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*Please note that this article contains affiliate links. Fancy Pants Homes will receive a small percentage out of the value of anything you buy if referred by our site, money that will go into creating content for you. Thank you for supporting Fancy Pants Homes.

We make a goal out of building our dream home one day and we work hard to make it happen. Ever passed by a gorgeous house and just stared at it for a few minutes? I know I did! Then went about my business thinking I’ll probably never afford it anyway…

But what if you could create an amazing home using dollar store decorating hacks? After all, it’s just about combining cool ideas with good taste. And if you’re not the creative type, don’t worry! We’ll give you a list of ingenious home hacks that will transform your interiors.

Here are 16 of our favorite decor hacks for an affordable fancy home: 

1. Use lighter colors when painting a small room to make it feel bigger

If you’re lacking on space, the first trick you can use to make a room feel larger is painting the walls in softer, lighter colors. White and beige never get out of style, but if these seem a bit dull, you can always choose soft shades like straw, pearl grey, blush, sage, sky blue or eggshell.

home decor tip paint small rooms in light colors

2. Signal your style by painting your front door in a vibrant color

Your front door is your home’s first impression. Tell your neighbors about your personality by painting it in a bold, glossy color.

In fact, you can even use take things a step further and make a statement with the color you choose for your front door and make use of conventions. For instance, in Feng Shui, a red front door simply means “welcome.” While in Scotland, painting your front door red means that you paid off your mortgage.

home decor trick paint front door in vibrant color

3. Hide your router inside a hollowed-out book

Tired of that router ruining the looks of your bookshelf or coffee table? Use a hollowed-out book to hide it. Just make sure to cut out the part that covers the router’s vents. This way you’ll prevent it from overheating.

home decor tip hiding an ugly router in a book

4. To cast a lovely shadow, use a Sharpie to draw shapes on a light bulb

Or color it entirely if you love soft light. However, if you choose to simply draw a smiley face (let’s say) on a light bulb, the pattern will not be reflected on the walls. Not as you’ve drawn it anyway. But you can still do it for the sake of design.

home decor tip painting a lightbulb

5. Paint the sides of your doors a bright, playful color 

This is a small DIY home decor hack that can actually make a big impact. Besides, it requires minimum time and effort. So grab a little tin of paint, pick an awesome color that you think goes well with the accents you’ve already incorporated in your home decor and dedicate an hour of your time for this small home project. You will love the result! 

home decor tip painting the side of the door

6. Use an old ladder to create your own shoe rack

We love DIY hacks that require little to no money. Depending on how your old ladder looks like, you can repaint it or just put it in the desired spot. At least now you won’t stumble over 10 pairs of shoes piling up at your front door.

home decor trick repurposing a lader as shoe rack

7. Reinvent a boring dark lampshade by poking holes in it

Well, it’s more like creating a design or an image by poking the lampshade. You want to make it look more interesting, not ruin it. With a little dedication you can create a dreamy starry effect or your own big city lights.

home decor hack poke holes in a lampshade

8. Restore old furniture by using contact paper

If you’re looking for cheap home DIY decor ideas, breathe life into an old piece of furniture by covering the ‘damage’ with contact paper. The good thing about contact paper is that you can stick it on any dry, clean and flat surface (not to mention it comes in so many beautiful colors and patterns that your design choices are endless).

And just like that, your kitchen countertop has that marble look you love but can’t afford.

home decor hack use contact paper to restore furniturehome decor hack use contact paper to restore furniture

9. Use coins to decorate… whatever you want

Time to break the piggy bank and get creative. Make yourself a penny floor; glue your coin collection on a mirror frame or on a plate. Home decor hacks are a wise way to use your pennies.

home decor trick using old coins

10. Frame your favorite pictures with washi tape

Most of us love hanging memories on the wall, but when we lack space, picture frames can crowd the place even more. A great and cheaper alternative would be to frame your pictures with washi tape after attaching them to the wall.

Home decor hack use washi tape instead of photo frames

11. Brighten your room with colorful throw pillows

Those small cushions are great accessories for your sofa. Don’t be afraid to mix and match colors and textures. Some crisp new pillow covers will change the overall appearance of your room.

>> Buy them here: Colorful and affordable throw pillows that will add extra flair to your room

home decor trick using colorful throw pillows

12. Go bold with a stylish backslash

You can do it for both your kitchen and your toilet without breaking the bank. Pay special attention to colors and patterns to bring a cheerful feeling with very little work on your part. You can use peel and stick tiles so you don’t break the piggy bank.

>> Buy it hereAdd Color And Drama To Your Room With Peel And Stick Wallpapers

home decor hack update your backsplash with stick tiles

13. Use mirrors to make your room look larger

Large mirrors reflect the room back and will trick you into thinking a place is bigger than it actually is. It’s a great visual trick to use to make your room feel larger (and fancier), just make sure not to try going into the ‘other room’.

home decor hack using mirrors to make a room appear larger

14. Get rid of useless things

If you still have things you haven’t been using for years or a certain object makes you groan, get rid of it. Don’t act like a hoarder and give yourself some space to breathe. Less is usually better when decorating your home.

home decor trick decluttering

15. Pick fluffy towels you’ll love to use

Time to throw away those old discolored towels that make your space look dirty and cheap. Use the fluffy ones you keep in your closet. You know… those that make you feel like you’re staying in a fancy hotel. 🙂 You can easily score extra points here by playing around with the way you showcase them. 

home decor tip using fluffy luxury towels

16. Place dishwashing products on a cake stand

This is literally one of the easiest decorating hacks out there. Add style to your boring dishwashing products by placing them on a cake stand. Talk about an easy hack to make your kitchen look more fancy in an instant! 

home decorating trick use a cake stand for soap

What home decor tips have you tried and loved the results? Let us know in the comments, we’d love to feature them!

Bonus: 17. Breathe life into your space by adding indoor plants

Decorating with indoor plants is a cost effective way to add visual interest to any room without breaking the bank. Plants can be displayed in many different ways from bohemian macrame plants hangers to more expensive stand alone planters, depending on your budget. The great thing about decorating with plants is that unlike other home decor they are truly timeless and will grow and adapt to your interior over time providing a unique look. 

More tips for your fancy home

10 of the Most Stylish Minimalist Wall Clocks You Can Buy on Amazon
7 Top Decorating Ideas for Your Bedroom this Fall: Making Your Room More Cozy & Stylish
Here’s Everything You Need to Set Up a Meditation Corner in Your House
These are ‘Queer Eye’ Bobby Berk’s Top 6 Choices for Wall Décor


Apache is functioning normally

If you happen to be on the market for your first, second, or even third home, and are not too keen on taking out a 30-year house mortgage from a bank, then a prefabricated home may be a good option for you.

Actually, an article on How Stuff Works pointed out that prefab homes have been a great housing on a budget strategy since the early 1900s, costing on average 20-40% less than traditional stick-built, architect designed homes.

What are prefab homes?

Essentially, prefab housing is a system where a house is pre-manufactured in parts off-site (usually in a factory) and then delivered, also in parts, on a building site to be put together by a handful of people, skilled in building a home.

Imagine getting a box from Ikea and getting ready to assemble a book cabinet or a table, only this one will have thousands more building pieces — and considerably heavier and more complex. But that’s still a house in a box! 

In addition to their affordability, energy efficiency and speedy construction, prefab homes have also been adapted over the years to meet the architectural designs of more current times.

Prefab home manufacturers constantly implement the latest innovations into their designs for that high-end, updated, modern look within a sustainable, purposeful living space and all around zen.

Photo by Evan Leith on Unsplash

So how much does a modern prefab cost?

According to the guys at Stillwater Dwelling, the average total project price for prefab homes range from $350 to $450/sq. foot.

This is a national average. Needless to say, the site conditions (location, topography, soil conditions, etc.) and choice of finish will impact the total project cost.

There are wide options of finishes depending on your personal taste and how much you are willing to invest in a place you will soon call your home.

For a better understanding of the costs you’d be looking at, Tough Nickel has listed a few sample prefab homes and unit prices, ranging from $75,000 as one of the cheapest to $566,000 as some of the priciest.

The biggest con amidst all these pros however is that you have to own the land you build your prefab house on. This means on top of the price of your home kit, you will have to buy the land.

The cost of getting the land home-ready, e.g. power and water installation, are also at your expense.

Photo by Kristin Ellis on Unsplash

Other costs you should factor in

According to SmartAsset, you would most likely need to shoulder cost for inspections, permits and soil testing on the land. This can all easily add up and therefore needs to be factored in beforehand. Like everything else in life, good planning can make a world of a difference.

Overall, building a modern prefabricated home is no doubt a cost-effective way to put a permanent roof over your head.

You just have to take your time and do your research, discuss your ideas extensively with every manufacturer you are considering, and take full charge of the construction of your own home. Happy building!

Learn more about prefab homes

* Please note that this section contains affiliate links and we might receive a small commission if you make a purchase by clicking on these links *

Here is some recommended reading and great inspiration if you are considering getting a prefabricated home. We curated this list of helpful resources to give you access to more comprehensive information on the costs of building a prefabricated home, best practices and tips to make it as energy efficient as possible. Please note that the following affiliate links might earns us a commission if you buy any of the guides or illustrated books.

