Real Estate Crowdfunding – How These Investments Work, Pros & Cons

Real estate offers a fantastic counterbalance to stocks in your investment portfolio, especially in an era of low interest rates and bond yields. But not all of us have $300,000 just sitting around to start snapping up properties.

Enter: crowdfunded real estate investments. A relatively recent addition to the arsenal of investment options, crowdfunding allows thousands of investors to pool their funds, so each investor can invest a small amount of money in larger projects.

Like all investments, real estate crowdfunding has its own pros and cons, and comes in many flavors and varieties. Before you invest a cent in any asset, you must first understand the risks, rewards, and the role the investment plays in your portfolio.

How Does Real Estate Crowdfunding Work?

On the simplest level, real estate crowdfunding involves many people each contributing a small portion of the greater cost of a real estate-related investment.

But “real estate-related investment” can carry many meanings. Keep the following variations in mind as you explore real estate crowdfunding investment options.

Equity vs. Debt

When you invest money through a crowdfunding platform, does the money go toward the direct purchase of new properties, or toward loans servicing other people’s properties?

If you know publicly traded REITs, you understand the difference between equity REITs and mortgage REITs. The former buys and manages real estate; the latter lends money secured against real estate.

Crowdfunding works similarly. In fact, many real estate crowdfunding investments are REITs — they’re simply sold privately rather than on public stock exchanges subject to traditional SEC regulation (more on regulation differences shortly).

Many private crowdfunded REITs offer both equity and debt REIT options. As a general rule, debt REITs generate more immediate dividend income, while equity REITs include an element of long-term appreciation in addition to income. For example, Fundrise offers several broad basket portfolios weighted more heavily toward either real estate equity or debt investments.

Not all real estate crowdfunded debt investments come in the form of REITs, however.

Peer-to-Peer vs. Fund Investments

In the case of private debt REITs, you invest money with a pooled fund, and the fund lends money to real estate investors as it sees fit. The alternative model for crowdfunded real estate debt involves lending directly to the borrower.

Crowdfunding platforms that follow this model allow you to browse individual loans, so you can pick and choose which loans you want to put money toward. For example, Groundfloor caters to real estate investors — mostly house flippers — lending them money to buy and renovate fixer-uppers. As a financial investor, you can log into your account and review available loans, including details about the project and borrower, and then put varying amounts of money toward as many or as few loans as you like.

Your loan is secured by a lien against the property. If the borrower defaults, Groundfloor forecloses to recover all investors’ money.

Property Type

Some real estate crowdfunding platforms specialize in residential real estate, while others focus on commercial.

Within each of those wide umbrellas, there’s plenty of variation as well. Residential properties could mean single-family rentals, or it could mean 200-unit apartment complexes. Commercial real estate could mean office buildings, or industrial parks, or retail space.

Before investing, make sure you understand exactly what you’re investing in — and more importantly, why.

Availability to Non-Accredited Investors

Some crowdfunding services like FarmTogether only allow accredited investors to participate. Others are open to everyone.

To qualify as an accredited investor, you must have either a net worth over $1 million (not including equity in your home) or have earned at least $200,000 for each of the last two years ($300,000 for married couples), with the expectation to earn similarly this year. So, most Americans can only invest with crowdfunding platforms that allow non-accredited investors.

Before doing any further due diligence, check to see whether prospective crowdfunding platforms even allow you to invest. Otherwise, no other details matter.


Advantages of Real Estate Crowdfunding

These relatively novel investments come with plenty of perks, especially for everyday people with few other paths to invest in large real estate projects. I myself invest in several real estate crowdfunding platforms.

As you compare crowdfunding investments to other types of real estate investments, keep the following pros in mind.

1. Low Cash Requirements

Through crowdfunded real estate investing, investors gain access to expensive investments like hotels, office parks, and apartment complexes that would otherwise remain unavailable to them. I don’t have $5 million to buy an apartment building. But I do have $500 that I’m happy to invest in a private fund that owns apartment buildings.

Although every crowdfunding platform imposes its own minimum investment, some of those minimums remain quite low. Groundfloor, for example, allows investments as low as $10.

Other platforms impose minimums of $500 or $1,000, keeping the minimums within reach of middle-class earners. It marks an enormous advantage to investing in real estate indirectly: you don’t need a full down payment plus closing costs in order to diversify your investments to include real estate.

2. Easy Diversification

With crowdfunding investments, you can easily include real estate in your asset allocation.

And not just through publicly traded REITs, which often move in greater sync with the stock market than with real estate markets because they trade on public stock exchanges. You can invest money toward any type of real estate, residential or commercial, in any grade of neighborhood, spread across many cities in the U.S. or even around the world.

For example, I have a little money invested in commercial office space through Streitwise, and a little invested in residential real estate (equity and debt) through Fundrise’s REITs. I also have money spread among a range of individual loans through Groundfloor. All in all, these investments expose me to real estate in 15 states.

Imagine how much harder that exposure would be if I had to go out and buy individual properties in 15 states?

3. Strong Income Yields

Crowdfunded real estate investments tend to pay reasonably high income yields. Which is always welcome, whether you’re pursuing financial independence at a young age, looking to build more retirement income, or simply enjoy earning more passive income each month. Because when you have enough passive income to cover your living expenses, work becomes optional.

I’ve consistently earned income yields in the 8% to 9% range on my investments with Streitwise and Groundfloor. With Fundrise, I earn around 5% in dividend yield, plus long-term appreciation.

Not many stocks or ETFs offer those kinds of yields.

4. No Labor and Little Skill Required to Invest

As a direct real estate investor, I can tell you firsthand how much skill and labor it takes to find good deals, analyze cash flow numbers, renovate properties, hire and manage contractors, and so forth.

With crowdfunded real estate investments, you outsource all of that to someone else. You just click a button to invest your funds, and sit back and collect the returns.

Don’t get me wrong, direct real estate investment comes with many of its own perks, such as the potential for higher returns, greater control, and real estate-related tax advantages. But you have to earn those advantages with sweat and knowledge, much of it required before you even buy your first property.

This ease of investing through crowdfunding platforms comes with a side benefit: you can automate your investments. Set up monthly or biweekly investments to avoid emotional investing and build wealth and passive income on autopilot.

5. No Property Management Required

It takes an effort not to laugh out loud when tenants call you complaining that a light bulb burned out, and ask you to come over to replace it. Unless the call comes at 3 a.m. — that’s less funny.

Few landlords enjoy managing rental properties, between chasing down nonpaying tenants, hassling with constant repairs and maintenance issues, and all-too-frequent complaints from tenants and neighbors — “this person plays their music too loud,” “that one smells like weed when they pass in the hallway,” ad nauseum. It’s why so many landlords end up hiring a property manager to take the headaches off their plate.

You don’t have to worry about any of that when you invest in crowdfunded real estate investments.

6. Protection Against Inflation

“Real” assets such as commodities, precious metals, and, of course, real estate all have inherent demand. Regardless of the currency you pay with or its value, you pay the going rate based on the underlying value of these physical assets.

That makes these assets an excellent hedge against inflation. If rents drive inflation higher, rental properties only become more valuable, with higher revenues. If the dollar loses value, people pay more for housing and commercial space.

In contrast, investors actually lose money — in terms of real value — on a bond paying 2% interest when inflation runs at 3%.


Disadvantages of Real Estate Crowdfunding

No investment is perfect, without risks or downsides. Thoroughly review these drawbacks and risks before parting with your hard-earned money.

1. Poor Liquidity

It takes a few clicks to sell a stock or ETF. Investors can liquidate their holdings instantaneously, leaving them with cold hard cash.

Real estate is inherently illiquid. It takes months to market and sell properties, and for large commercial properties it can involve hundreds of thousands of dollars in costs. So investors usually hold them for at least five years, and when these investments are funded through a crowd of financial investors, that means individuals can’t easily pull their money back out of the deal.

Most crowdfunded real estate investments advise prospective investors to plan on leaving their money in place for at least five years. Some do offer early redemption to sell their shares, but not instantaneously, and usually at some sort of discount or penalty.

Don’t invest anything you might need back within the next five years.

One notable exception includes short-term peer-to-peer loans secured by real estate, such as those offered by Groundfloor. These loans usually repay within nine to 12 months. Even so, you still can’t easily pull your money back out before the borrower repays the loan in full.

2. Complex Regulation and Performance Transparency

The regulation on crowdfunded investments can quickly make the average investor’s eyes cross. For a quick taste, investors have to navigate between Regulation D investments that fall under either 506(b) or 506(c), and Regulation A and Title III investments — also known as Regulation Crowdfunding or Reg CF.

Regardless, investors can’t use the familiar brokerage account tools that they’re already familiar with to research these investments. The SEC does require crowdfunding platforms to disclose a wide range of information, but it will look and feel unfamiliar for many retail investors.

There is one huge advantage that crowdfunded private REITs have over publicly traded REITs: the flexibility to reinvest profits to buy more properties. Publicly traded REITs must distribute at least 90% of all profits to investors in the form of dividends. That leaves them with high dividend yields but poor prospects for appreciation and asset growth. Private REITs like DiversyFund can employ far more flexibility to build their portfolios.

