Columns
Spotlight on Castro Valley Adult and Career Education | Print |  E-mail
Friday, 30 March 2012 14:23


By Paula Evans
SPECIAL TO THE FORUM



Learning never ends! It’s important to realize that learning doesn’t stop when we leave high school or college, but continues throughout life.


Scientists and doctors believe that keeping your brain stimulated can lead to a longer life, which is an awesome outcome! Longer life aside, it is always nice to learn something new as the benefits are many. Check out this short list of ideas to be a learning-for-life person:


(1) Enroll in adult education courses.* (2) Read a book. (3) Visit a museum. (4) Visit a foreign country or travel. (5) Ask Questions. (6) Try something new. (7) Visit the elderly. (8) Watch educational TV. (9) Learn a new skill. (10)  Develop a new hobby or interest.


*Castro Valley Adult’s Spring Summer schedule of classes is out and once again boasts a new lineup of extraordinary community interest classes – see for yourself:

The Memory Academy II, 1:30-4 p.m.

Thursdays, April 19-June 14


The Memory Academy I, 1:30-4 p.m.

Thursdays, July 5-Aug 9


Social Media for Beginners, 10 a.m.-Noon Saturday, May 12 or July 14


Bonsai Basic, Mondays, 7-9 p.m. April 16-June 25


Bonsai Intermediate, Mondays, 7-9 p.m.  April 16-June 25


Bonsai Advanced, Mondays, 7-9 p.m. April 16-June 25


Cupcakes, Cupcakes Everywhere! Saturday, April 28 – 10 a.m.-Noon



Indian Cooking: Exotic Rice Dishes

Saturday, Aug 4 – 10 a.m.-1:30 p.m.


Whole Foods cooking Class – Cooking with Anti-Inflammatory Whole Foods, Saturday, May 19–Noon-3:30 p.m.



Herbal Remedies for Everyday Health, 7-9 p.m. Tuesdays, June 26-July 10


Chess Introduction, 9-10:30 p.m. Saturdays, April 28-June 2


Guitar Beginning, 7-8:30 p.m. Thursdays, April 19-June 14


Digital Photography I – Concept, Capture, Print and Archive, 10 a.m.-Noon

Saturdays, May 5-June 2  or July 14-Aug 4


Estate and Trust Planning-Overview,

Thursday, May 3 – 6:30-8:30 p.m.


Estates and Trust Planning – Living Trusts, Thursday, July 12 – 6:30-8:30 p.m.


Eco Bead Making Class, 7-8:30 p.m.

Wednesdays, April 25-May 23


Lose Weight with Self-Hypnosis,

9:30-11:15 a.m. Saturdays, May 5-May 19 or July 14-July 28



 

Get motivated. Get inspired. Get going! Register for a community interest class today!  For complete details on these courses and more, visit www.cvadult.org, or stop by 4430 Alma Ave., Castro Valley, or call 510-886-1000.

 




 
Appraisal Issues Dash Seller’s Dreams | Print |  E-mail
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Friday, 30 March 2012 14:12


Real Estate Reality


By Carl Medford, CRS
Special to the Forum

With the market as hot and volatile as Hawaii’s Kilauea Volcano, sellers are sensing they have a window of opportunity. As reported previously, this spring’s market is off to its strongest start in years. Contrast tons of buyers with limited inventory and the result is multiple offers everywhere. We’re also back to standing in line to view certain listings.


While easy to understand seller’s hopes of cashing in with the current market, those looking for sudden windfalls need to understand market mechanics. Many, seeing hordes of buyers, have priced their properties above market averages and watched in glee as multiple offers pounded prices up even more.

Newsflash: many homes going into escrow at escalated prices WILL NOT appraise at those inflated values. The reason is simple: We’ve been in a declining market. Due to the first-time homebuyer credit, we hit a peak in April, 2010; and, once the credit expired, we’ve seen prices eroding slowly every since. Appraisers have grown used to the declining market; and, in the past 12 months, appraisals have been, overall, at or close to contract values.

Appraisers use past sold prices to come up with current valuations. In a market suddenly spiking upward, they have no comparable sales to justify the abrupt price increases.

Consequently, many appraisals are suddenly coming in “under” the accepted contract price. In other words, appraisers are providing evaluations based on the market that has been, not the market as it’s suddenly become. While totally understandable, it’s bringing a new wave of frustration into the market as deals are falling apart everywhere due to low appraisals.

