Monday, June 30, 2014

20 Little-known facts about the 4th of July.

We celebrate July 4th as the quintessential American holiday, the seminal date in United States history when we the Declaration of Independence was signed, officially emancipating us from British colonial rule.  The holiday that signals the apex of our summer is now celebrated with red, white, and blue, family barbecues and hot dogs, and plenty of fireworks.  But in reality, the 4th of July as a historical event is shrouded in misunderstanding, and even the modern pomp and circumstance has interesting roots.  Here are 20 little known facts about the 4th of July:  

So where does the July 4th, 1776 date come from?

1. In fact, July 4, 176 wasn’t the day the Continental Congress chose to declare independence from England – that was two days earlier, on July 2.

2. On that same day the first signer, John Hancock, put his signature on the new document, not July 4th.  He was the only one to sign it that day.

3. All 56 delegates didn’t get together and all sign the document until almost a month later. 

4. July 4th wasn’t because we started the American Revolution, either– that occurred in April of that same year, at least three months prior.

5. Was July 4th when the Deceleration of Independence was drafted?  Wrong again – Thomas Jefferson wrote the first draft in June of 1776.

6. Also, the Declaration of Independence wasn’t delivered to Great Britain until November 1776. 

7. So this is where the July 4th date of celebration comes from – on that day, the Continental Congress approved the final wording of the Declaration of Independence.  Since the first draft was submitted two days earlier, on the 2nd, they’d been deliberating over edits and changes, but came to agreement on the 4th.

8. July 4th, 1776 was the date written into the final Declaration of Independence, and also the flowery handwritten copy that wasn’t officially signed until August.  (That’s the one on display at the National Archives in Washington, D.C.)

9. Of course the original Continental Congress met in Philadelphia, which was then the capital of the new nation – not D.C.

10. July 4th was the date documented on the Dunlap Broadsides, copies of the document mass produced on printing presses and passed out throughout the citizens.  Since that that date was on the most widely read Declaration, it was remembered as the official date we became a nation.

11. In fact, for the first few decades after the Declaration was drafted, the populace weren’t overly excited about celebrating July 4th, nor did they see it as an overly important date in history.

12. It took a long time – and a lot of internal political shifting – before the date was rekindled as a rallying cry for nationalism.  It wasn’t until 1870, almost 100 years after the original signing, that Congress declared July 4th to be a national holiday.  (Making Christmas an official holiday was also on that bill.)

13. Legendary Americans Thomas Jefferson and John Adams both passed away on July 4th – of the same year, 1826, only five hours apart!  Jefferson was 82 years old and Adams, 90.  It’s believed that their deaths helped July 4th gain national acceptance and adoption as a historic holiday.

14. For as long as we can remember, July 4th has been celebrated with red, white, and blue – a symbol of patriotism.  But early on, the holiday was celebrated with greenery, not the colors of our flag.  Especially during the Civil War, people didn’t have the means or the resources to produce items in those elaborate colors, but greens were cheap and plentiful.

15. Likewise, we didn’t have fireworks until much later.  Following the Civil War, artillery cannons were fired to commemorate the date (and certainly there were plenty of unused cannons and ammo sitting around by then.)  Over the decades as the cannons eroded and became inoperable, people started using fireworks.

16. The 4th wouldn’t be complete without singing, “God Bless America,” but the song, drafted by composer Irving Berlin, sat in his rejection pile for about 20 years.

17. Berlin was drafted into the military in the early 1900’s and wrote the song as a final number for a musical comedy for his fellow troops. 

18. The title, ‘God Bless America,” was originally an utterance by a Russian mother who escaped to America.

19. But Berlin didn’t think the song had much merit, so he left it out of his musical comedy and it was unused for 20 years.  Later, when World War I broke out in Europe, singer Kate Smith was looking for a patriotic song to sing on the radio.  Once she sang it, “God Bless America,” became an instant hit and our popular anthem.

20. How about our American flag?  Believe it or not, a high school student designed our current flag!  Robert G. Heft of Lancaster, Ohio was given the assignment of creating a new national banner that included newly adorned Alaska and Hawaii as official states.  So he added two extra stars to the current flag and stitched it himself.  His teacher gave him a B- on the assignment.  But Heft sent his flag in to President Dwight D. Eisenhower, hoping some executive recognition would at least get him a better grade.  Eisenhower liked the simple design and approved it as our official flag in 1960.  Heft’s teacher did reconsider, giving him an A for the project!

