Fair housing and disparate impact – Supremes hear arguments

HouseApril is designated as Fair Housing Month. The timing for the commemoration is not arbitrary, but is the memorialization of the passing of the Fair Housing Act, which was enacted April 1968. According to HUD (hud.gov), “HUD hosted a gala event in the Grand Ballroom of New York’s Plaza Hotel” to celebrate the first year. Fair Housing Month celebrations held during April have become a “tradition” as events to remember the achievement became more prevalent. Fair Housing Month has become more than just recognition of the realization of passing a law; it has also become a celebration of diversity.

It’s January, and there’s an early buzz about Fair Housing; not because of any celebration or proclamation, but because of a case being considered by the Supreme Court of the United States. Oral arguments were heard last week by the Court in the matter of Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. The Inclusive Communities Project. Although still obscure, the case may be one of the most important and controversial cases the Court will hear this year.

Amy Howe, in her January 6th article for SCOTUSblog (Will the third time be the charm for the Fair Housing Act and disparate-impact claims? In Plain English; scotusblog.com), succinctly described the case that emanates from Texas: “In 2008, the Project filed this lawsuit against the state agency.  It argued that the agency had allocated the tax credits in a racially segregated manner:  it disproportionately granted the housing credits in minority areas of the Dallas region, while at the same time disproportionately denying them in white areas of Dallas.  A federal district court agreed with the Project, finding that the agency’s allocation of tax credits violated the FHA because it had a disparate impact on minorities. Under the ruling, it did not matter whether the agency intended to discriminate against minorities; the effect was enough to violate the law.  The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit agreed that a disparate-impact claim could be brought under the statute. The state then asked the Supreme Court to weigh in, which it agreed to do in October of last year.

Howe stated, that “The Fair Housing Act makes it illegal to ‘refuse to sell or rent . . . or to refuse to negotiate for the sale or rental of, or otherwise make unavailable or deny, a dwelling to any person because of race…’” This is the third case “…in less than four years, the Supreme Court granted review to consider whether this language allows lawsuits based on disparate impact. A disparate-impact claim is an allegation that a law or practice has a discriminatory effect, even if it wasn’t based on a discriminatory purpose.” The first two cases were settled before oral arguments.

According to the National Fair Housing Alliance (nationalfairhousing.org), disparate impact “…is a legal doctrine under the Fair Housing Act which means that a policy or practice may be considered discriminatory if it has a disproportionate “adverse impact” against any group based on race, national origin, color, religion, sex, familial status, or disability…” and “…safeguards the right to a fair shot for everyone.”

The outcome could affect more just the policies of a Texas housing agency. Although the Court’s opinion may not be given until later this year; the outcome will surely be felt beyond the housing and lending industries.

© 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.

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Affordable housing redux

Affordable HousingStatistics and indices have indicated that buying a home has become more affordable in recent years. In fact, the October 2014 Trulia Rent vs. Buy Index indicated that buying a home was 38% cheaper than renting (trulia.com). Additionally, the S&P/Case-Shiller National Home Price Index released December 30th indicated that average home prices for the 10-City and 20-City Composites are at “autumn 2004 levels” (housingviews.com). However, while interest rates continue to be favorable along with an expanding inventory that offers more choices, obstacles remain to home ownership.

Unlike the high home prices that drove affordable housing concerns in the past, many would-be home buyers today face income and savings challenges. Statistics suggest that many do not earn enough to qualify for a home purchase and/or have not saved enough for a down payment and closing costs. The latest report (Q2 2014) of the Maryland Association of Realtors® First-time Homebuyer Affordability Index revealed a decrease in home affordability from 84.1% to 75.7%; which indicates that Maryland first time home buyers had 75% of the income required “to purchase a typical starter home” (mdrealtor.org).

More importantly, a survey conducted by the Consumer Federation of America (7th Annual Savings Survey Reveals Persistence of Financial Challenges Facing Most Americans; February 24, 2014, consumerfed.org), revealed that “most Americans are meeting their immediate financial needs but are worse off than several years ago.” And, “… that, despite the economic recovery, most Americans continue to face significant personal savings challenges….” Stephen Brobeck, Executive Director of the Consumer Federation of America and a founder of America Saves, was quoted to say: “Only about one-third of Americans are living within their means and think they are prepared for the longterm financial future. One-third are living within their means but are often not prepared for this longterm future. And one-third are struggling to live within their means.

