Nest Egg Briefs: The most tax-efficient ways to contribute to charities

Federal tax benefits for the charitably inclined have undergone a seismic shift over the past three years. Between the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, the SECURE Act of 2019 and the three acts passed this year collectively known as the CARES Act, the federal government has not only changed the rules, but also built in some traps for the unwary.

On the Market: Could a reverse mortgage be right for you?

Reverse mortgages have a bit of an identity crisis. Many years ago, some unscrupulous lenders used them for nefarious purposes. That has all changed. Highly regulated now, reverse mortgages can actually be a wonderful solution in certain financial situations. There are several different types, so be sure to consult someone at your bank who specializes in them. And remember, there are other financial options that might be more appropriate for your situation, for example, a Home Equity Line of Credit.

Nest Egg Briefs: COVID-19 pandemic spending prompts massive government debt

The COVID-19 pandemic has required the U.S. government to spend a massive amount of money. There are two primary concerns. The first is whether or not the cost of the CARES Act and the other federal government rescue/stimulus spending packages could drive the U.S. government into bankruptcy. The second is the impact the mountain of federal debt will have on our children and grandchildren. (Full disclosure: I am not an economist.)

Nest Egg Briefs: Keeping Medicare costs down

If you are a senior on Medicare, you may be subject to higher premiums next year due to an Income-Related Monthly Adjustment Amount (IRMAA). That’s because parts of Medicare insurance are means-tested. In other words, the more you earn, the more you have to pay. And while only approximately 7% of seniors are subject to IRMAA, understanding the structure of Medicare and your taxes can help you to plan for ways to keep those extra costs down.

The business of telehealth: Coronavirus crisis brings clarity

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Courtesy of Greg Hartwell
Telehealth allows patients to receive a variety of health-related services remotely over the internet.

The Affordable Care Act was signed into law a decade ago, ushering in what many hoped would be a transformation of health-care delivery in the U.S. For a variety of reasons, while the law did expand access to health care, it didn’t spawn a great deal of innovation in a sector of our economy that badly needs it. Government regulations, bureaucracy and entrenched business interests continued to prevent ingenuity and creativity from revolutionizing – or evolutionizing – health care for the benefit of consumers.

How has the pandemic affected the real estate market?

While real estate is technically classified as an “essential service,” to protect the health and safety of buyers, sellers and agents, restrictions are in place that limit what can and can’t be done.

Disclaimer: The rules and regulations related to real estate transactions change nearly every day, so the reality may be different by the time you read this column. Feel free to contact me with specific questions.

Q: How have the shelter-in-place restrictions impacted local sales?
A: Fairly dramatically. The number of houses/condos sold in Santa Clara County is approximately 50% less than it was at this time last year.

Q: Why did the numbers drop off so much?
A: Many buyers who had just gone into contract were worried that they had overpaid. Active buyers were unsure about the direction prices might be headed. The shelter-in-place rules made it virtually impossible to actually tour in person a house listed for sale. Therefore, the majority of the closed transactions in the first 30 days of the shelter-in-place were houses that went into contract before the lockdown.

Q: How have prices been impacted?
A: Not as much as you might think. In some areas, prices are down a bit, and in other cases, they have increased. Some of this effect is based more on the price mix of the homes that sold rather than actual price appreciation.

Q: Would now be a good time to try to get a good deal on buying a house?
A: That is a common question, but in reality, most sellers are not needing to reduce prices to sell their homes. I do see price reductions in homes that were overpriced to begin with or in need of a fair bit of work to get them livable.

Q: Would now be a good time to sell?
A: Actually, yes. The caveat is that I always advise my clients to sell when the timing is right for them rather than trying to predict the market.

Q: Why would now be a good time to sell?
A: Simple supply and demand. Buyer demand has remained strong and fairly constant, yet the number of houses on the market is low. We may see a spike in inventory later in the year if many sellers decide the same thing. But for the near term, there are more buyers chasing fewer houses.

Q: I hear a lot about virtual tours, virtual open houses and virtual staging. What is that?
A: To reduce the amount of exposure and contamination, many agents are encouraging the viewing of homes for sale online. Photos, videos, walk-throughs, floor-plan maps, drone views, and more, are posted virtually so that buyers can look at a house online without having to leave their homes. A virtual open house is a live event that buyers can join in on from home and actually walk through the house with the showing agent. Buyers can direct the camera and ask questions. Virtual staging is a way to show online what an empty house might look like with furniture placed virtually in the photos.

Owen Halliday manages the Los Altos Sereno Group office. Call or text him at 402-0062 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


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