Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Reason to buy a home in New Bern today

Enough with the doom and gloom about homeownership.

Sure, maybe there's more pain to come in the housing market. But when Time magazine starts running covers that declare "Owning a home may no longer make economic sense," it's time to say: Enough is enough. This is what "capitulation" looks like. Everyone has given up.

The Sept. 6 cover of Time magazine: This is what capitulation looks like.

.After all, at the peak of the bubble five years ago, Time had a different take. "Home Sweet Home," declared its cover then, as it celebrated the boom and asked: "Will your house make you rich?"

But it's not enough just to be contrarian. So here are 10 reasons why it's good to buy a home.

1. You can get a good deal. Especially if you play hardball. This is a buyer's market. Most of the other buyers have now vanished, as the tax credits on purchases have just expired. We're four to five years into the biggest housing bust in modern history. And prices have come down a long way– about 30% from their peak, according to Standard & Poor's Case-Shiller Index, which tracks home prices in 20 big cities. Yes, it's mixed. New York is only down 20%. Arizona has halved. Will prices fall further? Sure, they could. You'll never catch the bottom. It doesn't really matter so much in the long haul.

Where is fair value? Fund manager Jeremy Grantham at GMO, who predicted the bust with remarkable accuracy, said two years ago that home prices needed to fall another 17% to reach fair value in relation to household incomes. Case-Shiller since then: Down 18%.

Brett Arends discusses why he thinks now is a particularly good time to buy a home.

.2. Mortgages are cheap. You can get a 30-year loan for around 4.3%. What's not to like? These are the lowest rates on record. As recently as two years ago they were about 6.3%. That drop slashes your monthly repayment by a fifth. If inflation picks up, you won't see these mortgage rates again in your lifetime. And if we get deflation, and rates fall further, you can refi.

3. You'll save on taxes. You can deduct the mortgage interest from your income taxes. You can deduct your real estate taxes. And you'll get a tax break on capital gains–if any–when you sell. Sure, you'll need to do your math. You'll only get the income tax break if you itemize your deductions, and many people may be better off taking the standard deduction instead. The breaks are more valuable the more you earn, and the bigger your mortgage. But many people will find that these tax breaks mean owning costs them less, often a lot less, than renting.

The June 13, 2005 cover of Time.

.4. It'll be yours. You can have the kitchen and bathrooms you want. You can move the walls, build an extension–zoning permitted–or paint everything bright orange. Few landlords are so indulgent; for renters, these types of changes are often impossible. You'll feel better about your own place if you own it than if you rent. Many years ago, when I was working for a political campaign in England, I toured a working-class northern town. Mrs. Thatcher had just begun selling off public housing to the tenants. "You can tell the ones that have been bought," said my local guide. "They've painted the front door. It's the first thing people do when they buy." It was a small sign that said something big.

More on the Developments Blog

Buying a Home, Good Idea?

With Little to Do, Home Builders Focus on Quality

In Monaco, the 'Most Expensive' Home

House of the Day: Private Maine Island

.5. You'll get a better home. In many parts of the country it can be really hard to find a good rental. All the best places are sold as condos. Money talks. Once again, this is a case by case issue: In Miami right now there are so many vacant luxury condos that owners will rent them out for a fraction of the cost of owning. But few places are so favored. Generally speaking, if you want the best home in the best neighborhood, you're better off buying.

6. It offers some inflation protection. No, it's not perfect. But studies by Professor Karl "Chip" Case (of Case-Shiller), and others, suggest that over the long-term housing has tended to beat inflation by a couple of percentage points a year. That's valuable inflation insurance, especially if you're young and raising a family and thinking about the next 30 or 40 years. In the recent past, inflation-protected government bonds, or TIPS, offered an easier form of inflation insurance. But yields there have plummeted of late. That also makes homeownership look a little better by contrast.

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Associated Press

A house for sale in Shelby, Ohio.

.7. It's risk capital. No, your home isn't the stock market and you shouldn't view it as the way to get rich. But if the economy does surprise us all and start booming, sooner or later real estate prices will head up again, too. One lesson from the last few years is that stocks are incredibly hard for most normal people to own in large quantities–for practical as well as psychological reasons. Equity in a home is another way of linking part of your portfolio to the long-term growth of the economy–if it happens–and still managing to sleep at night.

