7 Tips To Plan A Spring Yard ‘Tune-Up’ Before Listing A Home For Sale

7 Tips to Plan a Spring Backyard Tune UpThe oft-repeated maxim that there is never a second chance to make a great first impression is especially true when it comes to real estate. Street appeal may focus on a dramatic approach to the front door, but prospective buyers will be especially “wowed” by an appealing back yard.

Early spring is the perfect time to add some new plants, set out pots of blooming flowers and focus on one memorable feature. A little work now will pay big dividends later, in terms of buyer interest, increased showings, quick offers, and even a higher price.

Here are 7 ideas that are cost-effective weekend projects:

  1. Create a focal point: Find an antique garden trellis and plant some vines to create an arbor. Add a piece of sculpture or statuary either in the center of the yard or in a secluded garden spot. Install a “gate to nowhere” and add bright flowers on one side. Paint giant sunflowers on a privacy fence or on the side of a storage shed. 
  2. Build a partial wall or shade trellis: There is little that’s more appealing that an an “outdoor living room.” Accent and define your patio space in an interesting way — use a sisal rug or paint a graphic design on the concrete — and fill the room with appropriate furniture. Add a small fountain or a charcoal fire pit to create a real gathering spot.
  3. Install a simple drip irrigation system: Minimize landscape upkeep by planning DIY drip irrigation that will keep planting areas looking their best. All that’s really needed is some tubing and a few fittings; the system itself can be attached to an outside hose bibb and operated by a simple timer. It’s not necessary to extend the system to the entire lawn; that would be a more costly and time-consuming project perhaps best left to a professional.
  4. Create a dry creek bed: If parts of the yard or garden are plagued by standing water following heavy rain, give drainage an assist by making a dry creek bed. It’s not too difficult and will add function and beauty to the back yard. Add some large boulders or a “Zen bench” to boost the appeal.
  5. Plant or hang solar lights: Define a pathway, highlight planting areas or just add night-time interest to the yard with solar lighting. Buy inexpensive versions at a home store, or order artistic lights from a catalog. They’re fun, functional and portable.
  6. Plant a specialty garden: Attract butterflies and hummingbirds with a patch of wildflowers. Build a small raised garden plot to grow kitchen herbs, or plant seasonal vegetables and edible flowers. Carrots. kale and rainbow chard are especially pretty and don’t take much space. Melons, squash and pumpkins have beautiful flowers and yield great fruit, but they do spread! 
  7. Clean up, trim, weed and mow: Finally, don’t neglect the routine maintenance that is required in every yard, both front and back. Nothing else is as important to prospective buyers as an attractive, well-kept home exterior. 

 

A Mortgage Pre-Approval Can Help You In Your Home Purchase Negotiations

A Mortgage Pre-Approval Can Help You In Your Home Purchase NegotiationsA mortgage pre-qualification is an initial estimate of what type and size of mortgage a borrower could get. It is limited, though, because it’s only based on what the borrower tells the lender, which might not be the same as what the lender finds out when it goes through a full process of analyzing the borrower and his credit.

The Initial Loan Pre-Qualification

To get pre-qualified, a borrower starts by finding a lender. Typically, he will give the lender basic information on his ability to borrow. This includes his income, how much money he has in the bank, his current payments and an estimate of his credit worthiness.

The lender takes the pre-qualification information that he gets and compares it to the loan programs of which he is aware. For instance, if he knows that a borrower doesn’t have a lot to put down, but the borrower mentions that he’s active-duty military, the mortgage lender might offer a VA loan as an option.

Based on the programs he sees and the information the mortgage professional gets from the borrower, he will tell the borrower what kind of mortgage to expect.Typically, this gives the borrower a sense of the likely interest rate and of the loan amount he can borrow. Generally, this is enough to let a borrower start looking at real estate listings with a realistic sense of what will be affordable.

The Power of A Mortgage Pre-Approval

When it comes time to start writing offers, though, a mortgage pre-qualification might not be enough. A pre-qualification is missing one important factor — underwriting the borrower’s income and credit.

When a borrower goes beyond a pre-qualification to get a mortgage pre-approval, he submits his credit for the lender to check. That way, his qualifications get confirmed and the lender can issue a more binding letter that not only lets him know what he can afford but also lets him show a seller that he is truly qualified to get a loan.

With that letter, his offer may be viewed as stronger and he can be more likely to get the ability to buy the house he wants.  Talk with your trusted mortgage professional to discuss your options before looking at homes.  It may very likely give you a bit more purchasing leverage.

5 Tips For Prospective Buyers To Submit A Winning Offer

5 Tips For Prospective Buyers To Submit A Winning OfferIn a hot real estate market, agents often tell buyers they must expect to make multiple offers before one is accepted. Disappointment may be the new normal rather than an exception. The stress of repeated rejections isn’t easy, so be prepared.

