Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Smart Sprinkler Controller



It seems like most homes have sprinkler systems and if they do, they have some form of controller to automatically turn the water on and off for the time and days you feel necessary.  It seems like basic functionality and if it isn't broken, you may not feel the need to replace it. 

Today, there are so many smart home devices that are not only convenient, but they'll end up saving you enough money to pay for the upgrade.  There are different manufacturers, but you should at least consider the Rachio if for no other reason than the easy installation procedure. 

The process is simple.  Unplug the old controller and disconnect the wires being sure to label which wires went to which stations.  Using the Rachio template, mark three spots on the wall, drill holes in the drywall, insert the anchors into the holes and screw the new controller to the wall. 

This model has convenient wire connectors that do not require crimping a wire around a screw.  It is quick and easy to put the numbered wires in the corresponding slot.  The directions are simple and easy to follow.  When complete, connect the power source and plug it into a wall socket. 

Now, install the Rachio app to your phone and continue following the instructions to connect the controller to the Wi-Fi.    In minutes, you'll be sitting in a lawn chair making adjustments and seeing what it will do. 

Some of the features you'll find very convenient are the multiple schedules that can be created and easily switched from one to another.  As you set up each zone, you can take a picture of the area and be able to identify with a glance which area you want when individually selecting one. 

Another thing you might like is that when you're trying to track down a broken head or just need to adjust it, you can turn on a zone from your phone while looking at the yard.  When you identify which head is the culprit, turn the water off from your phone, make the adjustment or repair and turn the water back on to test it without having to go back and forth to wherever your controller is located. 

Rachio will even monitor the weather to skip a scheduled cycle in case of rain, high wind or freezing temperatures.  You could literally be anywhere in the world where you have an Internet connection and you'll be able to adjust your watering cycle.  This device really does save time and money while being fun to operate. 

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

How Does It Measure Up?



People are always looking for a "down and dirty" way to determine the value of a home and square footage seems to be one of the most common things used by people whether they are buyers, sellers or real estate agents.  While it seems straight forward, there are several variances that can lead to inaccurate determinations.

The market data approach to value uses similar properties in size, location, condition and amenities to compare with the subject to arrive at a price.  Differences in any of these things can affect the price per square foot.  Appraisers are trained and licensed to make these adjustments but the differences are not necessarily objective and that is where opinions start to influence the value.

Even if a person were to make accurate adjustments, they would be based on the assumption that the square footage of the comparable properties is correct.  That leads to the next area of concern: how was the subject property measured.

It is commonly accepted to the measure the outside of the dwelling on detached housing.  Is it customary in this area to include porches and patios under roof and if so, do they get full value or only partial value?  Is there any value given to the garage since it isn't living area?  What about other areas that do not have HVAC coverage?

Some areas don't give consideration to basement square footage at all.  Others might give some value if it is finished or has access directly to the outside like a walk-out basement.  Similarly, attic space could be finished and under HVAC but if the ceiling height is not standard for the home, it may not receive value.

The problems become exacerbated when different comparables are not treated consistently and yet the common denominator ends up being an average of the square foot price of each.   This is calculated by taking the sales price and dividing it by the number of square feet being quoted.

The source of the square footage should be listed to help determine the accuracy.  It could be what the builder said it was to the original purchaser.  If there is a set a plans available, that might seem credible but it is not uncommon for the builder to make changes while the home is being built which could increase or decrease the square footage.

Another source is the tax assessor.  In many cases, they don't actually measure the home but take the word of the builders or appraisers for it.  If permits were obtained to add on to the home since it was built, it should be reflected in the square footage.  However, sometimes permits are not secured properly.

After reading this, you may think that more doubts have been introduced than solutions and you are correct.  It takes diligence on the part of all parties to determine the correct amount.  The most highly trained person will be the appraiser and they should be measuring the home in its "as is" condition but understand that even a competent person can inadvertently make a mistake.

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

It's Worth Digging a Little Deeper



There are hundreds of thousands of people who believe, for one reason or another, they cannot afford to buy a home currently.  Some people  may not for any number of reasons but it would be very surprising to know how many who can buy but have gotten some bad information along the way.  It's worth digging a little deeper to find out the facts.

John and Karen have been renting a home for the last five years at $2,000 a month.  During that time, the value of the home they were renting went up by $30,000 in value while the unpaid balance decreased by $18, 400.  Even though they were fortunate enough the rent remained constant over the five years, they missed out on close to $50,000 of equity that the owner realized instead of them.

Another thing to consider with today's low interest rates, it is quite common for a mortgage payment to be lower than a tenant is paying rent for a similar property.  So, in this example, John & Karen paid more to rent than a house payment would have been and missed out on the equity build-up that occurred due to appreciation and amortization.

The simple fact is when tenants like John and Karen pay their rent, the landlord is the beneficiary of the rent received as well as the equity earned.  Over time, the rent paid by John and Karen and other tenants will pay for the landlord's rental.  It a great concept and a good investment.

True, not everyone can afford a home.  A buyer needs money for a down payment and closing costs.   They also need to have income and good credit to qualify for the mortgage.  Some of these may seem insurmountable but instead of imagining that buying a home is not in the cards at the current time, talking to a real estate professional is a better route to take.

There are lots of low-down payment mortgages available including 100% financing for qualified veterans and USDA eligible buyers.  It is sometimes more difficult to find sellers willing to pay all or part of a buyers closing costs when inventory is low, but lenders do allow it.  It is a matter of finding the willing seller.

The source of the down payment could be a gift from a family member as long as there is no repayment expected.  It's amazing how many parents or grandparents might be willing to help a relative get into a home.  Funds for a down payment may be available as loans or withdrawals from qualified retirement programs like IRAs or 401k plans.  It's worth investigating based on what retirement programs you have.

Good credit is necessary to qualify for a loan but buyers should not assume that theirs is not adequate.  A trusted mortgage professional can assess a situation and may be able to suggest some things that will not only raise the score enough to be approved but possibly, even raise the score enough to qualify for a better interest rate.