“This is a difficult issue to deal with,” explains John Petrocelli of Prudential. “Sellers, anticipating low appraisals, are beginning to demand that offers be written with the appraisal contingency removed. This might be OK with cash offers or conventional loans accompanied by huge down payments, but simply doesn’t work with 20 percent or less down or those with FHA or VA loans.”

If an appraisal comes in low, there are few options: lower the price, increase the deposit or cancel the deal. In addition, many buyers are refusing to pay more than the appraised value. And if it’s an FHA transaction, the appraisal, no matter the value, remains in effect for six months — placing a long-term stigma on the property.

Suddenly, it’s “Seller beware.” Not a pretty picture; but, as of today, it’s the current real estate reality.

 

Carl Medford is a licensed Realtor with Prudential California Realty in Castro Valley and a licensed general contractor. This article is sponsored by the Central County Marketing Association at www.ccmgtoday.com

 


 
Tax Help for Caring for an Aging Parent | Print |  E-mail
Tuesday, 20 March 2012 13:03


By Jim Miller
SPECIAL TO THE FORUM


It’s always good to have a variety of social activities in your life. Getting together with friends, going to the movies, having someone over for coffee, or simply enjoying conversations with other people, all add up to improved health benefits?

Socializing can be a challenge for people who live alone and no longer drive or have health issues that limit their ability to get out of the house. Non-socialization can affect your mind and body.


Many seniors enjoy spending some time alone but after a while an isolated, stay-at-home lifestyle can lead to depression and declining health.


Older adults who stay connected socially are more likely to retain their memories and cognitive abilities later in life, according to a new study published in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior.


We need a variety of brain stimulation, including social activity, to keep our minds sharp. This is especially true later in life, when aging takes its toll on memory and other complex neurological processes.


Researchers analyzed data over several years of 1,667 adults older who were 60 years old and older. They looked at the likelihood of participants engaging in social activities with friends and family, joining clubs, and going to social engagements. The study also examined cognitive ability, memory acuity as people socialized more often.


While we often “feel” better after a good visit with family or friends, this study concluded that we may actually be improving our health with social activities.


Older adults who were less socially active had both cognitive and physical limitations. The results are stunning; the socially active group had healthier brain scans, and seemed to be better protected from aging over time.


As scientists gain ground in unlocking the mysteries of aging and neurology, we understand that we have some control over our cognitive and physical health.


So besides eating well and exercising, socialize and your health will benefit. You will not only enjoy the company of people around you, you will keep your brain stimulated.

 

 

 

Tips for Better Brain Health


Be active, both physically and mentally. Read every day, walk every day.


Avoid sitting home alone day after day. If you can’t get out due to health restrictions, invite people to come and visit. Sometimes people need to be “invited” because they don’t want to drop by unannounced.


Prioritize having a social life no matter where you live or how you feel. You don’t have to have numerous social events on the calendar. Any time that you are with other people is a social event. Looking forward to getting together with friends and family is part of the fun.


Be a planner. Every day plan some activity that will allow you to talk to other people – in person if possible. If you have the mobility, go to a shopping mall and chat with people who work in the store. Shopping, even window shopping, is a good way to strike up a conversation about products and items in front of you.


Try new ways of meeting people. Join a book club, a card group, church choir or volunteer at a local hospital, shelter or food pantry. Anything you can think of that gets you out of the house and enjoying the world around you is a benefit to healthy aging.

 


Mark Underwood is a neuroscience researcher, president and co-founder of Quincy Bioscience, a biotech company focused on the discovery and development of medicines to treat age related memory loss and the diseases of aging. Visit www.TheGoodNewsAboutAging.com for more articles and tips for healthy aging.

 

 

 

 
Save Money on Prescription Drugs | Print |  E-mail
Tuesday, 20 March 2012 12:51


By Jim Miller
SPECIAL TO THE FORUM




There are a variety of ways you can reduce your medication costs without cutting quality, but you’ll need to take a proactive approach.


The following tips can also help seniors with a Medicare prescription drug plan avoid the “donut hole” coverage gap, or reduce their costs once they reach it. Here are some cost-cutting strategies to try.


