Lew Sichelman

Homeowners who lose their homes to wildfire, flood, tornado or another national disaster often lose the records needed to prove their losses  for tax purposes, obtaining federal assistance or reimbursement from their insurance companies. 

Fortunately, you can reconstruct your destroyed records or obtain copies of key documents. 

For starters, ask the Internal Revenue Service for copies of previous tax returns. Theyre free at IRS.gov by clicking on Get Your Tax Record. Or order them by calling 800-908-9946. 

Your credit card companies and banks can provide copies of past statements, either hard copies or digital. This should help put a value on items that were lost. 

To reconstruct property records, contact the title company or attorney who handled the closing on your house. If youve made improvements to the place, call the contractor who did the work to request a statement verifying the job and its cost. Otherwise, written statements from anyone who saw the house before and after the project may suffice, at least according to the IRS. 

When no records of any kind are available, owners should check with their county assessors office for any old records that may address value or cost. 

Seniors Aren’t Moving On 

Homeowners arent moving on, at least not nearly as fast as they did just nine years ago. 

According to a recent Redfin report, typical American homeowners had spent eight years in their homes in 2010. This year, theyve spent 13 years and counting. 

The reason isnt hard to decipher: There arent enough affordable houses on the market. Plus moving is stressful, to put it mildly. 

That people are staying put longer actually exacerbates the housing shortage. Take seniors age 67 to 85: Because theyre not moving on like they used to, there are 1.6 million fewer houses on the market, according to a report from Freddie Mac. If elders need cash, they can always tap into their equity by any number of means. 

Even as they bemoan the lack of affordable housing, some state and local jurisdictions are aiding and abetting the inventory problem by putting policies in place to help reduce seniors property taxes, making it less burdensome for them to remain in their homes. In Texas, for example  where Redfin found owners tend to stay the longest  those over 65 can defer their taxes until they sell. 

What You Can’t Take With You 

Speaking of moving, there are some things your moving company wont or cant take. Leftover fireworks, for example, are a definite no-no. So are outdoor plants, which are barred from being taken across state lines by Uncle Sam for pest control purposes, among other reasons. 

OCD Moving Services in Northern California has a long list of hazardous materials it wont carry, including acids, ammonia, car batteries, gasoline, pesticides, propane tanks, SCUBA tanks and cleaning solvents. Perishable foods are verboten, too, because they can spoil and attract rodents. 

Access to skilled workers remains the top business challenge for builders, and the predicted modest growth in new-home sales in 2020 is likely to worsen the problem. 

Its always wise to keep personal valuables, sentimental items and sensitive electronics with you when you move. Ditto for animals. 

OCD advises that every moving company will have a list of items it wont transport. Ask for it so you wont be surprised. 

Construction Costs Keep Rising 

If you plan to buy a newly constructed house next year, figure it will take the builder a little more time than they tell you. Such is the nature of the labor shortage hampering the business. Access to skilled workers remains the top business challenge for builders, and the predicted modest growth in new-home sales in 2020 is likely to worsen the problem. 

The deficit affects a broad set of trades. Four out of five builders report shortages of framing crews and carpenters, but a majority of builders also are having a tough time finding qualified bricklayers, concrete workers, plumbers, electricians, roofers, painters and HVAC specialists. 

Meanwhile, building these new homes keeps getting more expensive. Half of all building sites sold at a new record high of $49,500 or more in 2018, according to Census Bureau data. But when adjusted for inflation, lot values are still below the peak registered prior to the housing boom. 

Given that lots are smaller these days and housing production is still below par, it might seem surprising that costs keep rising. But Natalia Siniavskaia, an economist at the National Association of Home Builders, says the trend is consistent with persistent record lot shortages, (and) significant and rising regulatory costs that ultimately increase development costs. 

Lew Sichelman has been covering real estate for more than 50 years. He is a regular contributor to numerous shelter magazines and housing and housing-finance industry publications. Readers can contact him at lsichelman@aol.com. 

Odd Lots: Dodge a Catch 22 After Natural Disasters

by Lew Sichelman time to read: 3 min