8. It's forced savings. If you can rent an apartment for $2,000 month instead of buying one for $2,400 a month, renting may make sense. But will you save that $400 for your future? A lot of people won't. Most, I dare say. Once again, you have to do your math, but the part of your mortgage payment that goes to principal repayment isn't a cost. You're just paying yourself by building equity. As a forced monthly saving, it's a good discipline.

9. There is a lot to choose from. There is a glut of homes in most of the country. The National Association of Realtors puts the current inventory at around 4 million homes. That's below last year's peak, but well above typical levels, and enough for about a year's worth of sales. More keeping coming onto the market, too, as the banks slowly unload their inventory of unsold properties. That means great choice, as well as great prices.

10. Sooner or later, the market will clear. Demand and supply will meet. The population is forecast to grow by more than 100 million people over the next 40 years. That means maybe 40 million new households looking for homes. Meanwhile, this housing glut will work itself out. Many of the homes will be bought. But many more will simply be destroyed–either deliberately, or by inaction. This is already happening. Even two years ago, when I toured the housing slump in western Florida, I saw bankrupt condo developments that were fast becoming derelict. And, finally, a lot of the "glut" simply won't matter: It's concentrated in a few areas, like Florida and Nevada. Unless you live there, the glut won't have any long-term impact on housing supply in your town.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Sell your home

For Your Clients: 13 Unique Ways to Sell a Home

By Paige Tepping

RISMEDIA, September 16, 2010--In today’s market, it takes more than painting and trimming the bushes to get noticed, to stand out, to make your home memorable. While home sellers across the country are resorting to dropping the price in order to make their home more attractive, it leads to one crucial question: what can I do differently to make my home stand out?

Larry Nusbaum, Resolution Assistance Contractor for the FDIC, offers the following tips for home sellers looking to differentiate their homes from the numerous homes that are on the market today.

1. Get lighted signage that’s illuminated even after dark. This will give prospective buyers extra time to see your home as they don’t have to depend on sunlight.

2. If you or your agent are hosting an open house, be sure to serve light snacks and hand out something that attendees will remember. You want something that will be a positive reminder of your home—seasonal gifts are the perfect way to stay top of mind. Be sure to at least have pens and key chains with your agent's name and contact information on them.

3. Create an informational flyer with all the local conveniences you can find: shopping, schools, universities, hospitals, malls, restaurants, gas stations and attractions in the area, in addition to local police and fire stations, even school bus pick up locations. Assume your open house attendees don’t know the neighborhood.

4. Hand out information pertaining to your home as well as information on the other listed properties in the area showing that your house is the best value.

5. Do some staging to make sure your home looks its best.

6. Be sure to offer incentives. Some examples include a Lowe's gift card, paying for a year’s worth of yard care or a free session with a landscape architect, offering a $1,000 landscape allowance, paying for a years worth of homeowners fees, offering $1,000 for new appliances or any home improvement, offering a new carpet allowance or paying for lawn service for a year—the possibilities are endless.

7. Paint the garage floor (concrete paint). Making the garage look fresh and clean will make the whole house feel newer.

8. Send letters to all the neighbors inviting them to “pick their neighbor,” and be sure to include information about your home and the open house. Give them an incentive to talk about your home with other individuals in their sphere of influence. (i.e. a $200 gift card if they find your buyer).

9. Put up signs in your front yard and be sure to hang up as many directional signs as the neighborhood allows.

10. Put out flyers in surrounding shopping areas.

11. Have your agent create a video of your home and put the virtual tour on the Web.

12. Have your agent post ads on Craigslist and on any other free online listing sites you can find.

13. E-mail HR departments at local companies as many employees prefer to live close to their jobs but don’t make time for the house hunting process. This will make it easy for employees to find your home.

For more tips go to http://www.newbern-nc.info/

Forclosure News

U.S. home seizures reached a record for the third time in five months in August as lenders completed the foreclosure process for thousands of delinquent owners, according to RealtyTrac Inc.

Bank repossessions climbed 25 percent from a year earlier to 95,364, the most since the Irvine, California-based data provider began keeping records in 2005. Foreclosure filings, including default and auction notices, fell 5 percent to 338,836. One out of every 381 U.S. households received a filing, RealtyTrac said today in a statement.

“We’re on track for a record year for homes in foreclosure and repossessions,” Rick Sharga, RealtyTrac’s senior vice president, said in a telephone interview. “There is no improvement in the underlying economic conditions.”