There are a lot of misunderstandings about whether a person can or cannot qualify for a home at this time.  Instead of relying on second hand information or something that might be floating around on the Internet, spend some time with a real estate professional who can give you the facts, assess your situation and if necessary, point you in the right direction to get help from a trusted mortgage professional.  Call (703) 878-4866 to schedule an appointment where we'll help you dig deeper to determine whether you can buy a home now.

Download our Buyers Guide to give you more information.

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Grilling Safety



More people grill in July, June & August than any other months and correspondingly, there are more injuries, as well as fires, due to grilling accidents in those months. Even though Labor Day is in September, we still need to be aware of safety.

Close to 20,000 patients per year visit the emergency room due to injuries involving grills.  Approximately half of the injuries involving grills are thermal burns.  If you are around fire, there's a chance of getting burned. 

About 2/3 of American households own at least one outdoor barbecue, grill or smoker.  Interestingly, gas grills contribute to more fires than charcoal grills.  In addition, there are over 10,600 home fires started by grills each year.

While grilling is associated with celebrations, good food, fun and friends, it is important to make sure that accidents don't interrupt your activities. 

  • Only use BBQ grills outdoors and in ventilated areas
  • Place the grill away from home or anything that could be flammable
  • Keep grill stable
  • Keep fire under control
  • Keep children away from grill
  • Never leave the grill unattended
  • The grill lid should always be open before lighting it.
  • Grease should not be allowed to build up in the grill
  • Use long-handled utensils

Gas/Propane

  • Check the tank hose for leaks before using it for the first time each year by using a light soapy water solution to see if bubbles appear.
  • You should not smell gas when the grill is lit.  Move away from the grill and call the fire department.
  • If the flame goes out, turn off the gas for 15 minutes and open the lid before re-lighting it.

Charcoal

  • Never add any starter fluid or other flammable liquid to a fire
  • Only use charcoal starter fluid and not gasoline, kerosene or other flammable liquid.
  • Keep starter fluid away from heat sources and out of reach of children.
  • Electric starters have a coil that ignites the charcoal.
  • When finished cooking, close off the grill vents to suffocate the fire and save some of the remaining charcoal.

Practice safe grilling and enjoy any occasion to cook outdoors and share time with your family and friends.

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Forbearance is Not Forgiveness



Forbearance is a temporary postponement of mortgage payments.  The lender can grant this option to a borrower instead of forcing the property into foreclosure.  The CARES Act provides protections for homeowners with mortgages that are federally or Government Sponsored Enterprise backed or funded such as FHA, VA, USDA, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

A mortgage holder should contact the lender to explain the temporary difficulty they are having making payments and ask for relief under forbearance or other options.  Once the lender grants approval, it is important for the borrower to get the terms of the forbearance agreement in writing to be clear about when the payments will resume and how the missed payments will be recovered.

Generally speaking, homeowners in a forbearance plan will not incur late fees and it should not adversely affect their credit.  Unfortunately, borrowers must be vigilant to see that the lender is protecting them from delinquent credit marks according to their agreement.

Forbearance is easy to receive but not so easy to recover from.  Free credit reports can be obtained on a weekly basis until April 21, 2021 at www.AnnualCreditReport.com.  Reports are available from Experian, Equifax and TransUnion.  This will allow borrowers to monitor whether the lender has inadvertently reported items inaccurately.

Prior to the end of the forbearance period, borrowers should contact their loan servicer, the company that accepts their payments.  Review the terms of the forbearance plan and expectations for repayment.  Verify the unpaid balance and that there are not any payments marked as late or delinquent during the forbearance period.

One more item to discuss with the loan servicer is the payment of the property taxes and insurance.  Since multiple mortgage payments may have been missed and most payments include 1/12 of the annual amounts for these items, there may not be enough to pay for them when they become due.

Since it is estimated that there are over four million borrowers in forbearance currently, it may be difficult to talk to the servicer but starting the process early and being persistent will be helpful. 

At the end of forbearance, the borrower needs to resume regular payments and establish a plan with the lender to repay the missed payments.  The terms are negotiated between the borrower and the lender.

One way is through a loan modification which can restructure the loan.  In some cases, it would add the missed payments to the loan balance and recalculate the payments for the remainder of the term. 

A borrower could pay the forbearance money in cash but the practicality of that is not realistic.  If the person couldn't make the payments during forbearance, they probably don't have the liquidity to pay them afterward.  This option is entirely at the buyer's election.

Forbearance is a temporary way to postpone the mortgage payments with the understanding that you will be able to resume repaying the loan.  If the circumstances that caused the issue initially become permanent, then, other remedies must be considered.  If there is equity in the property, selling the home may be the way to materialize it for the homeowner.

Please contact us at (703) 878-4866 if you need to know what your home is worth and how long it would take to sell it.  We're happy to provide this information as a service without obligation so you can be aware of your options.

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Building a Pool Is Just the Beginning



During the first major stay-at-home event that most of us have experienced in this country, a pool can give you and your family enjoyable recreation without leaving the home.  For those without a pool, the NPD group reports that the Covid-19 pandemic has increased pool building by 161% this year.

When your children are small, pools become a magnet for not only your children but their friends as well.  It can also be a great place for the summer holidays, Memorial Day, 4th of July and Labor Day.  Any day during the summer, especially on the weekends, can be an opportunity to enjoy the pool, cook outside and bask in the sun.

Some of you may have even made the transition from your children enjoying the pool to your grandchildren.  Usually, there is an interim where you may have wished that your home didn't have a pool so you would not have the maintenance and required upkeep.  Then, the new generation of family starts using it regularly and again, you are glad you have a pool, so you'll see the grandchildren more. 

For those people who don't have a pool but are considering one, there are some things that you need to think about.

If you've watched some of the TV shows like Pool Kings, most of those builds look like resorts or water parks and the price tag that comes with them can be staggering.  Even a modest gunite, in-ground pool with a limited amount of decking can be as expensive as a luxury car, especially after including the cost of landscaping and pool furniture.

