Unpacking is part of the buying process

unpacking tips
Unpacking tips (infographic from visual.ly)

People don’t really give it much thought until they’ve already moved.  Maybe that’s the reason for a lack of information and guidance about unpacking.  I estimate that for every six articles about packing and moving, there’s probably one about unpacking.  And like buying a home and moving; there should be more thought to unpacking because it’s the first activity that makes your new digs feel like home.

Unlike packing for a move and decluttering, unpacking seems to get left out of the home buying process.  Many believe that you instinctively come home after settlement (or signing a lease) and just unload all the boxes and just begin living as you did in your previous home.  But the reality is that unpacking can be just as, if not more, overwhelming than the move itself.   And this applies to whether you’ve hired a moving company or concierge service to unpack for you, or you do it on your own.

That’s correct, you can hire someone to unpack for you.  However, just like packing house, it can get expensive.  Of course, charges vary.  However, if this is the way you decide to go – get multiple estimates from insured and bonded companies.  Once the service unpacks for you, consider taking the time to review where they stored items.  This will save you time later when you need to find something in a hurry.

Unpacking a house on your own may seem overwhelming (even with the help of friends), but don’t give in to procrastination.  Extreme procrastination can lead you to living out of moving boxes for a prolonged period.  Instead, make a simple unpacking plan and prioritize.  Although the chore of unpacking seems to be the physical aspect of unloading boxes; there can be an emotional drain of deciding where to best place and store items.

When packing your previous home, you most likely packed each room and labeled each moving box for their destination room.  And although unpacking each room in sequence may seem logical, you most likely won’t get it all done in one day.  The result can leave you frantically digging through boxes searching for items you use on a daily basis.

To avoid this trap, consider unpacking essential items first.  Having the essentials put away first will help you feel as if there is continuity.  You will find it easier going about your daily routine without disruption – even if you don’t unpack all the boxes.  Of course, it helps if you’ve marked the boxes containing essential items when you packed.  However, if you didn’t, that’s ok too.

If you’ve unpacked the essentials first, you’ll notice that you’ve become aware of the available storage spaces.  As a result, you’ve set the tone for each room, and the entire unpacking process becomes easier.  You’ll be able to go through your room priority list quicker and get through storing items where they belong with less deliberation and angst.

When unpacking essentials, focus on the kitchen and bathrooms first.  Chances are that you will need to use these rooms throughout the day as you unpack.  Then go through your priority list of rooms, unpacking the essentials.

Once the essentials are put away, you may feel at ease and in control.  You can then unpack rooms in sequence or as prioritized.  You may also decide to go through the remaining boxes at a leisurely pace.

Copyright © Dan Krell
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Disclaimer. This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. Readers should not rely solely on the information contained herein, as it does not purport to be comprehensive or render specific advice. Readers should consult with an attorney regarding local real estate laws and customs as they vary by state and jurisdiction. Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws.

Make housing great again

make housing great again
“Dodd-Frank Has Imposed Regulatory Costs of $310 Per Household” (infographic from americanactionforum.org)

When President Trump was campaigning, one of his talking points was to “dismantle” Dodd-Frank.  And after a couple of weeks in office, it seems that it’s next on his “to do” list.  While many are already touting the move as controversial and partisan, the reality is that it’s a bipartisan issue.  Even Barney Frank was seen on CNBC this past Sunday admitting that his namesake legislation needs reform (video.cnbc.com/gallery/?video=3000590611).  Reforming Dodd-Frank will make housing great again.

Dodd-Frank is the nickname for Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010.  The purpose, as described in its title, was to “To promote the financial stability of the United States by improving accountability and transparency in the financial system, to end ‘too big to fail’, to protect the American taxpayer by ending bailouts, to protect consumers from abusive financial services practices, and for other purposes.

Dodd-Frank changed the housing industry dramatically.  Besides altering the process of financing and buying homes, critics have claimed that the legislation has also restricted lending.

Dodd-Frank created the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau; which creates and enforces rules and regulations for consumer financial markets.  Besides adding new home buyer and seller disclosures as well as timelines, the “Know Before You Owe” rule changed the home buying process by creating a new level of bureaucracy embedded within the mortgage lending process.