Foreclosures are contributing to a growing housing supply that may add as many as 12 million homes to the U.S. market. Demand is crumbling amid high unemployment and following the expiration of a federal homebuyer tax credit in April. Sales of new and existing homes fell in July to the lowest level on record. Home prices have fallen 28 percent since 2006, according to the S&P/Case-Shiller index of values in 20 U.S. cities.

About 2 million houses will be seized by lenders through 2011, according to Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody’s Analytics in West Chester, Pennsylvania. Home sales this year will be 7 percent below the 2009 total, Fannie Mae, the largest U.S. mortgage finance company, said yesterday in a report.

Default notices are falling while seizures rise because lenders are trying to control the number of properties that enter the foreclosure process, RealtyTrac said. That doesn’t mean more owners are catching up on their mortgage payments, Sharga said.

‘Serious Price Depreciation’

“If the market is left to fend for itself, you may see more serious price depreciation,” he said. “Whether things fall precipitously depends on government and lenders controlling the inflow of new foreclosure actions.”

The number of homes that received default notices last month was 96,469, down 1 percent from July and 30 percent from a year earlier, RealtyTrac said. A default notice is the first stage of foreclosure. They peaked at 142,064 in April 2009.

A foreclosure auction, the second stage in the process, was scheduled on 147,003 properties, up 9 percent from July and 2 percent from August 2009. The record was 158,105 in March.

Bank seizures rose 3 percent from July and had their ninth straight monthly increase on a year-over-year basis, RealtyTrac said. The August total was 1.7 percent more than the previous record of 93,777 set in May.

Highest in Nevada

Nevada had the highest foreclosure rate for the 44th straight month. One in every 84 households got a notice, more than four times the national average. Filings fell 25 percent from a year earlier.

Florida had the second-highest rate, at one in every 155 households, two and a half times the U.S. average. Filings fell 8.9 percent from a year earlier. Arizona ranked third at one in 165 households, and California was fourth at one in 194.

Idaho ranked fifth at one in 220 households, with filings up 8.9 percent from July and 11 percent from a year earlier, RealtyTrac said. Utah, Georgia, Michigan, Illinois and Hawaii also ranked among the 10 highest rates.

Five states accounted for more than half of all U.S. filings, led by California’s 69,143, a fifth of the national total. Filings in the most populous state rose 3 percent from July and declined 25 percent from a year earlier.

Second in Filings

Florida ranked second with 56,877 filings, up 10 percent from July and down 9 percent from a year earlier. Michigan was third at 17,764 filings, followed by Illinois at 16,808 and Arizona at 16,510.

Georgia, Texas, Ohio, Nevada and Washington rounded out the top 10, said RealtyTrac, which sells default data from more than 2,200 counties representing 90 percent of the U.S. population.

As many as 8 million homes that are owned or will be seized by banks have yet to reach the market, according to Oliver Chang, a U.S. housing strategist with Morgan Stanley in San Francisco. Owners of 3.8 million more homes said they are “very likely” to put them up for sale within six months if there is improvement, a survey by Seattle-based Zillow Inc. showed.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Short sales take time to close

Why do Short Sales Take so Long to Close?

RISMEDIA, September 8, 2010--Real estate professionals know that a short sale transaction can take months for it to be approved and closed.

The reality is that short sales usually take three to four times as much as a regular sale to finally get to the closing. From the time the Realtor actually gets the property under contract to the time the lender approves, it could take anywhere from 30 days to six months, depending on how fast the borrower provides critical information for lender and Investor approval.

Even then, you still have one more variable to account for which is the buyer waiting for all this time to get the contract approved by the lender. For this, setting the expectations is a key factor in any short-sale transaction.

Buyers Expectations

Buyers who make an offer on a short-sale property need to know that lenders have to "reverse underwrite" a short-sale and make sure that they are allowing the sale to happen close to market value. I say "reverse underwrite" because instead of determining affordability, they will look for "un-affordability."

They will check the seller's financials to verify that they can't afford the house anymore and consequently, they will order a price opinion from a broker or certified appraiser, commonly known as BPO (Broker's Price Opinion) to make sure the house is being sold close to market value. If the offer is too low compared to what is owed, it will make more financial sense to the Lender to just foreclose the property and re-sell it as an REO (Bank-Owned Property). All this will happen while the buyer is still waiting for a response so it is very important to set the expectations correctly from the beginning to avoid losing the buyer close to the end of the process.