Check your insurance: If you have drug coverage, your first step is to find out what your plan does and doesn’t cover. You can do this by visiting the insurer’s website or by calling their 800 number on the back of your insurance card.


Once you have this information, share it with your doctor so (if possible) he or she can prescribe medications that are best covered by your plan. You also need to find out if your insurer has a mail-order service. This would help you to purchase your medications for 20 to 40 percent less.


Talk to your doctor or pharmacist: Find out if the medications you’re taking are available in a generic form or a less expensive brand-name drug (you can also look this up online at sites like destinationrx.com).


About 75 percent of all premiums drugs have a lower-cost alternative. Switching could save you between 20 and 90 percent.


Many chains like Wal-Mart, Target, Costco, Kmart, CVS, Walgreens and Kroger sell hundreds of generics for as little as $4 for a 30-day supply and $10 for a 90-day supply.


Another cost cutter is to buy your medications in bulk. Many pharmacies give discounts if you buy a three-month supply of drugs versus a 30-day supply.


Shop around: Drug prices can vary form drugstore to drugstore, so it’s definitely worth your time to compare prices at the different pharmacies in your area.


Using U.S.-based online pharmacies are another way to save 25 percent or more. Drugstore.com and familymeds.com are two good sites that provide solid savings, but there are dozens to choose from. If you opt for an online pharmacy, be sure you purchase from ones that have the “VIPPS” seal of approval (see vipps.info) from the National Association of Board of Pharmacy.


Seniors enrolled in a Medicare prescription drug plan also need to make sure the online pharmacy they’re buying from is included in their network.


Get a discount card: Many pharmacies have free or low-cost discount card programs that will let you buy generics for $4 or qualify for steeper discounts on other drugs.


Other drug card programs worth a look include togetherrxaccess.com, rxsavingsplus.com, yourrxcard.com, rxfreecard.com, pscard.com and familywize.com.


Search for drug assistance programs: If your income is limited, you can probably get help through drug assistance programs offered through pharmaceutical companies, government agencies and charitable organizations.

 


To find these types of programs use benefitscheckup.org, a comprehensive website that lets you easily locate these programs  and will show you how to apply.

 


 
FHA Fee Increase Hits April 1st | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 15 March 2012 14:44

 

Real Estate Reality


By Carl Medford, CRS
Special to the Forum


Back in the days when mortgage money flowed freely, no one considered that the end of the world as we know it might not be that far off. Then came June, 2005.

 

Unbeknown to anyone, the market roller coaster crested at its highest peak and began its descent. Slowly at first, but quickly gathering speed, it roared down the back side, wiping out market gains and, as excessive speed blew off the wheels, sowed devastation on its way to its ultimate crash.

 

To add injury to insult, 2008’s plummeting property values triggered the subprime lending collapse. As private lenders were driven out, there was no longer money to keep the market afloat.

 

Everyone was impacted — owners, investors, banks… even the mighty Federal Housing Administration (FHA). Not a lender, the FHA functions as an insurer, charging lenders and borrowers a fee to guarantee mortgages. With low limits, FHA-backed loans were largely unknown in the Bay Area.

 

In an effort to ease the crash and bring funding back to the market, the feds boosted the lending limits to Bay Area levels. Since then, FHA loans have become a staple for first-time buyers, making up a significant percentage of local loans. In fact, FHA now insures more than one third of home purchases nationally.

 

Did I mention the FHA was affected by the crash? As insured property values fell from the sky like Superman covered with Kryptonite, the FHA lost billions of dollars, mandating a government bailout. Still not out of the woods, the Federal Housing Administration insists it needs additional funds to get itself back on its feet. Thus the increase in fees as of April 1, 2012.

 

“Timing isn’t good,” declares John Dutra, with RPM Mortgage. “Seems like every time we get a break, some governmental agency steps on the brakes.”

 

Case in point: the local market appears to be turning. Buyers are out in droves. Fee increases could actually slow the market.

 

On April 1, up-front premiums are increasing to 1.75 percent of the loan. A $300,000 loan will see fees jump from $3,000 to $5,250. Since this is built into the loan and amortized, there won’t be any upfront affect. It will, however, increase monthly payments by $25. It will also reduce someone qualifying for a $300,000 loan down to $297,000. Doesn’t sound like much, but in this crazy market, it could actually be the difference between getting the home you want… or not.


