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TSA Beats Beyoncé on Rolling Stone’s List of 100 Best Instagram Accounts



It’s hard to imagine the TSA winning a popularity contest. But there it is, sandwiched between Rihanna and Beyoncé on’s 100 best Instagram accounts.

Yes, the Transportation Security Administration — the government agency that rivals the Internal Revenue Service for unpopularity with the public — ranked No. 4 for its Instagram. It bested megastar Beyoncé (No. 5). The inescapable Kim Kardashian ranked first, followed by National Geographic. Even NASA only rated No. 6.

“We ranked the TSA in the top 5 as we found it fascinating, entertaining and terrifying as most of the feed is devoted to photos of items the TSA has confiscated from luggage at various airports,” Rolling Stone spokeswoman Kathryn Brenner said in an email. “It opened our eyes to what they have to deal with on a regular basis — from hatchets and brass knuckles to loaded handguns, live eels and a shocking number of batarangs (a bat-shaped throwing weapon) and we really enjoy seeing airport life from their perspective.”

The nod from Rolling Stone is a bit of a coup for the oft-criticized agency, which in the spring was the target of congressional ire after travellers complained of hours-long waits at security checkpoints at airports in Chicago, Atlanta and other cities.

It also is an acknowledgment at how adept the agency has become at using social media to engage the public. Whether it’s inviting travellers to tweet @askTSA for answers about what they can and can’t bring on their flight or using its blog to bust myths, these platforms have given TSA new ways to build goodwill, educate the public and shore up its image.

On Instagram alone, TSA has more than half a million followers, and its posts have garnered more than 150,000 comments. The images the agency has shared have generated more than 2 million likes.

“I knew it would be popular and I knew we’d have a never-ending source of content,” said Bob Burns, who runs the Instagram account. “But I didn’t know how popular we’d be.”

This isn’t the first time the TSA account has garnered attention. Burns recalled that shortly after it launched, late-night host Jimmy Kimmel good-naturedly joked that TSA used “ . . . more hashtags than a 13-year-old girl.”

That may be, but somehow TSA’s formula of weapons and dogs has proved to be an irresistible mix for its followers, who post comments such as “this instagram is absolutely amazing” and “this is the best Instagram account ever.”

Burns is a big, friendly bear of a man. He played rhythm guitar in a band called Big in Iowa and served five years in the Army before becoming a TSA officer at Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky International Airport, in 2002.

Although he had no formal social media experience when he launched the TSA blog, he’d always been fascinated by how technology connects people.

“I like to be able to engage people and give them things that would make them want to come back and read more of what we’re doing,” Burns said in an interview at Reagan National Airport.

The agency’s Instagram account showcases the hundreds of weird and wacky items that enter security checkpoints and baggage screening at airports throughout the United States.

There’s the dagger that was concealed inside a replica of the Eiffel Tower, the human skull in the clay pot and, of course, the knife hidden in an enchilada. And then there was the Chihuahua that sneaked into its owner’s checked bag.

“Sometimes you just wonder, what are people thinking?” Burns said.

He doesn’t post every day. With so many crazy and unique items making their way through checkpoints, he can afford to be choosy. Still, he said, it’s hard to go wrong with animals — the feed includes numerous pictures of TSA dogs at work — and guns.

Bob Burns, TSA's social media specialist, had no formal social media experience when he launched the TSA blog, he’d always been fascinated by how technology connects people.
Bob Burns, TSA’s social media specialist, had no formal social media experience when he launched the TSA blog, he’d always been fascinated by how technology connects people.  (Bill O’Leary)  

The agency’s most popular Instagram image, with more than 10,000 likes, is of a life-size prop dummy from the Texas Chainsaw Massacre movie from a security checkpoint at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. The caption that accompanied the post? “Talk about deadheading.” Burns notes in the post that “he was screened and sent on his jolly way. #TSAOnTheJob”

It’s that kind of quirky sense of humour that former TSA Administrator Kip Hawley was looking for when he tapped Burns to lead the agency’s social media efforts in 2008. Most of TSA’s communications with the public were through official channels, and Hawley wanted a less formal way of reaching the public, written by someone travellers could relate to.

