What to expect from the reopened Centurion lounge

One of the things I’ve missed quite a lot during our collective 2020 hiatus from traveling is my regular visits to my favorite airport lounges – particularly the collection of domestic American Express Centurion Lounges.

I’ve been a Platinum Card® from American Express cardmember since the first Centurion Lounge opened in Las Vegas in 2013. And I’m pretty sure that every year since – with the exception of this year, of course – I’ve consumed my card’s annual fee’s worth in chocolate chip cookies and signature white mimosas while lounging between flights.

With Centurion lounges closed for the last seven months, I’d begun to feel like my Platinum card was getting rusty. If lounges weren’t going to open, and I wasn’t going to start traveling again, I’d even questioned if I was going to renew my card for 2021.

Then it happened. Last week I put on my mask and flew to Florida to see my family for the first time this year. Perhaps it was coincidence, or perhaps it was the American Express lounge gods smiling down on me, but I transited through Dallas the very morning that the Centurion Lounge in DFW reopened its blue doors.

Yes, friends, American Express has officially begun welcoming weary travelers to its lounges once again. Since October, lounges in Charlotte, Dallas, Houston, New York, Los Angeles, Miami, Philadelphia, Seattle and San Francisco have had staggered reopenings.

If you’ve got an American Express Platinum Card in your wallet with plans to return to airports anytime soon, this is likely good news for you, too.

The Business Platinum Card® from American Express or the Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card.

If plans to transit a Centurion Lounge are in your future, you should also check American Express’s Centurion Lounge reopening page for the latest details on each lounge’s current status and opening hours. From my own experience here’s what you can expect.

See related: Coronavirus travel tips: How to travel during a pandemic

Limited capacity and social distance

Last year, before COVID-19, American Express had already started putting measures in place to cut down on the crowds in Centurion Lounges. Reopening has taken these measures to the next level, to make space for guests and to ensure social distancing.

To guarantee you’ll get a place in the lounge on arrival, you’ll want to make sure you have the American Express mobile app downloaded to your phone for contactless check-in. The app allows you to book your entry up to 30 minutes in advance, giving you a QR reservation code that you’ll show with your ID and boarding pass.

For entry, and during your visit, masks are required for all guests – unless you’re eating or drinking (as is standard just to be in the airport). And every other seating area is blocked off to make space between passengers.

Food and drink

One of the reasons that the Centurion Lounge is normally my top choice over other domestic airline clubs is the great hot food and premium drink options.

I’m happy to report that although the buffet has gone the way of 1986 as expected, the food options were still fresh and delicious. For breakfast, there were green juices and hot egg scrambles. And it was southern creamed corn and grilled brussels sprouts for lunch.

In the DFW lounge, food was plated by servers at your request, and both table service and bar service were available for ordering drinks from the bar. The bar itself was fully stocked and still offering its normal menu of signature drinks.

I have to say that I was pretty impressed how they’d kept the level of food and drink quality dialed in while adhering to all the new sanitation and social distancing standards.

Business services

Another small change in the lounge is that some of the business services have shifted. Conference rooms are still available, but you’ll need to make a reservation to use the room to ensure it is cleaned between guests.

If you’re like me and really like using the printer to catch up on work in the lounge, you’ll be happy to know that this is still available. The community computers, however, have been removed.

See related: American Express Rewards guide

Spa services

While not all of the Centurion Lounges are equipped with an Exhale Spa, complimentary neck massages and express manicures have always been a highlight of the DFW lounge.

I was very surprised to find, on arriving to the lounge, that alternative spa services including meditation space and touchless Theragun massages are on offer in the reopening. I tried my own hand in the massage chair with the Therabody Travel Fatigue massage and it actually felt pretty good.

The whole experience of returning to lounge life felt pretty good, in fact. Sure, traveling still feels different and a little bit strange, but it’s definitely nice to see things open back up safely while providing high quality service.

