Four Percent of U.S. Homes Being Sold to Foreign Buyers

home on lifeboatYou don’t have to live in the U.S., much less possess a green card or U.S. citizenship, in order to buy a home here — a fact that’s not lost on foreign investors.

In raw numbers, this 4% of purchases isn’t huge: it’s approximately 209,000 U.S. homes going to buyers who either reside outside the U.S. or have been living in the U.S. for less than two years‘ time. (These figures come from the National Association of Realtors, covering the year ending March, 2015, as reported in “As their economy slips, the Chinese are buying U.S. homes,” Associated Press,, September 19, 2015.)

Nevertheless, because the purchases are concentrated in certain areas of the U.S. (New York, San Francisco, Seattle, Irvine, California, Chicago, and parts of Arizona, Texas, Florida), the impact is catching the attention of real estate industry insiders and the media.

What might this buying trend mean for people buying or selling homes in the United States?

On the buying front, the news isn’t good: You’ve got increased competition in some already tight markets. What’s more, it’s coming from buyers who may be paying all cash: The very reason some of them are investing in U.S. real estate is because they’ve accumulated enough to need to park it somewhere. Investments in their own country (as in the case of China) may be going sour.

The only bright spot for home buyers is that, under current immigration law, buying a house doesn’t come with any right to actually settle in the U.S. permanently. So the competition isn’t likely to go too crazy, being limited to people who either already have a U.S. visa or who are willing to care for a house from afar, most likely by hiring a management company.

If you’re planning to sell your home, the news is better. More potential buyers! All-cash offers, likely with no financing contingencies! But before you lose your head and start heavily advertising your property in foreign-language newspapers, realize that selling to non-U.S. buyers comes with risks, too. Some of them face major government restrictions on transferring their funds from to the U.S. – and neither they nor you may know until your other prospective purchasers have moved on whether the deal is really going to go through.

As Patricia Wangsness, a Bellevue, Washington-based Realtor told me when I was preparing the book Selling Your House: Nolo’s Essential Guide, “We’ve had to develop a policy of not going into contract with an overseas buyer unless the earnest money deposit has cleared.” 

What about the significance of this purchasing trend for homeowners whose new neighbors may be from another country? It depends. In the case of those who will actually be living in the homes, you may have some interesting new neighbors. But in the case of those buying investment properties, you may have some homes sitting empty nearby – either because the owner plans to use it for a few months out of the year (six months is the maximum they could spend on the standard B-2 tourist visa) or because they don’t feel any urgency to bring in tenants.

Has Your Nonprofit Filled Out the 2015 Global NGO Online Technology Survey Yet?

pic2I just attended a webinar led by Heather Mansfield, expert and researcher extraordinaire in the field of utilizing mobile and social media to raise money and visibility for charitable organizations. Among the choice bits of info she provided were:

  • Social media has become a MAJOR force in online fundraising, with 95% of nonprofits having established a presence on Facebook, and a goodly number using Twitter and LinkedIn, as well. It’s no longer a question of, “Should we market our organization through social media?” but how to do it best.
  • Photos make a huge difference in whether your social media content catches readers’ interest. On Facebook, photos can produce up to 4X more engagement than links. But you’ll want to make sure they look good, and that you take steps in advance to properly format them. On Twitter, entries containing properly sized photos (800 x 400 pixels) get retweeted up to 3X more than tweets with cropped photos.
  • It’s possible to overdo your social media chatter. The biggest reason that people unlike a Facebook Page is because they perceive the organization to be sending out too many posts. A total of four to five Facebook posts per week (or even less) may be sufficient, while you’ll want to tweet or retweet once every one or two hours.

That’s just a taste, and Ms. Mansfield is not done gathering information. She is part of the first — that’s right, first — worldwide survey of nonprofit organizations regarding their use of social media and other online technology. More than 1,000 NGOs worldwide have already weighed in. Don’t miss your chance to complete the 2015 Global NGO Online Technology Survey!


In this difficult economy, don’t forget that many “job hunting” expenses may be deductible, assuming you’re looking for new work in the same line of business in which you’re presently employed.  Some deductible items are:

  • Resume production costs
  • Travel expenses
  • Placement agency fees

IRS has some good publications with more info:  Pubs 529, 463 and 4128.



How Much Would a Small Interest Rate Hike Affect Your Total Mortgage Costs?

Scissors_Cutting_MoneyThe world is watching and waiting to see whether the U.S. Federal Reserve will raise interest rates this month, or at least by the end of 2015.

