • App allows users to connect with family members and make decisions together
  • No legal services or support
  • Mobile app

The biggest differences FreeWill has over competitors is its emphasis on charitable giving and its free services as a result of that.

Bottom Line

Overall, FreeWill is an easy-to-use website that helps those who are looking to have an official last will and testament the ability to create a simple one using their online forms. The service – including certain other end-of-life planning forms such as a durable financial power of attorney or a living will – is free to use for individuals, with an emphasis on charitable giving driving the company’s ethos and business model. While 24-hour support or live customer representative or legal support is not available with free will, its website allows users to create an account, begin and have their specific forms in just minutes – and also allows them to log in, update and download forms again at any time.

Estate Planning Tips

  • If you’re seeking more detailed advice instead of or in addition to your own estate planning steps, consider reaching out to a financial professional. Finding a financial advisor doesn’t have to be hard. SmartAsset’s free tool connects you with financial advisors in your area in five minutes. If you’re ready to be matched with local advisors, get started now.
  • Estate planning is all about looking ahead and mapping out your plan as best as possible. If you’re going the DIY route, make sure you’re aware of the possible financial consequences. Read more about the dangers of DIY estate planning and five estate planning mistakes you can’t afford to make.

Photo credit: FreeWill

Nadia Ahmad, CEPF® Nadia Ahmad is a Certified Educator in Personal Finance (CEPF®) and a member of the Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing (SABEW). Her interest in taxes and grammar makes writing about personal finance a perfect fit! Nadia has spent ten years working as a seasonal income tax assistant, researching federal, state and local tax code and assisting in preparing tax returns. Nadia has a degree in English and American Literature from New York University and has served as an instructor/facilitator for a variety of writing workshops in the NYC area.
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Source: smartasset.com

Best Neighborhoods to Move to in Nashville | ApartmentSearch

High-rise building in Nashville's city.Are you thinking about making Music City your new home? With its vibrant downtown, ample outdoor space, delicious southern food, and country music galore — there’s so much to love! Whether you’re a young family on the move or a mobile, dog-loving professional, these cool neighborhoods in Nashville have a little something to offer everyone. Learn the best suburbs of Nashville and which one is right for you with this handy neighborhood guide.

The Gulch

The Gulch is the fastest-growing neighborhood in Nashville, and for good reason. Packed with restaurants, shops, bars, fitness studios, and some of Nashville’s trendiest apartments, this area attracts young professionals who enjoy being center of the action.

Nashville is also one of the best U.S. cities for dating — making this small neighborhood a prime location for singles. The Gulch is the perfect home for anyone with the “work hard, play hard” mentality. So, you’ll have tons of unique things to do and fun, young people to do them with!

12 South

This neighborhood spans half a mile along 12th Avenue South – hence 12 South. And it has become one of the most desirable places to live for young, remote-work professionals and families alike.

12 South is a highly walkable neighborhood, so you’ll find no shortage of hot eateries (like Burger Up and Urban Grub), coffee shops (like Frothy Monkey), and stylish clothing stores (like Reese Witherspoon’s own Draper James!). 12 South attracts Nashville natives and excited transplants alike, and it’s an excellent option for someone who always wants something to do or see.

East Nashville

While East Nashville isn’t as walkable as many of the other neighborhoods on this list, it has plenty of perks that make up for it. A hub for musicians and various creative types, East Nashville residents enjoy the neighborhood’s laidback, inclusive vibe and ample green space.

While some may describe East Nashville as “the hipster neighborhood,” it’s home to a diverse mix of creatives, young families, and professionals. You’ll find everything from rental houses to apartment buildings in this lively, on-trend neighborhood. But it’s likely a better option for those with their own vehicle.

The Nations

The Nations is one of the more affordable neighborhoods on this list – though, with how many people move to Nashville a day, it may not stay that way for long. This area was largely industrial only a few short years ago but is now exploding with restaurants, breweries, retail establishments, and residential developments.

Located around the central district of 51st Avenue and about 10 minutes from the heart of downtown, the Nations is an up-and-coming neighborhood that’s attracting a mostly younger crowd. This is a great place to look if you’re on a tighter budget and want all the amenities of a vibrant city. This hotspot will be on everyone’s list of cool neighborhoods in Nashville before long!

Germantown

Chock full of gorgeous, historic townhouses and tree-lined streets, Germantown has become known for its culinary scene. Boasting several critically acclaimed eateries, like Rolf and Daughters, City House, and Henrietta Red, residents of this beloved neighborhood will never go hungry.

Thanks to its location, only a few blocks from downtown Nashville, Germantown has prime access to the sports arenas, music venues, and other attractions in the city’s hub. This neighborhood manages to feel slower-paced and quieter than many other options and has a little something for everyone.

