Live in a library

Japanese architect Kayuza Morita designed a 557-square-foot home that is fit for a librarian. Floor-to-ceiling and wall-to-wall shelving define this small home in Osaka prefecture, Japan, that was created for a young historian who collects books in Islamic history. Laminated pine boards interlock, forming a lattice of shelving units for bound words or nicknacks.

Morita integrated the individual shelf unit in every aspect of construction. His goal was to create the “geometrical harmony” reminiscent of Islamic architecture.

The uniqueness of this “shelf-pod” house goes beyond the fact that it’s fit for a bibliophile. The structure can also support 10 tons of books and survive earthquakes. For Morita, creating houses on a smaller scale is essential for densely populated cities in Japan where space is limited. The movement toward smaller, greener houses makes sense not just in Japan but also around the globe.

Celebrate Independence Day

With the 4th of July just around the corner, you might be wondering which cities offer public fireworks. Wonder no more. King has a list of over 40 cities that feature holiday festivities and fireworks displays for the whole family.

Here’s the shortlist:

Happy Independence Day to you and yours!

Using your credit card in foreign countries

Could credit cards go the way of the dodo? Many of the industrialized nations around the globe are moving away from traditional credit cards with magnetic strips in favor of embedded microprocessor chips, because they may cut down on fraud. The chip-and-PIN method is the newest smartcard technology, where a microchip is embedded in the credit or debit card. When the customer pays for goods, the card is placed into a “PIN pad” terminal or modified swipe-card reader, which reads and authenticates the chip. The customer then enters a 4-digit PIN that must match what is on the smartcard.

If you’ll be traveling abroad but do not own a smartcard, you may need to depend on ATM machines. Carrying extra credit cards and cash is also recommended. And if you want to use a chip-embedded debit card, you can obtain one for free, but exchange rates are not stellar. Last but not least, notify your bank about your travel plans as some credit companies will freeze your card for charges deemed suspicious or out of the norm.

The chip-and-PIN technology is becoming the standard in Asia, Latin America, and Canada. While the U.S. lags behind, some banks including Wells Fargo, JPMorgan Chase, and U.S. Bank are starting to offer the cards to their customers on small scales.

The best and worst home renovations

If you’re planning on renovating your home, consider these best and worst projects based on the amount of money recouped in the event of a sale. According to Barbara Corcoran, real estate contributor on Today, the most worthwhile renovations provide the biggest bang for your buck.

  • A new front door is a wise investment. At an average price of $1100 – $1200, the homeowner will recoup about 102% of the dollars spent. Most important, the front door speaks volumes to prospective buyers that the inside is just as good as the first impression.
  • The garage door also plays a part in the overall first impression. At about $1299, you can recoup about 87% of that investment.
  • An outdoor deck, 10 feet by 30 feet, can cost about $10 K, but you’d make back about 70% of that in a sale. The deck is a visual extension of the house, and without it, something definitely seems amiss in the backyard.

The three worst renovations have to do with converting a bedroom into something else entirely or building an add-on.

  • The home office remodel is not recommended because it’s expensive to put in and equip. For a $28K investment, you might get $13K back, but you’ve also lost a bedroom, and homebuyers count the literal over the possible number of bedrooms available.
  • A sun room is hardly used and shows poorly. A typical sun room costs $75K to install, and that doesn’t include the extra heating and cooling expenses.
  • Adding a bathroom is costly (about $40K), and homebuyers simply aren’t willing to pay the premium for it. Corcoran suggests the “nip/tuck” method to spruce up current bathrooms.

Having said this, if you’ve planned on building that special sun room and love the house you’re in, feel free to customize. Just be aware that the actual cost for installing it or other unique features will not likely be made up in a future sale.

The biggest boomtowns of 2020

According to demographic projections, the total U.S. population will increase by 8.9 percent from 2010 to 2020, and some cities will experience booms. Utilizing figures from the 2010 census and other economic information, data analysis firm ProximityOne estimates that the top ten cities for growth over the next decade are Raleigh-Cary, N.C.; Kennewick-Pasco-Richland, Wash; Austin-Round Rock, Texas; Provo-Orem, Utah; Hinesville-Fort Stewart, Georgia; Logan, Utah-Idaho; Grand Junction, Colorado; McAllen-Edinburg-Mission, Texas; Idaho Falls, Idaho; and Charlotte-Gastonia-Concord, N.C. and S.C.