3. Limits on Participation

The SEC puts limits on how much money non-accredited investors can put into crowdfunded investments each year. Those limits are as follows:

“If either your annual income or your net worth is less than $107,000, then during any 12-month period, you can invest up to the greater of either $2,200 or 5% of the lesser of your annual income or net worth.

“If both your annual income and your net worth are equal to or more than $107,000, then during any 12-month period, you can invest up to 10% of annual income or net worth, whichever is lesser, but not to exceed $107,000.”

They provide a table by way of example:

Annual Income Net Worth Calculation 12-month Limit
$30,000 $105,000 greater of $2,200 or 5% of $30,000 ($1,500) $2,200
$150,000 $80,000 greater of $2,200 or 5% of $80,000 ($4,000) $4,000
$150,000 $107,000 10% of $107,000 ($10,000) $10,700
$200,000 $900,000 10% of $200,000 ($20,000) $20,000
$1.2 million $2 million 10% of $1.2 million ($120,000), subject to cap $107,000

Still, these speedbumps serve as reasonable cautions and protections for the average investor. These investments do come with an element of risk, and shouldn’t make up 70% of your retirement portfolio.

4. Less Protection from Default Than Other Real Estate Investments

When you own a rental property and your tenants stop paying the rent, you can evict them. You own the property, you can insure it against damage, and it comes with a certain amount of inherent value.

Real estate crowdfunding investments don’t come with these protections. You typically own paper shares of a fund, not all or part of a physical asset. Your investments aren’t even secured against the underlying properties with a lien in most cases.

Exceptions do exist, however. For example, when you invest fractionally in loans on Groundfloor, those loans are secured by a lien against real property. If the borrower defaults, Groundfloor forecloses in order to recover most or all of your money.

5. Lack of Control

Although stock investors have little control over the performance of their share prices, direct real estate investors do enjoy control over their returns and management. They can make renovations to boost the rents and property values, can tighten their tenant screening criteria to avoid deadbeats, can even insure against rent defaults.

But when you invest in real estate indirectly through crowdfunding, you surrender control to the fund manager. If they do well, you (hopefully) earn a strong return. If they mess up, you get stuck with the costs of their bungles.


Where Does Real Estate Crowdfunding Fit Into Your Portfolio?

While stocks belong in just about every investor’s portfolio, not everyone feels comfortable with real estate crowdfunding. Still, these investments offer a fine counterweight to stocks when used responsibly.

Your ideal asset allocation is personal to you, and depends on factors ranging from your age, target retirement horizon, net worth, and risk tolerance. I recommend thinking of crowdfunded real estate investments as an alternative to higher-risk, higher-yield bonds and public REITs.

For example, say you aim for an asset allocation of 60% equities and 40% bonds. Those equities include 57% stocks and 3% REITs, and your bonds include 30% low-risk government bonds and 10% higher-risk corporate bonds. You could take part of the 13% of your portfolio earmarked for REITs and higher-risk bonds and test the waters of crowdfunded real estate investments. If you like what you see, you can then move a little more, up to your comfort level.

However, real estate crowdfunding should not take the place of extremely low-risk investments in your portfolio, such as Treasury bonds or TIPS.


Final Word

With real estate crowdfunding, you have the luxury of investing small amounts to gauge the performance of your investments and your comfort.

These investments can play a role in any investor’s portfolio, but that role should start small. Don’t invest any money that would financially cripple you to lose, and do your homework on any crowdfunded investment’s past performance and risk management measures.

Most of all, always keep these investments in the perspective of your broader portfolio and asset allocation. These investments don’t exist in a vacuum — they play a role in a larger performance.

Have you ever invested in crowdfunded real estate? If so, what were your experiences?

Source: moneycrashers.com

10 Tips to Write the Perfect Resignation Letter

Thinking about quitting your job? Then you’ll want to be sure to do it the right way, and by that we mean without burning bridges. People leave their jobs every day for a myriad of reasons, and yours might be as simple as moving to a new state or even just looking for better career growth.

Whatever your reason for moving on, you’ll want to spend some time crafting a professional resignation letter for your employer before leaving your job. These letters not only help ensure that everyone is on the same page, but will also make it easier for you to leave on good terms.

10 Tips for Writing A Resignation Letter

Ready to learn how to craft the perfect resignation letter before you toss in the proverbial work towel? Keep reading.

1. Be Very Sure

This might sound obvious, but the first step in crafting a killer resignation letter (also sometimes called a notice letter) is making sure that you’re 100% about wanting to leave your job. Take a minute to go over all the reasons you’re quitting, and make sure these aren’t minor things you’ll change your mind about later on.

You should also consider what you’ll do after you quit, and begin looking for new job opportunities if you haven’t yet. While turnover (aka people leaving their jobs) is expected in any company, it’s also disruptive — both to your manager and team, as well as to your own personal lifestyle. So before you put anything down on paper make sure you’re serious about it.

2. Lay Out the Terms of Your Resignation

Once you’ve made the decision to resign, it’s time to lay out the terms of how you’ll do it. These things should be included in your letter, but it helps to figure out the details of quitting your job before you start formally writing them. Start by picking a last day for your work, and make note of any other important details like how you’ll work until then, what projects you’ll finish, and if you’re willing (or able) to help find a replacement for your position. A lot of these things will depend on both your role and reason for leaving, but having them worked out and ready to hand over to your boss will be hugely helpful as you both work through this transition period.

3. Decide How Much Notice to Give

This step happens almost simultaneously with the last, but it’s important enough to warrant its own shoutout. Deciding how much notice to give is both a matter of respect, and principle. Depending on why you’re leaving the company (and assuming it’s on good terms), standard practice is to give at least two weeks’ notice to your employer. If you really like your company or manager, and you think they’ll handle the news well, you might even choose to give more notice — like a month.

The more notice you can give, the better. Just know that anything less than two weeks will make it seem like your departure is urgent. If it is, then that’s just fine. But if you can manage to give them at least those two weeks, it will both look better and increase your chances of leaving on good terms.

4. Include a Reason for Resignation (or Not)

Another thing to consider including in your letter is the reason for your resignation. Again, depending on what that is. If you’re leaving because your manager is a jerk, this probably isn’t something you want to include in a letter. You should feel comfortable sharing that you’re leaving for a new job opportunity at XYZ Co. or because you want to take time off. Keep in mind that no matter what your answer is for leaving (and regardless of whether you include it in your letter), chances are someone will ask you about it. Be prepared to answer this question as honestly as you can, or come up with something else to say that you are comfortable sharing.

5. Ask Questions

While the point of resignation letters is ultimately to share the terms of your resignation, it’s also a good place to ask any lingering questions you may have. Again, a resignation letter can serve as a roadmap for both you and your employer to navigate this transition. If you have questions about things like your benefits, last paycheck or even any company equipment you currently own now’s the time to get those questions answered. By presenting your employer with this list of questions in your letter, it will help ensure that everything is addressed before your departure, and that nothing important gets forgotten.

6. Thank Your Employer

If you’ve genuinely enjoyed working with your current company or manager, a resignation letter is also a great place to thank them. You might consider including this toward the end of your letter after addressing all the knitty gritty details of your departure.

Whether you’re grateful for the opportunity, the experience, or even just the camaraderie of your coworkers, this is a nice occasion to pay a compliment to your boss and thank them. Not only will this help you to leave on good terms, but it will also keep your resignation feeling professional, rather than personal.

7. Include Contact Information

If you plan on moving for your new job, or changing your email address or phone number, it’s a good idea to include the new contact information. Even if nothing will change, consider including your personal email or cell phone number somewhere in the body of the letter or at the bottom under your signature. This will help your coworkers get in touch with you for any questions they may have, and will also help HR and payroll to ensure your final payments and benefits continue without issue.

8. Avoid Burning Bridges

No matter your reason for quitting, it’s never a good idea to burn bridges. Maybe you worked with a bad apple, or you were the unfortunate victim of unfair or lousy company policies. Just remember that even toxic workplaces have good people, and it’s always good to leave on professional terms.

If you had a serious problem with one of your coworkers, take the time to find the right person to report it to. Maybe that’s your manager, or even someone from HR. But do your best to keep any workplace drama or bad feelings out of your letter. It’s a small world, and depending on your industry it’s highly possible that you will cross paths with some coworkers again. Keep your head up, and your letter strictly professional.

9. Don’t Forget about Your Co-workers

While resignation letters are typically for management, you’ll want to take some time to craft a little something for your team members as well. Nothing’s worse than getting ghosted by a colleague, especially if it’s someone you’ve worked with closely for any length of time. Once you’ve hammered out the details of your resignation, and sent your formal letter to management, take a minute to craft an email to your coworkers. Thank them, wish them well, and leave your personal contact info in case they want to be in touch with you later.

