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Find the Home Loan that Fits Your Needs

By: G. M. Filisko

Understand which mortgage loan is best for you so your budget is not stretched too thin.

It’s easier to settle happily into your new home if you’re confident you can afford it. That requires that you understand your mortgage financing options and choose the loan that best suits your income and ability to tolerate risk.

The basics of mortgage financing
The most important features of your mortgage loan are its term and interest rate. Mortgages typically come in 15-, 20-, 30- or 40-year lengths. The longer the term, the lower your monthly payment. However, the tradeoff for a lower payment is that the longer the life of your loan, the more interest you’ll pay.

Mortgage interest rates generally come in two flavors: fixed and adjustable. A fixed rate allows you to lock in your interest rate for the entire mortgage term. That’s attractive if you’re risk-averse, on a fixed income, or when interest rates are low.

The risks and rewards of ARMs
An adjustable-rate mortgage does just what its name implies: Its interest rate adjusts at a future date listed in the loan documents. It moves up and down according to a particular financial market index, such as Treasury bills. A 3/1 ARM will have the same interest rate for three years and then adjust every year after that; likewise a 5/1 ARM remains unchanged until the five-year mark. Typically, ARMs include a cap on how much the interest rate can increase, such as 3% at each adjustment, or 5% over the life of the loan.

Why agree to such uncertainty ARMs can be a good choice if you expect your income to grow significantly in the coming years. The interest rate on some-but not all-ARMs can even drop if the benchmark to which they’re tied also dips. ARMs also often offer a lower interest rate than fixed-rate mortgages during the first few years of the mortgage, which means big savings for you-even if there’s only a half-point difference.

But if rates go up, your ARM payment will jump dramatically, so before you choose an ARM, answer these questions:

  • How much can my monthly payments increase at each adjustment
  • How soon and how often can increases occur
  • Can I afford the maximum increase permitted
  • Do I expect my income to increase or decrease
  • Am I paying down my loan balance each month, or is it staying the same or even increasing
  • Do I plan to own the home for longer than the initial low-interest-rate period, or do I plan to sell before the rate adjusts
  • Will I have to pay a penalty if I refinance into a lower-rate mortgage or sell my house
  • What’s my goal in buying this property Am I considering a riskier mortgage to buy a more expensive house than I can realistically afford

Consider a government-backed mortgage loan
If you’ve saved less than the ideal downpayment of 20%, or your credit score isn’t high enough for you to qualify for a fixed-rate or ARM with a conventional lender, consider a government-backed loan from the Federal Housing Administration (http://www.hud.gov/fha/choosefha.cfm) or Department of Veterans Affairs (http://www.homeloans.va.gov/vap26-91-1.htm/).

FHA offers adjustable and fixed-rate loans at reduced interest rates and with as little as 3.5% down and VA offers no-money-down loans. FHA and VA also let you use cash gifts from family members.

Before you decide on any mortgage, remember that slight variations in interest rates, loan amounts, and terms can significantly affect your monthly payment. To determine how much your monthly payment will be with various terms and loan amounts, try REALTOR.com’s online mortgage calculators (http://www.realtor.com/home-finance/financial-calculators/mortgage-payment-calculator.aspx).

More from HouseLogic
Evaluate Your Adjustable Rate Mortgage (http://www.houselogic.com/articles/evaluate-your-adjustable-rate-mortgage/)
Show Your Support for FHA (http://www.houselogic.com/articles/show-your-support-for-FHA/)

Other web resources
How much home can you afford (http://www.ginniemae.gov/2_prequal/intro_questions.asp Section=YPTH)
Why ask for an FHA loan (http://www.hud.gov/fha/choosefha.cfm)

G.M. Filisko is an attorney and award-winning writer who’s opted for both fixed and adjustable-rate mortgages. A frequent contributor to many national publications including Bankrate.com, REALTOR® Magazine, and the American Bar Association Journal, she specializes in real estate, business, personal finance, and legal topics.