Prefabulous and Sustainable: Building and Customizing an Affordable, Energy-Efficient Home
Tiny House Designing, Building, & Living (Idiot’s Guides)
Prefabulous + Almost Off the Grid: Your Path to Building an Energy-Independent Home
And if you just want to look at gorgeous prefabricated homes, make sure to grab this for your coffee table: Prefabulous Small Houses – Hardcover


Apache is functioning normally

If we were to ask you to imagine your dream home, what would your mind conjure up?

Perhaps you’d love a penthouse in the skies or a palatial property with sweeping gardens. What about a lush forest paradise away from civilization or an opulent oceanfront property?

Maybe a hillside mansion with an infinity pool or a good ol’ swanky apartment in a coveted address is more your style.

What if we told you that you no longer need to choose just one view or destination because you can have it all?

penthouse on the NJORD Superyacht.
A luxurious penthouse on the NJORD Superyacht. Photo credit: Ocean Residences

Welcome aboard the NJORD, a one-of-a-kind superyacht that redefines luxury living as we know it.

Aptly named after the Norse god of the wind and seas, NJORD is being developed by Ocean Residences Development and German shipyard, Meyer Werft.

A look at the luxury homes aboard the NJORD Superyacht 

Once completed, NJORD will offer 117 private residences that range from 1,500 to 9,000 square feet with two to six bedrooms. There will also be 16 duplexes and triplexes that have their own private elevators.

The prestigious homes will be priced from $8.5 million to $70 million.

The project is expected to be completed by 2026, but the first ten homes aboard the NJORD Superyacht are already up for grabs. And they’re quite spectacular!

bedroom inside a luxury residence on the NJORD Superyacht.
Bedroom of a luxury residence on the NJORD Superyacht. Photo credit: David Linley | Ocean Residences

To add a personalized touch, the developers have brought many interior designers and architects on board including Kelly Hoppen and David Linley who have worked on the first 10 units as well as Jean-Michel Gathy, Francesca Muzio, Sabrina Monteleone, Taylor Howes, and 1508 London.

private elevator inside a luxury residence on the NJORD Superyacht.
Inside a luxury residence on the NJORD Superyacht. Photo credit: David Linley | Ocean Residences
kitchen inside a luxury residence on the NJORD Superyacht.
Inside a luxury residence on the NJORD Superyacht. Photo credit: David Linley | Ocean Residences
living room inside a luxury residence on the NJORD Superyacht.
Inside a luxury residence on the NJORD Superyacht. Photo credit: David Linley | Ocean Residences
living room inside a luxury residence on the NJORD Superyacht.
Inside a luxury residence on the NJORD Superyacht. Photo credit: David Linley | Ocean Residences

Future residents can choose from 15 different floor plans and — while each residence is intended to be unique — there are also certain similarities like floor-to-ceiling windows, smart home technology, Gaggenau appliances, and of course, private balconies with spectacular views of the ocean. 

living room inside a luxury residence in the NJORD Superyacht
Inside the luxury homes of the NJORD Superyacht. Photo credit: Ocean Residences

The epic 948-feet superyacht also includes other features like gourmet kitchens with custom cabinetry by Studio Becker, walk-in closets, ensuite bathrooms, personalized housekeeping, laundry, and tailoring services.

The luxury doesn’t end there though.

The vessel comes with a travel and excursion concierge for the more adventurous residents, a Eurocopter 160, four superyacht limo tenders, two dive and fishing boats, a dive center, and an excursion lounge.

The deck of a penthouse aboard the NJORD Superyacht.
The deck of a penthouse aboard the NJORD Superyacht. Photo credit: Ocean Residences

All of the residents’ culinary requirements will be taken care of in the six world-class restaurants and bars on board.

For the health and mental well-being of residents, there’s the Chenot Spa and Wellness Center and a Chenot Gym and Fitness Center.

Other than that, there’s also a telescope space observatory, a golf simulator and pro shop, a gourmet market and shops, a kids club, outdoor terraces, and multiple pools.

Lastly, the party never has to end thanks to the onboard nightclub, jazz lounge, and 10,000 -bottle wine cellar. 

The first 10 private NJORD residences are now on the market

While the groundbreaking residential project is only slated for completion in 2026, the first private homes aboard the superyacht have recently been listed for sale.

The living room of a luxury residence on the NJORD Superyacht.
The living room of a luxury residence on the NJORD Superyacht. Photo credit: David Linley | Ocean Residences

The sales and marketing for the first ten residences aboard NJORD will be led by global real estate brokerage The Agency, with CEO/founder Mauricio Umansky and principal & managing partner Santiago Arana at the helm.

“We are proud to represent the sales and marketing for the first ten incredible residences aboard NJORD, one of the most innovative and exclusive residential offerings in the world,” says Mauricio Umansky.

“With its thoughtfully designed residences, endless array of amenities and philanthropic and scientific purpose, buyers have the unique opportunity to live aboard one of the finest vessels to ever be built,” Umansky added.

Bedroom of a luxury residence on the NJORD Superyacht.
Bedroom of a luxury residence on the NJORD Superyacht. Photo credit: David Linley | Ocean Residences

If Mauricio Umansky’s name rings a bell but you don’t know where from, you might know him from The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills (he’s Kyle Richard’s husband).

You’ll also be seeing a lot more of him on Netflix’s Buying Beverly Hills, which follows him and his stellar team of real estate agents. And we’re kind of hoping the new reality series will also give us a closer look inside the NJORD Superyacht and its luxury residences.

“We’re delighted Mauricio Umansky and Santiago Arana of The Agency will be at the helm of sales and marketing for the first ten luxury residences aboard NJORD,” said Kristian Stensby, Founder and CEO of Ocean Residences Development.

“With their combined record-breaking career success, global reach and white-glove service, we can’t think of a better team than The Agency to represent NJORD, the finest address everywhere in the world.”

Luxury meets sustainability

NJORD is more than just a collection of upscale residences.

The NJORD Superyacht at sea
The NJORD Superyacht. Photo credit: Ocean Residences

It’s an adventure around the globe and, according to Alain Gruber, COO of Ocean Residences Development Ltd, residents can choose to either completely relax or participate in the activities and expeditions planned by the concierge.

The best part about NJORD (other than the fact that you will get to circumnavigate the planet) is that you will do so sustainably.

The developers aim to build it under strict environmental regulations to minimize its carbon footprint.

The vessel will not only use carbon-neutral fuel but also include a professional oceanographic laboratory, a cloud computing system, multibeam echo sounders, and other resources to help the scientific community tackle environmental issues like climate change.

Talk about a new wave of residential living!

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Apache is functioning normally

A 15-time Grammy Award-winning singer/songwriter/producer, not to mention best-selling author, entrepreneur and The Voice judge, Alicia Keys is a trailblazer.

With a thriving career that spans more than two decades, the Empire State of Mind singer is one of the biggest names in the music industry. And her personal life is equally full of achievements.

Back in 2010, she married record producer/rapper Swizz Beatz (by his real name, Kasseem Daoud Dean), and the two welcomed two children to the family: Egypt Daoud and Genesis Ali Dean.

So it only makes sense that this exceptional artist lives in a house that’s just as impressive as her neverending list of trophies and awards.

exterior view of Alicia Keys' house, known as the Razor House
Alicia Keys’ house in La Jolla, California. Credit: Gary Kasl courtesy of The Agency

In 2019, Grammy Award-winning singer Alicia Keys and husband Swizz Beatz paid $20.8 million for a striking cliffside mansion in San Diego’s upscale La Jolla neighborhood.

The high-profile purchase even made its way to our TV screens, as part of Bravo’s Million Dollar Listings LA show, which brought the already-famous property back into the spotlight.

The one-of-a-kind architectural masterpiece — widely known as The Razor House — has been getting people talking since it was first designed in 2007 by San Diego-based architect Wallace E. Cunningham.

The imposing concrete and glass mansion is perched on the edge of a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

And while many have been dubbing it ‘the Iron Man house’ due to its resemblance to Tony Stark’s house, it may be time for a new nickname that suits its famous owners better.

singer alicia keys and husband swizz beatz, the owners of the razor house
Alicia Keys and Swizz Beatz, the famous owners of the Razor House. Image credit: Georges Biard, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

A closer look at Alicia Keys’ house, an architectural marvel overlooking the ocean

The modern cliffside mansion was designed by AD100 architect Wallace E. Cunningham, most famous for his striking residential projects, which he likens to sculptures.

More specifically, as the architect himself put it, he designs “one-of-a-kind sculptures for people to live in.

SEE ALSO: Drake’s House in Toronto, the Star of his ‘Toosie Slide’ Video, Is Peak Luxury

And that couldn’t be more true for some of his iconic residential projects: the Harmony House and the Wing House in Rancho Santa Fe, and the architecturally distinct Razor House that Alicia Keys and Swizz Beatz now call home.

the razor house alicia keys home
Alicia Keys’ house in La Jolla, CA, known as The Razor House. Credit: Gary Kasl courtesy of The Agency

Perched on the edge of a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean, the concrete and glass structure has long been rumored to be the real-life version of Tony Stark‘s futuristic mansion.

