Tag Archives: covid-19

How to Create a Backyard Oasis (Without Breaking Your Budget)

Picture your ideal vacation: a getaway from anything and everything that’s stressing you out, a place where you can feel restored, rejuvenated—and, let’s be real, enjoy a drink with a tiny umbrella in it while working on your tan. Aaah. That happy place doesn’t have to only exist in your dreams or require you to save up for a decade to visit it. What if you could go there any time you liked? It’s possible. Truly. Here’s how to create a backyard oasis that may rival any resort vacay.

 

woman gardening in backyard
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1. PREP YOUR YARD

The average backyard renovation costs $7,500 to $10,000, according to HomeAdvisor data, and one major way to trim your expenses is to get your hands dirty. That means raking up leaves and clearing your existing planting beds of dead foliage and weeds, so you have a blank canvas to assess what you’re working with—and where your biggest opportunities lie.

 

SPONSOREDwoman picking vegetables in garden
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2. BEAUTIFY YOUR VEGETABLE GARDEN

Searches for victory gardens have skyrocketed in the past 90 days, according to Google Trends, but that doesn’t mean your new (or existing!) vegetable garden has to be an eyesore. With the help of Miracle-Gro® Performance Organics® consider using raised bed planters, container gardening or intermixing veggies and herbs right into your flower beds so that you maintain a sense of landscaping. It’s all about form and function here, folks.

man relaxing in hammock
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3. CREATE A DESIGNATED LOUNGE AREA

Fact: To create a true getaway, you need a spot where you can kick back and put your feet up. Here are a few ideas to consider:

backyard dinner table
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4. TAKE DINNER AL FRESCO

Whether it’s a long, rectangular table the whole family can gather round or a fold-up bistro table and chairs that can squeeze into the tiniest of spaces, a spot for enjoying dinner—or an early morning cup of coffee—is crucial. Two things that can take that experience to the next level? Upgrade the chairs with extra-cushy cushions (because the standard-issue ones are often pancake-like) and a tabletop pizza oven, which cost a fraction of the price of freestanding brick ones.

backyard waterfall
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5. JUST ADD WATER(FALL)

Just like you design a room, your yard should have a focal point and nothing draws your eye quite like a small waterfall or fountain. (Plus, how soothing are the sounds of a babbling brook?) It doesn’t have to be a huge undertaking, either—dozens of styles, from faux-rock formations designed to complement your surroundings to sleek, ultra-modern models, are available online and require minimal setup.

butterfly garden
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6. BRING ALL THE BUTTERFLIES TO YOUR YARD

Sweet alyssum, salvia and torenia are just three of the many flowering plants that will add color to your yard—and attract all kinds of hummingbirds, butterflies and bees. To help decide which plants are right for your landscape, check out the USDA’s hardiness zone map, which reveals what types of greenery can survive in your area, based on how cold it gets.

man and woman backyard fire
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7. LIGHT THINGS UP

Just because the sun’s gone down doesn’t mean the party has to end. Low landscape lights along pathways, a trio of LED-filled lanterns near the patio furniture and a simple set of string lights overhead can create a romantic ambience that won’t leave your guests busting out their phone’s flashlights to move around. With these areas covered, you may very well become a staycation person. Just don’t be surprised if your neighbors keep finding excuses to drop by, too.

Source: Purewow.com Apr. 24, 2020

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COVID-19 Fallout Spreads to Mortgage Refinances in Canada

Mortgage refinancing in Canada is the latest domino to topple in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on our economy.

In fact, all forms of mortgage financing have been increasingly more challenging the past several weeks. Fortunately, most purchase transactions already committed to during these early transition stages are still going through.

Refinances are another matter though. They are uninsurable, so the lending risk sits squarely with the lenders; whereas purchase transactions facilitate changes of ownership, and the associated mortgages are a necessary and essential part of that process. Mortgage refinances are arguably a non-essential process.

COVID-19 impact on refinancesWhen people refinance their mortgage, it is quite simply to get to a better place financially. For some, it is to reduce the mortgage interest rate, lower the monthly payment, and extend the term. For others, it is to extract equity from the home, often for one of the following reasons:

  • consolidating high-cost consumer debt
  • combining a second and first mortgage
  • financing home renovation projects
  • funding post-secondary education
  • assisting with a down payment for children buying their first home
  • paying off a consumer proposal early
  • funds to pay CRA tax arrears
  • tapping into home equity to help  children with the down payment or closing costs on their first home

Market uncertainties have rendered most of these more difficult than a month ago, and in some cases impossible.

Three Reasons Why Mortgage Refinances Are Tougher For Canadians

The other day one major chartered bank announced:

“In view of the ongoing COVID-19 situation, the following changes are being made to lending policies affecting new applications submitted to us on or after Thursday, April 9, 2020. These changes are required due to declining employment, energy sector impacts, unstable property values, and restrictions on appraisers being able to access properties for appraisal reports.”