Visit houselogic.com for more articles like this. Reprinted from HouseLogic with permission of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS
Copyright 2010. All rights reserved.

Q-A Series – MORTGAGE INSURANCE

Q. WHAT IS MORTGAGE INSURANCE

Mortgage insurance is a policy that protects lenders against some or most of the losses that result from defaults on home mortgages. It’s required primarily for borrowers making a down payment of less than 20%.

Q. HOW DOES MORTGAGE INSURANCE WORK IS IT LIKE HOME OR AUTO INSURANCE

Like home or auto insurance, mortgage insurance requires payment of a premium, is for protection against loss, and is used in the event of an emergency. If a borrower can’t repay an insured mortgage loan as agreed, the lender may foreclose on the property and file a claim with the mortgage insurer for some or most of the total losses.

Q. DO I NEED MORTGAGE INSURANCE HOW DO I GET IT

You need mortgage insurance only if you plan to make a down payment of less than 20% of the purchase price of the home. The FHA offers several loan programs that may meet your needs. Ask your lender for details.

Q. HOW CAN I RECEIVE A DISCOUNT ON THE FHA INITIAL MORTGAGE INSURANCE PREMIUM

Ask your real estate agent or lender for information on the HELP program from the FHA. HELP – Homebuyer Education Learning Program – is structured to help people like you begin the homebuying process. It covers such topics as budgeting, finding a home, getting a loan, and home maintenance. In most cases, completion of this program may entitle you to a reduction in the initial FHA mortgage insurance premium from 2.25% to 1.75% of the purchase price of your new home.

Q. WHAT IS PMI

PMI stands for Private Mortgage Insurance or Insurer. These are privately-owned companies that provide mortgage insurance. They offer both standard and special affordable programs for borrowers. These companies provide guidelines to lenders that detail the types of loans they will insure. Lenders use these guidelines to determine borrower eligibility. PMI’s usually have stricter qualifying ratios and larger down payment requirements than the FHA, but their premiums are often lower and they insure loans that exceed the FHA limit.

What s the Score

Your credit score or FICO score (for Fair, Isaac and Company, which created the system) is a number that indicates the health of your credit. The higher the score, the healthier your credit and the more likely a lender is to approve a loan with good terms. Scores can range from 300 to over 900, with the typical credit score falling in the 600s to 700s.

Credit scores take five different financial areas into account. The  five C s of credit that lenders will look at include:

Capacity. Are you able to repay the debt The lender verifies your employment information: occupation, length of employment, income.
He or she reviews your expenses: how many dependents you have, if you pay alimony and/or child support, your other obligations.

Credit history. Based upon your past payment habits, how likely is it that you will make your monthly payment The lender looks at how much you owe, how often you borrow, whether you live within your means, and whether you pay your bills on time.
BEWARE! As your credit score goes down, mortgage fees and costs, interest rates and other costs go up, up, up! A typical 7% mortgage with a few thousand dollars in fees can go up to an 18% monster with many thousands in fees if you have a low credit score.

Capital. Do you have enough cash on hand for the down payment and closing costs Are you receiving a gift from a relative Will you have reserve money left over after the purchase

Collateral. Is the value of the property worth the investment Is it in sufficiently good condition and is the price appropriate for the home If you do not repay the debt, will the lender be able to recover his investment

Character. Have you disclosed all your debts If you had previous credit problems, did you disclose them

5 Tips for Buying a Foreclosure

By: G. M. Filisko

Get prequalified for a loan and set aside funds, and you’ll be ready to purchase a foreclosed home.

When lenders take over a home through foreclosure, they want to sell it as quickly as possible. Since lenders aren’t in the real estate business, they turn to real estate brokers for help marketing their properties. Buying a foreclosed home through the multiple listing service can be a bargain, but it can also be a problem-filled process. Here are five tips to help you buy smart.