It’s projected that these boomtowns will see between 26.4 to 35.7 percent growth in population due to low unemployment (relative to the national average) and affordable housing.

Of 366 metro areas, 43 may see population loss. The top ten losers include Flint, Mich; Jackson, Mich; Crestview-Fort Walton Beach-Destin, Fla; Youngstown-Warren-Boardman, Ohio-Pa; Kokomo, Ind; Pine Bluff, Ark; Steubenville-Wierton, W. Va-Ohio; Mansfield, Ohio; Detroit-Warren-Livonia, Mich; and Danville, Ill. Most of these cities are located in the former Rust Belt, where industries like steel making, vehicle manufacturing, and other heavy manufacturing once thrived.

Mobile apps help shoppers save

Deferring gratification is no longer a personal matter as financial institutions are intentionally putting savings on the frontal lobes of their customers. Putnam Investments is helping its 401(k) plan participants save money for retirement with a new Apple iPhone app.

Consumers use their iPhone to scan bar codes and check prices. The app combines comparison prices with retirement account information, calculating how future retirement income can benefit. For example, if the customer is shopping for an HDTV priced at $1,738.64, the app will find the same product at $1,299.99. You would save $439 by purchasing the less expensive tv, and if you put that amount into your 401(k), you’d reap an additional $11.16 per month in retirement.

Todd Barnhart, director of retail deposits for PNC Bank, says that people need “a visible reminder” to save. PNC offers customers an online virtual wallet with a mobile banking app. When participants have a little extra cash, they can tap the pig icon and transfer money automatically from checking to savings.

The apps offered by Putnam and PNC attempt to make saving for the future (college, vacations, retirement) simple and habitual. And you can expect more mobile apps that encourage delayed gratification to hit the market soon.

Seattle has the smallest-size families

Out of America’s 50 biggest metropolitan cities, Seattle has the smallest-size families on average and one of the lowest rates of single-parent homes, according to data gathered from the 2010 U.S. Census Bureau. The emerald city also boasts the third-highest rate of singles living alone and the third-highest number of households where unrelated individuals room together or cohabit.

Richard Morrill, a Seattle demographer and University of Washington geography professor emeritus, says that the trends make sense. The city is characteristically “low on religion and high on tolerance for the unconventional.” Additionally, single parent households may find the cost of city living beyond their means and therefore move out to the suburbs where housing is typically more affordable.

As far as the state is concerned, Washingtonians are getting older. The median age in Washington has gone up with every census since 1970 to 37.3 years. The number of residents 65 and older has swelled to 827,677, nearly double the figures of 1980.

Around the city, the trends are influencing the housing market as the building of town homes and condos outpace single-family houses.

Foreclosures fall for 8th straight month

CNN Money reports that foreclosures are down around the nation for the eighth straight month, according to RealtyTrac.

Last month, foreclosure filings dropped by 33% from one year ago and 2% from April. The total number of real estate-owned properties (repossessed) in May fell 3.8% from April and 29% from one year ago.

Nevada, Arizona, and California continue to see the most significant number of foreclosure filings. But  even there, rates have dropped. In May, one of every 103 households in Nevada received notice to foreclose. And in Arizona and California, one in every 210 and one in every 259, respectively, received notice.

The positive news may be a reflection of the banks slowing down their review procedures in response to the “robo-signing” scandal of last September, which caused many firms to suspend foreclosure proceedings. While experts say that falling foreclosures do not necessarily herald a housing rebound, the reduction of distressed properties overall is good news for the real estate market.

Zillow launches mortgage app

Web traffic on mobile devices is increasing. Case in point, Zillow says that 30 percent of its weekend traffic is generated on iPhones, smart phones, iPads, and the like. The company hopes to respond to this consumer shift by providing easy access to real time loan information.

Zillow recently announced its free mobile app for the iPhone, which will offer home buyers access to loan quotes and calculators for payments, affordability, and refinancing.

On its website, Zillow promises these client features:

  • Live rates – not teaser rates
  • Easy-to-advanced calculator options
  • Personalized quotes from confirmed lenders
  • Loan quote comparisons
  • Reviews and ratings on hundreds of lenders
  • Saved loan requests and quotes
  • Ability to email calculator results, rate trends and loan quotes