He’d gotten to know Burns when he served on an advisory committee Hawley had formed to get feedback from front-line TSA employees.

“He was always funny, always outspoken and when we’d talk about something he would crisp it up into one phrase that would describe it perfectly with a grain of humour,” Hawley said.

In those early days, Burns worked largely without an editor.

“Some of the stuff was crazy and I got a lot of grief for it,” Hawley said. “But it met the authenticity test. I am not the great Internet guru, but I do know that people appreciate authenticity.”

These days, Burns is no longer a one-man social media machine. There’s a team that manages the agency’s Twitter feed so he can stay focused on Instagram, the blog and the next platform. Pinterest, perhaps?

Even after years on the job, Burns said he never knows when he’ll be surprised by what lands in his inbox. Humans, he said, are an odd bunch.

Said Burns: “A lot of people say that our account has some weird formula because who would have thought of posting pictures of weapons and dogs?”

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7 tips for mortgage renewal time



It is that time of the year for you to renew your mortgage and all you want to do is sign the papers and get done with it. However, you shouldn’t be in a haste to renew your mortgage without doing a little research.

A good fraction of Canadian homeowners—about 27 per cent of them—who carry a mortgage have automated their renewal process, according to a survey by Angus-Reid. While the aim is most likely to avoid any penalties or stress that comes with missing a renewal, this approach can prove costly. Automatically renewing your mortgage means you lose out on great opportunities to save money and take further advantage of any new products and features on your mortgage that may be advantageous to you.

Typically, mortgage renewals occur at the end of your existing mortgage term and the most popular period is usually 5 years—though it can range from 1 to 10 years. Depending on your mortgage type, with a fixed rate mortgage calculator, you can easily estimate your monthly mortgage payment and know how much you’re due on your next payment.

However, before you make your next mortgage payment, here are some important tips that would help you get the most out of your mortgage renewal.

1. Review your current goals

It is possible that your financial needs must’ve changed since you first applied for a mortgage. Therefore, before your sign that renewal slip, you may want to take another look at your financial goals.

For instance, if you’re currently on a five-year fixed mortgage, your renewal would likely come with another five-year fixed mortgage. If you’re certain you would be staying in your home for that amount of time, then renewing it would be great. However, if you have plans of relocating to a different city in a couple of years, then a shorter mortgage term would be best.

Other financial goals that you may want to consider is whether you want to refinance your mortgage or access some equity with Home Equity Line of Credit (HELOC).

2. Ask for better rates

Before your mortgage renewal is due, your current lender would most likely try to get you to renew early. Typically, you will receive a renewal letter from your lender 6 months and 4 months before your renewal date. While they may offer you a rate that is lower than what you currently pay, it is often not the best rate you can get.

The renewal offer given to you by your lender is often not the best deal and in an increasing rate environment, negotiating your renewal rate is even more important. Signing the renewal letter right away because of some discount offered by your lender might seem tempting but you are potentially losing out on a lot of savings by not considering other available options.

3. Shop early for better rates

Rather than just accepting your current lender’s renewal offer immediately, you can start searching early for other providers and comparing their rates to see which one is most favourable for you. If you begin at least four months before your renewal due date, you will be giving yourself enough time to make a switch, if necessary.

While there are no major penalties if you choose to switch providers, there are some charges incurred that are typically covered by your new mortgage provider. You may not be able to change your mortgage provider until the actual renewal date, but this would give you enough time to find the right product and sort out every required paperwork.

4. Take advantage of a renewal rate hold

A mortgage renewal rate hold allows you to lock in a particular mortgage rate before your renewal is due. Normally, rate hold can last for about 90 to up to 160 days, protecting you from increases in interest rates.

During this time, you can comfortably compare rates months before your renewal date just to find a better deal. If the interest rates increase during your rate hold period, you would have nothing to worry about. Also, should the interest rates decrease, you can still negotiate for a new lower rate with your lender.

