2013

3 technologies for a more convenient home

After writing consistently for almost 10 years, it felt good to take a few months off. But I missed it, and it feels good to get this article out to you. I hope you enjoy it..

3 technologies for a more convenient home

In a perfectly secure world, our homes would be locked up as tight as Fort Knox, with locks, bars, laser beams, sirens, the whole nine yards, and breaking in would require an effort suitable for a Mission Impossible movie. But that wouldn't be very convenient.

In a perfectly convenient world, we wouldn't lock our homes at all, and we could come and go without having to remember a key or a code. But that wouldn't be very secure.

The trick is to find the right blend of secure and convenient; making coming and going a breeze while being secure enough to keep the bad guys out.

Here are 3 products which can help you tip the scale towards convenience:

1.) Bluetooth Deadbolt


The Kwikset Bluetooth Deadbolt for iPhone is scheduled to hit stores at the end of this month, and looks pretty cool. (almost cool enough to make me want an iPhone. almost, but I think I'll wait for the android version instead..)

It allows you to open the lock with your iPhone, obviously, but it also allows you to share e-keys with other iPhone users - you can let a visiting relative open the door without having to hide a key under the mat!


2.) Keypad Deadbolt



You've probably seen these keypad locks around for years in commercial use, but now they're available in residential deadbolts. This is another great way to give access without having to make a physical key available, and the code is easy enough to change that you can create a new code when warranted.

This is also useful for when the kids come home after school, so they don't have to remember where their key is..

3.) Keypad Garage Opener


These have been around for a long time, but I didn't realize how inexpensive and easy they were to install until recently. I had always assumed they were wired to the garage, and if you didn't have one installed originally then it would be an expensive pain the butt to add one later. Wrong!

They're actually fairly inexpensive, and they work wirelessly - just like the remote button in your car.

I bought a Chamberlain Universal Remote at Lowe's last weekend for $40 and had it programmed and installed in about 15 minutes. Easy Peasy!

Some thoughts about safety

Unfortunately no security device or system is completely fool proof. Locks can be picked, windows and doors can be broken - even the family dog can be won over with some kind words and a few treats. But there are things you can do to make your home a less desirable target for bad guys. The San Jose Police Department's website has a pretty good list of reminders. (and all three of the items in this article help avoid leaving a key under the mat!)

I hope this gives you some ideas you can use to make your home a little bit better. Please feel free to give Cheryl or myself a call if want to discuss this topic (or any other topic) in more detail.

-Chris Butterworth


May recap - how's the market?

May recap - how's the market?


I've been hearing that question a lot lately; more than I have over the last few years.

Maybe that means the market is closer than I've thought to getting back to normal. Maybe people are thinking more and more about putting their house up for sale, and moving into another one. Maybe the positive statistics I'm seeing in the mass media are the truth.

How's the market?

It's hot - we're seeing sellers get full asking price, sometimes with multiple offers, very quickly.

It's tight - we're seeing buyers struggle to land a contract on the home they like.

It's active - we're seeing a large number of homes selling each month.

But it's not normal.

Here are the stories of some of the people we've talked with over the last few months:

  1. Family moving back to the Valley after being out of state for the last few years.
  2. Divorcing couple selling their home and moving into smaller homes.
  3. Retiring couple selling their second home. They'll live full-time in their other state.
  4. Family buying a home, after renting for the last few years.
  5. Homeowner taking advantage of low interest rates to buy an investment home.
  6. Retired couple buying a second home.
  7. Family selling their parents' home and moving the parents into assisted living.
  8. Long-time Valley resident family selling their home to move to another state for a career opportunity.
  9. Couple selling their Valley home to move back to their original state.
  10. Retiring couple selling their home to retire in another part of the country.

Do you see what's missing from that list? We haven't talked with one person recently who wants to sell their current home and move into another home locally - one that's larger, or smaller, or on a better lot, or in a different school district, or that's closer to work, or closer to family... Or any of the dozens of reasons why people move in a normal market. That entire segment of the market is simply non-existent.