If you finance the pool as a home improvement, the term will probably be between seven to fifteen years.  If you refinance your current mortgage and wrap the cost of the pool together, you could get a 30-year term.

Pool cleaning and chemicals depend on the size of the pool but will generally start at about $175 a month through a service.  Your utilities will see an increase because you're going to use more electricity and water than you did before you had a pool.

Then, of course, there is food and refreshments to consider for not only your family but your guests.  There are also pool toys, floats, sunscreen, towels and other minor things that do add up.

People going through the pros and cons of building a pool usually tell themselves that the house will go up in value.  It is true but not nearly as much as the cost of the pool.  Long time pool owners will tell you that they have had lots of great memories and it has been a good investment in their family.  It just may not be a good financial investment. 

Once you've made the decision to build a pool, find a reputable pool builder, ask for references and check them out.  Ask friends who have pools, who built them and would they use the company again.  Most pool companies hire and coordinate with subcontractors to do the work.  It is important to know that the builder will be around if something goes wrong and how they'll solve the issue.

The Better Business Bureau has some suggestions about hiring a pool contractor and they warn about scammers who are eager to take advantage of the increased demand for pools.

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Three Reasons to Refinance



Three reasons to refinance a home include lowering the cost of housing, shortening the term of the mortgage to pay it off sooner or to using the equity to accomplish another purpose.

Replacing the mortgage at a lower interest rate, which is entirely possible in today's market, would reduce the payment.  On the other hand, shortening the term of the mortgage could make the payments increase but would allow the home to be paid for sooner.  In either case, the equity would not be reduced unless the refinancing costs were rolled into the new mortgage.

Refinancing the home to take money out would increase the mortgage on the property and lower an owner's equity; careful consideration should be made before doing so.

Mortgage rates are considerably lower than credit card rates and usually lower than short term borrowing like student loans or car loans.  For that reason, homeowners will sometimes refinance to payoff higher cost debt.

Some people refinance for more than their current balance to improve their cash position, possibly, to have funds available in case they need it.  Other reasons could be to use it for an investment such as rental property or other things.  Still others may use it to make capital improvements on their home like remodeling or a pool.

Another legitimate reason to refinance may be to combine a first and second lien on the home that might result in lower payments and a savings in interest. 

One more situation that causes a person to refinance a home is to remove a former spouse or co-borrower from the existing mortgage.  In the case of a divorce, a couple may no longer be married and one of the former spouses may have no financial interest in the home any longer but because they signed the note originally, they are still liable along with the other spouse.  This could be an untenable position.

There can be a lot of reasons that cause a homeowner to refinance the home.  The equity is a valuable asset that has powerful borrowing power combined with the good credit and income of the homeowner.  A Refinance Analysis can help you to determine the new payments and how long it will recapture the cost of refinancing.

For the recommendation of a trust lender, give me a call at (703) 878-4866.

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Things Have Changed



The soothsayer in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar issued his famous warning "Beware the Ides of March."  Who knew that in 2020, around the middle of March, the world, as we knew it, would force such dramatic changes on us from the Coronavirus.

In America, it has brought our economy to its knees as we sheltered in place for over four months.  During this time, changes have affected our lives and many of those changes could be permanent.

Previously, smaller homes were becoming the trend for not only efficiency but upkeep so owners would have more time to do things including travel.  Now, travel is minimal and our world, in some respects, is reduced to our home.

For families with children, their home has become a school.  With so many people working from home, it has become our office or store or studio.  If there is more than one working adult in a home, it needs to have space for each party to work.  The home fitness industry is experiencing record sales in exercise equipment so the home can become a gym.

Since we're all spending more time at home, it is also the place to recreate.  We're cooking more; a larger kitchen and dining area would be nice.  We want to enjoy the yard, garden, pool or balcony and our current home may not even have them or we'd like to upgrade. 

People are wanting and needing more space to do all of these things at home.  Many experts are anticipating that these changes we thought were temporary may be part of the new normal even after a vaccine and cure have been discovered.

If you have had any of these thoughts and would like to know more about how to buy or sell a home in our current market, we would love to tell you about the many options available while being responsible to stay safe.  Whether it is buying for the first time, moving up or moving on, I would like to help.  Call me at (703) 878-4866.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Do you like to negotiate?



Whether you like to or not, buying and selling a home involves negotiation at all stages of the process.  It is not like the retail world where once you decide to purchase, you pay the price.  It is easily the most expensive purchase or sale that most people experience and emotions get involved that could affect the negotiations adversely.

The word "home" by itself conjures up emotions and selling a home you've lived in for a while could even complicate things more.  A real estate professional can separate their emotions from the process to be able to help the one they are representing.

The price of the home, the type of financing and concessions, closing costs, personal property, closing dates and possession are just a few of the many things that can be negotiated in a contract.  Since the seller wants to get the most for their house and the buyer wants to pay the least, their objectives are diametrically opposed.

Even after the contract is signed, removing the contingencies can cause considerable negotiations.  The appraisal, the inspections or the repairs could be a source of reevaluating the terms and provisions of the contract.

Negotiating the sale or purchase of a home is a competition; for one person to get something, someone has to give something up.  If you don't feel comfortable with this, it is important to work with an agent who can bring their skills to the table on your behalf.  As your advocate, they can champion your position.

I'd like to share how my skills, training and experience can benefit you in a sale or purchase.  Call me at (703) 217-6447.

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

REALTORS Thoughts on the Recovery



The National Association of REALTORS® just released the Market Recovery Survey of a random sampling to close to 100,000 members conducted June 24-26, 2020.  The following statements are the members' opinion on various aspects of the recovery to the Covid-19 pandemic as it relates to real estate.

In response to the safety of buyers, sellers and agents, REALTORS® are expecting within the next year to have increased demand for the following technologies used to market properties:

  • 67% - Zoom or other video technology to communicate with clients
  • 66% - virtual tours
  • 63% - live virtual tours conducted by agent using video
  • 60% - virtual open houses

Nine out of ten respondents indicated that some of the buyers have returned to the market or never left the market.  Agents currently working with buyers report that slightly more than half of buyer's timeline has remained the same with about the same level of urgency.  27% believe the buyers have more urgency.

