Posts Tagged ‘Hard money residential loans’


By Champaign Williams

In a shocking turn of events that neither the polls nor financial markets predicted, Donald Trump will become the 45th president of the United States of America after defeating Democrat Hillary Clinton. Flickr/Gage Skidmore His path to victory was an unprecedented one, grabbing crucial battleground states like Florida and Ohio before breaking through the “blue wall” of typically Democratic-leaning states such as Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan that were imperative for Clinton’s success.

“I feel that President Trump will be a more practical individual than Candidate Trump, and that Congress will become more important in shaping policy than in previous years,” Cushman & Wakefield senior managing director NY Tri-State Ken McCarthy tells Bisnow.

Trump’s victory signifies a coming shift in global policies surrounding free trade, immigration and international finance promised on the campaign trail. The win has certainly dealt a shocking blow to global financial markets, with stock futures plunging election night. “World financial markets and the central banks in many nations are reeling with the prospect of having to deal with the president-elect, especially given some of the policy statements he made during the campaign,” Yardi director of research and publications Jack Kern tells Bisnow.

Jack says he suspects volatile markets will calm as advisers to the White House rein in rhetoric from the race and propose more reasonable positions. “Trump for the most part will avoid controversy in his first 100 days if he can help it,” he says.

US markets seemed to brush off the tumult Wednesday morning as stocks inched higher, according to the Wall Street Journal. The Dow added 63 points during early morning trading and the S&P 500 rose 0.2%, as did the Nasdaq Composite. “S&P and the Dow are both up, which is amazing,” Matthew Cypher, Director of Steers Center for Global Real Estate at Georgetown’s McDonough School of Business, tells Bisnow.

“It’s just going to take some time to process. Uncertainty is not anybody’s friend, real estate or not. Everybody thought the world was ending with Brexit, and I’m not sure this is much different in terms of shock value.” Other experts also are likening the surprising win to Brexit. Britain’s decision to leave the European Union in June was the first major political shock global economies faced this year, leaving European officials reeling and sending the British pound to a 31-year low.

Similar to the number of people surprised by Brexit’s outcome, Trump supporters were consistently underestimated in the polls, and few foresaw his victory.

“Once again, just like after the EU referendum outcome, we are left with more questions,” Colliers International London chief economist Walter Boettcher tells us. “How isolationist will the US become under Trump? Is the EU-US trade deal dead? How much will immigration controls be tightened? Will Trump try to make good on his various, bombastic policy ideas or was this all just hyperbole?

Time will tell, but do not look for any clear indicators until the end of the year—and even then, the likelihood is that his policies will only become clear after his first 100 days.” Pixabay Although it’s still too early to determine how a Trump presidency will impact global economies in the long term—as much of Trump’s policies related to trade and lower taxes have yet to be clearly outlined—most real estate professionals are curious about the impact his win will have on the industry.

Matt tells us that if the economy continues its upward trajectory—with GDP up to 2.9% in Q3, the labor market nearing full capacity and healthy consumer spending—real estate should remain strong. “There’s going to be a near-term pause to digest, but there’s still a ton of capital in the system,” Matthew tells us.

“I think everybody is going to sit tight for a while and see how this goes over the next couple of weeks. Anything beyond that at this point is speculation.” Jack says the industry might be in for a few hits. “The first shock is that a real estate guy is now the president-elect. I don’t think anyone ever believed that was possible or likely,” Jack says, adding that the pace and intensity of CRE may slow as owners and investors wait to see what the new administration and still-Republican-controlled Congress propose.

VTS regional director Matt Giffune agrees, that anytime there’s a national election CRE is impacted alongside the US economy. “From our perspective, commercial real estate owners and brokers are still weighing decisions to lease space and buy and sell buildings,” Matt says. “As a result, this is when having access to real-time data becomes more critical than ever, as it enables players to make more informed decisions, faster.”