5. Switch mortgage lenders

Cutting ties with your current lender can be difficult—at least that’s the impression most lenders give to home buyers. But don’t be afraid of switching lenders, especially when you’ve found a better rate elsewhere.

Remember, getting a better deal on your mortgage can save you few thousands of dollars. Switching providers might mean you have to go through requalification but that is not a problem as long as you begin the process early enough before your renewal date.

6. Add some extra on your principal

If you’re looking for the best time to make a bigger payment on your mortgage, then renewal time is the best since there are no limits on pre-payment.

Making a lump-sum payment can put a huge dent in your mortgage amortization and you would be saving a lot of money on your total interest cost.

7. Consider switching to a broker

If you’re not already using a mortgage broker, then renewal time might be the best time to consider making the switch. According to a study by the Bank of Canada, most homebuyers who used a broker got a much lower mortgage rate than those who used one of the big banks.

Mortgage brokers are a better alternative because they have access to several lenders who offer different competitive rates, unlike the bank. Therefore, if you’re looking to get the best deal on your mortgage, switching to a broker might be a great move.

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3 Money and time-saving mortgage tips



The path to buying a house isn’t the cheapest nor the easiest. Since the COVID-19 pandemic began last year, there has been several opportunities and challenges for first-time home buyers in the Canadian real estate market.

For some, sudden changes to their lifestyle created better opportunities to improve their savings plan while for others, such plans were halted due to the economic impact of the pandemic and rising home prices in real estate markets across Canada. According to the Canadian Real Estate Association, over 550,000 properties were sold in Canada last year, a new record for the country’s real estate market and a huge boost for the Canadian economy.

If you are a prospective buyer, looking to purchase a home within the year or just planning for the future, having access to the right information, resources and support can be crucial during your home-buying process. Many people—especially first-time home buyers—easily fall into home debt due to a lack of proper research into the market.

There are some important factors to consider in ensuring that your mortgage works best for you by not only saving you time but money. However, before you start searching for a home to buy, you should have a good idea of just how much you’re able to afford for one. 

Checking your credit score using a Canadian mortgage calculator before applying for a mortgage, would give you a realistic price range and equally inform you of your chances of getting your mortgage approved.

Here are some important mortgage tips to help you save time and money while house hunting:

1. Know the penalties on your mortgage

There are several reasons why anyone would want to sell their property. From changes in your financial or marital status to getting transferred to a new location due to either school or work. However, these circumstances could lead to you selling your home and breaking the terms of agreement on your mortgage.

If you’re on a variable-rate mortgage with one of the major banks in Canada, to successfully break your mortgage, you would need to pay about 3 months’ worth of interest. For a fixed-rate mortgage, the cost is much higher than 3 months of interest and there’s also the option of an interest rated differential (IRD). This is typically based on your remaining mortgage balance and current mortgage rates.

To avoid penalties on your mortgage, apply for a portable mortgage that allows you to transfer your existing mortgage to a new property and even combine it with another loan, if necessary. There’s also the option of an assumable mortgage, where you can transfer the mortgage to a qualified buyer instead of breaking it.

2.  Inquire about pre-payment privileges

When buying a home, you need to understand how rising interest rates would affect your mortgage. Without having any pre-payment privileges, the larger portion of your monthly mortgage payment would go towards the interest against the principal—making it harder to complete your mortgage.

Once you have pre-payment privileges, you’re offered enough flexibility to repay a percentage of the principal on your mortgage before the amortization period is over—and without any penalty. In fact, some lenders may even offer you their best rate to avoid giving you the option of pre-payment over a fixed period of time. Therefore, it is important to ask your lender the specific kind of pre-payment privileges you enjoy on your mortgage.

The amount of money you save by taking advantage of pre-payment privileges is quite substantial. For example, if you took a $300,000 mortgage at a fixed rate of 3.29% over five years and is amortized over 25 years. By making a pre-payment of $2,000 annually, you would save about $21,787 in interest and finish paying off your mortgage almost 4 years faster—assuming the interest rate was fixed throughout the amortization period.

You can always use a mortgage calculator to check much you would be saving by making extra mortgage payments annually.