The most popular reason cited by buyers with an increased timeline is that the delay during the pandemic has amplified their demand for a new home.  Others realize that new home features would make their home life more comfortable.  Some buyers are wanting to buy before a potential second peak of Covid-19 occurs. 

During the week the survey was taken, three out of four buyers saw the home in person physically while 26% did not.

Roughly 2/3 of the buyers are looking for the same features as they were prior to Covid-19 while new feature considerations include home office, space to accommodate family, larger home for more space, place to exercise and bigger kitchen.

Most buyers are looking for the same type home, however, respondents reported that 13% are moving away from multi-family properties to a single-family home and only 1% are going from SFH to multi-family.

89% of respondents stated that some of the sellers have returned to or never left the market.  Only 23% reported more urgency to sell a home due to the pandemic.

On the commercial side, 2/3 of REALTOR® respondents felt like the demand for office space would decrease and 72% felt that retail space demand would decrease.

The stats mentioned in this article pertain nationwide.  To find out specifics in your market, call your REALTOR® Bob Hummer at (703) 878-4866.

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Who Decides Value?



The seller can put a price on the home but the value is ultimately, determined by the buyer. Individually, a buyer could pay over market value because they love the location, or the elevation of the home or the proximity to something that is important to them.  The shortage of available homes resulting in increased competition among buyers could drive the value higher.

Most experts agree initially pricing it properly will generally result in the highest sales price.  If a home starts out too high, it could actually sell for a lower price after it has been on the market for a while.  It gives the impression that there must be something "wrong" with the house because it didn't sell immediately.  

So, how does a seller determine what price to put on the home?  It has nothing to do with what the seller needs to get out of it.  Nor does the price the seller paid for it make any difference now.  Even if the seller made considerable improvements, they may not affect the value of the home.

There are three common sources for a seller to determine market value: an appraisal, a broker price opinion or an automated value model found online.

AVM, automated value models, are mathematical estimates that analyze limited public record data to determine a value.  While this process can easily compare square footage, age, number of bedrooms as objective data, it is much more challenging to make adjustments for subjective data like appeal, quality of construction, floorplan and updating.  Zillow Zestimates are the most common AVMs but there are many others providing similar services.

Appraisals can only be made by a licensed appraiser.  Most mortgages require an appraisal as part of the underwriting process to verify that there is ample collateral to secure the mortgage in case of default by the borrower.  FHA, VA, FNMA, Freddie Mac and USDA as well as most private lenders require an appraisal especially for high loan-to-value mortgages.  In some situations where the risk is lower, some lenders may use an AVM.

An appraisal requires the appraiser to visit the property, perform a visual inspection, analyze the property considering three approaches to value and accurately report the property information that is verifiable.

Broker Price Opinion, BPO, as the name indicates, is a price opinion on a property made by a licensed real estate agent.  The determination of whether the estimate accurately reflects the market will depend on the experience of the agent with that type of property and market area.  It is possible that a BPO could be more sensitive to the actual market because it will consider homes currently for sale and recently expired properties as well as comparable sales.

While all three methods, used recent, comparable sales to arrive at a value, the appraiser and the real estate professional can make a series of adjustments for the differences in the comparables.  While the appraiser is highly trained in this technique, the real estate professional also adds credibility to this process based on their experience in how the buying public might react to specific features and the home in general including positive and negative influences.

Current condition of the property is very important for a number of reasons.  In some price ranges, a buyer may only have the necessary down payment and closing costs but is not able to make improvements like paint, floor coverings, appliances or other major items.  In this situation, a buyer would have to live with the house in its current condition until they could afford to make wanted improvements.

Investors may not be deterred by making an additional investment in the home after purchasing it but will probably be motivated to do so only if it will increase the potential profit to be made.

An AVM can be a tool that a homeowner, prospective buyer, mortgage officer, appraiser or real estate agent can use to get a quick idea of price but there are inherent limitations that can only be considered by personal examination balanced with experience in the market place.

Experience and understanding of the subject property and the marketplace are critical to having confidence that a value is accurate.  Any person could go through the same steps to arrive at a value but an experienced, well-trained professional is far more likely to assess all of the variables more accurately.  If you are curious what your home is worth, call (703) 878-4866 or email Bob@Military-RealEstate.com for a Broker Price Opinion.

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Good Decision for a Second Opinion



You've done your homework, contacted a mortgage company and believe you are pre-approved.  That part of the process is finished and you can concentrate of finding a home and moving...or can you?

Pre-qualified and pre-approved are two different things but some people, including some in the business, use the terms interchangeably.  Pre-qualified is an opinion of likelihood that a borrower will be approved based on preliminary information about their income and credit.  Whereas, in a pre-approval, the borrower's credit report is updated and pulled, income and assets verified and involves pre-underwriting.

Even when you have a highly qualified loan officer, the real decision maker is the underwriter who can commit the lender.  Generally speaking, a person who has been pre-approved receives a written letter stating the terms and conditions of the commitment.

A second opinion from a different lender can be a comforting thing for a borrower.  It will either confirm that the first lender was correct and that the rate and terms being offered are competitive or it will reveal that there could be differences that would warrant more investigation.

Mortgage money is a commodity and while competition usually keeps lenders close to each other in the rates and terms they offer, you won't know for sure unless you shop around.  The cost for being pre-approved is usually a nominal amount and when you are considering the size of the mortgage you'll be borrowing for up to thirty years, it makes sense to get a second opinion.

Occasionally, during the process of being pre-approved, an unexpected credit problem may be discovered.  It is better to learn about it early so you'll have time to correct it before you have contracted on a home.

Your real estate professional, Bob Hummer, will be able to recommend lenders who are active, experienced in the area and can share their experience with you regarding previous loans they have made.  The benefits far exceed the time and effort it takes.  You'll be looking at the right priced homes; getting the best loan, rate and terms; have increased negotiating power with the Seller and can close quicker because many of the verifications have already been made.