As for the likeliness of a December interest rate hike amidst all of this economic volatility? Experts say it’s a toss-up. “The Federal Reserve is now in a can’t-win position where if they raise the rate in December it will be seen as trying to invoke policy before the new president takes office and has a chance to offer his views,” Jack says. “[But] if they fail to raise rates, it will be seen as a political decision implying they are trying to curry favor with the new Trump administration.”

Carl R. Zwerner chair of economic forecasting at Georgia State University Rajeev Dhawan is convinced a December rate hike will happen, pointing to the reaction of the 10-year bond market as an indicator. “The December hike is very much in the cards,” Rajeev says. “The real issue is what after that? CRE valuations will fluctuate a lot in coming months as investor sentiment ebbs and flows, but barring a Fed rate hike trajectory in 2017 that is even steeper than their 2016 September dot chart, it should be fine.”



Diana Olick CNBCNews

It is the No. 1 barrier to entry for young, would-be homebuyers: credit. Millennial’s are the first generation to come of age in a post-almost-apocalyptic housing market, where lenders, eight years later, are still paying billions in reparations for mortgage misconduct and outright fraud.

Millennial homebuyers are also paying a price.

“The mortgage industry is poised to experience a monumental shift as more millennial homebuyers begin to enter the market,” said Joe Tyrrell, executive vice president of corporate strategy at Ellie Mae, a mortgage software and data company. “There are roughly 87 million would-be homebuyers in the millennial generation and 91 percent of them say they intend to own a home one day. Lenders must prepare today to meet their needs.”

While Millennial’s are waiting longer to get married and have children, factors that are the primary drivers of homeownership, the leading edge is now entering the housing market. Millennial’s are even starting to move to the suburbs, and in fact, last year marked a turning point, where urban centers reached “peak millennial,” according to a new study from Dowell Myers, a professor of urban planning and demography at the USC Price School of Public Policy.

“After more than a decade of growing concentration, we see that the millennial trend of increased downtown living has peaked out and is now beginning a decline,” Myers wrote. “This is a dramatic human interest story with great implications for cities and real estate investments.”

Single-family rentals in the suburbs are more popular and more abundant than ever before, but the majority of Millennial’s say they do eventually want to buy. That means mortgages.

More than one-third of home loans made to Millennial’s since 2014 were Federal Housing Administration loans insured by the federal government, according to Ellie Mae’s new Millennial Tracker. This is far higher than the 22 percent overall share that FHA commands in total mortgage volume today. FHA allows borrowers to make just a 3.5 percent down payment, which is attractive to younger buyers who are cash-strapped to begin with, but additionally burdened by a sky-high rental market.

FHA, however, comes with a price: mortgage insurance premiums.

The additional cost, on top of higher credit score requirements, continues to sideline young buyers. While household formation is growing, only one-third of those new households are owner-occupants. The rest are renters, which is why the homeownership rate in the U.S. is falling again, now down to 63.5 percent, according to the U.S. Census, just one tick higher than its 50-year low.

“The more the homeownership level drops, the more attention there will be to the question of whether government policy changes implemented in the wake of the financial crisis are keeping people from buying homes,” Jaret Seiberg of Guggenheim Securities wrote in a note last week. “Our view is that government policies are keeping credit conditions unnecessarily tight. So this attention could be a positive in getting regulators to reassess whether they have properly balanced consumer protection and homeownership opportunity.”

Seiberg points specifically to continued pressure from the Justice Department on loan originators, but given that the DOJ is unlikely to back off, he suggests FHA further cut premiums in the fall.

“This could mean eliminating life-of-loan coverage, reducing the upfront premium or cutting the annual premium. That might convince more borrowers to seek FHA loans,” Seiberg added.

Mortgage interest rates are still near historic lows, but home prices are rising far faster than incomes, negating much of the savings from these low rates. The 0.35 percentage point drop in interest rates since the start of 2016 would have saved the average homebuyer $44 per month, but home price increases have cut that to just $18 a month nationally and even more in major cities, according to Black Knight Financial Services.

