The “great man myth” of Elon Musk and the weekly roundup in tech and retail

News and commentaries

I came across this article at the MIT Technology Review on the “great man myth” around Tesla and SpaceX’s Elon Musk. It argues that the idea of an individual driving history fails to acknowledge other contributors – in this case, public sector support, timing. Even though I agree that public sector investment can be underestimated at times, I found myself frowning at the article’s overall thesis.

To put it another way, do we really think that if Jobs and Musk had never come along, there would have been no smartphone revolution, no surge of interest in electric vehicles? (MIT Technology Review)

It is precisely the ability of some individuals to harness disparate elements: available technology, human and financial resources that drive the success of certain innovations. Some of those people fade into the background and still build successful companies. And then there are a few who transcend the company that they build and drive a whole industry and shine a light on that industry to people who may not even have understood it to begin with. This is what we have with Elon Musk and Steve Jobs.

I suppose I am a proponent of the “great man” myth. I used to watch basketball because of Michael Jordan; rooted for the Yankees because of Derek Jeter and understood golf because of Tiger Woods. My first MP3 player was the iPod and my first smartphone was the iPhone because I believed in the story that Steve Jobs was telling me – that it was beautiful and that I needed it (even at a time when apps were hardly present and network data was slow).

I used to be interested in space travel but more so now because of Musk’s SpaceX. And I don’t think I’m alone because in the end, the extraordinary stories of individuals resonate with us. We hardly get excited by, and in fact are suspicious of government and companies. Apple is riding high on the great man story of Steve Jobs (and on iPhones, of course) but most people would look at Google with suspicion. It’s not just about the power over information that the company holds but Sergey Brin and Larry Page have largely failed to humanize their company to the masses despite the exciting “moonshots” that Google takes. The co-founders don’t give too many interviews and when they do, they tend to talk a lot about their ideas and not themselves.

So, yes, if Steve Jobs and Elon Musk have not come along (or the idea of a Steve Jobs/Elon Musk) have not come along, I don’t think we would be as excited about smartphones and EVs.

Here are the most relevant news in tech and retail:

In tech:

  1. Yahoo to pay $230M for shopping site Polyvore in bid to attract more users and advertisers
  2. Tesla confirms Model X deliveries to begin on September 30; stock price down with warnings of fewer car deliveries by 5,000 for the year
  3. Data storage company EMC is considering a buyout by own subsidiary, VMWare
  4. Healthcare tech: IBM acquires medical imaging company Merge Healthcare for $1B to add to its Watson Health Service; Tencent leads $90M round of investment for Indian healthcare information provider Practo
  5. Adidas acquires European mobile fitness company Runtastic for $239M

In retail:

  1. Earnings: Coach beats Q4 EPS expectations but sales are still declining; Michael Kors profit falls for the second-straight quarter at 7% decline blaming lack of new handbag styles
  2. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos sells 1M Amazon shares valued at more than $500M as part of a divestment plan, still owns 18% of the company
  3. India’s e-commerce company Snapdeal raises $500M in fresh funding from Alibaba, Foxconn and Softbank; will invest $100M in R&D over the next three years
  4. Target launches Bluetooth beacons in 50 stores as part of pilot program to track customers in stores
  5. Neiman Marcus Group, Inc. files for IPO with fundraising target of $100M
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Things that make life easier and the weekly roundup in tech and retail

News and commentaries

There I was on a stationary bike at my gym (which has daycare!) and scrolling through tech and retail news for the weekly roundup and I was about to give up on finding anything exciting. Okay, maybe I’m a little spoiled from all the amazing tech (hello, Pluto) but this week was mostly about earnings (LinkedIn, Facebook, etc).

And then I found this little nugget: Google search can now tell you if a store is crowded. I don’t know about you but I think that’s a big deal.

As a relatively new mom, I never wanted to get caught in crowded stores and long lines, hence my preference for online shopping, online form fillers, online payments, etc. I always have this fear that my baby will suddenly start bawling in the middle of it all and I will be helpless in the face of all that fury. I even wondered if there’s an app that could tell me if a store I was going to will be crowded or not. Then I thought, how will an app gather that info – crowd sourcing similar to Waze?