10. Get Writing!

With all of these tips in mind, it’s time to actually start writing. Take it from someone who does a lot of this — there’s nothing worse than a blank page. Start by jotting down your ideas, and don’t be too hard on yourself. Once you have a draft of your letter, ask a friend you trust (ideally not a co-worker) to proofread it for you.

Most of all? Don’t overthink it. Chances are your manager has gotten these letters before, and no one will be scrutinizing your word choice or writing a review of your letter in the New York Times. The important thing is that you write the letter, address the big points, and move on. Your employer will appreciate the effort, and having the details of your resignation in hand will help make the transition easier.

Larissa Runkle is a contributor to The Penny Hoarder.

Source: thepennyhoarder.com

7 Slick Oil Stocks to Buy Now

Oil stocks have been pretty slick in 2021, rising sharply in anticipation of a massive recovery in global economic activity as the COVID-19 pandemic fades.

Indeed, oil stocks have been one of the strongest recovery plays to be found – and analysts say the sector has plenty of room left to run.

The Dow Jones U.S. Oil & Gas Index, which measures the performance of nearly three dozen stocks across the industry, was up 27% for the year-to-date through April 19. That compares to a gain of just 10.8% for the broad-market S&P 500, and a rise of 11.3% for the blue-chip Dow Jones Industrial Average.

Of course, not all oil stocks are created equal, and the sector still faces plenty of headwinds. The economic recovery could stumble, for one thing. And even if it doesn’t, recovery-chasing increases in production are forecast to limit upside in crude oil prices from current levels.

Despite those challenges, Wall Street is decidedly bullish on oil stocks in general, and really has the hots for a short list of names in particular.

To find analysts’ favorite oil stocks to buy now, we screened the Russell 3000 for oil stocks with the highest analyst recommendations, per data from 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 between 2.5 and 1.5 equals a Buy recommendation. Scores below 1.5 equate to recommendations of Strong Buy.

After limiting ourselves to oil stocks with only the highest conviction Buy or Strong Buy consensus recommendations, we dug into research, fundamental factors and analysts’ estimates to suss out the best oil stocks to buy.

With that, have a look at analysts’ absolute favorite oil stocks to buy now. 

Share prices are as of April 19, unless otherwise noted. Analysts’ consensus recommendations and other data are courtesy of S&P Global Market Intelligence. Stocks are listed by strength of analysts’ consensus recommendation, from lowest to highest. 

1 of 7

Phillips 66

Phillips 66 signPhillips 66 sign
  • Market value: $34.1 billion
  • Dividend yield: 4.6%
  • Analysts’ average rating: 1.72 (Buy)

Analysts are increasingly bullish on oil stocks in the refinery sector as we approach summer, and one of the players they like best is Phillips 66 (PSX, $77.94).

The independent oil refiner gets a solid consensus Buy recommendation on Wall Street. Sweetening the deal, this oil stock sports a generous dividend yield to boot.

“Overall, we still see PSX as a best in class, diversified business model with a secure balance sheet that has weathered the storm,” writes Raymond James analyst Justin Jenkins, who rates the stock at Outperform (the equivalent of Buy). “We still view PSX as a long-term core holding in energy. PSX’s business should justify a premium valuation relative to the group.”

PSX is widely considered among the pros to be one of the best oil stocks to buy now. Of the 19 analysts covering Phillips 66 tracked by S&P Global Market Intelligence, eight rate it at Strong Buy, seven say Buy and three have it at Hold. One has no opinion on shares in the oil stock.

The Street expects the company to generate average annual earnings per share (EPS) growth of 7.8% over the next three to five years. Given that outlook, PSX’s valuation – trading at 11.7 times estimated earnings for 2022 – appears eminently reasonable. 

With an average target price of $91.71, analysts give the oil stock implied upside of about 18% over the next year or so.

2 of 7

Devon Energy

Silhouettes of oil derricksSilhouettes of oil derricks
  • Market value: $14.8 billion
  • Dividend yield: 2.9%
  • Analysts’ average rating: 1.63 (Buy)

One way Devon Energy (DVN, $22.03) differentiates itself from other oil stocks in the exploration and production (E&P) sector is by way of management’s restraint and discipline.

“We have no intentions of adding any growth projects until demand fundamentals recover, inventory overhangs clear up, and OPEC plus curtailed volumes are effectively absorbed by the world markets,” said Devon CEO Rick Muncrief on a conference call with analysts in February. 

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Indeed, DVN has hunkered down through sales and divestitures to concentrate on just a handful of oil-rich U.S. basins. Devon’s $12 billion all-stock merger with WPX Energy, which closed in January, furthered its goal of strategic focus and cost control. 

Those moves and others have made Devon one of the most popular names in the industry with analysts.

“Devon has a highly productive portfolio of top-tier assets, mostly located in shale-rich basins with relatively low extraction costs,” writes Argus Research analyst William Selesky, who rates DVN at Buy. “This provides the company with a competitive advantage, especially with oil prices above $50 per barrel.”

Seventeen analysts covering DVN tracked by S&P Global Market Intelligence call it one of the best oil stocks to buy now, at Strong Buy. Another 10 say Buy, and five call Devon a Hold. They expect the firm to deliver average annual EPS growth of 6% over the next three to five years. Meanwhile, shares trade at just 8.9 times their 2022 earnings estimate. 

With an average price target of $30.35, the Street gives this oil stock implied upside of about 38% in the next 12 months or so.

3 of 7

Pioneer Natural Resources

photo of oil fieldphoto of oil field
  • Market value: $32.2 billion
  • Dividend yield: 1.5%
  • Analysts’ average rating: 1.62 (Buy)

Pioneer Natural Resources (PXD, $148.58) is another one of analysts’ favorite oil stocks in the independent E&P sector. 

The most recent boost to the bull case came in early April when Pioneer announced the acquisition of privately held Doublepoint Energy for $5.5 billion in cash and stock, along with the assumption of $900 million in debt.

Analysts note that the deal enhances PXD’s position in the Midland Basin, which has some of the strongest well economics in the greater Permian Basin.

“PXD is building a powerhouse of a Permian Basin play, with no federal land exposure,” writes CFRA Research analyst Stewart Glickman, who rates shares at Buy. “We are somewhat surprised by the timing of this deal, coming so soon after closing the Parsley acquisition [in January], but we think PXD is being opportunistic.”

CFRA’s Glickman is very much in the majority when it comes to his stance on the oil stock. Of the 34 analysts covering PXD tracked by S&P Global Market Intelligence, 19 rate it at Strong Buy, nine say Buy and six have it at Hold. Their average target price of $192.81 gives shares implied upside of about 30% over the next 12 months or so.

Like a number of oil stocks on this list, cautious sentiment appears to have kept PXD’s valuation in check. The Street projects the firm to generate average annual EPS growth of 8% over the next three to five years, and yet shares change hands at less than 11 times estimated earnings for 2022.

4 of 7

Diamondback Energy

oil rigoil rig
  • Market value: $14.0 billion
  • Dividend yield: 2.0%
  • Analysts’ average rating: 1.58 (Buy)

Some recent dealmaking, a diversified business and comparatively low cost of supply has the Street stampeding into the bull camp for Diamondback Energy (FANG, $77.67).

As investors in oil stocks know all too well, the industry underwent an intense period of consolidation amid the pandemic-driven rout in energy prices. And FANG has been among the more active acquirers. 

In the past few months, Diamondback closed a $2.2 billion deal for QEP Resources and acquired assets of privately held Guidon Energy for nearly $1 billion.

The moves were met with approval by analysts who cover oil stocks. 

“Diamondback Energy is well-positioned to outperform in a volatile commodity environment based on its strong cash margins, defensive attributes and synergies associated with the recent acquisitions of QEP and Guidon,” writes Stifel equity research analyst Derrick Whitfield, who rates shares at Buy.

“The company’s relatively low cost of supply, balance sheet, minerals and midstream ownership are a few of the reasons it is well-positioned to outperform as activity returns,” Whitfield adds.

On the whole, the pros see Diamondback as one of the best oil stocks you can buy now. Of the 33 analysts covering FANG tracked by S&P Global Market Intelligence, 20 rate it at Strong Buy, seven say Buy and six have it at Hold. Their average target price of $94.19 gives this oil stock implied upside of about 21% over the next year or so.

As for valuation, FANG changes hands at 7.9 times analysts’ 2022 earnings estimate. They expect the company to deliver average annual EPS growth of 3% over the next three to five years, per S&P Global Market Intelligence.

5 of 7

ConocoPhillips

oil rigoil rig
  • Market value: $68.8 billion
  • Dividend yield: 3.4%
  • Analysts’ average rating: 1.50 (Strong Buy)

If it isn’t clear by now, the Street believes many of the best oil stocks to buy now are in the E&P industry, and few are more popular than ConocoPhillips (COP, $50.89). Indeed, COP, with a rating of 1.50, is the first of our oil stocks to get a consensus recommendation of Strong Buy.

The January completion of ConocoPhillips’ purchase of rival Concho Resources for $9.7 billion added to Wall Street’s ardor. 