The highest percentage of closed home loans for millennials are far and away in the Midwest, where home prices are lowest, according to the Ellie Mae tracker. The average FICO score for female loan applicants in March was 724 and for men, 727, both much higher than the national average credit score.



DENVER—There seems to be no downside to the Denver retail market–and that includes the suburbs as well as the CBD, where the famed LoDo district is, in the words of Jeff Hallberg, exploding. Of course, the headline continues to be the way the marijuana market is changing the face of local retail, a potential bellwether of what other cities will be like if and when pot is legalized in all 50 states.

Hallberg, a principal in the local office of Lee & Associates, says that the pot market “is an ever growing piece of the local retail pie. The nice thing for landlords is that they pay really well. You can probably get 15 or 20%–even 30%–more in rent than for a traditional retailer because the tenant will pay for location.” In fact, he tells of one client for whom he found space that would ordinarily go for “$16 a foot. For marijuana it was $40.”

But it should be noted that, in a classic good-for-goose-and-gander scenario, the shops do pay out, and Hallberg tells of one 1,000-foot store that produced $500,000 a month in revenues.

In large part the rents are driven by the premium for space. Restrictions in place limit where the shops can go, including their proximity to schools, rehab centers and liquor stores. By the way, they also have to close by 7pm, at least in Denver.

And there are potential traps for the landlord as well. For a lot of them “the main issue is refinancing,” he says. “Will a traditional lender finance that use?”

Of course, the marijuana business, newsworthy though it clearly is, remains only a segment of the macro-hot Denver retail scene–one that shows no signs of cooling, despite talk of market peaks. “In Denver, we’re a bit different than most other metro areas in that we haven’t overbuilt,” he says, clearly a lesson learned during the heady days leading up to the last economic dump.

“Over the past four years, there’s been about six million square feet of new retail space delivered.” That compares favorably–very favorably–to the 5.7 million delivered in 2007 alone. “We’ve been working hard not to overbuild,” which shows in the Denver MSA’s 5.6% vacancy rate.

And it shows in the rental rates, which he pegs around $30 a foot on average, with new product leasing space in and around $50 a foot NNN in the above-mentioned LoDo, RiNo (Lower Downtown and River North) and Central Platte Valley submarkets, all awash in gentrification and reflecting the fitness-center, Trade Joe’s, Fresh Market tastes of the millennials flocking in.

That compares to the mid-$20s that, depending on the anchor, suburban spaces are getting. But the Mile-High City is different here too, as Hallberg explains and, unlike other MSAs, the Denver suburbs have a secret–the ever expanding light rail. In fact, the metro’s Regional Transportation District in late April completed a leg connecting Denver International Airport with downtown’s Union Station with multiple suburban stops.

“Since we started with light rail throughout Colorado,” he tells, “transit-oriented developments have been thriving, especially because ridership is so high.” Not only commuters but developers as well are flocking to those high-use stops, “gentrifying the suburbs as well.”

Again, the rental rates tell the tale, and Hallberg reports that those high-density suburbs break the out-of-town mold with rents approaching downtown’s $30 a foot.

Clearly, Denver is firing on all cylinders, and redefining the market as it goes. Not surprisingly then, Hallberg is optimistic.

“Interest rates are always a wild card,” he says. “But Denver is one of the most sought-after living destinations in the country. If we continue to manage our development we will weather whatever comes next year better than most other metro economies.”Unknown


By BEN WIDDICOMBE (New York Times)

Joel Pavelski, 27, isn’t the first person who has lied to his boss to scam some time off work.

But inventing a friend’s funeral, when in fact he was building a treehouse — then blogging and tweeting about it to be sure everyone at the office noticed? That feels new.

Such was a recent management challenge at Mic, a five-year-old website in New York that is vying to become a leading news source created by and for millennials. Recent headlines include “Don’t Ban Muslims, Ban Hoverboards” and “When Men Draw Vaginas.”

“There’s 80 million millennials; we focus on the 40 that went to college,” said Chris Altchek, Mic’s 28-year-old chief executive.