But the home has never made an appearance in any blockbuster movie.

the razor house alicia keys home
View from the Razor House at sunset. Credit: Gary Kasl courtesy of The Agency

It was, however, used for a VISA Black commercial and a luxurious Calvin Klein ad, but that’s pretty much all the screen time the mansion got.

That’s a shame because the house itself is worthy of the biggest screens on earth.

Nearly every wall in the residence is glass, while the floors are mostly hewn from travertine stone. An extra-long infinity pool (one of many) juts out over the cliff’s edge, turning swimming into the stuff dreams are made off.

Front-facing view of Alicia Keys' home, made out of glass and concrete
Front-facing view of Alicia Keys’ home. Credit: Gary Kasl courtesy of The Agency

Swizz Beatz and Alicia Keys’ house has endless concrete terraces that make the most out of the mesmerizing views of surrounding hills and the ocean below.

The three-story home comes with 6 bedrooms and 6.5 baths, with nearly every room opening up to stunning views.

SEE ALSO: Lizzo’s house in Los Angeles, a $15M luxe ‘treehouse’ with a celebrity past

circular sofa with ocean views inside Alicia Keys house
Inside Alicia Keys’ house. Credit: Gary Kasl courtesy of The Agency
Bedroom with glass walls and ocean views inside Alicia Keys' house
Bedroom with ocean views inside Alicia Keys’ house. Credit: Gary Kasl courtesy of The Agency

Fashioned with a state-of-the-art kitchen and giant round living room anchored by a fireplace, Alicia and her music producer husband, Swizz Beatz, have everything they need to unwind with their sons, Egypt and Genesis, including several outdoor lounge areas. 

Inside Alicia Keys' house, La Jolla, CA.
Inside Alicia Keys’ house, La Jolla, CA. Credit: Gary Kasl courtesy of The Agency

SEE ALSO: Where does Adele live? A look at the $58M ‘house that Rocky built’

Inside Alicia Keys' house, La Jolla, CA.
Inside Alicia Keys’ house, La Jolla, CA. Credit: Gary Kasl courtesy of The Agency

Among its most notable amenities, the Razor House lists: an extensive fitness space, two steam rooms, a den, a theater, and a library with a custom-made Ralph Lauren pool table.

Inside Alicia Keys' house, La Jolla, CA.
Inside Alicia Keys’ house, La Jolla, CA. Credit: Gary Kasl courtesy of The Agency

The Razor House was initially listed for $30 million

Initially listed for sale in 2018 for $30 million, La Jolla’s most famous home took a little over a year to make a buyer fall in love with it up to the point of committing enough to put a ring around…. those house keys.

the razor house alicia keys home
The Razor House in La Jolla, CA. Credit: Gary Kasl courtesy of The Agency

But when it did, it nabbed more than just a nice selling price and some very famous new owners.

Putting an end to the property’s year-long run on the market, Alicia and her powerhouse music producer husband Kasseem Dean, better known as Swizz Beatz, purchased the Razor House for a cool $20.8 million.

The $20M+ selling price (despite being a considerable drop from the initial asking) made it one of the most expensive homes sold in La Jolla, California in 2019 — proving once again that whatever Alicia Keys does, she does in style and ready to set new records!

Neither Alicia Keys nor Swizz Beatz (who has produced hit singles for the likes of Kanye West, Jay-Z and Beyoncé) had any connection to La Jolla or the larger San Diego area when they bought the home, leading people to speculate that the iconic residence will serve as a vacation home for the couple.

But a tour given to Architectural Digest in late 2021 proved them wrong.

Not only do Alicia Keys and Swizz Beatz live in the Razor House, but they’ve turned it into an elegant, art-filled, inviting home. Take the tour:

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The history of the Razor House before it became Alicia Keys’ home

According to the San Diego Reader, the futuristic structure was named after the land it sits on, a three-quarter-acre lot near Razor Point.

Created for original owner Don Cooksey (a software designer and entrepreneur who later filed for bankruptcy) many architects initially backed away from the ambitious project, calling it “rebuildable”.

That’s until Cooksey approached Wallace E. Cunningham, who bought the modernist gem to life — and built the dramatic estate to match the breathtaking landscape that surrounds it.

By 2011, following the financial hardships of its initial owner, The Razor House ended up in bankruptcy sale.

the razor house alicia keys home
The Razor House in La Jolla, CA. Credit: Gary Kasl courtesy of The Agency

According to, Donald Burns, a Florida-based telecom entrepreneur and inventor of the magicJack — a device that allows you to make calls from your computer — purchased the property as a second home at the 2011 bankruptcy sale.

Burns paid $14,097,000 for the home and invested heavily in the property.

“He made a lot of upgrades to it,” Matt Altman, one of the property’s listing agents and star of reality TV show Million Dollar Listing Los Angeles said.

“He updated to the next level. He wasn’t doing this to make money; he was doing this to make a nice home. He did a significant amount of work on this house.”

The entire home is automated and optimized for iPad control of everything from audio and visual systems to motorized window coverings and control of the home’s radiant floor heating, air conditioning.

There’s also a backup generator to ensure power never goes down, and an entire computer room is dedicated to housing the home’s automation control systems. So basically, The Razor House may not be Iron Man’s house, but it does comes with its own Jarvis.

*This article was first published in September, 2019, reporting on the famous couple’s purchase of the home. It has since been updated for timeliness and accuracy.

More celebrity homes

Travis Scott’s House is a $23.5M Ultra-Modern, Yacht-Inspired Mansion
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Chrissy Teigen and John Legend’s house in Beverly Hills


Apache is functioning normally

Alejandro Lazo | CalMatter

In this economy, who has enough money for a down payment on a house? 

Despite a projected $25 billion budget deficit, the state of California does. At least for now.

The California Housing Finance Agency is poised to launch a scaled-down version of its new shared equity home loan program on March 27. With the Dream for All program, the state plans to provide $300 million worth of down payments for an estimated 2,300 first-time homebuyers.

The complicated program involves the state paying some or all of the upfront costs for buying a home — the down payment, for instance — in exchange for a share in the home’s value when it is sold, refinanced or transferred.

If the home appreciates in value, those gains to the state would then be used to fund the next borrowers — a little for the seller; a little for the next aspiring buyer. 

Everybody wins — as long as prices go up.

The trouble is that home prices have been declining in the state for months, even as higher mortgage interest rates have made monthly mortgage payments more expensive.

A potential economic downturn looms as well, as the Federal Reserve  weighs raising borrowing costs even further as soon as today. 

And California’s tech industry is taking a beating and laying off workers, contributing to a decline in personal incomes. Income taxes are the state’s biggest revenue source.

Given the uncertainty, Gov. Gavin Newsom in January proposed a significantly smaller version of the 10-year, $10 billion program originally envisioned by Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins, a Democrat from San Diego. In his January budget, Newsom proposed spending an initial $300 million on the program, a cut from the $500 million compromise signed last year.

Optimism and expectations

The size and scope of the Dream for All program will likely be a subject of negotiations between Newsom and the overwhelmingly Democratic Legislature this year. The governor is expected to offer a revised state spending plan and a new financial forecast in May. Lawmakers must pass a balanced budget by June 15 in order to get paid.

The proposed cut “will not impact the Administration’s commitment or timeline for implementing the program,” Newsom’s Department of Finance said in January.

In a Feb. 13 email to CalMatters, Christopher Woods, budget director for Atkins, said her office will seek more funding for the program.

“The Governor ‘proposing’ to pull back some funds has very little to do with what will actually happen,” Woods wrote to CalMatters, in response to earlier coverage of the program. “No one should expect the program to be cut, and we should all fully expect additional funds – perhaps as much as $1 billion – to be allocated in the 2023-24 Budget Act.”

“With interest rates rising, the program is needed more than ever … and there are several innovative ways to fund the program,” Woods wrote.

Woods declined to answer follow-up questions for this story. 

Atkins, who championed the equity sharing program last year, has said the Dream for All program is a priority. She said in a recent statement she isn’t giving up on getting more money for it.

“Our state is about to launch a program that will help change people’s lives for the better, and make the dream of homeownership a reality,” she said. “While existing funding for the California Dream for All is a great first step, we are working to allocate additional funding in the upcoming state budget — with the ultimate goal of providing $1 billion per year — to help even more families set the foundation for building generational wealth.”

Falling equity

The uncertainty in the economy and housing market has been a subject of discussion at CalHFA for months, as officials and political appointees seek to launch a program meant to take advantage of rising home prices at the very moment home equity is falling.

State officials said buyers positioned to hold onto a property for the long-term are those best suited for the program when home prices are falling.

In a presentation to its board of directors in January, CalHFA officials also said the agency is planning for a program with a potentially “very short life cycle.”

“Having lived the dream of buying a house in Los Angeles in 1989, when the market peaked, and then selling it at a loss almost a decade later, I can appreciate that the market doesn’t always go up,” Jim Cervantes, CalHFA’s chair, said during that Jan. 19 meeting. 

“Disclosures, whatever we can do to mitigate — or rather, have prospective buyers understand what they’re getting into — would be extremely valuable, because no one’s a good market timer.”

California home prices, already rising for years, saw big gains during the pandemic, as mortgage interest rates hit historic lows and families sought more space for their remote work set-ups to practice social distancing.