Of course Google is way ahead. Using the location services on Android phones (in the same way it can give you an estimate on traffic), a search of a grocery store for example can tell you when the busiest times of the week are:

image

It’s not clear yet how wide the coverage is and it looks like it doesn’t work for some people but it’s yet another way for Google to leverage the Android platform adoption. Maybe not as exciting as the Pluto flyby but it’s exciting for the more mundane aspect of life, no?

In another way that a tech startup is making lives easier (at least for immigrants in the US), SimpleCitizen launched this week to make applying for a green card in the US as simple as filing taxes. I always thought that an immigration form filler would be a game changer because it’s relatively standardized but the sheer amount of paperwork can be so daunting and rife with emotional stress. I should know, I have spent thousands of dollars for immigration paperwork (lawyer fees) only because I didn’t want the stress. SimpleCitizen costs a flat fee of $249 plus $99 for a personalized lawyer review, if you want to be extra sure. Hopefully, the company will expand to other visa categories in the future.

Finally, here’s something I wanted to work on if I knew how to code – finding information on gas prices while on the road. I mean, sure, who really has the time and the inclination to look for cheap gas but I never like paying such a premium when a couple of blocks later, I find a place for 50 cents less. For now, at least Costco helps and of course, one day, we will be mostly driving electric cars anyway but it was just a thought.

And if these mundane matters don’t interest you, try posting a question to physicist Stephen Hawking as he hosts a Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything) which started on Monday, July 27 until next Tuesday, August 4 at 8 AM EDT.

Here are the most relevant news in tech and retail this week:

  1. Earnings: LinkedIn shares jump and then slide even with higher than expected earnings, reports lower ad sales; Facebook earnings beat expectations but expenses are on the rise at 82% from the same quarter a year ago; Twitter earnings also beat expectations but execs warn on user growth; Samsung net profits fall as the mobile division sees low smartphone shipments and increased marketing spend, expects to adjust Galaxy S6 pricing
  2. Software code hosting and collaboration platform Github raises $250M in Series B round led by Sequoia Capital
  3. CVS Pharmacies and IBM’s Watson supercomputer partner up to improve health care management services
  4. More on Google: Google’s Project Loon high altitude balloons partners with the government of Sri Lanka to provide seamless access to the Internet, Sri Lanka will be the first country to have universal Internet access; Google partners with Aclima to equip some Google Street View cars with equipment to track air pollution in real time
  5. Uber invests $1 billion in India as company expects to see 1M trips/day over the next nine months

In retail:

  1. Amazon: Amazon proposes drone highway for future flying package delivery; Amazon’s Dash buttons that will automatically order and ship specific household items are now available to Prime members for $4.99/each
  2. Earnings: Kering SA first-half earnings beat expectations as sales at Gucci grew for the first time in 2 years; LVMH first-half net profits up by 5%, sales up by 19%, citing exceptional profitability at Louis Vuitton
  3. Worldwide retail sales (in-store and Internet sales) will reach $22 trillion this year
  4. Apple Watch will be available at Best Buy starting August 7 in the US, and starting August 14 in Canada
  5. Saks Fifth Avenue to open its first shoe-only store in Greenwich, Connecticut in fall 2016

 

A new Amazon competitor, Jet.com and the weekly roundup in tech and retail

News and commentaries

This week’s biggest news are all about retail. Jet.com, a startup with the intent of competing against Amazon, came out of beta and is now available to the public. It works like Costco with an annual membership fee of $50 but you get access to major online stores – Amazon (yes, even Amazon), Walmart, Costco, Target – and to smaller independent retailers. The beauty of Jet is that the more you buy, the more discounts you receive to a point that the company will actually and most definitely lose money. Seems too good to be true, right? The company will solely rely on membership fees for revenue generation. I haven’t signed up yet but I will as soon as I’m ready to test a bunch of products but you can check out the service for a free 3-month trial here (and there’s no auto-enroll, even more remarkable).

Amazon is also in the news this week for posting unexpected profits for the second quarter of 2015 and for beating Walmart’s market cap. According to Wall Street firm Cowen & Co, Amazon is also expected to surpass Macy’s as the top apparel seller in the country by 2017.