Many critics of the CFPB also claim that it has too much power with little oversight, and point to last year’s Appellate opinion on PHH Corp v. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau as confirmation for necessary reforms., where Judge Kavanaugh wrote:

“…the Director of the CFPB possesses enormous power over American business, American consumers, and the overall U.S. economy. The Director unilaterally enforces 19 federal consumer protection statutes, covering everything from home finance to student loans to credit cards to banking practices. The Director alone decides what rules to issue; how to enforce, when to enforce, and against whom to enforce the law; and what sanctions and penalties to impose on violators of the law…That combination of power that is massive in scope, concentrated in a single person, and unaccountable to the President triggers the important constitutional question at issue in this case.”

One of the unintended consequences of Dodd-Frank was the restricted lending atmosphere in the mortgage industry.  Besides the overwhelming increase in rules and regulations as a result of Dodd-Frank, there has also been insufficient private portfolio and securitization of mortgages; which further limits access of funding to many home buyers.

Prior to the financial crisis, private mortgage securitization was prevalent; which provided a multitude of lending products, including “Alt-A” and subprime.  The wide access to private mortgage funding contributed to the homeownership rate to peak close to 70 percent (The most recent homeownership rate reported by the US Census was 63.7 percent, a forty year low).  Since the crisis, a majority (estimates were as high as 95 percent) of mortgages are insured or purchased by the government.

Before the financial crisis, Alt-A and subprime mortgages were widely available to give home buyers options to finance their homes, especially when they didn’t fit the underwriting guidelines for a conventional loan.  Many of these home buyers were self-employed or small business owners, whose financial picture was outside of the box of the requirements for a conventional mortgage.

Of course, FHA is an alternative to conventional mortgages.  FHA has lenient underwriting guidelines, like subprime mortgages; but is insured by the government.  However, the upfront and annual mortgage insurance premiums can be hefty.  Alt-A and subprime can seem more attractive when purchasing a home beyond the FHA loan limits, and/or when documentation becomes onerous.

Back in 2001, Federal Reserve Board Economist Liz Laderman wrote about the growth of subprime through the 1990’s (Subprime Mortgage Lending and the Capital Markets; FRBSF Economic Letter; December 28, 2001).

“An increase in access to the capital markets through loan securitization also contributed to growth in subprime lending in the 1990s. Securitization is the repackaging, pooling, and reselling of loans to investors as securities. It increases liquidity and funding to an industry both by reducing risk—through pooling—and by more efficiently allocating risk to the investors most willing to bear it. Investors had already become comfortable with securitized prime mortgage loans, and subprime mortgage loans were among various other types of credit, such as multifamily residential mortgage loans, automobile loans, and manufactured home loans, that began to be securitized in the 1990s. Through securitization, the subprime mortgage market strengthened its links with the broader capital markets, thereby increasing the flow of funds into the market and encouraging competition.”

Of course, Dr. Laderman also points out that the increased competition in the subprime market was a concern due to reported abusive lending practices.  However, she concluded:

“…subprime mortgage lending grew rapidly in the 1990s to become an important segment of both the home purchase and home equity mortgage markets. Evidence pertaining to securitization and pricing of subprime mortgages also suggests that the subprime market has become well linked with the broader capital markets, an important first step in the development of a fully competitive environment.”

A 2006 article by Souphala Chomsisengphet and Anthony Pennington-Cross (The Evolution of the Subprime Mortgage Market; Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis Review; Vol. 88, No. 1) described the history of subprime mortgages.  The authors stated:

“..Because of its complicated nature, subprime
lending is simultaneously viewed as having great
promise and great peril…”

Through it’s history, subprime lending has had crises where this lending sector took pauses to reflect on missteps.  Chomsisengphet and Pennington-Cross described a “retrenchment” of subprime lending in the late 1990’s; but during that time, the facts point to huge losses in the subprime sector due to seemingly rampant illegal flipping and fraud.

Private mortgage funding isn’t entirely Alt-A or subprime mortgages, although there’s a place for responsible Alt-A and subprime lending.  Prior to the growth in securitizing these types of mortgages, banks and financial institutions privately held (portfolio) these loans which increased their institutional risk and provided incentive for originating performing loans.