But as a result of COVID-19, there are three main reasons why mortgage refinances have become much tougher for Canadians…

  1. More Stringent Scrutiny of Applicants’ Income and Employment
  2. Lower Appraisal Valuations Than Expected
  3. Lender Cutbacks in Maximum Loan-to-Value Ratio

1.     Tougher Scrutiny on Applicants’ Income and Employment

Lenders are understandably skittish about income stability in the current market. They aren’t just worried about whether you have sufficient income today, but also whether your employment is safe and you will continue to have an income in the months ahead.

income verificationCanada lost a record one million jobs in March 2020 according to BBC News, and you can expect more layoffs and job losses as the full impact of COVID-19 becomes known. The Conference Board of Canada said on April 6th that a combined 2.8 million jobs could be lost during March and April, equal to nearly 15% of total employment.

Even though many of these job losses may prove to be temporary, no one knows.

And if you are in the business of lending money to people, you are going to be looking very carefully at all applicants’ employment income – both for what it is now, and what it might become when the current stay-at-home policy runs well past the month of April, as many experts feel it will.

Prime Minister Trudeau said recently [there will be] “No return to ‘normality’ until a coronavirus vaccine is available.” And that might not be till 2021!

What this means is that even if you had sufficient income to qualify for the desired mortgage amount two months ago, that might not be the case now, and as such, lenders have become more conservative and risk averse.

Mortgage Lenders Now Want to See All Income Documents Upfront.

If the borrower’s income and employment cannot stand up to scrutiny, there is no point going further. Here is what lenders are saying right now:

One Chartered Bank Says:

For any application using self-employed (BFS) income, in addition to standard income documents, the broker must provide us with a description of the business, when established, number of employees, and its current status (e.g., operating, shut down).

Note: we may request additional income documents or conduct additional due diligence at our discretion to verify current income/employment status.

Additional due diligence will be required to assess the viability of the business post COVID-19. To assist in the assessment, please consider asking your client for their most recent financial reporting, i.e., interim tax reporting.

One Monoline Lender Says:

If a borrower has been laid off, we will not use their income to service the file unless an exception is granted by us and the mortgage insurer (if required). Neither EI nor the Government of Canada Emergency Response Benefit are eligible for inclusion in qualifying income.

One Credit Union Says:

As we all work through this challenging time together, we will be reviewing the income sources of all applicants in relation to the Essential Service workplace published by the Ontario Government. https://www.ontario.ca/page/list-essential-workplaces

As you would expect, if your applicants do not work in one of these essential service sectors, we will require additional confirmation of their employer’s commitment for continued pay during the COVID lockdown.

We will not utilize any temporary Canada Emergency Response Benefits in qualifying calculations.

2.     Appraisal Valuations Are Coming In Lower Than Expected

Appraisers rely on recent sales data to come up with comparable properties for their appraisal reports. But sales are down so much since mid March there are fewer to compare to. As reported in the Globe and Mail, Carolyn Ireland on March 31, 2020, wrote:

COVID-19 impact on home appraisals“Ontario remains under a state of emergency, and while the provincial government deemed most of the real estate industry “essential,” it did so in order to permit transactions to close – not to allow the industry to carry on with business as usual.”

And there is no incentive for appraisers to go high on their estimates – in the teeth of so much pessimism and conservatism. I think we will start to see more and more transactions fall off the rails because of low appraisal values.

Anecdotally, I’m seeing behavioural changes among appraisers that will lead to more values coming in lower than would have been expected a short while ago.

For example, some appraisal values are being submitted with a low, medium and high value. The other day a colleague had a mortgage amount cut back with a major chartered bank. The low was $1.5 million; the medium value was $1.6 million and the high value was $1.7 million. The bank had to take the medium value and the loan was cut back by 130k.

And, Actual Resale Values Are Starting to Drop

Rob McLister over at RateSpy notes, “If HouseSigma is in the ballpark, median GTA home prices are sliding hard in April. It estimates the median GTA home value is down to $740,000. That’s a 6% drop from the February peak of $789,000. Of course, these are just estimates and the data for April is volatile and incomplete.

We’ll check HouseSigma numbers against official real estate board data in early May. Realtor quote of the day:

“A couple of my sellers are nervous that things are going to get worse, so they’re taking what they can get.”

The fact is listings are down dramatically, and there are no open houses anymore. Buying a home for many is a luxury to be deferred till things settle down.

So the net is, it appears appraisers are being more cautious today, and there is nothing on the horizon that’s likely to change this. No one knows how fast buying activity will pick up when the dust settles from COVID-19, so cautious valuations are probably the new normal.

3.     Lower Loan-to-Value Ratio Lending Maximums

Before COVID-19, only private mortgage lenders could refinance higher than 80% of the appraised value of a property. It’s against the rules for institutional lenders. Mind you, there are not many brave souls who want to lend over 80% these days.

One small bank has quietly announced they will only refinance to 75% of the appraised value. And many B-lenders, on their own volition, have already cut their maximum loan to value (LTV) to 75%, and that is in densely populated urban areas.

