Cybersecurity risk will certainly grow in 2018, warns Christopher Skinner, CEO of technology security firm SpiderOak. We trust our devices and systems to drive our cars, deliver vital medical treatments, and protect our homes and supply chains, but these have never been more insecure, he says.

Here are some of the most pressing cybersecurity threats to businesses in the new year, according to SpiderOak:

Software updates: The new Trojan horse. How do you know the latest software update isn’t a virus? Criminals are using normal update processes to infect computers. This is the kind of breach that destroys trust between users and software providers, says Skinner.

Spies may be on your phone. Gaining access to your phone essentially puts its functionality in the hands of a remote user, who can geolocate you, take pictures of where you are, eavesdrop on your conversations, and gain access to personal information that can be used to intimidate you, says Skinner.

Criminals will wait to attack. One of the most frightening things about the breaches at Equifax, Target, and elsewhere is what we haven’t seen yet, warns Skinner. Once criminals have stolen the data they need, such as Social Security numbers, birth dates, and other personal details, and they may hold onto the data for years until people let their guard down. Your data can just be sitting out there on the dark web, waiting to be sold or used, well after you think you’re safe, Skinner says.

Passwords are failing. The most common password last year was 123456 that’s a problem, Skinner says. Human nature wants to simplify, so we use weak passwords and the same password for multiple sites.” He recommends using the “one-two punch” of authentication and encryption to secure data.

Compliance gets your security up-to-date some 10 years too late. The problem with regulations is that they address what’s gone before not thinking about what’s to come, says Skinner. Hackers are forward-thinking and creative, staying far ahead of current security protocols. … Checking the boxes on compliance doesn’t begin to secure systems and data the way they need to be.

Too many people have access. Imagine if a landlord gave a master key to all apartments to every single resident in the building that’s how most companies systems are structured, says Skinner. When one computer or set of credentials is breached, you have now opened the door to the whole system. In the vast majority of companies, employees have far too much access to information that they don’t even need. And given the interconnected systems companies have with their vendors, and then their vendors, they don’t even know how far out their connected system stretches. This opens companies up to so many risks that they don’t even know about.

Breach fatigue. Skinner worries the public is becoming desensitized to these security issues with every new hacking story. It’s easy for employees to get complacent, and the consequences of this can be extremely harmful to a business,” he says.  “CEOs and boards need to make sure that no corners are cut that can put the company at greater risk. Ultimately, cybersecurity is going to be only as strong as the top of the house makes it.

Source: SpiderOak

 

Nearly 24 percent of new single-family homes in 2016 included decks, according to a new analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data from the National Association of Home Builders. The percentage is up slightly from 23.3 percent in 2015.

New England and the East South Central region of the U.S. which includes Tennessee, Mississippi, Kentucky, and Alabama are showing some of the biggest upticks in single-family homes with decks. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the East South Central area is also seeing the most new homes featuring porches.

The average size of a deck on a new single-family home is about 230 square feet. The most common materials used for decks are treated wood and composite (a mixture of wood fibers and plastic), according to the 2017 Annual Builder Practices Survey, which is based on 2016 data. The Pacific region shows a higher preference for cedar and redwood than any other region.

While the number of new homes with a deck is rising, it’s still below historic norms. From 2005 to 2008, the share of new homes with decks was consistently above 25 percent, according to the NAHB. In 2009, the share of new homes with decks started to decline below 25 percent, a trend that continued until 2012, when the share gradually started to increase.

But it’s not just new homes where the popularity of this feature is evident. Many homeowners opt to add in a deck as a remodeling project later on. Twenty-five percent of NAHB remodelers reported that adding a deck to an existing home was a common project in 2016.

Source: Share of New Homes With Decks Edges Up, National Association of Home Builders Eye on Housing blog (Dec. 4, 2017)

 

Housing experts worry that millions of foreclosures will surface in Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico after recent hurricanes forced owners from their homes. Though many lenders have extended grace periods for affected customers, consumer advocates fear that many will simply walk away from their mortgages.

