Housing Starts Surge
It was a quiet week for mortgage rates. There were no significant new developments with China or Iran, and the reaction to the economic data was small. As a result, rates ended the week nearly unchanged.
A lack of inventory has been holding back home sales in many regions, so Friday’s report on home construction was very encouraging. In December, housing starts rocketed 17% from November, which completely blew away the consensus forecast, and were at the best level since 2006. They were a massive 41% higher than a year ago. The strength was seen across the board in both single-family and multi-family units.
Since consumer spending accounts for about 70% of all economic activity in the US, the monthly retail sales data is a key indicator of growth. The latest report revealed that consumer spending remained solid during the important holiday shopping season. In December, retail sales rose 0.3% from November and were up an impressive 5.8% from one year ago. Once again, the greatest improvement was seen in online sales.
As expected, inflation held steady in December. According to the Consumer Price Index (CPI), a widely followed monthly inflation report that looks at the price change for goods and services, core inflation was 2.3% higher than a year ago. This was the same annual rate of increase as last month.
Looking ahead, it will be a very light week for economic data. Of note, Existing Home Sales will be released on Wednesday. Beyond that, the next European Central Bank meeting will take place on Thursday. In addition, news about Iran or the trade negotiations with China could have an influence.
Need to make your home an escape from the rest of the world? Instead of remodeling completely, here are a few easy ways to make your home feel a little more private.
Keep large plants in front of or near windows to make the view to the inside of your home less direct. If investing in a fence isn’t for you, or you want a more natural look, build a garden wall to enclose your outside space or invest in growing hedges to act as a natural barrier. Whether you utilize plant displays inside or outside, both are easy ways to bring a space together.
If you have a lot of windows and need a little less exposure to the outside, you can install blinds or curtains so that you can decide the amount of privacy you want on a regular basis.
A fence is a great way to close off your home from people, and even animals. It is also an easy way to give a clean aesthetic to your home and showcase your personal style.
Indoor or out, you can decorate your home with art pieces, planters, and position furniture in a way that is not facing the outside. Simply rearranging furniture can make the space feel warmer without creating a barrier.
Pergolas are a great way to get the cozy feel of being inside while enjoying the fresh air. You can hang curtains and other light fixtures from the top of the pergolas to further close off the space from those around you and make it more personalized.
Make your home more private by adding on simple structures that make for a tasteful and peaceful escape from the outside world.
Depending on where you live, winter can give your home a dreary effect, especially when trying to sell. Instead, aim to wow potential buyers as they peruse through your home with staging tips that will take your space from drab to fab.
Set the scene. While the warmer months may be more ideal for the overall home selling process, winter doesn’t have to be a dead end. Just like every other season, there are pros and cons—and it’s important to play to what everyone loves about the season. Add more pillows and throws to the living room to create a cozy ambiance, frame winter wonderland-esque pictures, and make use of warm-toned colors as much as possible.
Start from the outside. Sprucing up the exterior of your home may be easier when it’s sunny, the garden is prospering, and flowers are in bloom, but curb appeal in winter exists too. If snow is on the ground, make sure to shovel and salt your driveway and walkways. Add some winter porch decor—like a doormat, a lantern, or a pinecone wreath for the full winter effect. Don’t forget about the less glamorous work, like cleaning out the gutters and trimming the bushes and trees.
Light it up. We all dread the loss of natural light as we head further into winter, but don’t let that affect how your home looks. Open your curtains, blinds, and turn on the main lights in your house. The right lighting makes all the difference—and not just on Instagram.
Make the fireplace the focal point. If you have a working fireplace, play it up by decorating the mantle with pictures of winter scenes, and even light the fire to top off the cozy feeling of your interior. Place candles on top of the mantle as well, but don’t light them if they’re scented, as that may deter people from appreciating the ambiance.
Store away winter gear. No one wants to see dripping wet snow boots in the entryway, or hats and gloves lying around. Decluttering is important all year round, but in the winter, these items can be especially unsightly. Make sure to sweep up any debris that gets dragged in from outside. Don’t underestimate the power of a Swiffer®!
