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Senate bans “gag clauses” being used by brands to block negative reviews

Brands are putting gag clauses in fine print to disallow customers from ever leaving a negative review of them online (lest they be sued). Uncle Sam has stepped in, so stay tuned.

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One of the great things about freedom of speech in America is that for the most part, we as citizens (or journalists) can comment on things like laws, products, or even Donald Trump without fear of being flogged or stoned in public or worse. I mean that’s the way it’s supposed to work. That’s what makes America great.

Every now and then it doesn’t happen that way. More and more frequent is the use of “non-disparagement” or “gag” clauses in fine print by companies in an attempt to block negative publicity.

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The most well known and famous example of this involves online retailer, KlearGear and a couple who went online with a critical review of services rendered.

Fighting back against this trick

In one of the quicker moves to resolve this type of big business abuse, the Senate has passed a bill to nix the use of these tricky “non-disparagement” or “gag” clauses, which again would prevent consumers from providing their honest opinions in public forums, bringing it one major step closer to becoming law.

The bill has been referred to the Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing, and Trade, and if passed by the full Congress, the Consumer Review Freedom Act would give the Federal Trade Commission and state attorneys general the authority to take enforcement action against businesses that attempt to these ethically questionable clauses to quiet consumers.

Although previous attempts at legislation on a national level have fallen short, it looks like the Senate is doing the right thing in an effort to protect consumers.

#GagClause

Nearly three decades living and working all over the world as a radio and television broadcast journalist in the United States Air Force, Staff Writer, Gary Picariello is now retired from the military and is focused on his writing career.

Real Estate Big Data

Home sales dive 10% in May – when is a sales rebound expected?

(REAL ESTATE) Home sales plummet in May, which we all expected, but when will sales begin to recover in light of this pandemic?

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As you would expect, May marks the third consecutive month of home sales declines amidst a global pandemic. According to the National Association of Realtors (NAR), existing home sales fell 9.7% in May compared to April, down a whopping 26.6% compared to this time last year.

The silver lining is that values continue to improve, with a median existing home price of $284,600 nationally, up 2.3% from May 2019, marking the 99th month of year-over-year gains.

Inventory levels rose 6.2% from April, and are down 18.8% from May 2019. Average days on market didn’t move much, at 26 days being equal to May 2019, and down from 27 days in April.

“Sales completed in May reflect contract signings in March and April – during the strictest times of the pandemic lockdown and hence the cyclical low point,” said Dr. Lawrence Yun, NAR’s chief economist.

He added, “Home sales will surely rise in the upcoming months with the economy reopening, and could even surpass one-year-ago figures in the second half of the year.”

Sales also reflected an uptick in suburban sales over urban home sales. Dr. Yun cited work from home demands, however, anecdotally we would add some people moving away from densely populated areas in response to recent unrest.

What will ease housing conditions?

As he has observed repeatedly in recent years, Dr. Yun points to home builders. “New home construction needs to robustly ramp up in order to meet rising housing demand. Otherwise, home prices will rise too fast and hinder first-time buyers, even at a time of record-low mortgage rates.”

Mortgage Banker’s Association’s (MBA’s) SVP and Chief Economist, Dr. Mike Fratantoni’s insight pointed to inventory challenges as well: “As buyers are returning to the market, as evidenced by the strong, nine-week rebound in MBA’s purchase application data, the lack of homes for sale will be a real constraint. Although demand certainly dropped in March and April due to the crisis, supply dropped even more, and has thus far kept home prices from declining. We expect that home-price growth will pick up over the summer due to insufficient supply levels.”

Dr. Fratantoni noted, “The market is supported by strong demand from first-time homebuyers, who represented 34% of home purchases in May. Millennial-driven demand will be a tailwind for the market for the next several years.”

“Although the real estate industry faced some very challenging circumstances over the last several months, we’re seeing signs of improvement and growth, and I’m hopeful the worst is behind us,” said NAR President Vince Malta, broker at Malta & Co., Inc.

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Real Estate Big Data

Mortgage rates are still falling, demand still rising

(REAL ESTATE BIG DATA) Mortgage rates are low, so people should buy or refinance before they go up. And although inventory is low, demand is up as well.

