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8 Mortgage Tips for 2014

Househappy —  January 17, 2014 — 2 Comments

mortgage-ratesEarly 2014 might be a good time for buyers and homeowners to grab a low mortgage rate. If you keep your finances in order and act quickly, you will still have time to grab a great mortgage deal.

These 8 mortgage tips from MSN Real Estate can help you with your decisions in 2014:

1. Document your finances. With the new mortgage rules going into effect this month, lenders will be extra diligent when underwriting loans. Make sure to keep records of your finances, including bank statements, tax returns, W-2s and other assets you own. Lastly, be ready to explain any unusual deposits to your accounts to help close your loan faster.

2. Lock a rate as soon as you can. Rates will likely increase during the year with the Federal Reserve reducing the pace of the economic stimulus program. If you are planning to get a mortgage, lock in a rate as soon as you are able to.

3. Refinance now – if you still can. Those who are still paying more than 5 percent interest on their home loans might still have an opportunity to refinance at a lower rate. It doesn’t hurt to try. Talk to a loan officer and have them look over the numbers.

4. Buyers, use your bargaining power. Lenders lost a big portion of their refinance business when mortgage rates increased. This year, they will give more attention to homebuyers thus creating more competition. Buyers should take advantage of bargaining power and should shop around for the best deal and look beyond the interest rate on the loan.

5. Learn your rights as a borrower. Mortgage borrowers will get more new rights as consumers when the new mortgage rules go into effect this year. Make sure to be aware of your rights so you don’t run into any problems.

6. Take good care of your credit. If you are planning to get a mortgage, make sure to monitor your credit history and score until your loan closes. For the best rates, keep your credit score around 720 or above.

7. Don’t overspend. Lenders won’t want to give you a loan if you have little money left over at the end of each month. Try to keep your debt obligations below 43 percent of your income.

8. Consider alternative mortgage options such as ARMs. Depending on your plans, and how long you think you will keep your house, there are many different mortgage options. Rates on adjustable-rate mortgages can be as much as one percentage point lower than on fixed-rate loans. Although if you don’t know how long you plan to keep your home, a fixed-rate loan may be the better choice.

This article can be found in its original form on MSN Real Estate.

Photo: Total Mortgage


Home for sale via Househappy

Homeowners have been enjoying the price growth that happened in 2013. New construction home sales are also up and previously underwater properties are returning to positive equity. Economists expect home prices to rise another 4 percent to 5 percent in 2014.

With all that in mind, here are 10 tips for homebuyers and sellers from MSN Real Estate:

1. Sellers: Jump-start the process. If you want to sell your house this year, it is best to start planning as soon as possible. Since the process always takes longer than expected, start cleaning and de-cluttering now, and get your home inspected in case there are any repairs you need to fix.

2. Buyers: Be credit-ready. Since there is a lot of competition out there, it is best to get ready ahead of time. Get your credit report and make sure there are no errors. Then start with the pre-approval process on a loan so you can be ready to go when you start looking at houses.

3. Sellers: Search for an agent, and then follow the agent’s advice.  Make sure to hire the right real estate broker to help you sell your house. You’ll most likely want one that is web savvy and uses mobile technology, since most homes are viewed online. Once you find the right agent, accept their advice on pricing, marketing, and negotiation.

4. Buyers: Adjust your negotiating expectations. This year is not the time for lowball offers as they will likely eliminate you from consideration. Try to respond to counteroffers quickly to keep other buyers away and prevent a bidding war. Also, have a few other homes in mind just in case it becomes competitive.

5. Sellers: It’s your market, so make the most of it. Don’t jump at the first seemingly generous offer––especially if you have received more than one. Lastly, never let the buyer’s agent know what you’re willing to do if you planning on giving something extra. Make them ask.

6. Buyers: Find life after foreclosure. If you have had a foreclosure in recently, don’t fret. The Federal Housing Administration requires just a three-year waiting period and there are many nonconforming lenders out there (often called “shadow bankers”) to help you out.

7. Sellers: Hesitate to renovate. There is no need to completely remodel your kitchen if you plan on selling soon. According to remodeling surveys, the average renovation project only returns about two-thirds on investment. In most cases it would be cheaper to drop your price or issue credits to buyers. Smaller jobs such as installing new doors, painting or fixing up the exterior are more practical and will likely have a greater return.

8. Buyers: Ask and you won’t receive. Don’t be afraid to ask questions to the selling party in writing before signing a contract. Ask anything, from questions about the neighborhood, to sex offenders nearby, to commercial zoning, to on-premise felonies, noise pollution and more. If the selling party refuses to answer any of them, that might be a red flag.

9. Sellers: Tailor your local game. Remember that real estate is local and that all markets are different, therefore prices tend to vary. Find out local area trends and statistics as well as recent comparable sales.

10. Sellers and buyers: Heed changing trends. Make sure to pay attention to trends and react to them accordingly.

This article can be found in its original form on MSN Real Estate.


Alabama, the state with the lowest property tax bills in the U.S.

The Northeast was the area with the highest property taxes in 2012. According to a residential property tax study by the Tax Policy Center, property tax bills have been noted for their disparities between states. On average, tax bills for homeowners ranged from around $500 to over $8,000. Since more people are considering all living expenses, including tax bills, in order to save money, AGBeat compiled the following list of states with the lowest property tax bills:

10. Idaho – The mean tax bill paid was $1,273.

9. Delaware – The mean tax bill paid was $1,206.

8. Indiana – The mean tax bill paid was $1,200.

7. Wyoming – The mean tax bill paid was $1,141.

6. Mississippi – The mean tax bill paid was $1,004.

5. Arkansas – The mean tax bill paid was $901.

4. South Carolina – The mean tax bill paid was $858.

3. Louisiana – The mean tax bill paid was $823.

2. West Virginia – The mean tax bill paid was $718.

1. Alabama – The mean tax bill paid was $631.

This post can be found in its original form on AGBeat.

