Taking Fear Out of the Mortgage Process

A considerable number of potential buyers shy away from jumping into the real estate market due to their uncertainties about the buying process. A specific cause for concern tends to be mortgage qualification.

For many, the mortgage process can be scary, but it doesn’t have to be!

In order to qualify in today’s market, you’ll need a down payment (the average down payment on all loans last year was 5%, with many buyers putting down 3% or less), a stable income, and good credit history.

Throughout the entire home buying process, you will interact with many different professionals who will all perform necessary roles. These professionals are also valuable resources for you.

Once you’re ready to apply, here are 5 easy steps that Freddie Mac suggests to follow:

  1. Find out your current credit history & score – even if you don’t have perfect credit, you may already qualify for a loan. The average FICO Score® of all closed loans in September was 731, according to Ellie Mae.
  2. Start gathering all of your documentation – income verification (such as W-2 forms or tax returns), credit history, and assets (such as bank statements to verify your savings).
  3. Contact a professional – your real estate agent will be able to recommend a loan officer who can help you develop a spending plan, as well as help you determine how much home you can afford.
  4. Consult with your lender – he or she will review your income, expenses, and financial goals in order to determine the type and amount of mortgage you qualify for.
  5. Talk to your lender about pre-approval – a pre-approval letter provides an estimate of what you might be able to borrow (provided your financial status doesn’t change) and demonstrates to home sellers that you are serious about buying!

Bottom Line

Do your research, reach out to professionals, stick to your budget, and be sure that you are ready to take on the financial responsibilities of becoming a homeowner.

Thinking of Selling Your Home? Here’s Why You Need A Pro in Your Corner

With home prices on the rise and buyer demand still strong, some sellers may be tempted to try and sell their homes on their own without using the services of a real estate professional.

Real estate agents are trained and experienced in negotiation and, in most cases, the seller is not. Sellers must realize that their ability to negotiate will determine whether or not they get the best deal for themselves and their families.

Here is a list of just some of the people with whom the seller must be prepared to negotiate with if they decide to For Sale by Owner (FSBO):

  • The buyer who wants the best deal possible
  • The buyer’s agent who solely represents the best interests of the buyer
  • The buyer’s attorney (in some parts of the country)
  • The home inspection companies, which work for the buyer and will almost always find someproblems with the house
  • The termite company if there are challenges
  • The buyer’s lender if the structure of the mortgage requires the sellers’ participation
  • The appraiser if there is a question of value
  • The title company if there are challenges with certificates of occupancy (CO) or other permits
  • The town or municipality if you need to get the CO permits mentioned above
  • The buyer’s buyer in case there are challenges with the house your buyer is selling

Bottom Line

The percentage of sellers who have hired real estate agents to sell their homes has increased steadily over the last 20 years. Let’s get together to discuss all that we can do to make the process easier for you.

5 Tips for Starting Your Home Search

In today’s real estate market, with low inventory dominating the conversation in many areas of the country, it can often be frustrating to be a first-time homebuyer if you aren’t prepared.

In a recent realtor.com article entitled, “How to Find Your Dream Home—Without Losing Your Mind,” the author highlights some steps that first-time homebuyers can take to help carry their excitement of buying a home throughout the whole process.

1. Get Pre-Approved for a Mortgage Before You Start Your Search

One way to show you are serious about buying your dream home is to get pre-qualified or pre-approved for a mortgage before starting your search. Even if you are in a market that is not as competitive, understanding your budget will give you the confidence of knowing whether or not your dream home is within your reach.

This step will also help you narrow your search based on your budget and won’t leave you disappointed if the home you tour, and love, ends up being outside your budget!

2. Know the Difference Between Your ‘Must-Haves’ and ‘Would-Like-To-Haves’

Do you really need that farmhouse sink in the kitchen to be happy with your home choice? Would a two-car garage be a convenience or a necessity? Could the ‘man cave’ of your dreams be a future renovation project instead of a make-or-break right now?

Before you start your search, list all the features of a home you would like and then qualify them as ‘must-haves’, ‘should-haves’, or ‘absolute-wish list’ items. This will help keep you focused on what’s most important.

3. Research and Choose a Neighborhood You Want to Live In

Every neighborhood has its own charm. Before you commit to a home based solely on the house itself, the article suggests test-driving the area. Make sure that the area meets your needs for “amenities, commute, school district, etc. and then spend a weekend exploring before you commit.”

4. Pick a House Style You Love and Stick to It

Evaluate your family’s needs and settle on a style of home that would best serve those needs. Just because you’ve narrowed your search to a zip code, doesn’t mean that you need to tour every listing in that zip code.

An example from the article says, “if you have several younger kids and don’t want your bedroom on a different level, steer clear of Cape Cod–style homes, which typically feature two or more bedrooms on the upper level and the master on the main.”