Sylvan Park

A young family looking to settle down should take a good look at Sylvan Park. Known by locals to be safe, quiet, and one of the best neighborhoods in Nashville to live, historic Sylvan Park is full of people who genuinely love their little community.

A quaint, walkable area, Sylvan Park boasts plenty of beloved, locally-owned restaurants, boutiques, and easy access to McCabe Park. Whether you’re raising little ones in Music City or simply enjoy a more residential feel, Sylvan Park is a growing neighborhood you shouldn’t overlook.

Make Your Move to Nashville with Apartment Search

Is there a Nashville neighborhood calling your name? Now that you’ve got an area picked out, explore available apartments on ApartmentSearch! Narrow your search by apartment size, rent amount, amenities, and more. Nashville can’t wait to have you home!

Source: blog.apartmentsearch.com

Are the Low Mortgage Rates a Home Buyer Trap?

Despite a slight uptick this week, mortgage rates are still pretty much rock bottom, and unarguably at ridiculously low levels.

This has sparked yet another refinance boom, with mortgage application volume rising to its highest point since May 2009, per the latest data dump from the Mortgage Bankers Association.

This is great news for existing homeowners with plenty of home equity looking to refinance to a lower rate. It’s also working out nicely for those who don’t have equity thanks to programs like HARP 2.0.

All in all, it’s a gift to these borrowers who are experiencing some serious monthly mortgage payment relief.

But what about new and prospective home buyers?

Are People Buying Because of the Low Rates?

With rates this low, you have to wonder if it’s all a big trap (whether intentional or not) to lure would-be buyers off the sidelines and into the game.

If you’ve followed the housing market lately, at least in certain regions of the country, such as Los Angeles, homes are speeding into pending status just days after being listed.

In fact, many are pending just one or two days after being listed. It’s looking like a serious seller’s market, though obviously a very unconventional one.

The low rates have increased affordability so much that a new pool of buyers has essentially been created, which has facilitated both standard and short sales.

Again, great news for those who have waited very patiently to sell their homes; many can finally do so!

And perhaps even better for the housing/mortgage market, with seemingly bad loans being replaced with better ones.

Heck, I’m even seeing a ton of flips that are actually selling for a tidy profit. I thought flips were dead?

Reminder of the Homebuyer Tax Credit

But it all seems reminiscent of the boost seen with the now infamous homebuyer tax credit.

That “free money” created a short-lived, yet steep run-up in home prices as first-time home buyers came out in droves.

Just a short time later, it became clear that those who purchased a home did so at a premium, and their tax credit was quickly eclipsed by a larger loss in home value.

If you take a look at this home price chart, you’ll see how the homebuyer tax credit stoked demand, but its effect was clearly fleeting.

In fact, those who purchased before the tax credit expiration were actually worse off compared to those who bought later on.

To bring it all together, home prices were pumped up as a result, similar to what we may be seeing with the record low mortgage rates.

With rates so low, homeowners and their clever real estate agents probably feel they can list their homes for more than they could have six months ago.

And the whole “it’s never been a better time to buy” adage is back.

Economy Still in Disarray

The big problem is that the economy is still a huge mess, with the European crisis hanging over our heads, and domestic unemployment still far from unresolved.

Then there are the millions of homes in the process of foreclosure, or knocking at its door.

So is this artificial stimulus actually going to help the real estate market long-term, or is it just another quick fix with no staying power?

My gut tells me that this recent run-up in prices and virtual 180 in consumer sentiment is bad news.

Getting into a bidding war over a house just months after no one was interested seems really fishy.

Additionally, all these calls of a “housing bottom” are concerning as well. You always have to wonder when every single media outlet (including your local news channel) is claiming that the worst is behind us.

Of course, the low rates have led to lower mortgage payments, even with the recent home price increases factored in.

So there’s some serious power behind those rates. The question is will you be able to buy a home next year at an even better price with a similar (or even lower) interest rate?

Read more: Home prices vs. mortgage rates.

About the Author: Colin Robertson

Before creating this blog, Colin worked as an account executive for a wholesale mortgage lender in Los Angeles. He has been writing passionately about mortgages for 15 years.

Source: thetruthaboutmortgage.com

Stock Analyst Accuracy – Why Ratings Can Be Wrong & When to Listen

The stock market is a complex machine made up of intricate technologies, financial experts, and investors.

Some of the most highly-regarded experts on Wall Street are the research analysts who spend their days looking into opportunities in the stock market. These analysts make their money by sharing their opinions about what they believe will happen in the future.

Knowing that successful investing is born in research, many beginner investors make the decision to blindly follow the opinions of analysts rather than doing their own research when making investment decisions.

