A homebuyer’s guide to a competitive housing market

African couple standing on terrace hold keys of new house

Millions of people are locking in their dream to own a home. So, what’s stopping you from the exciting homeownership journey? Despite the fact that low housing inventory is making it a competitive market, people are still buying and listing homes. It’s simply up to you to take ownership of your home-buying dream, and we’re here to help with this homebuyer’s guide.  

If you’re wondering where to begin, a good place to start is learning how to position yourself as the most attractive buyer in a handful of offers. We asked two housing experts who have a history of helping their clients buy homes amid strong competition for advice, so you can distinguish yourself as a serious buyer in today’s fast-paced market.

Lean on trusted advisors. Think of your real estate agent and loan officer as the foundation of your home-buying journey. They support you through the whole process and are the people you will continuously rely on. This is why Donnell Williams, president of the National Association of Real Estate Brokers, highly recommends using a trusted advisor, because you need someone working on your behalf. Williams adds that choosing an area expert in your market will prove crucial to your ultimate success.

Part of this trust is also on you. “Honesty is the best policy,” says Williams. “So, when you’re working with your trusted advisor, lay all your cards on the table.” If you’re getting financial help from your parents for the down payment, let them know. If you have a really strict timeline for when you need to be out of your current residence, let them know. These details are crucial in their being able to properly support you.

Get pre-approved. There’s power in getting pre-approved in a competitive housing market. Sam Bhandal, a Home Lending Officer at Citi, says that getting pre-approved helps homebuyers figure out what their home purchase price point is, so they know what range they should be shopping in.

What does getting pre-approved entail? Bhandal explains that you should have financial documents such as bank statements, pay stubs and tax returns ready for your loan officer. This way, they can give you a pre-approval letter that comes with a firm commitment to lend, giving you and your offer a potential edge over other buyers. Bhandal compares it to doing all of your homework up front and getting everything out of the way that pertains to your finances, so you are solid when you go to make an offer.

For their part, home sellers want a smooth transaction with a qualified buyer and a contract with a strong likelihood of closing on time, and without hiccups. Having all your ducks in a row as a buyer will keep you feeling confident and positive throughout the process, says Bhandal. 

Be ready to move fast. Once your pre-approval is in hand, you’re ready to look at homes with added peace of mind. Here’s where timing can be everything. It’s not only you who needs to be ready to move fast; your real estate agent and loan officer need to be ready, too. On one side, you and your real estate agent must be ready to look at prospective homes as soon as possible. Wait too long and it’s likely a sale is already pending.

Maintain an open line of communication with your lender, so they can tailor your pre-approval letter to the specific home you intend to put an offer on and help you calculate what your monthly expenses for that specific home price would be.

Solid preparation at the onset is the ultimate key to success, especially in a competitive market, according to Citi’s Bhandal. After you laid the groundwork, the second stage is creating an offer that will stand out.

Figure out where you can be flexible. Two of the most effective tactics home shoppers can leverage to win a bidding war, according to Williams, are price and terms. “Determine what your highest competitive bid could be, and then come up with your terms,” he says.  Escalation clauses—which Williams highlights as one option that can be included in your offer to make it more competitive—tell the seller that if they get another offer that’s higher than your offer, you are willing to up your offer by an amount you prescribe.

On the flipside, being flexible also means not including some terms in your offer, such as requiring the seller to include the washer and dryer in the sale if those weren’t listed among the appliances that are staying. On the buyer’s side, “a contingency clause is a negative,” Williams says. “The other competitive offers are not going to have contingencies in their offer, so that’s going to be an impediment to your offer.”

Open communication with the seller’s agent can also be key. Consider reaching out routinely to them to determine the seller’s number one priority. Is it to close quickly? If so, the seller may be more willing to negotiate on price. Or, is their top priority being able to rent back their old home from the new owners for a few weeks until they close on their next home? If so, your offer would stand out if you create flexibility on your own move-out time.

The final touchesCover letters, or love letters as they are sometimes called, are one way to communicate directly with the seller and stand out in a field of bidders. This is your chance to let the seller know why this specific house is perfect for you. Is this your dream home because it’s close to your parents? Is it your dream home because it shortens your drive to work and lets you spend more time at home with family? Let the seller know these things.

You can also use a cover letter to affirm your employment stability, your proactive stance in providing documents, and anything else that strengthens your position.

Lastly, Williams suggests asking for a group call to present your offer if it’s an option. This allows you to present your offer in your words with no preconceived notions from the seller getting in the way.

And while you might go through this process a handful of times in a competitive market, Bhandal explains it well when he says, “This is an exciting and positive process. We may have some obstacles, but everybody involved in the transaction is an expert in­­­­­­ their own way, and they’re going to help you come across that finish line.”



photo of Senator Justin Smith MorrillSenator Justin Smith Morrill was an abolitionist who had a vision that education would be for all social classes and offered a shift from predominantly classical studies to applied studies. This academic shift prepared students for the real world and advanced the nation by providing an opportunity to educate all classes of citizenry.