Significant numbers of first-time buyers find the process difficult, and recent research indicates that about 60 percent of Millennials choose to rent rather than own, delaying other important life decisions, including marriage and family. 

There are, however, at least 5 ways to strengthen your buyer profile and give yourself an advantage: 

Check Your Credit

Take advantage of the free credit checks offered by the three credit reporting agencies, and clean up any questionable entries. At the very least, be prepared to offer clear and cogent reasons for any late payments that appear within the last couple of years. Pay down credit card balances and student loan debt as much as possible, and assure that your employment record is stable. 

Sock Away Some Cash

Try to delay your home search until you have enough money for a reasonable down payment and required closing costs, plus a comfortable nest egg or contingency fund. Demonstrate a consistent savings habit. If you plan to borrow the down payment from parents or other family members, be certain it will be adequate and available when you need it.

Talk With Your Loan Officer

Get a definitive idea of how much you can comfortably afford. If you’re a veteran or qualify for other special loan programs, find out in advance. Gain a comfort level with a lender, and listen to the advice that is offered. Interest rates are currently still low, but any rate change will affect the amount you can borrow. Limit your home search homes priced lower than your loan limit.

The only thing better than a pre-qualification letter is approval confirmation for a specific loan amount. In a fast-paced real estate market, seek that pre-approval, so that you’ll be able to move quickly when you find the right property. A pre-approved loan, an offer with no contingencies, and a quick closing date are the marks of an “A-list” buyer.

Define Your Needs

Know your preferred neighborhoods, and prepare a list of “must have” items as well as a wish list to guide your search. But be realistic. Know that home-buying is a matter of priorities and a game of give and take.

Look at a home’s structure and condition; consider the location, and realize that there is no such thing as the perfect house. Know that tired style can be updated, and decor changes are relatively easy on the pocketbook.  

Make the First Offer Your Best Offer

In a seller’s market, it’s wise to make the initial offer your best offer. A lowball bid will not impress the seller, and you may never get a chance to submit a higher bid. When there is serious competition for homes, it pays to be serious about every offer. 

Finally, know that if you’re persistent and prepared, you will find a home to suit you. Practice patience!

Over 5 Trillion Dollars In Home Equity May Lead To More Cash Out Transactions

Over 5 Trillion Dollars In Home Equity May Lead To More Cash Out TransactionsUS homeowners now have over 5 trillion dollars in home equity which is a very large amount of money! So this year may be the year for a lot of cash out refinances and other home equity mortgage products. Most often, when you are purchasing a home, you are buying at or below the appraised value and you are making a down payment.

The good news is this means you have “instant equity” in your home. And over time you build more equity as you make your monthly mortgage payments as well as any potential home price appreciation.

This build up of equity gets some homeowners thinking about taking cash-out from your home to pay off credit card bills, purchase a car or pay for college expenses. However, it is important understand, there are rules as to what can and can’t be done.

Cash out refinance, equity loan or second mortgage

There are three basic ways to access the equity in your home which are common these include:

  • Cash out refinance – you refinance your current mortgage and you request cash-out for the equity. For example, if your home is worth $200,000 and you have a current mortgage of $100,000 you may be able to access an additional $60,000 to $70,000 in cash depending on your lenders requirements
  • Home equity loan – a home equity loan is typically a line of credit that you take out with your local bank. These loans are typically what are known as “revolving” where you can access the funds over and over again as you make payments. Home equity loan interest payments are not tax deductible after the recent tax reform plan
  • Second mortgage – in order to qualify for a second mortgage on your home, the lender would require you to meet specific credit requirements as well as certain debt-to-income ratios. 

In most cases, lenders will require borrowers to have had their mortgage at least one year before they are allowed the option of any type of cash-out refinance. However, Ginnie Mae (GNMA), the investor for FHA and VA home loans allow cash out transactions after 6 monthly payments and a minimum of 210 days in the home.

While you may already have a substantial amount of equity in your home, lenders are taking an additional risk if you are allowed to “tap into” that equity. Before you make the decision to access the equity, talk to your trusted mortgage professional regarding possible restrictions.

What’s Ahead For Mortgage Rates This Week – March 26th, 2018

What’s Ahead For Mortgage Rates This Week – March 26th, 2018Last week’s economic releases included readings on new and pre-owned home sales and the Federal Open Market Committee’s customary post meeting statement. Fed Chair Jerome Powell gave his first press conference as Chair of the Federal Reserve and FOMC. Weekly readings on mortgage rates and first-time jobless claims were also released.

February Sales of Pre-Owned Homes Exceed Expectations, New Home Sales Fall Short

Sales of previously-owned homes exceeded expectations at a seasonally-adjusted annual rate of 5.54 million sales. Analysts expected a rate of 5.40 million sales based on January’s reading of 5.38 million sales.