But he is still working out how to manage many of the traits associated with his fellow millennials: a sense of entitlement, a tendency to overshare on social media, and frankness verging on insubordination.

Mic’s staff of 106 looks a lot like its target demographic: trim 20-somethings, with beards on the men and cute outfits on the women, who end every sentence with an exclamation point and use the word “literally” a lot.

Their crowded newsroom on Hudson Street has an aggressively playful vibe, like a middle-school fraternity house. Some ride hoverboards into the kitchen for the free snacks. Others wield Nerf dart guns or use a megaphone for ad hoc announcements. Dino, a white Maltese terrier owned by the lead designer, snuffles between desks.

Mr. Altchek is proud of the freewheeling office culture. “It helps us to have everyone speak out and best ideas rise to the top,” he said. “What that can feel like or sound like is rudeness. But I’d rather have a lot of people speaking their minds than a very controlled environment.”

But running an office made up exclusively of millennials, it turns out, is not without its snags. His philosophy was tested when Mr. Pavelski, Mic’s director of programming, requested a week off, ostensibly to attend a wake back home in Wisconsin. “I went to talk to Joel and said, ‘So sorry about your loss, take as much time as you need,’” Mr. Altchek said.

Then, several days later, he noticed Mr. Pavelski tweet a link to Medium, a popular blog for cathartic, personal essays. In a post titled, “How to Lose Your Mind and Build a Treehouse,” Mr. Pavelski wrote about feeling burned out at work and wanting to rebuild a childhood treehouse as therapy. The first line read, “I said that I was leaving town for a funeral, but I lied.”

“I was sort of taken aback,” Mr. Altchek said. “It’s not acceptable to be lied to.”

In a disciplinary meeting the next day, Mr. Pavelski’s supervisor acknowledged that he had been working grueling hours, so he was given another chance. Still, Mr. Altchek wanted to send a message. “Our feedback to him was, ‘This is not a three-strike policy, it’s a two-strike policy,’” he said.

Mr. Pavelski is still on his first strike. But even in an office that is tolerant of youthful boundary pushing, some millennial behavior can cross the line.

Mr. Altchek recalled a companywide meeting last September that coincided with the religious holidays Yom Kippur and Eid al-Adha. An Anglo-Pakistani employee asked why management had announced a flexible time off policy for the Jewish holiday, but not for its Muslim counterpart.

“So I told her, ‘Great point, being inclusive and respectful of all religious affiliations is incredibly important to Mic,’” Mr. Altchek said.

Afterward, in front of a smaller group, he was approached by a younger, entry-level employee who said that there were two words missing from his reply. “I was a bit confused and said, ‘O.K., what were those?’” he recalled. “And she said: ‘I’m sorry. I didn’t hear an apology.’”

Mr. Altchek did not think such a comment belonged in a workplace, especially his.

“I was a little taken aback by the tone, but I told her I would address it and make sure the person who asked the question wasn’t offended by the answer,” he said. “You have to control your temper. It was in front of a bunch of people, which was probably better, because I was forced to be calm.”

That employee is no longer with the company. (Mr. Altchek said she was let go for “performance-related issues.”)

A sense of entitlement is not the only stereotype attached to millennials in the workplace.

“Entitled, lazy, narcissistic and addicted to social media,” according to CNBC. “They Don’t Need Trophies but They Want Reinforcement,” Forbes wrote. “Many millennials want to make the world a better place, and the future of work lies in inspiring them,” Fast Company proclaimed.

The crowded newsroom has an aggressively playful vibe, like a middle-school fraternity house. Credit Jennifer S. Altman for The New York Times
Older managers confused by why millennials like to Snapchat with co-workers, or don’t want to pay their dues with grunt work, had better get used to it. Last year, millennials edged out Generation X (35 to 50 years old in 2015) as the largest share of the labor force, according to the Pew Research Center. What’s more, millennials have also surpassed baby boomers.