As a young boy of 15, Justin was personally impacted when he was unable to continue his own education due to his family’s lack of financial means. But in spite of this lack, he remained intellectually curious and pursued “education” on his own through business, architecture, horticulture, and politics. He later entered the political arena at the age of 44, and served another 44 years in the United States Congress as a representative and senator from Vermont. Congress is where the First and Second Morrill Acts were birthed.

The First Morrill Act of 1862 provided federal funds from the sale of public land to establish an endowment fund for land-grant colleges of agriculture and mechanical arts. It established at least one college in every state “accessible to all, but especially to the sons of toil.” This statement bears witness that Morrill had a vision of true democracy in higher education.

Three years later in 1865, approximately four million hard-working, but primarily illiterate Blacks were set free from slavery.  Out of his tremendous sense of duty to them and the welfare of this country, he stated, “They are members of the American family, and their advancement concerns us all.”

In spite of his sentiments, segregation was still widely practiced, especially in the Southern and Border States that would not admit Blacks to their educational institutions. This American response stirred the need for more legislation.

Passed in Congress and signed on August 30, 1890, the Second Morrill Act included the stipulation that African Americans were to be included in the United States Land-Grant University Higher Education System without discrimination. It further made provision that required states with separate colleges for Black and White citizens, to designate or establish a college to train Black students in agriculture, mechanical arts, and architecture as well. These Southern and Border States became known as the Negro Land-Grant Institutions and today as the 1890 Land-Grant Universities and Tuskegee University.


historic photo of State Normal School buildingThe Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical University (AAMU) came into being as the result of an 1873 bill passed in the Alabama State legislature that established a State Normal School and University for the Education of the Colored Teachers and Students, provided that the president and trustees of the school placed it at the disposal of the state. However, prior to the 1873 bill, William Hooper Councill founded the Lincoln Normal School in 1869; therefore, AAMU was a ‘continuation’ of that work. The institution opened its doors to 61 students on May 1, 1875, as the Huntsville Normal School with a state appropriation of $1,000 per year.

Historic Photo of William H. CouncillIn 1878, Councill introduced industrial education to the curriculum so students could learn practical skills that would earn them employment.  This effort gained wide attention and funding support by the Slater Fund and Peabody Education Fund, as well as private individual contributors. Because of the success of the  industrial education, the state legislation authorized a name change to the State Normal and Industrial School at Huntsville with an increased appropriation of $4,000 per year.  As time moved on, in 1891, the school received additional funds under the Morrill Act of 1890, which provided monies for instruction in practical and mechanical subjects such as engineering, agriculture, and architecture. In 1896, the then State Normal Industrial Institute for Negroes, among other name variations, became the Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical College for Negroes at Normal, giving us and other educational institutions for “Negroes,” a better opportunity for educational pursuits. On June 26, 1969, the Alabama Board of Education adopted a resolution changing the College to its current name.

So today, the 1890 land-grant universities, like Alabama A&M University, are all eligible to receive federal funds for instructional and educational programs.  Each state that has an 1890 university, also has an 1862 university; except Alabama, which has one 1862 and two 1890s – Alabama A&M University and Tuskegee University.  Nationally, these 19 universities comprise the 1890 Land-Grant University System. 

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How To Make An Insurance Claim For Business Interruption

Joshua SteinContributorReal EstateI write about commercial real estate negotiations, deals and legal issues.

A picture of a generic closed business.
If a closed business wants to claim under its business interruption insurance, it needs to jump … [+] RANJAN SAMARAKONE

Businesses large and small, including particularly retail tenants, hotels, and theaters (as well as their support services) have seen their revenue dramatically interrupted because of Covid shutdowns. But they still have to pay many of their operating costs, such as rent and utilities. So the owners of those businesses have sometimes tried to file claims under the business interruption element of their property insurance policies. Insurance companies have generally rejected those claims. The courts have usually agreed, but not always.

A successful business interruption insurance claim will depend, first, on the words of the particular policy and the scope of coverage. Sometimes a business owner will get lucky.

For example, if a policy provides coverage against loss of access, and a governmental order required the property owner to close off access, then the business might have a claim. Likewise if the policy had unusually broad coverage for hazards to human health. Policyholders have sometimes won by arguing that the coronavirus constituted some form of physical invasion, causing physical damage to the space. In recent test case litigation in the U.K., policyholders occasionally prevailed, again based on the specific wording of policies.

The history to date makes it clear that a successful business interruption insurance claim won’t necessarily be easy to assert or assured of success. But enough cases have turned out favorably to the insured that perhaps it’s worth a shot.

If a business owner wants to try to make a business interruption claim, they need to approach the process with the same care, diligence, and planning that they would for any other insurance claim, particularly one that might fall in a gray area. My friend Lennie Morgan, an independent insurance adviser at www.cpgstrategy.com, gave me a few suggestions for any business owner contemplating a business interruption claim.