The median price of a previously-owned, single-family home in California, as tracked by the California Association of Realtors, increased 47% from March 2020 to May 2022, when it peaked at $900,170. 

That same month the Federal Reserve, in order to tackle inflation, began its most aggressive interest rate hikes in years driving up mortgage costs for consumers.

Since May 2022, the state’s median home price has fallen 16.5% to hit $751,330 in January.

Market change

Despite the decline in home prices, monthly mortgage costs continue to make the state’s housing market more unaffordable than at nearly any point in the last 15 years, particularly for lower- and middle-class families. Only 17% of families in California could afford a median-priced single family home at the end of last year, according to the Realtors group.

Given the rapid market changes, Tiena Johnson Hall, CalHFA’s executive director, called the governor’s reductions in Dream for All funding prudent at CalHFA’s January meeting. “There’s still a lot of room for (home) values to continue to decrease, and that is what we expect to see,” she said. 

In February, the state’s nonpartisan legislative analyst projected a revised $25 billion deficit in next year’s state budget. Since then, job growth nationally and in California has remained strong, except for layoffs in the tech sector.

The full details of the Dream for All program — for instance, which lenders will offer the shared equity loans to borrowers — are not yet available from CalHFA. 

And loans will not be immediately available to consumers when the program launches this month. Lenders will need a month to six weeks to roll out the loans and begin marketing them to consumers, said Ellen Martin, a CalHFA official tasked with designing the program.

“We do know that there’s a lot of excitement out there,” Martin told CalMatters in a recent interview.

How it will work

Some details have been revealed in CalHFA board meetings, public hearings and a report to the state Legislature. Here are some of the program’s key components.

  • The loans will not be available for all Californians. Only those who earn 150% or less of  the median income of others in their county qualify. Those income limits vary by county, with $300,000 being the cut-off in pricey Santa Clara and San Francisco counties, but $159,000 for many inland counties such as Fresno and Merced.
  • The loans will cover as much as 20% of a home purchase. Whenever a home is sold, transferred or refinanced, a borrower will owe the state the original amount the state invested, plus a percentage of the home’s increase in value. If the original loan was 20 percent of a home’s value, the seller would owe the state the original loan plus 20 percent of its increased value, though that amount would be capped at 250% of the original loan amount.
  • A social equity feature of the program will be included for those who earn as much as 80% of the area median income. They will get to keep more of their equity when they sell, refinance or transfer their properties than others with higher incomes. Also about 10% of the initial state funds, or $30 million, will be reserved for those lower-income borrowers.
  • The loans can be used to fund down payments and closing costs, including interest rate buydowns. 
  • Given the complexity of the program, borrowers will be required to complete a homebuyer education course.

Advocates’ concerns

The complexity of the program has some consumer advocates worried. 

Lisa Sitkin, a senior staff attorney with the National Housing Law Project, said it would be wise for the agency to ensure borrowers receive periodic notices about the loan’s atypical details.

“As time goes by, people tend to forget and treat it as a normal loan, and I think it is useful for people planning to be reminded,” said Sitkin, a member of a working group advising CalHFA on the program. 

A proposal to sell the loans as mortgage-backed securities also has her worried. California officials are exploring the idea of pooling the shared equity loans into securities and selling them to investors, to help provide additional money for other borrowers.

Many Wall Street financial institutions bundled often poor-quality mortgage loans into securities during real estate’s boom years and sold them to major investors. But during the years of downturn, getting help to homeowners was complicated by the difficulties identifying who exactly owned these loans.

“If they are sold into private, securitized trusts there is a lack of transparency about who owns your debt, and a lack of information about options if there are problems,” Sitkins said. “I really want to be sure that there are guardrails and protections for the borrowers.”

Consumers are cautious

As CalHFA officials were designing the program last year, they held several listening sessions online, taking comments from the public. Jake Lawrence, a 41-year-old cannabis entrepreneur in Willits who also runs a nonprofit, said he liked what he heard.

“I’m very interested. The problem we face is that there’s such a flux in what’s going on,” Lawrence said. “We’re in the middle of a housing market bust, so we’re gonna watch prices tumble for a minute.”

What’s more, one of the county’s biggest industries, the marijuana trade, has been hit hard by declines in cannabis prices. “It’s beyond suffering,” Lawrence said.

Lawrence also wondered how the state will calculate equity if he makes improvements to a home.

Despite his questions, he is considering the idea.

“It doesn’t hurt my feelings to share equity with someone who invests in me,” he said of the state. “And anybody that understands any kind of financial literacy should understand an investor should be able to have their expected ROI (return on investment). For me, I have zero issue with the idea.”

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This woman retired early at the age of 28 with $2.25 million and still lives an incredibly luxurious life. Here's how she reached early retirement.

This woman retired early at the age of 28 with $2.25 million and still lives an incredibly luxurious life. Here's how she reached early retirement.

I’ve recently decided to start a new series where I interview people who are doing extraordinary things with their lives. First up, I have JP Livingston, who retired at age 28 with a net worth of $2.25 million. And, her net worth is still increasing!

Of that total, 60% of her net worth came from saving, while 40% came from growing her money through investing. This is why investing your money is so important, and it’s how you really allow your money to grow for you!

JP grew up listening to stories about financial insecurity during her parents’ upbringing. The freedom that early retirement brought really appealed to her, and who doesn’t want to retire early anyways?

She is now retired at the young age of 28 and says that she still lives “an incredibly luxurious life.” And, she managed to retire early while living in one of the most expensive places in the world – New York City.

Related articles:

I asked you, my readers, what questions I should ask JP. And, make sure you’re following me on Facebook so you have the opportunity to submit your own questions for the next interview.

So, below are your questions, along with some of mine.

Here is how JP Livingston retired at the age of 28 with over $2,000,000. You can follow her on her blog The Money Habit as well.

1. Tell me your story. How did you manage to retire at 28?

I have wanted to retire since I was about 12 years old. My parents grew up poor. I am talking eight people living in a one room apartment poor. My father’s father passed away when he was 18, and his mother who had previously been a homemaker was only able to find a job at a cookie factory. Her dream for my father was that he would be a busboy and eventually work his way up to be a cook in a restaurant.

My mother’s father passed away when she was in middle school; her mother found work as a seamstress at a large garment factory to support a family of six children.

I grew up on stories of their financial insecurity.

When I started thinking about the future, my parents’ refrain to me was that I could be anything I wanted to be, as long as I had a way to financially support myself.

In middle school, we took a survey on our interests and read about different jobs. I loved to write and wanted to be a writer. When I found out how unsteady the income was for a writer, though, I was demoralized. I decided that if I couldn’t support myself financially by being a writer, I would find a way to retire instead, Then I’d have the freedom work on whatever I wanted, including all the writing I could handle. So I started reading personal finance books.

I learned that you don’t have to be a genius or have special skills to retire early. A habit of making small and regular improvements trumps even the most gifted people who only apply themselves sporadically.

The tactics I’ve employed include optimizing for pay raises and promotions, living a very minimalist and frugal life, focusing on investing skills, and building analytical skills such as understanding how to build and use spreadsheets to support my investment ideas. I found there was an 80-20 rule to different improvements I could make in my money life: 20% of the improvements accounted for 80% of the results. I’ve been trying to outline those major needle movers on my blog so people don’t waste their time as I did on the things that don’t really matter.

All those incremental improvements stacked up into a humming, healthy machine. When I retired at 28, I had a net worth of $2.25 million and it’s still climbing.

2. How did you reach $2,250,000 in savings by the time you were 28? When did you begin saving?

60% of my net worth came from saving and 40% came from growing my money through investing.

My saving habits started in childhood, which isn’t surprising given my parents’ experiences. But what really upped my game was branching out from a few good habits and awareness to trying to find unorthodox ways to save.

One savings move that went against the grain was graduating college in three years. I earned scholarships to attend a state school for free but I chose a private college which I felt would offer broader opportunities. That private college was incredibly expensive though. So in compromise, I graduated a year early.

The savings from that move was not just the tuition costs, but also a full year of missed earning opportunity. My first job was in finance and paid $60,000, with a promise that that if you stuck it out through the entire year you got a bonus that was almost equal to your base. So that one decision to graduate early caused a nearly $150,000 net worth swing.

That kind of savings so early in life, growing at market rates for 20 years would yield $800,000 by the time a person were 42. That’s enough for some people to retire through one decision alone!

Related: How I Paid Off $40,000 in Student Loans in 7 Months

3. What made you want to retire early?

The freedom is really what appealed to me.

I had a very potent reminder of how important freedom was and how little time I had to enjoy it the year before I retired. There were several deaths and major health scares amongst my loved ones. That made me realize that given my family’s history, I had about 15 to 20 really good years of health that I could count on. Did I want to spend even one more of those years stressed out while working?

4. What sacrifices did you have to make in order to reach this milestone?

I’ve rarely thought of my financial decisions as sacrifices. Rather, they were decisions to purchase one thing over another. If I took my bonus into the store and were deciding between a cool new phone or a camera, I wouldn’t leave feeling like I had “sacrificed” the one I didn’t purchase.

I wanted to buy back my time and my freedom more than I wanted to buy anything else in the store. In short, I’ve looked at this is as an opportunity, not a sacrifice. That does wonders for your motivation and mental health.