In tech:

  1. Apple’s third fiscal quarter report shows 38% profit increase but iPhone sales miss Wall Street’s lofty expectations, shares fall as much as 7%
  2. Palantir Technologies, a private big-data company that serves the military, CIA and NSA, raised $450M at a $20B valuation
  3. Jeep hacking http://www.wired.com/2015/07/hackers-remotely-kill-jeep-highway/
  4. New York City puts off proposal to curb Uber rides in the city after reaching truce
  5. Oracle is seeking to update copyright lawsuit against Google to include Android OS

In retail:

  1. Startup e-commerce site Jet.com opens to the public to take on Amazon
  2. Amazon stock surges with unexpected Q2 2015 profits
  3. Kate Spade releases new product lines to become a complete luxury lifestyle brand
  4. China’s e-commerce company JD.com teams up with Taylor Swift to sell a new fashion line for Chinese shoppers
  5. Hermès reports 22% increase in Q2 sales buoyed by Japan

Pluto flyby and the weekly roundup in tech and retail

News and commentaries

This week, space exploration was in the forefront as NASA’s New Horizons performed its Pluto flyby and the images being sent back are far from finished. Because of the distance and amount of data that was gathered, it will take 16 months for all the data to be sent back to Earth. It’s definitely a gift that will keep on giving. The New York Times have compiled some images of Pluto here but if you want to go straight to the source, NASA is a also a great resource. Hopefully the excitement over Pluto will spill over to more plans for future space exploration. You might wonder though, just how much was it all worth? Here’s an infographic that could help you, courtesy of Scienceogram.org. It’s a little controversial to compare it to the US defense spending but I thought this was interesting enough to share:

For an explanation of the cost breakdown, you can read the post here.

Here are this week’s most relevant news in tech and retail:

In tech:

  1. Nintendo chief executive Satoru Iwata died Saturday in Kyoto, Japan; thousands gather at his funeral
  2. Ellen Pao exits Reddit after a tumultuous week, co-founder and original CEO Steve Huffman takes over
  3. Google earnings: Share price crosses $700 as revenue growth beats expectations; viewing time on YouTube grew by 60% in the second quarter compared to the year prior
  4. Netflix stock jumped 12% following Q2 report, company reports strong subscriber numbers
  5. IBM’s Watson supercomputer learns Arabic; other languages include English, Japanese, Spanish, and Brazilian Portuguese

    In retail:

  1. Amazon’s Prime Day was more successful than Black Friday sales, could become an annual event; other retailers follow suit
  2. eBay confirms sale of its enterprise unit for $925 million to a consortium led by private-equity firm Permira
  3. J. Crew Group Inc. launches a new budget-friendly brand J. Crew Mercantile; first store to open in Dallas in late July
  4. Facebook tests online stores again that will allow small to medium-sized businesses to sell through Facebook pages
  5. Japan’s Rakuten buys virtual fitting room startup Fits.Me for an undisclosed amount

Guide to summer trends 2015

Fashion, Trends

All other seasons in Florida are quite pleasant but summer is H-O-T. With a rapidly growing pregnant belly, it is even sweatier and hotter than normal. So truth be told, I have been living in shorts, t-shirts and white Birkenstocks (hard to bend down to tie those gladiator straps with a belly on the way). But for the rest of you passing the summer in a “this-is-amazing-weather” attitude, these summer trends would be so much fun to try.

1. It’s all about the ties. Gladiators are just so much fun and after almost a decade, the trend has come roaring back and is edgier than before, with leather straps up to the knees. For the bashful among us, espadrilles are the other shoes for summer (besides, all those leather ties up the legs could get sweaty), updated with hardware and wrap-around ties. Even flats are getting the ties update. Now, if only I can bend down to put these shoes on.

2. White lace. I know I’ve been touting white and lace since last year but both of these elements combined are just perfect for this summer. Probably because of gladiators sandals, white lace is rendered a little tougher and less frothy. Seen on Chloé’s ready to wear summer 2015 collection, other designers such as rising star Self Portrait have followed suit. Even better is that you can also find less expensive versions via fast fashion brands. Update lace for later seasons in moodier and darker colors.

3. Off the shoulder. It’s hot and it’s time to bare those shoulders while the weather allows for it. Pair it with shorts for now and with skinny jeans for when it gets a little cooler. Dress down with espadrilles or dress it up with heels, it’s all up to you.