If you’re looking for me in the airport, you know where I’ll be. And yes, I’ll be keeping my Platinum card for another year – I think it will be worth it.

Source: creditcards.com

Lessons Learned from 6 Years Without a Car

If you’ve ever considered going car-free, I’m here to tell you to take the plunge.

Over the last 6 years I’ve lived in 3 different cities, sans car (much to my suburban mother’s amazement). I got rid of my car in my early 20s, the moment I found a job that was walking-distance from my first studio apartment in Seattle.

Being car-free isn’t always easy. Little trips can be a hassle, and getting out of town for the weekend is more complex. But I’ve found it makes day-to-day life more carefree. If you’re walking, biking, or bussing around your city, you get to discover things you never would in your car, save a ton of cash, and live a little greener.

Here’s what I’ve learned from years without a vehicle:

Designing your life, car free

When you don’t have a car, you’ll consider drastically different factors when you look for a place to live.

Here are the top priorities I looked for in a new place, in order of importance:

  • Grocery store proximity – I can get a new job that’s closer, but I can’t build a new grocery store. Sure, you can get food delivered, but I prefered to save money and get a little exercise doing my own shopping. I tried to keep my grocery runs to a 10 minute walk or less.
  • Neighborhood walkability – You can get a general idea of how walkable things are on Walkscore. If you browse a few neighborhoods, you’ll quickly see the difference between suburban sprawl and easily areas where you can cover most of your errands on foot or bike.
  • Commute options – Are you close to a bus line or, better yet, a transit hub? Limited transit options may not be a dealbreaker, but you should at least be sure your regular routes are covered.

These criteria often led me to centrally located spots—downtown hubs, or neighborhoods that are fairly self-contained. That meant higher rent, but the money and time I saved not driving made it worthwhile.

Enjoy that extra $$

When you get rid of your car, suddenly you’ll notice hundreds more dollars in your pocket every month (surprise!). I owned my vehicle outright, but was still paying ~$300 per month in parking, gas, and insurance. Gross.

I chose to put that cash in savings. Even as an entry-level receptionist, I suddenly had extra money to add to my retirement and my emergency fund.

Getting rid of the car built my cash cushion in two ways — lower monthly expenses, and less risk. An accident or a mechanical failure could set you back at any time, making it tough to plan. A flat monthly bus pass is a much more predictable expense than car ownership.

Creative transportation options

One of the lovely parts of not having a car? You get really creative about transportation. Here are the best resources I’ve used in my time without a car:

  • Cycling/Bikeshare – Biking isn’t for everyone, but if you’re brave, it’s a beautiful way to get around the city and stay crazy fit. Many cities are jumping in on the bikeshare trend – so you don’t even need to know how to change a tire. Wear a helmet!
  • Fancy bikes – Too tired to ride? Electric bikes. Need to take it on the metro? Foldable bikes. Need to haul stuff? Cargo bikes.
  • Carpooling – As a formerly car-free person, I’m now living my values as a carpool mom. See if your company can connect you to a pool through Zimride, or hop in a carpool through the Waze app.
  • Car2GoCar2Go is a pretty cool alternative car sharing service. Free parking, you don’t need to find designated spots. Just leave it wherever! Perfect for one-way trips.
  • Scooters – Don’t hate, those little scooters littering the sidewalks are a really fun solution for the last mile of your trip. You can buy your own if sharing hasn’t hit your town.
  • Trains – We may not have amazing bullet train service, but Amtrak is still a wonderful way to see the scenery. It’s more comfortable than the bus (dining car!) and not much more expensive.
  • Car rental – If you’re keeping a car for rare weekends away, you’d save a ton of money just renting instead. Bonus: no maintenance, and you always drive a late model.
  • Peer-to-Peer car rental – This is kind of a wild thing, now you can rent cars from people on the internet with Turo. It’s cheap, but I’ve had mixed luck with the vehicles there. Rent at your own risk.