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Prepaying Your Mortgage



Paying off your mortgage can provide peace of mind and is a worthy goal but is it the best thing for you to do at this time.

Do you have higher interest rate debt currently?  If you have credit card debt with double-digit rates or personal, car or student loans, you'll probably save more money from interest by paying these things off before you pay off your mortgage which is usually one of the lower rates on debt.

Many financial advisors recommend funding your annual retirement contribution before paying down a mortgage.  If your company offers matching funds for your contribution, you would be leaving money on the table by not making the contribution to your retirement.  For instance, you would be getting a $10,000 value by putting $5,000 into your retirement if your company matches it.

Creating an emergency fund is another favorite of financial advisors.  When the rainy day arrives and you need funds, it may be difficult to get money from the equity of your home, especially if you have lost your job.  Six months' worth of living expenses is a good target to have available should you need it and a year's worth would be even better.

Children's college funds may be another priority that takes precedent overpaying off the mortgage.  Whether you're saving or investing to pay for their education, it is going to cost more than it did when you were in school.

When you are ready to start paying off your mortgage, decide on the best way to do it.  Regular principal contributions on a monthly basis are very predictable and will get the job done.  Setting up an automatic bill pay with your bank will assure that you don't re-prioritize that extra amount every month because there is always going to be something else to do with extra money.

It is important to be sure that the lender applies the additional payment amounts to the principal and not to the escrow account.

Use the Refinance Analysis to see what extra amount you'd have to pay to retire your mortgage in a certain time frame or by making a specific additional amount each payment, you can find out when the loan will be paid.  Regardless of which way you go, prepaying a loan will save interest, build equity and shorten the term on a fixed-rate mortgage.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Lower Your Cost of Housing



Homeowners still have considerable advantages from the amortization of the mortgage and the appreciation enjoyed by most homes even with taking the standard deduction instead of itemizing to take the interest and property tax deduction. 

There is an adage, "Rent or buy, you pay for the house you occupy."  You either pay for it yourself or for your landlord.  The people who have job security, sufficient income, good credit and the funds for the down payment and closing costs can enjoy the many financial and emotional benefits of homeownership.

Looking at a $350,000 home purchased with an FHA mortgage with 3.5% down payment at 3.25% interest for 30-years, the total payment would be $2,420 a month.  During the first year, the average monthly principal reduction is $573 a month which build the owner's equity in the home.

At an estimated 3% appreciation, this home would increase in value at the rate of $875 a month during the first year which again builds the owner's equity in the home.

Even if you consider the buyer will now be responsible for repairs and possibly homeowner's association fees, the monthly net cost of housing in this example is $1,122 or less than half the monthly payment.  The difference goes to equity which a tenant does not benefit from.

If the buyer were paying $2,750 monthly rent, they would be paying $1,628 more each month to rent than to own.  In a year's time, they would lose $19,500 of equity by continuing to rent.  The down payment in this example is only $12,250 which would leave $7,000 to pay for buyer's closing costs.

Purchase Price

$350,000

Down Payment

$12,250

Total Monthly Payment (PITI + MIP)

$2,420

Less Monthly Principal Reduction (average first year)

$573

Less Monthly Appreciation (average first year at 3% annually)

$875

Plus Estimated Maintenance & HOA

$175

Net Cost of Housing

$1,122

The equity for the homeowner in this example at the end of seven years would be almost $140,000 based on the appreciation and amortization of the mortgage.  Whether you rent or buy, you pay for the house you occupy.

Use this Rent vs. Own to plug in your own numbers for the price home you'd like to buy.  If you need help with it, contact me and we can do it over the phone at (703) 878-4866 or in an online meeting.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Annual Advisory



Homeownership is a privilege and a responsibility. Even after decades of owning a home, you may still need some help to handle some of its challenges by focusing on the three "M"s of homeownership: maintenance, minimizing expenses and managing debt and risk.

While many people recognize the benefits of annual wellness, financial, vehicle and equipment maintenance visits, an important checkup that you may not have considered is an annual homeowner advisory or real estate review. Why would you treat the investment in your home with less care than you treat your car or your HVAC system?

Consider exploring the following:

  • Do you know the current value of your home? (You can, by obtaining a list of comparable sales in your immediate area, as well as what is currently on the market for sale.)
  • Have you compared your assessed value for tax purposes to the fair market value in order to possibly reduce your property taxes?
  • Even if you've refinanced in the last two years, can you save money and recapture the cost of refinancing in the length of time you plan to remain in your home?
  • Have you considered reducing your mortgage debt with low-earning cash reserves that will not be needed soon?
  • Do you have a record of the improvements you've made to your home since you purchased it? Do you know what items can be included?
  • Have you considered investing in rental homes in good neighborhoods to increase your yields and avoid the volatility of the stock market?
  • When was the last time you updated your home inventory of personal belongings? Do you have pictures as well as written documentation?
  • Do you need recommendations of repairmen and other service providers?

This service is part of my point of difference as a real estate professional to provide information to help homeowners not only when they buy and sell but all the years in between too.  My goal is to create lifelong relationships with our customers as their "go to" person whenever they have a real estate question.

My strategy is to provide reliable, consumer-based information about homeownership on a regular basis through email and social networking.  If it benefits you by helping you be a better homeowner, maybe you'll consider us your real estate professional.

When you don't know the answers to real estate questions, you know where to get them.

We're always here to serve your real estate needs. By helping you with the three "M"s of homeownership, we can earn your confidence and trust for the next time you move or a friend of yours needs a recommendation.

If you'd like to have a list of the market activity in your area or any of the other information mentioned, please contact me at (703) 878-4866 or Bob@Military-RealEstate.com.  We're happy to provide it along with informative guides regarding the subjects mentioned.

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Why homebuying begins with the agent



It takes a team of professionals to buy a home like the lender, the appraiser, the inspector, the property insurance agent, the title officer, and others but the real estate professional may play the most critical role.

