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AOL Real Estate - Blog
AOL Real Estate - Blog

Robin Williams' Lingering Legacy: A Napa Valley Wine Estate

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robin williams house napa valley
ZillowRobin Williams' custom-built mansion is set amid the vines of a working winery.
BAFTA Britannia Awards
APRobin Williams

The swirl of speculation that's followed the untimely death of Robin Williams has spread to his financial health at the time of the comedian and actor's suicide last week. And much of the attention has focused on a luxurious property in California's Napa Valley that he'd been attempting to sell since 2012. The 654-acre vineyard estate had recently returned to the market with a $5.5 million discount.

Williams originally priced the property located between the towns of Napa and Sonoma at $35 million, admitting that he felt that he could no longer afford it. Williams then took it off the market before relisting it in April at $29.5 million.

Although it's a working winery, the main house that Williams built on the property at the beginning of the century is anything but workmanlike, with the 20,000-square-foot custom-designed mansion being constructed of Portuguese limestone, and featuring an oak-paneled library, a climate-controlled environment for art and wine, and a bell tower.

And along with popular luxury amenities like a screening room and infinity pool at the five-bedroom, 12-bathroom, Mediterranean-style home, there's a guesthouse, a stable and a fishpond. The Zillow blog further reports that aside from the Savignon blanc grapes on its farm acreage, there's a grove of olive trees.

So was the estate that Williams dubbed Villa Sorriso (or "Villa of Smiles") an eventual sorrow for Williams?

Attorney Danielle Mayoras, co-author of Trial & Heirs: Famous Fortune Fights, told ABC News that divorces had left Williams still rich in real-estate holdings but "cash poor." Forbes magazine, however, cited estimates that put his estate's net worth at the time of his death at $50 million, with $25 million of that in real estate.

Williams' publicist has discounted any claims that the entertainer was in any financial peril, declaring in a statement that those reports are "simply false," and saying of Williams decision to end his life: "I understand people's desire to try and understand this, but we would encourage your focus be on working to help others and understand depression."

As for the fortunes of properties like Villa Sorriso in the Napa Valley, some of the luster appears to have faded from owning a wine estate. The rich and picturesque agricultural region didn't escape the impact of Great Recession on property values: Real estate prices had skyrocketed there in the housing boom that preceded it, in part due to an influx of "gentleman farmers" like Williams.

And the bigger the properties are, the tougher they seem to be to sell. Former 49er football star Joe Montana slashed the price on his Sonoma County estate from $49 million to $35 million in 2012, after it had already lingered on the market for years. And the Robert Mondavi estate, originally listed at $25 million in 2010, was put up for auction at a starting bid of about half that 18 months later, and sold for an undisclosed price.


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Zillow Mortgage Marketplace: Rates Dip Below 4% -- Briefly

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30 year mortgage rate chart
Zillow*The weekly mortgage rate chart illustrates the average 30-year fixed interest rate in six-hour intervals.

By Alexa Fiander

Mortgage rates for 30-year fixed mortgages remained fairly stable this week, with the current rate borrowers were quoted on Zillow Mortgages at 4.06 percent, down from 4.08 percent at this same time last week. The 30-year fixed mortgage rate hovered around 4.08 percent for the majority of the week, falling to 3.97 percent on Friday before returning to the current rate.

"Mortgage rates dropped mid-week to their lowest level in two months on weak U.S. economic data and geopolitical concerns over the escalating tensions between Ukraine and Russia," said Erin Lantz, vice president of mortgages at Zillow. "This week, we expect rates to inch back up unless international turmoil continues to lead the news."

Additionally, the 15-year fixed mortgage rate this morning was 3.12 percent, and for 5/1 ARMs, the rate was 2.79 percent.

Purchase Mortgage Application Activity: Zillow predicts tomorrow's seasonally adjusted Mortgage Bankers Association Weekly Application Index will show purchase loan activity to increase by 2 percent from the week prior. To learn more about this Zillow analysis, click here.

What are the interest rates right now? Check Zillow Mortgages for mortgage rate trends and up-to-the-minute mortgage rates for your state.


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4 Factors That Shouldn't Affect Mortgage Loan Approval

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military couple in uniform...
ShutterstockMortgage lenders will consider the housing allowance that some active service members receive but not GI Bill benefits.
By Chris Birk

When you're hoping to lock down a home loan, the focus is on making sure you look like a safe bet for prospective lenders. Conversation tends to drift to the key pieces of the pre-approval puzzle, from credit score and stable income to acceptable debt levels and suitable assets. No one's arguing the wisdom there. But what often gets glossed over, if not entirely forgotten, are the things lenders won't or even can't factor into their decision.

Some of those non-factors help protect homebuyers and maintain a level playing field. Others might push a home loan out of reach for certain borrowers. That's why it's important to consider some of the things lenders might not.