Friday, June 27, 2014

30 Incredible facts and stats about the U.S. economy.

Give it away.

1. Since 2008, U.S. citizens have donated $19.1 million to our Treasury to help pay down the national debt.

2. The U.S.A and its citizens contributed $298 billion to charity in 2011, more than the GDP of all but 33 countries in the world.


3. By dividing his net worth by his age, you can calculate that Bill Gates has made more than $100,000 every hour he’s been alive!

4. If you total the annual profits of the entire U.S. airline industry going back to 1948, you come up with - $32 billion.

5. In the Q1 of 2012, the number of Apple iPhones sold per day was greater than the number of babies born per day all over the world (402,000 phones vs. 300,00 babies.)

6. In New York City, one in seven crimes committed involves a stolen Apple product.

Our economy.

7. The IRS states that illegal tax evasion reduced government revenue by $450 billion in 2006, the last year calculated.  To put that in perspective, that’s the approximate annual price tag for Medicare.

8. The last time interest rates were this low, in the 1950’s, the following three decades saw Treasury bonds lose 40% of their value.

9. Since 1854, the average number of months between recessions in the United States is 42.  It’s been just about 42 months since out last recession.

10. Speaking of Apple, the company’s cash and investments are now equal to the GDP of Hungary and more than those of Iraq and Vietnam.


11. 46.1 % of Americans die with less than $10,000 in net assets.

12. About 36% of workers have $1,000 or less saved for retirement.  60% have less than $25,000, including savings, their home, and other assets.

13. The 100 biggest public pension funds have 1.2 trillion in unfunded liabilities. 

Wages and Savings:

14. The population of workers aged 55 and older is just about to surpass the workers aged 24-34 for the first time in U.S. history.

15. 50% of Americans do not have even 1 month’s income saved.

16. When asked, “Do you have 3 months emergency funds saved in case of illness, job loss, or other catastrophe,” 60% of people did not.

17. 57% of American households do not have a budget plan.

18. The average Canadian household is wealthier than the average U.S. household for the first time ever.

19. In 2011, 50 million Americans couldn’t afford to buy food at some point.  In June 2012 alone, 46.7 million Americans received food stamps.


20. Credit card debt as a percentage of our Gross Domestic Product is at the lowest level in 20 years. 

21. As of Q3 in 2013, we have 391.24 million credit card accounts, down significantly from 457.64 million in Q3 of 2003.


22. The S&P 500 gained 135% between March 2009 and January 2013, the period we called the “Great Recession.”  From 1996 to 2000, considered the greatest bull market in history, it gained exactly 135%.

23. Since 1928, the Dow Jones has jumped more than 10% in a single day eight times.  It’s declined more than 10% in a single day four times.  It’s gone up or down more than 5% in a single day 136 times.

24. Since March of 2009, when the U.S. markets hit rock bottom, more than $8 trillion of lost wealth has been regained.

25. Since 2011, 84% of actively managed U.S. stock funds failed to perform as well as the S&P 500. 

26. Over the past ten years, hedge fun managers unperformed the stock market AND inflation!


27. As of 2010, 44% of people earning only minimum wage had attended some college, up from 25% in 1979.

28. Last year, 53.6 % of bachelor-degree holders age 25 or under were jobless or unemployed, the highest number in 11 years.


29. By 2012, the U.S. will surpass Saudi Arabia as the world’s largest oil-producer.

30. In 2012, U.S. domestic oil production grew more than any year in the history of the industry, which goes back to 1859.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

15 Tips to buying your next vacation home.

Vacation homes are hot, hot, hot! - gaining in popularity at least 10% per year since the real estate recovery, with median prices up about 23% annually.  It may be the perfect time to buy your dream destination home but it can be a far trickier process than closing on your average abode.  So here are 15 tips to buying your vacation home:

1. Proximity.
You may start out with heaps of enthusiasm to use your new vacation home every weekend, but studies show that if it’s not within a 2-3 hour drive of your home, you’ll use it infrequently.  Try to find a place that’s an easy drive away for those weekend trips or spontaneous getaways.

2. Ski, surf, or tee off.
The vast majority of vacation homes are in locales with mountains, ocean, or golf courses.  Focusing on these areas will not only ensure you have plenty of fun activities lined up when you visit, but your home values will continue to escalate as demand stays high.