If you need to test the car-free waters, give some of these alternate transportation methods a try. That way you can find out what works before you take the plunge. Even if you keep your wheels and reduce the amount of time you spend driving alone, that’s a win for the planet, and for a more connected city. Happy non-driving!

The post Lessons Learned from 6 Years Without a Car appeared first on MintLife Blog.

Source: mint.intuit.com

Does Unemployment Affect My Credit Score?

This content is for the first stimulus relief package, The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (The CARES Act), which was signed into law in March 2020. For information on the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2021, the stimulus relief package currently pending legislation, please visit the “New Coronavirus Relief Package: What Does it Mean for You and a Second Stimulus Check” blog post.

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the economy in many different ways. One of the biggest changes has been changes to employment for many people. In some cases, many have been laid off. In other cases, people have been furloughed or had their hours reduced. The number of people receiving unemployment compensation has also hit record numbers. In this article, we’ll take a look at how filing for unemployment and/or receiving unemployment compensation can affect your credit score.

How does unemployment compensation affect your credit score?

The process for filing for unemployment is different in each state. Generally, you will need to file paperwork with your state’s unemployment office, either in person or online. The amount of unemployment compensation you receive generally depends on the salary you earned at your most recent job.

The CARES Act of 2020 made several changes to the unemployment process. First of all, it waived the requirement that several states had in place where one must be actively looking for work to receive unemployment compensation. It also broadened the definition of who was eligible for unemployment and gave an extra $600/week to most people receiving unemployment compensation.

The good news is that filing for unemployment or receiving unemployment compensation does NOT appear on your credit report. Generally, credit reports will not update your employment information unless you apply for new credit. And remember, only information about your financial accounts affects your credit score.

Is filing for unemployment bad for your credit?

As we discussed, the mere act of filing for unemployment or receiving unemployment compensation is not bad for your credit. Being on unemployment does not affect your credit score and in most cases will not even appear on your credit report at all.

Where being unemployed can hurt your credit is all of the ancillary effects from being without a job. Generally speaking, unemployment compensation is less than the salary that you were receiving (though the extra $600 from the CARES Act has changed that for some people.) With less income, that will obviously have a big impact on your overall household budget. 

What can damage your credit while you’re unemployed? 

Even though the act of filing for unemployment or receiving unemployment compensation does not affect your credit score, your credit can still be damaged while you’re unemployed. Two of the factors that make up your credit score are your total balances and your credit utilization ratio. Both of these can be affected if your finances are impacted due to a loss of income.

If you find yourself to continue living below your means while your income is reduced, it is likely that you may end up with higher balances on your credit cards. This results in the increase of your credit utilization ratio, leaving a negative impact on your credit score. 

How to protect your credit when on unemployment

There are a few steps you can take to help protect your credit while unemployed. The key here is to minimize the effects that being without your regular salary has on the rest of your finances. 

One good way to protect your credit while on unemployment is to make sure to have a solid emergency fund. Ideally, you should aim to have 3 to 6 months of expenses in an emergency fund. But if you haven’t been able to create one yet, it’s no help saying that you should have! If your emergency fund or savings won’t cover your time without employment, you have a few options.

  1. Cut down on your expenses
  2. Ask a favor from close friends or family 
  3. Accept that your credit score will be impacted

The good news is that if your time with a limited income is short, your credit score should bounce back in no time as well! 

Does unemployment affect your ability to get new credit/loans?

Yes, it will have a significant impact on your ability to get new credit cards or other loans. Most places that offer credit ask for your current employment status. This makes sense since they need to assess your ability to repay the loan or credit that they are offering.

Different banks and creditors will have different policies for evaluating the information that you provide to them. In many cases, the bank will ask for proof of employment, such as your paystubs. This is especially true when trying to qualify for a home mortgage. If you’re not able to provide current pay stubs, this can have an impact on your ability to get a home loan, even if you’ve already been pre-qualified or approved. 

