Thursday, January 13, 2011

Four Tricks and Traps Foreclosure Buyers Need to Know...
Interest in buying a foreclosed home is on the rise, but so are concerns about the risk involved in the process. In a December survey, 49 percent of Americans were at least somewhat likely to consider buying a foreclosure, up from 45 percent in May 2010. But the number of US adults who believed there are disadvantages to buying foreclosures had also increased, from 78 percent to 81 percent over the same time frame. Among those folks who had qualms about purchasing a foreclosure, the top concerns were:
Buying a foreclosure might involve hidden costs,
Buying process itself is risky, and that the home might continue to lose value, after closing.
While there certainly are risks that run with buying a foreclosed home, the most risky way to do it is also the least common method: at the foreclosure auction itself. Auction buyers often don't have the opportunity to fully vet the foreclosure to ensure that they are receiving clear title and/or to make sure they're not getting a lemon. With that said, most foreclosures are resold not at the foreclosure auction, but as an REO (short for Real Estate Owned - by the bank), listed by a real estate broker on the Multiple Listing Service.

When you buy an REO in this way, you have lots of opportunities to use some tricks of the trade, so to speak, to avoid some of the traps you may fear.
Here Four Tricks and Traps for Foreclosure Buyers:

1. As-is means as-is, period. (Most of the time.) Banks have very little interest, inclination or even the logistically necessary resources to execute repairs on your home. Many of these homes are managed by an asset management company in another state, and may not even have a local person besides the agent who can handle large repairs. Generally speaking, bank-owned homes are sold on a very strict "as-is, where-is" basis, which just means that you should expect to take possession of it, if you buy it, in exactly the position and location it is, no matter how defective. Do not walk into a viewing of a foreclosed home, notice how the plumbing is all ripped out of the wall, and make an offer for it, assuming you'll be able to get the bank to "fix" the issue later. Usually, if the bank is willing to do any repairs to a foreclosed home, they do so, on the advice of the listing agent, prior to the home being listed.
If a foreclosure you're considering has obvious property damage, have your contractor stop by with you or gather whatever information you need to get as comfortable as possible with your offer price, assuming that the bank will not be chipping anything in for repairs, before you make the offer.
2. The bank speaks no evil. When it comes to real estate disclosures, the fact is, the bank speaks not much of anything! Many states exempt banks and other types of corporate homeowners from making substantive disclosures about the condition of the property. Even in jurisdictions where the bank is not legally exempt, most banks will simply write across the required disclosures something to the effect that the bank has no knowledge of the property's condition. (Before you protest with a "that's not fair!!" keep in mind that the bank never lived in the property, so most often truly does have no idea of any important facts or details about its condition or location, the things an average home seller would be required to disclose.)
Even in a normal transaction, it behooves a buyer to be thorough in having the property inspected and meticulous about reviewing the resulting inspection reports. But buying a foreclosure ups even that ante, as you have no seller disclosures to highlight particular problems you should have looked at, and none of the usual legal recourse you would have if a “regular” seller made incomplete disclosures. Get a property inspection. A pest inspection. A roof inspection. A sewer line inspection. A pool inspection, if you have a pool and care about its condition.