Their maximum LTV is less in rural areas and smaller cities. This percentage will face further downward pressure in the coming months.

And right now, private lenders are also exercising more caution than usual, pulling back on their maximum LTV. The individual retail lender has already gotten cold feet and isn’t at all happy over 50% LTV. Mortgage Investment Corporations (MICs) remain open for business at decent LTVs, but many are expecting higher overall returns on their capital.

These lower loan-to-value ratios, coupled with declining appraisal values, are shrinking the number of fundable mortgage refinance transactions.

Is There a Bright Spot for Refinances?

There’s an old adage that lenders like to give loans to people that don’t need it. That is probably more true today than ever, including for refinances.

In the United States, mortgage rates have already begun to fall quickly, especially for terms of 10 and 15 years, and there is rising interest among many to take advantage of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to refinance for a lower rate and radically reduce the remaining term of their mortgage. If you have sufficient equity that a light valuation doesn’t matter, and secure income, this could be a really great time to refinance.

This hasn’t happened yet in Canada, but could be the next phase for us as well. And, in general, if you have good enough income, have lived in your home for a while, and haven’t borrowed against your growth in equity, you may still be a good candidate for refinancing. (I’ll write more about this in a future article).

The Takeaway

It’s a completely different world for mortgage refinancing than just a month ago.

Factoring together loss of income, lower real estate values, tougher appraisals, and lower loan-to-value ratios, it’s not hard to understand why the landscape for mortgage refinances has cooled considerably. Some refinances for specific types of borrowers will still be possible, but most of the typical cash-out deals we’ve seen for the last several years using home equity to solve debt problems, or large cash needs, are going to be fewer, and much harder to do.

Final word on this topic comes from respected industry veteran Ron Butler, who says, “Nothing will be the same for maybe the next two years. The old world of lending is gone.”

Source: Mortgage Broker News
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I’ll be right back. How to protect your energy during Zoom meetings

 

I’ll be right back. How to protect your energy during Zoom meetings
[Photo: Prostock-Studio/iStock]

I knew that working from home would be a massive shift, especially as spouses and kids became new “coworkers” for many individuals.

A problem I didn’t anticipate, which is coming up frequently for my time management clients with heavy meeting schedules, is Zoom fatigue.

Individuals that could make it through a day of in-person meetings with minimal issues have found themselves incredibly drained by a full docket of video calls. Many of us have been problem-solving for solutions to reduce the fatigue  that can hit hard at the end of the day. Here are some of the most common culprits of the remote-work energy drain, as well as ways you can combat it.

A “ZERO BREAK” SCHEDULE

Even if it felt like you had no breaks between meetings before the coronavirus—you did. In order to get from one room to another, you had at least a few minutes of physical movement and a quick mental break. Now, with videoconferencing, you literally have no time between meetings and to go from one call to the next.

This marginless schedule saps your mental batteries. To avoid this issue, schedule your meetings with some short gaps in between, or make it a rule to wrap up one call 5-10 minutes before the next one begins. This gives your brain a short span of time to process the meeting’s substance, make note of next steps, and prepare for the next conversation.

ONE POSITION FOR ONE SCREEN

Another reason that video calls can be exceptionally tiring is that you need to physically hold yourself in one position. In an in-person meeting, you’d likely shift from side to side, tilt back in your chair, swivel from looking one way to another depending on who is speaking, and lean over to take notes. Unfortunately in a video call, you’re stuck in one place trying to stay in the center of the screen, and moving in any other direction can cause your face to become awkwardly cropped. Furthermore, if you move backward and have a virtual background on Zoom, your face will literally disappear into the ether.

There aren’t a whole lot of ways you can overcome this challenge during your calls unless you shut off your camera for a while. But you can work on intentionally moving your body more. One small shift is to alternate between standing and sitting during your video calls. You can do this using a standing desk or simply place your computer on a bureau to elevate it. Also in between calls, walk around and do some gentle stretching of your back, neck, shoulders, and arms. This will get your blood flowing and reduce mental fatigue caused by the physical fatigue of your muscles.

EYESTRAIN INCREASE

With the shift to virtual, you’re all of a sudden receiving a double dose of time in front of the computer. Not only are your work meetings shifted to all virtual meetings, but your personal time may be filled with video calls, as well.

Research says we blink half as often when we watch things on screens as we normally would with face-to-face interactions. This means our eyes have a higher probability of getting dry, irritated, and tired. A few suggestions seem to help. One is to practice the “20-20-20” rule where every 20 minutes you take 20 seconds to look at something 20 feet away. Another recommended tip is to take a break every two hours for 15 minutes so your eyes can have a rest.

VISUAL OVERLOAD FROM CONSTANT STARING (EVEN AT YOURSELF)

Unless you’re watching a panel discussion, it’s usually impossible to look at everyone in a group during in-person interactions. Typically, your gaze rests on the one main speaker and then everyone else is in the periphery or even behind you. But thanks to the glories (and more concerning attributes) of Zoom, you can see everyone all at once, along with one person you never usually observe—yourself.