Vacant Homes Still Dominate

Here are two charts I've shared a number of times before, updated through the end of April. One shows the percentage of New Listings that are Vacant. The other shows a comparison of Vacant vs Occupied Homes Sold, by month.

percentage of new listings which are vacant in maricopa county


vacant vs occupied homes sold in maricopa county


While both of these charts show we're trending in the right direction, they both also make it clear that we're a long way from normal. A normal market will have some vacant homes - sure, a family moves out of their home first, either by necessity of time constraints or by desire to not have the home for sale while they live there. But this is usually a small percentage of the market.

Single Family Homes Market Shifting to Rentals

From the CalculatedRisk blog:

"Making this adjustment, and using estimates for the 2012 ACS data based on HVS results, it would appear that from 2007 to 2012 the number of SF detached and attached homes that were occupied by renters increased by about 2.6 million, while the number of SF detached and attached homes that were occupied by owners declined by about 1.3 million. The largest increase in both the number and the share of renter-occupied SF homes appears to have been in 2009. 
Since “active” investor buying of SF homes that were then rented out has been going on for many years, why has the media only recently begun to focus intently on this “trend? First, investor buying in earlier years occurred when for-sale inventories (and REO inventories) and the pace of foreclosure were high, the economy in general and labor markets in particular were extremely weak, and there were no signs either of a housing “recovery” or improving home prices. Second, last year a number of large institutional firms very publicly announced plans to ramp up purchases of SF homes as rental properties. Third, their ramped-up buying came when overall inventories of existing home for sale, and especially “distressed”/REO properties for sale, had fallen sharply, as well as when an improved economy and record-low mortgage rates were producing a modest increase in potential demand from folks wanting to buy a home to live in. (Folks love anecdotal stories about how investors are “out-bidding” or “crowding out” first-time home buyers!)

percentage of all cash sales by city



Artificial Demand putting stress on inventory and prices

From John Mauldin's Outside the Box, "Taking Distortion at Face Value":

"While some observers will reflexively point to the housing market as a sign of economic recovery, it is important to recognize that the millions of homeowners with underwater mortgages (home values below the amount of mortgage debt still owed) have no ability to sell their homes even if they wish to do so, unless they can come up with the difference out of pocket. As a result, the natural flow of demand from new household formation must be satisfied from an inventory of homes for sale that is much smaller than the actual “shadow inventory” that would be available if losses did not have to be taken in order to sell those homes. So the demand for homes resulting from household formation is satisfied from limited inventory plus new home building, even though there is an ocean of distressed and unsold homes already in existence. From this perspective, it should be clear that the bounce we’ve seen in housing is not a sign of economic recovery, but is ins tead a sign of misallocation of capital due to what economists would generally call a “market failure.” (emphasis mine)

How's the Market?

Back to our original question - how's the market?

To tell you the truth, I'm not sure. Seems like a good time to be a seller, and a challenging time to be a buyer. Inventory is low, and prices are rising. Prevailing wisdom says the higher prices will unlock additional sellers from being underwater, which will help replenish the supply while at the same time keeping demand strong. Many folks would call this a good market.

On the other hand, vacant homes still dominate the landscape, and I don't have any anecdotal evidence of "regular" sellers and buyers; all the recent activity I've seen has been due to external factors necessitating the move.

It seems to me that home prices are fairly high compared to income; ie: people are having to reach to afford the neighborhoods they feel comfortable living in. And that's with the lowest interest rates since forever helping out. If interest rates creep back up to 6%, most buyers will be shut out of the neighborhoods they like.

In addition, what happens if the banks and cash buyers are playing a shell game we don't know about? Or if large investors decide to start selling lots of homes, maybe as a way to cash out some profits. We could see the market stall, and prices fall, if their demand evaporates.

That's a long-winded version of my answer: The market is busy, but it isn't healed. I'm hopeful it will continue to heal without seeing another bubble and bubble-burst, although I do have some concern about the downside right now.

Is that all clear as mud for you now?

-Chris Butterworth

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a detailed look at one non-HOA neighborhood

a detailed look at one non-HOA neighborhood


Last week I took a walk through an established neighborhood in North Phoenix, sort of between Paradise Valley Mall and Desert Ridge Marketplace. I saw mostly medium sized homes sitting on large lots, with wide streets, tall trees, and lots of quiet. But I also saw changes and customizations which were the result of not having a Home Owners' Association.