Joan Kuhl, 36, who founded Why Millennials Matter, a consulting firm that advises employers like Goldman Sachs on hiring and retaining recent college graduates, said that what is needed is more familiarity.

“We tend to publicize these outrageous acts of defiance, versus emphasizing the majority that I run into and work with, who are very mission focused and value based,” she said.

Ms. Kuhl educates her clients on the quirks of millennials, and why a 21-year-old sees nothing wrong with oversharing. Millennials are pushed to create a “strong personal brand” to land a job, Ms. Kuhl said, so asking them to tone it down once they are employed sends “a lot of mixed messages.”

Still, even Ms. Kuhl has been taken aback by some of the millennials in her office. She remembered an intern who ate a tuna fish sandwich during a 10 a.m. meeting with very senior colleagues. When mildly rebuked afterward, the intern replied, “Well, you said to be myself, and I was hungry.”

So imagine a workplace where all are in their 20s.

Mr. Altchek founded Mic in 2011 (then operating as PolicyMic) with Jake Horowitz, now 28, his former classmate from the Horace Mann School in New York.

Today, Mr. Horowitz reports from the field (such as the Syrian migrant crisis from the beaches of Greece, and interviewing President Obama in the White House), while Mr. Altchek runs the business out of a 15,000-square-foot converted warehouse in the Hudson Square neighborhood.

Millennial news has significant competition for eyeballs. According to the data provider comScore, Mic had about 19 million unique visitors in January, compared with 79.7 million for BuzzFeed, with five other competitors falling in between. (A Mic spokeswoman pointed out that rivals like Vice Media operate multiple branded sites that roll into their comScore number, whereas Mic relies on just one site.)

At Mic, part of the growth strategy is not just airing, but blaring, its business on social media.

Hence there are office conversations held on Twitter, and the blurring of personal and professional boundaries, such as when Mr. Altchek broadcast his dental examination on Periscope, a live streaming video app.

Indeed, several Mic staffers cited the “say anything” office culture as one of the things they loved most about working there.

“People are here from morning to night, and we don’t want to leave,” said Elizabeth Plank, 28, a high-energy reporter who lives in the East Village and hosted a video series called “Flip the Script,” which seeks to challenge assumptions like, “What Happens When a Lady ‘Manspreads.’”

Ms. Plank contrasted her freedoms at Mic to her previous job at a feminist nonprofit organization, which she regarded as exemplifying the outdated work practices of older people.

“We called people on phones and we — I don’t know — we faxed people,” Ms. Plank said, sounding exasperated. “And we had to mail things. And no one really took my opinion into consideration.”

At Mic, she was able to dabble in different jobs and negotiate grandiose titles like “executive social editor.” Often, she prefers the theater of tweeting back and forth with the editor she sits next to rather than speaking face to face.

“If you can be young at heart, I think it makes your personal, and not only your work life, better,” added Ms. Plank, who left for Vox last month after two and a half years at Mic.

Mic apparently isn’t a good fit for everyone. Madhulika Sikka, who left NPR last year to join Mic as executive editor, announced earlier this week that she was leaving the website, saying on Twitter that she was “ready to take on something new.”

Perhaps because of this very culture of workplace-as-reality-show, Mr. Pavelski, the prevaricating treehouse builder, remains notably unchastened.

“Maybe this is because I’m young, but, like, I don’t think that there is a lot about my personal life that I wouldn’t want to incorporate into what I’m doing professionally,” he said. “The reason I wrote that essay in the first place was about catharsis, and I wanted to walk through my thought process and figure out what was going on with me.”

The logic of that may be more apparent to his age group.

“The one thing I don’t want people to mistake is that we’re serious about this,” he added. “And that we’re taking over. That is all.”

Correction: March 19, 2016
An earlier version of this article omitted the news of the departure of Madhulika Sikka, which was announced after the article was edited but before it was published. An earlier version of this correction misspelled Ms. Sikka’s given name.