Home for sale in Seattle, Washington, via Househappy

As the housing market slowly heads toward the path of recovery, both real estate professionals and homeowners are becoming more optimistic. However, there are still a few bumps along the way that will need to be solved as the sector struggles to get its footing yet again.

Real estate consultant Scott Muldavin has outlined what he believes the top issues affecting real estate currently are.

Interest rates are cited as the top issue affecting real estate. Since rates were historically low for so long, now that they have been on the rise, capitalization rates are likely to follow, which could make people weary about investing in real estate.

Population ages Muldavin noted because there will be a greater demand for senior housing as the population gets older. This will require a change in size and availability and greater medical care services and facilities.

The capital market resurgence has positively impacted real estate. Credit is less restrictive for the commercial sector and while underwriting remains a challenge for residential markets, affordability still remains high.

Echo boomers represent 80 million Americans, which will provide a high demand in the future for housing. This segment of the population prefers an active urban lifestyle, rely on public transit, and often choose location over size – suburbs are catching up, Muldavin notes, with better mass transit and new bike paths.

Climate change and more extreme weather patterns such as Hurricane Katrina and Sandy will continue to have a strong impact on coastal homes and properties.  In these areas they will have to deal with changes in code and zoning standards as well as paying higher insurance premiums.

Major global events can also impact real estate markets. Such events include acts of terrorism, war, the global debt crisis and economic downturns. Muldavin notes that these need to be considered because their impact is often great.

Natural gas and oil production is on the rise in the U.S. and while it is creating job opportunities it is also contributing to climate change and environmental degradation.

Globalization is another issue cited by Muldavin and how the economies of other countries will continue to have a great impact on the U.S. economy and real estate market.

Technology in the future will continue to impact office spaces. Muldavin said “Many people are replacing physical items with electronics and free or virtual products, such as e-books and smartphones enabled with cameras, GPS and flashlights. This means businesses will continue to require less retail space, so I believe the trend in the future will be for fewer and smaller stores,”

Lastly the impact of the internet on brick-and-mortar retail stores also continues to be a growing issue as the increase in internet sales is expected to double by 2020.

This article appears in its original form on AG Beat


The Federal Housing Finance Agency has announced a new Streamlined Modification Initiative under which mortgage servicers must now offer borrowers who are 3 to 24 months delinquent a plan to help avoid foreclosure. This new initiative differs from previous government plans like the Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP) in that borrowers may be approved without providing proof or documentation of financial hardship.

According to Diane Cipollone, director of the Fair Lending Training Program for the National Fair Housing Alliance, the formula used to calculate the new payment is the same as for standard modifications under Frannie and Freddie.

Though the elimination of paperwork may benefit some, the formula is not based on income and affordability and will not necessarily make a significant financial difference to all borrowers. One category of borrowers likely to benefit from the streamlined program includes anyone who fell behind because of “a big interruption in income or some unexpected expense, and but for the arrears, they’re back on track,” Cipollone said.

This article can be found in its original form on


This summer, and as we head toward Labor Day, real estate inventory is continuing to fly off the shelves across many major markets. Representing buyers in these types of conditions becomes an art form: the initial offering price, how much earnest money to put down, the terms, the re-negotiation during inspection. Each broker has their own way of advising clients on how to make their offer shine in a sea of many. Here are a few of mine:

Tighten up your timelines- The Seller wants to sell. Period. Why not offer to make that happen in a shorter amount of time? If possible, offer to shorten the inspection period down to just a few days. Do you have a cash offer? Lucky you! Shorten the closing date.

Adjust your financing- Depending on your client’s financing situation, there are some effective ways to strengthen your offer. Rather than delve into it here, I read a great article on Active Rain by Craig Blackmon that outlines some interesting ideas on how to strengthen an offer.

Write a cover letter- I have seen this simple, yet effective, technique win the deal many times. Including a short letter from your buyers that details a little about them with the initial offer is key. Even if your offering price is not the highest, the cover letter gives a face to your clients and can overcome the price disparity. Additionally, when negotiating the inspection points, I have found that an honest, fair, and well-worded letter accompanying the requests goes a long way to help both parties reach mutual agreement.

Have your own techniques you would like to share with others? Leave it in the comments!


Robyn Woodman is the head of Househappy Business Development and a regular blog Contributor. For more information about Robyn and her experience as a real estate broker, click here


In a recent blog post, loan officer Dan Green addressed the rising mortgage closing costs nationwide and how to reduce what you’ll owe at closing:

It’s getting more expensive to get a mortgage.

According to’s 2013 Mortgage Closing Cost Survey, today’s typical mortgage applicant pays 6 percent more in origination and third-party fees as compared to 2012. Last year, costs had dropped seven percent.

For today’s home buyers and refinancing households, rising closing costs change the math of getting a mortgage. It’s helps to be prepared, and to know how zero-closing cost mortgages can improve your mortgage shopping.

So what is a mortgage closing cost? 

Mortgage “closing costs” are fees consumers pay to start a new mortgage, and can be grouped into two categories:

  • Organization/lender charges: Any fees paid in conjunction with your loan’s origination including line-items from your settlement statement which may include an application fee, a rate lock fee and/or origination points.
  • Third Party charges: Any fees paid to parties other than your mortgage lender including the costs of your appraisal, the cost of your credit report, and title company settlement costs.

How can I convert my mortgage into a zero closing cost mortgage? 

  • You can pay your costs with cash at closing.
  • You can add your closing costs to your loan balance (for refinances).
  • You can waive your closing costs via a zero-closing cost mortgage.

This post can be found in its original form on The Mortgage Rate