5. Document Your Home Visits

Once you start touring homes, the features of each individual home will start to blur together. The article suggests keeping your camera handy and documenting what you love and don’t love about each property you visit. They even go as far as to suggest snapping a photo of the ‘for sale’ sign on the way into the property to help keep the listings divided in your photo gallery.

Making notes on the listing sheet as you tour the property will also help you remember what the photos mean, or what you were feeling while touring the home.

Bottom Line

In a high-paced, competitive environment, any advantage you can give yourself will help you on your path to buying your dream home.

Baby Boomers are Downsizing, Are You Ready to Move?

For a while now baby boomers have been blamed for a portion of the housing market’s current lack of housing inventory, but should they really be getting the blame?

Here’s what some of the experts have to say on the subject:

Aaron Terrazas, Senior Economist at Zillow, says that “Boomers are healthier and working longer than previous generations, which means they aren’t yet ready to sell their homes.

According to a study by Realtor.com85% of baby boomers indicated they were not planning to sell their homes.

It is true that baby boomers are healthier and are thus working and living longer, but are they also refusing to sell their homes? 

Last month, Trulia looked at the housing situation of seniors (aged 65+) today compared to that of a decade ago. Trulia’s study revealed that:

Although seniors appear to be delaying downsizing until later in life, as a group, households 65 and over are still downsizing at roughly the same rate as in years past.”

Trulia also explains that, 

5.5% of households 65 and over moved, pretty evenly split between moves to single family (2.7%) and multifamily (2.4%) homes. In 2005these percentages were virtually the same, with 5.5% of senior households moving, including 2.5% into single family and 2.5% into multifamily homes.”

So, if these percentages are the same, what is the challenge?

Recent reports tell us that the older population grew from 3 million in 1900 to 47.8 million in 2017.

In addition, the Census recently revised the numbers from their National Population Projections:

The aging of baby boomers means that within just a couple decades, older people are projected to outnumber children for the first time in U.S. history…By 2035, there will be 78.0 million people 65 years and older compared to 76.7 million under the age of 18.

Bottom Line

If you are a baby boomer who is not sure whether you should downsize or move to a warmer climate (other people are doing it, why not you?), let’s get together so we can help you evaluate your options today!

Pre-Approval: Your 1st Step in Buying a Home

In many markets across the country, the number of buyers searching for their dream homes outnumbers the number of homes for sale. This has led to a competitive marketplace where buyers often need to stand out. One way to show you are serious about buying your dream home is to get pre-qualified or pre-approved for a mortgage before starting your search.

Even if you are in a market that is not as competitive, understanding your budget will give you the confidence of knowing if your dream home is within your reach.

Freddie Mac lays out the advantages of pre-approval in the ‘My Home’ section of their website:

“It’s highly recommended that you work with your lender to get pre-approved before you begin house hunting. Pre-approval will tell you how much home you can afford and can help you move faster, and with greater confidence, in competitive markets.”

One of the many advantages of working with a local real estate professional is that many have relationships with lenders who will be able to help you through this process. Once you have selected a lender, you will need to fill out their loan application and provide them with important information regarding “your credit, debt, work history, down payment and residential history.”

Freddie Mac describes the ‘4 Cs’ that help determine the amount you will be qualified to borrow:

  1. Capacity: Your current and future ability to make your payments
  2. Capital or cash reserves: The money, savings, and investments you have that can be sold quickly for cash
  3. Collateral: The home, or type of home, that you would like to purchase
  4. Credit: Your history of paying bills and other debts on time

Getting pre-approved is one of many steps that will show home sellers that you are serious about buying, and it often helps speed up the process once your offer has been accepted.

Bottom Line

Many potential homebuyers overestimate the down payment and credit scores necessary to qualify for a mortgage today. If you are ready and willing to buy, you may be pleasantly surprised at your ability to do so.

Dispelling the Myth About Home Affordability

We have all seen the headlines that report that buying a home is less affordable today than it was at any other time in the last ten years, and those headlines are accurate. But, have you ever wondered why the headlines don’t say the last 25 years, the last 20 years, or even the last 11 years?

The reason is that homes were less affordable 25, 20, or even 11 years ago than they are today.

Obviously, buying a home is more expensive now than during the ten years immediately following one of the worst housing crashes in American history.

Over the past decade, the market was flooded with distressed properties (foreclosures and short sales) that were selling at 10-50% discounts. There were so many distressed properties that the prices of non-distressed properties in the same neighborhoods were lowered and mortgage rates were kept low to help the economy.

Low Prices + Low Mortgage Rates = High Affordability

Prices have since recovered and mortgage rates have increased as the economy has gained strength. This has and will continue to impact housing affordability moving forward.

However, let’s give affordability some historical context. The National Association of Realtors (NAR) issues their Affordability Index each month. According to NAR:

“The Monthly Housing Affordability Index measures whether or not a typical family earns enough income to qualify for a mortgage loan on a typical home at the national and regional levels based on the most recent monthly price and income data.”

