DEAR MR. MYERS: We bought our washing machine in 2005, but it recently quit working. We paid $70 for a repairman to come and look at it, and he said the machine’s electronic “control board” has died. It would cost $275 to buy a new board, plus another $70 to install it. Should we pay to have it fixed, or should we just buy a new washer? Because it’s 12 years old, the manufacturer’s original warranty obviously is no good.
ANSWER: A washing machine’s control board acts as the “brains” of the appliance, automatically stopping and starting everything from its motor to its drain pump.
The average life of a washer is about 10 years or so, according to experts at Consumer Reports magazine, so it probably would be better to buy a new one. Even if you pay the $345 for the needed parts and labor to keep your current machine alive, there’s a good chance that you will have to call a repairman again within the next year or two to fix yet another problem.
Fortunately, with the annual Black Friday sales events already beginning, you can find good-quality washers, dryers and some other types of major home appliances for as little as $500. Target, Sears, Home Depot, Lowe’s, Best Buy and JCPenney are just some of the big retailers that are offering discounts of 40 percent or more on many popular home-related items.
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And your savings don’t have to stop at the reduced sticker price. Though retailers don’t always advertise it, they may be willing to waive delivery or installation charges – but only if you ask for it. Ditto for the fees some retailers levy to haul away the appliance that’s being replaced.
REAL ESTATE TRIVIA: American households expect to spend an average of $743 at traditional brick-and-mortar stores and over the internet during the four-day Black Friday weekend that begins on Nov. 24, according to a group of independent surveys reviewed by on website RetailMeNot.com. That would be up a staggering 47 percent from the same period last year, in part because rising home prices have made it easier for many owners to get a home-equity loan or to refinance and take cash out of their property.
DEAR MR. MYERS: Is it true that one of Bill Gates’ companies is planning to build a huge housing development in Arizona?
ANSWER: Yes. Called Belmont, it will rise on nearly 25,000 acres of (mostly) undeveloped desert land about 45 miles west of downtown Phoenix, and promises to be the largest “smart city” in the United States.
A unit of the billionaire’s investment group, Cascade Investment, announced its $80 million purchase of the parcel earlier this month. Plans call for the construction of up to 80,000 homes, plus another 3,800 acres of office, retail and manufacturing space.
About 470 acres will be reserved for public schools, and another 3,400 acres will be set aside for parks and other types of open space.
In a press release, Cascade’s real estate investment arm said that Belmont will be “a forward-thinking community with a communication and infrastructure spine that embraces cutting-edge technology, designed around high-speed digital networks, data centers, new manufacturing technologies and distribution models, autonomous vehicles and autonomous logistics hubs.”
In other words, figure on a community that runs on a vast data and communications system, an abundance of solar power and other sources of clean energy, with lots of self-driving cars and other vehicles.
A date for the start of construction hasn’t been set.
DEAR MR. MYERS: How does a “life estate” work?
ANSWER: A life estate, sometimes called an “estate for life,” is a seldom-used method of holding title to a home. Many property owners who create a life estate are older folks who want to leave their home to a grown child, but want the security of knowing that they can stay in the place for as long as they wish.
To illustrate, say that widow Helen Homeowner wants to transfer her property to her son, but wants to stay in the home for an indefinite period of time. By creating a life estate, she could add her son’s name to the title of the home today and stay there until she either moves out or dies.
In legal parlance, Helen would become a “life tenant,” while her son would be considered the “remainderman.”
By adding her son’s name to the title, the home would automatically pass to him upon Helen’s death without having to go through the costly and time-consuming probate process.
Still, creating a life estate can have its share of drawbacks. For starters, adding a grown child or children to the home’s title can make it more difficult to refinance or eventually sell, because everyone would have to agree to it. After all, the kids would be co-owners.
In addition, if Helen Homeowner had a falling out on it with the remainderman, she couldn’t unilaterally remove his name from the title unless he agreed to it first. He also would have the legal right to share in any resale proceeds.
Creating a life estate may even trigger a federal or state gift tax, or unleash a bevy of other tax-related problems. Because of these and other issues, it’s important for anyone considering the formation of a life estate to first discuss the plan with both a tax pro and a real estate attorney.
David W. Myers’ column is distributed by Cowles Syndicate Inc.