I’m anticipating a wave of problems coming in February, Amir Befroui, a foreclosure specialist with Lone Star Legal Aid in Houston, told CNN Money. It’s going to get worse before it gets better. We’re in the calm before the storm.

About 4.8 million properties with a mortgage were in the paths of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria. That represents $746 billion in unpaid principal balances, according to Black Knight, a financial data firm. The number of loans more than 30 days past due in September jumped 67 percent in areas affected by Hurricane Harvey and 48 percent in areas impacted by Hurricane Irma, according to Black Knight. The firm did not yet have numbers on Hurricane Maria.

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac implemented a three-month suspension of foreclosure sales, late fees, and credit score reporting in hurricane-ravaged areas. The mortgage giants also allowed lenders to work out forbearance plans that could delay some homeowners from having to make a mortgage payment for up to a year. But historically, those measures have not been enough in the past to prevent foreclosures. When Hurricane Sandy struck New York and New Jersey in 2012, homeowners continued to struggle to pay their mortgages even after their forbearance period ended, according to a 2013 report by Legal Services NYC.

Mortgage servicers tend to not release insurance payments until homeowners have a contractor lined up to make repairs to their home. However, construction companies are facing months-long waiting lists, forcing homeowners to delay cleanup which could cause further damage.

Consumer advocacy groups last week issued a letter to Fannie, Freddie, and other mortgage-related agencies, requesting that homeowners affected by recent disasters, including the wildfires in California, be able to suspend their mortgage payments for up to two years. The advocacy group also urged servicers to give homeowners access to $10,000 of their insurance money so that they can fund their most pressing repairs immediately.

In response, the Federal Housing Finance Administration, which oversees Fannie and Freddie, said it would allow affected homeowners to extend their loan terms. The FHFA also said it would issue guidance for servicers to release more insurance money up front.

Some groups fear even those policy changes will not be enough because private investors and banks own about 40 percent of the affected mortgages; Puerto Rico has an even higher percentage. Banco Popular, one of the largest banks in Puerto Rico, is offering only a three-month forbearance. There needs to be a moratorium, and then they need to set up special courts to hear these properties, says Nate Hendricks, an attorney in Florida who started the Puerto Rico Legal Project to defend homeowners facing foreclosure. There’s going to be a slew of foreclosures.

Source: Hurricanes Could Bring Another Disaster: Foreclosures, CNN Money (Nov. 10, 2017)

Help your clients give the illusion of a perfectly manicured yard with these easy steps for sprucing up greenery from HouseLogic.

Create accents with rocks. They don’t require the same level of care, water, and sunlight that grass and plants do. Rocks are good tools for forming pathways, adding design elements, or creating dry creek beds. Spots in the yard that collect water can be kept under control with rocks, which aid water runoff.

Use colorful objects instead of flowers. Benches, birdbaths, pots, and chairs can all be used to add color to your landscape without planting flowers, which require regular maintenance. Try adding a couple of yellow ceramic flower pots—without the flowers—for decoration.

Have a rain garden. Turn that mushy chunk of yard into a rain garden—a small wetland area that looks a lot better than soggy grass. Comprised of gravel, sand, and native plants, these rainfall gathering spaces are almost maintenance-free: no mowing, watering or major weeding needed. Rain gardens help reduce stormwater runoff into the sewer system and instead utilize the water for plant life.

Build a platform deck. Without steps or railings, a platform deck is an easy yard booster. Ipe, cedar, redwood, and other composites make for long-lasting, low-maintenance hardwoods, according to Tomi Landis, president of Landis Garden Design in Washington, D.C. Landis also challenges how homeowners use their decks. “Will you be using it in the morning while having coffee?” Landis says. “If so, it should be oriented to the east. If it’s mainly for dining out in the evening and having cocktails, it should be facing west.”

Plant tall grass. Tall grasses grow quickly and don’t need much maintenance. These include switchgrass, bluestem, muhly, and fountaingrass. The taller grasses soak up water, serve as an organic privacy shade, and can even be used as mulch.

Source: “Super Simple Ideas for People Who Hate Yard Work,” HouseLogic

 

 


winterize

Homeowners who neglect routine maintenance heading into the colder months may find themselves faced with an expensive repair bill. For example, forgetting to clean the gutters could cause ice to build up and damage your roof. Windows and doors not properly sealed could cause your heating bills to surge.

