Holiday Season Great for Home Deals—If You Can Cope With the Downsides

holiday lightsA recent, informal survey by the National Association of Exclusive Buyer Agents (NAEBA) asked its members—real estate brokerages that only represent home buyers—to report in on the challenges of shopping for a home during the holiday season.

The responses are in most cases either entertaining—“Aftermath of a New Year’s Eve party including passed out guests complete with open and spilled adult beverages”—or daunting—“Sellers reluctant to show because house is a wreck or too much company in house” and “difficulties in meeting deadlines when financial institutions or other offices are closed or industry personnel (loan officer, inspector, etc.) take time off.”

Difficulties aside, however, the NAEBA agents noted a silver lining to home shopping while everyone else is gift shopping: “Since we know anyone whose home is on the market during the holidays is highly motivated, we can be more aggressive in offering price and terms of the contract.”

Translated, that means that no seller in their right mind would put a home on the market during this cold, dreary, and distracted time of year—and therefore anyone who does so probably has a pressing reason.

Divorce, job change, or other change in life circumstances might be among the reasons. The seller basically needs to move, and move now.

That puts the prospective home buyer in a strong negotiating position. For help, see Nolo’s articles on Buying a House or Property.  Just step carefully on those frozen front steps, and don’t close the purchase until you have a chance to persuade a home inspector to put down the eggnog and come check the roof for leaks.

How Many Green Cards Were Misdelivered?!

green cardThe title of the recent report from the U.S. Office of the Inspector General says it all: “Better Safeguards Are Needed in USCIS Green Card Issuance.”

According to the OIG’s findings, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) “continues to struggle to ensure proper Green Card issuance.”

Among other problems over the last three years, USCIS made mistakes on, or produced duplicate versions of, at least 19,000 cards. What’s more, the agency received over 200,000 reports from approved applicants saying that their cards went missing before they got them–in many cases, because the cards were sent to the wrong address.

The latter problem isn’t always USCIS’s fault. However, the OIG found that the number of misdelivered green cards could be reduced if the process for updating one’s address with USCIS were easier.

Do these problems affect only the immigrants awaiting a valid green card? Not if you’re, say, an employer waiting to hire a recent immigrant, or a concerned citizen wondering about whose house that misdirected green card actually went to!

If you are an immigrant and USCIS made an error on your green card, see Mistake on Your Green Card: Who Pays the Replacement Fee? for tips on getting a free replacement. And if you’re awaiting your green card, and plan to move, be sure to either submit your change of address online, call USCIS’s customer service number, 800-375-5283, or complete Form AR-11 (available at www.uscis.gov/ar-11) and mail it to the address listed on the form.

How to Make Your Nonprofit’s Emails Stand Out on Days Like Giving Tuesday

clock and faceAlthough it has been around only since 2012, Giving Tuesday (on the first Tuesday after Thanksgiving) has become the established “opening day” for year-end online donations to nonprofit organizations.

Last year (in 2015) for example, almost 700,000 online donors collectively gave over $116 million dollars to charitable causes, according to a report by ImpactLab.

Suffice it to say that no nonprofit wants to be left out of the action. And judging from the number of emails in my inbox this morning (they haven’t stopped yet!) most nonprofits have realized this fact. The sheer number of emails is verging on annoying–problematic, as it might lead some recipients to give up and delete the whole lot.

But politely staying out of the fray is no longer a realistic option. So the question becomes, how can a nonprofit distinguish itself from the others within an email subject line or (if it’s lucky and the recipient actually opens it) within the short space of an email?

Here’s what I’m observing various groups trying:

  • Matching gifts. Subject lines like, “Donations matched for Giving Tuesday!”, “Urgent: Your gift will go twice the distance today,” and “3-1 Match for Giving Tuesday Only” are so common that they hardly attract attention. But on the plus side, if a donor was already thinking about making a gift to a particular group, seeing a time-delimited match might tip the balance. Matching gifts also offer a subtle way with which to establish a group’s credibility, if the donor offering the match is well respected.
  • Specific reminders of what a gift will support. With every other nonprofit asking for money to help its cause, it can be eye-catching to see something like, “Send a Girl to School for $58” or “$50 will plant five native trees.”
  • An end-of-day goal. The National Wildlife Federation, for example, set a goal of receiving sufficient donations with which to “plant 5,000 native trees, in order to help wildlife survive and thrive for years to come.” On the one hand, such a goal seems rather arbitrary (couldn’t it wait until tomorrow?); on the other hand, it effectively reminds donors what their collective response can achieve.
  • Humor and/or baby seals. I did enjoy Oceana’s email subject line: “There’s a sea lion pup who wants you to open this email.” The photo inside is, of course, adorable. (Those baby seal pictures never get old!)

Sad to say, some of the email subject lines are just plain dull, such as, “Today we celebrate Giving Tuesday.” (That’s the only one I saved long enough to quote!) But at least that nonprofit didn’t sit this year’s Giving Tuesday out!

Trump Plan to Cap Itemized Deductions a Concern for Nonprofits

As has been widely reported, President-Elect Donald Trump’s plan to change the U.S. tax system includes placing a cap on itemized deductions–$100,000 for a single person, and $200,000 for a married couple.

Sound like plenty to cover your deductions? (It sure is for mine.)

But we all have cause for concern about the impact on U.S. nonprofit organizations, because charitable donations are on the list of potential U.S. tax deductions.

Suddenly, the wealthiest of donors will have less incentive to give. And there’s no question that tax deductions form a part, though not all, of donors’ motivations to give (witness the end-of-year donation rush).

This is especially troubling news when issued around the same time as a report from the Institute for Policy Studies, finding that recent growth in philanthropic giving is concentrated among a handful of high-income, high-wealth donors, while giving by lower- and middle-income donors is steadily declining–mirroring the increasing concentration of societal wealth.

If I were in charge of a nonprofit right now, I’d work extra hard on that end-of-year 2016 campaign to my wealthiest donors!

Online Places to Do Holiday Shopping for a Cause

holiday lightsA shout-out to Nonprofit Tech for Good for compiling a list of 30 Online Stores That Benefit Nonprofits, just in time for the start of the holiday shopping season.

My family could have used this the year I announced (in classic Berkeley style) that I wanted to reduce consumerism and overconsumption by having us give and get only gifts from nonprofits that year.

I think I confused them. I received things like shrunken wool sweaters from Goodwill.

Perhaps, like many people I’ve met, they have no idea what a nonprofit actually is. Fortunately, Nolo has an answer for that.

But the technical definition can’t possibly reflect the great variety of nonprofits that exist in the U.S., from service organizations with an online store on the side to museums and hospitals to Goodwill and its ilk.

You’ll find all of those on the list above, plus a few websites that are dedicated to selling goods and then forwarding the profits to various nonprofit organizations and causes.

Now, if only I could try on one of those beanies . . . .