1. Race, Age & Family Status: The Fair Housing Act and the Equal Credit Opportunity Act both protect consumers from discrimination regarding real estate and credit transactions. Lenders and creditors are barred from discriminating against people based on their race, religion, family status

A lackluster credit score could render your spouse's six-figure income untouchable, at least in terms of your purchasing power.

and a host of other factors.

Lenders also have to take steps to ensure policies don't disproportionately affect some groups more than others. For example, a lender with a policy of only making loans of $100,000 or more is especially likely to hurt lower-income borrowers. That harm is known as disparate impact, and it's a fair housing problem.

You also can't be turned away from a 30-year mortgage because you're in your "golden years." Age discrimination is also against the law.

2. Non-Borrower Income: This may go without saying, but it's essential to have enough income to cover the new mortgage payment, maintain a healthy debt-to-income ratio and meet other asset-related requirements.

Some buyers make enough money alone to handle the mortgage. But plenty of others need or want to count the income of a spouse or significant other to help cut down a debt load or to buy more house. The rub is you can't count that person's income unless they're actually co-obliged on the loan with you.

Any co-borrower will need to meet the same credit and underwriting requirements that you will. That means a lackluster credit score could render your spouse's six-figure income untouchable, at least in terms of your purchasing power.

3. Some Income Types: In addition, not all forms of income are created equally -- or will be counted by lenders toward qualifying for a home loan. Temporary income can be a tough sell for lenders, who are looking for reliable streams that are likely to continue.

Unemployment income isn't likely to factor into your mortgage qualification. Some lenders and loan types may consider it in a handful of cases. Seasonal employees who routinely rely on unemployment compensation during certain times each year may be able to count it, provided there's a solid history of receiving it and the compensation is likely to continue.

Veterans are often dismayed to learn that mortgage lenders won't count the housing assistance they receive as part of their GI Bill benefits. It can be especially confusing because lenders can and do include the Basic Allowance for Housing that certain active service members receive.

4. Shopping Around: Having a lender pull your credit scores constitutes a "hard inquiry." You can lose a couple points from your score anytime a potential creditor conducts one of these. But when you're considering a significant purchase, like a home, the credit agencies give consumers greater leeway to safely shop around.

Once a lender pulls your credit, you've typically got a two-week window to have others do so without taking a hit to your score. The nation's three major credit bureaus -- Equifax, Experian and TransUnion -- will only count that first hard inquiry against you. They'll chalk up the remainder to due diligence and comparative shopping during that two-week timeframe.

Seeking loan pre-approval from multiple lenders isn't likely to significantly impact your credit score or your qualification chances.

If you want to see how the mortgage-shopping and pre-approval process are affecting your credit, it can help to monitor your credit scores before you begin the process, so you know where you stand, and have something to compare any fluctuations to in the following months. You can check two of your credit scores for free every month on


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Reese Witherspoon Buys Historic Nashville Fixer-Upper Home

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Reese Witherspoon house exterior
ZillowReese Witherspoon's recently purchased home was built by a prominent Nashville family.
Unscripted: Water for Elephants featuring Robert Pattinson and Reese Witherspoon.
AOLReese Witherspoon
By Emily Heffter

Southern belle and Oscar-winning actress Reese Witherspoon plans to renovate a historic house she bought last month in her hometown of Nashville, Tennessee. The home was built by a prominent Nashville family, and when it came on the market last year, local automobile scion and GOP donor Lee Beaman and his wife, Kelley Beaman, wanted to save it from being torn down and replaced by a mega-mansion. So they bought it and did some basic maintenance.

They painted the home's interior, refinished the hardwood floors and ripped out the outdated kitchen and laundry room, said listing agent Hal Rosson. "It just seemed a shame that so many of these nice homes are being torn down," Rosson said. "They felt like they would like to save the house."

The Beamans put a deed restriction on the home, barring the next owner from replacing it. And Witherspoon bought the four-bedroom, 3.5-bath, 3,855-square-foot home for $1.95 million, through a trust, in July.

The stately white home sits at the end of a long driveway on a 6.5-acre flat lot in the upscale Oak Hill area. The Tennessee governor's mansion is "around the corner," Rosson said.

The home has an elegant staircase, three fireplaces and a paneled library, but needs major renovations. Listing photos show the stripped kitchen, with wallpaper and flooring missing and appliances gone altogether.

There's a small poolside guesthouse, and a stream runs through the middle of the property.

Witherspoon, whose parents live in the Nashville area, put her Los Angeles-area estate on the market earlier this year for $10.5 million, Variety reported.


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How to Know If Mortgage Refinancing Is the Right Move Now

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ShutterstockYou'll need good credit to get the best rates on a mortgage refinance, and you'll need to be able to document your income.
By Teresa Mears

Mortgage rates have been hovering near historic lows for five years. While the current average rate of 4.13 percent for a fixed, 30-year mortgage is not the lowest it's ever been -- that was 3.35 percent in December 2012 -- it's still lower than at any time between 2010 and 1971, when Freddie Mac started keeping records.