3. To rent or not to rent?
Most people augment the cost of their vacation home by renting it out part of the year.  Unless you’re wealthy enough to pay cash for the property or absorb the extra monthly mortgage cost, you may want to consider this, too.  Of course things get much more complicated if you’re renting the home out, but with a little planning, it will pay off big.

4. Repairs and local contractors.
Since you will probably be a few hours away and not living in the area you’re your vacation/rental property sits, it’s so important to have god local resources.  Spend some time researching and establishing working relationships with property management firms, house cleaners, and contractors and maintenance workers.  The last thing you want to do is have to scramble to find them when something goes wrong! 

5. Collect a BIG damage deposit.
The best advice I can give you if you’re going to rent out your vacation home is to collect a sizable damage deposit from your renters.  That way, you won’t be stressed or left holding the bill if things go bad.  I have a friend with a ski condo in Tahoe who rented it out.  The renter forgot to keep the thermostat on when he left so the pipes froze and then burst, leaving the unit flooded.  Guess who had to pay for that one?  The owner!

6. Taxes.
Vacation properties have their own tax guidelines, as do rental properties.  If you stay in the property two weeks or less a month different rules may apply, so always make sure to consult with your CPA or tax professional before purchasing your vacation home, or any real estate.  But by renting it out you also may be setting yourself up for great tax deductions.

7. What’s your long-term strategy?
Do you plan to hold on to the vacation home forever and grant it to your children?  Sell it in a decade once the price has escalated high enough?  Eventually retire there?  Pay it off?  Just like purchasing any real estate, it’s smart to have a long-term strategy penciled so you’re sure to maximize your investment.

8. Do you want familiarity or adventure?
Some people are looking for the comfort and stability of visiting the same place on vacation every time, while others seek adventure and will quickly grow bored.  Make sure you are committed to using your vacation home!

9. Store your personal effects in a locked closet.
I had some friends with a vacation bungalow on the ocean in beautiful Nicaragua.  It was only a 3-½ hour flight from where they lived in the United States so they could come at least once a month.  They did rent it out while they weren’t there.  But the unit was outfitted with one large closet they kept under tight lock and key where they stored everything they needed: towels, swim suits, shorts and t-shirts, toiletries, surf boards, and snorkeling gear.  So when they wanted to come, they only had to grab a backpack or carry on and hop on a plane without worrying about checking a big bag or even packing, but they knew it was still safe from renters getting to it.  It made the experience that much more fun for them! 

10. Use it for special occasions.
Believe it or not, most people run into the problem that they don’t get to use their vacation home enough!  So to ensure it’s properly utilized, why not open it up for special occasions for friends and family?  Christmas parties, anniversary parties, birthday weekend getaways, and even weddings can be hosted in your vacation home and it will feel like a special treat for everyone. 

11. Trade?
After a while you may want a change of pace, so set up an exchange with a different home owner so you can take a vacation to a new destination.  There are plenty of websites and services that will facilitate the introduction and exchange.

12. The cost of making your house a home.
Buying the property isn’t your only expense – remember that there will be utilities, maintenance, and often homeowner’s fees.  You’ll probably also need to furnish it and buy bedding, outfit the kitchen, etc. just like any home, so factor in this cost. 

13. Get to know the rules and regs.
Many vacation communities have strict homeowner’s associations and CC & R’s that regulate just about every aspect of your new home.  Make sure you know those well before you buy, as some of them even prohibit renting your home out!

14. Qualifying.
Keep in mind that qualifying for a loan on a vacation home will be different than the process on your owner-occupied home, or even an investment home.  A good loan officer will go through all of the pertinent scenarios with you (like whether you should include potential rental income to improve your debt-to-income ration.)

15. Don’t go it alone?
The cost and time investment into a vacation property could easily turn it into a white elephant.  One way to diffuse your risk and cost is to buy it with a friend or business partner.  It’s much easier for two or even three people to pay for and maintain the property, and it’s sure to get much more use.  Just make sure you choose your ownership partners wisely!

Thursday, June 19, 2014

10 Styles of residential architecture you'll see in Sacramento.

One of the best things about Sacramento is its diversity, not only in cultures but in historical influences, threads as old as California, itself, woven together to form a rich textile.  There's no greater example than in our architecture, with residential homes built since the mid 1880's in just about every style imaginable, often right next door to each other.  One Sunday afternoon, take a pleasant drive through midtown, East Sacramento, downtown, Alkali Flats, Land Park, Curtis Park, or other great historic neighborhoods and you'll see beautiful homes in these 10 architectural styles.