Hopefully, this information was helpful if you are in a situation where you are wondering how unemployment affects your credit score.

The post Does Unemployment Affect My Credit Score? appeared first on MintLife Blog.

Source: mint.intuit.com

Listed for $17M, the ‘Best Penthouse in Chicago’ Is a Rooftop Residence Unlike Any Other

Penthouse Chicagorealtor.com

Listing agent Mark Icuss has seen his share of jaw-dropping interiors at penthouses and luxury homes in the two markets he handles—Chicago and Jackson Hole, WY—but a new listing sits at the apex. Literally.

Owned by only three families since it was built in 1928, this 8,000-square-foot penthouse is perfectly positioned on North Lake Shore Drive in downtown Chicago, with commanding views of Lake Michigan. It’s now available for $17 million, a price that puts it in fourth place in the ranks of the most expensive listings in the Windy City.

However, there’s no competition when it comes to the layout of this rooftop residence. Sitting atop a 23-story building, it includes an awe-inspiring, unobstructed view from a 5,000-square-foot, east-facing private terrace. To top it all, it includes a manicured lawn, water fountain, and mature trees. Most penthouse residents don’t need to budget in the expense of a gardener, but this green expanse is worth it.

Icuss makes the bold claim that it’s “the best penthouse in Chicago, and also the country.” While preparing to list the Versailles-like penthouse, he dug into the building’s history and found much of it “veiled in secrecy.”

Perched on a building designed by the Sicilian American architect Rosario Candela, and spanning the entire top floor, the penthouse was completed in 1930 for a prominent banker, George Woodruff.

This is the first time it has been made publicly available, since the two previous sales were off-market. The current owner has held onto it since the 1970s—and the owner before that had owned it since the 1940s.

Terrace of Chicago penthouse

realtor.com

Entry

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Dining room

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Living room

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Study

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Hand-carved doors and coffered ceilings

realtor.com

One of the bedrooms

realtor.com

One of the bathrooms

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Another bathroom

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Stairwell

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“It is the only Candela-designed residence outside of New York,” says Icuss. “You were invited to buy into the building. It was, and still is, a premier property. There is not an outdoor space on a building anywhere in Chicago like this.”

Visitors are whisked to the unit via a private elevator and disembark in a grand formal entry. The layout features six bedrooms and 6.5 bathrooms long on Old World opulence.

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Watch: Roll With It: $359K W. Virginia Property Includes a Skate Rink

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Icuss told us that the penthouse is a trophy residence and deserves an owner who isn’t simply looking for a short-term stay.

He thinks a buyer “will probably own it for 20 to 30 years,” adding, “if history repeats itself, whoever buys the place will take on a bit of restoration.”

Which doesn’t mean the penthouse is crumbling or aging. But a new owner may make some changes around the margins and personalize the place a bit.

The new owner should also be someone who continues the tradition of preservation. The original features, like the hand-carved doors, bronze hardware, stone carvings, vaulted ceilings and frescos, 20-foot coffered ceilings in the living room, and a walnut-paneled gallery hall, remain intact. A buyer may consider a modernization of the kitchen and family room, says Icuss.

“It’s going to be a successful family, somebody who needs space and privacy. This isn’t just a penthouse on top of a building,” he says. “Folks who can afford to buy this kind of stuff—they pay for uniqueness.”

The post Listed for $17M, the ‘Best Penthouse in Chicago’ Is a Rooftop Residence Unlike Any Other appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights | realtor.com®.

Source: realtor.com

Current VA Refinance Rates

Mortgage interest rates remain at historic lows this week. As reported from a weekly survey of 100+ lenders by Freddie Mac, the average mortgage interest dropped for two of three main loan types and ticked up for a third — 30-year fixed increased (2.66% to 2.67%), while 15-year fixed dropped (2.19% to 2.17%) as did 5/1 ARM (2.79% to 2.71%).

VA refinance rates are no different. In fact, when compared to other loan types — conventional and FHA, for example — VA home loans offer consistently lower rates than for the average consumer.