 

Carl Medford is a licensed Realtor with Prudential California Realty in Castro Valley. This article is sponsored by the Central County Marketing Association at www.ccmgtoday.com

 


 
The Rise of Diabetes in Our Community | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 15 March 2012 14:27


By Marcia Peck, M.D.
SPECIAL TO THE FORUM


 

Could you or your family member be among the more than 18.8 million people in the United States with diabetes? Or could you be one of the 79 million Americans with pre-diabetes?



People with pre-diabetes have blood glucose levels higher than normal, but not high enough to be classified as diabetes.



In 2007, nearly 10% of the population in Alameda County was diagnosed as having diabetes or pre-diabetes, a significant increase over past years. What is even more alarming is that it’s estimated that an additional 28% of the population has diabetes, but doesn’t know it.



Untreated diabetes can lead to serious complications, including heart disease, stroke, loss of limb, blindness, and kidney failure.

 

 

Who’s at risk?

Those who are older than 45, have pre-diabetes, high blood pressure and cholesterol, are obese or inactive, or have a parent with diabetes are more likely to get diabetes. Race is also important: African-American, Hispanic, Native American, South Asians, Japanese, and Pacific Islanders are at increased risk.



Diabetes affects all age groups with recent studies showing diabetes rates are increasing dramatically among a younger crowd. Between 1993 and 2006 the number of hospitalizations among 30- to 39-year-olds for reasons related to diabetes more than doubled, especially among women.

 

 

Preventing and

managing diabetes



Diabetes can be diagnosed by a simple blood test. The disease can be controlled if recognized early and properly managed. Studies have shown it can be prevented, and even reversed, in the initial stages by changes in diet and exercise.



There are exceptions, but Type 2 diabetes is usually a lifestyle disease. The advice for preventing diabetes is no different than the advice for staying healthy-get at least 30 to 60 minutes of exercise five days a week and eat a healthy diet that includes whole grains and plenty of fruits and vegetables.



Diabetes must be carefully managed to limit complications; namely heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, eye and kidney disease. Women with poorly controlled diabetes have higher pregnancy complications, including miscarriage or a baby born with birth defects.



Diabetes is most successfully managed when the patient is engaged in their own health care, checking their blood sugars, understanding their diet, exercising, taking their medications-self management. There are several resources available to patients: their physician, nutrition and diabetes management classes, and support groups.



Talk with your doctor and get tested if you have concerns about diabetes.



 

Marcia Peck, M.D., is an endocrinologist with the Sutter East Bay Medical Foundation and is affiliated with Eden Medical Center in Castro Valley. Dr. Peck can be reached at 510-204-1844.

 


 
Cardio: The Most Misundertood of Fitness Terms | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 15 March 2012 14:12

 

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By Mitch Rothbardt

SPECIAL TO THE FORUM


 

Cardio. There’s not be a more misunderstood word in the fitness world.

What does it mean? Well, the strict definition is “exercise involving the heart and blood vessels.” So, I guess if your heart beats during the exercise then it’s “cardio,” right? Of course, if your heart doesn’t beat during an exercise then you’re kind of dead, so I guess that means that everything is cardio!



 

OK, I’m being silly. Basically, what most people mean when they say “cardio” is exercise that gets your heart beating faster, probably for the general goal of losing weight or getting in “better shape.” Something like running on a treadmill for 30 minutes.

 

If this is what you’re currently doing to lose weight or get “in shape” then I’m going to politely ask you to stop, because it doesn’t work and it’s actually hurting you. Now, I’m not saying you should never go on a long hike to enjoy nature but, again, if your primary reason for doing this is to get “in shape” or lose weight, please stop.



Here’s why. The body adapts to things. When you first start out going for your runs your body might be burning 400 calories an hour. Do that for a few weeks and your body gets more efficient at running. Now it burns 350 calories an hour. You can do the math from there.



Now what happens to the fat that you desperately want to lose? Well, the body burns less and less of it. Your metabolism slows trying to keep your heart rate down so you can run longer and, to be more efficient, (notice a trend here?) your body burns muscle instead of fat. That drives your metabolism down even lower which means less and less fat loss which means a whole lot of work for the exact opposite of what you want.



What happens next? Now it’s getting good.