Baking bread seems so simple.  There are only four ingredients: flour, salt, yeast, and water; yet, there are steps that should be followed as well as a certain sequence to get the proper results.  Some people mix all of the dry ingredients before adding the hot water to activate the yeast.  Other people will activate the yeast in the warm water first to allow it to "bloom."

Both methods can achieve satisfactory results but one knowledgeable person needs to be in charge of the bread instead of having multiple people to be concerned with just their one ingredient or contribution like mixing, kneading, fermentation, benching, shaping, proofing or baking.

Similarly, in a home purchase, the buyer's agent can be the one who puts things in the proper order and sees that no steps are missed.  The buyer's agent coordinates between the other professionals with the common goal of getting the home closed on time according to the terms agreed in the sales contract.

Even if a buyer has been through the process before and possibly, multiple times, the buyer's agent will most likely have far more experience because it is their job. They perform their job on a daily basis and are not personally or emotionally involved like a buyer is.

Your agent understands what and when the various steps should be done and by whom.  They have worked with enough of the other professionals to know who is good at their job and can offer recommendations.  They have seen the things that make a transaction go smoothly and what can derail one.

Experience is a great teacher, but the lesson does not have to be learned by going through it by yourself.  Take the luxury of using your real estate professional's experience acquired through years of study and practice.  Allow your agent to advise you and coordinate the efforts to achieve the results you are expecting and deserve.

Learn more about the process and different steps by downloading the Buyers Guide

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Why Keep Track of Home Improvements



Homeowners receive a generous exclusion on the gain of their principal residence up to $250,000 for single taxpayers and $500,000 for married taxpayers filing jointly.  Most people probably consider the gain or profit in a home to be the difference between the purchase price and the sales price.

IRS allows a taxpayer to lower the sales price by the selling expenses before calculating gain.  Normal expenses like real estate commission, title policy, attorney fees, and other sales expenses may be included if they are normal and customary.

Another significant adjustment is that capital improvements made during the holding period can be added to the cost basis.  Normal maintenance like repairs are not considered improvements.  IRS says that if the expenditure materially adds value (features) to the property, or appreciably prolongs the useful life of the property, or adapts a portion of the property to a new use, it can be considered a capital improvement.

Examples could include replacing a heating or air conditioning system, storm windows, new permanent landscaping like trees or shrubs or completing an unfinished basement.  They don't necessarily have to be high-ticket items but can include things like adding dead bolts, ceiling fans, video doorbell and other items.  For more information, see IRS Publication 523.

The total amount of the money that is spent on capital improvements increase the cost basis of the home which in turn will reduce the amount of gain when sold.  With the average person staying in a home for 10 ... 12 years, the total improvements could be significant.

As an example, let's say a single taxpayer sold their home for $350,000 more than they paid for it.  If their selling expenses were $25,000 and they had made $75,000 of capital improvements during the holding period, the gain would be $250,000 and within the limits for a single taxpayer to exclude all of it instead of having a $100,000 gain.

It is necessary to be able to prove the amount spent and for that reason, a routine should be established to keep the receipts and cancelled checks for all expenditures on their principal residence.  Even if the owner is not sure whether they qualify as an improvement, by having the receipt available at the time of sale, a tax professional can help a homeowner with the determination.

In addition to receipts and cancelled checks, a contemporaneous register listing the date, description and amount spent will provide accurate information for calculations and serve as evidence should it be needed in the future.

There is more information in the Homeowners Tax Guide that is available for download.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Rethinking Home



The last two months of the new normal stay at home has led many homeowners to rethink the way they live in their home.  It has now become an office for working at home; a school for children; a gym to stay in shape; and a place for recreation.

The repurposing has people evaluating whether their home still meets their needs or if some changes are necessary.  In some cases, adult children have moved back home, and, in others, there are parents who have moved in for the first time.

Staying at home and sheltering in place is necessary but how much togetherness can one family take and how long is it going to last?  Temporary is stretching into longer than expected and even when vaccines and treatments are discovered, will things really go back to the way they were?

A home is a place to call your own; to raise your family, share with your friends and to feel safe and secure.  Covid-19 has changed the scope of feeling safe and secure at home and may now be considered a sanctuary of safety more than ever before.

Many of the chief economists in the country feel that real estate will likely lead the country out of this recession.  The housing market is experiencing low inventory and has for almost a decade.  Building has not kept up with demand and prices of existing homes have continued to go up; 8% over last year.  

With 30-year mortgage rates at close to 3.25% and prices expected to continue to rise, an investment in a home can fit your needs and show returns in satisfaction, comfort, enjoyment, and monetary value.

If you are going to be spending more time in your home for all the reasons mentioned, maybe now is the time to consider finding a home that better suits your needs. It can be done in a responsible and safe manner using an online meeting with your real estate professional.  Find out what is available and what the process entails to protect you and your family.

 

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Mortgage Forgiveness



During the mortgage meltdown that caused the Great Recession a decade ago, some homeowners lost their homes to foreclosure or constructed a short sale to get out from under the debt.  In most of the cases, the lenders forgave all or part of the debt owed them.

Similarly, in the early 90's after the failure of the Savings & Loans in the U.S., thousands of homeowners lost their homes in the same way but back then, the policy of the IRS was to consider the forgiven debt as income.  Today, it is still considered income which means that a homeowner could lose their home because they could not afford to pay for it and to make matters worse, they would owe income tax on the debt relieved.

The good news is that in 2007, Congress passed the Mortgage Forgiveness Act and it has continued to be extended with its current expiration of 12/31/20.

The amount forgiven for income tax purposes may not be the same amount owed to the lender.  Mortgage forgiveness has a limited exclusion for discharged home mortgage debt for a principal residence only; it does not include second homes or investment properties.  Only the amount of mortgage debt that can be treated as acquisition indebtedness in included.

In the example below, a homeowner purchased a home and refinanced the home five years later at 80% of the market value.  The new loan proceeds were used to payoff the original mortgage and make $30,000 of new capital improvements.  The revised acquisition debt is the acquisition debt at the time of refinance plus the capital improvements made with the loan proceeds.

