Fewer First-Time Buyers Than Ever Entering U.S. Housing Market

htbh5_1_1The latest Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers (2015) from the National Association of Realtors® (NAR) contains a stark statistical representation of how difficult it is for young (and possibly not so young) people to buy their first home: only 32% of buyers were first-timers last year. That’s the lowest share since 1987, when it came in at 30%.

The reasons are widely known and discussed: high home prices (and therefore needed down payments), low inventory of homes for sale, underemployment, and high (in many cases crushing) student debt loads.

Is it really so impossible to enter the U.S. real estate market? True, with median home prices across the United States at over $200,000—with some areas of the U.S. far, far above that (such as California, where the median is over $400,000)—we’re talking some serious dollars no matter who you are.

But it may also be that some people have simply been scared out of the market.

For example, Lisa Shaffer, Loan Advisor at RPM Mortgage in Alamo, California, told Nolo that one of the most satisfying things about her work is “when I can help get someone get into a home who doubted they could afford one at all. Some clients of ours have had a good income but not much saved up for a down payment, and we’ve been able to find them first-time buyer programs (either through the government or through niche programs offered by banks) to help them buy a home sooner than they’d thought possible.”

Another hopeful thing about the current housing market is that, while a 20% down payment is widely referred to as the norm, most first-time buyers don’t actually pay that much. The same NAR survey found that first-time buyers are putting an average of 6% down.

For help with the challenges of breaking into the real estate market, see Nolo’s Essential Guide to Buying Your First Home.

Does a Child Whose Parent Might Be Deported Experience Less Hardship Upon Turning 21?

Length of rope almost broken

A widely misunderstood portion of U.S. immigration law called “cancellation of removal” allows an immigration court judge to grant a green card to (instead of ordering deportation for) someone with no status in the U.S. who:

  • has been living in the U.S. continuously for at least ten years
  • has been a person of good moral character all that time
  • has not been convicted of any of various criminal offenses, and
  • who demonstrates to the satisfaction of the court that his or her removal would cause exceptional and extremely unusual hardship to the person’s spouse, parent, or child who is a citizen or lawful permanent resident of the U.S.

This is not an “amnesty.” Nor is it a remedy that immigrants can proactively apply for. It is simply a last-ditch defense for someone who finds him- or herself in removal proceedings, and whose U.S. citizen or green-card holding relatives would suffer greatly if he or she were removed from the United States.

Of course, anyone whose family member is about to be deported is (assuming their last argument wasn’t a doozy) likely to suffer emotionally. But the law requires more: It demands a showing of “exceptional and extremely unusual hardship,” which is a significant step up.

The classic example—and the first thing a lawyer representing someone with a potential case for cancellation of removal asks about—is when the U.S. citizen or green card holder has medical problems and relies on the soon-to-be-deported spouse or parent for some form of support.

Let’s say, for instance, that the U.S. citizen child is developmentally delayed, and requires help from the non-citizen parent with daily life tasks and basic coping. That might be grounds for cancellation . . . for as long as the child remains a child. Just how long is that? According to U.S. immigration law, childhood ends at age 21. One might query whether the hardship just disappears at age 21, but the law is written quite clearly, and can’t be changed except by the U.S. Congress.

Any possible unfairness will, however, be compounded by current long delays in the immigration courts. Due to understaffing and the added burden placed by the Central American migration crisis, many cases wait years before they’re heard by an immigration court judge. The odds that a child will turn 21 during this time are higher than ever, leading to a lot of unhappy birthdays.

This has led lawyers to attempt to argue that the child’s age should be considered as of the date the application for removal is submitted, rather than the date the judge makes a decision. Such an argument was, however, recently shot down by the federal Ninth Circuit court, in the case of Mendez-Garcia v. Lynch, 10/20/16.) The court upheld a decision by the Board of Immigration Appeals (B.I.A.), which said in essence that the application for removal is a “continuing” one, in which any new facts relevant to hardship (such as the birth of a child) must be taken into account—so that a child turning 21 cannot be ignored.

The facts of the Mendez-Garcia case actually weren’t very sympathetic. Mr. Mendez Garcia had some criminal activity on his record, and hadn’t done much to ensure that his case got through the immigration court system quickly. Immigrant advocates are no doubt wishing that the court had a more sympathetic case before it.