Yes - all these inspections cost money, but the drama and thousands each of them can save you is well worth it. And read your state’s buyer inspection advisory or similar document (ask your agent), just to make sure you’re aware of all the inspections that are available to you, and work with your agent to determine which ones make sense, and which are not appropriate.
Some insider tips:
Vacant foreclosures often have their utilities disconnected. Work with your agent to make sure the utilities get turned on - even for a single day - so that your property inspector can run the water taps, test the stove and dishwasher, see if the water heater and electrical outlets work, and so forth.
If appliances are there, the bank will probably leave them there, even though they may not have technical “legal” ownership of them, so they may not be included in the contract, like in a "normal" home sale. However, the bank will not give you any sort of warranty on appliances, so try to obtain any warranty coverage you want or need elsewhere - from a home warranty company or, potentially, the original manufacturer/retailer.
3. The contract terms are changing. One thing squarely in the wheelhouses of local real estate pros are local market standard practices. From negotiating practices to which party pays which closing costs, every market is different, and experienced local agents are experts on this information. If you’re buying a foreclosure, though, the bank will often require you to use it’s own purchase contract, rather than the more commonly used state forms. Many times, this is done to advise the buyer of the bank’s refusal to make substantive disclosures (see above) and to change some of the normal practices for your area to the bank’s standard practices.
For instance, if you are buying a home in a contingency state, where you would usually have to sign a document proactively releasing contingencies, the bank’s contract will probably change that, so that your transaction operates on an objection period. In "objection" based transactions, you have a certain period of time in which you must either speak up about your concerns with the property and/or cancel the deal, or you will automatically be presumed to be moving forward with the deal and your deposit money will be forfeited if you change your mind after that date.
If you’ve been making offers on non-foreclosures on the standard contract form, or you’ve bought homes before and think you know the drill, please - READ every word of the contract you sign when you buy a home from the bank, and ask your broker, agent or attorney to explain anything that doesn’t make sense.
4. Expect the unexpected. When you buy a foreclosure, you might end up working with the bank’s escrow company, instead of a company you or your agent selects. And the bank's escrow provider might be slow or disorganized. C’est la vie. The bank might rush you for your deposit money, but take their own sweet time coming up with the necessary signatures on their end to close the deal. Par for the course. You might expect that the bank would be desperate for buyers, and instead find out that there are 20 offers on the same REO. Or, you might be the only offer and still get your aggressively low (but still reasonable) offer rejected, only to have the bank reduce the list price of the home to the same price of your offer! (They often want to see if exposing it to other buyers at the new, lower list price might generate more interest and higher offers.)
When you’re buying a foreclosure, expect glitches, expect your calendar to be derailed, expect the bank to be inflexible and possibly even unreasonable. It’s not overkill to ask your broker or agent to brief you on the common complications they see in REO transactions. Having realistic expectations may keep you from pulling your hair out. And if the transaction turns out to run smooth as silk? You’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Make hay while the sun shines...
What a great opportunity to take advantage of record low rates.
Just when it looked as if mortgage rates couldn't fall any further, they did.
Rates on 30-year fixed-rate mortgages (excluding jumbos) hit an average of 4.3% in September, the lowest level since 1953, according to Freddie Mac, and are still hovering below 4.5%.
Fifteen-year rates are even more mouthwatering: 3.8%.
Mind you, those are averages.
The most creditworthy borrowers can do even better, snagging rates perhaps a quarter of a percentage point lower.
So what's in this for you?
A lot, potentially.
If you have a credit score of 720 or higher and at least 20% equity in your home, you might use these crazy-low rates to shorten your mortgage term, free up cash, or even add to your real estate holdings, for example.
Whatever you decide, don't wait too long. "The consensus is that rates will gradually move up in the new year," says Frank Nothaft, chief economist for Freddie Mac.
Freddie projects that the average 30-year fixed will hit 5% by the end of 2011.
It's easy to see why more than a quarter of borrowers today are choosing a 15-year mortgage, according to analytics firm Core-Logic, up from about 9% in 2007.
A 15-year lets you save in two ways:
You get a rate that's about half a percentage point lower than that of a standard 30-year, plus you can save tens of thousands by retiring the loan in half the time.
Let's say you took out a $270,000, 30-year mortgage at 5.9% when you bought your house in 2005.
You're paying $1,596 a month in principal and interest and now have a $250,000 balance.