First, read the policy. What language in the policy might support the claim? How can the insured sculpt a business interruption claim to make the strongest possible argument that it qualifies for coverage? The successful business interruption claims described earlier in this article begin to offer a roadmap. The policy may also cover actions of “civil authority” in a way that could support a claim. Does the policy have any language that might cover a loss that cannot be physically seen? It’s worth having counsel or an insurance adviser take a look at successful claims to date to see how best to frame this particular claim.MORE FOR YOUExperts Predict What The Housing Market Will Be Like In 2021Florida Panhandle’s Most Expensive New-Construction Home Is On The MarketThese Are The Lowest Mortgage Rates Being Offered Right Now

Second, pay close attention to deadlines and filing requirements. Policies often require claims to be filed within a relatively short time after a loss. And the claim needs to be submitted on a particular form, often with specific accompanying information and documents. It’s not enough to have a nice chat with the insurance broker. Again, read the policy. Do exactly what it requires. If the broker will get involved in submission of the claim, make sure the carrier acknowledges receipt of the claim.

Third, plan ahead to proving the amount of business lost as a result of the business interruption. This will require collecting and organizing records and other information. Ideally, it will happen during the period while the business suffers its losses, while memories and documentation are fresh, as opposed to being reconstructed many months after the fact. A successful insurance claim requires solid evidence of how much the insured actually lost.

Fourth, work with someone who knows how the insurance system works and how carriers deal with claims. That can be a lawyer, a consultant, an independent insurance advisor, or an adjuster. Insurance brokers often have the necessary knowledge, but they may have less zeal for the insured than if they were an advocate and strategist looking out solely for the insured.

The four measures just suggested will certainly help increase the chances of succeeding with a business interruption claim, by denying the carrier some easy grounds on which to reject a claim. Ultimately the likelihood of success remains pretty bleak, though. So a business owner will want to avoid spending too much time and money on an effort that is very likely doomed.


Article    |    Institute for Justice

What If Your Neighbor…

Imagine a law giving bureaucrats unbridled discretion over your property rights. It would provide no standards. City officials could stop you from using your property—such as putting up a fence or planting a tree—for arbitrary reasons, or, indeed, for no reason at all. And you’d have no one to appeal their decisions to.

Now imagine a law vesting this unbridled discretion in a neighbor’s hands instead of a government agent’s. In other words, you’d need to get your neighbor’s permission to use your property the way you wanted. And your neighbor could withhold that permission for any reason whatsoever, even a petty, years-old grudge. If you objected to your neighbor’s decision on your property rights, you’d be out of luck—the neighbor’s decision would be final, and no one could overturn it.

The Neighbor’s Veto Is Dead, Long Live the Neighbor’s Veto

In a 1912 decision, Eubank v. City of Richmond, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a neighbor’s veto as unconstitutional. But five years later, in Thomas Cusack Co. v. City of Chicago, the Court upheld a different neighbor’s veto. The difference between these cases has been where courts ground their analysis ever since.

Let’s start with Eubank. That case involved a setback ordinance that let private parties establish binding building lines. Once two thirds of property owners abutting a street decided to set a building line between 5 and 30 feet, the government had no discretion to alter this boundary.

According to the U.S. Supreme Court, this delegation to private parties violated due process. As the Court emphasized, the government had “conferr[ed] the power on some property holders to virtually control and dispose of the property rights of others and “create[d] no standard by which the power [was] to be exercised.” 226 U.S. 137, 143–44. Hence, property owners who wanted a building line could “do so solely for their own interest, or even capriciously.” Id. at 144. Just as a law would violate due process if it put this unbridled discretion in a government agent’s hands, it violated due process to put this power in private parties’ hands.

But in the 1917 Cusack case, the U.S. Supreme Court distinguished Eubank. The ordinance at issue in Cusack prohibited people from building billboards in residential areas unless they got written consent from a majority of neighboring property owners. The Supreme Court held that this neighbor’s-veto provision did not violate due process.

So why was a neighbor’s veto unconstitutional in Eubank but constitutional in Cusack? According to the Supreme Court, the difference was that the ordinance in Eubank let property owners veto land uses that were otherwise legal whereas the ordinance in Cusack let property owners waive restrictions on land uses that were otherwise prohibited:

Legislatures and Courts Must Determine Which Land Uses Are Nuisances

While lots of cases from the 1910s and 1920s were overruled in the decades ahead, EubankCusack, and Roberge were not. As Professor Sasha Volokh chronicles in this informative law-review article, several modern courts have approvingly cited these three cases.

That said, courts haven’t always applied these precedents consistently or faithfully. Consider the case of Silverman v. Barry, which concerned a District of Columbia law that prohibited converting apartments to condominiums without tenants’ consent. After a trial judge granted a motion to dismiss a challenge to this law, a three-judge D.C. Circuit panel reversed the judge because “the Supreme Court ha[d] held this sort of delegation unconstitutional” in Eubank and Roberge. 727 F.2d 1121, 1126 (D.C. Cir. 1984). When the trial court dismissed the case again on remand, a different three-judge D.C. Circuit panel found that this delegation was constitutional under Cusack. According to the court, a “statute survives due process challenge on this ground if it enacts a general prohibition and then delegates to private citizens the authority to waive that prohibition.” 845 F.2d 1072, 1087 (D.C. Cir. 1988).