Guide to summer trends 2015

H M dress
$93 – hm.com

Self portrait purple summer dress
$405 – net-a-porter.com

TIBI satin top
tibi.com

Candela elastic waist shorts
shop.harpersbazaar.com

Navy blue flat
figue.com

Flat
barneys.com

Pumps
forwardforward.com

J.Crew french hook earrings
$110 – jcrew.com

Figue MATCHESFASHION.COM
matchesfashion.com

Necklace
cjlaingshop.com

4. Culottes. I know that this is not for everyone but think about it – you get the flowy silhouette of a skirt without fear of said skirt blowing up when it’s windy. Plus, the new culottes come in so many options in volume and in length. If I wasn’t so pregnant, I would seriously consider this – stylish and practical.

5. Pom-poms and tassels. Bohemian style abounds and for accessories, what could be more fun than pom-poms and tassels? Since I’ve been researching/buying a lot of stuff for the house, I even found pom-poms on bedding. Then reality set in and thought of my toddler picking at the pom-poms. And seriously, who could resist these things?

 

Furniture shopping and the weekly roundup in tech and retail

News and commentaries

As I get in the thick of things of furnishing our new home (read my related post here on mortgages and house-buying), I am struck with the limitations of shopping online for furniture. This week alone, I received three shipments from One Kings Lane, a flash sale home decor website based in San Francisco. Despite some negative reviews, I figured a company valued at $912M and backed by some of Silicon Valley’s well-known venture capitalists such as Kleiner Perkins and Greylock Partners, One Kings Lane would sort of have this figured out. Well, 2 out of 3 came damaged and the third one looked so cheap, I didn’t even bother opening the rest of the package. Thankfully, contrary to the negative reviews, the customer service was top-notch and painless. It made me think about Amazon’s seemingly effortless packaging and how I’ve taken it for granted as a Prime subscriber. I am reminded once again that Amazon has made packaging and order fulfillment into a science:

If only I could get most of the stuff I need from Amazon but Amazon’s furniture options are still limited, unfortunately. In the meantime, I’m in the hunt for the best online furniture delivery companies out there. I am documenting my experience as I go along so I do hope to share that with you on this blog soon.

Here are this week’s most relevant news in tech and retail:

In tech:

  1. Computer glitches: The New York Stock Exchange experienced a four-hour outage on Wednesday, blames computer glitch; a computer glitch is also blamed for the grounding of United Airlines flights for 2 hours on Wednesday
  2. Italy-based cybersecurity firm Hacking Team has been hacked; 400GB of published documents show company sold software to spyware and malware to repressive regimes
  3. Space: After 9.5 years and $3B miles, NASA spacecraft New Horizons will fly by Pluto on July 14; Cause of SpaceX Falcon 9 failure still unknown, Musk promises preliminary report by end of this week
  4. Ride-sharing: Didi Kuaidi, Uber’s Arch Rival In China, confirms $2B in fresh funding; Google-owned mapping company Waze to launch a ride-sharing app in Israel called RideWith
  5. Apple to order largest-ever production run for next iPhone; asking suppliers to manufacture 85M-90M units

In retail:

  1. Amazon celebrates 20th anniversary with “Prime Day” on July 15; deals for Prime subscribers will rival Black Friday
  2. Alibaba to invest $100M in China’s Mei.com, a flash sales platform for luxury and fashion goods
  3. Target unveils Open House in San Francisco, a 3,500-square-foot suburban home space to showcase a connected home
  4. Struggling teen clothing retailer American Apparel warns there may not be sufficient funds in the next 12 months even after restructuring
  5. Luxury online retailer Farfetch.com launches Farfetch and Away, a yacht delivery service for traveling customers

#Spaceishard, civil forfeiture and the weekly roundup in tech and retail

News and commentaries

One of the best things about Twitter is that you get instant access to breaking news and random posts. This was very apparent during SpaceX’ heartbreaking Falcon 9 mishap (don’t call it an explosion) when SpaceX CEO Elon Musk gave a live update on the event via his Twitter account. Incidentally, it was Musk’s 44th birthday. Once again, we are reminded that space is hard and SpaceX success has been such that we are now starting to take that truth for granted. So, let’s not forget and as futurist David Brin said: “Let’s all offer a ‘hang in there’ encouragement to the folks at SpaceX.”