There is an excellent book that I think provides one of the best frameworks to thinking this way. It’s called Your Money or Your Life, written by Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez. The general concept is this: take the amount of money you make in a year. Subtract out all your work-related expenses. Now take that balance and divide it by the number of hours you work. That gives you the amount of money you are exchanging per hour of your life. With that metric, you could estimate how many hours of your life a purchase would cost rather than dollars.

Once you start looking at your purchases this way, you will want to buy much less. And investing will start to look amazing to you! It’s a magical way to get more of your life back, because those dollars can go to work in your place, earning you money while you sleep.

5. Would you say that you live comfortably?

I think we live an incredibly luxurious life. There’s still a ton of fat we could cut.

6. What career did you have before you retired? Did that career help you to retire earlier?

I was a professional investor at a finance firm and it definitely helped me to retire earlier. I got really lucky that it ended up being so lucrative; I initially planned on it being a two year stint at most. But the work kept getting more interesting and the pay got better. The frameworks we used for investments also helped me think about my own investment decisions for my personal portfolio.

7. What do you have to say to those who may think that they can never earn as much as you can – can they still retire early too?

They can absolutely retire early!

To me this is the whole point of why the personal finance blogosphere exists. None of us have identical circumstances and identical outcomes. Your childhood may have been more or less advantaged than mine. Your lucky breaks might be better or worse than the ones I experienced. But the absolute truth is this: the you that is making consistent, small improvements over time to your money plan is going to easily accumulate 5x the wealth of the you that isn’t.

It’s not hard to retire early in this country because the bar is so low. The average age of retirement in the US is age 63. After 41 years in the workforce the average 63-year-old couple has a total net worth of $174,000 to show for it. That works out to just over $4,000 of savings per year; less if you assume any investment growth.

8. What do you do now that you’re retired?

The best thing I can do is show you. Here was my actual calendar from a recent week:

This woman retired early at the age of 28 with $2.25 million and still lives an incredibly luxurious life. Here's how she reached early retirement.

This woman retired early at the age of 28 with $2.25 million and still lives an incredibly luxurious life. Here's how she reached early retirement.

Broadly speaking, I have one major project – a personal finance site I write to help others retire early – which I work on for about 10 hours a week, then the rest of the time is filled with hobbies, reading, and being out in the city.

It is amazing how enjoyable the mundane things are when you are not too stressed out to notice them.

9. Many people will have this question in the comments of this interview, I just know it! – Can you explain how you will make $2,250,000 last your whole life, even though you are only 28?

That’s a great question.

My plan is based on data gathered by the Trinity Study. This study calculated that if deployed in a portfolio of stocks and bonds, an inflation-adjusted 4% yearly withdrawal rate from savings was optimal to safely retire and not work for a given 30-year window in the history of the United States.

Thus, if your annual expenses is equal to that 4% yearly withdrawal rate, the idea is that it is very unlikely you will run out of money in a 30-year period.

However, I have some concerns about the riskiness of that 4% figure. For one thing, my retirement is expected to be much longer than 30 years. In addition, if you look at stock market performance in the last 20 years, the compound annual growth rate was 8.2%, almost 2 points lower than the CAGR shown in the period the Trinity Study originally measured. For these two reasons, I plan to live off a stock and bond portfolio withdrawing an inflation-adjusted 3%.

3% of my $2,250,000 would give me $67,500 a year. My husband and I currently spend $65,000 a year living in one of the most expensive cities in the world. That means we could support our current lifestyle almost indefinitely.

But one of the hard parts about retiring so early is that you have to plan for chapters of life that could look drastically different than today. Having children, for example. So before I pulled the trigger, I built a projected budget for a family of 4 to calculate how much I would need to support a family. I did this with empirical data, researching what actual families of four paid for the service in the city I was considering.

This woman retired early at the age of 28 with $2.25 million and still lives an incredibly luxurious life. Here's how she reached early retirement.

This woman retired early at the age of 28 with $2.25 million and still lives an incredibly luxurious life. Here's how she reached early retirement.

The nest egg required to support this budget is $2.23 million, which is within our means.

With early retirement specifically, I think it’s also comforting to walk through your other margins of safety that don’t show up in the budgeting process. Here are a few in our case:

  • Conservative Withdrawal Rate: We are using a withdrawal rate some would argue is half to one percentage point more conservative than needed. That would equate to overstating my nest egg needs by over $400,000.
  • Extra Buffer: We have an extra one hundred thousand dollar buffer that will grow over time and which will absorb costs we haven’t foreseen (i.e. higher healthcare premiums, poor market performance for a year, etc.).
  • Full-Time Work: Either of us could go back to work full time.
  • Income-Earning Hobbies: One or both of us might end up doing a hobby that generates money
  • Tighten Discretionary Purchases: $9,700 or 19% of our annual budget is discretionary and we could tighten our belts in a particularly rough year just as every other family does.
  • ACA Healthcare Savings: We have not factored in any ACA subsidies even though our income in this budget would qualify us.
  • Market Outperformance: Markets could do better than we’ve projected. We require a blended 5-6% return (3% withdrawal, 2-3% inflation). We could easily see market CAGR of 8%+ as evidenced by historical data.
  • Home Equity Loans/Reverse Mortgage: We can draw cash out through a home equity loan if we have a temporary cash crunch or use a reverse mortgage in our old age.
  • Profit-Share Grants: My profit-share grants from my previous employer may be worth greater than the $0 we’ve estimated.

10. Do you still earn an income?

Not currently.

I am not ruling out a traditional job one day, but it would be about finding interesting work and less about the money. My goal right now is to create a place that helps other folks get smarter about money and retire faster, so I might do some freelance writing outside of the blog. But I don’t want to have left one job just to jump into another!

As for other forms of income: I do have some deferred compensation from my old employer. And although my husband could retire as well, he likes what he is doing and continues to work.

11. How did you decide on how much you needed to retire on?

I was a professional investor and the way we used to make our investment decisions was to build out various scenarios, observe the outcomes, and attach a probability to each. I did a similar exercise for determining how much I needed to retire. I used three scenarios to triangulate on a target number. There’s a walk through on the three scenarios which anyone can use to determine their own target retirement number over here.

12. If you were starting back at ground zero, what would you do differently from the beginning?

Two things:

  1. Put Momentum First: I would focus on building momentum more than trying to muscle my way through things with sheer discipline. Most people’s initial reaction to starting a new project is to throw themselves all in. I get emails asking me what book I’d recommend people buy to turn their financial lives around. But think about how you got into your other hobbies. Did you run out and buy a book about proper free-throw technique to get into basketball? Were you consulting a textbook to get into yoga? If the key to millions of dollars is showing up every day and making small improvements, then the key to your success is figuring out how to build momentum in those early days that will get you showing up regularly. That means less of a focus on running out and buying dry, boring textbooks and more effort on joining blogs or forums with bite-sized, regular content where you can start to get your bearings and get interested.
  2. Tackle The Right Steps In The Right Order: There are four steps to early retirement, and tackling them in the right order really accelerates your progress. I wish I had thought deliberately about how the levers in front of me were changing and better prepared myself for the different stages. I’ve missed a lot of great opportunities because I was so focused on the things that had been working for me in the past that I didn’t look up and think about the new opportunities open to me as my wealth accumulated. For example, I wish I had understood the math behind investing in high-appreciation real estate markets year ago. If I had, I would have bought a house in NYC years ago and be $500k richer.

13. Is retiring everything you thought it would be or not as you planned? Do you ever miss work? 

It is a hundred times better than I thought it would be. I will admit there was a learning curve at first. But these days, I often tell my family that I am living a version of my dream life. If you had known me before I retired, you would have found that statement astonishing.

If there is one thing I miss about work, it’s regular interaction with smart and thoughtful people. Since I started the blog, though, I’ve gotten quite a bit of that back. So overall I’m quite happy!

14. Lastly, what is your very best tip (or two) that you have for someone who wants to reach the same success as you?

Ask questions. Be the active commenter on a blog or the vocal one at the cocktail party. Be courageous enough to cold-email the people you know have the answers you need. You can learn so quickly if you’re willing to put yourself out there. People are generous with their experience if you show you’ve done your homework and ask them specific things that make it easy for them to help you.

“Why?” is your most powerful tool. If someone tells you investing in X is the way to go, ask why, and pepper them with all the potential concerns you can think of. Then go find another smart person and ask them why X is a good or a bad idea. Go back to the first and pose the second person’s counterargument and ask them to respond. Introduce another expert. Repeat until you feel you understand the issue backwards and forwards. This is hands down the best way I’ve found to master a concept.

Focus on habits and systems, not results. You can make yourself feel really good by muscling through a one week sprint with discipline and admiring what you accomplish. But really impressive results take weeks and years of focused effort. I have seen a lot of amazing people in college and at my old employer, and the thing that separates the average from the incredibly successful is really just who has figured out how to put out consistent effort.  No one has discipline to last in a marathon like this without building the right systems and habits.  Show up every day and do one small thing to improve the thing you’re measuring. If you do this, you will be among the top 5% of achievers. Over time you will build a system that will trump any specific lucky breaks or windfalls, and it will get you to financial success you deserve.

Are you interested in retiring early? Why or why not?