Exactly when rates will rise significantly is anybody's guess, but there's no question that will happen. This could mean you'll never see a better time to lower your mortgage rate and your monthly payment by refinancing -- but if, and only if, refinancing will save you money.

"We're still at the lowest rate we've been in 30 years," says Don Frommeyer, president of the National Association of Mortgage Professionals and a mortgage broker in Indianapolis. "Now's the time to do it. Who knows what's going to happen in the next 12 to 24 months?"

But, he adds, to find out if refinancing is the right move for you, you need to consider your goals and crunch some numbers. "If you're just going to refinance to refinance, that's not a good idea," he says.

When weighing whether to refinance, many people rely on a rule of thumb that a reduction of 1 percentage point makes refinancing worthwhile. But that formula ignores important considerations. For one thing, closing costs are vastly more expensive in Florida, for example, than in California, meaning it will take you longer to earn back your refinancing costs.

[Read: The Benefits -- and Dangers -- of Serial Refinancing.]

Another common formula adds up your closing costs and determines how many months it will take for your payment savings to recoup those costs. For example, if you pay $3,000 in closing costs and save $300 a month, it will take you 10 months to recoup your costs, making refinancing a good deal if you plan to stay in the home more than 10 months.

But those formulas don't tell the whole story, says Casey Fleming, author of The Loan Guide: How to Get the Best Possible Mortgage and a mortgage professional in the San Francisco Bay Area. For one thing, they fail to account for the fact that you'll be paying on your loan for more years, and you'll be paying less principal than before.

Fleming advises calculating how much you'd save if you paid the loan back in the same number of years. So, if you had 25 years left on a 30-year mortgage and were refinancing into a new 30-year loan, calculate how much your payment would be if you paid the new loan back in 25 years. Then divide that number into your closing costs and see how many months it will take to recoup your costs.

Fleming also suggests estimating how long you're going to keep the property. Then you can get an idea of what the principal balance will be when you're ready to sell and compare that with what the balance will be if you don't refinance.

"It drives me crazy when people overpay," he says. "People end up paying more money to the bank because they refinanced," not realizing that the interest rate wasn't the only important number.
Many lenders will offer to refinance your loan with no closing costs. That merely means you don't pay the costs upfront, but they are rolled into the cost of the loan, either as a higher mortgage rate or an addition to the principal.

If you've done the math and refinancing looks like a good deal, the next step is getting estimates from several lenders or brokers. You'll need good credit to get the best rates, and you'll need to be able to document your income. If you're self-employed or work on contract, lenders will want to see contracts and also a track record of two years of self-employment income high enough to repay the loan. Sometimes meeting income requirements is challenging for those who write off a lot of expenses because lenders consider the net, not the gross, income if you're self-employed. Everyone, self-employed or not, should expect more paperwork.

"You will have to provide significantly more documentation, and there will be a lot more questions about your documentation," Fleming says.

[See: 12 Simple Ways to Raise Your Credit Score.]

The house will also have to pass muster. The Federal Housing Administration is especially picky about issues such as chipped paint and ceiling cracks. Appraisers are asking for termite inspections, foundation inspections and other reports to document the condition of the house, Fleming says.

If you're not taking cash out, you can refinance to 90 to 95 percent of your home's value on a conventional mortgage, 97 percent on an FHA loan and 10 percent on a Veterans Affairs loan, although you will have to secure private mortgage insurance or its equivalent if your loan is for more than 80 percent of your home's value.

If you want to take out cash, the limit is 75 to 80 percent on a conventional loan and 85 percent for FHA. And, Fleming says, you'll pay a higher interest rate.

The Home Affordable Refinance Program even allows people who are underwater on their mortgages but current on payments to refinance to take advantage of lower interest rates. HARP loans have to be backed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, but those entities back most loans.

Remember that just because you can refinance doesn't mean you should. Here are some things to consider:

How long are you going to be in your home? The longer you plan to stay, the more advantageous it is for you to cut your monthly payment.

Do you want a longer mortgage? If you're 10 years into a 30-year mortgage and you refinance, you've now got 30 more years to pay. Are the monthly savings worth 10 more years of payments?

Do you want a shorter mortgage? Homeowners nearing retirement age may want to refinance into a shorter mortgage, especially if they can get a better interest rate. In recent years, 15-year, 20-year and even 10-year mortgages have grown in popularity. The shorter the mortgage, the less interest you pay.

What are your closing costs? Make sure you take all costs into consideration, including title fees, local taxes, lawyer's fees and loan-related fees.

[Read: 5 Alternatives to the 30-Year Mortgage.]

Should you pay points to get a lower rate? "In most cases, it makes a lot of sense to pay money to bring down the interest rate," Fleming says. Paying three points, for example, could lower your interest rate from 4.25 percent to 3.5 percent. (Points are fees. One point is equal to 1 percent of the loan amount, so one point on a $200,000 loan would be $2,000.) Over years, that could shave way more than you paid in points off your balance. "It's a huge difference, much, much larger than you would think," Fleming says.