Seller's Expectations

On the other hand, it is important to also educate the Seller and set the expectations with them from the beginning. They need to understand that the Lender takes its time responding, but when they do, they usually give a 72-hour timeframe to respond or provide the missing documentation. If the documentation is not provided within the specified timeframe, it usually ends up in a closed file and countless work-hours lost. Another common situation that is happening very often is borrowers being served with foreclosure paperwork from either the lender or homeowner's association while the short-sale is being processed. It is crucial to let them know that this might happen so that they are prepared for it and receive the documents knowing that they are in the best hands. Foreclosure and short-sale are parallel processes and one does not cancel the other. Sometimes a short-sale might delay a final sale date, but it will definitely not stop the Lender from starting the foreclosure proceedings.

Closing the Short Sale

Short sale success comes from educating not only the seller but also the buyer and everybody else involved in the transaction. Setting the right expectations is the most crucial part of a short sale. There are many hours involved in processing a short sale and the last thing you want is a seller or buyer walking away because the expectations were not set correctly.

Sunday, September 05, 2010


I'm sure by now, regardless of what lender(s) you've been dealing with lately, you've noticed a profound change in the way loans are being underwritten. If you haven't, you WILL. These massive changes are creating delayed closings, and have caught us all off-guard, INCLUDING the loan officers. Here's why.

As you may already know, Fannie Mae & Freddie Mac, which are Government Sponsored Enterprises (GSEs), have been under close government scrutiny ever since the housing market began to take a dive. The govt. has been trying to determine if they need to take over control of the two GSEs because of their apparent lack of self-control, or whatever your personal opinion may be. As a result, the two giants have been searching for ways (in my opinion) to offset some of the losses they've incurred over the last year or so.

Very recently, lenders began feverishly stressing the importance of loan quality and making sure every "T" was crossed & every "I" was dotted. The reasons behind this were that Fannie & Freddie had now begun not only scrutinizing the loans they were buying currently, but were going BACK & auditing loans they'd previously bought. You see, when a lender gives a mortgage, they almost always sell the "paper". The customer may always make their payment to that lender for the life of the loan, but that doesn't mean the paper itself wasn't sold to one of the GSEs to be included in mortgage-backed securities. In other words, although the mortgage has been sold, the lender will always SERVICE the loan. This means that there will never be a change to the customer's way of paying their mortgage payment each month. This is the primary means of income for most lenders, contrary to the belief that most lenders make their money from the interest rates they charge. Fannie & Freddie, as part of their contract with lenders, have the authority to require lenders to buy back any mortgage sold to them that has been proven to be inaccurate, incorrect, fraudulent, etc. For this reason, Fannie & Freddie have been going through everything they have & making lenders, past & present, buy back mortgages where, for all intents & purposes, everything wasn't underwritten perfectly. No missing dates, no name discrepancies between the loan application and the deed of trust, no addresses shown on the credit report that weren't on the loan application, etc. These are only two or three of the HUNDREDS of items these two GSEs are searching for in an effort to require lenders to buy their loans back.

The true "wealth" of a bank is dictated by how swiftly their cash is moving within the organization. They don't have the capital to place every loan they do in portfolio & tie that particular money up for 30 years. A bank can typically loan (unless its changed) 8 x the amount of assets they are currently holding. This is determined by the federal government. So, as you can see they need to keep their money "free" in order to continue lending.

For all these reasons, underwriters have been asking for items from customers that are sometimes viewed as ridiculous & unbelievable. Freddie & Fannie have forced lenders to throw common sense to the wayside because if it isn't documented, it doesn't work. Underwriters are reprimanded or their underwriting authority is REVOKED if they receive too many of these problems with loans they have underwritten. Underwriting is how they put groceries in THEIR pantry, just like we do what we do. No underwriter wants the bank they work for to have to buy back a loan because they forgot something, overlooked something, or just decided to use "common sense" to underwrite the loan.

This is a new time, ladies & gentlemen, and I wanted (if nobody else had yet) to shed some light on why things had changed so drastically, so quickly. The loan officers don't even KNOW how to respond to this, but we're doing the best we can.

Here is an article that was published on August 19th, 2010 on the website www.housingwire.com . It will also help us understand what's going on.

Fitch: Big Four Banks Face $180bn in Buybacks from Fannie and Freddie

Thursday, August 19th, 2010

Government sponsored enterprises (GSEs) Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae may exercise the right to force the big four banks, JP Morgan (JPM: 37.08 +0.03%), Citigroup (C: 3.7282 -1.63%), Bank of America (BAC: 12.834 -1.43%), and Wells Fargo (WF: 34.95 -2.94%), to repurchase up to $180bn delinquent mortgages, according to a report released by Fitch Ratings Wednesday.