How can Dodd-Frank be reformed?  One only has to look back to the S&L crisis of the 1980’s and listen to William K. Black.  Black was the Director of Litigation for the Federal Home Loan Bank Board in the aftermath of the S&L crisis.  His conclusions included a list of “Lessons not Learned.”  The focus of his list was fraud and ethics.  Black discussed curbing “control fraud” (fraud perpetrated by CEOs as well as those who are in power) and other types of fraud.  He wrote The Best Way to Rob a Bank is to Own One: How Corporate Executives and Politicians Looted the S&L Industry  first published in 2005, but was recently updated.

Not surprisingly, Mr. Black reemerged after the financial crisis to provide testimony to Congress, including testimony in 2010 to the Committee on Financial Services United States House of Representatives regarding “Public Policy Issues Raised by the Report of the Lehman Bankruptcy Examiner.”  In a 2010 interview with Bill Moyers (pbs.org/moyers/journal/04232010/transcript1.html), Black discussed CDO’s (collateralized debt obligations), fraud, and their role in the recent crisis.  And although many, including the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, cited failures in the financial system as cause for the financial crisis; they all fall short in seeing William K. Black’s “control fraud” in action – Fraud was the vehicle that drove the unrelenting greed in the CDO and mortgage markets.

With regard to housing, there is much potential for reform within Dodd-Frank.  However, maybe begin with SEC. 941 “Regulation Of Credit Risk Retention” of Dodd-Frank.  SEC.941 requires a securitizer of residential mortgages to have skin in the game by retaining some of the risk of any asset or mortgage backed security that is sold, transferred, or conveyed.  Additionally, the securitizer is prohibited from hedging or transferring their credit risk.  Exceptions to this section include federal programs insuring or guaranteeing mortgages; which includes FHA and VA mortgages, as well as mortgages from institutions supervised by the Farm Credit Administration (including the Federal Agricultural Mortgage Corporation).  However, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are not exempt.

The President can make housing great again by incentivising private investment in the mortgage industry either through increasing portfolio and/or private securitization in the mortgage markets – along with reducing fraud (and control fraud) while ensuring responsible lending practices.  Private investment in mortgage funding will open the doors for many home buyers and increase homeownership rates.

Copyright © Dan Krell
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Home sale neuromarketing

home sale neuromarketing
Home sale neuromarketing (infographic from grow3.com)

If you’re selling a home this year, you most likely have read all you can about staging and selling your home. But now there’s new data to show a better way of home sale marketing and get home buyers to your sale, and have them stay for longer periods of time when they visit!  Get ready to deploy home sale neuromarketing!

Neuromarketing is consumer behavior studies that applies neuroscience to describe and predict how consumers will react to specific stimuli.  Compared to standard consumer research, that solely collects consumer data via questionnaire, asking preferences and attitudes; neuromarketing research also collects neurological data via electroencephalographs (EEG) and electronic imaging (MRI, CAP, PET).  The data is used to understand why consumers make certain decisions.  The application of neuromarketing is used in eliciting specific reactions to guide consumers in making a decision.  “Home sale neuromarketing” is implementing those techniques when selling your home.

The Neuromarketing Science & Business Association describes neuromarketing as:

…the use of modern brain science to measure the impact of marketing and advertising on consumers. Neuromarketing techniques are based on scientific principles about how humans really think and decide, which involves brain processes that our conscious minds aren’t aware of.

Neuromarketing studies which emotions are relevant in human decision making and uses this knowledge to improve marketing’s effectiveness. The knowledge is applied in product design, enhancing promotions and advertising, pricing, store design and the improving the consumer experience in a whole.

The field is on the intersection of marketing, neuro-economics, neuroscience, consumer neuroscience and cognitive psychology.

In her 2010 article for CRM Magazine (Are You Smarter Than a Neuromarketer? Companies have always aimed for the customer’s heart, but the head may make a better target; destinationcrm.com) Jessica Tsai explained the importance of neuromarketing through an interview with neuromarketing expert Martin Lindstrom.  In real estate, there’s a saying “buyers are liars…”  However Lindstrom told Tsai that consumers don’t intentionally lie; but don’t tell the truth because “they are unaware.”  Neuromarketing gets through how buyers decide they need to act, and records actual neurological responses from the brain.