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Mortgage rates have dropped to another record low with the fourth reduction this year and buyers are taking notice. According to Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) economist Joel Kan, “The housing market continues to experience the release of unrealized pent-up demand from earlier this spring, as well as a gradual improvement in consumer confidence.” Mortgage applications rose 4% last week from the previous week and were 21% higher than last year, according to the MBA’s seasonally adjusted index. Nine straight weeks of gains and the highest volume in more than 11 years is significant.

A year ago the 30-year home loan averaged 3.84%, but for the week ending June 18th, the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage averaged 3.13%, down eight basis points from a week earlier. The previous record low was 3.15% at the end of last month. 15-year fixed-rate mortgages have also seen a drop. Four basis points down to an average 2.58% rate.

With numbers like this, Americans may not want to wait too much longer before locking rates in.

Lower rates have also encouraged an increase in applications for refinancing, with applications up 10% for the week and 106% higher than a year ago. “Refinancing continues to support households’ finances, as homeowners who refinance are able to gain savings on their monthly mortgage payments in a still-uncertain period of the economic recovery,” Kan said.

There is no certainty how long rates will remain this low, however. Matthew Speakman, an economist with Zillow said “Upticks in coronavirus cases across the country left market participants skeptical of the economic recovery’s sustainability. More bad news regarding the uptick in coronavirus cases would likely send rates back downward, possibly to new lows. However, rates could just as easily begin to trend upward again, particularly if key economic data or measures to contain or treat the virus show meaningful improvements.”

The housing market is seeing a rebound. COVID-19 stay at home orders mean more people are wanting to invest in their homes and buyers are ready to capitalize on low rates before they increase. Unsold inventory remains at a low, however, and until there are more houses up for sale there is a limit on how high sales activity will increase.

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Real Estate Big Data

Chinese investments in America dipped 90% in 48 months

(REAL ESTATE BIG DATA) It might have been obvious to some but as a result of our recent relationship with them, Chinese investments in American real estate are down.

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Chinese investment

Since 2016, American eyes have been on China and their investment–or lack thereof–in American real estate. According to Insight 24/7 News, Chinese investment in America has dropped from $46.5 billion to a mere $5 billion in the past four years–roughly a 90 percent decrease. Believe it or not, though, this doesn’t exactly spell doom for the future.

So how did we get here?

We’ve written at length about foreign investment in American real estate, a process from which China is not exempt. In mid-2016, Chinese investment peaked; with the election of President Trump and the ensuing trade war, these investments came under fire, leading to the rapid decrease in standing investments culminating in what we see today.

It would be easy for someone to glance at these numbers, note the disparity, and panic. After all, don’t rapid drops in real estate investment signal impending disaster?

In this case, no–though it is emblematic of a current problem. The removal of Chinese ownership of properties in the U.S. simply addresses a larger issue–that the relationship between these two countries is tenuous, and increasingly stiff regulations on foreign investment coupled with a reluctance on the Chinese government’s behalf to invest is the very recipe for declining numbers.

When one looks at the fact that many of these property grabs were illicit or based on loose regulation–especially through the optic of Chinese markets emerging as competitors rather than partners–the investments themselves begin to look problematic, making their decline seem like more of a side-effect of a system at work than a symptom of a greater illness.

However, in an age of generalizations and hot tempers, it’s important to take a minute to remember that this is not a “Chinese” issue–far from it. The people of China have about as much say in their government’s illicit affairs as we have in the caloric count of a McMuffin–often less, in fact–and while the current political climate has led to some demonization of Chinese values and investments, let’s not forget that there can be a fine line between regulation and racism.

As Insight 24/7 News points out, America has become an “inhospitable” place for Chinese investment–a byproduct of the aforementioned regulation and tariff war. This kind of hostility may be warranted, but directing it at Chinese residents or citizens never will be.

It’s also worth keeping in mind that Chinese investment in American property is likely to continue decreasing, at least for the near future. Consumer attitudes toward a Chinese market aren’t great in the wake of COVID-19, and the trade war doesn’t show any signs of stopping any time soon.

Simply put, until the U.S. government and the Chinese government can learn to trust each other again, the likelihood that either will invest in the other isn’t optimistic.

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