1. Choose a foreclosure sale expert. Lenders rarely sell their own foreclosures directly to consumers. They list them with real estate brokers. You can work with a real estate agent who sells foreclosed homes for lenders, or have a buyer’s agent find foreclosure properties for you. To locate a foreclosure sales specialist, call local brokers and ask if they are the listing agent for any banks.

Either way, ask the real estate professional which lenders’ homes they’ve sold, how many buyers they’ve represented in a foreclosed property purchase, how many of those sales they closed last year, and who they legally represent.

If the agent represents the lender, don’t reveal anything to her that you don’t want the lender to know, like whether you’re willing to spend more than you offer for a house.

2. Be ready for complications. In some states, the former owner of a foreclosed home can challenge the foreclosure in court, even after you’ve closed the sale. Ask your agent to recommend a real estate attorney who has negotiated with lenders selling foreclosed homes and has defended legal challenges to foreclosures.

Have your attorney explain your state’s foreclosure process and your risks in purchasing a foreclosed home. Set aside as much as $5,000 to cover potential legal fees.

3. Work with your agent to set a price. Ask your real estate agent to show you closed sales of comparable homes, which you can use to set your price. Start with an amount well under market value because the lender may be in a hurry to get rid of the home.

4. Get your financing in order. Many mortgage market players, such as Fannie Mae, require buyers to submit financing preapproval letters with a purchase offer. They’ll also reject all contingencies. Since most foreclosed homes are vacant, closings can be quick. Make sure you have the cash you’ll need to close your purchase.

5. Expect an as-is sale. Most homeowners stopped maintaining their home long before they could no longer make mortgage payments. Be sure to have enough money left after the sale to make at least minor, and sometimes substantive, repairs.

Although lenders may do minor cosmetic repairs to make foreclosed homes more marketable, they won’t give you credits for repair costs (or make additional repairs) because they’ve already factored the property’s condition into their asking price.

Lenders will also require that you purchase the home “as is,” which means in its current condition. Protect yourself by ordering a home inspection to uncover the true condition of the property, getting a pest inspection, and purchasing a home warranty.

Be sure you also do all the environmental testing that’s common to your region to find hazards such as radon, mold, lead-based paint, or underground storage tanks.

More from HouseLogic
What you need to know about the homebuyer tax credit (http://www.houselogic.com/articles/homebuyer-tax-credit-what-you-need-know/)

How to claim your homebuyer tax credit (http://www.houselogic.com/articles/claim-your-homebuyer-tax-credits/)

Other web resources
How to buy a foreclosure from Fannie Mae (http://www.fanniemae.com/homepath/homebuyers/buying_fanniemaeowned.jhtml)

What to consider when buying a foreclosure as your first home (http://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/article-29589.html)

G.M. Filisko is an attorney and award-winning writer who purchased a foreclosed condominium and found herself in the middle of a months-long dispute between the former homeowner and the bank over whether the foreclosure was conducted properly. Six months after paying the full purchase price, she was finally able to enter the property. A frequent contributor to many national publications including Bankrate.com, REALTOR® Magazine, and the American Bar Association Journal, she specializes in real estate, business, personal finance, and legal topics.

Visit houselogic.com for more articles like this. Reprinted from HouseLogic with permission of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS
Copyright 2010. All rights reserved.

Mortgage Lenders Ease Rules for Home Buyers in Hunt for Business

As a sign of mortgage lenders’ rising confidence in the housing market, restrictive lending standards are beginning to ease, and the credit freeze is starting to thaw. Lenders have started to accept lower credit scores and to reduce down-payment requirements.