With an eye to address housing affordability, the President reduced the FHA annual mortgage insurance premium (MIP). Increases in FHA’s MIP in recent years have helped offset losses from the foreclosure crisis; and inadvertently made mortgages more expensive. And although the recent MIP reduction helps more home buyers qualify, critics claim it increases FHA’s risk and exposure to future foreclosure losses. According to Zillow (How Much Can You Save with Lower FHA Annual Mortgage Insurance Premiums?; January 7,2015, zillow.com), a home buyer who has a 3.5% down payment on a 30 year mortgage of $175,000 can save about $818 per year (about $68 per month).

For those who have not saved enough for a down payment and closing costs, State and local initiatives offer down payment assistance and low interest rate mortgage programs. The Maryland Mortgage Program (mmp.maryland.gov) offers down payment assistance in the form of loans, an employer match program, or financial grants. Locally, the Housing Opportunities Commission of Montgomery County (hocmc.org) offers several down payment assistance options, including the House Keys 4 Employees program for many Montgomery County Employees. These programs have restrictions; you should check with each program for qualification and eligibility requirements.

The Montgomery County Department of Housing and Community Affairs (montgomerycountymd.gov/DHCA) offers additional affordable housing options: The Moderately Priced Dwelling Unit (MPDU) Program offers affordably priced homes to first-time homebuyers who meet the program’s eligibility; and the Work Force Housing Program promotes “the construction of housing that will be affordable to households with incomes at or below 120% of the area-wide median.”

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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.

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Trust and verify – home buyer due diligence

home for saleIf you’re a home buyer who’s ready to jump into the housing market this spring, you’ve probably begun searching to see what’s on the market. You may have already met a real estate agent or two; and if you’ve haven’t yet talked with a mortgage lender for a prequalification, it’s probably high on your priority list.

Before you know it, you’ve selected an agent, mortgage lender, and title attorney to assist you; and you find yourself increasingly perceptive and selective about the homes you view. Guess what? You’re in the process of buying a home! But before you put the buying process on cruise control, how much trust should you put into the professionals helping you?

It’s not to say that real estate agents, loan officers, home inspectors, and anyone else assisting your home purchase are not qualified – but no one is perfect. Buying a home is probably one of the biggest purchases you’ll make during your life. The idiom “trust but verify” should be your mantra throughout the home buying process to ensure due diligence.

Have you verified the credentials of those you’ve hired? Believe it or not, there are some who are doing business without the authorization of the corresponding licensing agency. And yet, some reasons given for not having a license may sound innocuous, such as forgetting about a license renewal deadline; other reasons may not seem as innocent (for example, licensed professionals from neighboring jurisdictions, DC or VA, attempt to do business locally where they are not licensed).

Professional licensure is a regulatory safeguard that provides consumers a pool of professionals that meet or exceed a minimum professional competency. Agencies such as the Maryland Real Estate Commission; Maryland Home Improvement Commission; Maryland Commission of Real Estate Appraisers, Appraisal Management Companies, and Home Inspectors; Office of the Commissioner of Financial Regulation; and the Maryland Insurance Administration offers an internet portal to verify a licensee’s status, check for disciplinary actions, and also explains how to file a complaint.

Information is believed to be accurate, but should not be relied upon without verification. Accuracy of square footage, lot size, schools and other information is not guaranteed…” is a disclaimer used by Metropolitan Regional Information Systems, Inc (MRIS) prompting you to verify MLS listing information. Although MRIS strives for accuracy in MLS listings, providing guidelines and standards for MLS data; exactness and truthfulness can vary because data input is performed by many agents and/or their staff. You can verify schools by checking the Montgomery County Public Schools “School Assignment Tool” (gis.mcpsmd.org/SchoolAssignmentTool2/Index.xhtml); zoning, development and other information can be verified through the Montgomery County Planning Department (montgomeryplanning.org).

Was the home seller into the DYI (do-it-yourself) trend? Is it possible the seller hired unlicensed contractors to repair or renovate the home prior to listing? Make sure any improvements and recent repairs have had the proper permitting! The permitting process certifies that repairs/renovations comply with building and zoning codes, which are in place to ensure that houses are safe, structurally sound, and meet health standards. Most permits can be checked online via Montgomery County Department of Permitting Services (permittingservices.montgomerycountymd.gov) “eServices” data search portal.

Most home buyers are familiar with basics of the home buying process. However, “trust and verify” can help identify and reduce hidden and obscure risks; conducting due diligence can make your home buying experience increasingly trouble free and more enjoyable.

© 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.

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Making real estate sexy again

Real EstateThe go-go market of almost ten years ago was unique. The wealth aspect of the market seemed to have an effect on almost anyone who owned property; there was somewhat of a carnal attraction that had many home owners seeking more property and turning renters into home owners. It was no surprise that home ownership rates swelled to historic highs. Those who sold their homes or cashed out on their equity found themselves wealthier; while those who didn’t sell were happy to know their “paper wealth” was rapidly growing as home values realized monthly double digit gains.