Staging your home in winter is just as important as staging in sunnier months. Make a positive impact with these tips!
Originally envisioning a future as an oil painter, Yao Cheng abruptly shifted course into the world of textiles while studying at Rhode Island School of Design. A chance meeting with some watercolor paints and a tutorial from a colleague would alter her trajectory yet again and set her on the path to her current career as an artist and small-business owner in Columbus, Ohio.
What did your path to the art world look like? Did your family encourage your love of art? I lived in China until I was about eight, at which time I came to the United States. My path to art was introduced really early on by my mom. When I was four or five, she took me to an art class in my hometown of Nanchang. I was immediately hooked; it was a very instinctual and natural way for me to express myself from the beginning. My mom definitely encouraged my creative side throughout my childhood. The rest of my family was more of a mix—many of them were not sure if an art education would lead to financial stability. But I knew in my heart that this was the right path for both my education and my career.
You graduated from Rhode Island School of Design with a bachelor of fine arts in textiles. Was that always the medium you wanted to pursue? I initially went to RISD to pursue oil painting. Around that time, I became obsessed with knitting. Working with my hands in such a visceral way was really intriguing, and something in me knew I needed to change my major. I saw textiles as evolving my painting interests in a three-dimensional way.
During my junior year, I studied abroad at the China Academy of Art in Hangzhou for a semester. That was another distinct experience that has had a big influence on my work today. I learned a lot about traditional Chinese floral painting, as well as the power of expression through calligraphy and brushwork making.
How did watercolor painting enter the picture? Are you self-taught? I was designing patterns for Abercrombie & Fitch’s women’s brand at the time, including painted original designs. A work friend, who was much more experienced in watercolors, taught me different ways that I could play with them. He allowed me to see it from a modern, nontraditional way. It wasn’t about forcing the watercolors to be tight or highly technical; instead, I was challenged to control them only to a certain point and then allow them to do their own thing. It was so liberating and so much fun. I knew immediately that this was the medium that I had been searching for all along.
Did you always envision that your watercolors would go on textiles? No, but it has been an incredibly satisfying experience to see it on textiles. When I started my business in 2012, I was very focused on what I knew, which was painting. I really wanted to get back into painting but with watercolors. From there, people loved the printed reproductions that I was selling of my paintings, so I was able to expand little by little into other categories, including textiles.
It makes a lot of sense to see my work on textiles now, considering that so much of my education was about creating textiles. I find the industry really exciting, especially with the technology of digital printing—it really enhances the vibrancy of watercolors.
There is a lot of plant life in your designs. What draws you to this subject matter? I think my time studying abroad in China influenced a lot of my botanical work. I love trying to capture the life and energy that exist in plants. I find them poetic and so majestic. I love that they are imperfect and organic.
Tell us about your process. Do you sketch anything first? If it’s work that’s outside of my own line of products, I will create rough pen sketches. However, if it’s my own body of work, I sketch in the form of painting. It’s a good exercise to jump right into painting and not rely on previous sketches. The best ideas come from that improvisation process, and I build more confidence as an artist when I know that I can look at a blank page and eventually arrive somewhere that is really compelling.
Do you have any surprising sources of inspiration? I’m currently going through a phase where I want to find inspiration in real life, like going to an art museum. I want to experience art and find new ideas in a different way so that my paintings can move forward and be sparked by a different point of view.
But I think inspiration can also come in other ways, like music. I pay close attention to the tempo of music. The rhythms can spark a new idea or pair with something visual that I found in a book. It’s about combining inspirations from different places. I’m constantly mashing totally different things together—such as a geometric pattern combined with the colors that I see in a photograph of ice cream.
Funnily enough, I also find a lot of inspirations in my dreams. I think it’s my brain’s way of making sense of the things that I experience. Many times, I’ve painted a final piece after a nap or after a distinct dream that triggered an idea.