But this latter decision completely ignored Roberge. As Roberge shows, a delegation isn’t constitutional merely because it lets private parties waive a general prohibition. Rather, the question is whether the land use that’s prohibited is a nuisance or not. And there was no discussion—let alone indication—in Silverman as to whether converting apartments to condominiums would constitute a nuisance.

Going forward, it’s incumbent on legislatures and courts to keep the relevance of nuisances in mind when considering a neighbor’s veto. As for legislatures, municipalities like Brookline shouldn’t give private parties power to veto benign uses of property, like short-term rentals. And as for courts, it’s their job to carefully probe neighbor’s-veto laws to see if they correctly limit private power to controlling nuisances.

This task requires grappling with evidence. Cusack and Roberge are instructive. In the former case, there was “much evidence” introduced at trial showing that billboards neighboring property owners could veto were responsible for “fires[,] . . . offensive and insanitary accumulations[,] . . . and [a] shield for immoral practices, and for loiterers and criminals.” 242 U.S. at 529 (emphasis added). In the latter case, there was “nothing in the record’ showing that the philanthropic home that neighbor property owners could veto was “a nuisance.” 278 U.S. at 123 (emphasis added).

This distinction between nuisances and benign land uses should still carry the day—if your use of your property isn’t hurting anyone, then your neighbors shouldn’t have a veto to stop it.

Milad Emam is an attorney at the Institute for Justice.

What is the Difference Between a Trust and a Foundation?

by Jiah Kim | Estate Planning 


If your estate planning goals include establishing a lasting legacy through charitable donations, aside from making outright gifts (which will make sense for certain people under certain circumstances), your two primary options are: (i) to establish a trust, or (ii) to establish a foundation.

But, how do you choose? And, once you choose, how do you ensure that your charitable motivations will continue to be served after you are gone? These are important questions, and finding the answers starts with gaining a better understanding of the options that you have available.

What Is a Trust?

A trust is a legal arrangement pursuant to which one person (the “grantor” or “settlor”) entrusts assets to another person or organization (the “trustee”) to manage for the benefit of others (the “beneficiaries”). Now, this is an oversimplified definition, and with certain types of trusts (such as the revocable living trust), a single person can serve as grantor, trustee, and beneficiary; but, this provides a good foundation for our discussion of charitable trusts.

Under the right circumstances, establishing a charitable trust can have numerous benefits. Some of these benefits include:

  • Tax Savings. By transferring assets to a charitable trust, you can often avoid income, capital gains, and estate taxes that would otherwise need to be paid by you or your estate.
  • Asset Protection. Since assets that you transfer to a trust are no longer considered your property, establishing a trust can help shield your charitable gift from the risk of loss, should you face a lawsuit or incur another substantial liability.
  • Enhanced Certainty. Most forms of trusts are recognized by state and federal courts around the country, and you can use your trust documents to establish clear rules around your charitable donation. As a result, when you use a trust for your charitable giving, you can feel confident that your final wishes will be carried through.

Of course, the trust structure has certain limitations as well. Among them, when establishing a trust for charitable purposes, the trust will often need to be irrevocable. This means that you will not be able to pull assets back out of the trust should you need to do so in the future. There are costs involved with establishing a trust as well, though these costs will often be offset by the tax benefits involved.

What Is a Foundation?

A private foundation is a tax-exempt organization generally established as either a trust or corporation under state law. Management responsibility rests with directors or trustees, and one of the main distinguishing factors from stand-alone charitable trusts is that private foundations can accept contributions from multiple donors. As a result, private foundations are often used by families seeking to establish a lasting charitable legacy, allowing for family members’ gifts to be pooled and then distributed to outside organizations (or used in-house) at the direction of the foundation.

However, the founders also have the ability to establish permissible donees and assert additional controls over the foundation’s operations as well, making foundations particularly attractive to those who have altruistic goals that they wish for their loved ones to continue to pursue after their death. As a result, whether your hope is to help finance a major international charity, to establish an enduring support fund for a local cause or organization, or even to establish your own operating charitable entity, you can use a private foundation to achieve your goals.

Like charitable trusts, private foundations can offer significant tax benefits for donors and their estates. Donors also have the option (also similar to trusts) to make contributions during their lifetimes, at death, or both.

Types of Charitable Trusts

The two most common forms of charitable trusts are: (i) the “charitable remainder trust,” and (ii) the “charitable lead trust.”