The new $400,000 loan produced $39,417 of home equity debt which is not considered acquisition debt.  Home equity debt is money borrowed on a home and can be used for any purpose, but it may not be tax deductible or considered acquisition debt.  Acquisition debt is money borrowed to buy, build or improve a principal residence subject to a $750,000 limit.

Assume that the borrower never made a payment on the new loan.   If the new loan went through foreclosure while the Mortgage Forgiveness Relief Act is in effect, the forgiveness would be limited to the acquisition debt of $360,583 and the remaining amount of $39,417 would be considered income and subject to tax.

This article is meant to inform homeowners of liabilities associated with foreclosures and possible remedies that may be available.  This example is meant to illustrate the portion of a loan that could be forgiven.  Taxpayers should always consult their tax professional regarding their specific situation and the way the law would apply to their situation. For more information, see IRS Publication 4681.

 

Example

 

Purchase Price ... 5 years ago

$400,000

Mortgage at time of purchase ... Acquisition Debt

$360,000

Fair Market Value ... Today, 5 years later

$500,000

Refinanced 80% - Loan to Value

$400,000

Replaced unpaid balance - current acquisition debt

$330,583

Capital improvements made with loan proceeds

$30,000

Revised acquisition debt

$360,583

Home equity debt ... difference in refinanced amount and acquisition debt

$39,417

 

 

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Convenience at a Cost



The convenience of selling your home without the hassle of getting it ready, putting it on the market, showings, open houses, negotiations and repairs comes at a cost ... a significant part of your equity. 

The companies, referred to as iBuyers, that buy homes from sellers are for-profit organizations.  They expect to make a profit from sellers who are willing to discount the proceeds they'll realize as an alternative to the conventional method of selling a home for people who need a quick sale.

The promotions for these companies generally state that you can receive a cash offer in a few minutes after putting your address online.  The discount can be between 10 to 18% compared to normal selling costs from 6 to 9%.   The cost to a person with a $100,000 equity could be as much as ten thousand dollars.

Even after you have accepted an offer, there can be contingencies in the contract that allow the company to inspect the home to discover the condition and reassess the offer to possibly make even more deductions.  If the seller isn't willing to accept them, the buyer can withdraw from the sale without penalty.

This appears on the surface to be a friendly, accommodating service but it can be an adversarial situation.  The seller wants to maximize their proceeds and the buyer wants to buy it as cheap as possible.

Compare this to working directly with a real estate professional acting as your agent.  They have to put your interests above their own.  They have a fiduciary duty of care, integrity, honesty and loyalty in their dealings with you.  Other duties include confidentiality, disclosure, obedience and accounting to the seller.

In this traditional model, your agent will provide you with the facts of what homes have sold for in the area and their opinion and recommendations on what the most likely sales price will be.  Your agent will provide you an estimate of the sales expenses based on different sales possibilities. 

They can advise you on work to be done prior to putting the home on the market, staging so your home will show at its best and estimate the time it will be on the market.  Based on low inventories in some price ranges, it could be surprisingly short.

As an owner, you made an investment in your home in cash and maintenance.  You are entitled to maximize your proceeds based on the risk taken to purchase a home instead of renting.  The convenience of a quick offer has a cost to it.  You need to compare the two alternatives to see which one benefits you the most based on your individual situation.

For more information, download the Sellers Guide.

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

It Starts Before the Statement is Sent



The deadline for challenging your property tax assessment this year may be later than normal due to the stay at home orders but when you are notified, you'll want to be ready to decide whether you can save some money on property taxes this year.

There are two elements that determine the amount of property taxes you'll pay for the year: the assessment of value and the property tax rate.  Both determinations occur long before the property tax statement is sent.

Property owners are notified in writing what their assessed value is for the year.  It is estimated that most owners don't challenge that value even though it could lower their tax bill.  Not all appeals are successful, but many homeowners believe that it is worth the effort to try.  Procedures for challenging the assessment are generally included with the letter and a deadline for filing the challenge.

An initial step is to determine the accuracy of the information on your property's record such as market value and square footage.  If the record shows a higher square footage than actual, it can cause the value to be higher than it should be.  Even though it may not be required, an appraisal could be proof of actual square footage that shows the square footage and value by an independent party.

Recent comparable sales are used by assessors to determine market value of a property but are usually not identified in the property record.  Property owners can research comparable sales that indicate a lower value and submit them to the assessor's office either informally or in a challenge hearing.

It is important that the properties proposed to establish the value of the subject property are recent, comparable in size, condition, amenities and in the same area. 

There are companies who will represent the owner to lower their assessment.  The fee charged is usually a percentage of the taxes that are saved.  It is not a complicated procedure and can be very gratifying to make the effort.

Your real estate professional can be a valuable source of information and experience to guide you through the process.  Call me at (703) 878-4866 for more information and a list of comparable sales.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

One More Reason to Refinance



Taking cash out of the equity of your home could be a legitimate way to fund a temporary cash crisis now or to have it on-hand if the need arises.  Most homeowners can pull out the difference in 80% of the fair market value of their home and what they currently owe.

The most frequently cited reasons for refinancing are to lower the payment, eliminate the private mortgage insurance, combine mortgages, consolidate debt, convert an ARM to a fixed rate mortgage, remove a person from the loan or to take cash out for another reason.

The option of using your equity to deal with unexpected living expenses or potential lost wages in the future could be a good reason for doing a cash-out refinance.  It is important to consider that it could increase your monthly payment instead of lowering it which would result in higher expenses during uncertain economic times.

Some lenders have recently raised the minimum credit score requirement but borrowers with good credit and the ability to repay should be able to refinance.  Lenders are reporting that during the Covid-19 crisis their processing time is taking longer but they have implemented procedures to safely facilitate the application as well as the appraisals.

While homeowners with an FHA loan are available for a streamline process because FHA is already insuring the mortgage to be refinanced, the cash-out is limited to $500.  Even though the owner may not be able to pull funds out of their FHA equity, refinancing may lower their payment and therefore, lower their expenses.