Is taking cash out for home improvements a good idea? If you take out $20,000 in cash on your 30-year mortgage to remodel your kitchen, you're actually paying for that kitchen for 30 years. You may have to make some of those improvements two or three more times before you're finished paying off the first round. "You're financing a paint job for 30 years," Fleming says.

Should you refinance to pay off debt? Be careful. "Debt consolidation almost never makes sense in the long run," Fleming writes in his book. "It almost always works out to be a very long-term, expensive solution to a short-term problem." If you don't make your credit card payments, you won't lose your house. If you roll that debt into your mortgage and you don't make the payments, you can lose your house.

Would a home equity line of credit be better? Possibly, if your needs are short-term. The current interest rate is prime plus 1, or 4.25 percent, about the same rate as a 30-year mortgage. However, equity lines have variable interest rates. Historically, prime has been much higher, so your rate could rise substantially in the future.

Do you have an FHA loan? You may be eligible for a streamline refinance, which doesn't require verifying income or assets or doing an appraisal.


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Tallest Lighthouse in New England Auctioned Off for $78,000

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Lighthouse Auction Maine
The Associated PressUndated photo from the U.S. General Services Administration of the Boon Island Light Station off York, Maine.
Why would anyone want to buy a lighthouse on a desolate, difficult-to-reach, and storm-battered island? Apparently there are many who would. More than a dozen bidders tried to purchase the historic Boon Island Light Station, the tallest lighthouse in New England, in an auction that ended Sunday.

The no-frills lighthouse and the tiny island it's set on -- six miles off the Maine coast -- went to the highest bidder for the sum of $78,000, The Associated Press reported.

According to Bob Trapani, the Executive Director of the American Lighthouse Foundation, these islands are usually bought by individuals whose primary concern is preservation. "There are occasions where some people just like to say they own a lighthouse," Trapani said, "and others are intrigued by the mystery and challenge that this type of island presents."

Boon Island, with a rich history of shipwrecks and violent storms, certainly presents a challenge. The trading vessel Increase ran aground there in 1682, as did the English ship Nottingham Galley in 1710. The entire crew of the Caroline -- shipwrecked on the island in 1846 -- were saved by the lighthouse "keeper" at that time, Nathaniel Baker.

The first wooden lighthouse tower was erected on the island in 1799 and was replaced several times with more substantial materials and to greater heights. The current tower, built of granite, stands 133 feet high. (See images from the history of the lighthouse in the slideshow below.)

Over the years "keepers" resided on the island until the Great Blizzard of 1978, when huge waves, strong gusts and blinding snow covered it. During that storm, the lighthouse keeper and guards clung to the spiral staircase inside the tower as it swayed in the wind. A helicopter eventually rescued everyone on the island during a lull in the blizzard, but the island hasn't been home to anyone since.

The other buildings on the island were all wrecked by the storm and what remained of them was finally burned to the ground in the 1980s by the U.S. Coast Guard.

Among the challenges for the new owner of the island is a ledge 14 feet above sea level, making it extremely difficult to land a boat. And often when the sea is turbulent the only safe way to get to the tiny island is by helicopter.

One could build a house there, particularly a prefabricated one that could be airlifted in parts to the island. However, according to Trapani, "The owner will have to contend with the threat of storms, which will always remain a factor at this wave-swept location. If any additional structures were approved to be built, they would have to be able to withstand the sizable seas that sweep over the ledge -- and on occasion, submerge it during big storms."

Trapani hopes that the new owner will have preservation in mind because there is much work to do in restoring the lighthouse. The ironwork throughout the structure needs some TLC, especially the spiral staircase, which has deteriorated over the years. This will be the responsibility of the new owner since the Coast Guard doesn't have the funds for this type of historical restoration. The Guard will, however, continue to be responsible for the light, still required to guide ships safely around navigational hazards in the vicinity.

The winning bidder will be identified after government officials take up to 30 days to evaluate the winning bid and finalize the purchase, Patrick Sclafani, a spokesman for the U.S. General Services Administration, told the AP.

Other lighthouses are still available for those who are interested in owning one. The federal government is currently auctioning off Halfway Rock Light Station in Maine's Casco Bay. The highest of the three bids to date is $56,000. The Minots Ledge Light off Scituate, Massachusetts, is also available, though so far hasn't attracted any bids.

So for the adventurous souls who want to own a lighthouse -- there are still opportunities.

Sheri Koones is the author of seven books on home construction, five of them on prefabricated construction. She has won two Robert Bruss Gold Book awards by the National Association of Real Estate Editors. Her latest book is Prefabulous World: Energy-Efficient and Sustainable Homes Around the Globe.