1. Charitable Remainder Trust

With a charitable remainder trust, the grantor establishes the trust and names a specific charitable organization as the trustee. This organization must receive IRS approval, which generally (though not universally) requires a 501(c)(3) designation. The grantor then funds the trust (usually with appreciated assets for tax purposes), and then the charity takes over responsibility for managing the assets as trustee. The grantor has the option to receive either a fixed annuity or a percentage of the trust’s value on an annual basis for his or her lifetime or a period of years; and, upon the grantor’s death, the charity takes possession of the trust’s assets.

2. Charitable Lead Trust

A charitable lead trust operates much the opposite of a charitable remainder trust. With a charitable lead trust, the charity receives income payments for a period of years or the grantor’s lifetime, and then upon the grantor’s death the trust assets transfer to named non-charitable beneficiaries. There is also the option for the trust assets to be redistributed to the grantor prior to death.

Depending upon the grantor’s goals, a charitable lead trust can be structured as any of the following:

  • Qualified reversionary grantor trust
  • Qualified nonreversionary grantor trust
  • Qualified nonreversionary nongrantor trust
  • Nonqualified reversionary nongrantor trust

Please check with your Estate Planner no matter how small your assets may be, especially if you own property: I.E. Bank accounts or Land.

Wills, Slavery and Probate: The Legacy of Lucy Sutton

Estate planning can significantly impact future generations. In honor of Black History Month ACTEC Fellow Terrence M. Franklin shares his journey of discovery: how his fourth great grandmother Lucy Sutton and her eight children and six grandchildren were freed from slavery through a Last Will and Testament. There is no greater time than now to effectively communicate your intentions and protect your legacy through a will and estate planning documents.

ACTEC Fellow Cynthia G. Lamar-Hart: In honor of Black History Month, The American College of Trust and Estate Counsel, ACTEC, presents a mini-documentary that offers searing insight into the enduring legacy of slavery in the personal histories of many African American families in this country.  We invite you to join us in hearing from ACTEC Fellow Terry Franklin, as he shares the powerful story of how a Last Will and Testament from 1846 played a critical role in freeing his fourth great-grandmother, Lucy Sutton, and her family from slavery.

Hi. I’m Terrence Franklin. I’m a Fellow in the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel. And I wanted to talk to you, a little bit, about why it is important for everyone to have Estate Planning and particularly why it might be important for people of color, and especially African Americans.

I bring a particularly unique experience to this. I’ve been a trust and estates litigator for nearly 30 years, which means I do will contests, family disputes, and so forth. But I’d been doing it for about a quarter of a century when I discovered in my own family a quite interesting will contest that I did not know was part of my own family’s history. I was trying to do something to celebrate my great aunt’s hundredth birthday and thinking about how I could possibly celebrate her life because she’s been so significant to our family members as a matriarch. I went looking for a piece of information that I had seen at a family reunion, some almost 20 years before; and what I’d seen in that set of reunion materials was a typed-up portion of a will that indicated that a man named John Sutton, who was of sound mind, but infirm in body, was setting about to create his own new will. And he indicated that he had owned the following property, to wit, a “mulatto slave Lucy,” aged about 45, her daughter Easter, aged about 26 and so forth and so on, listing all eight of Lucy’s children as well as six children of Easter — all of whom John owned. All of whom he was identifying in his will and all of whom he was setting free by the will.

 I knew that there had been the fire in 1901, so it was unlikely that I was going to be able to find the original will, but the paralegal said, “There was the fire but let me see what I can do.”  Well, by the end of that day I had an email back from her that indicated that she had found a John Sutton file and she wasn’t sure if it was the right one but she would have it by Friday of that week; and this was the week I was going to be flying back to the Midwest for my great aunt’s birthday. That morning, when I got up and went to the office, I had an email from the paralegal and she said, “we found it; we found the right will!” And she asked me what I wanted to do. And I had her take photos. And she sent me, across time, a hundred and seventy years, across the ages and across the Internet, I got this image of this document; and it was red wax sealed before the days of lick’em stick’em envelopes.  And it was in handwritten fine script by an attorney named Gregory Yale, who drafted the document. I suddenly had this image that was in my hands, that I could see and visualize and imagine this story about this white man named John who owned this mulatto slave Lucy and her eight children and her six grandchildren. And to me, it had suggested that perhaps this was a family.

As I did research over the next few months and tried to understand what the meaning was with his relationship and wrote an article and got some inspiration from other people, I came to understand that, in fact, John and Lucy probably did have a family.

 I knew that there had been the fire in 1901, so it was unlikely that I was going to be able to find the original will, but the paralegal said, “There was the fire but let me see what I can do.”  Well, by the end of that day I had an email back from her that indicated that she had found a John Sutton file and she wasn’t sure if it was the right one but she would have it by Friday of that week; and this was the week I was going to be flying back to the Midwest for my great aunt’s birthday. That morning, when I got up and went to the office, I had an email from the paralegal and she said, “we found it; we found the right will!” And she asked me what I wanted to do. And I had her take photos. And she sent me, across time, a hundred and seventy years, across the ages and across the Internet, I got this image of this document; and it was red wax sealed before the days of lick’em stick’em envelopes.  And it was in handwritten fine script by an attorney named Gregory Yale, who drafted the document. I suddenly had this image that was in my hands, that I could see and visualize and imagine this story about this white man named John who owned this mulatto slave Lucy and her eight children and her six grandchildren. And to me, it had suggested that perhaps this was a family.