What artists do you admire? There are many contemporary artists that I admire, but I try not to look at their work too much because I believe deeply in respecting the work of others. I think a mistake that a lot of people make, especially in the beginning of their careers as they are finding their own voice, is looking too much at others’ work that they admire. It’s very easy to then subconsciously create work that feels similar. I am a believer that, as an artist, it’s my responsibility to find my own ideas and not recreate anyone else’s.
I’ve often revisited Van Gogh’s work throughout my career. I love that he painted in a medium that’s totally different from mine and that he tried to capture light in a million colors. His work has a shimmer and a glow that make me feel like the fields are moving right in front of me. I’m always trying to capture that same feeling in my work.
How do you fight creative blocks? What resets your brain? A creative block can be very frustrating to go through. I’m currently in one now. Fighting it has never worked for me; doing so only makes me more frustrated and costs me a lot of wasted time. My best defense is to recognize that I’m in a creative block and that it won’t last forever, and then I do something completely different until it passes.
You cofounded Rise & Design, a meetup for creatives in your area. What was the impetus for that? I cofounded Rise & Design with my good friend and creative, Danielle Evans of Marmalade Bleue, back in 2016. Columbus is a wonderful city, but a lot of illustrators and designers are scattered among the suburbs, and because so many of us work from home, it’s hard for everyone to get together. Rise & Design was a way for us to provide a place for everyone to come together and strike up important conversations.
The beauty of Rise & Design comes from the fact that we don’t all belong to one industry, so our discussions are more expansive and provide more perspectives. We also see some college students come through, which is particularly exciting for me because I love being able to introduce the next generation of creatives to the real world of running a design business. Rise & Design is something I’m incredibly proud of and am so grateful to have. It has grown into a community of amazing people. We are all genuinely supportive of each other, and having access to so many resources is very crucial for any small-business owner.
In an alternate universe, what is your profession? I would also love to be a ceramist, a therapist, a pianist, a dancer, or even an astronaut, but being an artist is my focus and love for this lifetime.
So you’ve spent some time on Pinterest or other social media networks, and suddenly feel that you need to overhaul your life and become more organized. Every time you discover an aspect of your life that needs organization, you find yourself rushing out to buy something new to help yourself with the project.
Then, after a few weeks, the inspiration fades away, and you end up back where you started. If this sounds familiar to you, it’s okay; it happens to the best of us.
The good thing is that being organized is not a personality trait; it’s a skill set. You just need to have the will to accomplish your goals and a few tips from someone who has been there. If you’re ready to be organized for the long term, here is what you’ll need to know:
Be honest when identifying your biggest problem areas, and know what your goals are before getting started. Most importantly, prioritize your goals based on which ones will have the most positive impact on your home, office, or life.
Being organized is not the goal.
Don’t try to become organized for the sake of being organized or because your partner or colleague tells you that you should. Identify your own personal problems and priorities. Brainstorm (or write down) why each project is important to you and the benefits you’ll enjoy once the project is complete.
Expect hurdles and failures.
The process of organizing a space has a tendency to uncover some hidden uses or storage needs that you weren’t aware of. This realization can force you to make some big adjustments or even start over. Organized people understand that their system of organization is not a commitment; they know that when it’s not working, and it’s okay to just start over.
Free your mind.
Organized people don’t try to remember every item on their tasks list. Instead, they get their to-dos out of their heads and onto a list or calendar, so they never have to worry about dropping the ball. When you have a system and schedule in place, your mind is free to think about important problems, brainstorm a great idea, or even daydream.
Routines are the backbone of organization.
Create a routine, and stick to it. This might take weeks, months, or even years—there is conflicting research on how long it actually takes to develop a habit. So to find the routine that works best, think of it as a work in progress. Start by identifying the repetitive or undesirable tasks, and incorporate them into a checklist with milestones. These small actions will eventually become more and more familiar; they’ll save you time by adding efficiency and eventually become habit.
Have trouble letting things go? First, identify which of these common reasons is making you hold on to stuff—it’s sentimental, it was a gift, you think might need it some day, or it’s still in perfect condition. Ask yourself one simple question: would I choose to go out and buy this thing again right now today if I didn’t have it? If the answer is no, then you should let it go. Remember that having less means less to clean, less to organize, and less mess—less really does mean more.