“We also have a favorable view of Conoco’s recent acquisition of Concho Resources, which will provide an attractive portfolio of low-cost assets and expand the company’s resource base by more than 50%,” writes Argus Research’s Selesky, who rates the stock at Buy.

It also helps that COP,  the world’s largest independent E&P company, is well-suited to grapple with a prolonged period of flattish prices. Although benchmark U.S. crude oil prices are up about 32% for the year-to-date, Kiplinger’s Economic Outlook doesn’t expect them to move much from current levels.

“In this challenging energy environment, we believe that a company’s balance sheet strength and place on the cost curve are critical, and favor those E&P companies that are well positioned to manage a potentially long period of low oil prices,” Selesky writes in a note to clients. “COP is one of these companies, as it benefits from its size, scale and combination of major long-cycle and unconventional short-cycle projects.”

Of the 29 analysts covering the stock tracked by S&P Global Market Intelligence, 16 say it’s a Strong Buy, 10 say Buy and two have it at Hold. One analyst has no opinion. They also see a strong year ahead for COP’s shares. Their $65.10 average price target implies 28% upside in the next 12 months. 

Shares trades at 14.9 times estimated earnings for 2022. However, that’s not exactly a screaming buy in light of analysts’ 6% long-term EPS growth forecast.

6 of 7

PDC Energy

Oil rigsOil rigs
  • Market value: $3.5 billion
  • Dividend yield: N/A
  • Analysts’ average rating: 1.31 (Strong Buy)

PDC Energy (PDCE, $35.42) is the second of our independent E&P oil stocks to score a Strong Buy consensus recommendation from Wall Street analysts. S&P Global Market Intelligence counts 12 Strong Buy calls, three Buys and one Hold rating on the stock. 

Analysts like this small-cap’s base of assets and its ability to punch well above its weight in generating free cash flow (FCF). 

“In our view, PDCE offers investors a compelling asset mix between the Delaware Basin and Niobrara Shale in the DJ Basin with a resilient asset base and a top-tier balance sheet,” writes Stifel analyst Michael Scialla, who rates the stock at Buy.

Goldman Sachs analyst Neil Mehta recommended that clients buy PDCE during the March pullback thanks to his expectation that the firm will produce $1.1 billion in free cash flow over the next two years. Note well that $1.1 billion in FCF would represent almost a third of PDCE’s entire market value. 

Lastly, the Street applauds the company’s debt-reduction efforts and its intention to return $120 million in cash to shareholders through a stock repurchase plan and a new dividend program set to launch later this year. 

Analysts’ average target price of $47.00 gives PDCE implied upside of about 33% over the next year or so. And even after a hot start to 2021, shares still look compellingly valued. 

PDCE trades at just 7.7 times estimated earnings for 2022 – even as analysts project average annual EPS growth of 7% over the next three to five years. 

7 of 7

Whiting Petroleum

A fracking well in a cornfieldA fracking well in a cornfield
  • Market value: $1.4 billion
  • Dividend yield: N/A
  • Analysts’ average rating: 1.29 (Strong Buy)

Whiting Petroleum (WLL, $36.65) is by far the smallest among the seven best oil stocks to buy now, but it also easily sports the strongest Strong Buy consensus recommendation.

Keep in mind, however, that as a small-cap play, WLL doesn’t get nearly as much attention from analysts as the other oil stocks on this list. That can skew the ratings.

Indeed, S&P Global Market Intelligence tracks only eight analysts who cover the independent E&P company. Six of them call WLL stock a Strong Buy, one says Hold and one has no opinion. 

It’s also worth noting that Whiting was the first major oil-and-gas company to file for bankruptcy during the pandemic. The company entered restructuring on April 1, 2020, and emerged from bankruptcy protection in September. 

That said, Whiting’s Chapter 11 period was a salubrious experience. The company, under the direction of new CEO Lynn Peterson and a new CFO James Henderson, labors under a manageable long-term debt load of $360 million (down from $2.8 billion pre-bankruptcy) and has access to a $750 million reserve-based revolving credit facility.

The bottom line is that the Street is increasingly optimistic about WLL’s bottom line. 

“Estimates have been broadly trending upward for the stock, and the magnitude of these revisions looks promising,” notes Zacks Equity Research, which rates shares at Strong Buy. “We expect an above-average return from the stock in the next few months.”

With an average target price of $41.57, analysts give WLL implied upside of about 13% in the next 12 months or so. Shares trade at 8.2 times analysts’ estimated earnings for 2022, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence. The Street’s projected long-term EPS growth rate stands at 19% over the next three to five years.

Source: kiplinger.com

9 Energy-Efficient Home Improvements Worth Your Money

How would you like to invest $30 and be paid a $45 dividend on your investment every year after that?

That’s essentially what you do when you make certain energy-efficient home improvements to lower your expenses.

If you pay for powering your home, you know that the dollars can really add up. The average monthly electricity bill in the U.S. was $115.49 in 2019, but your bill can vary widely depending on where you live — and whether you also rely on alternative energy sources like gas or solar power.

If you take the steps suggested below — especially if you do the work yourself — you could save a bundle. And if you think of the improvements as an investment, you can enjoy a healthy annual rate of return and won’t pay income taxes like you would with regular investment returns.

9 Energy-Efficient Home Improvement Tips That Will Also Save You Money

When you invest in your home to lower your bills, every penny saved is yours to keep.

Ready to get started? Here are nine ways to save money by improving your house.

1. Insulate Your Water Heater

An insulating jacket for your hot water heater will cost $30 or so, and you can install it yourself in about an hour.

According to the experts at the Department of Energy, insulating a hot water tank saves 7% to 16% annually.

In other words, assuming the average hot water costs $438 to operate annually, you’ll have $30 to $70 more in your pocket each year.

If you’re able to make a bigger up-front investment, you may consider replacing your traditional electric water heater with a heat pump water heater.

Instead of generating heat directly, heat pump water heaters act more like refrigerators in reverse — they pull heat into the device instead of pushing it out.

The bigger your family is, the more you’ll save by using heat pump water heaters, according to the DOE. Two people would save $170 every year while a family of four would save $350 a year. The DOE estimates the cost to switch is approximately $800, so that family of four would start seeing savings after a little over two years.

The Energy Star site has a questionnaire to help you decide if heat pump water heaters are a good fit for your home.

A woman adjusts the thermostat.
Getty Images

2. Install a Programmable Thermostat

You don’t need as much heat when you’re in bed at night, and you don’t need as much heating or air conditioning when you are out of the house. But you don’t want to climb out of bed on a cold winter morning or come home to a hot house in the summer.

A programmable thermostat solves these problems by automatically adjusting the temperature settings for you.

Ten minutes before you get up in winter, the heat turns on. Ten minutes before you get home after a hot summer day at work, the air conditioning adjusts to cool the house. You use the heating and cooling only when you actually need them.

A programmable thermostat can save you $50 on heating and cooling costs each year, according to the government’s Energy Star program. Starting around $60, many models are simple enough to install on your own.

3. Switch Out Your Light Bulbs

Another bright idea for savings? Replacing your light bulbs.

Light emitting diode (LED) light bulbs are 90% more efficient than traditional incandescent bulbs and can last up to 20 years.

LEDs used to be expensive for a single bulb, but today, you can get a two-pack of LED bulbs for under $5.

Pro Tip

Before starting a home improvement project, check out the DOE’s Energy Star site to find out if the product you need is eligible for a tax credit or rebate.

By using the LEDs, you can save $4.10 per bulb per year on energy usage compared to an incandescent. The average American household has 50 light bulb sockets, according to the EPA’s Energy Star program, which means a potential annual savings of $205 if you replaced every bulb in your house.

4. Bundle Up Those Water Lines

Bare water lines leak heat, so you have to set the temperature of the hot water heater higher to still get a hot shower at the other end of the house.

Solve this problem with a little pipe insulation: an inexpensive foam tube with a slit down the side. Just cut it to the required length with scissors and push it onto the pipes.

This project will take you about three hours for a small home and cost $10 to $15 total, according to the Department of Energy. Each year, you’ll save 3% to 4% heating your water.

5. Replace Your Ceiling Fans

Ceiling fans in general can help you save on heating and cooling costs.

In the summer, run the fan blades counterclockwise to generate a cool breeze — thus reducing the need to run the more expensive air conditioning. Running the blades clockwise helps circulate warm air that rises back down into the room, helping cut heating costs in the winter.

You can realize even more savings by replacing your old, inefficient fans with Energy Star certified fans, which are 60% more energy efficient than older models, according to the DOE. (And be sure to use your energy efficient light bulbs in the fixtures.)

A woman opens up the fridge in her home.
Getty Images

6. Buy a New Refrigerator

If your refrigerator is working fine, there’s normally no good reason to replace it, even if the new one is a bit more efficient. But if you have a fridge that’s more than 15 years old, it might be time to replace that one.

A new fridge uses about $80 less in electricity each year compared to one from 2005.