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Sale of New York's Plaza Hotel Could Subject It to Boycott

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2013.01.19 - Sherman and the Plaza Hotel
JBYoder/FlickrAn estimated $2.2 billion deal would give the Sultan of Brunei part ownership of New York's Plaza Hotel and two others.
Indonesia APEC
APHassanal Bolkiah, Sultan of Brunei
Celebrities may have another swank hotel to boycott. The Sultan of Brunei -- whose Beverly Hills Hotel in California has been boycotted because of his country's enforcement of Islamic law -- is part of a bid for the Plaza Hotel in New York. The Plaza, where the precocious and fictional 6-year-old Eloise lives in the "room on the tippy-top floor" in books titled with her name, is being bid on by a man who says his country's practice of punishing sodomy and adultery by death, via such means as stoning, is a "great achievement."

The estimated $2.2 billion deal would give Brunei's Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah part ownership of the Plaza Hotel and two others -- New York's Dream Hotel and the Grosvenor House Hotel in London. The sultan wouldn't have any say in the daily operations of the hotels, but would be the controlling owner in partnership with two other investors, according to reports.

The properties are being sold by jailed by Indian tycoon Subrata Roy to raise money for bail. Roy is jailed in New Delhi, in lieu of a $1.6 billion bail bond, on contempt-of-court charges related to billions in restitution that his group allegedly failed to repay to investors of illegal financial products.

Alan Light/FlickrEvents have been canceled at The Beverly Hills Hotel because of protests against Brunei's Shariah law.
The sultan's Beverly Hills Hotel has been in the middle of a controversy over his country's system of Shariah law, and in May the city of Beverly Hills voted to pressure the government of Brunei to divest the hotel after the country's imposition of fundamentalist tenets prompted protests at the iconic hotel. Stars such as Jay Leno, Elton John and Ellen DeGeneres, and British entrepreneur Richard Branson, boycotted the iconic hotel, which long has been a favorite spot for the Hollywood elite, and which was famously featured on the cover of the Eagles' "Hotel California" album.

About a week before the boycott, Brunei had adopted the strict interpretation of Islamic criminal law, which also prompted concerns from the U.S. State Department. Abortions and same-sex relationships are now subject to punishment by flogging and stoning in Brunei, and conviction for theft can result in amputation.

Events have been canceled at the Beverly Hills Hotel because of the protests. They include the Motion Picture and Television Fund's annual "Night Before the Oscars" charity event and the Feminist Majority Foundation's annual Global Women's Rights Awards.

The hotel's owner was also asked by the gay rights advocacy group, Human Rights Campaign, to stop promoting special services at the hotel for same-sex weddings, which are legal in California. The protests in California have apparently fallen on deaf ears, as the sultan now wants to expand his country's hotel holdings in posh, storied hotels with the proposed acquisition of the Plaza. The same gay rights advocacy group that protested at the Beverly Hills Hotel has asked New Yorkers to oppose the sale of the Plaza to the sultan.

Roy, who owns his stake in the Plaza as part of the Sahara Group, acquired a controlling stake in 2012 for around $430 million, according to The Wall Street Journal. Saudi billionaire Prince al-Waleed bin Talal owns a 25 percent stake in the property, and it's unclear if he would maintain that stake if Sahara sells.

Aside from the "Eloise" books and movie, the Plaza has been a setting in "The Great Gatsby," Alfred Hitchcock's "North by Northwest" (where Cary Grant's character is kidnapped after a drink at the Oak Bar), and Neil Simon's "Plaza Suite."

The Royal Plaza Suite rents for $30,000 a night and has three bedrooms and 3.5 baths in 4,490 square feet. It includes a living room with a grand piano, dining room for 12 people, library, kitchen, gym, and a master bedroom overlooking Fifth Avenue. It has plenty of space for a 6-year-old girl to play in for years.


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Why Tiny Homes Hold Such Big Appeal for Some Millennials

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 tiny house Caravan portland oregon
Caravan via ZillowCaravan, in Portland's Alberta Arts District, is the country's first tiny house hotel.
Deb Delman and Kol Peterson
ZillowDeb Delman and Kol Peterson
By Catherine Sherman

Deb Delman and Kol Peterson aren't millennials, but 20-somethings are paying the couple's bills. A year ago, they opened Caravan, the country's first tiny house hotel, generating interest from young adults near and far.

"I'd say half of our guests are from Seattle, Portland, San Francisco and Vancouver; half are from the rest of the country; and 10-15 percent are international," Peterson said. "We get older folks, but it's mostly millennials who want to build their own tiny home."

This younger generation sees the trend Jay Shafer and other tiny-home proponents started and want to join in. "We are at a tip of a movement," Delman said. "A high percentage [of our guests] come because they are curious to obsessed [with tiny homes]."

The tiny obsession: Saving money is top-of-mind for millennials -- many of whom graduated from college in the wake of the Great Recession -- but many are initially attracted to tiny homes due to their size. "I own the 690-square-foot home next door," Delman said. "It's teeny but not tiny."