As of June 30, the GSEs hold $354.5bn troubled mortgages, with 50% serviced by the big four banks. Fitch estimates the big four banks already received repurchase requests up to $19.1bn in the Q110 and Q210 — $10.7bn of which related to the GSEs.

Fannie and Freddie are "actively exercising their right to put back to the original lenders a considerable amount of the troubled mortgages in their portfolios," write analysts Tom Abruzzo and Christopher Wolfe. The agencies have a right to require lenders to buyback delinquent mortgages, if it is determined the mortgage loan did not meet GSE investor underwriting or eligibility standards.

Fitch said it is undertaking a review of Fannie and Freddie to assess whether the increased reserves are just a part of the flood of troubled mortgages or whether they are expanding their interpretations of what constitutes an eligible mortgage under existing representation and warranty provisions.

"Fitch is concerned that a more aggressive request for loan repurchases could potentially expose banks with large mortgage origination operations to future losses that have not been previously incorporated into Fitch's existing exposures, and effectively into current ratings," the report said.

Under a mild loss scenario, where the banks buyback 25% of delinquent loans and recover 60% of the money, Fitch expects cumulative losses around $17bn.

Under a moderate loss scenario, in which the banks buyback 35% of delinquent loans and recover 55% of the money, Fitch expects losses around $27bn.

Under a more adverse scenario, if banks repurchase 50% of troubled mortgages and recover only half of the original investment, Fitch expects losses of about $42bn.

These figures do not include the banks' ability to cure deficiencies in loans which could lessen loss. Fitch believes the moderate scenario is the most likely and said it will continue to monitor the on-going developments between banks and the GSEs related to mortgage loan repurchases.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Sell your Home quicker

For Your Clients: 10 Low-Cost Tips to Improve Your Home's Appeal

By Paige Tepping

RISMEDIA, September 4, 2010--When selling your home, the goal is to sell it quickly for the highest price while investing as little as possible in renovations. With a limited budget and a little effort, you can greatly increase your home's appeal by focusing on what prospective buyers can see on their first visit. The experts at BuyOwner.com offer the following recommendations for preparing a house for sale and staging it for showings.

Tip #1: Refresh the exterior

First impressions count when it comes to selling a home. Most buyers won’t even leave their car if they don’t find the exterior appealing. The best ways to improve your home’s exterior include:

-Repairing and/or replacing trims, shutters, gutters, shingles, mailboxes, window screens, walkways and the driveway.

-Painting siding, trim and shutters and lamp and mailbox posts.

-Pressure washing vinyl siding, roofs, walkways and the driveway.

-Washing windows.

Tip #2: Spruce up the lawn and landscape

Home buyers associate the condition of your lawn and landscaping with the condition of your home’s interior. By improving the outside, you affect buyers’ impression of the entire property. The best ways to enhance the yard include:

-Mowing and edging the lawn.

-Seeding, fertilizing and weeding the lawn.

-Keeping up with regular lawn maintenance by frequent watering.

-Trimming and/or removing overgrown trees, shrubs and hedges.

-Weeding and mulching plant beds.

-Planting colorful seasonal flowers in existing plant beds.

-Removing trash, especially along fences and underneath hedges.

-Sweeping and weeding the street curb along your property.

Tip #3: Create an inviting entrance

The front door to your home should invite buyers to enter. The best ways to improve your entry include:

-Painting the front door in a glossy, cheerful color that complements the exterior.

-Cleaning, polishing and/or replacing the door knocker, locks and handles.

-Repairing and/or replacing the screen door, the doorbell, porch lights and house numbers.

-Placing a new welcome mat and a group of seasonal potted plants and flowers by the entry.

Tip #4: Reduce clutter and furniture

A buyer cannot envision living in your home without seeing it. A home filled with clutter or even too much furniture distracts buyers from seeing how they can utilize the space your home offers. If you have limited storage space, you may want to consider renting a temporary storage unit to place items you wish to keep. The best ways to declutter your home include:

-Holding a garage sale to prepare for your move, getting rid of unnecessary items.

-Removing clutter such as books, magazines, toys, tools, supplies and unused items from counter tops, open shelves, storage closets, the garage and basements.