This creates visual overload because when we look at a screen, whether it’s a computer or a TV screen, our minds are accustomed to processing what is in front of us as a unified whole. But a Zoom meeting in gallery view isn’t one unified whole. It’s the equivalent of trying to watch 5, 10, 20, or more different TV shows, side-by-side, meanwhile checking a mirror to see how you look. This is incredibly exhausting.

To overcome this visual fatigue, you can start by putting your Zoom into speaker view instead of gallery view. That way you’ll have the more “natural” sensation of having your focus on one main person at a time.

Another step you can take, depending on the meeting and your role within in it, is to stop your video camera for part or all of the call. This can give you the ability to change position in your chair like you normally would in a meeting and reduce the visual overload from looking in a tiny mirror throughout the call.

Finally, if it’s possible, do a phone call. When you’re looking to connect, video calls help a great deal. But when you just need to work through some practical items, oftentimes a phone call suffices and takes much less energy. With a phone call, you automatically eliminate three of these four issues. You’re not stuck in one place; instead you can at least shift in your chair or at times walk around the room while you talk. You don’t need to look at a screen. Most importantly, you don’t need to take in anything visually.

Until we can go back to in-person interactions, the increased fatigue from video calls won’t be fully eliminated. But by paying attention to these top drains to our reserves and appropriately addressing them, you can end your day on a higher, more productive energy level.

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Latest in Mortgage News: Six-Month Deferrals Could Cost You Up to $12,000

Nearly 600,000 Canadians have so far taken advantage of some form of mortgage deferral assistance due to the COVID-19 crisis, according to the Canadian Bankers Association (CBC).

With the average mortgage payment amounting to $1,326, this has freed up roughly $778 million per month, according to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation.

“This keeps money in the pockets of people who need it now,” the CBA noted. “Banks have publicly reported that more than 90% of those seeking a deferral are approved.”

But, of course, taking advantage of mortgage payment deferrals naturally comes at a cost. And that has been calculated at up to $12,000 in extra interest costs for those taking the full six-month deferrals, according to math from Integrated Mortgage Planners Inc. mortgage broker Dave Larock, published recently in the Globe and Mail.

Mortgage deferral costs for someone with a mortgage rate of 3% and amortized over 25 years (and assuming they just bought a house and immediately deferred payments) would amount to $2,082 in additional interest for a one-month deferral, $6,217 for six months and $12,346 for a six-month deferral, when added back into the life of the mortgage and assuming no extra repayments.

House Sales Down 14% in March

lenders provide covid-19 updateHome sales were down 14% nationally in March on the heels of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the Canadian Real Estate Association (CREA).

The declines in sales volumes varied by region, with drops of up to 24.9% in Hamilton-Burlington, 20.8% in the Greater Toronto Area, 26.3% in Calgary and 7.9% in Ottawa.

“March 2020 will be remembered around the planet for a long time,” said Jason Stephen, president of CREA. “Canadian home sales and listings were increasing heading into what was expected to be a busy spring [but] after Friday the 13th, everything went sideways.”

Average prices came in at $540,000, unchanged from February and up 12.5% from last year. Excluding the higher priced markets of the Greater Toronto and Vancouver Areas, the average price comes in at $410,000.

Looking ahead to April, CREA senior economist Shawn Cathcart said this: “Preliminary data from the first week of April suggest both sales and new listings were only about half of what would be normal for that time of year.”

Mortgage Rates Falling

After a recent rise in fixed mortgage rates, they have since started to fall back down, with a number of big lenders cutting rates between 5 and 20 bps.

Rates are declining due to falling bond yields (which lead fixed mortgages), as well as a decline in risk premium costs for borrowers, according to a recent post on RateSpy.com.

“…the trend implies we could see conventional 5-year fixed rates dip at least 20 more basis points (under 2.50%), if funding costs don’t shoot much higher,” the rate-comparison site noted. “Few would have expected that a month ago. At the time, spooked investors were forcing banks to pay far more for their funding. Since then, the Bank of Canada, Finance Department and CMHC have committed to buying hundreds of billions in money market instruments, bonds and mortgage securities, putting a lid on rates.”

HELOC Borrowing Down

HELOC borrowing growthHome Equity Line of Credit (HELOC) borrowing growth continued to decelerate in February, falling to a rate of 1.6% year-over-year, according to data from OSFI.

That’s down from an annual rate of more than 7% in 2018.

“Despite the overall stabilization of home prices in recent years, HELOC borrowing has been persistently slowing since the start of 2019, noted a recent Scotiabank report. “It is unclear if borrowing has been actively declining due to a change of consumer preferences or due to limited ease of accessing these funds.”

Overall mortgage growth remained strong in February, although that will certainly decline as data post-COVID-19 starts to roll in.

“Recent economic turmoil will likely lead to weaker mortgage credit growth in the months ahead,” Scotiabank noted. “In March, the Canadian labour market lost over 1 million jobs and home sales rapidly declined in the month. Mortgage credit growth is expected to stall in the coming months as the Canadian economy remains impacted by the pandemic.”