Riley McDermid                                                                                 Digital Producer                                                                                             San Francisco Business Times

The Bay Area is the most profitable place to buy a house, renovate it and then resell it quickly, making it the best region in the U.S. to “flip” a house, real estate tracking firm RealtyTrac said this week.

RealtyTrac analyzed sales deed data and automated valuation data and included any single-family home or condo flip from the second quarter, where a previous sale on the same property had occurred within the last 12 months.

It found that the markets most likely to make the highest profits were in the Bay Area, in Silicon Valley and in San Francisco/East Bay.

You can see the full ranking with locales and average gross flipping profits below, and the report here.

  • San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara — $145,000
  • San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward — $145,000
  • New York-Newark-Jersey City (New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania) — $120,000
  • Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim — $115,000
  • Oxnard-Thousand Oaks-Ventura — $110,000
  • San Diego-Carlsbad — $102,500
  • Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue (Washington) — $99,000
  • Urban Honolulu (Hawaii) — $96,346
  • Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, (District Columbia, Virginia, Maryland, West Virginia) — $96,000
  • Baltimore-Columbia-Towson (Maryland) — $91,542


Diana Olick CNBCNews

Rising home prices are bringing more house flippers out of the woodwork, and that may be a sign of an overheating housing market. The number of active home flippers last year was the highest in nearly a decade, and it is only growing.

Nearly 180,000 family homes and condos were flipped in 2015, according to RealtyTrac. A flip is defined as a home that is bought and sold again within the same 12 months. Flips made up 5.5 percent of all sales last year, and that is the first increase in the flip share after four years of shrinking. Flipping increased in 75 percent of U.S. markets, and the profits are growing as well.

“As confidence in the housing recovery spreads, more real estate investors and would-be real estate investors are hopping on the home flipping bandwagon,” said Daren Blomquist, senior vice president at RealtyTrac. “Not only is the share of home flips on the rise again, but we also see the flipping trend trickling down to smaller investors who are completing fewer flips per year.”

Jim Pinson works with investors to flip houses on the south side of Chicago and does two or three flips of his own each year in the Oak Lawn area. Home prices in Chicago have not soared as much as in other parts of the nation, but there are still a lot of distressed homes available for sale, and plenty of investor demand.

“Oh my God, there are multiple offers on almost every decent margin profit house that pops on the market,” said Pinson.

The concern now is that prices are rising too fast, not because buyers can afford to pay more but because of extremely short supply of homes for sale, especially on the lower end of the market. Home prices in January were 6.9 percent higher than the January 2015, according to CoreLogic, a higher annual gain than in December. Home flipping can push prices artificially higher, especially in markets with the tightest inventory.

“When home flipping numbers go up, it is usually an indication that the housing market is in trouble,” said Matthew Gardner, chief economist at Windermere Real Estate in Seattle, who was quoted in the RealtyTrac report.

That was the case during the housing boom in the mid-2000s, but at that time flippers were putting next to no money into their investments, instead using cheap credit. That credit no longer exists. They have to put significant money into their flips, even when using investor loans.

“More inexperienced home flippers with a smaller financial cushion could be a sign of an over-speculative market, but the data indicate that flippers in 2015 continued to operate within relatively conservative margins,” said Blomquist. “Homes flipped in 2015 were on average purchased at a 26 percent discount below estimated market value and resold by the flipper at a 5 percent premium above estimated market value.”

Still, affordability for that end-user, the owner occupant looking to buy perhaps a first home, is weakening. First-time home buyers are still a much lower share of home buyers today than they are historically. The risk of another home price bubble could push them even further away.

As home prices rise, even in Chicago, investors have to put more money down and put money into renovating the homes, which are often in severe disrepair. Investors have to be careful to make sure they’re buying the right house in the right place, otherwise they won’t find buyers ready to move in.

“Demand is block by block, and you’ll have people running out and making offers, but it depends on what block you’re in,” added Pinson.