As I did research over the next few months and tried to understand what the meaning was with his relationship and wrote an article and got some inspiration from other people, I came to understand that, in fact, John and Lucy probably did have a family.

We had done some research and found out that the Equal Justice Initiative, headed by Bryan Stevenson, a social justice activist and lawyer, had documented some 4,000 lynching’s that had taken place in the South between the end of the Civil War and the civil rights era. And we decided that if we used our Internet, we could follow each one of those lynching’s and understand the stories of those families that had been affected — those individuals who had died in the families that had been destroyed and whole communities that had been shattered by these acts of terrorism. And at the end of our drive, a hundred and twenty-five lynching’s later, we made a donation to the Equal Justice Initiative, as a way of pushing back against the racism that is such a part of so much of American law.

I realize that it wasn’t just the will that my great, great, great, great grandfather had made and made his mark on. There was a whole will contest file. And so, the will contest that I had imagined had happened, really had happened; and that the uncle that I called Eustace, as a good old-timey name, was really named Shadrack. Shadrack Sutton had fought to keep my family enslaved. As it turns out, there was also the transcript from the trial, which included the judge’s handwritten notes. And so, Judge Crabtree, William F. Crabtree, who was the judge, indicated in his notes that Gregory Yale had gone out to the house – he’d been summoned by the family. He referred to them as the family, not as his slaves. And that he’d spent time talking to John and to his sons and daughters and that they explained to him that the reason why they had moved to Florida was because they had left Georgia believing that they could be emancipated in the state of Florida. But it wasn’t until they got to Florida that they found out otherwise. That’s why they had to do the will.

It also turns out that at one point, Lucy came into the room; and Lucy said she would have been just as happy to stay with Shadrack or move away, except Shadrack had always threatened that he would beat them if he ever came to own them. So, this underscored the urgency for the need for the family to be free.

As it turns out, on March 10th, 1847 Judge Crabtree banged his gavel and ruled that the will contest was invalid. That the will itself was valid and was upheld, and he ordered Shadrack to pay $28.08 in court costs.

So this story of my ancestors who did something — who pushed in a way to try to counteract racist policies that prohibited the emancipation of slaves in the state of Georgia and in the state of Florida — they found a way to push back against that by taking on an anti-racist act. By creating these documents. And I happen to believe that my great, great, great, great grandmother Lucy had some influence on it too. Maybe not under undue influence, but she made sure that John saw to it that their family was going to be set free. And they were able to make their way to Illinois, Polk County, where they claimed their freedom in December of 1846.

Thinking about and taking action to do estate planning as a way to be anti-racist, to not let a network of policies of property ownership and transfer that have negative impacts on Black people control how we live our lives. Just as my ancestors used a will — an estate planning tool — to take the anti-racist and anti-slavery step of setting Lucy free, as well as her eight children and her six grandchildren, we can be anti-racist by taking care of our business and making sure that we are making the choices instead of leaving them up to someone else.

And I promise, this week I’m going to update my own estate plan. 

ACTEC Fellow Cynthia G. Lamar-Hart: Every day in this country, people of all ages, races and socio-economic backgrounds die without an estate plan in place, leaving their loved ones without any formal instructions as to their wishes.  Rather than leaving a plan that has been thoughtfully designed with their beneficiaries’ particular needs in mind, these decedents have entrusted their estate plans to the default provisions provided by state law. Please consider making it a priority this month to give your intended beneficiaries the gift of clarity by documenting your intentions through a formal estate plan.

Why it might be a ‘mistake’ to file your 2020 taxes now

Ethan Wolff-Mann·Senior WriterTue, February 9, 2021, 11:56 AM·4 min read

Tax season officially starts Feb. 12 and you have until April 15 to file and pay taxes owed.

But there’s a wrinkle this year and it has to do with coming stimulus payments.

Lawmakers are still negotiating the details of a third stimulus plan, including how much Americans should get in this round.

One proposal would send $1,400 payments to individuals earning up to $75,000 a year and couples earning $150,000 a year. Another proposal aimed to slash that benefit to $50,000 for individuals and $100,000 for married couples.

Whatever the final number ends up being, the government will determine whether you get a check based on your adjusted gross income — from the 2019 or 2020 tax year. If you haven’t yet filed your 2020 taxes, the government will use your 2019 income to determine your eligibility to get a stimulus payment. For people who had a worse 2020 than 2019 — a job loss or hit to income — filing a 2020 return quickly would be a good idea. If the government has your 2019 return, it might miss the fact that you’ve been struggling and are eligible for stimulus.

“People should be determining whether they should file or not,” Mark Stafford, a CPA in Maryland, told Yahoo Finance.