Source: Canadian Mortgage Trends – Mortgage Broker New

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Family Renovations: Tips for Involving the Kids

Undertaking a large renovation with children can be stressful, especially if they are toddlers. These tips for safely involving your kids in a small-scale renovation will make the experience both fun and educational.

Six quick tips for involving your children in a renovation:

1) Brainstorming

Explain what will happen during the renovation and ask them to share their design ideas with you! This is especially helpful if you’re planning a renovation that will benefit the whole family, like a new playroom in the basement.

2) Customized to Their Needs

Consider what will make your children’s lives easier and how they will use the new space/addition. Keep this in mind when planning the layout! Updating your kitchen? Consider or an extra sink in the kitchen island for easy clean up after baking cookies with the kids. Finishing the basement? Consider adding a half-bathroom near the playroom for quick bathroom breaks! SANIFLO®’s range of products makes it easy. SANIFLO®’s quiet macerators, pumping systems and self-contained toilets are cost-effective and easy to install, often in as little as one to two days with minimal construction or damage to existing walls and floors

3) Gain Inspiration and Build Excitement

Let your kids partake in paint color choices and overall decor. You get the final say, of course, but your children may have some great ideas you wouldn’t have considered otherwise! Encourage younger children to draw what they imagine the new space will look like and keep the artwork in a renovation scrapbook!

4) Age Appropriate Assistance

Depending on their age and skill level, children can help rip down wallpaper, paint walls or hand you small tools. Older children and teens can help with heavier work, clean up, and more!

5) Safety First

Safety is always the first concern when renovating a home, especially with small children running around. They are naturally curious and will want to see what is going on. Sharp tools, heavy furniture or harmful products can be dangerous so it is important to set up barriers around the work area, keep tools out of their reach and unplug all equipment when not in use. Set specific safety rules and don’t leave children unsupervised near the work area.

6) Adjusting Routines

A renovation can be a big disruption to a child;’s daily routine, especially when they are younger. Set up alternative areas for them to eat and play in while the renovation is underway and try to be mindful of quiet times like bed time or nap times, delegating quieter tasks to those time periods. Nothing makes a renovation more stressful like an over tired, crabby toddler!

Source: Canadian Home Trends

 

 

 

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7 Tips for Using Zoom Videoconferencing With Remote Teams

Getty Images

Note: This post was updated 3/20/20.

Here are some helpful tips to improve your next video meeting.

If you’ve suddenly found yourself spending a lot more time looking at your colleagues through a Zoom videoconference as a result of the coronavirus outbreak, you’re not alone. If you’re not used to video meetings, it can be a little intimidating at first.

Fortunately, there are best practices that you can use, like keeping yourself on mute and always keeping your camera on (unless you have a good reason otherwise). Both of those go a long way toward fostering a productive and engaging meeting with your remote team.

Here are a few additional tips for getting the most out of your Zoom meetings.

1. Use a Waiting Room

If you have a lot of meetings, especially with a full calendar, there’s always a chance that the person or people in your next meeting will log on a few minutes early, or a meeting might run long. Fortunately, Zoom has a waiting room feature that allows you to have new attendees placed there instead of just appearing in your meeting room.

To do this, log in to your account on Zoom.com, select Preferences, and scroll down to Meeting (advanced), where you can toggle the waiting room on or off.

2. Create Recurring Meetings

If you meet with the same people on a regular basis, you can create a recurring meeting within Zoom, which uses the same settings as well as the same meeting link. This makes it easy to set up a schedule, and since it doesn’t use your personal meeting invitation, you can keep different groups of attendees separate. Simply log in to Zoom, select “Meetings” and select “Schedule a Meeting.” Then click the box for “recurring meeting.”

3. Use Attention Tracking

One of the hardest things when you’re hosting a meeting, especially if you’re sharing your screen, is that it’s hard to see your participants. Naturally, some of those participants are probably working on something else or not giving you their full and undivided attention. If that’s a problem, you can turn on the “Attention Tracking” feature, which will let you know if one of your attendees has moved another window in front of Zoom. This feature is also under the advanced meeting settings.

4. Request Control of Another Desktop

Sometimes helping a co-worker diagnose a problem or work on a project would be so much easier if you could be sitting next to that person. While Zoom hasn’t completely solved that problem, it does allow you to request control of your participant’s desktop. They’ll have to approve the request, but you’ll be able to maneuver their cursor with your own mouse and keyboard, which is especially helpful for demos or technical support.

5. Pay Attention to Your Background

We don’t usually pay much attention to what is behind us until we log on to a meeting and can see ourselves. It’s often then that you realize that it might have been worth paying a little more attention to what everyone else sees. If you don’t have a great option, Zoom has a “virtual background” that you can set within the Zoom app on your laptop.

6. Record Your Meetings

The free version of Zoom allows you to record calls to your computer, which is convenient for meetings and demos especially. The paid version also allows you to save recordings to the cloud, which makes it easy to share with team members later by simply emailing a link.