This is a very dangerous activity. Here’s why.

What Do Stock Market Research Analysts Do?

Research analysts — also called investment analysts, securities analysts, equity analysts, sell-side analysts, or financial analysts — are financial professionals charged with analyzing the financial stability and potential for growth of publicly traded companies.

Research analysts look into company metrics like historic revenue growth and earnings growth. They also dive into market conditions.

For example, if the company being analyzed is in the computer gaming industry, the analyst researches how large that industry is, how fast it’s growing, and what percentage of the industry the company has tapped into.

Once their research is complete, research analysts make predictions, including:

  • Earnings Per Share (EPS). Stock market analysts will attempt to predict the earnings per share (EPS) that companies they follow will produce. EPS divides the total net income generated in any given period by the number of shares of the company in existence.
  • Revenue. Research analysts also take a stab at predicting how much revenue the company will generate over the next year. Investors pay close attention to revenue because when revenue grows, it shows that sales are increasing, helps to increase profit margins, and ultimately leads to increased profitability for the company.
  • Share Price. Finally, research analysts make an attempt to predict what the price of the stock will become over the next year. This statistic is known as the price target.

Stock market analysts also make recommendations and providing ratings, generally including:

  • Buy. A buy rating, sometimes called an Outperform or Overweight rating, insinuates that buying the stock at the current share price is a good deal. This rating means the analyst believes that the stock has the potential to produce gains that outperform the overall stock market’s returns in the next 12 months.
  • Hold. A hold rating, sometimes called a Market Perform or Equal Weight rating, suggests the stock is likely to perform in line with the overall stock market. Analysts don’t believe that you’re going to earn returns any larger than the average across the market but believe that growth is still likely ahead.
  • Sell. The sell rating, also called the Underperform or Underweight rating, is a recommendation that investors avoid the stock if they don’t already own it and sell it if they do. This rating means that the analyst believes the stock’s performance will lag compared to the stock market as a whole, and purchasing of the stock could lead to losses.

Why You Shouldn’t Blindly Follow the Opinions of Research Analysts

With predictions surrounding earnings per share, revenue, and share price, coupled with ratings from research analysts, many newcomers believe the research legwork has been done for them, deciding to dive into any stock analysts deem to be a strong investment opportunity.

After all, isn’t that the analysts’ job? Why put the time into researching something that the professionals have already analyzed?

There are plenty of reasons to research your own investment opportunities rather than blindly following analysts. While research analysts are highly paid experts that have a knack for making decisions in the stock market, their opinions often can’t be trusted as the basis for objective investing decisions, as you’ll see below.

1. A Vested Interest

Research analysts don’t make predictions on stocks for the pure joy of helping investors. They have to make their six-figure salaries somewhere. As a result, these analysts often work for:

  • Brokerages. Although regulatory authorities are supposed to keep sell-side analyst opinions as far away from brokerages as possible in order to maintain objectivity in the investing process, that doesn’t seem to be happening. Brokerages often make investment recommendations based on the research provided by their analysts. This often creates a bias, with analysts recommending stocks that are best for their employers rather than the investors their employers serve.
  • Mutual Funds, ETFs, and Index Funds. Analyst opinions have the ability to move the market. A positive opinion about a company can send a stock soaring while a negative opinion can cause sharp declines. Mutual funds and many exchange-traded funds (ETFs) employ research analysts, which gives the analyst a vested interest in forming an opinion about a stock that’s in the best interest of the fund’s portfolio, and not always an unbiased depiction of what to expect from the stock.
  • Hedge Funds. The Big Short Squeeze involving GameStop, AMC, and several other stocks outlined the battle between hedge funds and retail investors. However, some of the research analysts most trusted by retail investors happen to work for the hedge funds that bet against them. Again, the analysts’ employment at hedge funds creates a potential bias when making predictions about trending tickers.

The bottom line is that research analysts aren’t working for you. Who they work for can create biases that make their work unreliable at best; the average retail investor simply shouldn’t trust them.

2. Analysts Are Highly Inaccurate

You would think financial professionals who spend their lives analyzing opportunities in the stock market would be pretty good at what they do. You might be surprised to learn that the average stock market analyst isn’t nearly as accurate as you may think.

Here are the stats analysts don’t want you to know, courtesy of FactSet.com:

  • Historic Performance: The majority of publicly traded companies listed on the S&P 500 beat analyst expectations when reporting financial results, and this percentage is growing quickly.
  • EPS Surprise: In the fourth quarter of 2020, 81% of companies listed on the S&P 500 reported a positive EPS surprise, meaning that these companies beat analyst expectations. That’s a huge miss on a key valuation metric used by most investors.
  • Revenue: In the fourth quarter of 2020, 79% of companies listed on the S&P 500 beat analyst expectations in terms of revenue.