Until such a case comes along and provides cause for a rethinking of the Ninth Circuit court’s interpretation, however, anyone pursuing a case for cancellation of removal and relying on a U.S. teenager as a basis for a hardship finding would do best to talk to a lawyer right away. The lawyer might be able to request expedited hearings and avoid the problem altogether.

Halloween Décor Spending at Odds With Tiny House Trend!

hallwThe pumpkins, plastic gravestones, oddly placed fake spiderwebbing, and other home and yard decorations are making their yearly appearance.

In fact, according to the National Retail Federation’s annual study, 70% of Americans plan to decorate their home for Halloween in 2016, spending a collective $2.4 billion to do so.

For anyone with a practical bent, the truly scary thing is having to store all those items after Halloween is over. (With the exception of the carved pumpkins, of course, which will rot nicely in one’s compost bin.) Their closets might already be full of Halloween costumes, which 67% of Americans plan to buy this year, spending a collective $3.1 billion.

Meanwhile, fascination with tiny homes is big in the real estate world, particularly among millennials. The topic has given rise to blogs, books, websites, and even television programs.

What’s “tiny,” exactly? It’s a home that’s smaller than some people’s living room, at around 400 square feet.

Tiny homes are a good way to remain debt-free—but the closets don’t offer much space for, say, plastic gravestones. Perhaps that’s why the actual number of people purchasing tiny homes to live in remains in the thousands, according to a USA TODAY report.

If you can limit your Halloween décor to compostables, and are intrigued by tiny homes, be sure to check out attorney Will Van Vactor’s series of articles on laws concerning tiny homes in various U.S. states.

Nolo Contributing Author Kyle Knapp Volunteers in Dilley, Texas Detention Center

dilleyWondering why you haven’t read any new immigration-law articles by Nolo contributing author Kyle Knapp lately? Kyle just returned from a week in Dilley, Texas, site of the nation’s largest immigration detention center.

He volunteered his time to provide legal assistance to migrants held there–numerous migrants.

His experience provides a powerful reminder that, while the flow of Central American migrants has slowed and the news headlines all but disappeared, the human need continues.


“We helped 263 women prepare for their ‘credible fear interviews‘ to get them past the first hurdle in applying for asylum and getting out of the prison. The prison has capacity for 2,400 people, and there are 1,200 there now. If it were at capacity, I don’t think we’d ever be able to help them all. Working in the ‘visitation center,’ every time you look up, there’s another group of 15 to 30 women waiting for either intake or consultations,” Kyle explains.

Kudos to Kyle, and to the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, the American Immigration Council, the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services, and the American Immigration Lawyers Association, collectively known as CARA, which have joined forces to coordinate lawyers to volunteer at this and other U.S. immigration detention centers.

Trouble Selling Your Luxury Home? At Least You’re Not a Celebrity!

clock and faceAre Americans less starry-eyed about celebrities than they used to be? (Hard to believe, with a reality-TV star a nominee for the U.S. presidency.)

Or is there some other explanation for the fact that, according to a widely reported Redfin study, celeb-owned properties sit on the market for “about 36 days longer than other homes and they usually sell for less than the original asking price,” and in some cases for less than the amount they purchased it for?

One theory posited by Redfin is that, during their period of homeownership, celebrities tend to think less about resale value than about satisfying their own, possibly unusual, tastes. If they want a basketball court in the basement, so be it.

Another theory is that the privacy that major stars in the world of sports, movies, music, and so on must maintain–and the fear of being overrun by curious “looky-lous”–makes it difficult to open the house up to visitors. (Agents for buyers must convince the selling agent that the buyers are serious, and sometimes put them through a screening process.)

It’s bad enough to be an ordinary homeowner wondering about whether the open-house visitors will steal your prescription pills: Imagine worrying about whether visitors will not only steal the pills, but go to the media about what meds you’re on! (See “Theft During House Showing: What Can We Do?” for more on this issue.)

Still, bemoaning the inability to hold open houses is rather ironic, when you consider how much ink the real estate industry has spilled about whether open houses are actually worth the time and effort. So if you’re a nobody, you might as well revel in your nobody-ness, open your house to the public, and enjoy the benefits of having a stream of visitors.

For more tips and strategies, see Selling Your Home: Nolo’s Essential Guide.