Have a place for everything, and everything in its place. When deciding where to keep things, always consider where and how often you use each item. Store things where you use them, and don’t allow once-a-year items to eat up real estate that’s within arms reach.
Success is in the follow-through.
Procrastination is the enemy of organization. Once you have a plan for an organization project, or even a small clean-up task, schedule it. If something is scheduled, make every effort to complete it on time.
Remember, being organized is a skill, and it takes practice. Sure, organization comes more easily to some people, but that doesn’t mean an organized life is impossible to achieve if it takes you a little while to get your feet wet.
Use this checklist to make sure you’re keeping up with all home and community matters, from home maintenance tips and money savers to being good to the environment and your neighbors.
- Invest in a drying rack and a clothesline so you can skip the dryer year-round.
- Lower the temperature on your hot water heater to 120ºF, and toss a hot water heater blanket over top of it for extra insulation.
- Replace incandescent light bulbs with CFL and LED light bulbs for a 75 percent and 85 percent energy savings, respectively.
- Check the amount of insulation in your home, and install more where needed. Let the home’s design and the climate you live in be your guides for the proper amount.
- Plant mature trees on the east- and west-facing sides of your home to keep it cool in the summer and to block the cold wind in the winter.
- When making home improvements, be sure to check for national and state tax benefits.
- Improve indoor air quality by maintaining your air filtration systems and decorating your home with houseplants.
- Make sure all home electronics have proper surge protection, and consider a smart power strip, which will cut the power to auxiliary electronics when not in use, for electronics such as your TV.
- Clean indoor and outdoor vents of dust and obstructions on a semi-annual basis.
- Regularly check carbon monoxide and smoke detectors to see if they are in working order, and your fire extinguisher to see if it is fully charged and free of leakage, corrosion, damage, and defects.
- Make sure that you know and review your community and homeowner association (HOA) rules often. Rules are typically more applicable during the change in seasons.
- Set boundaries with your children and pets to make sure they have good manners. Dog owners should be especially considerate of noise levels and designated bathroom spots.
- Develop relationships with your neighbors, whether they are young, old, community locals, or new residents.
- Be good to your neighbors by reporting suspicious activity, lending a hand with weather-related problems, or offering to help with a tedious home maintenance task.
- Take pride in your community by helping to maintain the whole neighborhood, not just your own yard.
New to the neighborhood? Download this contact sheet to organize important phone numbers for easy access.
If you’ve been renting an apartment for longer than you’ve had a Facebook, don’t worry—you’re not the only one. But if you’ve been teetering on the fence of buying or renting, going over the pros and cons, all whilst watching your friends settle into their own place, it might be time to say goodbye to the landlord.
It’s normal to be afraid to take the plunge into home-buying territory, but with the help of a great agent and a little research, you can determine if the time is right for you.
If you have a healthy savings account.
Perhaps the scariest part about buying a home is making the financial commitment, but if you’ve managed to save enough (and then some) to put a down payment of at least 10 percent, you should feel confident in your ability to make the purchase.
If you’re ready to commit.
Another common qualm about buying a home is the uncertainty of where you will be a year or two from now. However, if you have a steady job and are happy with the location, there’s really no reason for concern.
If the price is right.
An agent can help you determine whether or not the price you are looking to pay is reasonable for your specifications and needs in a home, but ultimately, if the market is favorable and you’ve found the right deal, there’s no better time than the present.
If you’re sick of pouring money into someone else’s pocket.
It sounds harsh, but if you’ve been renting for three, five, or even ten years, you have been spending thousands of dollars on something that doesn’t even truly belong to you when all is said and done. Sure, a mortgage is likely more than your current rent, but you’ll have a place to really call your own.