Those are staggering statistics that show the highly paid research analysts who are expected to be pretty accurate had up to an 81% failure rate. If your investment advisor admitted to being wrong 81% of the time, would you continue to pay them to manage your investment portfolio?

3. Misleading Predictions Artificially Inflate Success Rates

Unfortunately, Wall Street doesn’t gauge the success of Wall Street analysts based on the accuracy of their EPS, revenue, or share price predictions. Research analyst success is gauged solely on their ratings system. What percentage of buy-rated stocks grew, and what percentage of sell-rated stocks fell?

Analysts use this incomplete view to their advantage, artificially inflating their success rate.

For example, say an analyst has a buy rating on a stock and expects earnings per share will come in at $0.50 on revenue of $50 million for the quarter. They know that when companies beat analyst expectations, investors react in positive ways.

So the analyst may make a public prediction that the company will report earnings of $0.45 per share on $47 million in revenue. These publicly stated estimates leave room for error and then some.

When the company reports its financial results, it is more likely to beat expectations than it would be if the analyst had shared their true opinion.

Moreover, as a result of the beat expectations, the stock is more likely to climb, making the analyst’s buy rating more likely to be placed in the books as an accurate one.

4. Stock Price Predictions Are Only Good for One Year

Building wealth in the stock market is a long-term process. Most successful investors invest with a time horizon measured in decades.

However, research analysts only follow 12-month time frames. A stock with a great outlook in the short term may be a horrible long-term investment.

Moreover, short-term predictions in the stock market are exposed to the short-term volatility that’s become the norm, making them highly unreliable. After all, stock market analysts can’t predict major events that may cause short-term volatility.

One of the best examples of this is the COVID-19 pandemic.

An analyst may have seen great promise in a well-run and profitable travel company in May of 2019, with no sign that a pandemic was coming that would grind most travel to a halt. The analyst may have expected strong revenues and earnings over the next year, coupled with incredible share price growth.

By the end of the 12-month time frame, the analyst would have been way off. In May of 2020, travel stocks were having a horrible time. Almost nobody could expect a travel stock to have a great year when half the country is locked down.

Many of these stocks saw a strong recovery as 2020 came to a close and travel restrictions eased, but the research analyst’s view doesn’t go any farther than the 12-month mark.

So was the analyst right or wrong for liking the travel stock in May 2019? This example demonstrates why the short-term nature of analysts’ predictions makes them pretty unreliable.

5. Research Analysts Are More Likely to Rate a Stock a Buy Than a Sell

The vested interest research analysts often have in the stocks they cover clearly comes out when you look into the statistics of the ratings they provide.

According to FactSet, there were 11,147 analyst ratings on S&P 500 companies as of December 31, 2017. Here’s how the total universe of analyst ratings broke down:

  • Buy Ratings: 49.5%
  • Hold Ratings: 45.3%
  • Sell Ratings: 5.2%

Sure, it’s true that more publicly traded companies do well than fail. However, you’d be right to question whether 94.8% of stocks are worth buying or holding.

Moreover, it’s impossible for 49.5% of stocks to outperform the market, 45.3% of stocks to trade in line with market performance, and just 5.2% of stocks to underperform the market. The numbers just don’t add up.


Wall Street Analysts Have Their Place

Although it’s never a good idea to blindly follow anyone into an investment, including research analysts, these analysts do have their place. For all their shortcomings, here’s how research analysts can provide valuable insights to everyday retail investors:

1. As a Source of Validation for Your Own Research

Hopefully, by now, you know that you should do your own due diligence before you invest in a company. However, it’s nice to have some way to validate your research.

Analyst opinions are a great way to do that.

Sure, analyst predictions aren’t always accurate, but if you’ve done your own research and believe that a stock is going to rise in value, it’s a good idea to look into what percentage of analysts rate the stock a buy.

If the overwhelming opinion among analysts is a buy rating, chances are you’re on the right track with your research.

TipRanks is a free way to go about seeing how many analysts cover a stock and what their overall opinion on the stock is.

2. As a Clear Red Flag on Stocks In Trouble

Analysts generally have a bias when it comes to stocks they cover, and they tend to rate stocks in a positive way. As such, if the vast majority of analysts that cover a particular stock rate it a sell, that acts as a big red flag that something is wrong with the company.

Sure, you don’t want to blindly follow analysts into a fire, but you also shouldn’t ignore blatant warnings that a stock is likely to fall. If lots of analysts are heading for the exits, they might be smelling smoke.