Lawrence Yun, National Association of Realtors® Chief Economist, said that low inventories of available homes continued to impact rising home prices. Mr. Yun said that he did not expect any let-up on home price growth. February’s inventory of available homes slipped to a 3.4 months supply; a six-months supply of homes for sale is considered average and an indication of healthy housing markets.

Mr. Yun said that he may adjust forecasts for home price growth. First-time buyers are being squeezed out of housing markets due to rapidly rising home prices. The average price for a home was $241,700 in February. First-time buyer participation dropped to 29 percent of buyers as compared to an average of approximately 40 percent.

Regional sales of pre-owned homes were mixed. Sales in the Northeast dipped 12.30 percent; Midwest sales dipped by 2.40 percent. The South posted 6.60 percent growth in home sales, and the West reported 11.40 percent growth in home sales year-over-year.

Sales of new homes dipped in February.to 618,000 sales as compared to expectations of 630,000 sales and January’s reading of 622,000 sales of new homes. Combined effects of seasonal weather and homebuyer concerns over rising mortgage rates and home prices likely contributed to the drop in new home sales.

FOMC Raises Key Rate, New Fed Chair Sees Stronger Economy

The Federal Reserve’s Federal Open Market Committee raised the target federal funds rate to a range of 1.50 -1.75 percent, a move that was widely expected. Fed Chair Jerome Powell indicated that the Fed would continue a modest pace of raising rates in 2018 but indicated a more aggressive pace for raising rates may be appropriate in 2019.

Federal Reserve analysts predicted eight rate hikes between 2018 and the end of 2020; this estimate includes that last three rate increases. Wednesday’s rate hike was the sixth quarter-point rate hike since December 2015.

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell gave his first press conference as Fed Chair after the FOMC post-meeting statement. He indicated he is not fearful of inflation overheating and said that he would protect recent tax cuts.

Mortgage Rates, New Jobless Claims Rise

Freddie Mac reported that mortgage rates ticked up by one basis for all three types of mortgages it tracks. The average rate for a 30-year fixed rate mortgage was 4.45 percent; the rate for a 15-year fixed rate mortgage averaged 3.91 percent and the average rate for a 5/1 adjustable rate mortgage was 3.68 percent. Discount points averaged 0.50 percent for fixed rate mortgages and 0.40 percent for 5/1 adjustable rate mortgages.

New jobless claims rose last week to 229,000 new claims filed as compared to an expected reading of 225,000 new claims and the prior week’s reading of 226,000 new jobless claims filed. Analysts noted that winter readings for jobless claims can be unpredictable and don’t indicate weakening job markets.

Whats Ahead

This week’s scheduled economic releases include readings from Case-Shiller on home prices, readings on pending home sales and weekly reports on mortgage rates and new jobless claims.

6 Top Trending Green Features To Consider When Remodeling

6 Top Trending Green FeaturesSustainable materials, energy savings and smart home technology are high on the list of buyer wants in a home. But there are some other architectural and design trends that will change the way Americans live this year and beyond.

When planning a remodel, it pays to pay attention to green features, as well as to improved floor plans that will make a home more comfortable, more appealing and more functional. 

Here’s a list of what’s hot right now:

Natural and Sustainable Materials

Eco-consciousness and concerns about individual health and wellness prompted a return to natural woods and stone, as well as organic forms and living greenery. All are prominently featured in today’s show houses and and on design shows. For both residential and commercial design, there is renewed emphasis on the importance of natural light, views, air quality and open space as elements that affect not only mood and function but also health and well being.

Reclaimed and Recycled Products

No matter what the design or decor, there is a way to incorporate previously used materials. Recycled plastic is commonly used for roofing tiles, carpet, insulation, composite lumber and decking material, decorative trim and landscaping rocks. Reclaimed beams, distressed wood flooring, stunning countertops fabricated from recycled glass, wood chips and even cardboard, are only a few trendy possibilities. For a planned remodel, be sure to investigate what’s available, including “repurposing” used building materials like old windows, vintage gates or antique furniture.

LEED Certified Construction

Resource conservation and energy-savings are a way of life and worthy of attention. In some ways, Europe and Asia lead the U.S. in terms of conservation, but one way to assure that new homes are built to a certain standard is to insist on LEED certification, which stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. It’s a compliance and rating system for both residential and commercial construction that is recognized internationally.

Energy-Star Rated Appliances, Systems, Fixtures and Fittings

It would be difficult today to buy a new appliance or furnace that is not energy-efficient. But in an older home, even if existing appliances, faucets and fixtures, heating and cooling systems are still operational, it might be wise to consider replacing them. Sometimes the savings on monthly water and electricity alone makes financial sense. And new replacements always add to a home’s appraised value.