-Storing out-of-season clothing and shoes out of sight to make bedroom closets seem roomier.

-Removing any visibly damaged furniture.

-Organizing bookshelves, closets, cabinets and pantries. Buyers will inspect everything.

-Putting away your personal photographs, unless they showcase the home. Let buyers see themselves in your home.

-De-personalize rooms as much as you can.

Tip #5: Clean, clean, clean

The cleanliness of your home also influences a buyer's perception of its condition. The appearance of the kitchen and bathrooms will play a considerable role in a buyer's decision process, so pay particular attention to these areas. The best ways to improve these areas include:

-Cleaning windows, fixtures, hardware, ceiling fans, vent covers and appliances.

-Cleaning carpets, area rugs and draperies.

-Cleaning inside the refrigerator, the stove and all cabinets.

-Removing stains from carpets, floors, counters, sinks, baths, tile, walls and grout.

-Eliminating house odors, especially if you have pets.

-Considering air fresheners or potpourri.

Tip #6: Make minor repairs

The small stuff does count, especially with first-time home buyers. Without dismissing the importance of repairing major items such as a leaky roof or plumbing, you do not need to spend money on replacing these items. Instead, focus on the minor repairs that will make your home visually appealing. The best ways to improve your home include:

-Repairing ceilings and wall cracks.

-Repairing faucets, banisters, handrails, cabinets, drawers, doors, floors and tile.

-Caulking and grouting tubs, showers, sinks and tile.

-Adding fresh paint to ceilings, walls, trim, doors and cabinets.

-Tightening door handles, drawer pulls, light switches and electrical plates.

-Lubricating door hinges and locks.

Tip #7: Showcase the kitchen

The heart of any home is the kitchen. If you are going to spend any money on renovations, this is the one area where you will see the greatest return. Even with a modest budget, focusing on a few key areas can make a great difference in getting the asking price for your property. The best ways to showcase the kitchen include:

-Replacing cabinet doors and hardware.

-Installing under-cabinet lighting.

-Replacing light fixtures.

-Replacing outdated shelving with pantry and cabinet organizers to maximize space.

-Baking cookies or cupcakes for a showing, to create a homey smell.

Tip #8: Stage furniture

Furniture placement can enhance the space of your home while giving buyers an idea of how to best utilize the space with their own belongings. Take some time to rethink how different areas in your house could be used. Some ideas to think about include:

-Moving couches and chairs away from walls in your sitting and family rooms to create cozy conversational groups.

-Creating a reading corner in the master bedroom.

-Clearing an empty room to set up a reading space.

-Turning an awkward space into a home office.

-Setting the dining room table with your best china.

-Set wine glasses in front of the fireplace or next to a Jacuzzi tub.

Tip #9: Light up the house

Create a sense of openness and cheerfulness in your home through its lighting. To improve the lighting try:

-Opening shades and drapes to let the sunshine warm and brighten rooms.

-Installing brighter light bulbs in rooms that tend to be dark.

-Adding additional lamps for ambient lighting.

-Turning on all the lights for a showing.

Tip #10: Add fresh touches

You can easily add color and style to your home by adding fresh touches throughout. Some ideas to consider include:

-Placing fresh floral arrangements in the entry and master bedroom.

-Placing bowls of bright-colored fruit in the family room and the kitchen.

-Filling an empty corner with a potted leafy plant.

-Setting new hand soap in the bathrooms.

-Displaying fresh towels near sinks.

Friday, September 03, 2010

Remodeling tips

For Your Clients: 10 Tips for Hiring a Home Remodeling Contractor

RISMEDIA, September 3, 2010-- With the U.S. economy facing the lowest home sale statistics in fifteen years and home values continuing to slide in many regions, it's not surprising to hear that housing trends point towards a large percentage of American homeowners looking to improve and maximize their existing property investment versus buying a new home. When deciding to undertake a remodeling project however, there are several invaluable tips to keep in mind as you discuss your home make-over with potential contractors.

Through advice and stories shared by both contractors and consumers, StageofLife.com, a blogging resource for homeowners, discovered 10 important tips on how to find a trustworthy home remodeling contractor to help ensure the right person or company is hired for your next home improvement project.

Tip #1: Does Your Contractor Have Proof of Insurance?

Ask the contractor to have his insurance company mail or fax a copy of his current contractor insurance card to you. If the contractor can't do this - stay away. Why? If there is an accident at your home, you are then liable. This also applies to any sub-contractor or employee that the contractor may use - those individuals should have active insurance cards faxed or mailed to you as well.