“It would be a mistake for any person to file their 2020 tax return at this time if their 2020 income is higher than 2019,” said Stafford. “Since so many people rely on tax refunds to cover living expenses, it will be hard on them not to file and most may go forward and file and lose out on part of their third stimulus. ”https://flo.uri.sh/visualisation/5164783/embed

Mortgage demand drops as interest rates hit a three-month high

PUBLISHED WED, FEB 10 2021 Diana Olick

An ‘Open House’ sign is displayed in the front yard of a home for sale in Columbus, Ohio. Ty Wright | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Mortgage interest rates have increased in four of the first six weeks of 2021, putting a chill on mortgage demand.

Overall mortgage application volume fell 4.1% last week compared with the previous week, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association’s seasonally adjusted index.

The move down came as the average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with conforming loan balances of up to $548,250 increased to 2.96% from 2.92%, for loans with a 20% down payment. The rate was 76 basis points higher a year ago.

An 'Open House' sign is displayed in the front yard of a home for sale in Columbus, Ohio.

Refinance demand, which is most sensitive to weekly rate fluctuations, fell 4% for the week but were 46% higher than a year ago. That annual comparison had been over 100% at the start of this year but has been shrinking.

“Despite some weekly volatility, Treasury rates have been driven higher by expectations of faster economic growth as the Covid-19 vaccine rollout continues,” said Joel Kan, the MBA’s associate vice president of economic and industry forecasting.

The refinance share of mortgage activity decreased to 70.2% of total applications from 71.4% the previous week, the lowest level in three months.

Homebuyers are also pulling back, but less because of rising mortgage rates and more because of low supply and overheating home prices. Mortgage applications to purchase a home fell 5% for the week but were still 17% higher year over year.

“Purchase applications cooled the first week of February, but homebuyers are still very active,” Kan said. “The average purchase loan size continued to increase, reaching another survey high of $402,200, as the higher-priced segment of the market continues to perform well.” The MBA began its weekly survey nearly 31 years ago.

The higher-priced segment is doing so well because there is so much more supply. The low end of the market is incredibly slim, and that is forcing first-time buyers to the sidelines. The total number of homes for sale in January hit a new low, down nearly 43% from a year earlier, according to realtor.com. Homes also sold on average 10 days faster.

Terminix Settlement Update – Process in Place February 9, 2021

On February 8, the Alabama Attorney General’s office released additional information on refunds from Terminix. As reported several months ago, Terminix reached a $60 million dollar settlement with the state of Alabama, stemming from its drastic increases in pricing. Under the settlement, former and existing customers of Terminix may be entitled to money. The process for claiming your refund has now been released, and Jeffrey Schneider, the person in charge of administering the process, called a receiver, has been appointed by the court.

For detailed information on the Terminix settlement and the refunds process, click here, or continue reading for a brief summary.


Who is entitled to what?

Existing and former customers in Baldwin and Mobile Counties, as well as a few specific situations statewide, may be entitled to a refund, re-treatment, and/or repair of termite damage.

Existing Customers – Existing customers will receive refunds automatically. The receiver will calculate whether you are entitled to a refund based on the difference between the 2018 annual renewal price and the 2019 and 2020 prices. Existing customers will also automatically receive re-treatment at no cost. 

Former Customers – Former customers will need to file a claim with the receiver and have options on whether to reinstate a contract with Terminix or receive a refund. 

Statewide Customers – The settlement agreement also has provisions affecting former or current Terminix Customers who do not live in Mobile or Baldwin Counties. Former and existing customers who were serviced by the Terminix Monroeville Office may be entitled to a refund and/or re-treatment. In addition, all former and current customers that have termite damage on property serviced by Terminix may be entitled to payment for the damages. Call the receiver at (786) 347-2564 or go to the website www.terminixfund.com to determine if this applies to you.


What do you need to do?

Refunds – If you are an existing Terminix customer, wait on the receiver to issue the refunds, reportedly starting in May. Former Terminix customers seeking a refund or reinstatement of the 2018 contract should file a claim at www.terminixfund.com or can download and print the form and mail it to:

Terminix Consumer Fund

C/O Jeffrey C. Schneider

201 South Biscayne Boulevard

Citigroup Center, Suite 2200

Miami, FL 33131


Damages and Other Disputes – If you have termite damage on property under contract with Terminix or other dispute with Terminix, you must first attempt resolution with Terminix. Once you have attempted to resolve the issue directly with Terminix, you can file a claim.

How to know the difference between legitimate debt collections and scams

Updated Sun, Jan 31 2021Megan DeMatteo

It’s becoming increasingly difficult to tell the difference between a real business and a scam. Chances are, you’ve been on the receiving end of a suspicious phone call before, where someone posed as a legitimate representative in order to try to get your information.

Sometimes, scammers give themselves away upfront. For instance, if someone claims they’re calling about your house that’s not for sale, or saying that you owe the IRS thousands of dollars when you pay your tax bill dutifully every year by April 15 — it’s easy to ignore these calls.

