Buying and selling in the temporary normal

With all of this extended time spent homebound recently, many of us have discovered a new truism: if you have to be quarantined, you might as well do it in your dream home.

No matter what — the season, the economy, even a virus — people will continue to buy and sell houses. It’s only the process that changes. And buyers and sellers who can adapt and pivot are the ones who come out ahead.

Fortunately, real estate professionals are already adept at strategies that could prove especially helpful this year, as COVID-19 dominates the news.

Think: technology. Virtual tours will likely increase in popularity. Buyers were already screening houses online before seeing them in person, and a thorough virtual tour could dramatically increase the number of eyes on your property.

A 2018 report by the National Association of Realtors (NAR) said that 46 percent of buyers found a virtual tour very useful, while 74 percent used the internet to search for homes. Among millennials, that figure leaped to 92 percent.

Some other accommodations this year could include:

  • Sellers may request more hand-washing. Another NAR survey, this one in March, found that more sellers were requesting that visitors wash their hands or use sanitizer. (Some may also request the use of booties, a commonplace request already.)
  • Open houses may limit the number of people inside a home at one time – which probably makes for a more pleasant walk-through anyway.
  • Technology can also aid in brokering a deal. Already, contracts are regularly sent via email and signatures can be gathered online. Expect more of this.
  • Those who attend open houses in the coming months are more serious buyers, as the tire-kickers have opted to stay at home.

What auto insurance options are offered for Texas drivers

In Texas, the law requires all motorists to show proof of financial responsibility if they are involved in an accident while driving. This minimum coverage includes liability auto insurance which will pay to repair the other driver’s car if you cause an accident. It also pays the medical bills and some other expenses of the other driver and his or her passengers. You must have at least $30,000 of coverage for injuries per person and up to a total of $60,000 per accident. You must also have at least $25,000 of coverage for property damage. This is called 30/60/25 coverage.

Many drivers in Texas also carry uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage which means if you are involved in an accident caused by someone who doesn’t have insurance or they don’t have enough insurance to cover your medical bills and car repair bills, this policy will kick in and cover you. It also covers your vehicle if you are the victim of a hit-and-run accident and do not know who the other driver is.

You may also ask for more auto insurance coverage, such as collision insurance. This pays to repair or replace your vehicle after a crash no matter whose fault it is and comprehensive auto insurance pays to replace your car if it is stolen or damaged by some kind of disaster, such as a fire, flood, or vandalism. Personal injury Protection coverage and medical payments coverage are similar and will pay you and your passengers’ medical bills. Personal injury protection also pays you for things like lost wages and other non-medical costs if you are involved in a crash.

There are many add-ons to insurance policies that you can obtain, such as towing and labor coverage to get your vehicle fixed when it is undrivable and rental reimbursement coverage that allows you to pay for a rental car if your vehicle is stolen or while it’s being repaired after an accident.

Enlisting the help of an experienced and knowledgeable insurance agent is the best way to find out which auto insurance coverages you need for you and your situation. The insurance agents at InsureUS in Cypress, TX are ready to serve you and all of your auto insurance needs. Call for an appointment today!

Relief for 401(k) withdrawals

The new coronavirus relief bill relaxes rules on 401(k) withdrawals for those affected by the virus.

Savers would be able to take a hardship distribution of up to $100,000 from their 401(k) accounts without a 10 percent early withdrawal penalty. That works for those who are laid off and want the money for mortgage payments, for example. Warning: withdrawals are not tax free.

Retirees who don’t need distributions from their accounts can suspend the required minimum for all of 2020.

Many retirees have found that the value of their accounts has dropped dramatically. Leaving money in place allows their investments to recover as the virus crisis eases and the economy recovers.

The withdrawals are not tax-free, however; the bill gives you three years to pay the taxes on the withdrawals, according to CNBC.

Relief Bill: How should I use the money?

In late March, the U.S. Congress passed a $2 trillion economic rescue plan, dubbed the CARES Act, to provide relief to Americans impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The bill included cash payments to individuals, increased unemployment insurance benefits, changes to student loans and to retirement account rules, among others.