Tip #2: Did You Check References and See Photos?

Ask for at least three references - with two of them being for the same type of project you are planning - and then call the references. Additionally, ask the contractor to provide photos of previous work, especially for the same type of project. If he produces lawn and garden photos and you're planning a bathroom remodel, you may want to check out another contractor.

Tip #3: Does Your Contractor Take Debit or Credit Cards?

Besides your ability to earn a few points, bonus miles, or cash back on your project, a good sign that a contractor is financially savvy and has a bank behind his business is his ability to take debit and credit cards. This doesn't just apply to big contracting companies. Many small, one-man shops will take cards if they have a good relationship with their business bank or credit union.

Tip #4: Manners and Appearance?

If the contractor drove his vehicle to your home to give you an estimate, take a look at the way he keeps the equipment and vehicle. Are things clean? Neatly arranged? If not - that's a big warning. The way a contractor treats his tools is a direct connection to how he'll treat your home. During the initial meeting, does the contractor present himself in a professional way? Do you feel comfortable around him or his employees? They will be working in your home after all.

Tip #5: Clean Up Policy?

Ask about the clean-up policy. For example, if your home improvement is a multi-day project, will the contractor be cleaning up at the end of every day or will he leave the dust, wood chips, and other mess laying there for day #2? The more mess in your home - the more it gets tracked around. Many homeowners find themselves with mouths gaping wide after the contractor has left for the day and their floors and home are dirty and messy around the project area.

Tip #6: Will the Contractor Put It In Writing?

Is your contractor willing to put both his bid and the scope of work in writing? If not - walk away immediately. You'll be surprised how many homeowners have been duped by contractors who verbally tell you what's included in their scope of work, but will then, in the middle of everything, require extra money to finish the remodel, thus holding you hostage with an uncompleted home project.

Tip #7: Availability?

Can the contractor get the job done in your timeline rather than his timeline? There's nothing more frustrating than if a contractor tells you that a job will be done by a certain date and then it isn't . On the flip side, if you can't find a good contractor that's willing to commit to your timeline, your expectations may be too high and you may need to adjust your timeline.

Tip #8: Does Your Contractor Use "Subs?"

Does your contractor plan on doing everything himself? Or will he "sub out" work to the "trades?" For example, if you are remodeling a bathroom, you may need a plumber, electrician, and carpenter. It's okay if the contractor subs work out to these specific trades - it shows he wants the work done right.

Also, it's fair to say that you can expect your contractor to make money off the trades, or other sub-contractors, by marking up those quotes for the project. That is a standard practice to help the general contractor recover costs in the time it takes to manage the schedule. If you don't want to spend the extra money on your contractor marking up the trade quotes, then you should prepare to project manage the remodel yourself, but know this may limit your options on contractors willing to work with you.

Tip #9: Quoting & Billing Procedure?

Ask the contractor about his quoting procedure. Will it contain general information, or will it be specific? For example - most contractors will charge you for a fuel surcharge, material up-charges, waste removal, labor, etc. Some will show you these exact costs in a line item invoice, but others roll it up into one big bill. How much detail do you want? You should clarify that with your contractor upfront.

Also - what is the payment or billing policy? Is money required upfront? If so, go back to #1 and #2 above to make sure you have the contractor's references checked and have a copy of his contractor's insurance.

Tip #10: Did Your Contractor Get the Permits?

Ask your contractor to take care of the permits. Although permits cost you money, the inspection process is meant to protect you from poor workmanship and to make sure that everything is being built to code.

By following these 10 tips for hiring a home contractor, you'll feel more confident that you've found the right contractor for your remodeling job.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Credit Scores

What do you advise a financially fit homebuyer to do to increase their credit score or make themselves more attractive buyers, to qualify for the lowest mortgage rates?

A: A FICO score of 700 (FHA)/740 (Conventional) or better qualifies you for the lowest rates. In fact, it qualifies you just as well as a higher score, so if you’re at or over 700/740, there’s no loan qualification rationale for investing effort into boosting it. But these are firm breaking points. The difference between a score of 698 and a score of 700 (in an FHA loan scenario) can cost you a quarter of a point in interest, or thousands of dollars over the life of your mortgage.