Unlike conventional loans that require income through a job or other sources, refinancing an existing FHA loan does not require income verification or an appraisal.  The borrower cannot be delinquent on their current FHA loan and it must be at least six months old.  The refinance must reduce the current interest rate or term or both. 

Another alternative for homeowners is a HELOC, home equity line of credit, where you do not incur interest expense unless you actually draw on the line of credit.  It will be a variable rate home equity loan similar to a credit card letting you borrow up to a specific limit when you want and repay it slowly over time.

Refinancing a home incurs closing costs which can be paid in cash or added to the financed amount.  The breakeven point to recapture the cost of refinancing is determined by dividing the monthly savings into the cost of refinancing.  If you stay in the home less than that time, refinancing could be an unnecessary expense.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Check This Off Your LIst



Everyone knows someone it has happened to or has heard a tragic story.  It could have been a fire, a flood, a burglary or some other disaster but to file a claim on their insurance, they need the receipts or a list for what is being claimed.

Since you're at home anyway and may even have kids at home who need something to do, now is a great time to get a current home inventory done.  One of the easiest ways to accomplish this seemingly, daunting task is to put together a collection of pictures of every room in your home.    

The more valuable, the more important it is to take a close-up picture.  It will be necessary to open the drawers and closets and, in some cases, to pull things out in order to show everything in the picture.  That's why having someone to help you makes it faster and easier.

Not to get distracted from the job at hand, you may discover things that you had forgotten you had which is why you should do an inventory rather than trying to reconstruct it after the loss.  In some cases, it may be years after you've filed a claim when you remember you forgot some things.

Having photos or videos of the different rooms in your house combined with a list of the items can serve as the proof you need for your claim.

There are other benefits to doing a home inventory also.  You'll know the "right" amount of insurance to have on your personal belongings by assigning replacement costs to them.  It will simplify filing a claim if you ever need to. 

To organize your photos and even provide a detailed list of higher value items, you can download a Home Inventory in an interactive PDF that you can complete.  You can put it together on your computer and store it online to make it available if the computer is stolen or damaged.

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Mortgage Closing Scams



The American bank robber, Willie Sutton, was asked why he robbed banks and his answer was "because that is where the money is."  During his 40-year career, he stole about $2 million but Internet scammers are stealing many times that amount in phishing schemes preying on unsuspecting home buyers.

These crooks know where the money is because buyers have the down payment and closing costs and are expecting to transfer it to the close the sale of their home.  The FBI, in their 2018 Internet Crime Report, stated victims lost over $149 million and the CFPB estimates the losses at over $1 billion as a result of fraud in real estate transactions.    The scammers want to take advantage of the situation while it is still in the buyer's account.

Commonly, during the closing process, scammers will send spoofed emails to homebuyers from someone they expect to hear from regarding the transaction like the real estate agent or the settlement agent.  They will include false instructions for the closing funds.

Following these suggestions can help to protect you and possibly, avoid scams:

  • Call before you click to verify the wiring instructions to transfer funds.  DO NOT use the phone number or email in the email request.  Use a trusted source, preferably, in person, of contact information.
  • Confirm everything independently with your real estate agent and closing officer.   Confirm the actual instructions with the bank before transferring money.
  • Verify immediately, within four to eight hours, with the title company and real estate agent that the money was received.  If it has not been received, notify the bank immediately to determine if it can be cancelled.

If you believe you have been the victim of a phishing scheme, call your bank immediately and ask them to issue a recall notice on the money transfer.  File a complaint with the FBI at www.IC3.gov and report it to your local FBI office.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has released two documents in an effort to inform consumers about wire fraud scams that commonly occur during closings: Mortgage Closing Checklist and Mortgage Closing Scams.

This is for information purposes only and should not be considered legal advice.

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

What Buyers Can Do While Staying at Home



While you're isolating at home, there are things you can do to help buy a home now or in the near future.  Instead of spending time surfing the Internet looking at homes, do the groundwork necessary to be able to purchase the home that you find.

  • There is a lot of documentation necessary to qualify for a mortgage and to be approved.  This part of the homebuying process can be done in advance, long before you even start looking at homes much less finding the one that you want.
    • Assemble all documents to make a pre-approval
    • Photo ID
    • Two months current pay stubs
    • Last two years' W2s
    • Complete copies of checking and savings statements for last three months
    • Copies of statements for IRAs, 401k, savings, CDs, money market funds, etc.
    • Employment history for last two years with addresses and contacts
    • Proof of commissioned or bonus income
    • Residency history for last two years with addresses and contacts
    • Assets for down payment, closing costs, and reserves; must provide paper trail
    • If self-employed, last two years tax returns, current profit and loss statement and balance sheet; copy of partnership/corporate tax returns for last two years if owning more than 25% of company
    • FHA requires driver's license and social security card
    • VA requires original certificate of eligibility and DD214
    • Other things may be required such as previous bankruptcy, divorce decree
  • Get pre-approved giving you the confidence
    • Determining the amount you can borrow - decreases as interest rates rise
    • Looking at "Right" homes - price, size, amenities, location
    • Finding the best loan - rate, term, type
    • Uncovering issues early - time to cure possible problems
    • Creating bargaining power - price, terms, & timing
    • Being able to close quicker - verifications have been made
  • If using a gift as a down payment, construct your gift letter
    • The donor's relationship to borrower
    • State the dollar amount is a gift and not a loan
    • State that no repayment is required
    • Signed and dated by the donor and borrower
    • Include all contact information
  • Build your homebuying team
    • REALTOR® - this person will coordinate the efforts of the other team members to make the transaction move smoothly, without unnecessary delays to close on time.
    • Lender* ... consider a trusted professional you can meet with face-to-face
    • Title company* ... guaranteeing the title and closing on time is important
    • Inspector* ... more than a flashlight and a clipboard

*Your agent can recommend these professionals based on their experience and having worked with them in the purchase and sales of other homes.  This can keep you from getting hooked-up with someone that may not be familiar with the type of home, area, or loans that you might be considering.

Additional information about the buying process and things that you can be doing while you're waiting to look at homes can be found in the Buyers Guide.