3. As a Gauge of Popularity Among Investors

Analysts don’t tend to waste their time researching stocks that nobody’s interested in. Instead, they want their research to be read and their name to be seen.

As a result, you can use the number of analysts that cover a stock to gauge that stock’s popularity. After all, the more popular a stock is, the more liquid an investment in it becomes.

For example, consider the following:

  • Amazon.com (AMZN). Amazon.com has 31 analysts covering the stock, all of which rate it a Buy. This suggests that an investment in Amazon.com would be a highly liquid one — there are lots of buyers for it on the market — because the stock has garnered quite a bit of positive coverage.
  • Tesla (TSLA). 29 analysts are weighing in on Tesla stock, with seven Buy ratings, seven Sell ratings, and 15 hold ratings. Once again, the high level of analyst coverage suggests that an investment in Tesla would be highly liquid.
  • Gevo (GEVO). Gevo, on the other hand, has two analysts covering it, both of whom rate it a Buy. Although the ratings and opinions are positive, the lack of widespread analyst coverage suggests that the stock is less popular than Amazon.com or Tesla, and thus, less liquid. That means you may have a harder time finding a buyer to pay your asking price if you decide you want to sell your shares.

The simple fact is that it takes investors to move the stock market. If nobody’s buying or selling, prices aren’t going up or down.

As such, the popularity of a stock you’re considering investing in should play into your decision to invest.


Final Word

This article admittedly has been critical of stock market analysts. The fact is, professional analysts are human beings who make their best efforts to succeed in their careers, just like you. They’re not bad people, but their interests aren’t always aligned with yours.

Interests among two conflicting parties rarely align; that’s why nothing gets done in Congress. Nonetheless, each party plays an important role, with analysts and retail investors essentially representing separate parties in the case in the stock market.

The bottom line is that nobody is going to hold your best interest as highly as you will. As such, you shouldn’t trust anyone’s opinion more than your own when it comes to your money. Instead, do your own research and look to experts to validate your own educated opinions.

Source: moneycrashers.com

You May Have Missed the Housing Bottom, But Not the Mortgage Rate Bottom

Posted on May 15th, 2012

Over the past several months, it has become somewhat clear (insert gigantic grain of salt here) that home prices may have bottomed last year, at least in some areas of the country.

While it’s still too early to say so definitively, it looks like some homes were snatched up at rock-bottom prices a year ago.

These same homes are now valued quite a bit higher, and recent comparable sales are backing up the numbers.

Of course, some are also calling it a “mini bubble,” otherwise known as a fake recovery, spurred on in part by the record low mortgage rates.

But only time will tell…

[Tips for first-time home buyers.]

You Missed the Bottom

Perhaps you’re kicking yourself, thinking you could have purchased that same house for a lot less a year ago.

Yep, you were all set to time the bottom, and seemingly out of thin air, it came and went, and you were none the wiser.

How did that happen? You were watching home prices on a weekly basis, looking at recent sales, surveying market conditions. How could you have missed it?

Well, they always say that timing the market bottom is near impossible, partially because you only know it has actually hit bottom when it’s too late.

So did you mess up? Did you miss your chance to get the steal of the century? Not quite.

[Are mortgage rates negotiable?]

Have Mortgage Rates Bottomed?

For much of the first half of 2011, mortgage rates on the popular 30-year fixed stood around 4.75%.

While this may have seemed like the “bottom for mortgage rates,” they now sit around a percentage point lower, which most people would have never guessed in a million years.

That’s right; today you can snag a 30-year fixed for around 3.75%, which is pretty much unheard of.

And who knows, rates could fall even lower over time, though the more they drop, the less upside there is for lower rates.

You certainly shouldn’t bank on rates slipping any lower because then you’re falling into the same “timing the bottom” trap.

All that said, let’s do the math to see what the difference is using a real world scenario, assuming the home buyer is putting 20% down.

2011 Home price: $475,000
2011 Mortgage rate: 4.75%
2011 Mortgage payment: $1982.26
Total interest paid: $333,613.60

2012 Home price: $520,000
2012 Mortgage rate: 3.75%
2012 Mortgage payment: $1926.56
Total interest paid: $277,561.60

Wait just a minute here. Those who missed the housing bottom are actually ending up with a lower mortgage payment?

While not significantly lower, it’s still roughly $50 cheaper each month to buy the same house today, and results in $56,000 in interest savings throughout the life of the loan (yes, the down payment is slightly higher).

Who would have thought that? Turns out you didn’t necessarily miss out, assuming you are financing the deal via a mortgage, which most of us are.

Put simply, even though you may have missed the housing market bottom, whether by choice or accident, waiting may have actually paid off.

Read more: Home prices vs. mortgage rates.