I’ve found that people asking about how to boost their credit to qualify for the best interest rates is similar to people asking me how to lose weight: I tell them the truth, then their eyes glaze over when I give them the straight dope, no magic bullets. No one wants to hear: eat vegetables, cut the sugar, and exercise; similarly, they don’t want to hear pay your bills on time, every time.

But I’ve been asked this question a lot recently, so here goes, anyway!

1. Pull your reports online – get them for free, no strings attached, at the government authorized website AnnualCreditReport.com. This doesn’t get you your actual FICO scores, but it does get you the content of your report. Look for errors that could be depressing your score, like accounts that don’t belong to you, balances that are actually lower than reported, old debts that are paid off that should have been removed entirely (7 years for credit cards, 10 for bankruptcies).

2. Consider reopening accounts you thought were open but have been closed because you haven’t used them in so long - it will help boost your utilization ratio, one element of your credit score that is dependent on how much available credit you have.

3. Pay down some debt. This both decreases your debt-to-income ratio (36% is the goal, including the proposed mortgage payment) and increases your credit score, if you do it right (see the next tip).

4. Don’t close any accounts. Instead, spread your debt out. The ideal utilization ratio is about 20-30% of your available credit overall, and on any given account. Closing accounts reduces the amount of credit that is available to you, so it makes it look like you’re closer to being maxed out.

So if you have one card that’s near its max and several others that have zero balances and you’re trying boost your score a bit, quickly, consider balance transfers to spread our your debt more evenly, aiming for 20-30% of the available credit on each card.

5. Use your credit regularly – and pay it on time, every time: Having a good FICO score doesn't happen because you have sound personal finances, including no debt. FICO scores are a measure that shows that you have a history of responsibly using and managing and repaying your debt on an ongoing basis.

6. Finally, check in with your mortgage broker. Have them pull your report and score, as the report they pull is the one they’ll have to go by in the final analysis. If you’re really close to a score level higher, that would empower you to qualify for a lower rate, they can actually run a credit diagnostic on your score and generate some recommendations for which actions you could take to raise your score by the needed few points. Then many of them can do what’s called a ‘Rapid Rescore’ – once you’ve paid that bill off, they can actually submit a request directly to the credit bureaus to update that information and your score in just a few days.

None of these tips will get someone with a 500 credit score to a 700 (other than a massive debt reduction program). But if you’re trying to get a little boost to get you over a credit score hump, these can be potent, and save you beaucoup bucks in interest.

Psst - you should follow Trulia and Tara on Facebook, too!.

Housing market report

Housing prices up in June
But worry persists as foreclosures, unemployment remain bloated.

By Kirsten Valle


Posted: Wednesday, Sep. 01, 2010

Charlotte-area home prices continued to inch up in June, a closely watched index released Tuesday shows.

Prices in the metropolitan area rose 0.7 percent from May, according to the S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Index. Home prices climbed in June in 17 of the 20 market areas the index tracks, stayed flat in two and declined in one.

The index shows housing prices have begun to rebound from the lowest point of the housing crisis. But other recent indicators signal a difficult road ahead, as first-time homebuyer tax credits have ended, foreclosures continue and unemployment remains inflated.

Mecklenburg home sales fell 11 percent in July, for instance, over the year before, and the average home price climbed just 1 percent that month, remaining below the levels of a few years ago.

Charlotte has held up better than other markets in some respects, but it continues to lag on the Case-Shiller index, the latest data show.

Charlotte-area prices fell 2.7 percent in June from June 2009 - one of only five markets to experience a year-over-year decline, the index shows. That's well below the average gain of 4.2 percent for the Case-Shiller index's 20 markets.

The index is one of the most precise measures of home values because it tracks repeat sales. Like stock market indexes, Case-Shiller reflects changes in price, not an actual price.

Las Vegas remained among the weaker cities, the report found, with home prices falling 0.6 percent from May and 5.2 percent from June 2009. But other markets showed improvement: California's major cities, for instance, have moved from some of the hardest hit to three of the four leading cities, based on year-to-year gains, the index shows.

Still, worry persists.

"While the numbers are upbeat, other more recent data on home sales and mortgages point to fewer gains ahead," said David Blitzer, chairman of the S&P index committee, in a statement Tuesday. "... If this relative weakness in demand continues, it will likely filter through to home prices in coming months."

Kirsten Valle: 704-358-5248

Read more: http://www.charlotteobserver.com/2010/09/01/1658732/housing-prices-up-in-june.html#ixzz0yN6kXyNj