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Stellar Recap | Economic Hot Potato, Housing Market Woes, & Nomad Lifestyle

Stella Min
Stella Min
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Explorations
Email is complicated. I’ve been investigating why my newsletter may be going to the Promotions folder in Gmail and it turns out there’s a lot of reasons. It could be anything from the receiver’s inbox preferences, my subject line, the size of my message, and/or the number of links in my newsletter. As you may have noticed, I’ve added a message to introduction of my newsletter encouraging readers to save my email address, whitelist my newsletter, and reply with feedback. That’s because this is one way to minimize the chance that my newsletter will be labeled as promotional. Beyond that, I’m stumped. This only happened to some readers and not others. That makes me think it’s a preference issue but I’m not sure. If it’s something you’re experiencing and don’t know how to solve, reply to this email and we can troubleshoot it together.
Economic hot potato. I’ve been closely following economic headlines and the trends are astounding. Companies are reporting record profits: American Express up $367 million; Amazon’s profits tripled to $8.1 billion; Google’s profit more than doubled to $17.93 billion; and Microsoft’s profits jumped 44% to $15.5 billion. Consequently, the S&P 500 increased by 83% since the end of March 2020 and the average CEO now makes 320 times more than their average employee (see list of highest-paid CEOs). All of the stock market hype has motivated more and more retail investors, like you and me, to jump in on the frenzy and push the values up even further. Meanwhile, big institutional investors are exiting in droves, including C-suite executives and other company insiders. Some have gone a step further and placed bets against the market like this $40 million bet on a crash in mid-July that I shared in my second newsletter. While just around half of Americans own some form of stock, these trends leave me wondering about what happens when and if the market pops. People over age 65 have the most to lose (in terms of dollar values) right when they need the money for retirement. However, they’re also more likely to own other appreciating assets like real estate which leaves this group potentially better off than younger adults who haven’t had as much time to build wealth. In fact, millennials accounts for just 4.6% of US wealth versus the 53.2% of wealth held by baby boomers. Even for those who don’t own stocks, the Great Recession demonstrated that a crash has downstream consequences that negatively affect everyone. Most of us are probably well aware that the price of high-demand commodities is exponentially increasing, as several companies have increased the price of their products from consumer staples such as food and diapers to non-essentials like electronics, vehicles, airline tickets, and car-rentals in Hawaii. These price hikes are going to especially hurt the 46% of households that are financially struggling, particularly the 43 million Americans who are food insecure. And this is just considering the US. Globally, the World Bank estimated that the pandemic may more than double the number of people in extreme poverty this year. I can’t imagine the impact of a global market crash on top of these conditions.
Navigating the housing market. If you’re interested in purchasing a house, how should you approach this decision when prices have risen over 12% as of February 2021? These prices are moving so quickly that something I published last week (rising lumber prices will add an additional $24,000 on the price of a new single-family home) is already below current estimates by almost $12,000. You could focus your search in large metros that experienced a large exodus during the pandemic until you see that home prices have climbed the most in many of these same cities. If you’re looking for a deal, you’re probably in for a long search, given that houses priced under $200,000 are disappearing. If you’re waiting for a crash, experts say that it’s unlikely to occur. You could try following one of the many lists that are published each week like this top 25 list by Quicken Loans, the emerging housing markets index by WSJ and Realtor.com, or the housing heat index by Bankrate, but why should you trust one method over another? If it’s a supply and demand problem, you could track housing inventory but most lists focus on the largest metros like Realtor.com. Alternatively, you can track which metros (large and small) are spending the most on new residential construction. It may take a while before these new homes translate into more affordable housing though. Even if you manage to find a house that you like, it’s difficult to get a grasp on the total cost of your decision because rising property values. Generally, increasing property values means higher property taxes but this varies by state and locality. For example, median property values increased 17.2% in Colorado since 2019 but property taxes stayed relatively low in cities like Denver because of laws like the Gallagher Amendment. Voters repealed the amendment last year which will likely give some new homebuyers sticker shock since previous tax records will not reflect this change. New homebuyers may also encounter another expensive surprise if they move into a special district where board members of that district can issue bonds that may increase property taxes (e.g., Westerly Creek debacle). That’s why homebuyers should look for lists of special districts and their fees, but you probably won’t know about that until you get hit with a steep tax bill. At least, that was true in my case 🤦🏻. Maybe others had better foresight than I did. Regardless, the cost of purchasing a home is more than its listing price. In the Denver metro area, the total price you pay each year depends on property tax rates (including recent changes to laws that affect them) and special districts. If you’re planning to move to Florida (e.g., house in Dunedin or Bradenton) homebuyers may care more about home insurance premiums that have increased by 21% since 2018–fun fact: while Florida made up 8% of homeowner insurance claims in 2019, they accounted for 76% of homeowner insurance lawsuits–and that Florida representatives just passed legislation that reduces voting access. Essentially, I feel overwhelmed by the amount of due diligence that needs to occur to potentially avoid expensive mistakes.
Discoveries
Changes to the electoral map. The Census results are in and six states will be adding congressional seats this fall (Colorado, North Carolina, Montana, Oregon, and Texas). These gains came at the loss of seven states were population sizes have decreased or stayed relatively flat (California, Illinois, Michigan, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia). New York lost a seat by a razor thin margin of just 89 residents while Minnesota managed to hang on to one by just 29 residents. These changes will shift slightly more power to Republicans during the redistricting process who will control 2.5 times as many congressional districts as Democrats, although Biden would still likely have won the 2020 presidential election.
Nomad Lifestyle. I watched a PBS NewsHour episode featuring Jessica Bruder (53 min.), author of Nomadland which inspired Chloe Zhao’s award winning film of the same name, and I discovered several interesting people who share tips for others who are interested in the nomad lifestyle. Nomads like Joe and Kait Russo share tips on how to earn a living and staying connected to the internet. Carolyn shares tips for RV life. The Tin Can Travelers share their tips for saving money and finding places to stay, as well as reviews on gear and other essentials. Of course, there’s also Bob Wells who was featured in the film. Notably, their lives are very different from those that are captured by #Vanlife, which is much more luxurious. My partner and I can relate much more to the minimalist approach. I unfortunately have very few photos of our vehicles other than the outsides (see below). You can get a glimpse of an early iteration of the ambulance in this video that was shared by mother-in-law and pinned by Glenn Boyce. This photo gives you an idea of how NOT #vanlife we were. I prefer insulation and fuel efficiency over fancy wooden panel walls.
Our ambulance camper in Grand Tetons National Park, WY.
Our ambulance camper in Grand Tetons National Park, WY.
Our campervan in Monument Valley, UT.
Our campervan in Monument Valley, UT.
While we didn’t have nightmares about our van breaking down like this couple, we our van also stranded us in a small town in Nevada after we broke an axle. We were lucky that one of us had cell signal because we were in the middle of nowhere. That’s part of the reason why we recently purchased a truck. We’re going to convert it into a camper this summer.
Recap
5 journaling prompts. If you’re following along with me in my one thing project, here are the five questions I explored this week:
  • What’s one thing you wouldn’t want a close friend or family member to know about you?
  • What’s one step that you can take within the next month that will move you closer to one of your goals?
  • What’s one thing you hope to be known for by those who are important to you?
  • What’s a pivotal moment or event that you often think about (in your life or in general)?
  • What word would you use to describe yourself?
Digital Gems
  • Dying is expensive in the US. (CNBC; 15 min. video)
  • President Biden formally recognizes the Armenian genocide that occurred in 1915 and why it’s so meaningful to Armenian Americans like POLITICO reporter Charlie Mahtesian. (Politico Dispatch podcast; 14 min)
  • The new trend in objectifying men’s thighs–#ThighGuySummer? (Vox)
  • DoNotPay is releasing a new tool that evades facial recognition software. (Input Magazine)
  • Millions of people are skipping their second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine (CBS News). Reasons include issues with their second appointment, confidence in their protection with only one shot, and side effects, especially if they were sick after their first one. (NYT)
  • For a couple of hours, Nicolás Kuroña—an Argentinian Trump supporter—managed to nab the Google domain with the “.ar” (suffix Argentina) for just $3. It was likely an error on the part of the domain registrar, but if not, that would have been a super lucrative cybersquatting opportunity. (Rest of World)
  • New Malaria vaccine was 77% effective in a small trial in Burkina Faso. This represents a significant break through if proven effective in larger trials. The current vaccines are only about 55% effective. (BBC)
  • Starting this October, you’ll need a REAL-ID compliant driver’s license to board a domestic flight in the United States. Currently, only 43 percent of U.S. driver’s licenses are compliant, according to the Department of Homeland Security. (ABC)
  • The number of Americans with life-threatening food allergies has been increasing at about 4% every year for the past two decades. Common food allergies, known as “the Big Nine,” include peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, soy, dairy, eggs, and wheat. They account for 90% of food allergy reactions. (FARE)
  • The price of a “reputation management” company costs roughly $20,000 (NYT). Before you hire a company, contact Google first.
  • Mobile apps are collecting data on the locations of US soldiers and potentially selling them to adversaries. (WSJ What’s News podcast; 14 min.)
  • The 2021 Main Residency Match was the largest in NRMP history, but there were over 4,000 would-be doctors who didn’t—initially—match due to the shortage of residency placements (NRMP). That is devastating for those who have accumulated over $300k in student loan debt. It’s also critical issue given that, over the next 10 years, the US will be short 54,000 and 139,000 physicians. (Marketplace)
  • A quarter of women in the US said that they’re financially worse off than they were a year ago (WP). Collectively around the world, women lost $800 billion in income last year. (CNN)
  • Extremists are thriving on livestreaming platforms like Twitch. (NYT)
  • Junk-rated companies issued over $157 billion in bonds during the first quarter of 2021. (Barron’s)
  • The history and evolution of “Cancel Culture.” (NYT)
  • Inside glimpse of the COVID-19 outbreak in India. (The Journal podcast; 15 min.)
  • Video footage of the land spout tornado that touched down in Kit Carson, Colorado on April 27, 2021. (Live Storms Media; 2:29 min.)
  • Almost 100 immigrants tested positive for COVID-19 at the Aurora ICE detention facility. (CPR)
  • TED launched their Spanish podcast series! (TED)
  • 36% of subscribers canceled at least one of their streaming services. (Hollywood Reporter)
  • The Florida Keys Mosquito Control District has partnered with Oxitec to release genetically modified mosquitos to combat mosquito-born illnesses. (Guardian)
  • 10% of people who tested positive for COVID-19 experience long-haul symptoms. Lingering symptoms after an infection are also common and prevalent. (Today, Explained podcast; 26min)
View more snippets of my digital consumption here.
Wishing you a productive week
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Stella Min
Stella Min @OhhStellar

Stellar Recap is my personal newsletter where I share digest of interesting media that I've come across during the week, along with any personal updates.

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