NAR’s current index stands at 138.8. The index had been higher each of the last ten years, peaking at 197 in 2012 (the higher the index the more affordable houses are).

But, the average index between 1990 and 2007 was just 123 and there were no years with an index above 133. That means that homes are more affordable today than at any time during the eighteen years between 1990 and 2007.

Bottom Line

With home prices continuing to appreciate and mortgage rates increasing, home affordability will likely continue to slide. However, this does not mean that buying a house is not an attainable goal in most markets as it is less expensive today than during the eighteen-year stretch immediately preceding the housing bubble and crash.

New Home Sales Up 12.7% From Last Year

According to the latest New Residential Sales Report from the Census Bureau, new construction sales in August were up 3.5% from July and 12.7% from last year! This marks the second consecutive month with double-digit year-over-year growth (12.8% in July).

The report also showed that builders have ramped up construction with an increase in new construction starts and completions. The summer months are often a busy time for builders as they capitalize on the warmer weather to be able to finish projects.

Below is a table showing the change in starts, completions, and sales from last August.

New Construction Details

Other notable news from the report is that the percentage of new construction sales in the $200-$299k range has continued to break away from the $300-$399k range.

This shows that builders are starting to build lower-priced homes that will help alleviate some of the inventory challenges in the starter and trade-up home categories. The chart below shows the full breakdown.

New Home Sales by Price-Range

What does this mean for buyers and sellers?

If you are thinking of buying or selling in today’s market, you no doubt have heard that there is a shortage of existing homes for sale which has been driving home prices up across the country. The additional new construction coming to the market could help alleviate this shortage, but we are still not back up to pre-crisis levels.

What’s Going On With Home Prices?

According to CoreLogic’s latest Home Price Insights Report, national home prices in August were up 5.5% from August 2017. This marks the first time since June 2016 that home prices did not appreciate by at least 6.0% year-over-year.

CoreLogic’s Chief Economist Frank Nothaft gave some insight into this change,

“The rise in mortgage rates this summer to their highest level in seven years has made it more difficult for potential buyers to afford a home. The slackening in demand is reflected in the slowing of national appreciation, as illustrated in the CoreLogic Home Price Index.  

National appreciation in August was the slowest in nearly two years, and we expect appreciation to slow further in the coming year.”

One of the major factors that has driven prices to accelerate at a pace of between 6-7% over the past two years was the lack of inventory available for sale in many areas of the country. This made houses a prized commodity which forced many buyers into bidding wars and drove prices even higher.

According to the National Association of Realtors’ (NAR) latest Existing Home Sales Report, we are starting to see more inventory come to market over the last few months. This, paired with patient buyers who are willing to wait to find the right homes, is creating a natural environment for price growth to slow.

Historically, prices appreciated at a rate of 3.7% (from 1987-1999). CoreLogic predicts that prices will continue to rise over the next year at a rate of 4.7%.

Bottom Line

As the housing market moves closer to a ‘normal market’ with more inventory for buyers to choose from, home prices will start to appreciate at a more ‘normal’ level, and that’s ok! If you are curious about home prices in your area, let’s get together to chat about what’s going on!

The True Cost of NOT Owning Your Home

Owning a home has great financial benefits, yet many continue to rent! Today, let’s look at the financial reasons why owning a home of your own has been a part of the American Dream for the entirety of America’s existence.

Realtor.com reported that:

“Buying remains the more attractive option in the long term – that remains the American dream, and it’s true in many markets where renting has become really the shortsighted option…as people get more savings in their pockets, buying becomes the better option.”

What proof exists that owning is financially better than renting?

1. In a previous blog, we highlighted the top 5 financial benefits of homeownership:

  • Homeownership is a form of forced savings.
  • Homeownership provides tax savings.
  • Homeownership allows you to lock in your monthly housing cost.
  • Buying a home is cheaper than renting.
  • No other investment lets you live inside of it.

2. Studies have shown that a homeowner’s net worth is 44x greater than that of a renter.

3. Less than a month ago, we explained that a family that purchased an average-priced home at the beginning of 2018 could build more than $49,000 in family wealth over the next five years.

4. Some argue that renting eliminates the cost of taxes and home repairs, but every potential renter must realize that all the expenses the landlord incurs are already baked into the rent payment – along with a profit margin!

Bottom Line

Owning your home has many social and financial benefits that cannot be achieved by renting.

Buying a Home is Cheaper than Renting in Minnesota and 37 Other States! [INFOGRAPHIC]

Some Highlights:

  • According to a study by GOBankingRates, it is cheaper to buy a home than rent in 38 states across the country.
  • In six states the difference between buying & renting would account for less than a $50 monthly difference, leaving the choice up to the individual family.
  • Nationwide, it is now 26.3% cheaper to buy.