7. Insulate Your Attic

If you run your heater or air conditioner most days, you might save some serious money by adding new insulation to your attic.

Upgrading attic insulation from R-11 to R-49 is something you can do by yourself in a day or two for about $750, according to HouseLogic.com. (The cost is about double if you want professionals to install it.)

You’ll save about $600 per year on heating and cooling costs, depending on where you live and the type of heat you have. It also adds value to your home if you decide to sell in the future.

8. Seal Those Air Leaks

Check for cracks or spaces around door frames, windows and entry points for pipes and cables. You lose heat from these gaps during the winter and cool air in the summer, adding to your heating and cooling costs.

It takes about $20 in caulking and peel-and-paste insulating strips to seal these up all over the house.

Pro Tip

If you’re looking to replace an exterior door, a steel or fiberglass door is a more energy efficient option than wood. Some steel doors even have insulated cores, so no need for weatherstripping.

The experts at Energy Star say doing this will cut your heating and cooling costs by an average of 15%, depending where you live. That’s potentially hundreds of dollars saved for an investment of an afternoon and $20. Not bad, right?

9. Replace That Toilet Flapper

If you hear your toilet running when it isn’t being used, you probably have a leaky flapper.

It’s not just an annoyance — a leaky flapper can waste up to 200 gallons of water every day.

Since a new flapper valve can be bought for under $10 and can save you $50 per month, this little investment might have the highest rate of return of any on our list.

Steve Gillman is a contributor to The Penny Hoarder. Staff writer/editor Tiffany Wendeln Connors also contributed to this post.. 



Source: thepennyhoarder.com

Renting an Older Home: 5 Red Flags to Look Out For

Often, the oldest homes are in some of the most desirable neighborhoods and are more affordable than something brand new in the same location.

It’s tough to beat the charm and character you’ll find when renting an older home or apartment.

However, it is important to remember that older buildings come with their own unique set of quirks.

While some characteristics commonly found in older homes are easy to upgrade or simply based on personal preference, there are a few red flags to keep in mind that might make or break your decision when considering signing a lease.

1. Potential utility costs

Ask your new landlord if they are willing to share a previous month’s utility bill so you can get a sense of how much you’ll be spending on utilities. Efficiency wasn’t necessarily a priority in the past, and things like electricity, heating and water can add up quickly.

Many older homes run on gas heat (or oil!), often a new expense for many.

Ask if any previous tenants have experienced any electrical issues, and take note of outlet placement as this is something you can’t really change once you’ve moved in.

Interior of older home.

2. Check out the windows

Older homes and older windows can often mean cold drafts in the winter months.

Ask your potential landlord if the windows are single or double pane windows — this will be critical when it comes to outside noise and maintaining the temperature you want inside the home.

3. Test appliances and fixtures

Older buildings have their quirks, and it’s likely you’ll deal with one or two if you decide to move forward with renting.

Make sure you know what you’re signing up for by giving things a quick test when you view the unit – flush the toilets, turn on the sink, turn on the stovetop, see if you are familiar with the heating system, etc. For example, if you notice things like slow-flowing drains or a toilet taking forever to flush, it might be a sign of larger plumbing issues down the line.

4. Ask about maintenance and repairs

There’s no way around it – older homes and apartments are generally going to require more maintenance and repair than brand new buildings. Ask the landlord about any major projects or upgrades they have planned for the near future.

Plans to replace kitchen appliances may entice you to stick around. Plans to replace the roof could deter you depending on your situation. As things age, they start to wear out, so be aware that you’re more likely to deal with regular maintenance issues.

Older home, kitchen interior.

5. Watch out for lead paint

Lead paint was banned in the U.S. in the late 70s, so if the building you’re considering existed before then, watch out for lead-based paint in the home or apartment.

Federal law requires landlords to warn tenants of the presence of lead paint at a rental property, which many do through a Lead Warning Statement built into the rental agreement. Additionally, landlords must provide renters with EPA-approved information on lead-based paints and potential hazards — it’s required.

Don’t hesitate to approach this topic before you get to the lease signing process, and keep an eye out for any noticeable peeling paint that may exacerbate the issue.

Renting an older home

Older rental properties might not have all of the luxury amenities of a brand new building, but you are more likely to find a one-of-a-kind space to call home.

Keep these considerations in mind when renting an older apartment or home. Make sure it’s the right fit for you.

Source: rent.com

Why We Built A New Home, and What We Learned Along The Way

Buying a home is an incredibly personal decision, but there’s an added level of complexity when it’s a new home build. For our family, the decision to build came from a discussion my husband and I had when we were all at home together during quarantine. We were actually quite surprised that we were even considering leaving our current home we loved so much, but not after we came to a couple realizations.

new homenew home

Why Did We Choose a New Home Build?

Space
In the next couple years we’ll have full-fledged teenagers who will be driving. We need a home that will give them space to interact with their friends separately from us, but also a place for them to park their cars. Thinking even further down the road, when they have families of their own, we’ll want a space where everyone can fit comfortably without feeling cramped.

Our Love of Water
During quarantine, beaches and water access points shut down. We love to be outdoors, and we quickly realized how important it was for us to be near the water. Since our children are now in virtual school, we were able to expand our search radius; and while living beachfront was outside of our price range, we actually found the next best thing. We stumbled upon what would become our new home site that backed up to a small lake!

new homenew home

No More Big Projects
This was a hard realization for me, but one that I’ve been avoiding to acknowledge for quite some time. After we finished renovating my friend’s beach condo, I realized my body physically can’t handle the big projects like it used to. Building a new, sturdy home with fully functioning, well….everything….sounds way more desirable than taking on another project house!

Market Was Hot and Rates Were Low
Our current home is in a very desirable location and we knew that selling it would not be an issue. The bigger incentive to sell and build were the interest rates, and since we had no idea how much longer they’d stay so low, the time to act was now. To add icing on the cake, the area we chose with the lake is actually less expensive than our current location; not only did we get a great rate, but we’ll be getting an amazing house for the cost.

(READ MORE: 5 Reasons You Should Pay for a Pre-Drywall Inspection)

The Most Surprising Parts of Building and Designing

Every Builder is Different
We’ve built a home one other time, and we quickly learned that what was an upgrade the first time around is now a standard feature. My advice? Double check the list of standard features from your builder, which will help you determine what you should and can upgrade.

Timing is Everything
The shutdown during quarantine had a ripple effect on nearly everything, including home building. The builder warned us early in the process that the timeline would be determined by the availability of supplies. Thankfully, the builder was willing to work with us since we were up against a hot market. We all knew that the second we listed our home, we would be at the mercy of buyer competition, so we had to be flexible with our schedule. If we listed our home too soon, we could find ourselves in a situation of moving to another location until the home build was complete (something we were trying to avoid with two virtually-educated school kids and three dogs).

Upgrade Options Might Not Be As Available 
Even though the builder had a lot of standard features we considered upgrades, we were surprised by the limited options to choose from when we did decided to upgrade. Being a DIYer and having access to unlimited options, this part was challenging. We were not doing a custom build, but we thought that there would be a little bit more to choose from. Instead we opted not to upgrade things like faucets, lighting fixtures, and appliances. Instead we’ll take those on later with something that we’re in love with.

new homenew home

It is crazy to believe that building a home today came from a single conversation, followed by a series of events we could have never imagined at the beginning of 2020. Our perspectives and situational changes definitely had us taking a deeper look into our future and what we ultimately wanted for our life and where we pictured ourselves living. While we love our current home and all the hard work we put into it, we are definitely looking forward to making memories in our new home.

Don’t Go it Alone

Home building may not be for everyone, but if you’re wanting that new home experience from the ground up, check out Homes.com’s “How to Build” section. It’s a one-stop resource that walks you through the process of a new home build so you can be prepared, organized and ready to enjoy your new home.

Happy building!


Brooke has a lifestyle blog called Cribbs Style and currently lives in Charleston, SC. This wife, mom of two almost tweens, and mom of three fur children enjoys all things DIY and organizing. When she’s not helping others tackle the chaos of life, she’s either working out, at the beach, or just enjoying time with family and friends.

Source: homes.com

16 Best Ways to Save Money at Pottery Barn in 2021 – Discounts & Sales

If you’ve ever gone shopping for home decor, furniture, and bedding, you’ve probably visited a Pottery Barn.

The Williams Sonoma subsidiary is best known for its upscale products and stunning floor displays. Since its founding in 1949, Pottery Barn has branched out into Pottery Barn Kids and Pottery Barn Teens to appeal to a wider audience.

Despite these changes, Pottery Barn has always maintained a premium status for their brand. But if you’re shopping on a tight budget, there are numerous creative ways to save money at Pottery Barn.

Between in-store hacks and ways to save money on furniture and home furnishings, you probably don’t have to pay full price when you hit up this popular retailer.

Best Ways to Save Money at Pottery Barn

Pottery Barn is unlikely to compete on pricing with more affordable retailers like Ikea. But you don’t have to pay full price just because a store is stylish.

Many money-saving Pottery Barn hacks can help you make your next home furnishings upgrade affordable without sacrificing quality.