1. Colonial Revival
This return to the oldest classical home style was a tribute to American in architecture. The revival period imitated the colonial homes that were as old as the country, itself.  Colonials exhibit sprawling square form with plenty of dressing in shutters, window boxes, a prominent front door, and a sharply pitched roof.  

2. Minimalist Homes
This form of architecture has actually been called “devoid of style, at all,” and is a function of attitudes of frugality and caution after the Great Depression – as simple as they come. But there are offshoots of minimal styles as time and attitudes evolved, including traditional, minimal transitional, and even minimal modern.  These small, 2 bedrooms 1 bath “salt flats,” were often erected with the intent of being temporary housing for the workers who constructed Sacramento’s more grander neighborhoods.

3. Bungalow Homes
Bungalows are one of the most common forms of home architecture in certain areas of the country, and certainly California.  But there are many different kinds of bungalows, including California, Arts and Craft, and Spanish Revival.  California bungalows feature 1 to 1 ½ stories, thick columns, and big front porches. Arts and Craft is actually commonly known as Craftsmen architecture, originating from the magazine where designer Gustav Stickley first published his house plans.  Spanish bungalows are inspired by the Mexican-American experience and influence in old California.  In combination, bungalows are a fun, handsome, and homey style of architecture that breaks the rules just as often as it follows suit.  Curtis Park and T Street in midtown has some great representations of bungalows.

4. Spanish Colonial House Style
1600 – 1900
These homes incorporate elements of the Spanish bungalow but also bring in stone, adobe, or stucco walls depending on the era, flat or red tile roofs, parapets, decorative tiles, wooden doors, second-story balconies, interior courtyards, and other touches inspired from Spanish culture in the Southwest.

5. Victorian
1840 -1900
Victorian architecture was brought into existence thanks to the Industrial Revolution, where mass production allowed decorative materials and building technologies like no time before. Victorian houses seem to pride themselves on delicacy and detail, combining elements of Greek, Federalist, Colonial, Gothic, Italiante, and even medieval architecture.  There are plenty of gorgeous Victorian homes in areas like Alkali Flats, Sacramento’s oldest neighborhood.  

6. Mission Revival House Style
1890 – 1920
Mission homes are seen a little less frequently in Sacramento but a few do exist.  They are more popular in Southern California and areas of the American southwest like Arizona and New Mexico.  They have smooth stucco siding, roof parapets, square pillars, round windows, and red tiled roofs in the traditional Spanish style.

7. Tudor Cottage
Imitating the romance of countryside homes in England, the Tudor style has been described as something out of a storybook.  They’re also called Ann Hathaway Cottages, Hansel and Gretel cottages, Cotswold, and English country cottages.  They have brick, stone or stucco siding with brick or stone fireplaces as show pieces, small-paned windows and dormers, low doors, and cramped, sloping second floors beneath uneven roofs.  They became very popular in the United States around the 1920’s and 1930’s.

8. Neoclassical House Styles
1885 – 1925
This architectural style exhibits all the symmetry and order of Georgian, Federal, Classical Greek and Roman Styles.  Neoclassical is seen as more of a trend than one particular style, but it’s always perfectly with distance from the central front door and perfectly symmetrical windows and often columns and pediments. You’ll see a couple of massive, beautiful neoclassical homes in the Fab 40’s.

9. Medieval Revival Homes

Also called Tudor Homes, these homes feature decorative timbering, steep rooflines, tall, narrow windows, and huge chimneys.  They are often bred with elements of European design like thatched roofs, overlapping gables, and stonework.  Not defined by a particular size, Medieval Revival homes can be as small as country cottages or as big as Antebellum mansions, but give us a glimpse back to construction techniques in the middle ages, even if just for show.

10. Prairie Style
This style was brought to America’s attention by revolutionary architect Frank Lloyd Wright, a creative genius many decades ahead of his time.  At a time when others were looking at traditional and European home revivals, Wright defined a new truly American style with low, wide horizontal lines, overhanging eves, open and spacious floor plans, and large windows.  They were constructed in L, T, or Y shapes instead of the traditional rectangles, homes seemed to mimic and celebrate the endless open spaces of our country.  Wright’s homes were popularized as “Prairie Style Homes,” after an article in Ladies Home Journal in 1901 described them as “A Home in Prairie Town.”  As the Great Depression changed our outlook and priorities, Wright simplified his version of these homes with the more boxy and pragmatic American Foursquare or Prairie Box style.  Take a walk around McKinley Park and look across the street for a good glimpse at Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired homes!