· If a landlord increases rent by more than this cap between March 15, 2019 and January 1, 2020, the rent on January 1, 2020 must be what the rent was on March 15, 2019, plus 5% plus CPI
· Authorizes landlords who increased rent by less than 5% plus CPI between March 15, 2019 and January 1, 2020 to increase the rent twice within 12 months of March 15, 2019, but not more than 5% plus CPI
· Beginning January 1, 2020, requires landlords to have just cause in order to evict tenants for tenants who have occupied a unit for at least 12 months, or up to 24 months when an adult tenant adds onto a lease (change in roommates)
· Landlords will still be able to evict for at-fault reasons, e.g., failure to pay rent, breach of lease, criminal activity, creating a nuisance, committing waste, refusal to execute a written extension or lease renewal, refusal to allow owner to enter
· Landlords can also evict for no-fault reasons, e.g., when the owner or their family plans to occupy the property, if they want to remove the property from the rental market, if they intend to substantially remodel the property, if they are ordered to vacate by a government agency or court
· Requires landlords to provide relocation assistance via one month’s rent or rent waiver for no-fault evictions within 15 calendar days of serving notice, and to notify tenants of the relocation assistance
· Does not amend Costa Hawkins, so local governments cannot apply a local rent cap to units not covered by Costa Hawkins (i.e., single family homes, multi-family units built after 1995)
· Does not contain vacancy decontrol provisions, so units can return to market rent prices when vacated
· Contains a 10-year sunset, so the requirements in the bill will expire in 2030
Preparing for spring can never start too soon! These are the best bulbs to plant this autumn to make sure your spring garden blooms in full.
One of the first signs of spring comes in the form of these familiar yellow and green-stemmed flowers. Plant bulbs of the Carlton or Sunlight Sensation variety to make your yard the brightest shade of yellow on the block come spring.
Few things bring you back to spring like the fragrant of hyacinth—too strong for some, but reminiscent of the season nonetheless. Popular bulbs are delft blue: a periwinkle color that stands out from the crowd, or Carnegie, which is a bright white staple.
Consider planting snowdrop bulbs, which are one of the earlier spring bloomers. These white and green flowers do best when they’re not fully exposed to the sun. Plant the giant bulb type for these lovely flowers to bloom in full this spring.
Who can forget these colorful and bold flowers? Darwina is a bulb you’ll want to plant if you want the biggest reward, i.e. a garden that will make any neighbor envious. If you’re worried about the rodents, try planting a smaller type, like whittallii.
These flowers bloom in early spring, and give the perfect elegant look to your exterior. Pauline is the most familiar variety—with the classic purple and white color combination. Pixie and rhapsody are other types that when planted now, will make spring that much brighter.
Brussels sprouts are often a great sticking point at the dinner table: you either love them or loathe them. This recipe, though, may just push you over to the “loving them” side—these creamy brussels sprouts feature lots of cheese, herbs, and even bacon, making them the perfect cold-weather side dish.
- 4 slices bacon, chopped
- 1 tbsp. butter
- 2½ tbsp. flour
- 2 c. milk
- ¼ tsp. ground nutmeg
- 1 tsp. salt
- ½ tsp. fresh rosemary, chopped
- ½ tsp. fresh thyme, chopped
- 1¼ c. Gruyère cheese, shredded
- ½ c. Parmesan cheese, shredded
- 2 pounds brussels sprouts, cut in half and blanched
- 2 shallots, peeled and sliced
- Preheat oven broiler.
- In a large, high-sided skillet, cook bacon over medium-high heat for 4 minutes or until crisp. Remove bacon with a slotted spoon, and let drain on a paper towel.
- In the same pan, add butter and flour, and stir, creating a roux. Whisk in milk, bring to a simmer, and reduce heat to medium-low. Continue to whisk until sauce thickens slightly. Season the sauce with nutmeg, salt, rosemary, and thyme, and stir.
- Whisk in 1 cup Gruyère and the Parmesan, a quarter cup at a time, until melted and blended. Add in brussels sprouts, shallots, and bacon, and toss to coat. Spoon mixture into a casserole dish or ovenproof skillet, and sprinkle the top with remaining Gruyère.
- Broil casserole for 5–7 minutes or until bubbly and lightly browned on top. Let rest for 5 minutes before serving.