Real estate agents often advise their clients in preparing and marketing a home for sale by suggesting pseudo-scientific “rules of thumb.”  For instance, many real estate agents advise their clients about colors schemes and home staging citing specific anecdotes. However, consumer research on home sales have contradicted much of the commonly accepted advice.  Take for example the notion that home staging can make your home sell for money.  Research conducted by Lane, Seiler, and Seiler (2015. The impact of staging conditions on residential real estate demand. Journal of Housing Research, 24:1; 21-35) concluded that home staging is not a factor in getting a higher sale price.

Neuromarketing research also contradicts some of the standard Realtor advice, and provides insight in how to better market your home.

A 1995 study by Mitchell, Kahn and Knasko (There’s Something in the Air: Effects of Congruent or Incongruent Ambient Odor on Consumer Decision Making; Journal of Consumer Research; 22, 229-238) clarified how scents affect buying decisions.  Past studies concluded that pleasant odors did not entice consumers to buy, although increased lingering.  However, their research demonstrated odors actually increase buying behavior – but the odor has to be congruent with the object being sold.  So, rather than filling your home with various aromas by baking cookies (which makes buyers hungry) and using heavy scented air fresheners – focus on “fresh and clean” odors.  Fresh and clean elicits a relaxation response which can be beneficial to the decision making process.

Home sale neuromarketing can also guide you in using color schemes and sounds to evoke positive emotions from home buyers that can help sell your home faster.

When it comes to color schemes and a home sale, stay away from trendy.  Instead focus on schemes that grab a buyer’s attention but also evoke feelings of trust and relaxation.  Roger Dooley (author of Brainfluence: 100 Ways to Persuade and Convince Consumers with Neuromarketing) has talked about using colors to affect how buyers think and feel.  The use of bold colors isn’t necessary to grab attention, but rather subtle hues of color schemes are enough to get home buyers to feel comfortable as well as envisioning themselves living in your home.  Your agent’s clothing can make a difference too.  He stated that, “…new research suggests that one clothing color could work better than others across the spectrum of sales situations….”

Neuromarketing research also has shown that background noises can influence perceptions and mood.  Soothing music and or sounds may influence how a buyer perceives time, and may induce them to stay longer.  Besides music, consider white-noise or other subtle soothing sounds that can fill the background while home buyers are viewing your home.

If you are implementing home sale neuromarketing techniques when preparing and selling your home, consider focusing on more than one sense modality.  Recent research by Hagtvedt and Brasel (2016. Cross-Modal Communication: Sound Frequency Influences Consumer Responses to Color Lightness. Journal Of Marketing Research, 53:4, 551-562) has demonstrated that cross modality marketing (using odor, color, and sound) is exponentially more powerful in creating emotion than just focusing on one sense modality.

Copyright © Dan Krell
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Disclaimer. This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. Readers should not rely solely on the information contained herein, as it does not purport to be comprehensive or render specific advice. Readers should consult with an attorney regarding local real estate laws and customs as they vary by state and jurisdiction. Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws.

FHA mortgage insurance premium facts

FHA mortgage insurance premium facts
FHA mortgage insurance premium (infographic from www.heritage.org)

There’s been a lot of reporting on FHA mortgages lately, creating some confusion.  Of course I’m referring to the controversy surrounding FHA’s annual mortgage insurance premium (also known as MIP).  Many were surprised to hear that one of the outgoing directives of the Obama administration was to lower the FHA MIP.  And, eleven days later, many were just as surprised to hear that the new Trump administration reversed that directive.  So what are the FHA Mortgage Insurance Premium Facts?

FHA Mortgage Insurance Premium Facts

Mortgagee Letter 2017-01, dated January 9, 2017 described revisions to the annual MIP for “certain” FHA loans.  The effective date of the revisions was to be January 27th.  Meaning, that FHA mortgages that closed and/or disbursed on or after January 27th would have had the lower MIP.  Although the general reporting was that borrowers would save an average of $500 per year (an average of about $41 per month), the actual savings would have depended on the amount borrowed, term of loan and loan-to-value (percentage of loan amount to home value).

Additionally, the lower MIP would have been on new loans that were to have been disbursed (closed) on or after January 27th.  Contrary to some reporting (and more reporting and more reporting) and social media postings, existing FHA loans would not have benefited from the lowered the MIP.  Also, the reduction was suspended before the effective date, so MIP did not increase for new mortgages.