Just after the housing crash, large institutional investors moved in and bought thousands of distressed properties and turned the vast majority of them into rental homes. They are now buying fewer homes, leaving the field open for smaller investors who would rather flip than hold the homes. The total number of investors who completed at least one flip in 2015 was at the highest level since 2007, and the number of flips per investor was at the lowest level since 2008, according to RealtyTrac.

Flippers are watching home prices rise, and in turn seeing returns rise. Homes flipped in 2015 yielded an average gross profit of $55,000 nationwide, the highest for flips nationally since 2005, according to RealtyTrac. The return on investment was close to 46 percent, up from 44 percent in 2014 and up from 35 percent in 2005. 2005 was when flipping was rampant, thanks to super easy credit. Back then, over 8 percent of all sales were flips.

Today flippers are seeing the best returns in Pittsburgh, New Orleans, Philadelphia, Cincinnati and New Haven, Connecticut. The biggest dollar returns are in California and New York, but investors there must put bigger dollars down for those flips.


By Chelsea Bengier

We already feel like airlines are screwing us enough. Add long delays, overbooked flights, lost bags, and it turns into hell on the runway. But there’s a silver-lining, if you know what to ask for. Here are seven ways to get even.

Get refunded for bumping

It’s hard not to freak out when you’re bumped off an oversold flight. But remember this: you can get paid back. According to the Department of Transportation, if you get to your destination between one and two hours of your original arrival time on a domestic flight, or between one and four hours on an international trip, the airline owes you 200 percent of the one-way fare (up to $675). If you arrive more than four hours later than planned, you’ll pocket 400 percent of the ticket (up to $1,350). Still can’t believe it? An AirHelp study found that the average payout is $643.

Opt out of a tarmac delay

So you’re stuck on the runway, forced to watch Taken for the fifth time as the hours tick by. (No offense, Liam.) Lucky for you, you can’t be held on a delayed plane for more than three hours on domestic flights or four hours on international routes (if you don’t want to be at least). Airlines are also obligated to update passengers every 30 minutes, and serve food and water after a two-hour wait. Pass the pretzels.

Ask for cash not vouchers

Don’t let an airline ever give you a voucher for a bumped flight, or any other inconvenience. Vouchers are like Monopoly money. They look good on paper, but they’re not as useful in reality. Your best bet? Ask for cash or a check because credits almost always come with strings attached (i.e. blackout dates). So before you pass go, collect your $200 — in cash.

Cancel tickets for free

Got a bad case of buyer’s remorse? Don’t worry, most airlines allow you to cancel or change your ticket within 24 hours for a full refund. In fact, on some carriers (like Southwest) you can even change plans until right before takeoff at no charge. But there are some exceptions. Take American Airlines: You can hold a ticket up to 24 hours, but once you book, you’re locked in. Also, keep in mind that third-party sites like Kayak or Expedia have their own set of rules too.

Pay-back for itinerary changes

When flights are delayed, rescheduled or canceled (ahem, winter storm Jonas), many passengers are forced to rearrange transportation. In situations like these, the airline must either cover all the expenses and fees to reroute you or give you a full refund — even if you bought a non-refundable ticket or were rebooked on a different carrier. So, if the only seat left on the next flight out is first-class, it’s yours without costing a cent. More champagne, please.

Snag a hotel voucher

This will be the last time you’ll ever have to sleep at the gate, or worse, on the terminal floor. Airlines are required to offer free accommodations if you’re stuck overnight involuntarily. Just don’t expect the Ritz. These hotel vouchers can be claimed at any time, meaning if you decide to stay with friends instead of a Holiday Inn, you are still entitled to the coupon. It’s also worth asking if they’ll cover meals as well.

Cash in for lost luggage

If your checked bag is lost, delayed or damaged, don’t settle for the small $50 sum you’re usually offered. Depending on how much your items were worth and how long your bags are MIA, you could be repaid up to $3,500 per passenger in liability for a domestic U.S. trip, and up to $1,675 on international flights. Hello, shopping spree.