7. Touch Up Your Appearance

If you want to have a little fun, or if you have a meeting before you had a chance to fully get ready for the day, you can choose the “touch up my appearance” setting. From the Zoom App on your laptop, choose “preferences” and then “video settings,” to add a subtle skin-smoothing effect.

Bonus: Use a Good Pair of Ear Buds or Headphones

Making sure your team can hear you well is important, especially if you’re working somewhere where there might be background noise. The same goes for being able to hear them. I’m a personal fan of the Apple AirPods Pro, but honestly, any paid of wired or wireless headphones will do.

By the way, if you’re new to videoconferencing, Zoom also has a really helpful resource guide dedicated to supporting teams affected by Covid-19. It includes free training as well as a handful of best practices you can use to keep your team connected.

Source: Inc.com –    By Jason AtenTech columnist@jasonaten Published on: Mar 20, 2020
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.
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5 Ways My Home Has Calmed Me Down During the Coronavirus

I’m usually pretty calm during a crisis—I’m a New Yorker, after all. I’ve endured everything from the horrors of Sept. 11 to the blackouts of Superstorm Sandy and beyond. But the coronavirus feels even scarier, perhaps because it will last so much longer—and that definitely has me on edge.

Yet as I was folding an enormous basket of laundry the other morning (the piles have exploded since my college-aged girls returned home), I decided to light a pine-scented candle, still on display in my living room since Christmas. And as I breathed in its calming scent, I instantly felt my shoulders relax.

Thymes Frasier fir–scented candle for the win!
Thymes Frasier fir–scented candle for the win!Jennifer Geddes

Yup, one of the unexpected upsides of having to shelter in place is my rediscovery of the joys within my own home—a sentiment that many of my friends and family say they’ve felt, too.

So, in case you need something positive to focus on as you’re holed up at home, here are a few things about home that are making me and my fellow neighbors smile during this bleak hour.

1. Discovering food I totally forgot I had

The deeper you dig, the more you'll find.
The deeper you dig, the more you’ll find.Jennifer Geddes

Since we can no longer pop out to local restaurants and even grocery runs are discouraged, I decided to do a full excavation of my pantry—and was pleasantly surprised by what I found in its depths.

I could probably live for weeks using the forgotten foods in my pantry and deep freezer. I unearthed seven kinds of rice, pork and cabbage dumplings, boxes of bread crumbs, and a few cans of tuna.

Larry Perlstein of Westport, CT, reports discovering parts of his pantry that he hasn’t seen since he moved in to his house 12 years ago. The items included a box of raisins dating to 2015, which he wisely decided not to eat.

“But I also found lots of sprinkles, both rainbow and chocolate, and I’ve read they last forever,” he says. Baking projects are now on deck with his 12-year-old.

Christina Vercelletto of Babylon, NY, has reaped the same sweet rewards at her house.

“I’m baking with my daughter using every neglected box mix we have, plus a bag of coconut and white chocolate chips that we bought in the fall but never used,” she shares.

2. Having time to organize and declutter my house

New York City resident Anne Levy did a colossal cleaning and reorg of her house in order to prepare both of her daughters to learn remotely, and so her school teacher husband could teach from home.

“The place feels lighter—and I feel mentally lighter, too,” she says. Levy gathered nine bags of clothing and textile donations and plans to keep on purging.

One person does not need more than a dozen tablecloths.
One person does not need more than a dozen tablecloths.Jennifer Geddes

Meanwhile, I’ve finally whittled down my linen drawer. My amazing mother-in-law, you see, gives me every tablecloth she’s tired of—and she runs through several a year, which means the two dresser drawers where I store these linens is full to bursting. During this virus crisis, I’ve finally had a chance to tackle this spot and embrace only the tablecloths I truly love—and toss that yellow-and-green tropical number in the middle!

3. Taking long, luxurious baths

A nightly soak is a must during turbulent times.
A nightly soak is a must during turbulent times.Jennifer Geddes

I used to complain about this tub (too big, takes too long to fill, a pain to clean), but I no longer sing that tune. Instead, I’m digging around for bath salts, oils, and other potions to pour in so I can soak my stress away. I’m using it as long as the coronavirus lasts—and maybe longer.

4. Having date nights—in the basement

No movie theater? No problem. We watch shows in the chilly basement with our pup Django.
No movie theater? No problem. We watch shows in the chilly basement with our pup Django.Jennifer Geddes

Stressful days like these were made for streaming mindless movies and TV shows, which I’m suddenly finding pretty enjoyable in my little basement. It’s dark and cold, but we have excellent Wi-Fi and comfy chairs, so I’m ready to embrace regular date nights here with my hubs.

5. Checking off home to-do lists

Working from home has given me pockets of down time, and as a result, my perpetual list of household chores is just about whittled to zero. Burned-out lightbulbs? Replaced! No-slip mats finally laid under dangerous throw rugs? Done. Next up, I’m steeling myself to enter the basement “scary closet” (so named because of the occasional mouse that pops up) to sort through my garden pots that I hope to plant once this crisis is over.