A rise in the “federal funds rate” will translate pretty quickly into higher mortgage interest rates, affecting any prospective homebuyer who can’t simply pony up a few hundred thousand dollars in cash. (The fed isn’t the only driver of mortgage interest rates, but it’s a factor in the mix.)

Given that nearly a decade has passed since the fed raised this rate, most experts don’t believe it will do anything more than inch it up. This isn’t a time for shock strategies.

The prospect of a rise in the rate nevertheless raises a question for prospective homebuyers. How much would a small rise in mortgage interest rates affect the amount you ultimately pay for your mortgage (assuming you choose a fixed-rate loan)?

The answer can be found by having some fun with Nolo’s “How much will my fixed rate mortgage payment be?” calculator.

Let’s assume you’re buying a $500,000 home, putting 20% down ($100,000, ouch) and will therefore be taking out a $400,000 mortgage. The reported 30-year rate on today is 3.96%.

According to Nolo’s calculator, your monthly payment on this loan would be $1,900, and the total interest you’d pay over the life of the loan would be $284,161.

Now let’s assume interest rates go up a notch, to 4%. That would take your monthly payments to $1,910 and your total interest paid by the end of the loan term to $287,478 — $3,317 more than you would have owed in our first example. Not awful, over 30 years.

Let’s keep going, and take those interest rates up to 4.5%. (Could happen!) That would boost your monthly payments to $2,027 and your total interest paid by the end of the loan term to $329,627. Things are starting to look more serious.

What about 5% mortgage rates? They’re still within the realm of where experts predict rates might go in the coming months or year. A mortgage at 5% on your $400,000 loan would come with monthly payments of $2,147 and bring your total interest paid to $373,021.

Them’s real dollars. With a seemingly small rise interest rate on the day you close on your home, from just below 4% to 5%, you’d be looking at owing $88,860 more in total interest by the time you’d paid that loan off.

Of course, if housing prices were to go down as a result of the rate hike, that would offset part of the problem – but no one seems to think they will.

Now might be a good time to get serious about buying a home. A trusted mortgage broker can also help you think strategically about how to finance your purchase.

DOJ’s New “Stingray” Policy Offers Protections, Limitations

iStock_000066456711_SmallLast year, the U.S. Supreme Court decided that police officers generally need warrants to search the cellphones of people they arrest. Earlier this summer, a federal court disagreed with some of its counterparts by holding that the government must typically get a warrant to inspect someone’s past cellphone location information. Now, in the latest example of the law scrambling to keep up with mobile phone technology, the Department of Justice (DOJ) has announced a policy on cell tracking devices.

The policy, unveiled last week, generally requires that officers get warrants before using “stingrays,” and that they let judges know when they intend to use the equipment.

Stingrays are suitcase-sized devices that mimic cell towers. By tricking cellphones into connecting with them, they reveal the phones’ whereabouts. But these trackers, which are strong enough to pass through walls and can interfere with calls, don’t connect with just one phone—they link up with all phones in the area. And they can grab not only location information, but also data like texts and emails. (The DOJ says the technology federal agencies use won’t capture this kind of material.)

Added Protection

The DOJ policy mandates that authorities regularly delete data they collect through stingrays. For instance, agents must erase it once they locate a suspect’s phone. If they don’t locate the phone, they must delete all data they’ve gathered at least once a day. But they’re actually supposed to hang on to some data, namely, the kind that could help prove a suspect’s innocence.

Exceptions—and Limitations

Like any rule, the DOJ policy has exceptions. First, officers may use stingrays without warrants in “exigent circumstances,” as where someone’s life is in immediate danger or someone is about to destroy evidence. Second, they can skip warrant requests in the face of the more ambiguous “exceptional circumstances.” These are situations “where the law does not require a search warrant and circumstances make obtaining a search warrant impracticable.” (DOJ Press Release.)

Newsweek reports that an example of “exceptional circumstances” is the FBI’s use of stingrays without warrants in public places, where the agency considers folks to lack reasonable expectations of privacy. The DOJ is quick to remind, however, that to invoke the exception, obtaining a warrant must be “impracticable.” Plus, the department notes that agents claiming exceptional circumstances will have to get both a court order and approval from agency higher-ups. But many contend that this kind of court order is remarkably easy to obtain; a warrant, on the other hand, demands the higher showing of probable cause.

Perhaps the biggest “exception” to the fresh stingray approach is really a limitation—it’s the fact that the policy doesn’t reach state or local law enforcement (though some states do require warrants for stingray use.) So, while federal bodies like the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Agency, and the Marshals Service might have to abide by these new rules for investigations within the U.S., your local police department won’t. And that’s no trivial distinction: The Washington Post reports that at least 53 agencies at the state or local level have bought stingrays.