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When my husband and I walked into our last home for the first time, we felt like we were walking right into the ’70s. With disco-era fixtures and old smelly carpet, the four bedroom colonial was quite the sight. Oh, and let’s not forget the orange laminate flooring that graced the kitchen and bathrooms. Except for the master bathroom, of course. It had shag carpet.

But, for every problem we saw, we also saw potential. Paint can work miracles, after all, and floors are fairly easy to replace. And the kitchen? It wasn’t great, but we thought new appliances and flooring would make it workable. Plus, the bones of the house were in great shape. Built in the ’70s, the brick exterior and interior of the home were in impeccable condition. The house also had beautiful dark woodwork all over the place, a feature that was currently overshadowed by all of the ugly going on.

Doing it Ourselves

After closing, we spent the next month scraping up laminate and tearing up carpet, painting, and cleaning. After that, we planned to have a professional install tile floors in the kitchen, sun room, and bathrooms, and then have carpet put in everywhere else. So we headed to the local home improvement store.

I’ll never forget the day I found out how much it costs to have someone install tile.

“Excuse me. $5 per square foot for installation?” I wondered how that could be possible. “But the tile is only $1.49 per square foot.” Could that possibly be right?

After talking to a few people in the industry, I found out that tile installation is rather messy and labor intensive, which is why it was so dang expensive. And since we planned on putting in almost 800 square feet of tile, we decided to do it ourselves. How hard could it be?

Practice Doesn’t Always Make Perfect

Since we had so much tile to install and no experience, we called in reinforcements. We hired a family friend to help us cut and lay the tile for $20 an hour. Together, we laid all of the tile over the course of three days. And when it was all said and done, I was pretty happy with the job.

Until I wasn’t.

After we moved in, I spotted a few uneven and crooked tiles. Even worse was the fact that the grout kept coming up in several places, even after sealing it multiple times. No one else seemed to notice the imperfections, including my husband, so I chalked it up to the fact that I’m slightly OCD. But it still drove me crazy, and I was constantly touching up and adding grout all over the house during the six years we lived in the home. And it was a pain.

What I Learned

In the world of personal finance, it’s often considered a weakness to pay someone to do something you can do yourself. And believe me, I get it. We’re all trying to save money any way we can, right? In that respect, paying for labor doesn’t seem all that smart.

One the other hand, my own lack of skills gave me reason to believe that it’s not always a bad idea. Hell, I worked in a mortuary at the time. What did I know about tile floor installation? Unfortunately, nothing.

The fact is, some people aren’t particularly handy or skilled in construction. Others might not have the time to devote to large projects. Or maybe home remodeling just isn’t your forte, and that’s okay too.

Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to save when you can’t (or don’t want to) do it yourself. Here’s what I’ve learned:

  • Do the prep work yourself: Even if you need to hire skilled labor for your project, you can still do the prep work yourself and save some cash in the process. For instance, carpet companies, as well as the big box stores, can charge as much as 50 cents per square foot to tear up, and dispose of, your old carpet. Paying someone to tear up old tile can cost considerably more. Doing these chores yourself is a great way to save if you have the time and ability.
  • Determine your scope of ability: Unfortunately for us, I’ve learned that our skills are limited to painting and grunt work. But, your scope of ability might be different. Maybe you’re skilled at carpentry or have some basic plumbing skills. Whatever it is, find ways to put those skills to work.
  • Shop around to save: If you have to pay someone to install cabinets, remodel a bathroom, or lay carpet or tile, it really does pay to shop around. Look for sales, coupons, or special discounts at competing stores. Also consider local contractors for the work, as they may be willing to meet or beat their competitor’s prices.
  • Compare apples to apples: When comparing prices for your home remodel, it’s important to compare apples to apples. A perfect example is when you’re shopping for flooring. In addition to the price for the carpet or flooring itself, there are a whole host of other expenses to compare. These can include tear-up of old carpet, padding, installation, and stairs. Some companies even charge to move furniture.

Putting Those Lessons to the Test

This summer, my husband made a career change that didn’t quite work out. So, after careful thought and consideration, we decided to sell our house and move to a different town where he could find work. And after living in a small, temporary home for a few months, we finally found a house we wanted to buy. And rather predictably, it’s somewhat of a fixer-upper.

But this time, things are different. First of all, we now have kids, which means we can’t spend every evening and weekend working on a large project. And since we’ve made peace with our limited home remodeling skills, we’ve chosen to leave most of the work to the professionals. Here are the updates we’re working on, as well as where we saved:

  • Carpet: With so many variables, carpet shopping can become a tricky endeavor. After comparing pricing and quality at five different stores, we chose a 100 percent polyester carpet for all of the bedrooms. The store we chose offers free installation with any purchase over $1,500 and had the best quality padding available at 20 cents less than their competitors. When you’re buying a lot of carpet, those small savings really add up!
  • Tile: We found acceptable porcelain tile at the local home improvement store for only 89 cents per square foot. And, since we failed miserably at tile installation last time, we chose to hire a contractor to install the subfloor and tile. Fortunately, he said he could do the installation less than what the big box stores are charging, which led to additional savings.
  • Paint: Since we’re relatively skilled at painting, we chose to paint the entire interior of our new home ourselves.We’re saving by doing all of the work ourselves, obviously, and by painting the majority of the home one color — a smooth, creamy water chestnut.
  • Kitchen: Our new home still has the original kitchen cabinets. And while they’re holding up relatively well, they’re not all that great either. But, instead of replacing them, we’re currently in the process of cleaning them up and staining them a slightly darker color. In addition, we’re getting new countertops to replace the cracked and mismatched counters currently in the home. And since we’ve never installed countertops before, we’re hiring that part out.

Do you remodel your home yourself? Are there certain projects that you feel are beyond your scope of ability?


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Fri, May 26 2023, 11:12 AM

Did you know that wheat futures prices are at a 2-year low? And lumber prices continue to drop? Those numbers should help reduce inflation. During the conference in NY there was plenty of talk about external influences such as price increases on residential lending. But there are also plenty of issues within our biz that face lenders daily. For example, signing bonuses continue, albeit at a slower rate. Perhaps some of the economic bloom is off the bonus rose? Big signing bonuses come with big handcuffs. It stinks when a competitor takes your production but not your overhead, right? With the help of technology and tracking, a lender’s management can, more than ever, determine whether a given branch or LO is making money for the company, or is merely a source of concessions and extensions. Recruiters sometimes talk of the “greater fool” theory when bad LOs or branches move on to another lender. (Today’s podcast can be found here and this week’s is sponsored by Black Knight. From point-of-sale through post-closing, the company’s trusted loan origination system, Empower, as well as its integrated, end-to-end origination solutions deliver unmatched capabilities, functionality, and support to increase processing efficiencies and lower operational costs for lenders. Hear an interview with Polunsky Beitel Green’s Stacey Maisano on women in the mortgage industry and getting the younger generation involved.)

Lender and Broker Products, Software, and Services

Loan officers, if there was an easy button for creating incredible video marketing content on social media, would you press it? Now you can thanks to Video Catalyst by SocialCoach. Say goodbye to the days of wondering what to say, what equipment you’ll need, and how you’ll edit. With Video Catalyst, we’ve made it easy to create compliant, scroll-stopping, professional-grade videos in record time. Here’s how: We write four fresh, relevant (and compliant) scripts for you every month. You simply read the scripts while recording the video from your smartphone and then send it back to us for professional editing, which includes the addition of music, dynamic captions, gifs, and emojis. We then post it to your account for seamless sharing. That’s it. You press record, we do the rest. Want to see how Video Catalyst can unlock the power of video marketing for your business? Check it out here.

Calling all compliance managers! Imagine if you could complete your ECOA/Reg-B Process in the time it takes you to read this blurb. Imagine saving thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours by not working on your ECOA process. Sounds like a dream, right? Well imagine no more! Velma Connector is here to make your compliance dreams come true. Connector automates the whole ECOA process and can do the work of multiple team members, making sure you never miss another NOIA notice, which means never having to worry about a costly fine ever again! If you’re ready to start saving all that time and money, contact Velma today and ask us how we can get you a 300 percent ROI in just the first year!

Is your appraisal vendor performance below average? Book a complimentary appraisal vendor performance consultation with Reggora’s Chief Operations Officer, Alek Roberts, to see how your vendors stack up. You’ll see how your vendors perform relative to industry average turn times, revision rates and fee escalation rates. You’ll also see data on how that impacts your overall origination process, including if and how your operating costs are higher than they need to be. Book now

Investors and Lenders Adjust Their Conforming Conventional Offerings

United Wholesale Mortgage announced enhancements to its Conventional 1 percent Down product, allowing borrowers with less than 80 percent of the area median income (AMI) to qualify. Those who qualify will put down 1 percent of the loan towards their down payment and UWM will then pay a 2 percent grant up to $4,000, for a total down payment of 3 percent.

Rocket Mortgage and Rocket Pro TPO have introduced ONE+ by Rocket Mortgage, a 1 percent down home loan program that is available for qualifying homebuyers whose income is equal to or less than 80 percent of their area median income (AMI) for single-family homes, including manufactured homes. Rocket Mortgage provides a 2 percent grant towards the down payment. ONE+ completely covers the monthly mortgage insurance fee for the client. Partner with Rocket Pro TPO to take advantage of ONE+ today!