Granted, I will be thrilled once this coronavirus scourge has finally lifted—but until then, I will try to look at the silver lining and relish all the comforts and opportunities that staying at home has to offer.

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COVID-19 pandemic: Tips to remain ‘sane and safe’ during social distancing

social-distance.jpg

Photo: Crystal Eye Studio/Shutterstock

Muncie, IN — Maintaining a routine, helping others and taking time to focus on self-care are among the tips one Ball State University professor is sharing to help people stay “sane and safe” while practicing social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Jagdish Khubchandani, a health sciences professor, has 15 recommendations to “counterbalance” the physical and psychological effects of social distancing, which involves reducing close contact with others in an effort to help stop the spread of the disease, per guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Khubchandani’s tips:

  • Maintain a routine. As much as possible, social distancing should not disrupt your sleep-wake cycle, working hours and daily activities.
  • Make social distancing a positive by taking time to focus on your personal health, training, diet, physical activity levels and health habits, as well as reassessing your work.
  • Cook for yourself and others in need. Add more fruits, vegetables, vitamins and proteins to your diet. (Most U.S. adults don’t consume enough fruits and vegetables). Eat two or three meals a day.
  • Go for a walk or exercise at home. “Definitely go out in nature as much as possible. Only half of American adults today get enough exercise.”
  • Don’t let anxiety or being at home lead to binge eating or alcohol and drug use. Don’t oversleep, but try to sleep at least seven hours a day.
  • Know that social distancing can cause anxiety and depression because of disruption to routines, isolation and fear over a pandemic. If you or someone you know is experiencing either, help is available.
  • Make the best use of technology to finish your work, attend meetings and engage with co-workers with the same frequency required during active office hours. “The good news: Working from home can make people more productive and happier.”
  • Small breaks during social distancing are also good times to reassess your skills and training – consider taking an online course, pursuing certification, undergoing training or personality development, or learning a new language.
  • Engage in spring cleaning, clear clutter and donate household items. Home clutter can harbor pollutants, lead to infections and result in unhygienic spaces.
  • Social distancing shouldn’t translate to an unhealthy life on social media. Although you can certainly become a victim of myths, misinformation, anxiety and fearmongering, you can also inadvertently become a perpetrator, creating more trouble for communities.
  • Based on the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ American Time Use Survey and leisure-related time-spending patterns worldwide, “too much time” is spent on screens. Except for one to two times a day to watch, read or listen to national news for general consumption and local news for updates on the spread of COVID-19 in your community, you’re likely overconsuming information and taking away time for yourself and from friends and family.
  • Reach out to others and offer help. Social distancing should help reinvest in and recreate social bonds. Consider providing for and helping those at risk or marginalized (e.g., the elderly, disabled and homeless; survivors of natural disasters; and people living in shelters). “You will certainly find someone in the neighborhood who needs some help.” This can be done from a distance via a phone or by online activities, as well as giving.
  • Check your list of contacts on email and your phone. It may be a good time to check on your friends’ and family members’ well-being. This will also help you feel more connected, social, healthier and engaged. “Be kind to all; you never know who is struggling and how you can make a difference.”
  • Engage in alternative activities to keep your mind and body active. For example, listen to music or sing; try dancing or biking, yoga or meditation; take virtual tours of museums and places of interest; sketch or paint; read books or novels; solve puzzles or play board games; try new recipes; and learn about other cultures.
  • Don’t isolate yourself completely – social distancing shouldn’t become social isolation. Don’t be afraid, don’t panic and do keep communicating with others.

“Social distancing can be tough on people and disrupt the social and economic fibers of our society,” Khubchandani said. “Given the existing crisis of isolation in societies — with probably the loneliest young generation that we have today — social distancing can also take a personal health toll on people, causing psychological problems, among many others.”

Source: Safety & Health The Official Magazine – March 18, 2020

 

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The next financial crisis: A collapse of the mortgage system

Federal Reserve

The U.S. mortgage finance system could collapse if the Federal Reserve doesn’t step in with emergency loans to offset a coming wave of missed payments from borrowers crippled by the coronavirus pandemic.

Congress did not include relief for the mortgage industry in its $2 trillion rescue package — even as lawmakers required mortgage companies to allow homeowners up to a year’s delay in making payments on federally backed loans.

When individuals stop making payments on their home mortgages, the companies that handle the loans and process those payments, so-called mortgage servicers, are still on the hook: They’re legally obligated to keep sending money to insurers and investors in mortgage-backed securities, the giant bundles of home loans that are packaged and sold on the securities markets.

Now industry executives and regulators are worried that Congress’s generosity toward homeowners could wipe out those companies, causing investors not to get paid and potentially bankrupting the entire mortgage finance system — a domino effect that would make it much harder for borrowers to access credit to buy homes.

