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Sleep-tech Entrepreneurs Seek to Put Insomnia to Rest



If you are reading this at 3 a.m., chances are that James Proud wants to put you in a deep slumber.

As the inventor of the sleep-tracking device Sense, Proud has enjoyed heady success in the quickly growing sleep tech field: Sense’s 2014 Kickstarter campaign raised about $2.4 million even though the goal was only $100,000.

One of Proud’s business partners is Arianna Huffington, who stepped away from her media empire to be the queen of lifestyle wellness.

“I’m fascinated by helping people live better,” Proud, 25, said. He is a British citizen who came to the United States via the Thiel Fellowship, which gives entrepreneurs $100,000 for skipping college. “And sleep is the foundation of everything. So it’s the best place to start.”

Insomnia and other temporary and recurring sleep disorders affect 50 million to 70 million Americans, according to the National Institutes of Health, and the effects only worsen as people grow older. Technology, while still nascent, is an alternative for those who do not want to take sleeping pills, which can be highly addictive.

Sense is the first product offered by Proud’s 50-employee company, Hello, based in San Francisco. It is sold on Amazon and will soon appear in Target and Best Buy stores. To finance Sense, Proud has raised over $40 million from backers like Allen & Co. and Temasek Holdings, owned by the Singapore government.

Like many other tech devices that monitor every twitch and turn of the human body, Sense uses sensors to collect reams of data. The information is then uploaded to a smartphone app that analyzes sleep cycles. An accelerometer about the size of a quarter attaches to a pillow and tracks tosses and turns. And a bedside hub, shaped like a ball, tracks sounds, light and temperature in a room. It glows green when sleep conditions are optimal.

“You can fall into bed drunk and it still works,” Proud, a self-taught programmer, said.

Sleep technology products range from the basic app to the esoteric. The Sleep Shepherd headband, invented by a professor whose daughter had a sleep disorder, monitors brain waves while the wearer sleeps. Noise-cancelling headphones pipe in sound. Other devices also emit light, some mimicking sunsets. They join hundreds of downloadable apps, like Sleep Cycle and SleepBot, which track every sleep tic.

All are trying to solve an age-old problem with new technologies that experts say are still mostly unproven.

“Most of these apps and wearables don’t have good-quality research that shows they improve sleep,” Dr. Neil Kline, a representative of the American Sleep Association and a sleep specialist, said. “It takes years to do good research. And a lot of these technologies just came out.”

Yet, experts agree that the market is huge and important. About half the U.S. population will have insomnia on any given night, Kline said.

Technology is being applied to difficulty in sleeping caused in an increasing number of Americans by the beeps and Day-Glo lights of tech devices.

Insomnia is also proved to cause a litany of problems, such as deadly motor vehicle accidents, heart disease and difficulty in concentrating. According to a RAND Corp. study, sleeplessness costs the economy up to $411 billion (U.S.) a year in lost productivity.

“A huge slice of society would be interested in this technology,” Kline said.

After his own sleepless nights, Matteo Franceschetti decided in 2014 to start his sleep tech company, Eight, named after the optimal hours of sleep for humans. Franceschetti, an Italian-born lawyer, attacked sleep from a different angle: by making mattresses smart.

The company invented a system that tracks time awake, breathing rate and number of tosses and turns through a mattress cover embedded with sensors. An app then “grades” users’ sleep, allowing them to adjust their sleeping habits.

“We provide insight to users,” said Franceschetti, a serial entrepreneur who started two clean-tech companies in the last several years. “It’s partly education.”

Eight, based in New York, now has 17 employees. It has raised $6.5 million so far from Y Combinator, Comcast Ventures, Azure Capital Partners and others.

“Everyone knows about nutrition and fitness,” Azure Capital Partners general partner Paul Ferris said. “Sleep is the third pillar.”

The rapid rise of wearable fitness trackers like Fitbit, he added, helped set up a firehose of data that consumers could harness to track behaviour.

Early adopters like Alex Muir, a tech support analyst who works at a New York private school, are helping test these early sleep technologies. Last year, he contributed $199 to Eight’s Indiegogo campaign, and got the company’s smart cover, hub and app.

“Eight is helping me identify what’s going on with my sleep,” he said. “When it’s colder, I get a better night’s sleep, and I can see that in the app.”

Muir acknowledges that technology alone can’t solve problems with sleep.

“It can provide a baseline of information, though,” he said.

Some who study sleep, however, say sensors and technology do not necessarily solve the underlying problems of insomnia.

“Sleep sensors are feeding back inaccurate information,” Hawley Montgomery-Downs, a sleep expert and West Virginia University associate professor of psychology, said. “They’re telling people they sleep better than they do.”

Additionally, she said, no federal regulations or standards govern the sleep tech niche.

“The industry is screaming for grown-ups to come along,” she said. “But sleep is sexy and lucrative. So people need to ask questions about empirical evidence for these apps.”

Experts add that sleep apps also collect lots of data that is not then interpreted.

“The devices can show you when you’re awake,” Kline said. “But they don’t tell you why. So the technology can’t help consumers fix all their sleep problems.”

In the sleep field, wearables may be the toughest sell.

“People don’t want to wear wearables at night because most people take technology off,” Proud said, who also tried out his product, Sense, as a wearable. “Silicon Valley is arrogant and gets it wrong sometimes.”

Barak Kassar’s experience with a wearable is a case in point. When worn at night, it gathered sleep data and sent it to an app.

But Kassar quickly found out that the data collected wasn’t useful. He learned “that I wake up in the middle of the night, which showed up on the graph on my phone,” he said. “But I already knew that.” Now he wears the modernistic-looking device as jewelry.

However, recent research does show that online cognitive behaviour therapies can help restore sleep. After Peter Hames developed insomnia, his doctor in England prescribed sleeping pills.

“Drugs have had a monopoly on evidence-based health care,” Hames said. Instead, he turned to a course in cognitive behaviour therapy developed by an expert, which cured him in six weeks.

So Hames and others founded the digital health startup Big Health and created Sleepio, an online sleep improvement program that uses a virtual therapist. Cognitive behaviour therapy was shown to have good results in peer-reviewed trials in Britain and elsewhere. And a report in the JAMA Psychiatry journal found that insomniacs could benefit from cognitive behaviour therapy.

So far, the company has raised $15 million from backers like Kaiser Permanente Ventures and Octopus Ventures, based in London. It has a 25-person team, including three clinical researchers. Clients include big employers like LinkedIn and Comcast, which pay for a year’s access.

“We synthesize the world’s best experts,” he said. “Other apps have been toys, not true medicine.

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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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