Damn Bug-ly!

They’re baaaack!  A plague of those creepy crawly Mormon crickets are chewing their way through Nevada and are headed our way.  Native Americans long valued these ugly bugs for their nutritional value, herding them to gather to roast and grind into a flour of sorts making edible cakes of sorts that pioneers called “desert fruitcakes”.

If you’re not a native Utahn you may not have heard the famous tale of the 1848 cricket invasion. The newly arrived Mormons had barely been in the Salt Lake Valley for a year and had worked hard and fast to plant and raise crops. The late harvest that first year was bleak and spring the following year had late frosts that destroyed the second planting season. Sometime during their second summer here black clouds of these kinda scary looking bugs landed and crawled and chewed their way to the gardens of the saints, threatening to wipe out major food sources. This creature is known to travel in huge swarms and will eat all plant material in their path. The story goes that the settlers prayed for a miracle and sure enough a huge flock of seagulls came and ate all the bugs, saving crops. What is now known as the “Miracle of the Gulls” is mostly factual and it is why the seagull (actually the California Gull) is the state bird of Utah. These kinds of gulls are a desert bird and have been in Utah for centuries. They certainly didn’t eat all the crickets and damage to the crops also happened because there was a drought going on in the state those years.

White folk aren’t known to eat bugs. I’ve never seen any historical records that Utah pioneers ate these crickets, but frankly, they should have!  Sun dried and ground up, crickets have 60% protein, 10% carbs and around 3,000 calories per kilogram. Nowadays you can buy ‘3 Cricketeers’ dark chocolate candy bars, Cricket Crunch Bars, Chocolate Chip Cricket Cookie Mix with Cricket Flour, dried edible bugs “Crick-ettes’ flavored with salt and vinegar, sour cream and onion or bacon and cheese flavor and Entolife brand dried crickets form Maine flavored with chocolate and coffee or sriracha. Silly pioneers! We could have had our famous Utah funeral potatoes with dried bugs mixed in or even our office state snack (Green Jello) with crickets suspended in Jello. As an aside, Bill Cosby came to our Utah state Senate in 2001 to encourage legislators to make Jello our official snack.

Elko, Nevada is under siege with millions of bugs and they are headed here. Twenty years ago, almost 2.5 million acres were infested with them in Utah, and Tooele County was one of the worst-hit areas. They may be part of the food chain but they are smelly and BUG-ly!

Growing Pains

We love our cars, don’t we? As our state grows, so does our need to address traffic around the state. Six groups, including the Cache Metro Planning Org. (CMPO), Dixie Metro Planning Org. (Dixie MPO), Mountainland Assoc. of Governments (MAG), Utah Dept. of Transportation (UDOT), Utah Transit Authority (UTA) and Wasatch Front Regional Council (WFRC) are sponsoring a state survey to find out what you think about how, when, where and why you travel in and around the state in order to help plan for future transportation improvements.

You may have heard that UDOT is considering turning the Bangerter Highway into a full blown freeway? Currently there are four new freeway-style interchanges and off-ramps planned for 2700 West, 13400 South, 9800 South and 4700 South which will eliminate stoplights at four more intersections for drivers on the current highway. This is needed as @60,000 drivers use the road everyday but double that is expected by 2040 as growth along the southwest corner of the valley continues to explode with commercial and residential growth.

UTA is going to be adding double track and electrification of FrontRunner commuter rail lines to increase service times, and I-15 may build more lanes from Farmington’s Shepard Lane to Salt Lake City’s 400 South. The public transportation agency has a few options they’ve been presenting to the public. Option A would include five general purpose lanes, an express lane and auxiliary lane in each direction with express lanes being reversed during commutes. Option B proposes reversible express lanes in the middle. Residents along the I-15 corridor could lose homes and businesses in the Guadalupe, Fairpark, Rose Park, Poplar Grove and Woods Cross areas with potential expansion plans on the west side of the freeway. This opens up a huge debate between homeowners and the government, because if it’s decided there will be expansion and home and business owners don’t want to sell, they could lose their property in a public ‘taking’ of their properties which is supposed to give fair market value for those properties if the plans go forward.

Seems like a long time ago when I-15 first began construction. In 1926 when the numbered system of U.S. highways was created, it was known as US 91.  Back in 1957 I-15 started as an interstate highway with a segment between Los Angeles and Las Vegas open to traffic in 1966. Construction continued through the 1970’s and the final part of the freeway opening in 1990. In the 1960’s the north-south section was built in Davis County that eventually led to Layton as a new commercial hub and made a huge difference in growth in Centerville, Farmington and Kaysville.

As we grow we need better transportation options. The six groups sponsoring the survey are asking random folks to participate in a statewide survey about how, where and when we travel each day and gives each participating adult a $25 gift card to report their travel for a seven day period.

Renter Equity?!

The National Assn. of REALTORS published data last month showing that SLC homeowners gained an average of $238,240 in equity in the past decade. The report added that almost 72% of Salt Lake’s citizens own their own home. This is GREAT if you actually own, rather than rent because it’s like having a savings account that you can draw on or build upon over the years. This is a national trend for homeowner equity and it’s why we as REALTORS try daily to encourage people to buy rather than rent if possible. Besides building equity owning a home has tax advantages as mortgage interest is one of the few write offs the IRS allows for a single or couple without children. That write off can save tens of thousands of dollars each year in taxes! I always suggest for folks who don’t currently own and who file an easy return to take it out and make a copy so you can scrawl on the copy. Then, look for the ‘mortgage deduction’ section of the easy form and add in, say $2500 X12, which might be interest you pay on your loan for a year = $30,000. That alone is quite a deduction and look how it changes what you may get back from the IRS!

Utah has a nonprofit called the Perpetual Housing Fund that wants to turn renters into owners. Federal subsidies (in the form of IRS mortgage interest deductions) have long been used as a vehicle to encourage homeownership for Americans because they’re effective. As the opportunity for homeownership disappears, the majority of the population is being left behind—more specifically, the portion of the population that didn’t get into a home before 2020. Their idea is simply to build apartments and then share in the equity with the renters to save to purchase later. PHF says, “75% of the annual cashflow, asset appreciation, and debt reduction generated by our projects will be distributed into the hands of our tenants. There are no commitments and no time limits. The longer they stay the more they earn—these funds can be used to fund a small business, go back to school, or put a down payment on a property of their own.”

Basically you rent, get a share of the profits of the apartment building and then can use your new found wealth to put as a down payment to buy a condo or home. You could also use the profits in case of a medical emergency or even start a small business. Some of the buildings proposed would be condos and so renters, if they liked the place they lived in might be able to purchase that unit or another in the building. For more information go to perpetualhousingfund.org. If you’re interested in leasing a PHF property, check for more information or sign up to be among the first to know when thier projects begin accepting applications.

Good for Bad

Starting this month people with bad credit may be able to get federally insured mortgages thanks to people getting new loans with good credit. I’m so not making this up!

About 25% of homebuyers of FHA loans are people of color. Generally, the demographic on average has fewer savings for down payments on homes and condos and often have lower credit scores. Newsweek reported that this can be attributed to minorities distrusting the banking system or being first generation Americans and don’t fully comprehend the capitalist system. Data from FinMasters noted that the average credit score in white communities was 727 in 2021 compared to 667 in Hispanic communities and 627 in Black communities.

The idea for this incentive comes at a cost for buyers who have saved money and have good scores, and some believe this program unfairly penalizes Americans who buy with a stable history. Critics charge that rewarding folks with bad credit doesn’t help access to housing, but we should focus on bringing down inflation, cutting energy costs and investing in infrastructure in cities across the nation. I’ve run the numbers and basically this will increase closing costs for good credit buyers by @$40 per month in their mortgage payments. It reminds me of back in 2007 and 2008 when minimum wage workers were being granted huge home loans without any money as a down payment and not great credit. Sadly, many of them lost their homes when the Great Recession hit.

Certainly, people with lower incomes should have an opportunity to own a home-be it a cottage, a condo, or a mobile home. I’m concerned with others that if their credit is bad, they will not be able to make payments because they haven’t learned to make payments on time. The mortgage broker I work with is more than willing to help first time home buyers understand not just the process of getting a home loan but often help repair the potential buyer’s bad credit before applying for a mortgage-at no cost to the borrower. It’s imperative to get ‘pre-approved’ for a loan before making an offer, as protocol is that the letter is submitted to a potential seller so show that the borrower has passed certain loan guidelines to make the offer and should be able to qualify for the loan.

There’s lots of grumbling in the industry about this new program but the basic facts are that 1) inventory is low and 2) affordable housing is extremely hard to find unless you’re willing to commute to the suburbs. And when closing costs for a mortgage are 2-3% of the sales price, an extra $40 shouldn’t break the bank for a first time buyer-especially if the buyer’s broker can negotiate with the seller to help pay some of the buyer’s closing costs.