Shop and compare your personalized rates with multiple lenders.

VA Refinance Rates 2020

  VA Conventional FHA
September 2020 2.78% 3.02% 3.01%
August 2020 2.86% 3.12% 3.10%
July 2020 3.02% 3.26% 3.26%
June 2020 3.20% 3.42% 3.41%
May 2020 3.24% 3.44% 3.45%
April 2020 3.31% 3.48% 3.56%

Source: Ellie Mae Origination Insight Report, September 2020

When should you refinance?

In general, if you can save money over the life of your loan, then you should consider refinancing. Everyone’s financial situation is different, however, and refinancing can help you achieve a couple of different financial goals. Below are some of the most common reasons homeowners refinance:

  1. Lower your interest rate and monthly payment. Refinancing into a lower interest rate not only reduces the total interest costs you owe over the life of the loan, but it can reduce your monthly mortgage payment as well. This is the most common reason to refinance.
  2. Pay off your current non-VA home loan. VA home loans don’t require private mortgage insurance (PMI) like other loan types (FHA loans, for example, require PMI for the life of the loan if you put less than 10% down). You can also adjust your loan terms and interest rate type.
  3. Fund home projects or consolidate your debt. If you’ve earned enough equity in your home, then a cash-out refinance allows you to tap into that equity for cash. There are no restrictions on how you can use the money, so many homeowners use it to pay for home repairs or remodel projects as well consolidate debt.

What type of refinance should I choose?

There are two types of VA refinance loans: VA streamline refinance and VA cash-out refinance. Both have different benefits and loan processing requirements, so it’s important for homeowners to know what they want to accomplish with a refinance.

VA Streamline Refinance

Also known as an Interest Rate Reduction Refinance Loan (IRRRL), the VA streamline refinance is best if you want to lower your interest rate and monthly payment. In fact, your new monthly payment must be lower than your current one to be eligible for this loan. It has one of the easiest refinancing process — you don’t have to verify your income or credit score, and you don’t need a home appraisal.

VA Cash-out Refinance

The VA cash-out refinance loan is the only refinance option for taking out some or all of the earned equity in your home as cash. Qualifying for this loan is a longer process. You’ll need to meet similar requirements to when you purchased your existing home, including credit score and debt-to-income ratio requirements, plus a new home appraisal.

How do I get the best VA refinance rate?

According to research from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), almost half of consumers don’t compare quotes when shopping for a home loan. This means many consumers are losing out on substantial savings. Comparing quotes from three to four lenders ensures that you’re getting the lowest refinance rate for you. Some lenders may even waive certain fees and closing costs.

Interest rates determine what you’ll pay monthly as well as the total interest amount over the life of the loan. Even a half a percentage point decrease can mean a savings of thousands of dollars you’ll owe overall.

Average Mortgage Interest Rates 2020


Source: militaryvaloan.com

Storybook Mountain Estate in Idaho Looking for Its Happily Ever After

Idaho Storybook homeNathan Brown Productions

A house in Idaho that looks as if it belongs on the cover of a book of fairy-tales is on the market for $8.95 million.

“I named it Storybook Mountain Estate because it is just right out of a storybook—fashioned after storybook type of architecture,” says the listing agent, Cindy Bond.

She tells the tale of how the owner sat down with her and brought out five small toy houses that looked like Christmas ornaments and placed them on a table in front of her.

“He put his hand out,” she says, “and said, ‘This was my inspiration. This is what I wanted to create and wanted to bring to life.’”

Five buildings are on the 30-acre compound on Gold Coin Lane in Sagle, ID, on the banks of Lake Pend Oreille, Idaho’s largest lake. They’re perched about 150 feet above the lake, with views of the Green Monarch Mountains and the lake from almost every angle.

“When you look at those views, you could be somewhere in Europe out looking over the ocean,” Bond says. “That’s actually one of the most fascinating things about Lake Pend Oreille: It’s such a large body of water that you’re sure you’re on the ocean. They’re just beautiful and magnificent.”