The New York Times recently highlighted a few maintenance chores for homeowners to do before the weather gets chilly, including:

Examine the exterior. Walk around the house to check for any cracks in the siding or peeling paint. Look up at the roof. Also, after it rains, walk around the house to spot any signs that water isn’t draining away from the house properly or for signs of damaged gutters.

Clean out the gutters. Home maintenance professionals call this chore one of the most important. Gutters direct water away from your siding and roof. A clogged gutter can lead to roof leaks or ice dams in colder weather. Make sure the gutters are cleaned of any leaves and other debris.

Check the windows and doors. Add weather stripping or caulk where cold air is seeping in from around windows or doors. This could make a big difference in utility bills.

Evaluate the heater. Contact a plumber or furnace repair company to prepare the boiler or furnace before the weather turns cold. They’ll clean the equipment and ensure it is working properly.

Check the chimney. A dirty chimney can affect the air quality in a home and even pose a potential fire hazard. The Chimney Safety Institute of America recommends having a chimney inspected annually, cleaning it as needed.

Tend to the pipes. Drain exterior faucets and shut them off before the first freeze. On cold nights, maintenance experts also recommend opening cabinets beneath the sinks to let warm air in and prevent frozen pipes. Also, let a slow drip of water run through them. Pipes must be kept warm.

Source: Getting the House Ready for Winter, The New York Times (Nov. 3, 2017)

 

More house hunters are looking for a home, but they’re having trouble finding one. Demand continues to exceed housing supplies in many markets, which is restraining contract signings this fall, the National Association of REALTORS reported Thursday.

NAR’s Pending Home Sales Index forward-looking indicator based on contract signings posted a reading of 106 in September, its lowest reading since January 2015. The index is also 3.5 percent below a year ago and has fallen on an annual basis in five of the past six months.

Demand exceeds supply in most markets, which is keeping price growth high and essentially eliminating any savings buyers would realize from the decline in mortgage rates from earlier this year, says Lawrence Yun, NAR’s chief economist. While most of the country, except for the South, did see minor gains in contract signings last month, activity is falling further behind last year’s pace because new listings aren’t keeping up with what’s being sold.

Recent hurricanes also continue to weigh on sales. Hurricane Irma’s direct hit on Florida weighed on activity in the South, but similar to how Houston has rebounded after Hurricane Harvey, Florida’s strong job and population growth should guide sales back to their pre-storm pace fairly quickly, Yun says.

Ongoing supply constraints are squeezing prospective buyers the most at the lower end of the market, Yun says. First-time buyers accounted for 29 percent of all transactions in September, which matched the lowest share in two years. Existing-home sales continue to be down on an annual basis in the price range below $250,000. However, sales remain higher in the upper price brackets, NAR notes.

Buyers looking for a little relief from the stiff competition from over the summer may unfortunately be out of luck in the coming months,Yun says. Inventory starts to decline heading into the winter, and many would-be buyers from earlier in the year are still on the hunt to find a home.

Source: National Association of REALTORS

 

Millennials desire for smaller homes may have a big impact on the future demand of some of the most popular homes today.

Young adults are getting married later in life, they’re delaying their first home purchase (often due to student loan debt) by up to seven years in some cases, and they’re also having children later in life.

The U.S. fertility rate has plunged to its lowest level since the Centers for Disease Control began tracking such data more than a 100 years ago. From 2011 to 2015, the number of 30- to 34-year-olds without children at home increased by 4 percent, according to Census data. Among 25- to 29-year-olds, the number increased by more than 5 percent.

What does this mean for housing? For millennials who remain childless, a large house with four or more bedrooms likely will no longer be as in demand. Households without children tend to prefer smaller homes, condos, or townhouses near city amenities rather than an oversized single-family home.

The fact that we’re having smaller-size families I think naturally means that the demand for smaller-size housing would get greater interest than before, Lawrence Yun, chief economist for the National Association of REALTORS, told The Washington Post.

As baby boomers enter retirement and their adult children move out, many are expected to choose to downsize too. Economists predict that could add increased pressure to the market for smaller two-bedroom condos and townhouses.

Yet, the new-home market is staying focused on building bigger rather than smaller. Ninety percent of new single-family homes had three or more bedrooms in 2016.

Source: One Big Reason Millennials Want Smaller Homes And It Could Change the Housing Market, Apartment Therapy (Sept. 25, 2017) and Adults Who Opt Not to Have Kids Cause Ripple Effects in U.S. Housing Market, The Washington Post (Sept. 14, 2017)

 

One of the biggest segments of new renters is empty nesters ages 55 and up, as multifamily developers reconsider their original focus on millennials. Between 2009 and 2015, the number of renters older than 55 increased 28 percent, or 2.5 million the largest uptick of any age group, according to data from rental listing site RENT. Meanwhile, the number of renters ages 34 and younger rose just 3 percent during the same time period.

Lowering living expenses, looking for a different lifestyle, less house-related work, and overall less responsibility can be achieved by downsizing, so a lot of retirees opt to rent, Simona Solomie, a broker with RE/MAX Masters in Morton Grove, Ill., says about the study’s findings.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean seniors are headed for urban high-rises when seeking apartment life. Nearly 40 percent of renters older than 55 chose a suburban lifestyle, according to RENT. Of the 20 largest metros in the country, the city of Riverside, Calif., has the largest percentage of seniors making up renter households (63 percent). Los Angeles, however, has posted the largest gain in senior renters about 134,000 between 2009 and 2015.

Source: The Biggest Game Changers in Renting Are Older, Highly-Educated Renters, and 2.5 Million Stronger, RENT Blog (Oct. 17, 2017)

 

Vinyl is the most common primary exterior wall material on single-family homes, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Survey of Construction data from 2016.

Vinyl tops the list at 27 percent, followed by stucco at 24 percent, brick or brick veneer at nearly 22 percent, and fiber cement siding at 20 percent. Wood or wood products comprised just 4 percent, and stone, rock, or other stone materials make up only 1 percent of exteriors nationwide. However, stone, rock, or other stone materials are the most commonly used secondary siding material on new single-family homes.

The popularity of exterior finishes can vary geographically. For example, vinyl is the most popular choice in the Middle Atlantic and New England regions, while stucco was the top siding choice in the Pacific and Mountain divisions. Brick or brick veneer is the top choice in the East and West South Central divisions.

Source: Vinyl Is the Most Widely Used Primary Exterior on New Homes, National Association of Home Builders Eye on Housing blog (Oct. 23, 2017)

 

Improved educational performance, higher civic participation, lower crime rates, and improved health remain the biggest social benefits linked to homeownership, according to a new research paper by NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun and research economist Nadia Evangelou, which appears in The Journal of the Center for Real Estate Studies. Some findings from the latest research cited in the paper include:

Health. Children of homeowners tend to be happier and healthier than children of non-owners, even after factoring in income and education levels. More recently, studies have found the wealth-building effect of homeownership and the sense of control it often brings in a stable housing market can positively affect homeowners mental and physical health. On the other hand, some studies suggest that areas where housing distress is high tend to see greater rates of mental health and stress-related health diagnoses among residents.

Crime. Research has confirmed homeowners have a lower instance of involvement in crime than non-owners. Also, neighborhoods with stable housing options regardless of ownership structure are more likely to have lower crime rates. Some studies have found, however, that foreclosure levels do influence burglary and violent crime rates.

Education. Researchers have found homeowners tend to accrue more wealth and save more money such financial practices are associated with lower rates of homeowner’s children dropping out of school.

Civic engagement. Homeownership and residential stability continues to be linked with an increased likelihood of electoral participation. Homeowners remain more likely to participate in local elections and civic groups than renters, the paper states.

Owning a home embodies the promise of individual autonomy and is the aspiration of most American households,the researchers note. Homeownership allows households to accumulate wealth and social status, and is the basis for a number of positive social, economic, family, and civic outcomes.

Source: Social Benefits of Homeownership and Stable Housing, The Journal of the Center for Real Estate Studies (2017)