Making sense of the story

  • Lenders recognize that refinancing old mortgages will no longer be a huge profit center for banks, so competing for borrowers will be needed for business and future profits. As a result, lenders will have to open up to borrowers who may not have perfect credit or large down payments.
  • For example, the lender TD Bank began accepting down payments as low as 3 percent through an initiative called “Right Step” for first-time buyers. A year ago, the program required at least a 5 percent down payment.
  • Mortgage originations are expected to reach $1.1 trillion this year, which is down from $1.8 trillion last year and $2 trillion in 2012 due to less refinancing.
  • While private lenders have shied away from low-down-payment mortgages in the past few years, in the past year, more than one in six loans made outside of the FHA included down payments of less than 10 percent.
  • Credit scores for borrowers seeking conventional mortgages also are easing, as scores on purchase mortgages stood at 755 in March, down from 761 a year earlier.
  • Smaller lenders are trying to appeal to first-time buyers while many larger lenders are gradually reducing down payments for jumbo loans in order to attract wealthy customers.

Source: Wall Street Journal

Read the full story

Talking Points …

  • As a sign that the housing recovery is in for a promising spring, homebuilders picked up the pace of new construction in March. Single-family housing starts increased construction by 2.8 percent, to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 946,000 units, according to the Census Bureau and the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
  • Regionally, production rose strongly in the Northeast and Midwest, with gains of 30.7 percent and 65.5 percent, respectively. However, construction dropped 9.1 percent in the South and 4.5 percent in the West.
  • Multifamily construction fell 6.1 percent, to 292,000 units during the month of March.

Why Home Price Gains Aren’t Lifting the Economy

Analysis of whether housing has lived up to its true potential as a catalyst for a stronger recovery has led experts to argue that while housing stopped being a drag on the economy a few years ago, it has failed to propel strong economic growth. Professors Atif Mian of Princeton University and Amir Sufi of the University of Chicago argue that rising home prices haven’t done much to stimulate the economy.

Making sense of the story

  • The professors conclude that the home price gains of the past two years have had fewer knock-on benefits for the economy than in the past because those gains have done little to stimulate either new-home construction or increased spending paid for by home-equity borrowing.
  • They argue current rising home prices won’t greatly stimulate the economy because gains that simply restore lost wealth aren’t as valuable as gains that create new wealth.
  • Consequently, prices may need to rise even higher for the economy to enjoy any “wealth effect” because it is at that point when people will spend more because they feel richer as their home or stock portfolio rises in value.
  • Growth is also deterred by tight lending standards, which have made it tougher for homeowners to take cash out of their homes with either a second mortgage or by refinancing into a larger first mortgage.
  • Also, prices haven’t risen enough to encourage homeowners to sell, which is creating inventory shortages that are being blamed for sluggish sales volumes and higher prices.
  • And while home prices are up, they’re still not up enough to encourage builders to build more homes because they face higher land, labor, and supply costs.

Source: Wall Street Journal

Read the full story

Talking Points …

  • Housing’s share of gross domestic product (GDP) was 15.5 percent in the first quarter of 2014, with home building yielding 3 percentage points of that total, according to the National Association of Home Builders.
  • As an important source of economic growth, housing-related activities contribute to GDP in two basic ways. One, residential fixed investment (RFI), which measures the home building and remodeling contribution to GDP. Secondly, the measure of housing services, which includes gross rents and utility payments. For the fourth quarter, RFI was 3 percent of the economy.
  • For the fourth quarter, housing services was 12.5 percent of the economy. Historically, RFI has averaged roughly 5 percent of GDP while housing services have averaged between 12 percent and 13 percent, for a combined 17 percent to 18 percent of GDP.

Homeownership rate slips to 19-year low while rental market tightens

According to the Census Bureau, 64.8 percent of homes in the U.S. are owner-occupied, the lowest share since the second quarter of 1995, as more households rented and home sales remained low in the first quarter. Homeownership rates topped 69 percent at various times in 2004 and 2005 before the foreclosure crisis and housing crash.

Source: LA Times

Read the full story

Report Profiles Housing Future for Older Americans

A new report by the Mortgage Bankers Association’s Research Institute for Housing America found that older Americans who own their homes are more financially secure and generally experience fewer impediments to good health compared with their peers who rent.