Exterior of property at Sagle, ID

Nathan Brown Productions

Compound

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View

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View from gazebo

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Aerial view

Nathan Brown Productions

The land has about 800 feet of lakeshore, and a winding path leads down from the main house down to the waterfront.

“Once you’re down there, it’s just ultimate privacy. It’s kind of a small pebble beach. It’s pretty pristine,” Bond says.

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Watch: This Wacky Circular Home Has Our Heads Spinning

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The five buildings include eight bedrooms, on a total square footage of 9,342 square feet. The project took 15 years to complete.

Main house

Nathan Brown Productions

Main house

Nathan Brown Productions

The main house is a storybook dream, with its turrets, stone, and archways.

Interior

Nathan Brown Productions

Interior

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Imported red clay tile floors run throughout the home, which has cozy nooks as well as large rooms perfect for entertaining.

Kitchen

Nathan Brown Productions

Kitchen

Nathan Brown Productions

The kitchen is built to take advantage of the views, and it features Thermador and Miele appliances, as well as a storage pantry and prep kitchen. The large, curved island and the countertops are granite.

Staircase

Nathan Brown Productions

Staircase

Nathan Brown Productions

A spiral staircase was built using quarter-sawn white oak and mahogany and connects the home’s three stories.

Fourth floor

Nathan Brown Productions

An iron spiral staircase connects the third and fourth floors and leads to a round room on top of a turret known as the Turret Aerie. For those who don’t want to climb the spiral stairs, an elevator connects all four floors of the home.

Master bedroom

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Master bathroom

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The master bedroom suite takes up more than half of the second floor, and includes a reading room, bathroom, closet, dressing room, and laundry room.

Lower level

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Guest bathroom

Nathan Brown Productions

The lowest level has another kitchen, a home theater, a game room, and another bedroom.

Carriage house

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Carriage house living space

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Miner’s cabin

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Miner’s cabin

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Miner’s cabin interior

Nathan Brown Productions

Boilerhouse

Nathan Brown Productions

In addition to the main home, the property includes four other structures: a two-bedroom gatehouse, a carriage house with one bedroom for guests, a one-bedroom boilerhouse carved into the mountainside, and the charming Dean Mine Cabin. That quaint, gabled structure has a water tower, water wheel, and gazebo.

The luxe property combines old-school style and modern conveniences.

“One of the accomplishments that the sellers were so proud of is creating something that was a perfect blend of modern quality but enchanting and kind of historic-looking,” Bond says. “It’s their fantasy that they created and made real.”

Land

Nathan Brown Productions

Although the property is extremely private and is adjacent to national forestland, it’s only 25 minutes from the town of Sandpoint, ID.

“What really draws people here is it’s a real town, not a tourist town—although it’s got tourist amenities,” Bond says.

She adds that the population in this area is sparser than in the adjacent Kootenai County, where you’ll find Lake Coeur d’Alene.

The house is accessible year-round, and Bond says he feels the perfect buyer would be someone who appreciates refined finishes and a magical setting.

“I don’t see someone living here with young children, because of the high cliff setting,” he says. “It’s going to be someone with an artful eye, who wants that pristine view and privacy, but still be connected when they want to be.”

Entry

Nathan Brown Productions

Interior

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Exterior

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Exterior

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The post Storybook Mountain Estate in Idaho Looking for Its Happily Ever After appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights | realtor.com®.

Source: realtor.com

15 Cities With the Lowest Percentage of Homeowners

This story originally appeared on Roofstock. While homeownership has been on the rise since 2016, and early data suggests it could be surging during the spread of COVID-19, the national homeownership rate remains below peak levels and out of reach for many Americans. Prior to the pandemic, approximately 36% of households in the U.S. were renter-occupied and 64% were owner-occupied…

Source: moneytalksnews.com