Let's further assume that you roll $5,000 in refinancing costs into a new 15-year mortgage at 3.8% (so the loan is for $255,000).
Your new monthly payment will be a heftier $1,860, but you'll save more than $147,000 in interest over the life of the loan.
What if you can't manage the bigger monthly bite?
Refi to another 30-year and simply pay more in months when you're able to, assuming you're disciplined enough to actually follow through with that plan.
Given that few new mortgages carry prepayment penalties anymore, kicking in extra money shouldn't be a problem, says Keith Gumbinger, vice president of mortgage data tracker HSH Associates.
Caveat: If you have only a few years left on your current mortgage, or you plan to move soon, a refi may not pay off.
Calculate how long it will take to break even on your closing costs, up to three years is typical. Improve cash flowFreeing up cash may be your biggest priority right now.
Maybe you're trying to replenish your emergency fund after being out of work, or you have lots of high-interest credit card debt to pay off.
Maybe your twins got into Harvard, and you need to cover some of the tuition out of current income.
Or maybe you see enough investment opportunities around that you want to lower your monthly payment and invest the difference.
In those cases, choose a 30-year loan.
Using the previous example, if you refinance to a $255,000 30-year at 4.4%, you'll lower your monthly payment from $1,596 to $1,277.
True, you won't save nearly as much in interest as you would with a 15-year.
But that's not so bad, says Matthew Keeling, a certified financial planner in Mashpee, Mass., as long as you do something smart with the extra $319 a month you'll save.
Do your retirement plans call for moving to a house near the beach or a cabin in the mountains?
If you can afford another mortgage payment, you may want to start your search now, while rates are in your favor and prices are depressed.
Ditto if you've been wanting to buy a second home or an investment property, says Jonathan Bergman, vice president of Palisades Hudson Financial Group in Scarsdale, N.Y.
Assuming you're buying the place as a true second home, lenders generally charge the same rate they would for a primary residence.
But if you intend to rent the place out, even if just for a few years until you retire and you need rental income to qualify for the mortgage, it's considered an investment property.
And mortgage rates on investment properties are running about a half to a full percentage point higher. Still, the numbers are "pretty compelling," says Justin Krane, a certified financial planner in Los Angeles.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Five Reasons to Buy a Home Now...
1. Low mortgage rates serve as an equity shock absorber. When buyers borrow at today's record-low rates, they start building equity as soon as they close. That means they can absorb a few ups and downs as the still-recovering housing market gains traction.
2. Houses are in move-in condition. Home owners have continued to spend on maintenance and repair, according to the Harvard Joint Center on Housing. As these houses enter the market, they are in marked contrast to tattered foreclosures.
3. Terrific houses are coming on the market. Foreclosures are finally starting to clear the system, and they are being replaced by some very attractive properties.
4. Appraisal regulations are finally aligned with market realities. Fannie Mae has adjusted its appraisal guidelines, giving appraisers more flexibility to set values that reflect the current market.
5. Plenty of programs. Many programs that encourage middle-class families to buy homes continue to exist, despite market downturns. Buyers who qualify can get a big boost by combining one of these programs with today's low mortgage rates.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Top 6 Reasons to Buy Your First Home Today...
1. Affordability. Based on recent property declines and current interest rates, home affordability has not been higher since it was first tracked over 40 years ago. Your grandparents couldn't have received a better interest rate than you can today.
2. Tax Breaks. The IRS allows you to deduct the interest you pay on your mortgage, your property taxes and, in many cases for those who qualify, some of the costs to buy your home and mortgage insurance. Owning a home is a great way to lower your tax bill.
3. Build Wealth. Unlike paying rent, with each mortgage payment you make, you build equity and you decrease your income tax liability. Owning a home is still the best long-term investment.
4. Appreciation. As home prices have fallen precipitously in today's tough economy, the basis for realizing appreciation in future years is very strong. Historically, even with other periods of declining value, home prices have exceeded consumer inflation. From 1972 through 2005, home prices increased on average 6.5%, according to the National Association of Realtors®.
5. Stability. Knowing you can establish roots and raise a family in one location, free of the desires or needs of your landlord to sell the property you are living in. This is something no other investment provides. You can't live in a stock, and you can't raise your kids in a bond.
6. Independence. Enjoy the freedom to do what you want to your home. After all, it's yours to do what you wish. And, with any improvements you make, you have the ability to benefit from your investment. Try that with an apartment!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