About the Author: Colin Robertson

Before creating this blog, Colin worked as an account executive for a wholesale mortgage lender in Los Angeles. He has been writing passionately about mortgages for 15 years.

Source: thetruthaboutmortgage.com

7 Super Small-Cap Growth Stocks to Buy

Stocks with smaller market values are outperforming by a wide margin so far this year, and strategists and analysts alike say small caps should continue to lead the way as the economic recovery gains steam.

“The U.S. economy is currently trending toward high-single digit GDP growth in 2021 as COVID-19 vaccine distribution expands and we gradually emerge from the pandemic,” says Lule Demmissie, president of Ally Invest. “That environment favors small-cap names, which tend to have a more domestic focus than larger multinational firms.”

Small caps tend to outperform in the early parts of the economic cycle, so it should come as no surprise that they are clobbering stocks with larger market values these days.

Indeed, the small-cap benchmark Russell 2000 index is up 13.6% for the year-to-date through April 8, while the blue chip Dow Jones Industrial Average added just 9.5% over the same span.

Keep in mind that small-cap stocks come with heightened volatility and risk. It’s also important to note that it can be dangerous to chase performance. But small-cap growth stocks – particularly in this environment – can offer potentially much greater rewards. 

Given the increased interest in these securities, we decided to find some of analysts’ favorite small caps to buy. To do so, we screened the Russell 2000 for small caps with outsized growth prospects and analysts’ highest consensus recommendations, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence.

Here’s how the recommendation system works: S&P Global Market Intelligence surveys analysts’ stock recommendations and scores them on a five-point scale, where 1.0 equals a Strong Buy and 5.0 is a Strong Sell. Any score below 2.5 means that analysts, on average, rate the stock as being Buy-worthy. The closer a score gets to 1.0, the stronger the Buy recommendation.

We also limited ourselves to names with projected long-term growth (LTG) rates of at least 20%. That means analysts, on average, expect these companies to generate compound annual earnings per share (EPS) growth of 20% or more for the next three to five years. 

And lastly, we dug into research, fundamental factors and analysts’ estimates on the most promising small caps. 

That led us to this list of the 7 best small-cap growth stocks to buy now, by virtue of their high analyst ratings and bullish outlooks. Read on as we analyze what makes each one stand out.

Share prices are as of April 8. Companies are listed by strength of analysts’ consensus recommendation, from lowest to highest. Data courtesy of S&P Global Market Intelligence, unless otherwise noted.

1 of 7

Q2 Holdings

Digital banking technologyDigital banking technology
  • Market value: $5.7 billion
  • Long-term growth rate: 150.0%
  • Analysts’ consensus recommendation: 1.68 (Buy)

Q2 Holdings (QTWO, $103.06) provides cloud-based virtual banking services to regional and community financial institutions. The idea is to make it so that smaller firms – which are sometimes small caps themselves – can give account holders the same kind of top-flight online tools, services and experiences as the industry’s big boys.

To that end, Q2 recently announced the acquisition of ClickSWITCH, which focuses on customer acquisition and retention by making the process of switching digital accounts easier. Terms of the deal were not disclosed. 

Q2’s business model and execution has Wall Street drooling over the small cap’s growth prospects. Indeed, analysts expect the software company to generate compound annual earnings per share growth of 150% over the next three to five years, according to data from S&P Global Market Intelligence. 

“In the last year, the pandemic has accelerated the digital transformation efforts and investments of the financial services industry, and we believe Q2 Holdings is well positioned to support and grow its customer base,” writes Stifel equity research analyst Tom Roderick, who rates the stock at Buy. 

Of the 19 analysts covering Q2 tracked by S&P Global Market Intelligence, 10 call it a Strong Buy, five say Buy and four rate it at Hold. Their average target price of $152.25 gives QTWO implied upside of almost 50% over the next 12 months or so. Such high expected returns make it easy to understand why the Street sees QTWO as one of the best small-cap growth stocks.

2 of 7

BellRing Brands

A man drinking a protein shakeA man drinking a protein shake
  • Market value: $962.8 million
  • Long-term growth rate: 21.6%
  • Analysts’ consensus recommendation: 1.60 (Buy)

BellRing Brands (BRBR, $24.37), which sells protein shakes and other nutritional beverages, powders and supplements, is forecast to generate unusually healthy EPS growth over the next few years. 

Stifel equity research, which specializes in small caps, says BellRing offers a “compelling growth opportunity” thanks to its positioning in the large and fast-growing category known as “convenient nutrition.”

U.S. consumers are increasingly turning toward high-protein, low-carbohydrate foods and beverages for snacks and meal replacement, Stifel notes, and BellRing Brands, spun off from Post Holdings (POST) in late 2019, is in prime position to thrive from those changing consumer tastes. 

After all, the company’s portfolio includes such well-known brands as Premier Protein shakes and PowerBar nutrition bars. 

In another point favoring the bulls, BellRing’s “asset-light business model requires limited capital expenditures and generates very strong free cash flow,” notes Stifel analyst Christopher Growe, who rates the stock at Buy.

Most of the Street also puts BRBR in the small-caps-to-buy camp. Of the 15 analysts covering BRBR, eight call it a Strong Buy, five say Buy and two have it at Hold. Their average price target of $28.33 gives the stock implied upside of about 16% over the next year or so. 

With shares trading at just a bit more than 25 times estimated earnings for 2022, BRBR appears to offer a compelling valuation.

3 of 7

Rackspace Technology

Cloud technologyCloud technology
  • Market value: $5.3 billion
  • Long-term growth rate: 21.8%
  • Analysts’ consensus recommendation: 1.50 (Strong Buy)

Rackspace Technology (RXT, $25.61) partners with cloud services providers such as Google parent Alphabet (GOOGL), Amazon.com (AMZN) and Microsoft (MSFT) to manage its enterprise customers’ cloud-based services. 

And make no mistake, this sort of expertise is much in demand.

The pandemic accelerated many industries’ migration to cloud technology. As such, plenty of firms have discovered they need all the help they can get when it comes to transitioning and managing their operations – often with more than one cloud service provider.

“The prevalence of a multicloud approach has created integration and operational complexity that require expertise and resources most companies lack,”  writes William Blair analyst Jim Breen, who rates RXT at Outperform (the equivalent of Buy). “This creates an opportunity for a multicloud services partner to enable businesses to fully realize the benefits of cloud transformation.”

Breen adds that research firm IDC forecasts the managed cloud services market to grow 15% a year to more than $100 billion by 2024.

As the leading company in the field of multicloud services, bulls argue that Rackspace stands to benefit disproportionately from all this burgeoning demand. 

Speaking of bulls, of the 10 analysts covering the stock tracked by S&P Global Market Intelligence, five rate RXT at Strong Buy and five call it a Buy. The bottom line is that Rackspace easily makes the Street’s list of small-cap growth stocks to buy.

4 of 7

Chart Industries

Cryogenic technologyCryogenic technology
  • Market value: $5.3 billion
  • Long-term growth rate: 34.2%
  • Analysts’ consensus recommendation: 1.50 (Strong Buy)

Shares in Chart Industries (GTLS, $146.76), which manufactures cryogenic equipment for industrial gasses such as liquefied natural gas (LNG), are riding the global secular trend toward sustainable energy.

The market certainly likes GTLS’ commitment to greener energy. The small-cap stock is up more than 410% over the past 52 weeks – analysts expect a torrid pace of profit growth over the next few years to keep the gains coming. Indeed, the Street forecasts compound annual EPS growth of more than 34% over the next three to five years.

Analysts say the company’s unique portfolio of technologies gives it an edge in a growing industry. To that end, they applauded its $20 million acquisition of Sustainable Energy Solutions in December because it bolsters the company’s carbon capture capabilities.

“In the context of the decarbonization megatrend, Chart is a one-of-a-kind play on the global shift to more gas-centric economies,” writes Raymond James analyst Pavel Molchanov in a note to clients. “There is upside potential from large liquefied natural gas projects. Notwithstanding the lingering headwinds from the North American energy sector, we reiterate our Outperform [Buy] rating.”

Stifel, which chimes in with a Buy rating, says GTLS deserves a premium valuation given its outsized growth prospects. 

“With potentially a decade or more of high single-digit to low double-digit revenue growth, more recurring revenue, accelerating hydrogen opportunities, and the potential big LNG surprise bounces, we expect shares could trade north of 30 times normalized earnings,” writes analyst Benjamin Nolan.

The stock currently trades at nearly 30 times estimated earnings for 2022, per S&P Global Market Intelligence. Small caps to buy often sport lofty valuations, but with a projected long-term growth rate of more than 34%, one could argue GTLS is actually a bargain.

Raymond James and Stifel are very much in the majority on the Street, where 12 analysts rate GTLS at Strong Buy, four say Buy, one has it at Hold and one says Sell.

5 of 7

NeoGenomics

Lab equipmentLab equipment
  • Market value: $5.5 billion
  • Long-term growth rate: 43.0%
  • Analysts’ consensus recommendation: 1.33 (Strong Buy)

NeoGenomics (NEO, $47.87), an oncology testing and research laboratory, is still coming out from under the pressure of the pandemic, which led to the cancellation of legions of procedures.