Imagine you lived on this quiet street - in a well-maintained, 3 bedroom, ranch-style home on a half-acre lot.

ranch style home in north phoenix

Now imagine this was your neighbor across the street:

modern style home in north phoenix

A large, modern-looking, stucco on frame home, which would fit in nicely in many of the newer high-priced areas around the city. But it looked grossly out of place in this neighborhood.

This home across the street from yours is most likely to cause either anger, because you don't want a modern style home in your ranch style neighborhood, or envy, because it's big and new and shiny.

But wait, there's more. Now imagine the home on the corner, a couple houses down from yours:

ranch style home in non hoa neighborhood

So many things going on with this house we'll need to look at it more closely.

statue of horse rearing in front of home

Yes, that is a giant statue of a horse in front of the house. Imagine driving by that every day on your way to and from work. But this neighbor is offering more than just this rearing beauty.


Which would bug you the most (not including the statue)?

  • Dirt with weeds front yard?
  • Four different styles of brick trim (brown rough bricks on the side of the home, wagon wheel bricks at the front porch, stone wall on the front of the home, and the fancy design gray block wall)?
  • Roof which looks like it might not survive the next monsoon?

At this point, I know what you're thinking - it's probably better to leave the neighborhood in the other direction, so you don't have to drive past these two neighbors repeatedly. Well, this article wouldn't be complete if the neighbors on the other side of your house weren't just as impressive.

Here's the neighbor on the other side of your house:

home in non hoa neighborhood in north phoenix

Let's take a closer look at his statue:

statue in front yard of home

I'm not sure if that's a tribute to the ancient Mayans (or some other tribe), or if the homeowner just loves animated movies..?

robots movie poster
image clipped from imdb.com

But there's more than just statues and robots. On the other side of this yard is a special treat for any neighbor who has arachnophobia..

large spider statue in front yard


Bottom Line

There are some great non-HOA neighborhoods out there. But there are also some neighborhoods that look a bit more eclectic. There's no right or wrong on this one - just different. Some people love neighborhoods where all the houses have a different look and feel. Others can't stand seeing one neighbor "bring down the neighborhood." Different strokes for different folks.

I've heard plenty of stories from people who are frustrated by their HOAs - tired of the the nit-picking, nagging notes, and less than equal enforcement of their rules. But, before you throw the baby out with the bath water, remember the goal of an HOA is to keep all homeowners' interests in mind. If you decide to forego the HOA and move to a non-HOA neighborhood, you might not have to deal with nagging letters in the mail, but you might have to deal with horses, robots, and spiders instead.

-Chris Butterworth

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Moving Stills - a digital drive around Phoenix

Moving Stills - a digital drive around Phoenix


I've been taking Moving Stills pictures off and on for several years - it's my favorite series on this web site. Unfortunately, I lost every Moving Stills post when I moved web platforms last fall. It has taken quite a bit effort to put them all back together, but now that I have it up and running, I'd love to share it with you.

The rules for a Moving Stills post are simple:
(from Moving Stills 1:) "the picture must be taken from my car. Inside my car, standing on top of my car, or within a few feet of my car. No hiking across fields or through city centres to get the perfect shot. And no staging whatsoever – these will be natural pictures of our fine city."
Click Here to scroll through all the Moving Stills pictures - see if you can identify what/where they are before reading the descriptions..

collage of pictures from in and around phoenix az
here's a random assortment of 10 Moving Stills photos as a collage.

Enjoy.

-Chris Butterworth

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3 Ikea hacks worth sharing

3 Ikea hacks worth sharing


What do you do when the perfect item isn't available, or it's only available at a specialty store and costs a thousand dollars more than your budget?

Enter IkeaHackers, a site where people share their creative ideas for using Ikea furniture and products in ways other than what Ikea originally intended.

Here are 3 such ideas I found interesting, and quite possibly useful, for an average home:

Bathroom Vanity from HEMNES Dresser



1.) Take a HEMNES dresser from Ikea.

2.) Get the perfect sink and vanity top.

3.) Hollow out part of the dresser for the plumbing.



4.) Voila! a unique vanity with plenty of storage space.

Read the entire post, with step by step directions, here.