Rooftop Solar Panels

There is ample evidence that buyers will pay a premium for solar homes. Although the initial investment is relatively high, an owner will benefit from an immediate reduction in energy cost, and the added property value might make such an investment worthwhile.  

Smart Home Technology and Home Automation

Buyers today almost universally want a wireless security system and some form of programmable temperature control. Additional smart home features high on the list of consumer wants include lighting controls, wireless hubs that integrate entertainment and convenience features, and trendy apps that allow control of home functions via smart phone, whether from across the block or across the globe. 

Owners who are motivated to sell will look to these buyer wants in order to be competitive in today’s hot real estate market.

What Changes Occurred In FHA And FNMA Rules During 2018?

What Changes Occurred In FHA And FNMA Rules During 2018?

The FNMA HomeReady Program

Those who are involved in the mortgage industry must keep updated on changes to FHA, and Fannie Mae (FNMA) loans. Since loan limits and other changes are often made annually, keeping up with these changes helps make sure consumers get the right information at the time of their application.

Many of the changes for 2018 are modest, but still impact existing, and new homeowners.

Changes To Loan Limit Amounts

FHA loan limits change on an annual basis as per the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008. Using this, the FHA is required to base the insured mortgage amounts on 115 percent of median housing prices by county.  While many counties in the United States did not see changes this year, 3,011 counties saw a change for loan applications submitted after January 1, 2018. These changes mean the upper loan limits in higher-priced markets increases to $679,650 and the lower limits are $294,515. These limits are for new home purchases and for refinancing existing FHA loans.

Another significant change which must be considered is what FHA or FNMA considers a conforming loan. In prior years, this amount was $424,100, it has now been increased to $453,100. This is important because for many homeowners, jumbo mortgages seem out of reach.

Changes To Down Payment Requirements

While FNMA did have a minimum requirement for down payment at five percent, FNMA and Freddie Mac are both offering three percent down payment programs in 2018. It is important to be aware that FNMA limits this program to those borrowers who intend to use the home as their primary residence. The following conditions must be met to qualify for the 97 percent loan to value program:

  • The mortgage securing the property must be at a fixed rate
  • The property must be a co-op, PUD, condo or other one-unit home.
  • The property cannot be a manufactured home
  • The borrower must intend to occupy the property as their primary residence
  • One of the buyers cannot have owned a home in the last three years
  • Loans must be equal to or less than $453,100
  • Borrower’s credit score should be 620 or higher

FHA loans do require borrower to put down a minimum of 3.5 percent of their new mortgage. However, the also offer greater flexibility with credit requiring borrowers have a credit score of 580 and further allows the entire down payment to be gifted to the buyer. Borrowers with credit scores between 500 and 579 who can put down 10 percent are eligible for FHA mortgages.

Another important program FNMA offers is for first-time buyers. Specifically, the idea was to make owning a home easier for a larger market of buyers. This program offers some flexibility that standard FNMA loans do not offer including:

  • Lower private mortgage insurance (PMI) rates
  • 100 percent gifted down payments and closing costs
  • 97 percent loan to value
  • Co-borrower income may be used to qualify for a loan
  • Household member income may be included, even if not a borrower
  • Rental income and/or boarder income may help a borrower qualify
  • Borrowers must complete a home buyer’s education course

These changes are significant for many borrowers and include some flexibility with income limits. Borrowers living in low-income areas face no maximum income limits. Borrowers in other areas cannot exceed 100 percent of the median income for the area.

Do Not Overlook FHA Streamline Refinance

Borrowers who have an existing FHA loan can take advantage of this program. Borrowers who changed jobs, have faced credit issues, or who have homes who lost some value may be able to refinance their home into a lower interest rate, or eliminate mortgage insurance premiums. To qualify, borrowers must be current on their mortgage payments, cannot have been late on their mortgage payments more than 30 days in 12 months, and have had their current mortgage for a minimum of 210 days. Because of this seasoning requirement, borrowers must have made six mortgage payments at the time of the refinancing.

Thanks to the flexibility of this program, borrowers need not worry about income verification, appraisals, or credit score. The refinance terms must benefit the borrower in a tangible way. For example, a borrower who currently has a six percent adjustable mortgage and now qualifies for a six percent fixed rate mortgage can demonstrate a tangible gain. Therefore, assuming they meet the other requirements, their mortgage would qualify for the streamline finance. For many borrowers, this could help significantly, particularly if their home has lost value, or they have suffered a temporary decrease in their income.

Mortgage programs change frequently making it imperative to verify all program requirements before presenting them to borrowers. Fortunately, FNMA and FHA are making home ownership attainable for more borrowers than ever before thanks to more flexible down payment options, credit scoring changes and increased loan limits.