1. Join The Key Loyalty Program

The easiest saving trick every shopper can use is to join The Key member rewards program. This loyalty program extends to Williams Sonoma’s family of brands, meaning it covers Williams Sonoma and Pottery Barns along with Mark and Graham, and West Elm.

Joining The Key is free. You start by picking your favorite brand and then sign up for The Key through that brand’s website. To sign up, provide your name, email, address, phone number, and birthday.

Once you’re a member, benefits include:

  • Earring 3% cash back across the family of brands
  • Getting exclusive access to new deals and releases
  • Using Pottery Barn and Williams Sonoma’s free design service

You can redeem cash back as store credit across any Williams Sonoma family store once you reach $15. You can use cash-back rewards from The Key program with your cash-back credit card rewards to increase your savings, and you can redeem your balance online or in-store.

2. Follow Local Stores on Social Media

You can follow Pottery Barn on social media if you want general updates about sales and country-wide initiatives. However, truly frugal shoppers are better off following their local stores.

Local store pages are useful for several reasons. For starters, you can reference them to find store hours or a contact number and to check whether the store’s open on holidays.

Additionally, local stores post photos of their inventory and sales. That’s when you can find specific pieces on clearance or products that are only in stock at your preferred location.

But note that not every Pottery Barn has a local Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter.

3. Sign Up for Pottery Barn Emails

If you want a low-effort way to save, sign up for the Pottery Barn email list.

Subscribers receive information about exclusive sales and promotions, so you can wait for a sale or event before you shop. You also learn about new Pottery Barn products and upcoming store events.

4. Use Online Pottery Barn Coupons

Another trick to save money at Pottery Barn is to use online coupons.

There are numerous online coupon databases you can search for deals, including:

These websites let you activate online coupon codes before shopping, potentially earning percent discounts and perks like free shipping.

Similarly, you can also use shopping browser extensions for online shopping to automatically apply available coupons at checkout. Two popular browser extensions that work with Pottery Barn are Capital One Shopping and Honey.

Both extensions apply coupon codes at checkout, ensuring you don’t miss out on savings. Both platforms also let you earn rewards by shopping at hundreds of partner retailers.

An advantage of using extensions over coupon websites is that you don’t waste time manually searching for coupon codes on the Internet. However, it’s important to note that coupon codes don’t always work, and you might find a particular website or extension works better for you than others.

Capital One Shopping compensates us when you get the Capital One Shopping extension using the links we provided.

5. Shop With Discount Gift Cards

If you shop at Pottery Barn frequently or are planning a shopping spree, buying discount gift cards is a simple way to save more money.

People regularly sell unwanted gift cards to marketplaces that then resell them at a discount. Usually, discounts range from 1% to 2%, so you can buy a $50 Pottery Barn gift card for around $48.

That’s not a lot, but for larger purchases, discount percentages often increase. For example, on some discount gift card websites, you can find $100 and $500 Pottery Barn gift cards with $10 to $20 discounts.

Some popular gift card marketplaces include:

Gift card availability and denominations vary based on supply and demand. Raise generally has the most extensive collection, and you can usually find Pottery Barn gift cards ranging from $25 to $100.

Plus, new members get a 10% discount bonus with the coupon code “FIRST” for a maximum savings of $20.

Since more significant discounts provide the most savings, the key is to plan your Pottery Barn shopping trip. That way, you know exactly how much money you need and don’t overspend on gift cards.

6. Understand Shipping Rates

At Pottery Barn, shipping costs depend on your total order price and whether you want standard shipping or next-day shipping. Standard shipping arrives in four to five business days and upgrading to next-day costs $26.

To potentially save more, consult Pottery Barn’s shipping rates and fees table. For orders under $200, you’re looking at up to $21 in shipping fees. However, orders of $200.01 or more charge 10% in shipping until you reach $3,000 or more, at which point shipping costs drop to 5% of your total order value.

If you’re on a massive Pottery Barn shopping spree, consider what a 5% or 10% shipping rate does to your bill.

For example, at $2,900, you’re looking at $290 in shipping costs. However, spending $100 more to reach $3,000 brings shipping costs to $150, netting you $40 in total savings.

If you’re close to a shipping-reduction threshold but don’t need anything else, ask friends and family if they need anything or think about any upcoming gifts for birthdays and holidays. But crunch the numbers.

If buying a low-cost product still saves you significant cash, it’s worth it. You can always donate unwanted merchandise and get a charitable donation tax deduction. Just check the sale and clearance section for deals.

Finally, look for products that are available for pickup when shopping online. If you live near a Pottery Barn, making the drive is probably worth it to avoid paying for shipping.

7. Shop on Clearance

If you want to find Pottery Barn products at a discount, your best bet is to wait for a clearance sale or floor sales event.

Pottery Barn’s website has a sales section, so you can begin your search for deals online. But visiting your local Pottery Barn allows you to find markdown products the retailer doesn’t advertise online.

Occasionally, Pottery Barn also sells floor models during floor sales events. That includes furniture and other inventory previously used for in-store displays, which the company can’t sell as new. This inventory often has minor scratches or dents but is sold at a discount.

If you don’t mind buying furniture with a potential scratch or two, floor sales are worth keeping an eye on. Alternatively, check the online clearance section regularly to look for deals.

8. Shop Off-Season

Chances are you’ve tried shopping off-season to save money on clothing or back-to-school supplies. But have you ever considered shopping off-season for home decor?

Like other retailers, Pottery Barn rotates their floor displays and inventory to match the upcoming season. So you can buy a set of summer linens and bright throw pillows as you enter the fall to save money in the long run.

9. Visit a Pottery Barn Outlet Store

Pottery Barn has several outlet stores where you can find floor models, returns, overstocked inventory, and slightly damaged or worn inventory it can’t sell in regular stores.

Essentially, outlet stores help Pottery Barn liquidate excess and gently used merchandise, which means you can potentially find discounts.

Currently, the following states have one or more outlet locations:

  • Arizona
  • California
  • Georgia
  • Illinois
  • Massachusetts
  • Michigan
  • Missouri
  • New York
  • Ohio
  • Pennsylvania
  • South Carolina
  • Tennessee
  • Texas
  • Virginia

Just remember: Outlet prices aren’t always lower than the regular retailer, and you should also factor travel time into your bargain hunt. When in doubt, call ahead and ask for specific pricing on pieces you’re considering and for a store attendant to check product availability.

You can also sign up for Pottery Barn Outlet emails to receive outlet store-specific newsletters about new product arrivals and deals.

10. Buy Gently Used Pottery Barn Products

If you don’t live near an outlet, you can shop at companies that resell used and like-new Pottery Barn products at lower prices.

Several websites where you can find used Pottery Barn products include:

You can also shop on auction sites like eBay if you don’t mind bidding and potentially negotiating with sellers.

Selection can be limited when looking at resellers, but the effort is worth it if you find your next living room set or coffee table for half the price.

11. Use the Pottery Barn or Other Cash-Back Credit Card

The Pottery Barn credit card is perfect if you’re a serious Pottery Barn shopper. There are zero fees and plenty of perks. For example:

  • Earn 10% back for shopping at Pottery Barn, Pottery Barn Kids, and Pottery Barn Teens when you spend $250 or more on a single purchase.
  • Receive early access to sales, limited-edition collaborations, and information on new arrivals.
  • Shop for $0 down with 12 months of financing on purchases of $750 or more.

The 10% back in reward points is the primary selling point for this card. For example, if you spend $3,000 redesigning your living room, that’s $300 in rewards — not bad for a no-fee credit card.

However, you must spend $250 in one transaction to get the reward, which severely limits the usefulness of this card if you don’t spend much money on your Pottery Barn trips.

If that’s the case, shop with some type of cash-back credit card to maximize savings.

Cards like the Chase Freedom Unlimited® (read our Chase Freedom Unlimited review) and American Express Blue Cash Preferred® card (read our American Express Blue Cash Preferred review)  are excellent options that have welcome bonuses and cash-back rewards for everyday spending, making them a better choice if you don’t frequently shop at Pottery Barn.

12. Take Advantage of the Military Discount

If you’re an active military member or veteran, you and your family can take advantage of Pottery Barn’s 15%-off military discount. This discount also applies to Pottery Barn Kids and Teens as well as Williams Sonoma.

Plus, military members also get 10% off on electronics at Williams Sonoma.

13. Create an Online Registry

If you have an upcoming wedding or want to save money on newborn expenses, Pottery Barn has registries you can use to save money.

The Pottery Barn wedding registry helps your wedding guests shop for gifts you’re actually going to use. Plus, you can add products from any retailer in the Williams Sonoma family of brands to a single registry.

You can also ask a registry expert to help you craft a registry list that suits your style.

After the wedding date, you get a 10% completion discount for up to six months, meaning you have six months to buy out the remaining merchandise on your registry at a discount.

The baby registry from Pottery Barn Kids works the same way, except you get a 20% completion bonus.