The rational stated in Mortgagee Letter 2017-01 (Purpose and Background sections) for the lower MIP was that FHA has met the obligation to its Mutual Mortgage Insurance Fund (MMIF).  The MMIF covers lender losses on FHA mortgages.  Historically, HUD has adjusted the MIP (by increasing or decreasing MIP) as needed to meet the MMIF mandated requirements.  HUD’s last FHA MIP reduction occurred in 2015.  The November 15, 2016 Federal Housing Administration Annual Report to Congress reported that the MMIF increased from the previous year and the Fund’s capital ratio was 2.32 percent (above the 2 percent minimum capital reserve requirement).  The Report did not signal any impending reduction to the MIP this year.

Some have pointed to budget juggling and over projecting to make the MMIF appear solvent.  Consider that the MMIF pre-crisis reserve ratio was well above the minimum 2 percent but needed about $1.7 billion to replenish reserves after the crisis.  When the FHA MIP was reduced in 2015, many testified to congress about the potential risks.  Douglas Holtz-Eakin, President of the American Action Forum provided such testimony February 26, 2015 to the United States House of Representatives Committee on Financial Services Subcommittee on Housing and Insurance “The Future of Housing in America: Oversight of the Federal Housing Administration, Part II.”  Holtz-Eakin provided data stating:

Adding to concern surrounding premium reductions, FHA’s recent history has been plagued by missed projections. These missed projections enhance the perception that FHA downplays risks borne by taxpayers and cast doubt on the assumption that FHA will continually improve as projected despite cutting annual premiums. Since FY 2009, FHA’s capital ratio has been below the 2 percent minimum mandated by Congress. FHA has repeatedly projected marked improvement only to miss its targets…
In every actuarial review since 2003, the economic value of FHA’s MMIF has come in lower than what was projected the previous year …While FHA has in the past pointed to programs like home equity conversion mortgages (HECM) or the prevalence of seller-funded down payment assistance for losses greater than anticipated, erroneous economic assumptions and volume forecasts are more frequently to blame.
Following the dramatic fall in FHA’s economic value shown in Table 1, legislative attempts to reform FHA in the last Congress would have raised its mandated capital ratio even higher. Reform proposals have included a new capital ratio of either 3 percent or 4 percent, levels FHA’s MMIF is not expected to reach until 2018 and 2019 respectively before factoring in the effects of premium reductions.  FHA’s capital buffer is meant to protect taxpayers in an economic downturn while preserving FHA’s ability to fulfill its mission; its restoration is critical. Furthermore, many rightly worry that FHA’s current economic value is overstated due to the influx of money from major mortgage‐related legal settlements and the one-time appropriation of $1.7 billion from the Treasury Department ..

An example of budgetary juggling is hinted by HUD Secretary Julián Castro in his July 13, 2016 oral testimony to the U.S. House Committee on Financial Services Hearing on “HUD Accountability.”  In his statement earlier this year, he attributed the health of FHA’s MMIF to HUD’s Distressed Asset Stabilization Program (The DASP was put into place to help troubled home owners who were at risk of default, as well as dealing with delinquent and defaulted mortgages):

“…And when you consider that DASP has contributed more than $2 billion to the MMI Fund above what would’ve otherwise been collected, it’s clear this innovative program is a significant reason why the Fund’s capital reserve ratio is now above its 2 percent requirement.”

Of course, changes to DASP would most likely reduce contributions to the MMIF.  A HUD press release outlines those changes (FHA Announces Most Significant Improvements to Date for Distressed Notes Sales Program; June 30, 2016):

In addition, FHA’s latest enhancements prohibit investors from abandoning low-value properties in high-foreclosure neighborhoods to prevent blight. FHA is also offering greater opportunity for non-profit organizations, local governments and other governmental entities to participate in DASP. Loans are not eligible to be sold through DASP unless and until all FHA loss mitigation efforts are exhausted. On average, mortgages sold through this sales program are 29 months delinquent at the time of the auction.