On another note, a random Twitter post caught my attention. Earlier this week, the TSA posted a photo of a passenger’s cash-filled luggage on Twitter. Even though there is nothing illegal about transporting large amounts of cash (except on international borders), and in fact, the passenger was not charged with any crime, authorities can still seize that cash under suspicion of illegal activity. And this is where I found out about civil forfeiture where the United States can literally charge inanimate objects with a crime (such as Unites States v. $124,700 in US currency), and consider that object guilty until proven innocent. In most cases, the owners of the seized property just let the case go instead of pursuing it. And in case, you were thinking as I did that it is limited to large amounts of money, you’re wrong. Further search found this great clip from John Oliver about Civil Forfeiture:

Here are this week’s most relevant news in tech and retail and have a Happy (and safe) Fourth of July:

In tech:

  1. Space: SpaceX Falcon 9 disintegrated 139 seconds after Sunday’s liftoff,  cause is still unknown; NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft captures images of mysterious spots on Pluto’s equator
  2. PayPal to buy online money transfer company Xoom for $890M in all cash deal, acquisition expected to complete in Q4 2015
  3. Ridesharing: Singapore’s GrabTaxi raises over $200M; Two of France Uber execs are on trial after last week’s riots over UberPOP (a service separate from Uber and UberX where drivers are not required to have a taxi license), company suspends UberPOP to await September decision
  4. Reddit’s most popular pages in lockdown in protest over the firing of AMA moderator, Victoria Taylor
  5. Tesla announces global second quarter Model S delivery totals at 11,507; total first half of 2015 sales at 21,537 cars

In retail:

  1. Donna Karan steps down as Chief Designer for Donna Karan International, will remain in advisory role
  2. Puma sells Tretorn, an athletic footwear label, to Authentic Brands, owner of Juicy Couture and Frederick’s of Hollywood
  3. Whole Foods admits to overcharging customers for a variety of prepared foods in New York City
  4. Report finds Walmart misusing “Made in U.S.A.” label for products made elsewhere
  5. Amazon overs Prime Now, its one-hour delivery, on over 10,000 items to Prime subscribers in London

The power of technology and the weekly roundup in tech and retail

News and commentaries

Some of the things that I love most about reading technology news are the vision and hope that they can impart. Some people might find it cold but I find tech news to be more hopeful than human-interest stories. This week, as I found myself too caught up in life’s little details, news such as: SpaceX’ third attempt at recovering a rocket via drone ship; NASA’s recent images of pyramid-shaped structure on dwarf planet Ceres; and Google’s built-from-the-ground-up self driving car being tested in California, fill me with hope for the future and a sense of wonder. News like these made me take a pause to reflect on our place in the universe and how we are starting to live with technology conjured by science fiction not so long ago. I hope you find these as uplifting as I did.

The solitary peak juts out from the horizon in this image snapped by Dawn

Here are this week’s most relevant news in tech and retail:

In tech:

  1. Space news: Microsoft’s augmented reality headgear HoloLens will be used on board the International Space Station in partnership with NASA; SpaceX will attempt another drone ship rocket landing this Sunday (you can watch it here); NASA’s Dawn probe reveals pyramid-like structure on dwarf planet Ceres
  2. Google news: Google’s panda-shaped self-driving cars are now being tested in California; Google Genomics collaborates with the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard to develop data-driven tools to fight diseases;
  3. IAC/InterActiveCorp is planning an IPO for The Match Group, conglomerate behind dating websites Match.com, Tinder and OKCupid
  4. French company Thales unveils robots that could replace immigration officers
  5. Music streaming: Google launches free, ad-supported tier to its Google Play Music streaming service; Jay-Z’s music streaming service Tidal loses interim CEO; Taylor Swift’s 1989 album will be available on Apple’s music streaming service (to launch on June 30) after Apple’s change of royalty policies

In retail:

  1. H&M Q2 profits up as sales rise with store and product expansions
  2. Lululemon Athletica recalls 318,000 women’s tops over reported injuries of elastic drawstrings
  3. Walmart to start charging vendor fees as costs increase; will affect 10,000 U.S. suppliers in the
  4. Olapic raises $15M in new funding to help brands boost sales with user-generated images from social media such as Instagram
  5. On-demand delivery startup raises Series D round of $80M at a $400M valuation

Automating “style” and the weekly roundup in tech and retail

News and commentaries

Fashion passes; style remains. (quote attributed to Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel)

Style may be elusive to achieve but thanks to big data analytics, fashion selfies and “trendspotters”, fashion trends can be predicted. As with any type of forecasting or sticking a finger in the air (if we are to be glib), there can be bad calls. Bad calls can mean millions of dollars worth of unsold goods – cue J. Crew and Gap’s recent troubles. But it can be done and companies like WGSN, Editd, Trendstop, etc. sell their trend forecasting services to retail companies for hundreds of thousands of dollars; predicting what consumers are willing to buy a year from now, season after season.

Well, the field could get even more interesting if we can get an algorithm to automate what’s hot and what’s not. Computer scientists from Spain recently presented at the Computer Vision and Pattern Recognition conference in Boston, MA outlining an algorithm that analyzes the fashionability of an outfit in a picture and makes recommendations on how to improve it. Fashionability, as defined in the paper (here in PDF) came from analyzing 144,169 posts from fashion community chictopia.com. It is obviously still in concept stage but it is an interesting concept to pursue especially if you can match it with image recognition such as the one developed by Google and Stanford. I mention Google’s image recognition technology efforts in particular because its main business is still search. I don’t know about you but being able to have intelligent search results for what’s on trend (whether in fashion, home, technology) right now, the next season or the next year sounds like a tantalizing future. But if you already have style – that undefinable, born-with-it, unteachable, elusive thing where you just know – then maybe that future is already here for you.

On a personal note, I received some great feedback on my post about buying a house here and I’m glad I can help. I will most likely share more on that journey especially on what I learned about renovating and share more of the tools I use to make life easier so stay tuned!

Here are this week’s most relevant news in tech and retail:

In tech:

  1. FCC to fine AT&T $100M for throttling Internet connections on unlimited wireless data plans
  2. Password manager LastPass hacked; users are urged to change master password and to enable 2-factor authentication
  3. California rules that Uber drivers are employees and not contractors; could push up costs for ride-sharing startup
  4. Tesla Motors borrows $750M from series of banks including Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase, Deutsche Bank
  5. Fitness tracking company, Fitbit shares surge 48.4% in IPO debut, IPO price at $20

In retail:

  1. CVS buys Target’s in-store pharmacies for $1.9B; deal expected to close this year
  2. US cosmetics group Coty to buy some of P&G’s beauty brands for $12B
  3. Gap Inc. to close 175 of Gap stores over the next few years and layoff 250 employees from headquarters
  4. Online luxury retail website Net-a-Porter reports record sales in final set of full-year results (paywall)
  5. Online handmade marketplace Etsy launches fund to crowdfund new products; makes Wall Street happy

Post-hiatus and what I learned about house-buying

Home, News and commentaries

So, instead of only taking a couple of weeks, in the end it took me more than a month just to surface above water and come back from said hiatus. This week, I’m still not completely above water as to be up to date with tech news so I will forego the weekly roundup until next week. In the meantime, I want to share a lot of the things that I learned over the course of 2 months of buying a house and renovating. It’s also a way for me to remember what I learned throughout the process.

This is from the perspective of someone who does most things online, can’t stand being on the phone with a live person (and that annoying hold!), and generally savvy about using productivity tools to keep track of everything. So, if you find yourself thinking, “why didn’t she just try to talk to someone?” It’s because most of the time, when you do talk to someone on the phone: a) they don’t write down your issue like they said they would; b) your issue gets lost somewhere and you’ll have to repeat yourself; c) loss of documentation. With that said, here goes.