A true tiny home, Delman says, is no more than 200 square feet and built on wheels. The size encourages, rather than limits, creativity. For example, the six tiny homes at Caravan in Portland, Oregon, show off floor plans and features not typically found in traditional, single-family homes. "There's a 'cupola' loft bed in the Caboose," Delman said. "Tables fold, benches have storage and ladders move. There's even a green, triangular toilet in Skyline."

As evidenced by their names, each of the homes has a unique story as well: The Caboose is painted red and looks like a railroad car; Skyline feels sky-high with twinkle lights and an upstairs hangout zone; and Kangablue has an Australian-born builder and is lined with unusual, blue pine wood. "A typical reaction is 'They're so much bigger than the pictures,'" Delman said. "People say, 'They're so cute and fun.'"

Not-so-tiny considerations: While the tiny-house obsession seems contagious in artsy northeast Portland, taking action is another story. "A lot of people fantasize about building a tiny house but don't end up doing it," Delman said. Part of the reason is financial, but there are also several practical concerns:

  • Can you afford it? While many 20-somethings can't afford to buy a $20,000 to $60,000 tiny home outright, many are drawn to the low building costs. Carrie Lipps, a millennial working at the tiny house hotel, loves the fact that tiny homes cost around $10,000 to $15,000 for materials if you go the DIY route. When compared to a single-family residence with a 30-year mortgage, this seems like an affordable upfront investment without a lingering monthly payment.
  • Can you wait? As the saying goes, time is money. Peterson says tiny homes take longer to build than most people think. "You can expect three months if you have a professional builder, but realistically, tiny homes take more like a year to build," he said. This depends on a number of factors including the builder's skill level and the amount of detail in your design.
  • Can you build it yourself? There is a lot to consider when building a tiny home, from the initial design to plumbing and electrical. Professional tiny house builder Derin Williams says younger buyers get excited, but "they're artists not builders." Over the past two years, he's consulted on DIY tiny-home projects with leaking roofs, poorly designed plumbing and electrical issues. He worries that people will hurt themselves if they don't know what they're doing.Peterson agrees that the complexity of building a tiny home is often overlooked. While they're smaller than a traditional single-family house, they present the same, if not more, design challenges. First, you have to think about how much weight you can have if you want your home on wheels to be portable. Then you have to think about maximizing space to allow for storage and multiple functions.
  • Do you have a place to park it? If you manage to complete the building process, the next challenge is parking. Williams said he recently consulted on three tiny homes being built and not one of the owners knows where they are going put them. Tiny homes at Caravan are parked on a piece of land the owners purchased, but not everyone has an empty lot at their disposal. Because zoning for tiny homes is a gray area in many cities, the more common solutions are parking in a friend's backyard or driveway, or staying in a RV park.
  • Do you like communal living? In part because of the parking situation, many owners of tiny homes end up getting pretty close with their neighbors. For this reason, Delman says tiny homes can work for full-time living, but it has to be a situation where you can share resources. Specifically, someone looking to invest in a home on wheels has to get permission from the city to connect to the sewer line or use a neighbor's facilities. And beyond plumbing, a lack of storage space and utilities leads many to depend on neighbors when cooking a big meal, entertaining, hosting guests or enjoying a bubble bath. These daily amenities become a luxury when you live in less space.
  • Do you enjoy living with less? Even if you are friends with your neighbors, your personal living space will not only be small, but simple. The tiny homes at Caravan have showers and kitchenettes, but not all tiny homes have these features. Some don't even have running water. It's important to know what level of "rustic" you can honestly live with.

While tiny homes aren't for everyone, Delman and Peterson say they're happy promoting the industry through their hotel.

"The single most important thing people can do to reduce their environmental footprint is to live in a smaller space," Peterson said.


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Homebuilder Confidence Heats Up in August

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Builder Sentiment
Alan Diaz/AP

U.S. homebuilders are feeling more confident in their sales prospects headed into next year, a sign that home construction and sales of newly built homes may pick up after stalling this summer.

The National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo builder sentiment index rose this month to 55, up two points from a revised reading of 53 in July.

The latest reading is the highest since January, when it was 56.

Readings above 50 indicate more builders view sales conditions as good, rather than poor.

Sales of new homes are running behind last year's pace.

But builders' view of current sales conditions for single-family homes, their outlook for sales over the next six months and traffic by prospective buyers each increased in the latest survey.


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Justin Bieber's New Hollywood Home Includes a Nightclub

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Multiple Listing ServiceJustin Bieber's new rental home has an 80-foot-long pool a rendition of the Hollywood sign done in tile.
Justin Bieber has a new crib -- and it's perfect for the young bad boy. Pop's young prince has decamped from his rented Beverly Hills condos and moved into a sprawling Hollywood Hills home that has its own nightclub. Bieber appears to be taking advice from Miley Cyrus, who, on a appearance on "The Tonight Show," told him "you have a lot of money ... buy a house with a nightclub." Done and done.