Floating EXPEDIT Shelves

The directions included with the Expedit Shelves clearly show they shouldn't be hung from the wall. However, one crafty homeowner was able to use L Brackets, screwed into the studs, to provide enough support for the shelving units.

hanging (floating) expedit shelves

Read the entire post, with step by step directions, here.


The Frame Hanger

An idea that's so simple, yet so useful.

picture frame hanger


Full post here.

Left as is, the knob gives the picture frame some added depth and texture, which makes an interesting design statement.

I could see this as a useful (and decorative) tool for hanging necklaces and other jewelry. You could easily add multiple knobs or hooks to each frame, and who says the frame has to be antique and rustic? I'm picturing framed photos of the kids as necklace-storage for Mother's Day later this spring..!


What do you think? Do you have any other hacks worth sharing?

-Chris Butterworth

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the Best Password Tip Ever for Online Security

the Best Password Tip Ever for Online Security


Imagine you're about to log into (or sign up for) a popular service, using a screen like this:

login with facebook or twitter screen


You click the Login with Facebook option, because it's easy - one less password to remember. (and that ubiquitous blue and white F is everywhere..)

But this site is a spoof, made by hackers and thieves to look just like a regular site. When you input your Facebook information, they now own 3 very important pieces of your life:

  1. Your password
  2. Your email address
  3. Your Facebook account


If you use the same password for most (or all) of your websites, like most people do, you're screwed. (It doesn't matter that your password is long and complicated if you give it to them!)

1.) Your password

First thing they'll do is visit the major banks' websites - Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Chase Bank, etc., along with the major investment bankers, and see if that email address and password combination gets them in. If it does, you can kiss your money good-bye.

2.) Your email address

Next they'll log into your email account to look for any other accounts they might have missed. You know those confirmation emails you get when you sign up for online account management? If you archive those so you have a copy in case you ever need it, the bad guys now have a copy too. And of course they'll look for other emails where you might have reset your password along the way, so they can find multiple versions of your passwords.

3.) Your Facebook account

If the first two weren't enough, they may use your Facebook account to try to trick your friends and family members into sending "you" money and/or their own personal information.

Being Smarter with your passwords

Obviously it would be better to have a different password for every website you visit. But, you can't be expected to remember dozens of long, complicated passwords. And if you write them down, or keep them in your computer or online, you're just giving a treasure chest to the thief who gets there first..

One Password to Rule Them All

(yes, that's a Lord of the Rings reference. But I haven't seen the Hobbit yet..)

Here is an easy, step-by-step guide to making a really complicated password, easy for you to remember, that's different for every website.

1.) Get a catch phrase. Think of a phrase that's a few words long and contains a number.

  • Labron, #6 - Best Player Ever
  • Motley Crue Rocked in '87
  • My 2 boys are Awesome!
  • 122 degrees is too hot! (that was the hottest temperature ever in Phoenix)


2.) Shorten that catch phrase down to letters (upper and lower case), numbers, and symbols.

  • L#6bpE
  • mcR'87
  • m2baA!
  • 122^itH

This is your new Base Password. Learn it. Know it. Live it.

3.) Customize it for each website by using that website's name. You can do this by adding the website's first letter to your base password, or by adding the number of letters in the website's name, or any combination of attributes. Here are some examples:

Yahoo!

  • add a "y" to the beginning of your base password, and a 6 (# of letters) to the end: yL#6bpE6
  • add a "YA" (first 2 letters) to the end of your base password: L#6bpEYA
  • add a "y" to the front and an "a" to the end of your base password: yL#6bpEa


Facebook (using the same 3 options as above):

  • fL#6bpE8 (added an f in front, 8 in back)
  • L#6bpEFA (added 1st 2 letters, in caps, at end)
  • fL#6bpEa (added 1st letter in front, 2nd letter at end)


4.) Make a note of your new password, if you must, using shorthand.

I keep a list of all my sites' login information (in a secret place!), because sometimes websites don't allow special characters, or sometimes I have a username instead of an email address, or for whatever other reason the password plan might not be perfect. But I NEVER write out my full usernames or passwords - I use abbreviations just to remind myself.

For the 1st Yahoo! example above, I might make a note that says:

  • Yahoo RE y6

RE (stands for Regular Email address is my username)
y6 (y at the beginning, 6 at the end)

Anyone seeing a note that reads: "Yahoo - RE - y6" won't be able to hack into my account.

That's it. An easy to remember catch phrase becomes a unique for each site, impossible to crack series of passwords.

If you're using this system and someone hacks your Facebook account - who cares? You might be able to have your password reset, or you might even have to delete that account and start over. But you won't have to worry about your retirement account disappearing!

laptop locked up tight
image credit - Microsoft Clipart

Bonus Tips

* Check the URL. Before you input your login information into a website, even if it's a site you use regularly, check the URL at the top of your browser to make sure it's right. If something doesn't look right, try exiting the page and hand-typing the correct URL instead.

* Check-Ins are Bad. When you check-in on your social media site, you're letting people know you aren't home. Even worse are those short, quick posts like:
Family movie night - Yay! The kids are so excited to see the new Spider Man! :-)
You just told the whole world that you're not going to be home for a couple-few hours. Seems like a great time for a bad guy to let himself into your house, no? Better to hold off on this post until AFTER the movie, and let everyone know how much the kids loved the movie instead..

* Think. Treat your online security like you do your offline security. Lock your doors, don't be gullible with strangers, be observant of your surroundings, don't put yourself in danger's way, etc. We teach these things to our kids, and then spend a lifetime practicing them. But then we act completely differently online.. Doesn't make sense.

It's not hard to think of a catch phrase, and it's not hard to change your password on most sites. Hopefully you take action on this, and start protecting yourself and your family today.

Please feel free to call, email, or comment below if you want to discuss this further..

-Chris Butterworth

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taming the garage - ideas for storage and organization

taming the garage - ideas for storage and organization


(lots of photos below)

Taming the garage is one of those never ending battles; the more organized you get, the more space you create, the more stuff you store in the garage, the more crowded the garage gets! But, a well-organized garage is a thing of beauty - everything is out of the way, protected from the elements, and right where you need it, just when you need it.

Here are four simple rules of thumb to getting the most out of your garage:

1.) Vertical Storage. Your ideal storage space is up in the air - high enough that you aren't walking around it or bumping your car door against it. Anything you store at ground level makes your garage smaller - less space to park and move around in. Storage above six feet in the air is like free space, with no effect on your daily use.

2.) Containers. Having loose items everywhere is a recipe for clutter, where things get lost, ruined, or in the way. You can have big containers, small containers, flat containers, long containers - whatever you need. Keep similar stuff inside each container, and use a label maker to label what's inside.

3.) Purge. That $200 specialty tool that you use every few years? Sure, keep it (especially if it fits in a container) - it's too expensive to replace. But the $19 extended-length thingamajing that you haven't used since '04? Get rid of it! You want to keep stuff that you actually use. There's no reason to be a hoarder.

4.) Be Creative. Shelves, racks, hooks, peg boards, lofts, nets, color coding,  - anything is fair game. Take a spin around the internet (or home depot) and see what catches your eye.

Here are some ideas to get you started...

Shelving Units get stuff up off the floor, and come in lots of different styles - free standing, built into the wall, adjustable. Some can hold smaller items; others can hold several hundred pounds per shelf.




Lowe's




Bikes take up a ton of floor space. A good bike racking system can go a long way towards a clean and organized garage.





Overhead Shelves and Racks. These are my favorites - strong and sturdy, big, up and out of the way. I think every garage should have some of these..










Overhead shelves with Pulleys




Car Racking Systems. Maybe you have a car in the garage that you don't want to get rid of but that you rarely ever drive - have you considered "lifting" it up and out of the way?





Containers come in all shapes, sizes, and colors. (so do label makers!)









Lowe's




Peg Boards help give your tools a home. (again, up and out of the way..)


Lowe's


You could always go all-out and build a full on man cave.




Garage Door - I found these garage door stickers a few years ago and thought they were awesome. (I'm not sure your HOA would approve, though..)












OK, that's enough gratuitous pictures - you get the point. Give your garage a little thought and a little effort, and it will give back a lot of pride and usefulness. (and when it comes time to sell your home, a well-organized garage makes buyers ooh and ahh...)

What am I missing? What great garage ideas have you seen?

-Chris Butterworth

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More Stats - More Confusion

More Stats - More Confusion


The Greater Phoenix area was built on suburban sprawl - going as far back as I can remember. (McCormick Ranch was a master planned community built way out in the middle of nowhere - back when Shea was the far northern end of the world in the mid-1970s!) This tremendous growth, which we have all known as "normal" over the last 40+ years, was built on 2 factors:

  1. Population growth, as people moved to Phoenix from other parts of the country.
  2. Trading up, as people and families traded their starter condo for a small house, and then their small house for a larger house, etc.


Today, I don't have current numbers for population inflows (I'll have to look into that), but the charts and stats tell me the 2nd factor is non-existent. That does not bode well for "normal."

Here are lots of charts & comments, with additional thoughts at the end:

Existing Home Inventory (nationally)

existing home inventory - nationally


  • Chart courtesy of www.calculatedriskblog.com
  • Notice the rapid drop in inventory over the last couple years - this is putting upward pressure on prices nationwide. It's why there is so much media these days saying 2013 will see pricing increases.


Distressing Gap (nationally)

gap in sales between new and existing home sales


  • Another great chart provided by www.calculatedriskblog.com
  • This chart shows the gap that appeared in 2007-08 as existing home prices fell to the point at which new construction couldn't be built at a competitive price. The gap has remained wide due to the depressed pricing of foreclosed homes around the country.
  • Locally, our gap has been receding as builders have ramped up production recently.
  • Nationally, they expect to see this gap narrow over the next year or two as the wave of foreclosures recedes.

New Listings by Month - Maricopa County

new listings by month - maricopa county sfr


  • There's a seasonal dip at the end of every year, so we would expect November and December to be a little low.
  • This year, November and December fell off a cliff. Where are the new listings?
  • I'm hopeful this is seasonal only, and January's number shows strength.
  • If not, what are people waiting for?
  • Are we out of foreclosures?
  • Are families trapped by negative equity? (and everyone who can/will short-sale/foreclose has already done so?)
  • Are investors out of good deals, where they're able to find homes for pennies on the dollar?
  • Now that prices are pointed upward, are families waiting for prices to get even higher?
  • I don't know the cause, but I can tell you this isn't a normal market.


Occupancy of Homes Sold - Maricopa County

occupancy of homes sold in maricopa county

  • This has been my bread and butter chart for years. The market won't be normal until there are far more occupied homes than vacant homes.
  • The trend was going in the right direction in Spring 2012; what happened after that? Why did the gap widen again?


New Vacant Listings as a Percentage of the Total - Maricopa County

New Vacant listings as pct of total - maricopa county


  • Same as the chart above.
  • When more than half of the new listings are vacant, we're not in a normal market.


Days on Market - last 25 months



  • Notice how fast the market heated up this year.
  • Remember the last time the market heated up really quickly? Hint - it didn't end well..


Price per Square Foot - last 25 months

price per square foot - maricopa county


  • Another angle of the same picture from above, showing how quickly the market has heated up.
  • Approx. 5% increase in 2011. (76.6 to 80.2)
  • Approx. 28% increase in 2012. (81.0 to 103.8). Does that sound like a market we would want to maintain?
  • Notice the chart is leveling off. Maybe this is because we've reached the point where prices should be. Maybe this is seasonality and we're about to see another large price hike..?


Historical Price per Square Foot - Maricopa County

historical price per square foot - maricopa county


  • Through 2002, prices were normal; appreciation was nominal.
  • 2003 was the start of the bubble, and by early 2006 prices were way out of line.
  • Prices today are about where they were in 2002-2003.
  • Maybe we're priced about right today.
  • If prices continue to rise, I'll contend we're heading into bubble territory. Especially since the traditional move-up market doesn't exist.


Additional Thoughts


  • This is a stressful time here in Phoenix and Maricopa County. There's no sure direction on where the market is headed.
  • Are prices stabilizing? Does that mean investors will start selling homes they've been renting, increasing supply and driving prices downward?
  • Will more traditional move-up families decide it's time to sell their home and move up to another?
  • Will the supply shortage continue, sending the buyers in the market into hyper-competitive mode, which then drives prices up further?
  • And on top of everything else, what will happen to interest rates this year?


I have far more questions than answers these days, and it's not from lack of paying attention. This is just a very unique, very strange time in Phoenix history..

-Chris Butterworth

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