14. Save on your New Move

Paying for moving supplies to pack and ship all your stuff adds up fast.

Thankfully, Pottery Barn has several incentives to help keep moving costs down. For starters, you get $15 off when you spend $75 or more on Sherwin-Williams paint.

Since 2 gallons of Sherwin-Williams paint typically costs between $75 and $150, depending on the paint type, that’s generally enough to paint an average-size room if you’re applying two coats.

Note that Sherwin-Williams is on the pricier side, so unless you’re in love with one of its colors or need high-quality paint to cover up darker colors, brands like Behr and Valspar are typically more budget-friendly.

You can also sign up for the New Mover Program to receive a welcome catalog and design advice for your new home. Pottery Barn also offers free design services to new movers.

However, the best part of the moving program is the installation service. The retailer can mount your TV, hang curtains, paint your new home, and assist with other installation and assembly for a small fee.

First, verify the Pottery Barn in your area offers this service. Then get a quote and compare the price to hiring another professional or doing the work yourself.

15. Use the Pottery Barn Employee Discount

Pottery Barn employees get up to 40% off regularly priced merchandise and an additional 20% off on clearance. So if you’re looking for a side gig and have a redesign project coming up, applying to Pottery Barn could be worth it.

Plus, you can use the extra money to help pay for your upcoming project and take the sting out of paying for it with your regular paycheck.

The Williams Sonoma family of brands hires throughout the year, especially during the holidays, so keep an eye out for job postings if you’re considering this saving trick.

16. DIY Pottery Barn Knockoffs

Crafty shoppers might be better off getting creative than paying higher prices for official Pottery Barn items.

If you’re open to a DIY project, start by searching for Pottery Barn knockoffs on Pinterest. A single search yields hundreds of knockoff ideas, tutorials, and decor ideas you can use to transform your home while staying on budget.

Some design bloggers also focus on knockoff DIYs. Knock Off Decor has a category that’s full of Pottery Barn DIY projects that can save you money.

Often, these projects involve purchasing more affordable materials from places like the dollar store or a local hardware store. Some projects simply involve upcycling existing pieces of furniture to match Pottery Barn’s aesthetic.

Just remember to consider your time and level of experience before taking on a DIY project. If you can score massive savings and enjoy working with your hands, the knock-off route is one of the best ways to decorate your home on a budget.

But if you’re busy or just all thumbs, it’s probably a waste of time.


Final Word

Saving money and scoring discounts probably aren’t the first things that come to mind when you think of Pottery Barn. But it’s possible.

However, you should still shop around, especially if you have a massive home renovation project coming up. Retailers like Wayfair, Overstock, Crate & Barrel, and even general retailers like Target often carry cheaper alternatives to Pottery Barn products.

You might have to get creative and mix and match products from different retailers to achieve that Pottery Barn aesthetic. But if shopping at Pottery Barn alternatives saves you money and matches your design vision, it’s worth the effort.

If you’re committed to Pottery Barn, give yourself as much time as you can when planning your home makeover. If you can wait a few months for a clearance event or for specific pieces to go on sale, you can furnish your home with high-quality furniture and home decor without spending a fortune.

Source: moneycrashers.com

Top 5 DIY Home Skills You Should Know

One of the best parts about living in an apartment is that when something goes wrong (like the heat isn’t working or the toilet won’t stop running), you don’t really have to take care of it yourself — maintenance can help!

But there are some DIY basics you should know how to do yourself. Sometimes maintenance may not be as quick as you’d like, or it may just be something you’d rather handle on your own. From fixes to decor, here are five easy DIY projects you should know how to do:

How to unclog a drain

Small plumbing inconveniences like a clogged drain or toilet can be frustrating, but the great news is they’re pretty easy to take care of on your own. Unclogging a sink requires just the tiniest bit of plumbing know-how, but it’s relatively simple.

Top 5 DIY Skills You Should Know - How to Unclog a DrainTop 5 DIY Skills You Should Know - How to Unclog a Drain

First, remove the drain stopper by locating the pivot rod that’s holding it in place under your sink. The pivot rod should be stuck through the pipe and secured with a nut on the pipe near the bottom of the sink. Remove the nut and the rod, and the drain stopper should be easy to pull up and out.

Then, use a snake to clear the drain (you can buy these at any hardware store). Thread the snake as far as it will go into the drain– you want it to reach as deep into the P trap as it can go (that pipe that’s shaped like a U). Pull it out slowly, and repeat until you hook whatever’s clogging the pipes. Then, replace the drain stopper and pivot rod, and you’re finished!

Keep in mind that most landlords prohibit tenants from using products like Drano to clear clogs because they can damage pipes.

How to change a showerhead

​There’s nothing worse than a showerhead that makes taking a shower feel like you’re standing underneath a leaky faucet. But while showerheads can’t dictate water pressure, many can adjust the spray into something a little more bearable– and low-flow versions are better for the environment, too.

Top 5 DIY Skills You Should Know - How to Change a ShowerheadTop 5 DIY Skills You Should Know - How to Change a Showerhead

As far as easy DIY projects go, changing a showerhead is one of the simplest– just buy a new one and some Teflon tape (aka plumber’s tape).

Unscrew the old showerhead from its arm using an adjustable wrench or some pliers. You may have a fight on your hands if it’s old, but be careful not to apply too much pressure or squeeze too hard.

Once the old head is removed, clean the end of the pipe and wrap it in a new layer of Teflon tape to prevent leaks. Then, screw your new showerhead on over the tape, and voila! Good as new.

How to hang something heavy

You should know one DIY skill in particular to hang something heavy: how to find a stud. Studs are strong enough to withstand heavy items like floating shelves or mirrors, many of which could damage drywall. One easy way to find a stud is to use an electronic stud finder– just pick one up at the hardware store.

Top 5 DIY Skills You Should Know - How to Hang Something HeavyTop 5 DIY Skills You Should Know - How to Hang Something Heavy

You can also do it the old-fashioned way and simply knock on your walls– a hollow-sounding knock means no stud, while a solid-sounding knock means you’ve hit gold, so to speak. Remember that studs can always be found around windows, doors and in corners, and they’re located every 1.5 to 2 feet.

How to patch a hole in the wall

If you hang a bunch of stuff in your apartment, patching the holes in your walls may be necessary when you move out to ensure you get your security deposit back. All you need to patch holes is some lightweight spackle, a putty knife and some sandpaper.

Top 5 DIY Skills You Should Know - How to Patch a Hole in the WallTop 5 DIY Skills You Should Know - How to Patch a Hole in the Wall

Simply use one corner of the putty knife to scoop out a small amount of spackle, and use it to fill the hole. Then use the straight edge of the putty knife to smooth and even out the spackle. Let it dry for a few hours (or overnight), then sand the area lightly with your sandpaper, blending the spackle into the surrounding drywall.

How to fix your toilet

There are any number of toilet issues renters may want to learn how to fix themselves, but if there’s one you should know it’s how to fix a clog. If your toilet is clogged, it’s time to break out the plunger.

Top 5 DIY Skills You Should Know - How to Fix Your ToiletTop 5 DIY Skills You Should Know - How to Fix Your Toilet

First, place the plunger over the hole at the bottom of your toilet, making sure the rubber head is completely covered by water. If there isn’t enough water in the bowl, simply use a pitcher to add some more. Then, pump the handle into the head a few times and pull the plunger up sharply, breaking the seal. The power of suction should do the trick.

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Source: apartmentguide.com

Wondering How to Become an Audiobook Narrator? Here’s How

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2019. 

While readers and writers have skeptically watched the fluctuating publishing industry in recent years, one literary market has caught us all a bit by surprise: audiobooks.

Somewhere along the path of lengthy commutes and ubiquitous smartphones, a market for audiobooks erupted: people who don’t otherwise read much.

This exploding market makes it imperative for authors and publishers to get books into audio form and on the most popular platforms — Audible (Amazon) and iTunes.

Enter Amazon’s Audiobook Creative Exchange (ACX), which connects audiobook narrators with books to narrate.

Like other publishing services you’ll find at Amazon — CreateSpace for print-on-demand books, CDs and DVDs; and Kindle Direct Publishing for ebooks — ACX simplifies the process of producing an audiobook from start to finish.

If you’re an actor or voice-over artist, you could make money working in this market.

Not sure where to start? Here’s our guide.

How to Become an Audiobook Narrator

Actor Kris Keppeler has been doing voice-over work for over a decade.

“I got started through freelancing and bidding on work,” Keppeler said. “I bid on a short audiobook and got that, and it went well. When ACX came along, I started auditioning there… It’s taken a little bit to discover where my voice fits.”

Based on her experience, Keppeler shares some advice — and warnings — for anyone interested in doing audiobook work.

What You Need to Know Before Auditioning

Before you spend months auditioning to land your first gig, we have some tips to help you get started.

“My voice just fits with audiobook work,” Keppeler said. “Actors are especially tuned in for audiobook work, by the nature of our training.”

That’s because actors learn how to represent multiple characters, necessary for fiction narration in particular. Even for nonfiction, acting training can help you animate narration and make a book interesting.