But when you have debt, specifically debt that’s past due, it might become increasingly difficult to discern true debt collectors from the scammers. Debt collectors, even legitimate ones, are legally allowed to call consumers at their personal numbers, and as of October 2020, a new rule from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) gives debt collectors permission to contact you not just by phone, but also by email, text message and social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Having debt in collections can make life feel like you’re under a barrage of attacks from strangers, and it’s not always clear who to trust. To help, CNBC Select spoke with NY Collectors Association president Jacob Corlyon about the red flags to look out for when you’re contacted by a debt collector.

Red flag #1: They contact you when they shouldn’t

If you get a call from an unknown number, check the time. Debt collectors are only allowed to contact you between the hours of 8 a.m. and 9 p.m. local time. And if you’re already working with a debt collector on a payment plan, they are only allowed to contact you during the hours you specify. You can even place limits on where they contact you (for example, telling them not to call you at work).

Red flag #2: They don’t verify your identity

This one is a little tricky, because sometimes scammers actually possess information about you and can trick you into giving up more. Legitimate debt collectors will also have access to your personal information, such as your social security number, date of birth, etc.

However, a legitimate debt collector isn’t going to share that info until you verify who you are first. If you’re speaking to someone who spills your info before you have a chance to verify your identity, end the conversation right away and check your bank accounts and/or credit monitoring service to make sure you haven’t been hacked.

When in doubt, it’s OK to decline verifying anything until you get confirmation that the debt collector you’re speaking with is legitimate.

“The consumer always has the right, especially if something doesn’t feel right, to request a validation notice,” says Corlyon.

A validation notice is an official letter (on agency letterhead) that details your debt(s), including the balance(s) and info on the original creditor. Confirm the letterhead branding, logo and address all reflect what you see on the website of the debt collection agency.

Last way to double check: Call your original creditor and ask them if they work with the agency that called you. They can confirm when your delinquent debt was sent off, and to whom.

Red flag #3: They are clueless about your debt

A legitimate debt collector can tell you the entire history of your debt in collections, including who your original creditor was, what kind of debt it was (student loans, medical, etc.) how much it was for/is now, when you fell behind on payments, what the payments were/are, interest rates, etc.

“If you’re asking questions that are kind of in that vein, and they’re not willing to give you that answer, that’s a big red flag,” Corlyon says.

Red flag #4: They use aggressive tactics and/or language

When someone speaks aggressively and vaguely about your supposed debt but isn’t able to pin-point any details about it, it’s best to ignore their threats.

“There is no debtor’s prison,” says Corlyon.

Aside from refusal to pay criminal fines, as the CFPB notes, you won’t face any jail time for being in debt. The police won’t show up at your house or workplace to arrest you.

Another common threat is that they will embarrass or shame you, says Corlyon.

“They might say, ‘I’m going to call your friends and family and your employer and tell them all about your debt and how you’re a deadbeat, etc.’”

If they use language like that, hang up.

Red flag #5: They are impatient

“A common threat that a scammer might use is that they’re going to have you arrested if you don’t pay by today or next,” Corlyon says.

While true debt collectors will try to get you to pay what you owe, they can work with you to make a plan.

Debt collectors can usually accept payment in a number of ways, possibly including debit/credit card, ACH transfers, e-checks and/or wire transfers through Western Union or Money Gram. Their goal is usually to set you up with a payment plan through an online portal and/or finding the best payment option to work with your finances. They have the ability to process payments over the phone and online, and you’ll always get a receipt. The transaction should feel professional, as it would with any kind of legitimate payment.

Scammers, on the other hand, usually demand one specific kind of payment (often prepaid cards sent to a random P.O. box), and they will aggressively insist that you send it right away.

How to get started paying off debt

The first step to paying off your debt is facing the numbers. Learning the ins and outs of your situation will help you advocate for yourself if you find yourself having to deal with creditors and collectors.

Pull your credit report for free at AnnualCreditReport.com to see all the accounts you have in your name and what you owe. 

Once you get a sense of where you stand, you’ll want to come up with a debt repayment plan — either with or without the debt collector’s help. Target high-interest debt first (this approach is known as the avalanche method) or start with the smallest balance and enjoy some small wins as you work your way toward the big debts. (That’s called the snowball method, and it helped one couple pay off $45,000 of debt in under two years.)

The free budgeting app Mint can help you get a sense of your monthly earning and spending, as well as a big-picture overview of how your debt impacts your net worth. Meanwhile, the zero-based budgeting app You Need A Budget (YNAB) can help you get serious about debt payoff by mapping out a plan for every dollar.

Signing up for a credit monitoring service may also help you stay motivated: Since FICO scores are used in over 90% of lending decisions, signing up for the FICO® Basic, Advanced or Premier service will help you get a good snapshot at what lenders see. All plans offer access to 28 versions of your FICO score, including scores used for credit cards, mortgages and auto loans. Plus, you’ll receive $1 million identity theft insurance and 24/7 access to U.S.-based identity theft experts who can help restore your identity if your information is compromised.

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