What would you do if you came to me for training and I told you we were going to do a high impact exercise for about 3,500 reps? You’d probably leave and never come back. The thing is, that’s exactly what you’re doing every time you run a mile. So add high impact, high rep exercise to less and less muscle on your frame and we get injuries. Knee pain, back pain, ankle and foot problems just for starters.



So, let’s run down the list of what most people’s version of “cardio” is doing for them:



1. Making them a more efficient runner. (Again, if you’re trying to lose weight you do not want this.)



2. Burning fewer calories for more work.



3. Burning lean body instead of fat.



4. Slowing your metabolism.



5. Causing injuries.



I’m not trying to sound overly harsh but I just hate to see a lot of hard work resulting in people thinking that exercise doesn’t work.



If you want a cardio training program that does work just go to MitchRFitness.com. Have a great day!



 

 

Mitch Rothbardt is a Certified Personal Trainer who offers weight-loss programs, bootcamps and individual training for all fitness levels and budgets. Reach him at 510-754-7113 or by email at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

 


 
First Annual Parent University for CV | Print |  E-mail
Tuesday, 13 March 2012 13:53



By Paula Evans
SPECIAL TO THE FORUM

 

 

 

Wikipedia defines “parenting” as “the process of promoting and supporting the physical, emotional, social, and intellectual development of a child from infancy to adulthood. It refers to the aspects of raising a child aside from the biological relationship.



Recognizing the challenges parents face daily, Castro Valley Adult and Career Education and  School District are sponsoring a Parent University from 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on Saturday, April 21.



The theme of this first annual event is “We’re in this Together: Raising Healthy, Successful Children in Challenging Times.” Parents can choose from over 20 different workshops presented in two breakout sessions. Topics include Bullying, Kindergarten Readiness, Reducing the Impact of Divorce, Parenting Children with Special Needs, Motivating the Underachiever, The Truth About Drug and Alcohol Use Among Teens, and Our Kids and Social Media!



Keynote speaker, Marriage & Family Therapist George Papageorge will address “Connecting with our Kids.”  He has been working with couples, teenagers and families for the past 25 years and is a highly sought-out seminar speaker, addressing the vital needs of children and the pressures and challenges that they encounter.



Local parent Theresa Branaugh, who is serving on the Parent University advisory committee recently wrote “Raising our children and helping them navigate through their many developmental stages is one of the most important and difficult challenges parents must face. Because the stakes are so high and the demands so relentless, we can sometimes feel overwhelmed and discouraged.”



The Parent University will be held on the adult school campus, 4430 Alma Avenue, Castro Valley. Registration will be $15 before April 1, $20 April 2-16, and $25 after April 16 or at the door.



Child care is also available for children 2-10 years old. (no diapers, please) at a cost of $15 per child or $30 per family (2 or more children). Child care will be located at 4400 Alma Ave., Castro Valley, adjacent to the school’s parking lot off of Seven Hills Road.



 

You must pre-register for child care. Registration for April 21 Parent University now open. Space is limited. Register at www.cvadult.org/parenting.html, by contacting the Adult School at 886-1000, or in person at 4430 Alma Ave., CV.

 


 
Stay Connected: Computer-Free Video Calling | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 08 March 2012 16:22


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By Jim Miller
SPECIAL TO THE FORUM


Video calling is a wonderful way to stay connected and get that important face-to-face time with your mom or dad when you can’t be there.



Here are some good video calling products to consider for technology-challenged seniors who don’t use a computer.



Home Videophones



If you’re not familiar with them, home videophones are a nice option and very easy for seniors to use. Basically, they work like a regular telephone but come with a built-in camera and video screen that gives you the ability to see the person you’re talking to in real-time. All you need is a high speed (DSL or Cable) Internet connection and you’re ready to go.



While there are various types and styles of videophones on the market today, some possible options to consider are the Grandstream 3140 and VoSKY videophones that work with Skype (see skype.com) – a free software application that lets you make free video calls via the Internet.



Retailing anywhere between $150 and $250, the big advantage of using a Skype certified videophone is that after you purchase it, there are no monthly service fees to use it.



Skype-to-Skype video calls are completely free, and you can use your personal computer (if you have a webcam), Android smartphone or tablet, iPhone, iPad or Mac to call your mom’s videophone (and vise versa), which means you don’t have to buy a second videophone to converse with her like you do with other services.