Pennymac updated Conventional LLPAs effective for all Best-Efforts Commitments taken on or after Monday, May 15. Details are available in Announcement 23-34.

The Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) announced the rescission of the DTI ratio-based fee. As a result, Pennymac updated the Best Effort rate sheet effective for all Best Effort Commitments taken on or after Thursday, May 11th. Details were posted in Announcement 23-23: Updates to Conventional LLPAs.

Pennymac is aligning with Freddie Mac’s credit underwriting update, announced in Bulletin 2023-6, adding a requirement that a non-occupant borrower may not be an interested party to the transaction (i.e., the builder, property seller, real estate agent or broker, etc.) This new requirement is effective with loan deliveries on or after 7/3/23. View the Penny Mac Announcement 23-32 for additional information.

Citi Correspondent Lending Bulletin 2023-04 includes credit policy updates on Agency loans appraisal waivers, life insurance net cash value on Non-Agency Jumbo loans and clarifies subordinate financing applicable to Non-Agency Jumbo.

PRMG Product Update 23-26 includes clarification on multiple products. Conventional Products requirements regarding use of business funds in the transaction a cash flow analysis, underwriting review requirements when obtaining prior approval from VA, Alternative AUS Jumbo clarification for properties in a declining market, program fee requirements on CA CalHFA Products, and mortgage insurance coverage requirements on CO CHFA Preferred Plus Conventional.

Many banks are stressed and are not lending. Flagstar Bank has money, is lending and actively looking for SBA 504 loans now. This includes General Purpose Properties, Conventional portion minimum $750,000, 2 years tax return debt service. CA, NV, NY with more states to come, Small Construction work is acceptable with no more than 20 percent of the project including the interim loan and permanent loan, 51 percent or more owner-user commercial. With Prime now at 8.25 percent, it is time to look at a long-term fixed 504 purchase or refinance. You can now refinance a 7(a) loan (or conventional) with an SBA 504 and maybe even get some additional cash out for business purposes.

Citizens Correspondent National Bulletin 2023-12 includes information on Condo Project Manager Update – DU.

Freddie Mac Bulletin 2023-9 announced multiple Selling Guide changes, including updated requirements related to property appraisals and condominium projects. For impacts on AmeriHome guidelines, see Product Announcement 20230504-CL for details.

With Guide Bulletin 2023-11, Freddie Mac announced multiple Selling Guide changes, including updated requirements related to IRS installment agreements and real estate tax abatements and exemptions. For impacts on guidelines, see AmeriHome Product Announcement 20230508-CL for details

Capital Markets

Keep two things in mind. The markets, and individuals, don’t like uncertainty. But the future is always uncertain. Second, economic doldrums lead to lower rates. But rates rose again yesterday as the clock wound down on the window for debt ceiling negotiations, with a potential U.S. default looming on the horizon. If the U.S. defaults on its debt, higher mortgage rates are a potential risk facing the economy.

How quickly we’ve moved on from the banking crisis, though loan officers should keep credit tightening in mind. Most banks, including those that failed, own 30-year fixed rate mortgage-backed securities. Those MBS prices have fallen the most with the Fed’s sharp run-up in rates, making it likely that banks will buy far fewer MBS (and jumbos) going forward, decreasing demand, widening spreads further, and generally causing mortgage rates to go higher. Rates have been on the rise as of late, and while some of the movement can be attributed to “hawkish” comments from the Fed, the shift higher appears to be global: The German Bund, Japanese Government Bond, and UK Gilt have all moved higher in lockstep.

Investors see the Fed cutting rates this year, even with Chair Powell and his fellow FOMC members doing their best to convince Wall Street that they’re serious about inflation and that no such thing will happen. In fact, recent Fed messaging has been that we may not be done with rate hikes just yet. After 500 basis points of interest rate hikes over the past year, it’s true that the Fed is close to the end of this hiking cycle, at least for the short-term. However, we could see a major sell-off in stocks and bonds if investors succumb to the Fed in this “tug of war” over the central bank’s monetary policy moves in the second half of this year and admit that multiple rate cuts in 2023 aren’t in the cards.

Chatter out of the MBA’s conference in Manhattan (in addition to more companies shuttering and frustration over repurchases) included delinquencies picking up for various credit types, volatility driving spreads wider, MSR valuations pricing the impact of buyer burnout, and mortgage credit availability continuing to decline. The collapse of three mid-size US banks and the forced marriage of Credit Suisse to UBS pushed lending standards to tighten across the board, especially for commercial real estate and residential lending.

For residential, the tightening was more pronounced in jumbo and non-QM as opposed to GSE and government loans. Banks becoming more cautious on risk has also led to standards tightening on multi-family, by increasing spreads, raising covenants, and lowering LTVs. Loan demand is also falling (including for HELOCs and other residential real estate loans), while the lending standards are getting tighter, typical for an economy that is poised to enter a recession.

These tighter lending standards exist at a time when there are few homes for sale. The reasons for the scarcity of existing home sales are well known at this point: Lack of inventory, elevated home prices, and half of all mortgaged homes having first-lien interest rates at or below 3.5 percent while rates continue to rise. Those elements are unlikely to change anytime soon. Supply constraints are a familiar topic of discussion with millions of Americans content to keep their rate and not sell anytime soon, and, coupled with today’s homebuyers being exceptionally interest rate sensitive, as most won’t accept a rate higher than 5.5 percent, and it’s not a good recipe for lenders.

If mortgage rates fall somewhat, we still have an affordability problem, even with rising wages. Homebuilding will eventually rebound and help this issue, but the rate of decreases in the backlog reported by the builders and elevated cancellation rates don’t bode well for an imminent change.

Shifting to the intra-day price moves, despite today’s early close ahead of the long Memorial Day weekend, several key economic releases will be out and could sway the Fed’s thinking regarding further rate increases. We’ve already received personal income and spending for April (+.4 and +.8 percent, respectively, core PCE +4.7 percent year over year), and durable goods orders (+1.1 percent, ex-transportation -.2 percent). Expectations were for income and spending increasing 0.5 percent and 0.4 percent month-over-month, respectively, with the Core PCE Price Index increasing 0.3 percent month-over-month and 4.6 percent year-over-year. Later today brings Michigan sentiment before fixed income futures settle at 1pm ET and cash markets close at 2pm per SIFMA’s recommendation. We begin the day with Agency MBS prices worse by a few ticks (32nds), the 10-year yielding 3.82 after closing yesterday at 3.81 percent, and the 2-year is at 4.56 after the strong, anti-recessionary, data this morning.


A Louisiana based full-service, independent mortgage banker averaging $1 billion in production annually is searching for a proven retail sales leader to run all business development initiatives. The Sales, Recruiting, and Marketing departments will report directly to this head of business development role, and the role will report directly to the CEO. The ideal candidate will have a demonstrated track record of hiring and managing multiple production offices across several states. The IMB is well capitalized, has agency direct approvals, offers niche products, significant technology advancements and a world-class operations team with experienced, tenured sales and fulfillment employees. For confidential consideration, please email resume to Chrisman LLC’s Anjelica Nixt.

“Logan Finance is blessed to see such incredible growth recently. As we keep count of all the units that drive our business, it’s easy to lose sight of all the military units and those individuals who served throughout history to help afford us all the possibilities we have today. As we think of Memorial Day, we should celebrate it as a day that honors all these great opportunities and focus on those who have made the ultimate sacrifice to protect the freedoms we should never lose count of. From the Logan family to yours, ‘Happy Memorial Day.’”

As a mortgage sales professional have you ever thought, “What if I could focus on only the things that actually grow my business, flipping the hourglass and spending 80 percent of my time on what I do best: building relationships?” Or “What if I could surround myself with sales support that is truly team inspired, results driven marketing and customer obsessed headache-free process?” Welcome to radius financial group! They started radius with one main focus: to offer a better value proposition than any other bank or mortgage company in the country for you, your borrowers and your referral partners. radius can help you grow your business, have a better quality of life, and make more money. For confidential inquires please contact Carla Herrera.

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Apache is functioning normally

Have you stumbled upon a scary, strange, or weird experience when visiting a foreign country? Well, you’re not alone! We asked our friends on Reddit to tell us their most alarming stories of traveling internationally. These 12 scary and unsettling stories will make you think twice about visiting the country. Do you also have something crazy to share? Let us know in the comments!

1. Witnessing a Beheading

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One user commented, “A beheading in the public market square in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.”

A second person replied, “I honestly don’t understand why anyone would want to visit countries like that.”

Another commenter added, “Um, I was going to say aggressive behavior from locals, but this is a whole different level.”

2. Lost and Unable to Communicate

“I got lost in an underground city in Tukey as a child. I stepped away from my parents and group to look at something, and when I turned around, they were all gone. I couldn’t find anyone who spoke English for a while until finally a man who spoke a little English helped me find my way back to the surface to wait for my parents to come back out.

“Thankfully, one of the women from our group was already there because she had gotten claustrophobic. Being ‘lost’ was scary enough, but not being able to communicate terrified me. Then, when my parents came up, they didn’t even realize I had been lost. So that became the scariest thing, realizing I wasn’t exactly ‘safe’ with my parents’ inattentiveness,” one user shared.

