Investors and homeowners got mixed messages about the nation’s housing market this morning, with the National Association of Realtors reporting that existing-home sales in September were down 1.7% from August’s levels, while the median existing-home price was up 11.3% from the year-earlier level. That good-news-bad-news report increases the odds that the nation’s housing struggles could be a major theme in the home stretch of the presidential campaign — especially since several “swing states” that could play a crucial role in the election have particularly weak property markets.
According to the “housing misery” index compiled by online real estate marketplace Trulia and updated this week, sunshine swing states — essentially, Florida and the West — are suffering more than most. Nevada and Florida have the highest scores on the misery index, at 70 and 58 respectively, thanks to an overall decline in house prices and rise in delinquencies and foreclosures in both states since President Barack Obama took office in 2008. “They are key battleground states in the election homestretch,” says Jed Kolko, chief economist at Trulia. A third swing-state, Michigan, also ranks high on the misery index, with a score of 32.
Ikea’s new series of YouTube assembly videos turned into an Internet hit, but not for the reasons that the Swedish furniture giant intended.
The company launched the videos in a tacit acknowledgement that some customers pull their hair out trying to decipher the lengthy instructions for assembling the flat-pack furniture. But some experts say the videos are equally confusing. The most popular of Ikea’s YouTube offerings show two employees in the company’s signature yellow t-shirts assembling a bed frame. It has over 38,200 hits and counting. Mona Liss, a spokeswoman for Ikea, says the videos are designed for the less handy among us. “As for manual dexterity, it does depend on the individual,” she says. “I find the college set love the challenge, my son included.”
Moving house? Or fancy a little spring cleaning? When buying a daily deal service to help around the home, take warning: the extra charges could end up costing even more than the actual offer.
A recent offer from Living Social and A-Z Moving offered a discount of 60% by paying $63 for “Two Hours of Moving Services with Two Men and One Truck.” But according to the fine print: “Additional services, travel time/fuel, tolls and packing materials not included and will be billed at regular price.” The “travel time/fuel” alone costs an extra $79 — bringing the total to $142. A spokesman for A-Z Moving says moving services costs can vary, depending on the service; Brendan P. Lewis, a spokesman for Living Social, says the site will waive its five-day refund policy on this deal. “Always read the fine print,” he says.
It may not be possible to put a price on love, but the square footage and location of where that love story takes place is a different story. Many couples take their potential partner’s apartment into account before entering into a relationship, according to a new study, and are reluctant to pack their bags if the relationship breaks up.
Real estate apparently holds value better than relationships. Given the choice between their dream home and a perfect spouse, 30% of the 1,000 Americans surveyed said they would choose the dream home, according to a survey by Rent.com and RedShift Research. And some 22% of single people would date someone strictly because they like their home.
In fact, nearly 25% of Americans value one thing more than freedom from a broken relationship: a nice apartment – and 37% of them would wait a year or more to move out. Men are even more likely to stay in a relationship – 28% admitted to delaying a break-up to keep their current living situation versus 21% of women, the survey says.
If it’s not enough that consumers can give voice commands to their TV and their phone, well, now the alarm clock wants to get in on the action.
Ivee’s new line of alarm clocks respond to 35 to 43 voice commands, depending on the model. She — and Ivee is a very polite-sounding she, with a slight accent — can help users set alarms and timers, and answer questions about the date, time and temperature. “She’s almost like Siri’s cousin, with an agenda,” says chief executive Jonathan Nostrant. The clocks, which sell for $50 to $60, also include ambient sleep sounds and, in some models, radio.
Consumers itching to video chat on a grand scale can now do so in high definition on their flat-screen, even if they don’t have one of the new Internet-connected models.
The new Biscotti TV phone is a tiny set-top box containing a camera and microphone. Hooked up to the TV and a home Internet connection, the $199 device allows for unlimited calling anywhere in the world.
Biscotti users can video chat in high-def 720p resolution with each other, or with laptops and cellphones that use Google video chat, says a spokesman.
A big theme this year at CES features new ways to take gadgets everywhere: Bluetooth speakers in the shower, high-speed Internet in airplanes. Next up, a kitchen-specific tablet.
The $400 Qooq (pronounced “cook”) will be available stateside in September after debuting in France two years ago. It’s designed especially for kitchen use, with spill- and splash-resistant coatings, four rubbery feet to keep it from sliding off the counter and a built-in kickstand in the back. Continuing the food theme, it comes preloaded with more than 500 recipes and apps to manage weekly menus and grocery shopping lists. (All that content, however, requires a subscription — price to be determined — after the first month.)
Roughly the size of a countertop bread machine, this minute washer is maybe big enough to contain two adult T-shirts.
Manufacturer Haier introduced it in China a year ago, and is currently market testing the $100 device for possible U.S. sale. When we (admittedly, incredulously) asked who’d want one, a spokesman said they’re targeting a growing green movement among parents who use cloth diapers. Most parents, he says, send the soiled diapers out to a specialized cleaning service to avoid tossing them in with the rest of the laundry. He speculated that the device could also be useful for cleaning chlorine-logged swimsuits, delicate items or even regular laundry — in small doses — for RV travelers.
By Department of Energy estimates, just setting a programmable thermostat to automatically lower the temperature during the hours you’re usually asleep or at work can net savings of roughly $180 a year. But what if the thermostat was smart enough to know when you’re nipping out to the store for a carton of milk?
The $349 EverSense unit from Allure Energy uses GPS to note the proximity of family members’ Apple and Android devices, automatically adjusting the temperature up or down to preferred settings as people leave home or return. Connected apps let family members make adjustments remotely. A spokesman says estimated savings could vary widely depending on the family’s schedule, and that there’s a setting to notify the unit if say, errands will keep someone near home. That way, it doesn’t keep adjusting the temp as Mom passes home on her way to the dry-cleaners, and again on her way over to the supermarket.
Consumers used to getting a “honey do” list from a spouse may soon need to get used to receiving one from the fridge or washing machine.
For years, manufacturers have been working on — and talking about — appliances that connect with the Internet as well as the power grid to monitor energy use and suggest ways for consumers to use them more efficiently. Now, the first are finally coming to market.
Pay Dirt examines the millions of consumer decisions Americans make every day: What to buy, how much to pay, whether to rave or complain. Lead written by Quentin Fottrell, the blog examines these interactions, providing readers with news, insight and tips on shopping, spending, customer service, and companies that do right – and wrong – by their customers. Send items, questions and comments to email@example.com or tweet @SMPayDirt.