These videophones will also let your mom and dad make unlimited calls to other landlines and mobile phones in the U.S. and Canada for only $3 per month. To learn more or to purchase these products visit amazon.com or shop.skype.com/phones.



Another good product to check out is WorldGate’s Ojo Vision Digital Videophone which you can buy through ACN (myacn.com/digital, 877-226-1010) as the IRIS 5000 Video Phone.



With a bright 7-inch LCD screen and excellent audio and video capabilities, this videophone is a higher grade product than the Skype phones, but it’s more expensive. The cost: $179 for the phone with a two-year contract and a $30 monthly service fee for unlimited calling.



This phone will also only let you place video calls to other Ojo/IRIS videophones. That means that you and your mom will each have to buy your own phone in order to video chat with each other, which adds to your costs.



TV Video Calls



Another great option you need to know about are the new “TV compatible webcams” that have a built-in HD camera, speakers and microphones that will turn your parent’s TV into a videophone – no computer required.



They will, however, need a television set with an HDMI port (most HDTVs have them) and wireless Internet access installed in their home to uses one of these devices. If they have an older TV that doesn’t have an HDMI port, converter boxes can be purchased for around $50 to adapt most sets.



If you like this option, check out the Biscotti TV Phone (biscotti.com), a new product that costs $199 and, at the press of a button, will let your mom make and receive unlimited free video calls from her TV, to any computer, smartphone or tablet that uses Google video chat (google.com/chat/video), or to other Biscotti owners.



Or, if you’re a Skype user, consider the new telyHD webcam (tely.com). This device costs $250 and works similarly to the Biscotti, but provides its free video calling via Skype.



 

Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of “The Savvy Senior” book.

 


 
Out on a Limb to Save Cat | Print |  E-mail
Wednesday, 07 March 2012 16:49

 

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Steve Warner of Blue Sky Tree Service holds the lively three- month-old tabby he saved from near the top of a 120 foot redwood tree where the cat managed to climb.



By Robert Souza
CASTRO VALLEY FORUM


Two weeks ago one of the two kittens Jackie Beggs owns came to her with what Beggs claims was a message.

“She was trying to get my attention for some reason,” explained Beggs, who gazed across her Castro Valley backyard and began to panic when she scanned one of the two towering redwood trees near her fence line.



Perched just inches from the top of the 120-foot tree was Beggs’ orange tabby, “Mac Duff.” The feisty three-month old feline had managed to climb the tree and was now being circled by a flock of crows whose nest sat on a nearby limb.



Beggs told the Forum her stomach sunk as she wondered what to do. After calling friends and acquaintances, she got the home phone number of Steve Warner who operates Blue Sky Tree Service of Castro Valley. He suited up for a climb and came to Mac Duff’s rescue.



Armed with a small pet carrier, ropes, a trusty climbing belt and 30 years of experience with big trees, Warner made the 40-minute ascent to where Mac Duff was and coaxed the kitty into the carrier. Next was a five-minute descent back to safety where Beggs breathed a sigh of relief.



“He was up there and looked like the Christmas ornament at the top of the tree,” added Beggs who said Warner is the true hero of this cat’s tale.



 
Wealthy Take to Strategic Defaults | Print |  E-mail
Friday, 02 March 2012 16:38

 

Real Estate Reality


By Carl Medford, CRS
Special to the Forum


With foreclosures dipping and short sales on the rise, you’d think we’d finally come to a place where we might be able to start seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.

You’d be wrong. Especially when it comes to one segment of the market. The rich.

 

While we’ve all heard of recent spectacular jet-set financial meltdowns and resulting evictions, by-in-large, the wealthy have been immune from having their homes ripped out from underneath them. With high-end home values slipping, incomes lowering and adjustable interest rates spiking sharply upward, most financially elite have had other resources to stave off the repo man.

 

However, as long-term financial forecasts are pushing price recovery further into the future than originally anticipated, many owners of exclusive high-end dwellings are concluding that it’s in their best interest to walk away.

 

And they are beginning to do so in droves.

 

RealtyTrac* informs that, while the foreclosure market-share for homes $500,000 to $1,000,000 has dipped 21 percent since 2007, properties valued over a million have increased their share of the pie by 115 percent. Your castle worth $2,000,000 or more? Foreclosures of dwellings in this exclusive multi-million-dollar category have ramped up… by an astounding 273 percent.