The new report provides a profile of the housing, functional status, and health status of the near-old (individuals aged 55 through 64) and older Americans (aged 65 and older) using the most recent data available from the Health and Retirement Study, a joint product spearheaded by the National Institute on Aging and the University of Michigan.

The principal findings of the report are as follows:

  • There were more than 47 million near-old and older American households in 2010, of which 80 percent were homeowners.
  • Housing is still the dominant asset in the portfolios of older Americans.  Median housing equity for older American homeowners was $125,000; the median housing-equity-to-income ratio was 2.4:1; and 50 percent of the typical older homeowner’s portfolio was composed of housing wealth.
  • Forty-four percent of older renters spend more than 30 percent of annual gross income on rent, which suggests that the availability of affordable rental housing is a concern for older Americans.
  • Older renters have almost double the number of limitations in their ability to conduct daily activities relative to homeowners.
  • Thirty-six percent of older individuals have fallen in the last two years, and one-third of these have been seriously injured in a fall.  The likelihood of falls occurring rises steeply as housing quality declines.
  • Thirty-one percent of older Americans have residences that have special safety features.  Thirteen percent have modified their home to be either more accessible or safer between 2008 and 2010.

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Keep Your Home Sale from Falling Apart

By: G. M. Filisko

After finding a buyer, all you have to do to make it to closing is to avoid these five traps.

Finding a buyer for your home is just the first step on the home selling path. Tread carefully in the weeks ahead because if you make one of these common seller mistakes, your deal may not close.

Mistake #1: Ignore contingencies
If your contract requires you to do something before the sale, do it. If the buyers make the sale contingent on certain repairs, don’t do cheap patch-jobs and expect the buyers not to notice the fixes weren’t done properly.

Mistake #2: Don’t bother to fix things that break
The last thing any seller needs is for the buyers to notice on the pre-closing walk-through that the home isn’t in the same condition as when they made their offer. When things fall apart in a home about to be purchased, sellers must make the repairs. If the furnace fails, get a professional to fix it, and inform the buyers that the work was done. When you fail to maintain the home, the buyers may lose confidence in your integrity and the condition of the home and back out of the sale.

Mistake #3: Get lax about deadlines
Treat deadlines as sacrosanct. If you have three days to accept or reject the home inspection, make your decision within three days. If you’re selling, move out a few days early, so you can turn over the keys at closing.

Mistake #4: Refuse to negotiate any further
Once you’ve negotiated a price, it’s natural to calculate how much you’ll walk away with from the closing table. However, problems uncovered during inspections will have to be fixed. The appraisal may come in at a price below what the buyers offered to pay. Be prepared to negotiate with the buyers over these bottom-line-influencing issues.

Mistake #5: Hide liens from buyers
Did you neglect to mention that Uncle Sam has placed a tax lien on your home or you owe six months of homeowners association fees The title search is going to turn up any liens filed on your house. To sell your house, you have to pay off the lien (or get the borrower to agree to pay it off). If you can do that with the sales proceeds, great. If not, the sale isn’t going to close.

More from HouseLogic
How maintenance adds to home values (http://www.houselogic.com/articles/value-home-maintenance/)

Reducing closing stress (http://buyandsell.houselogic.com/articles/7-steps-stress-free-home-closing/)

Other web resources
More on calculating closing costs (http://www.hud.gov/offices/hsg/ramh/res/sc3sectb.cfm)

More on the closing process (http://www.homeclosing101.org/closing.cfm)

G.M. Filisko is an attorney and award-winning writer who wanted a successful closing on a Wisconsin property so bad that she probably made her agent rethink going into real estate. A frequent contributor to many national publications including Bankrate.com, REALTOR® Magazine, and the American Bar Association Journal, she specializes in real estate, business, personal finance, and legal topics.

Visit houselogic.com for more articles like this. Reprinted from HouseLogic with permission of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS
Copyright 2010. All rights reserved.

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