Another user replied, “For anyone who finds themselves in this situation, just stay where you are and wait for the other people to come back and find you. They will start their search at the last place they saw you, not at the entrance. It’s hard to remember in the moment, but this is the best advice in most cases.”

3. Almost Kidnapped by Locals

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One person shared, “When I was in Turkey, my friend and I (F23 and F28) were walking through a small market just browsing. We stopped next to one shop to take a look on something. Owner immediately jumped in trying to persuade us to buy (which is normal) or for my friend (and only her) to go with him upstairs to see more goods. When we refused and turned to walk away he grabbed my friend by upper arm and hauled her to the stairs. We both were screaming and hitting him but he only let go when I twisted his thumb making him loosen his hold. My friend had huge bruise on her arm for the rest of vacation.”

“That’s terrifying. Well done fighting back,” someone replied.

“I’m Australian. I was seeing a Turkish man, and he was leaving to go back home. My parents asked if I was going back with him. I simply said I’ll prolly be stoned on the first day and left it at that. In all fairness he even admitted I’d most likely be shunned by his family and the women would most likely beat me. So there’s that, make of it as you will,” the third added.

4. Being Detained Without a Passport

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One person stated, “Detained on the border of Romania and Hungary by Romanian police, put into jail for a few hours and my passport confiscated. When they led me through the darkness to lock me up in some dingy back room jail cell I genuinely thought I was going to be hostel’ed.”

“I took an overnight train from Hungary to Romania once in my early-20s. I had been assured that lots of tourists took this train, but it was virtually empty and I was a young woman traveling alone. It was around 3am when we crossed into Romania, and while my passport had been processed onboard on the Hungarian side, the officials in Romania took it off the train but left me (and the other passengers) onboard.

“I was fully convinced something like this was about to happen to me and I would be totally helpless to do anything without my ID or anyway to contact anyone. Another woman on the train noticed me freaking out and assured me this was normal and everything would be fine, and without her I think I would have completely spiraled in that moment. I can’t imagine how scared I would have been if they’d actually detained me,” shared another.

5. Strangers Breaking into your Room

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One user shared, “Taking an overnight ferry during a People to People program in the summer with a bunch of high schooler’s. Overnight from Italy to Sicily. Bunch of younger to middle aged dudes not in the group were constantly hitting on the girls and were trying to proposition them back to their cabins on the ship. A few of us saw some trying to follow us back to our own rooms and a male teacher had to intervene.

“Later that night, when in the room with the three other girls, we heard our door being tested to see if locked. I was fully prepared to claw the eyes out of [anybody] who successfully got in but it was a [very] scary sleepless night.”

“When I was at uni, I must have been around 19/20, me and some friends went surfing down south. We stayed in a hostel. One night we’d all crashed out and a bunch of guys used their key card and broke into our room. I woke up long enough to tell them to get lost, watch the door close and went back to sleep. Another night another group of guys tried to break in. I was out cold and my friends were terrified. The girls and the guys split into two rooms, but we should have just stayed in one big one,” the second person replied.

6. Girl went Missing from a Tour Group

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“Girl went missing from our tour group in Scotland. We were pub hopping with a few of us and most of us wanted to go back but she wanted to continue and wouldn’t take no for an answer so she took off on her own. She wasn’t in her room in the morning and forgot her phone and passport in her room. We were tweaking out most the day and almost got the embassy involved when she finally contacted someone.

“Apparently, she got lost going back and ‘stayed’ with a random guy. He was nice enough to pay her way to catch up with the tour group. She apologized to the tour group, so they decided against shipping her back but they did blacklist her from using their agency again,” shared one person.

7. Hearing Howler Monkeys Scream

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One user commented, “I was in Costa Rica a few months ago for a volunteer project to clean up plastics from the local area around Jaco Beach. I stayed in the Punta Leona resort as a worker (since they have a contract with the volunteer program), and on the first night when we all went to our dorms to sleep. Roughly 30 minutes into our sleep, there was an ear-splitting shriek outside of the dorm that was so loud it made the whole house rumble.

“I have sensitive hearing so I was up instantly and so were the other girls but they were more annoyed than scared. ‘What was that?!’ I looked to the girl that I had been talking to the most earlier and she waved her hand ‘Howler monkeys do that sometimes. Just ignore it.’ That scream will forever stay in my mind. It was the only time I heard it while I was there but easily the most terrifying thing I’ve ever experienced in a foreign country.”

“I think the closest thing to that you’ll hear in the states is a mountain lion in heat. No joke—in certain parts of the US, if you hear what sounds like a woman being murdered in the woods, DO NOT go and help her. Because that is not a person,” another person shared.

Finally, the third added, “Foxes will also do that. They often freak out newcomers to areas with populations by either screaming like a woman being murdered or laughing like a small child. Also, mountain lions will also shriek like humans, but they like to hunt and eat them. Please be aware of your local wildlife.”

8. Finding Things in your Apartment

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Someone recalled their weird and scary experience, “I used to teach English in Japan. I didn’t get off most nights until 9 pm, so it was close to 10 by the time I made it to the train stop near my apartment.

“One night I’m walking home and the street is dead, except for this elementary school boy walking towards me and whistling. In Japan, whistling at night is said to attract demons so I was a bit unsettled by his behavior. The kid just kept whistling. I hurried home, demon free.

“I also used to find long, thick black hair in my apartment in places I’d recently cleaned. I don’t have thick black hair, my hair is fine and red, so that was weird. I also didn’t have guests with hair like that so, who knows!”

9. Street Scammer in Egypt

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“In Egypt, as I was leaving, an official guy in uniform came over and asked to see my passport and put it straight into his pocket and said I was being detained. Walked me over to a side office and told me to wait inside.

I didn’t go in and told him (maybe stupidly) that I was about to miss my flight and he said, he could ‘make the process faster’ if I paid the ‘administrative fee’. Fine—a bribe whatever. Wasn’t the first time on this trip. I take out the literal last of my cash and hand it to him, he puts it straight into his pocket and says ‘not enough.’

“I’m explaining that it’s literally all of the money I have and this woman, not in any kind of uniform, walks over to the guy, says something to him quite quietly (like speaking into his ear) and he looks petrified. Just absolutely terrified. Immediately gives me back my passport and not just the cash I gave him but some more that I guess he got from someone else before me and starts apologising to me profusely and even offered to escort me to my gate. She just smiled at me and told me to have a nice flight,” one person stated.

Someone replied, “If there’s one thing I’ve learned from reading travel stories and my own experiences—stay out of Egypt if you want to have a good time.”

10. Locals Insist on Taking Pictures

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One person commented, “When I was in my senior year of high school, we went on a field trip to India we were gonna write our senior projects at an orphanage where our teacher knew the owner, I went to a certified U.N school, whatever that means. Anyway, we were on our way to this giant temple and we stopped at a smaller one for a break and snacks. There were people everywhere and since all of us are white, except one dude, we got a lot of weird looks from the locals and a lot of giggles.

“I was talking to four other girls when the security guard asked if he could take a picture with us, that’s when all hell broke loose, everyone wanted to take pictures with us. So when I started walking back to the car, this dad followed me and kept hounding me for a picture and said that I [was very rude] for not taking pictures with his children… We left shortly after.”

Another one shared, “I have heard that there’s a similar phenomenon in rural Japan. Since it’s 99% Japanese, the people in rural Japan may not have ever seen a non-Japanese person before. So if they see a foreigner, sometimes they just do an open-mouthed stare. I heard one person describe the look on their faces as if they just saw a unicorn walk into the room.

“Same person described an incident where she was riding a bike on a narrow path next to a rice paddy, and saw two Japanese girls on bikes approaching her. Normally in this situation the people going in different directions go in single file so that they can easily pass each other without falling into the rice paddy. Well, these girls were so in shock about seeing a white person, they didn’t move into a single file line, knocked her right into the rice paddy, and on top of that one of their bikes sliced into her hand…

11. Driving Around Costa Rica

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One person stated, “Not creepy but different—Driving in Costa Rica. Amazing place full of super nice people. Some of the roads were paved or hard packed dirt. Most were ancient and in really bad shape. Biggest pot holes that I have ever seen in my life. I am not kidding when I say there were plenty of pot holes two feet deep. I was advised to get an SUV with full insurance, which I did and was thankful for.

Other interesting things—very religious country. Shrines all over the place with lights on them—in stores, on corners in the middle of nowhere. First time I saw an entire family ride on a Vespa type scooter. Really impressive, especially on those roads. They also sold some form of moon shine on the side of the road in reused plastic bottles. 10/10 would go back.”

“Another person shared, “Wife is from Costa Rica. The stop signs are more like yield signs. Taxi drivers are insane. Ghetto is… depressing. The people are lovely in general and very open and idealistic. Family is everything to them. You really do marry the family, not just the spouse. I wish they could be more monetarily wealthy in addition to their pura vida. Weird combination of catholicism and [being sensual]. Very open to discussing [physical] topics but very judgmental of certain things. Like my wife and her sister openly discussed my [body parts] in front of me, but the topic of [being gay] wasn’t to be discussed. I haven’t heard of the moonshine and have not yet visited their forests, unfortunately.”

Original Reddit thread here.

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