Seems like sound counsel for Bieber, who seems to run into trouble every time he leaves the house. Now he can party his heart out -- at home. His new rental has an 80-foot long disco with bar, lights and sound system. If that wasn't enough, the place has a fully-equipped gym, pool table, ping pong enclave and three bars. Three bars.

The 16,000 square foot all-glass contemporary estate has 10 bedrooms, including two master suites with huge closets. The in-home movie theater has a 160-inch screen (where Bieber was just spotted watching a movie with manager Scooter Braun and friends). A floating glass staircase (or elevator) takes the pop star and his entourage from one level to the next. Outside, an amazing 80-foot-long pool has a four-foot high blue glass tile rendition of the famed Hollywood sign running the length of the pool.

The house also has a huge outdoor deck and three yards all suspended into the amazing city view.

Bieber famously clashed with his neighbors in Calabasas, finally selling the place to Khloe Kardashian and renting in Atlanta for a hot minute. He then was back on the West Coast again, this time shacking up in two condo units in a brand new Beverly Hills building. He also ticked off the neighbors in that building, before moving to this glass party palace in the Hollywood Hills.

The home is owned by developer Danny Fitzgerald, and was listed briefly for $8.9 million.
Images via the MLS.


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4 Perks of Living in the Suburbs

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Shutterstock Tracts of land in the suburbs often include room for a home, as well as front, back and even side yards.
By AJ Smith

Figuring out where you should live can be difficult. If your options include a city, rural area or suburb, it's a good idea to weigh the advantages and disadvantages specific to your family and each living environment. Factors like real estate taxes, property size, property value, schools and space can help you compare the unique benefits of living in the suburbs over living downtown or in the country.

We've already highlighted the benefits of big-city living. If you are having trouble deciding, check out some of the great aspects of living between an urban center and a rural area.

1. Bigger Houses & More Space. Compared to an inner-city living situation, you will usually find more square footage for your money in the suburbs. Tracts of land often include room for a home, as well as front, back and even side yards. Many suburbs were evolved from previously rural or wooded

Suburban areas typically offer better schools than urban or rural districts.

areas, so your property may have trees and wildlife. Having more space inside and out is one of the most common reasons previous city dwellers move into the suburbs.

While you get the benefit of space, suburbs are usually still close enough to commute into the city. Since cities usually provide a wide variety of jobs, this proximity to income opportunities can give the suburbs an edge over rural areas.

2. Better Education. Suburban areas typically offer better schools than urban or rural districts. If you have or plan to have children in the near future, it's a good idea to consider the importance of education in your lifestyle. Even if you do not plan to have kids, knowing the state of the school district can be helpful come resale time. However, in many suburbs you will pay higher property taxes for those better-quality schools. There are some places where you can get a bargain -- better value for the property taxes you pay.

3. Neighbors & Nature. Whether it is local parks or close-knit neighborhoods, residents of the suburbs often enjoy fresh air, natural scenery and a strong sense of community. People often move to suburbia specifically to raise children, escape the hustle and bustle, and improve life and safety for their families.

4. Quality of Life. Suburbia offers an escape from the work and stresses of the big city, while still allowing relative proximity to other people and necessities. With less traffic congestion and crowding, as well as a lower crime rate, suburbanites often find a higher quality of life than what is available elsewhere. There is access to plentiful job opportunities while having the option for recreational and outdoor activities as well as opportunities to meet people and join a community.

If you get easily bored or like the options afforded in a city, suburbia may not be for you. Being far away from the action of city life or without the rolling property in the country may sound unappealing. Outings in the suburbs take time and effort and the commute to work in the city may be long and expensive. You may also need the use of a car, which adds insurance, gas and upkeep costs. It's important to consider your priorities when you determine which type of location you want to call home.

No matter where you land, it's always important to check your credit before getting a mortgage, since a bad credit score can cost you tens of thousands of dollars over the life of a loan. You can check two of your credit scores for free every month on


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For Sale: 'Real Housewife' Phaedra Parks' Atlanta-Area House

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Zillow Phaedra Parks' big house in the Atlanta suburb of Smyrna is being listed for sale as her husband is headed to prison.
Bravo Network Upfront 2012
APPhaedra Parks
By Emily Heffter

Everybody knows that "Real Housewives of Atlanta" star Phaedra Parks' husband is heading to the big house for fraud. What they might not know is that the entertainment attorney is selling her big house in the Atlanta suburb of Smyrna. The 4,000-square-foot home at 3070 Montclair Circle S.E. is mostly empty, with beige paint and wall-to-wall upstairs carpet, five bedrooms, six bathrooms and a big deck off the back. The basement has an extra kitchen and bar area, making the home a spacious choice for entertaining.

When Parks was new to the show, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution did a photo spread of the home when she lived in it, showing luxe furnishings and bright pops of color. It is listed for $349,900, on the higher end for Smyrna, where the median home value is $190,600. Parks also owns a smaller home in Athens, a little ways outside Atlanta, according to property records.