Saturday, June 14, 2014

21 Negotiation tactics that will help you close any deal! Part 2 (11-21)

Last week, we shared part 1 of our list of 21 negotiation strategies that will help you close any deal like the best sales pro in the world.  Today, we cover 11-21.  We hope you find these helpful whether you're negotiating a sale with a customer, a price on a new car, or even negotiating with your spouse where to go on your next family vacation! 

By the way, if you do it right, you're negotiation won't require a baseball bat like in this photo!

11. Ease their pain.
Know their pain points and show them that you’re genuinely trying to alleviate those.  They’ll appreciate it! 

12. Negotiate small to big or big to small.
Depending on how strong your position is and how much leverage you have, you may want to negotiate the biggest item first (and everything else will logically fall into place after that.)  Or if you have a hard sell in front of you and want to break the ice, get them to say ‘yes,” to several tiny, almost inconsequential items first.  So what if you and the car dealer are $20,000 apart on the asking price – you negotiated the cost of the floor matts, the stereo system, and know your color is in stock!  Believe it or not that helps keep the ball rolling.

13. Float a balloon and then pop it.
This is a fantastic tactic early on in the negotiation or to earn someone’s trust you don’t know.  At some point, propose something, but then immediately take it off the table, explaining that it makes no sense for them and you wouldn’t even consider it if you were in their shoes.  They’ll be pleasantly stunned that you’re thinking of their best interests and looking at things through their viewpoint, and the rest of the negotiation will take on a more favorable tone.

14. Timing is everything.
Don’t just reach for your desired outcome today, but keep an eye toward the future.  If you think you’ll want (or be deserving of) a pay upgrade six months from now, ask for a performance review then based on certain performance targets or incentives.  On the other hand, if you want to lock in favorable terms, then ask for a long-term contract. 

15. Watch your body language and tone.
Remain open and neutral with your body language, avoiding defensive or aggressive positions.  Likewise, keep a cool, calm, and friendly, and even tone.

16. Meet at your office or a neutral location.
Human beings are territorial like any other animal, no matter how much we think we’re evolved.  By meeting to negotiate at your office, your home, or a neutral location like a coffee shop, you’ll establish a subtle shift in power, or at least take away their unspoken advantage.

17. Silence speaks loudly.
We talk too much.  Especially when we are nervous or stressed or trying to convince someone, we tend to open our mouths and blab.  So when you first propose a price or salary or whatever number it is you’re negotiating, say it and then close your mouth and shut up.  Don’t say another word until they say “yes,” “no,” or ask a specific question.  They may hem and haw, and you’ll have to resist the overwhelming urge to jump in, but you’ll be amazed how silence is your best ally in leading them to a concrete answer.  By speaking, you’ll only let them off the hook.

18. Listen. Really listen.
Most people listen with the intent to speak forming in their heads.  Instead, actively listen to your counterpoint during a negotiation.  Focus on what they are saying, encourage them with non-verbals like shaking your head, look them in the eyes, jot notes, repeat key points back to them, and ask exploratory questions to get deeper into their pain points, goals, and desires.  They art of listening will help you close a favorable negotiation a million times more than anything you could say.

19. Keep a 10,000-foot bird’s-eye view.
Too often, we become fully engaged and embattled in the little stuff, without stepping back and looking at the big picture with perspective.  As you negotiate, be sure to ask them about their ultimate goals with their business and what they’re trying to accomplish.  Refer back to those goals often as you delve into the negotiation, showing how you’ll help them reach them.

20. Reach safe plateaus.
As you negotiate, establish psychologically safe resting places where everything is agreeable and you can move on.  Think of mountain climbers setting up a safe base camp for the night to rest before moving on.  So ask them if everything looks good and is fine and agreeable so far, and if you get their confirmation, you can move on with a great foundation to build on. 

21. Bring in a third party.

If a negotiation stalls it might not be because they don’t want to close the deal, but that you just can’t offer what they want.  Instead of walking away, think about bringing in a third-party to offer exactly what you are missing.  A win-win-win is just as good as a win-win!  Think of this like baseball general managers bringing in a third team to make players and salaries match up during a trade.