3.  Know the benefits of making a less than 20% down payment

Typically, when house hunting, the recommended amount of down payment you need to make is 20% of the property cost. However, you mustn’t always pay that high to get the best deal.

Surprisingly, lenders offer the best interest rates to those who want high-ratio mortgage because they have less than the recommended 20% down payment. This because a high-ratio mortgage borrower has a low risk against losses.  

Default insurance makes it a lot cheaper for lenders to easily fund the mortgage loan, allowing them to transfer some of the savings—in form of lower rates—back to the borrower.

It is important to always carry out thorough research before applying for a mortgage to know what the best rates are, if a broker is more advantageous than a bank, or simply how you can get the best credit scores.

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Major housing markets to shine this year and next: Reuters poll



BENGALURU (Reuters) – The outlook for major global housing markets is brighter than previously thought due to expectations for a broad based economic recovery and easy monetary policy, with only a low risk that a COVID-19 resurgence will derail activity, Reuters polls showed.

Over 100 million people have been infected by the coronavirus, leading to a healthcare crisis and deep economic recessions, but fiscal and monetary stimulus, and the rollout of vaccines, mean the global economy is set to recover this year.[ECILT/WRAP]

While already high unemployment caused by the pandemic is expected to rise further, the Jan. 15-Feb. 1 poll of over 130 property market analysts showed average home prices would rise this year and next in most countries polled.

That compares to largely pessimistic predictions made in September.

An economic rebound, loose monetary policy, government stimulus, pent-up demand and tight inventories were expected to boost housing market activity to varying degrees in Australia, Britain, Canada, Dubai, India and the United States.

“A solid economic recovery bolstered by more fiscal stimulus, still-low mortgage rates, and unmet demand should continue to prop up home sales and construction in 2021,” said Gregory Daco, chief U.S. economist at Oxford Economics.

“We expect some gradual moderation in price growth over the course of 2021 as home sales cool, but sparse inventory will keep a solid floor under home prices.”

Reuters Poll: Major housing markets outlook

Three-quarters, or 77 of 102 analysts, said in response to an additional question that the risk of a COVID-19 resurgence derailing housing markets this year was low.

Although the U.S. economy on average contracted last year at its sharpest pace since the Second World War due to the pandemic, it had little bearing on housing market activity, an immunity the sector was expected to carry this year.

Despite the recent surge in coronavirus infections and renewed restrictions imposed in the United States, house prices there were forecast to rise over the next two years and activity was expected to continue on a strong course. [US/HOMES]

“The recent COVID-19 surge has not had any noticeable impact, with transactions near record high levels despite record high case growth,” said Brett Ryan, senior U.S. economist at Deutsche Bank.

“Pent-up activity from COVID-19-shutdowns earlier in the year will soon start to wane and transactions will likely normalize. More housing supply will come online as vaccination picks up at the same time that base effects will start to roll off.”

Reuters Poll: Global house prices outlook – Feb 2021

When asked about the primary driver of housing market activity this year, over 55% of respondents, or 57 of 101, chose an economic recovery and easy monetary policy.

Of the remainder, 20 analysts named a desire for more living space and 18 said a successful vaccine rollout, while six chose fiscal stimulus.

Australian and Canadian house prices were expected to rise significantly this year and next, helped by low mortgage rates and massive fiscal spending. [AU/HOMES][CA/HOMES]

When asked what was more likely for housing market activity, 58 of 100 respondents said an acceleration. The others expected a slowdown.

Those views were swayed by a somewhat modest outlook for the British, Dubai and Indian housing markets compared to the rest.

Indian house prices were expected to barely rise this year despite an economic recovery and supportive policies, and Dubai house prices were predicted to fall at a slower pace this year and next compared to the previous poll. [IN/HOMES][AE/HOMES]

British house prices were forecast to flatline this year.[GB/HOMES]

“While we expect a strong start to the year, we expect momentum to wane following the end of the stamp duty (property sales tax) holiday in April. Towards the end of the year the housing market should settle,” said Aneisha Beveridge at estate agents Hamptons International.

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