 

Historically, banks have been willing to work with owners of high-end homes because of their other financial assets.

 

Additionally, banks have been reticent to take the hit on such large investments. It’s why we’ve not seen many mansions hit the auction blocks. However, with a housing recovery apparently years away, and homes worth much less than the paper securing them, many affluent owners have concluded that foreclosure is a feasible alternative.

 

Even though they may have the means to keep making the payments, they’re choosing to “strategically default” to get out from under what’s become a poor investment.

 

It’s akin to dumping a poorly performing stock portfolio — they cut their losses and move on. But unlike those at the bottom of the financial ladder who’ve been totally devastated by the financial implications of foreclosure, don’t expect to see high-end defaulters visiting local soup kitchens. They may get a hit to their credit rating, but, in many cases, they have the resources to carry on as if nothing happened.

 

Will it affect prices on the high end? Absolutely. In fact, there may be bargains to be found. Only one catch — only a few will actually be able to afford them.

 

 

*The most trusted source of foreclosure information — www.realtytrac.com.

Carl Medford is a licensed Realtor with Prudential California Realty in Castro Valley and a licensed general contractor. This article is sponsored by the Central County Marketing Association at www.ccmgtoday.com


 
Tax Strategies for A Tough Economy | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 01 March 2012 16:34

 

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By Jason Alderman
SPECIAL TO THE FORUM


For most of us, income tax calculations don’t change much from year to year. But thanks to the roller coaster economy of the past few years, many people have undergone major life changes that can have a significant impact – good or bad – on their taxable income and how they should file taxes.

Even though April 17 (this year’s tax-filing deadline) is a ways off, it’s never too soon to start planning your strategy, particularly if you experienced financial hardships in 2011 that could affect your taxes. The IRS has a handy guide called “The What Ifs of an Economic Downturn” (search www.irs.gov) that reviews the tax impacts of different scenarios such as job loss, debt forgiveness or tapping a retirement fund.

Here’s a roundup of common economic challenges you may be facing and their possible tax implications:

 

You lost your job. Remember that unemployment benefits, severance pay and payout of accumulated vacation or sick leave are all considered taxable income, so if you didn’t have taxes withheld from these payments, be prepared for a potentially nasty tax bill.

 

If you withdrew money from your regular IRA or 401(k) account to cover expenses, you’ll owe income tax on the amount, plus an additional 10 percent penalty unless you’re over age 59 1⁄2 or meet special circumstances. Also, outstanding 401(k) loans must be repaid (usually within 60 to 90 days of termination) or they’ll be counted taxable income – plus be subject to the same 10 percent penalty.

 

The good news is that many public assistance benefits such as welfare, food stamps and disaster relief payments don’t count toward taxable income. Read the IRS’s “Tax Impact of Job Loss” for details (www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p4128.pdf).

 

Lowered income. If you took a big pay cut or lost your job in 2011, it might lower your adjusted gross income (AGI) enough to qualify for the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). EITC is a “refundable” tax credit, which means that if you owe less in income tax than your eligible credit, you’ll not only pay no tax, but actually get a refund for the difference. To learn more, search EITC at www.irs.gov.

 

Forgiven debt. Many people don’t realize that when you borrow money from a bank or other commercial lender and the lender “forgives” the debt, you generally must count the forgiven amount as taxable income.

 

There are several exceptions to the rule, however: For example, the Mortgage Debt Relief Act of 2007 generally allows taxpayers to exclude up to $2 million in forgiven mortgage debt ($1 million if married filing separately) on their principal residence if it came through mortgage restructuring, foreclosure or a short sale. The mortgage exclusion is set to expire at the end of 2012 unless Congress intervenes.

 

Other exceptions include: Debts discharged through bankruptcy; or, if you are insolvent when the debt is cancelled, some or all of it may not be taxable. (Insolvency means your total debts are greater than the fair market value of your total assets.) For more information, search for Mortgage Debt Forgiveness at www.irs.gov.

 

Taxes are the last thing you want to worry about when facing financial hardships. Just be sure you’re prepared for the possible tax implications if your income or debt situation has changed in the past year.

 

 

Jason Alderman directs Visa’s financial education programs.


 
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