“You definitely have to have some training,” Keppeler said. “If you regularly listen to audiobooks and like them, that’s a good starting point. But you have to have a real desire to do this kind of work, because it’s a lot of work.”

How is narrating an audiobook different from just reading a book aloud?

“When you read a book, you’re seeing and hearing things in your mind,” she said. “When you’re narrating that book, what you’re seeing and hearing in your mind you have to then vocalize. That’s not easy!”

Because an audiobook listener relies entirely on your narration, painting the picture just right (and meeting the author’s vision) is vital. It’s a distinct difference from other voice-over work, like commercials, where images or video complement the narration.

Because of this need to draw the reader into a made-up world, narrating fiction requires acting skills. Not everyone is cut out for it.

But, “nonfiction has its own challenge,” Keppeler said. “Sometimes what you’re reading is kind of dry, but you still have to make it interesting.”

She says it doesn’t necessarily matter whether a book is interesting to her.

“At this point, whether it is or not, I am narrating it and finding the interesting bits for me and putting it into my voice,” Keppeler said.

Even if you don’t enjoy the subject matter, you can still enjoy the process of producing the book for readers.

Learn Proper Technique

Before landing her first gig through ACX, Keppeler submitted auditions to the platform for well over a year.

Why does it take so long to land a gig?

Some of it, Keppeler says, is just learning how to narrate correctly. “I had some coaching that finally brought me to the point of doing a fairly good job.”

Author Joanna Penn recorded the audio versions of some of her own books. If you can’t afford coaching, she offers some tips for beginners at The Creative Penn to help you get started.

Some tricks to consider:

  • If you’re new at recording, schedule sessions a few days apart to ensure you have enough energy.
  • Try to avoid dairy before recording. Same goes for foods like peanut butter or anything that clogs up your mouth or throat (yeck!).
  • Try to modulate your breathing so you don’t end up holding your breath. This has a real effect on stamina.

Find Your Niche

Once she’d mastered the audiobook reading techniques, Keppeler said, she had to find her niche.

She used trial and error. She took whatever narration work came her way, and listened to client feedback. When an author liked her voice, she knew it was a good fit.

“In voice-over in general, there are so many different genres,” she said. “Most people find you have certain specialities and certain ones don’t fit.”

Once you know your voice and which genres are the best fit, she says, jobs come much more quickly.

Only audition for gigs that fit your voice, and the success rate is much higher. You can even search for books by genre.

“I’m becoming a bit of a nonfiction specialist,” Keppeler said. “[When it comes to fiction], it’s hard to learn to do the different voices… Fiction books are heavily character-based, so you’re going to have to handle [those] unless you’re hired to work with a group, but that’s not that common.”

The Challenges of Audiobook Narration

Some of the work involved goes beyond just recording the voice-over. “Especially if you work through ACX, you have to do the producing yourself,” Keppeler said. “[That’s] editing and mastering yourself. There’s a technical learning curve.”

Audiobooks require hours and hours of editing, making them much more labor intensive than a lot of other voice-over work.

“What I learned editing smaller jobs contributed a lot to being able to jump into audiobooks,” Keppeler said.

So you might consider starting small.

Search online for voice-over jobs — you’ll find promotional videos under five minutes or corporate training videos of five to 15 minutes.

Even online course videos requiring a few hours of voice-over are much shorter than most audiobooks, which run closer to 10 to 15 hours. Hone your skills on smaller jobs and work your way up to the lengthier projects.

What about contracting the technical stuff out to an audio editor? Keppeler says that for what you’re paid, it’s not usually worth it for an audiobook.

You’re expected to record, produce and deliver a finished product. Any additional help you bring in will cut into your pay. Keppeler says you’re better off just learning to do it yourself.

The Creative Penn also offers a few editing tips:

  • Avoid page turning noises — read from a tablet, Kindle or other electronic device.
  • Turn off any devices’ Wi-Fi connections and set them to Airplane mode to avoid static noises. (They may be there, even if you can’t hear them.)
  • Each ACX file needs to be a single chapter of the book. It’s easier to record these as separate files rather than cut it up later.
  • The ACX technical requirements mean you have to add a few seconds of Room Tone at the beginning and end of the file.

How Much Money Can You Make Reading Audiobooks?

ACX doesn’t set or recommend rates for producers to charge.

But it does point out many narrators are members of the SAG-AFTRA union, which lists minimum rate restrictions.

These guaranteed rates vary by publisher/producer. Author Roz Morris tells authors to expect to pay around $200 per finished hour for audiobook narration.

However, Keppeler says most freelance audiobook work will be paid in royalties. As you might guess, this reduces an author’s upfront cost — as well as their risk in hiring you.

While ACX may be a good place to find the work, the pay is usually lower, especially compared with freelance broker sites that aren’t dedicated solely to audiobook narration.

When you record an audiobook with ACX, you’ll choose between setting your own per-finished-hour rate or splitting royalties 50/50 with the rights holder (usually the book’s author or publisher).

If you charge a flat rate, you’ll be paid upon completion of the book. Royalties are paid monthly based on sales from the previous month.

Mostly, Keppeler focuses on short books she can quickly complete. And she gets paid a flat rate of about $100 per finished hour, rather than royalties.

“I have done royalty deals but only on ACX with short books,” she said.

“I don’t want to tie up my time, because you [typically] make very little on royalty books… I have four royalty books [on ACX], and about $20 trickles in every quarter.”

Whether or not a royalty deal pays off is largely based on an author’s platform, The Creative Penn points out. Research an author before signing an agreement.

If you’re just looking for a quick job and aren’t concerned with long-term sales, you can work with an author regardless of their audience. Set a flat rate, and get your money when the job’s done.

But if you want to develop a long-term relationship with an author and you’ve found someone with a sizable audience, you may be better off with the royalty deal.

Long term, you could make much more money in sales royalties. Your working relationship with the author also will be strengthened, because you’ll be invested in the book’s success.

Where to Find Audiobook Work

As with any freelance work, booking a gig directly with the client in your network allows you the most autonomy in setting your rate.

Connecting with a client through a freelance broker like Upwork and Freelancer offers less autonomy and usually lower rates than working with someone directly.

Bidding through an exchange site like ACX offers the lowest of both.

“I only go out to ACX when I don’t have other paid work,” Keppeler said.

ACX also makes it difficult to achieve one of the staples of successful freelance work: repeat clients.

Keppeler said the platform isn’t really set up to connect authors with narrators long-term. Instead you audition for each job. It eliminates a huge opportunity for narrators to work with an author on a series or future books.

Directly connecting through a freelance broker does offer that opportunity. Keppeler said it’s how she found the author of this series of books on Wicca, which offered her ongoing work.

What ACX is good for, she said, is building your portfolio.

If you’re just getting started, the platform gives you an opportunity to hone your chops.

Practice your narrating and editing skills through auditions, and improve from author feedback. Once you land a few gigs, use those as samples to land clients elsewhere.

As audiobooks increase in popularity, Keppeler is seeing more audiobook work appear on Upwork. Freelancers, she says, tend to be better for general voice-over gigs, but not audiobook narration.

Audiobook Narrator Must-Haves

Keppeler’s top tip for anyone getting into voice-over work is to invest in a good microphone and headphones.

Early on, she says,  “I lost out on work because I didn’t have a really great pair of headphones, and there was background noise that I wasn’t hearing. If you send something out that’s not good enough, they will never hire you again.”

Eventually, she hired a professional to help improve her set-up. She says she wishes she had done it up front, instead of DIYing.

A good pre-amp or audiobox can also help clean up your sound and eliminate background noise. But Keppeler warns against buying a cheap one — it’s a tool worth spending money on.

Finally, “You have to have a desire to learn the technical part of it,” she said. “You can ruin an audiobook with bad editing.”

How to Get Started

ACX offers comprehensive guides and FAQs for authors, narrators and publishers, so review those before you get started.

Here’s an overview of how it works:

  1. Create a profile to detail your experience.

  2. Upload samples to your profile to showcase your various skills — accents, genre, style, etc.

  3. Determine whether you’ll always want to be paid per finished hour or by royalty agreements, or if you’re open to either.

  4. Search for books authors/publishers have posted, and record a few minutes of the manuscript to audition for the gig.

  5. When you’re chosen by the author/publisher, they’ll send you an offer. To take the job, accept the offer. All of this should happen through ACX (not over the phone or via email) to ensure the contract terms are on record.

  6. Record and edit a 15-minute sample for feedback before recording and editing the full project. They’ll also have the right to approve or request changes once you’ve submitted the full project.

  7. You’ll be paid a flat rate upon completion and approval of the project or monthly royalty payments based on book sales.

If you’re just getting started in voice-over work, try browsing Upwork for smaller projects you can use to find your voice, build your technical skills and grow your portfolio.

Or reach into your network, and get creative to find freelancing gigs on your own.

Dana Sitar (@danasitar) is a former branded content editor at The Penny Hoarder.

Source: thepennyhoarder.com