How to End the Recession in a Week...
by John Adams, for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution
At the risk of offending my good friend Don Ratajczak, I am going to put on my economist hat and offer to solve our economic problems in one seven day period. News from the housing front is simply depressing, and the recovery, such as it was, seems stalled. Washington obviously needs new ideas, so here goes:
All agree that the real estate industry represents a huge sector of the economy, and when somebody buys a new house, it employs hundreds of people all over the USA. But people who are worried don’t buy houses, and a large segment of the workforce is either unemployed or worried.
Real estate led us into this recession, and it will have to be real
estate that leads us out. That’s the way it has worked for the past seven recessions in a row, so what do we need to do?
* On Monday, declare a national moratorium on all residential
foreclosures unless the lender has engaged in meaningful attempts at modification and has employed every reasonable strategy to keep the borrower in the house. Also, grant "safe harbor" status to servicers who grant modifications in good faith. That step alone will keep millions in their homes.
* On Tuesday, modify the Garn-St Germain Act to invalidate “due on sale” clauses used by federally chartered lenders to prevent buyers from taking over payments. This would allow thousands of owners to sell to buyers who are able to make the payments, but unable to meet new more stringent underwriting criteria. Lenders should still be able to require reasonable credit and income standards, but assumption should be quick and easy, and at no cost.
* On Wednesday, change the tax code to incentivize real estate investors. Eliminate all income taxes on profits derived on the sale of any home purchased as a bank-owned foreclosure, then renovated and resold within 12 months to an owner-occupant. This would cause bank-owned homes to become much more attractive to private investors, who would rush to buy them as soon as they became available. They would then renovate them with private money rather than looking for a government handout. And it would help stabilize neighborhoods by eliminating vacant houses and substituting owner-occupants.
* On Thursday, declare a six month “federal tax holiday” and simply stand back and watch the economy move into high gear. It is a fact that tax cuts create jobs, and that’s what the real estate market needs more than anything else.
* On Friday, take the day off, but notice that the stock market has recovered and every home in America has jumped in value by ten percent. Everyone will feel more confident, unemployment will decline, and the recession will officially be over.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Cost Between Renting and Owning Narrows...
The cost difference between buying and renting is as narrow as it has been since 1993, according to a study on homeownership by Marcus & Millichap Real Estate Investment Services for the Associated Press.
The study examined rent and home prices in 45 metropolitan areas and concluded that gap between a payment on a median-priced home and median rent on a similar property is on average only $256.
Marcus & Millichap calculated the number using median home prices for the last three months of 2009, assuming a 10 percent down payment on a 30-year fixed-rate loan at 5.07 percent. It factored in mortgage insurance, but didn’t include either repair costs or tax benefits.
The difference is narrowest in such hard-hit markets as Detroit, Las Vegas, Atlanta, Cleveland, Indianapolis, and Orlando.
Renting remains significantly cheaper in New York, Los Angeles, Seattle, San Diego, San Francisco, and San Jose, Calif.
Source: Associated Press (04/19/2010)

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

IRS Clarifies What's Needed to Claim Tax Credit...
The Internal Revenue Service has clarified which documentation taxpayers need to submit to claim the first-time and move-up homebuyer tax credit.
While the IRS is still requiring the filing of Form 5405, it is not demanding that all parties’ signatures be on the HUD-1 settlement document in areas where requiring both the buyer and the seller to sign the document isn’t common.
The IRS clarification says: "In areas where signatures are not required on the settlement document, the IRS has clarified that it will accept a settlement statement if it is completed and valid according to local law. … The IRS encourages those buyers to sign the settlement statement prior to attaching it to the tax return.”
For repeat buyers, the IRS is seeking documentation that home buyers have lived in the previous property for a consecutive five of the past eight years. Proof can include property tax records, home owner insurance records, or mortgage interest statements.