  1. Most people take their time buying a house but for people like us who like to fast-track things, keep in mind that a mortgage loan approval (at least in the US) can take a minimum of 30 days and even a minimum of 45 days for some banks. That period also rests on you, the homebuyer, to be on top of all the paperwork needed. Being on top means a turnaround response to a lender’s request within hours or at most a day.
  2. Getting a mortgage involves the following steps in summary: loan application, conditional approval, good faith estimate (estimate of monthly payments, additional fees, closing costs), processing (where the lender verifies and reviews your information), home inspection arranged by borrower/realtor with seller, appraisal performed by the mortgage lender to estimate the value of the property (paid for by the borrower during closing), underwriting where all information are reviewed and verified and the title is legally cleared for transfer of ownership, closing where the borrower pays the closing costs and the purchase of the house is finalized. Read here for a more detailed account of the process.
  3. Personally, the underwriting took the most time for us. As non-US citizens, there are limitations and extra guidelines that we had to adhere to. Unfortunately, neither the mortgage officer (the one who helps you throughout the process) nor the underwriter (the one who actually approves or rejects the loan) may not always have the best knowledge on the immigration processes – anything out of the ordinary can throw the application for a loop. If you’re a non-US citizen, make sure all your immigration documents are current and valid.
  4. At the very least, get a pre-approval for the loan amount that you want to borrow. Getting pre-approved is the next step to being pre-qualified, which is only an estimate of how much you can borrow based on information you gave to the lender. A pre-approval involves completing an official mortgage application and in some cases paying a fee (usually to pay for the credit check). With a pre-approval, you will get a letter detailing the specific mortgage amount you can borrow and the interest rate (which can be locked in). This gives you some leverage in negotiating with a seller.
  5. There’s quite a difference between a 3.75 % interest rate and a 3.70% interest rate. On a $300,000 30-year loan, that may mean a monthly payment difference of $8 but over the life of the loan, that’s a $3000 difference. So, definitely shop around, you will be surprised at the seemingly minor but important differences in the interest rates that lenders can give. For a quick and dirty mortgage calculator, Google has you covered right here. Out of the banks I looked at: Wells Fargo, HSBC, Citi, Quicken Loans and TD Bank – only TD Bank gave an online rate quote based on information you provided via online form.
  6. If you have time, getting your credit score a few points above could spell a huge difference in your interest rate. A credit score is a rating 300 to 850 (850 being excellent) and is a numeric representation of your credit history with the following associated weights:
    • Payment history: 35%
    • Amounts owed: 30%
    • Length of credit history: 15%
    • How many types of credit in use: 10%
    • Account inquiries: 10%
  7. There are a few things that you can do to help with the score: pay off all the balances on the cards you currently own. Apply for 1 or 2 new credit cards, purchase a few things on them and pay off the full balance. This will help increase your credit rating by a few points. In order to keep track of your credit score, use sites like Creditkarma.com to keep track of your score. If you don’t want any surprises about your credit history, request your credit history for free (you are entitled to 1 free report/year) from the 3 major credit reporting companies: TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian. You can request your credit report on each of the sites or you can also visit Annualcreditreport.com to request reports from all three companies.
  8. Be aware of bank fees that may not be readily apparent during the mortgage application process. Fees can be any of the following: credit report check; appraisal fee (read above for the loan process); origination fee (similar to a commission-based payment and is an upfront fee charged by the lender for processing the loan; varies from lender to lender); title services fee, government recording charges, etc. There are more costs during closing such as the homeowner’s insurance, escrow account setup but I found the origination fee to be something that can be negotiated. As for the homeowner’s insurance, it’s also up to the borrower to shop around so that’s something else that you can actively participate in.
  9. This might seem really, really obvious now but check with the closing agent, mortgage lender and/or your realtor on what to bring during the closing. On the day that we closed, we were also moving out of our apartment so these kinds of details got lost in the frenzy. I had my IDs, my phone and a checkbook but got a call from the closing agent that we needed to wire transfer the closing funds instead of writing a check. Thankfully, our bank was 5 minutes from their office so that did not become an issue.
  10. Finally, buying a house is a major financial decision. We have been moving a lot so I got into house-hunting with the idea of renting. After several discussions and lots of research, we decided that now would be a good time to buy. What really convinced me is seeing the numbers laid out over the course of the 30-year loan. Despite the numbers being speculative (house value increases, rent alternative costs, rent increases based on Zillow), these are still very useful to consider. All credit goes to my amazing husband who came up with the Excel spreadsheet. You can download the mortgage loan worksheet (with sample numbers) here (automatic Excel download) or access it via Google Sheets here.