But there’s been quite a lot of activity at the company, nevertheless, and analysts still see it as one of the better small-cap growth stocks to buy.

In February, the company said longtime Chairman and CEO Doug VanOort would step aside to become executive chairman in April. He was succeeded by Mark Mallon, former CEO of Ironwood Pharmaceuticals (IRWD). The following month, NeoGenomics announced a $65 million cash-and-stock deal for Trapelo Health, an IT firm focused on precision oncology. 

All the while, shares have been lagging in 2021, falling more than 11% for the year-to-date vs. a gain of 13.5% for the small-cap benchmark Russell 2000.

Although COVID-19 has been squeezing clinical volumes – and bad winter weather is always a concern – analysts by and large remain fans of this small cap’s industry position. 

“We continue to find the company’s leading market share in clinical oncology testing and expanding presence in pharma services for oncology-based clients to be a very attractive combination,” writes William Blair equity analyst Brian Weinstein, who rates NEO at Outperform. 

Of the 12 analysts covering NEO tracked by S&P Global Market Intelligence, nine call it a Strong Buy, two say Buy and one says Hold. With an average target price of $63.20, analysts give NEO implied upside of about 32% in the next year or so. That’s good enough to make almost any list of small caps to buy.

6 of 7

Lovesac

A Lovesac storeA Lovesac store
  • Market value: $917.3 million
  • Long-term growth rate: 32.5%
  • Analysts’ consensus recommendation: 1.14 (Strong Buy)

The Lovesac Co. (LOVE, $62.47) is a niche consumer discretionary company that designs “foam-filled furniture,” which mostly includes bean bag chairs. 

Although it operates about 90 showrooms at malls around the country, revenue – thankfully – is largely driven by online sales. That’s led to a boom in business as folks, stuck at home, shop online for ways to spruce up their living spaces.

Shares have followed, rising about 45% for the year-to-date and more than 1,000% over the past 52 weeks. And analysts expect even more upside ahead, driven by a long-term growth rate forecast of 32.5% for the next three to five years, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence. 

Stifel, which says LOVE is among its small caps to Buy, expects the consumer shift to buying furnishing online to persist, and even accelerate, once the pandemic subsides.

“Lovesac is well positioned for continued share gains in the furniture category with its strong product, omni-channel capabilities and enhancements to the platform, many of which were initiated during the pandemic,” writes Stifel’s Lamont Williams in a note to clients.

The analyst adds that LOVE has a long ramp-up opportunity thanks to a new generation of home buyers.

“As the housing market remains healthy there is the opportunity to capture new buyers as more middle- to upper-income millennials become homeowners and increase spending on [the company’s] category,” Williams writes. 

Of the seven analysts covering the stock tracked by S&P Global Market Intelligence, six rate it at Strong Buy and one says Buy. That’s a small sample size, but the bull case for LOVE as one of the better small-cap growth stocks to buy still stands.

7 of 7

AdaptHealth

An elderly person using a walker during home rehabAn elderly person using a walker during home rehab
  • Market value: $4.3 billion
  • Long-term growth rate: 43.0%
  • Analysts’ consensus recommendation: 1.11 (Strong Buy)

AdaptHealth (AHCO, $37.61) comes in at No. 1 on our list of small caps to buy thanks to their outsized growth prospects. The bull case rests partly on demographics and the aging of baby boomers. 

AdaptHealth provides home healthcare equipment and medical supplies. Most notably, it provides sleep therapy equipment such as CPAP machines for sleep apnea – a condition that tends to increase with age and weight.

With the majority of the boomer cohort of roughly 70 million Americans hitting their 60s and 70s, home medical equipment for sleep apnea and other conditions is increasingly in demand.

Mergers and acquisitions are also a part of the company’s growth story, notes UBS Global Research, which rates AHCO at Buy. Most recently, in February, the company closed a $2 billion cash-and-stock deal for AeroCare, a respiratory and home medical equipment distributor. 

“AdaptHealth exits 2020 with material themes of accelerating growth,” writes UBS analyst Whit Mayo. “In each quarter of 2022, we assume that AHCO acquires $35 million in annual revenues, closing these deals at the middle of the quarter. This drives estimated acquired revs from yet to be announced deals of $70 million.”

Small caps have been rallying in 2021, but not AHCO, which is essentially flat for the year-to-date. Happily, the Street expects that to change sooner rather than later. With an average target price of $47.22, analysts give the stock implied upside of about 25% over the next 12 months or so.

Of the nine analysts covering AHCO tracked by S&P Global Market Intelligence, eight rate it at Strong Buy and one says Buy. As noted above, they expect the company to generate compound annual EPS growth of 43% over the next three to five years.

Source: kiplinger.com