The amount of the payments varied by income, but most people fell into these categories: single adults with an adjusted gross income of $75,000 or less would receive $1,200, while married couples with no children who are earning $150,000 or less would receive $2,400. An additional $500 per dependent was also included. You do not have to pay income tax on the payment.

If you’re in a situation where you have a choice how to spend it (i.e. you’re able to use it for discretionary purposes instead of rent/mortgage/food), what should you do? Market Watch had some ideas after polling financial experts:

  • Put it into an emergency fund account. A rainy-day account should cover three to six months of expenses and some online savings accounts can offer annual percentage yields of 1.5 to 1.7 percent.
  • Pay down debt. Experts recommend putting it toward high-interest debt like credit cards and waiting on student loans to see what might come of other relief efforts.
  • Invest – but cautiously. True, some people can benefit from a quick flip. No one but a trusted investment advisor should recommend stocks. But some ideas are equities, a long-term strategy; investing in companies like virtual learning, grocery stores, and Esports; or even an exchange-traded fund (ETF), which is a basket of securities that you can buy and sell through a broker.
  • Donate. If you’re in a position to donate some of your payment, food banks and other charities will need an influx for some time. Animal charities expect to be hard hit as their donors scramble to shore up their finances.

Get some social distance with a bike ride.

It’s commuting and fitness melded together: Faster than walking and as much exercise as jogging. It lets you enjoy the scenery, which, depending on your time in quarantine, could mean a lot.

If you aren’t already a regular rider, you’ll want to ease yourself into cycling. Begin with half-hour rides every other day or three days a week. And practice your basic skills in an empty parking lot. Learn to shift gears without wobbling and to look over your left shoulder while steering straight ahead.

When you take to the roads, always ride with traffic, ride in the street on the right. Use hand signals and obey all the traffic rules.

Buying a bike
If you decide that you like riding, you may want to get a new bike. Be sure to shop for one that suits your normal riding distance. Traditional 3-speeds are good for short rides, and 10-speeds are best for longer rides. Then there are all-terrain bikes that provide an all-purpose alternative.

When riding to work, put your belongings in a backpack or tie them down in a basket or rear carrier. Carry a tool kit to fix flat tires.

You’re never too old to take up cycling and benefit from it for the rest of your life. Studies at the University of California at Davis compared three forms of exercise: Jogging, bicycling and tennis. Middle-aged sedentary men were assigned to one of the three activities for 30 minutes a day three times a week. After 20 weeks, the joggers and cyclists had an equal improvement in endurance, and both groups lost a substantial amount of body fat.

When riding after dark, make sure you have lights on the bike, reflective tape on your helmet, and wear light-colored clothing.

How do we move on from coronavirus and get back to work?

Today we know every member of the workforce is extremely valuable because when we went home in March, everything fell apart.

The stock market (and our retirement savings), our incomes, companies, and a good slice of our dreams, at least in the short term. Not to mention our friends and family who suffered with the virus that has been the top of our minds.

But now that we see the end of the virus in sight, what do we do?

People have different ideas

Harvard Business Review recommends the following:

  1. Test every worker — Open the parking lots and make sure every person is well.
  2. Certify patients as ready to work (and not shedding virus.)
  3. Employers, retailers, restaurants, even friends and neighbors insist on verification that each person is virus free. Everyone maintains social distancing.
  4. States would optimize the plan.

Meanwhile, the Imperial College of London says stringent controls will be required to keep people safe.

They suggest: Impose social distancing every time admissions to intensive care units spike. Relax when they fall.

Their advice is to do this until a vaccine is discovered, possibly 18 months. So schools would close and social distancing practiced in two month blocks, with one month off.

Meanwhile, until a vaccine is available, everyone mostly stays in quarantine, minimizing social contact.

Under this model, we just accept that restaurants, cafes, sports, gyms, theaters, malls cruises, and airlines basically shut down.

A dour existence in which we live the pandemic daily?

Not everyone is so downbeat.

Most observers think that mass testing is really the main requirement for getting back to work and a social life.

In China, traffic jams and smog are back and sales of housing and cars are ticking upward, according to Foreign Policy.

One problem in China that is slowing a return to growth: People are not spending money, especially on big ticket items. Maybe everyone, everywhere is saving an emergency fund.