According to her bio on the Bravo's website, Parks lives in the Buckhead area, so the Smyrna home likely was no longer her main residence. According to property records, she bought the home 13 years ago for $322,000.

Parks' husband, Apollo Nida, pleaded guilty to a federal fraud charge in May and was sentenced to eight years in prison. He also has to pay $1.9 million in restitution, according to the New York Post.


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J.D. Salinger's Former House Listed for Sale

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ZillowThe former J.D. Salinger home, built in 1939, is set on 12 acres of land that once belonged to a renowned sculptor.
CORNISH, N.H. -- A former home of "The Catcher in the Rye" author J.D. Salinger is up for sale in New Hampshire with an asking price of $679,000. The Lebanon Valley News reports that the author bought the home in Cornish in the 1950s and left after separating from his first wife. The reclusive author remained in Cornish, where he died in 2010 at age 91.

The current owner bought the 2,900-square-foot home on 12 acres in the 1980s. The land once belonged to renowned sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens, and a descendant of his built the house in 1939. (See photographs from the real estate listing below.)

The real estate posting says the house is "set in an enchanting garden of flowers and trees. Land on both sides of the road ensures privacy." It has views of Mt. Ascutney, with trails, woods, and garden spots "to sit and dream."


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Housing Markets Where Waiting to Buy Could Really Cost You

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By Emily Heffter

Home values are increasing across the country and interest rates are likely to rise in the next year. That means buying a home is going to get more expensive. But how much more expensive? To find out, Zillow calculated the difference in monthly payments on the same house purchased today and a year from now. We assumed home values would increase and added 1 percentage point to today's mortgage rate.

In some markets, waiting a year won't cost you much. But in others -- like the nation's 10 hottest markets -- putting off a purchase for a year could cost you hundreds of dollars every month.


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Quick, Easy Home Repairs That Can Save You Big-Time

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ShutterstockYou can save on your energy bills simply by using a leaf blower on your air conditioning unit.
By Stephanie Steinberg

Sometimes you have to spend money to save money. This is especially true when it comes to your home. If the thought of spending money to repair that dripping shower or crack in the ceiling makes you grimace, remember that a few cheap fixes today could prevent you from shelling out hundreds or thousands of dollars tomorrow. Home improvement experts Cindy Dole and Eric Stromer, co-hosts of the "Home Wizards" radio show, share some easy home fixes that could prevent disasters or lead to significant savings:


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Why Renting Can Cost You So Much More Than You Think

owner  renter green road sign...
ShutterstockA lack of commitment can lull renters into spending more recklessly than owners, says a new study.
By Christine DiGangi

Consumers exhibit more reckless behavior when deciding to rent something rather than buy it, a new study out of the University of Maryland finds. The lack of commitment required when deciding to rent a product leads people to consider fewer options, gather less information and settle for a less appealing product than they would when buying, according to a release about the study.

Anastasiya Pocheptsova, the study's author and a professor at Maryland's Smith School of Business, worked with researchers from Columbia and Yale universities to conduct studies of people's behaviors while considering renting and buying the same products. Shoppers more often chose to buy when they had the choice of buying or renting, but when an item was presented only with an

Buying a house requires asking a lot of questions, preparing your finances and doing extensive research, but it's smart to approach renting in a similar manner.

option to buy or only with an option to rent, more people chose to get the product when it was framed as a rental. The price of renting and buying was the same.

"Completing a purchase can come with a sense of irreversibility that distresses shoppers concerned about the long-term consequences," Pocheptsova said in the news release. "Some shoppers anticipate buyer's remorse or worry about forgoing better options that might appear later."

It seems approaching a purchase as a rental agreement strips away those concerns, increasing a shopper's willingness to spend the money.

In the study, subjects were presented with advertisements of digital movie downloads and small appliances. Shoppers were more likely to get the products if renting was the only option, and those buyers displayed an interesting pattern: They acquired more things, collected less information during the decision-making process and took less time considering their choices before completing the transaction than shoppers with buy-only options.

"Consumers should be mindful of their different modes of thinking," Pocheptsova said. "Standards of diligence vary, but a dollar is a dollar regardless of whether you spend it for renting or for buying."

Not Being Committed Has a Price: Even if you don't rent consumer products like movies, appliances or furniture, the study offers a noteworthy lesson. Consider renting a home: Buying a house requires asking a lot of questions, preparing your finances and doing extensive research, but it's smart to approach renting in a similar manner. You could waste a lot of money if you don't think about the long-term affordability of renting your place. You may think, "I can find another apartment if this doesn't work out," but moving frequently is expensive, too.

Failing to think through an item's value before you purchase it is fundamental to living within your means, because even small, unnecessary purchases can add up, potentially putting you in debt. One way to keep your spending in check is to track it -- it won't take you long to figure out where your money goes, and that knowledge will help you make smart decisions going forward.

If you want to avoid or get out of debt, keeping a budget is the place to start.

You can check two of your credit scores for free on to see how your spending affects your credit.


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