FHA is supposed to be self-funded through its MMIF.  Suspending the MIP reduction may be to assure the longevity of FHA to future home buyers.  In suspending the MIP reduction, Mortgagee Letter 2017-07 stated (Background section): “FHA is committed to ensuring its mortgage insurance programs remains viable and effective in the long term for all parties involved, especially our taxpayers. As such, more analysis and research are deemed necessary to assess future adjustments while also considering potential market conditions …

Copyright © Dan Krell
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Disclaimer. This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. Readers should not rely solely on the information contained herein, as it does not purport to be comprehensive or render specific advice. Readers should consult with an attorney regarding local real estate laws and customs as they vary by state and jurisdiction. Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws.

Real estate legislation 2017

real estate legislation
Real Estate Legislation (infographic from thehatchergroup.com)

We are only two weeks into the New Year, but the Maryland General Assembly has been busy.  They have already introduced real estate legislation that affect home owners, buyers, renters, and landlords Surely there will be more real estate legislation proposed through the legislative session. Because these bills have a way to go before they are signed into law, you have an opportunity to voice your opinions to your State Representatives.

If you have a green thumb or you just like gardens, then Senate Bill 62 Real Property –Backyard Gardens–Prohibition on Restrictions should grab your attention.  If you live in a single family home or townhouse, the bill provides for your right to have a backyard garden.  The bill states “A contract, a deed, a covenant, a restriction, an instrument, a declaration, a rule, a bylaw, a lease agreement, a rental agreement, or any other document may not prohibit a homeowner or tenant from installing or cultivating a backyard garden on single–family property.

If you’re one of the many military personnel who rent in the area, pay attention to Senate Bill 49 Landlord and Tenant – Military Personnel – Limitation on Liability for Rent.  The bill clarifies circumstances where active duty personnel and their spouses have limited liabilities on their leases.  The statute previously refers to “change of station orders.”  However, the bill clarifies “change of assignment” to include: “Permanent change of station orders; temporary duty orders for a period exceeding 90 days; orders requiring a person to move into quarters located on a military installation; and a release from active duty, including: retirement, separation or discharge under honorable conditions; and demobilization of an activated reservist or a member of the national guard who was serving on active duty orders for at least 180 consecutive days.”

If you live in a Common Ownership Community (co-op, condo or homeowners’ association), consider these three bills (real estate legislation):

House Bill 34 amends the Maryland Homeowners Association Act by allowing a homeowners’ association to charge “a reasonable fee not to exceed $100” to inspect your lot before you sell it.  The lot may or may not have a home on it.  Your homeowners’ association may require a presale inspection of the exterior of your home as part of the process of preparing resale disclosures and documents.  Many HOA’s already conduct an exterior inspection of homes before a sale, alerting the seller and/or the buyer of deficiencies that need to be corrected, so as to ensure the home complies with the association’s rules and covenants.

House Bill 41 requires common ownership communities to register with the State Department of Assessments and Taxation.  The annual registration is to include the names and contact information of board members and property managers.  Although the information may be useful to those who are renting or considering to purchase within a common ownership community, the bill indicates the registry is not a public record.

House Bill 26 amends Real Property section 7-105.2 Notice to record owner of property of proposed foreclosure sale; limitation of action.  The statute indicates that the owner of record be notified of a proposed foreclosure sale and/or postponement of a foreclosure sale.  The bill, however, requires that condo and homeowners’ associations also be notified within thirty days of a proposed foreclosure sale within the community.  And the associations shall be provided notice within fourteen days after a sale has been postponed. Senate Bill 247 is similar requiring the same notifications.

Other real estate legislation so far relates to ground rents and foreclosures:

Ground rents are in the spotlight again.  House Bill 44 provides a ground lease registration form required with the ground lease holder’s contact information (name, phone number and even an email address) to be required by the State Department of Assessments and Taxation.  House Bill 45 requires ground rent to be redeemed at time of property transfer or refinance.

House Bill 200 increases the filing fee of a foreclosure of mortgage or deed of trust from $300 to $500.  The fee is to be s distributed to the Housing Counseling and Foreclosure Mediation Fund.

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Disclaimer. This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. Readers should not rely solely on the information contained herein, as it does not purport to be comprehensive or render specific advice. Readers should consult with an attorney regarding local real estate laws and customs as they vary by state and jurisdiction. Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws.