What Makes a House a Home

home /hōm/ noun – the place where one lives permanently, especially as a member of a family or household.

By the time I was 9 years old, my family had lived in seven different houses in three different states on two coasts. To this day, when people ask me where I grew up, or where I am from, I don’t really know how to answer their question so I just say, “I was born in California but I lived all over the place.”

The meaning of Home is surely different for everyone. A quick google search of “what makes a house a home” reveals this to be true, returning over 2.5 billion responses. Experts in the design world say making a house a home can be accomplished by adding design elements to your rooms; adding candles and meaningful photos, hanging art or placing throw blankets around seating areas. Life and style experts explain that home embodies how we live and see ourselves, and creating a home requires deep reflection and thoughtful choices. But as a seven year old, I never deeply reflected and made thoughtful choices regarding why my house was my home, it just was. Pottery Barn suggests a home is a healthy, relaxing space.

While I don’t believe a home requires fancy bed linens and $280 throw blankets to be healthy and relaxing, I have to admit that I really like the way Pottery Barn defines a home; a healthy, relaxing space.

When I try to remember some of the houses that have served as my home, I can’t remember the placement of the walls, the furniture, or the location of my bedrooms. But the memories I can recall are fundamental parts of my childhood; family gatherings around the dining table for the holidays, the smell of dinner as my dad cooked in the kitchen, doing crafts with my mom in our craft room, the pools where my brother and I swam for hours every day every summer, our four legged friends, and the love and comfort of feeling at home. Everywhere we laid our heads at night, no matter where we happened to be living at the time, it was in a healthy and relaxing space, made so by the people who occupied it.

Being a parent myself now, I realize how dependent my children are on my husband and me to be happy, healthy, and secure. For our family, home is a place to retreat to and recover from what the day handed out; be it a tough day at work for my husband or a stubbed toe for our three year old. Our home is a place of stability and safety.

My mom and stepdad’s house and literally everything they owned burned to the ground last year.  It was devastating and horribly unsettling for them; suddenly, they were homeless.

The things they were most upset to have lost were not their most expensive and rare belongings. The things they miss the most are the books my mom read to us as kids and planned to read to my kids, the knife my stepdad used to carve the holiday roasts, and the garden that my mom spent years of hard work cultivating.  The things they miss the most were the reminders of the memories we made in their house over the last 18 years.  

As my mom’s home was burning down, they were in their car driving here, to our house. Our house was their temporary home until they were able to start anew. I am well aware of the fortune I have been dealt when it comes to always having had a safe, comfortable, and dignified place to call home. Needing to provide the same under such circumstances for the people who once provided it for me, my parents, was something none of us would have ever imagined facing. There are many people who face homelessness, but often they have nowhere and no one to turn to.

Regardless of circumstances being what they may, addiction, mental or physical health challenges, strained relationships etc., I believe no individual should face homelessness on their own. While there are many folks who choose to resist housing assistance for various reasons, there are also some who don’t know what to do or where to go for help getting off the street.

In Reno, we as a community have a ton of resources for our homeless population. The Reno Police Department Community Action Office targets long term problems, such as homelessness, with outreach services that build relationships in the community. Additionally, the Reno Housing Authority provides housing vouchers for rent assistance for homeless individuals who meet basic compliance criteria, and Catholic Charities of Northern Nevada provides food, clothing, and other assistance for those in need.

One of my favorite programs in the Reno area, which I previously wrote about, is the HUD-VASH program. HUD-VASH is a joint effort between the Veterans Administration and the US Department of Housing and Urban Development that provides housing for homeless Veterans. Providing housing for HUD-VASH recipients is the reason I started Homeward Bound NV, and the reason every dollar I earn from my real estate business will be reinvested into the purchase and maintenance of safe, comfortable and dignified homes for homeless Veterans. To find out more about Homeward Bound NV and how you can help our business to support homeless Veterans in Reno, contact me here any time.

Entry Level Home Investing Reaches 20 Year High

According to a report by CoreLogic, over 11% of homebuyers are investors.  While it could be speculated that conglomerate investment firms such as Blackstone and American Homes 4 Rent account for a large portion of these sales, data indicates that is not the case.  CoreLogic’s research indicates that most investors in real estate properties have purchased between one and ten properties in a ten year period.  Their data indicates that 61.6% of investment properties are owned by “mom and pop” investors vs just 15.8% being owned by institutions, with professional investors making up the other 22.7%.  Many houses purchased by investors are bought to diversity their investment portfolio, to function as a landlord, or by someone who will fix the home up and flip it to an owner occupier.  

It is important to note that CoreLogic only considers buyers who use a corporate, non-individual identifier on the deed at time of purchase. What that means is buyers who use their names when purchasing investment properties as opposed to that of an LLC, corporation, or other business entity, are not included in this report.

Home purchasing activity of investors has been on the rise in the US, and in 2018 it reached its highest level in two decades.  CoreLogic’s research indicates that most investor activity is being seen in the entry level home tier, also targeting areas with higher than average rents.  What this does to potential owner occupant homebuyers is create a shortage of available houses, and drive rental prices even higher. 20.3% of investor purchases were in the entry level housing market in 2018, compared to 6.3% of upper end homes.

So what does this mean for renters and potential homebuyers in the Reno housing market?  It means that there is more competition now to get into an entry level home that there has been in 20 years. What I have personally witnessed in Reno is great number of out of state investors who have purchased properties in the downtown Reno area, and either use them as rentals, or simply let them fall into disrepair, waiting for their value to increase for resale.  

Many of these properties end up boarded up and condemned.  These investors take the money they earn in our community elsewhere, leaving blight in our city with very little short or long term benefit to our city.  

If you are a first time homebuyer, or a homebuyer looking to get into an entry level home, there are things you can do to help your chances of getting into an affordable home.  Working with a licensed real estate agent to closely watch the market will give you an advantage over home seekers simply using the internet to find homes. Agents have access to more up to date and accurate listing information.  Additionally, working with a qualified and competent lending institution can give you an advantage over other buyers.  Sellers in a competitive market can be more picky about the sales contracts they choose to accept, and having a reputable lender backing your offer with a financial pre-qualification letter makes your offer much more likely to be accepted.  As always, if you need help, get in touch with me here any time. I am here to help. 

My First Hero; Why I Care So Much

I’ve shared a few stories now about why I’ve taken such an interest in the Veteran community on my website, and my blog.  The truth is, I would consider caring for Veterans part of the fabric that makes me who I am.  I was born into a family of Veterans; one of whom’s submarine arrived in Pearl Harbor the day the US entered WWII, and another who flew overseas in an era when Veterans were not valued the way they are today. When I was a child, my grandpa warned me never to marry a man in the military, but I did anyway.

When I was 14 my grandpa Charles, or “Pop” as I knew him, came to stay with us for the summer while his wife traveled to her native Whales.  I didn’t know it at the time, but I will be forever thankful for the time I got to spend with Pop that summer. This was a visit that would leave a lasting impression and photographic memory for me, and heavily impact the course of the rest of my life. 

Up until that visit, I knew my grandpa as a quirky outdoorsman. He was just a guy who attended the University of Nevada, Reno, right after high school; a fact I was unaware of when I decided to attend UNR myself. 

During his time at UNR he grew to love the slopes and remained an avid skier for the rest of his life.  He was a lover of wine and dogs; just like me. As an old dude, he got up unnecessarily early every single day and religiously made the same breakfast; a freshly grated potato for hashed browns, two eggs, and toast so hard even the dogs wouldn’t eat it.  He enjoyed wandering around the desert in Moab Utah, photographing the beauty of nature around him, then coming home and forcing everyone to watch slideshows of his photos during the holidays. 

You’d never catch Pop outside without his hat, unless he was removing it momentarily to balance a beer bottle on his head at lunch.  He carried his camera everywhere he went. He always made sure we got to enjoy some ice cream at the end of the day, and let us play in the mud when mom said not to.  He was the coolest; he was my hero.

Aside from his love for nature, dogs, and wine, what I believe he loved the most was jazz; listening to it and playing it.  There wasn’t a wind instrument he didn’t excel at playing, another trait we had in common, but he settled on the trumpet as a favorite and played in a Jazz band out of Santa Cruz for much of his adult life.  He would sit for hours, sometimes the entire day, and zone out to the tune of his favorites.

It was during one of these jam sessions while he was visiting that summer that I decided to sit with him for a time.  For some reason that day, he decided to open up to me; it was the one and only time I ever heard him speak of war.

Pop was a well decorated combat Veteran.  He had been awarded six times over for heroism and meritorious achievement while participating in aerial flight, and extraordinary heroism in action against an armed enemy.  He flew in WWII and the Korean war and went on before he retired to teach the next generation of Navy pilots out of Pensacola FL. 

Something in him wanted to talk about war that day, but not in the way I would have ever expected.  He spoke to me that day with a great deal of sadness in his eyes.  He reminisced of the exquisiteness of Asia in particular; their culture, the craftsmanship and superiority of their goods, the beauty of their people and their art.  He had collected a great deal of art while in Japan, which sadly was all lost with my mother’s home in the Paradise Camp Fire in 2018.  He got emotional talking about war, how it destroys the people who reluctantly become a part of it, both military members and citizens.

I had always known that my grandpa Pop was a war hero, but what I didn’t know about was the sadness he had carried with him for all those years.  I was too young to respond appropriately to him that day, but I figure maybe that’s why he chose me to confide in.  It wasn’t too long after this visit that Pop started to suffer severe complications of Alzheimer’s and Dementia, and we lost him before I finished high school.  As his mental health failed he clung to his jazz and his ice cream. I would like to hope the disease that took him from us helped him to forget some of the sadness that burdened him all those years. 

My grandpa was a very hard working and fortunate man.  He was intelligent and educated and had a successful career during and after his military service.  After retiring from the Navy as a Lieutenant Commander in 1963, he went on to work at Stanford Linear Accelerator and retired comfortably in Aptos CA. 

There are many Veterans that served long arduous careers and were unable to cope with the lasting effects of their war time wounds, both physical and mental.  Many Veterans from Pop’s generation and the next were alienated and ostracized for their participation in war, regardless the fact that many were not there voluntarily.  From my own research, I have come to find many of these Vets to be service resistant, meaning, they do not trust that governmental support services align with their best interests.  The system once rejected them, and they have not forgotten.  Some self-medicate with drugs and alcohol and fall into homelessness to support their addictions.  

I see a piece of my grandpa Pop in every Korean and Vietnam era Veteran I meet, and every part of me wants to help give them a glimpse of the amazing, dignified and accomplished life my grandpa led. They gave everything to make sure I had a safe place to call home, and now it’s my turn to do the same for them.

Is it Cheaper to Rent, or Buy?

I have come to realize that many people believe, in the current real estate market in Reno, it is less expensive for their family to rent a home than buy one.  In fact, Freddie Mac recently conducted a study that revealed 82% of renters believe they are saving money by renting. While everyone’s circumstances are different, in the long run it is usually not less expensive to rent if you are in a position to purchase a home.

Although it may seem less expensive to rent, if you are looking to contribute to your long term net worth, home ownership may be a valuable path for you to consider.  The typical wealth of the average homeowner in the US in 2018 was $231,420, a stark contrast to the $5200 average wealth of a renter.

So, while you may think it is less expensive to rent because you avoid major maintenance costs, taxes, and insurance, the truth is that your landlord has factored those costs into your monthly payment.

According to Bankrate, in cities with the highest populations of renters, home ownership would cost about the same as what they are already paying monthly for rent.  Assuming you have financed with a conventional fixed rate mortgage, owning a home gives you peace of mind that your monthly housing expenses will never increase, you will not be forced to move, and the money you are putting into your investment will stay yours and be returned to you when you decide to sell.  Utilizing first time home buyer assistance to get into a home and putting the same amount you are already paying for rent toward your mortgage, could have you well on your way to financial security.

On average, millennials today are spending a whopping 45% of their income on rent, with 25% spending at least half of their income on rent.  When you own real estate, you are able to grow your net worth by building equity in your home, instead of paying off someone else’s mortgage and maintenance expenses.

It is certainly true that home ownership is not right for everyone. For example, some require the flexibility of moving for their profession every few months.  In cases such as this, real estate may not be the best or most convenient investment.  

It is always wise to speak with financial professionals and loan consultants to get an accurate picture of your financial situation. If you need help sorting through the different options for home ownership, renting, buyer assistance programs, or finding professional financial resources, I am here to help.

The Reno Sparks Real Estate Market Makes Finding Sustainable Housing a Challenge

An analysis completed by the Reno Gazette Journal indicates that with median home prices in Reno recently soaring to $420,500 and $352,100 in Sparks, an income of over $80,000 is required to secure a mortgage for the average single family home. 

According to the 2016 Census, the median income in Reno was $48,815, while the Bureau of Labor and Statistics reports an even lower number, $46,330.  On top of falling short of the annual income requirements, many would-be home buyers struggle to save for the required down payment, and according to the Reno Sparks Association of Realtors, ‘For Sale’ inventory is low.

When considering the average working population, the statistics look grim.  The market for housing is even more challenging for populations that are already struggling to make ends meet.  Thousands of Reno residents consider weekly motels their home, but these places are being bought and boarded up or torn down by investors in droves.  This reduction has created a lack of transitory housing, which has led to increases in nightly rent rates at the motels that remain. According to the Community Action Office of the Reno Police Department, hundreds of people are being priced out of these already insufficient residences into homelessness. In the case of Veterans, there are many programs that offer assistance; the VA, HUD-VASH, and Veterans Resource Center, to name a few.  A major contributing factor to Veteran homelessness is service resistance.

What that means is a lack of willingness to accept help for various reasons; feeling a loss of control and an unwillingness to give up personal possessions.  Another common source of service resistance is the refusal to give up a pet, usually a canine.

What is it going to take to solve this problem?

There are hundreds of hard working, caring individuals that are working every day to answer that question.  Where I believe it starts is with individuals who are willing to go out of their way and make it a priority to step up and help provide housing.  There are several philanthropists in town that have started buying properties with the intent to create dignified, sustainable housing for Veterans, but at this time, it is not enough.  This shortage is what has inspired me to do my part to improve our community by providing assistance through acquisition of dedicated multi-housing properties for these deserving Veterans.

What you can do to help, today.

If you see a homeless individual, please, engage them in conversation and educate them about the many services available to help them.  If they are a qualifying Veteran, there are even more resources available. Below is a list of several local contacts that can facilitate the help they need:

The Reno Police Department Community Action Office

U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development-VA Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) Program

Veterans Resource Center of America

Catholic Charities of Northern Nevada Crossroads

How Did I End Up In Real Estate?

I get asked this question a lot.  How did I go from being a Chemist who worked for 13 years in compliance, to suddenly selling real estate?  To me, the answer is simple:

I want to help people.

When I was 20, I decided I no longer wanted to throw money at rent, so I bought my first house; it was 2004, the height of the housing boom.  I obtained my Nutrition degree in 2007 with the intention of becoming a Diabetes Educator; to help people like my dad who suffered the effects of diabetic complications.  After college, jobs were scarce, and I didn’t have the financial means to continue my education. I used my degree to get into Bio-tech where I climbed the ranks into a position responsible for product quality and I loved it. I had a great eye for detail, excelled at document review, and the work we were doing helped people.

Through all the financial turmoil over the next 10 years I found security knowing that no matter what happened, I still owned that overpriced house in Reno; a little plot of land that I could call home.

In 2015 we lost my dad to his illness, and I took over where he left off managing our family’s real estate portfolio.  My dad had taught me that when someone lets you use something, you return it to them in better condition than you received it.  I could never give back to my dad for the legacy he left, but I began seeking a way to turn it into something bigger, something better.

One day, during my rounds with my therapy dog partner Marvin, I made an immediate connection with a Veteran who had served in the Korean war; he reminded me of my grandpa who was a Korean war Vet as well.  He shared with me that he had just been diagnosed as a diabetic and he was scared to be discharged.  He explained; he had a new medication that required refrigeration, but he had been living in a weekly motel prior to being admitted. My heart broke for him, and I immediately saw an opportunity for my career to come full circle.

This man, who had fought for our freedoms and safety in a treacherous war, didn’t have a safe place to call home.

I went home that night with a heavy heart, and shared his story with my husband, a Veteran himself.  We decided that we would make it our mission to dedicate whatever resources it takes to help supply sustainable housing for this population in need.  I was disappointed and rather shocked that I did not receive the responsiveness and support for my mission that I expected from the residential and commercial real estate agents I was working with.  To get things done as efficiently as possible, I got my real estate license concurrent with completing my MBA program, and am dedicated to focusing our portfolio and my real estate earnings on providing sustainable housing for our Veterans.

I hope you will be a part of my journey as I strive to send our Veterans, and all qualified others, Homeward Bound.