Housing lobbyists sounded the alarm to Senate staff about the potential danger, but the sheer scale of the rescue bill and the focus on communicating the industry’s other big concerns — such as the details of how long mortgages would be suspended — meant their warnings were unheeded in the rush to finish the massive legislation.

Yet while the final bill allocates $454 billion for the Treasury Department to support the Federal Reserve’s emergency lending programs, including for large corporations, there is no overt requirement for lending to mortgage companies, despite a weeklong lobbying push by the industry.

“There was a strong desire on the part of housing lobbyists to have the bill explicitly direct the Fed and Treasury to use some of that money to finance servicing advances,” said Michael Bright, CEO of the Structured Finance Association, which represents 370 financial institutions in the bond market.

Now industry lobbyists are turning their efforts to Trump administration officials.

“We have been in constant contact with many parts of the administration to ensure that they understand the urgency of this liquidity facility being set up,” said Bob Broeksmit, president and CEO of the Mortgage Bankers Association, a trade group.

Concerns about liquidity in the mortgage finance system have been building for years, as the companies that service mortgage loans are increasingly nonbanks — which don’t have banks’ access to Fed loans or their strict capital requirements and deposits to fall back on. Banks, which once dominated the business, have steadily pulled back since the 2008 housing market meltdown.

Usually, a mortgage company can withstand a few borrowers failing to make payments, but the breadth of the coronavirus pandemic has sparked industry estimates of between 25 and 50 percent of borrowers being unable to pay.

That “could threaten the ability of a mortgage servicer, particularly nonbank servicers, to remain a going concern,” the Conference of State Bank Supervisors warned Fed Chair Jerome Powell and Mnuchin in a March 25 letter.

State regulators wanted to weigh in because “our members are the primary regulators of the nonbank servicers,” said Margaret Liu, CSBS senior vice president and deputy general counsel.

If 25 percent of borrowers fail to make their mortgage payments, the industry would need $40 billion to cover three months of payments, according to Jay Bray, CEO of the servicing company Mr. Cooper. Depending on how long the situation lasts, Broeksmit said demands on servicers “could exceed $75 billion and could climb well above $100 billion.”

And if mortgage companies fail across the board, “the system breaks down,” said Andrew Jakabovics, vice president for policy development at Enterprise Community Partners, an affordable housing nonprofit.

“The kinds of relief we did during the foreclosure crisis — all of that had to do with the fact that we wanted to ensure that investors from across the world would continue to treat U.S. mortgage-backed securities as an incredibly safe investment,” Jakabovics said. “That would have very serious ramifications for the availability and price of mortgage credit.”

Bright, who formerly managed the $2 trillion portfolio of government-run mortgage financier Ginnie Mae, said he believes the Fed will come through with an emergency lending program for the industry.

“Even though that language wasn’t included [in the Senate bill], I do think it’s likely that this could be part of [the Fed’s Term Asset-Backed Loan Facility Program] in the end,” he said.

Federal Housing Finance Agency Director Mark Calabria — who regulates Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the two government-sponsored mortgage giants that prop up about half of the nation’s $11 trillion market — said this week in a Bloomberg TV interview that he was confident that large banks would continue to extend credit to mortgage servicers for the time being.

Stillhe said, “if we get to a situation where this goes longer than two months, absolutely there’s going to need to be a bigger solution.”

Broeksmit said some mortgage companies won’t make it that long, depending on the share of loans in their portfolios located in areas of the country where the virus has hit particularly hard.

“Some servicers will need the liquidity sooner than others, so we’re hoping that the facility will be set up immediately,” Broeksmit said.

Liu also said the credit lines from banks wouldn’t be enough to keep the system afloat.

“The mortgage market is one of the many multiple complexly interconnected pieces of our financial system, so those assurances are really important, but I think the role of the government in being a reliable and available source of credit for the mortgage market and mortgage servicers during a crisis is even more important,” she said.

In the meantime, the industry is crossing its fingers that the individual cash relief in the Senate bill will lead to fewer people needing to request forbearance on their payments.

“We’re hoping that the take-up rate won’t be too high and that the duration is not extended, but we have to prepare for both,” Broeksmit said.

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Trudeau announces new emergency programme for workers who lost work from COVID-19

Trudeau announces new emergency programme for workers who lost work from COVID-19 

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has announced the federal government is launching the Canada Emergency Response Benefit, a new programme that will provide $2,000 a month for four months to individuals who lost their work as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Speaking outside of his residence where he is self-quarantining with his family, Trudeau acknowledged the dilemma facing Canadians trying to process mounting bills without a steady income, noting that “far too many Canadians are having these tough conversations about their finances and their future.”

With nearly 1 million people applying for employment insurance last week, Trudeau stated the new programme is in the process of being set up.

“An application portal will launch as quickly as possible and people should start receiving money as soon as 10 days of applying,” he said.

The programme will replace a pair of initiatives, the Emergency Care Benefit and the Emergency Support Benefit, that were announced last week. Trudeau said the decision to combine the two earlier programmes into a new endeavour was done “in order to streamline the process.”

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