At that time, the attraction to real estate for many seemed to be instinctive; the flirtation between home buyers and real estate may have been about a future of happy living and financial growth and security. Well, the sex appeal of real estate has worn off and seems to have been replaced by a “meh” attitude; probably indicating a lack of inspiration and/or interest.

Trying to regain the attention of home buyers, some agents have tried to re-establish real estate’s sex appeal. And it has been purposeful to attract home buyers by pairing homes with items that elicit carnal desire; listings are surrounded by exotic cars, modern art, and even sexy models have been credited to facilitate sales of luxury properties.

An April 2011 report by Julie Rose of WFAE 90.7 Charlotte (Realty Firm Uses Sex Appeal To Sell Luxurious Homes; wfae.org) described a photo shoot of a luxury home where, …” a blonde in tight jeans arches her back and tips a wine glass to her glossy lips. Her date leans closer, admiring…” But as Rose sates, “She’s lovely, but she’s not what you’re supposed to be looking at…” You’re supposed to be attracted to the kitchen features that seem to be a backdrop behind the model. However, the real estate agent interviewed said that the idea was to give an idea of what the home’s potential could offer.

Not all agents are on board with this technique, some have characterized the sexy advertising as “cheesy” and distasteful. One agent was quoted by Rose as saying, “It’s definitely gonna make someone stop and look at it. But once they’re in the listing looking at the pictures, I think they’re gonna focus a little more on the models rather than focusing on the home. And I think the bottom line is you want people to focus on the home.”

Sex appeal marketing is just a new take on selling a lifestyle. Lifestyle marketing has been the cornerstone of luxury real estate for years. For example, pairing fine art with luxury real estate has become commonplace; homes and condo projects have incorporated art collections to sell the lifestyle. In fact, the premier art show, Art Basel, has become the place to not only buy/sell fine art but high end real estate as well (Luxury Property Brokers Raring To Pounce On Wealthy Art Lovers At Miami Art Basel; November 28, 2013, Forbes.com). And for gear heads who want their homes built around their supercars, Miami’s über luxury Porche Design Tower will open in 2016.

Want to convey a lifestyle about your home? Before you hire models to pose in your home, consider talking to your agent about focusing on the things that made you enthusiastic and energized about your home. Chances are that the buyer of your home will be attracted to it the way you once were.

© 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.

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Relief and uncertainty for short sellers

real estateAlthough we’ve come a long way, the housing market is still feeling the effects of the financial and foreclosure crises. Consider that the CoreLogic’s October National Foreclosure Report (corelogic.com/about-us/news.aspx) indicated that there were 41,000 “completed foreclosures” (the total number of homes lost to foreclosure) during October, which is a 26.4% reduction of the 55,000 recorded during the same time last year; and about 65% lower than that of the peak during September 2010. Although moving in the right direction, the 41,000 completed foreclosures is a far cry from the 21,000 average monthly recorded completed foreclosures before the housing downturn (2000 and 2006).

Also seen as progress is the increasing number of home owners who are paying their mortgages; which is observable from the decrease of mortgage defaults since 2010. The November 2014 S&P/Experian First Mortgage Default Index, was 0.97%; and although this is slightly higher than the 3 months prior, there has been a -3.72% change from the November 2010 index of 4.69% (us.spindices.com).

Negative equity mortgages are making headway too. CoreLogic reported on September 25th (CoreLogic Reports 946,000 Residential Properties Regained 1 Trillion Dollars in Total Equity in Q2 2014) that “950,000 homes returned to positive equity” during the second quarter of 2014. The number of underwater borrowers dropped to 5.3 million (compared to 6.3 underwater borrowers reported in the previous quarter). However, as of Q2 there were 3.2 million underwater borrowers with first mortgages, and an additional 2.1 million underwater borrowers with first and second mortgages.

The number of home owners that continue to be underwater may have been the impetus for Congress to pass the Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act before adjourning for break; the legislation was subsequently signed by the President. A December 17th National Association of Realtors® press release (realtor.org) praises the passage of the legislation meant to help “distressed home owners and commercial property investors with transactions made during 2014.” NAR President Chris Polychron stated, “Realtors® strongly supported the bipartisan Mortgage Forgiveness Tax Relief Act, which was included in the package to prevent underwater borrowers from paying taxes on any mortgage debt forgiven or cancelled by a lender in a workout or after their home was sold for less money than was owed.

The Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act of 2007 was initially passed and signed into law December 20th 2007; which, if you remember, was a time when the housing market was in a sharp downturn. Any debt forgiveness from lenders (either from a mortgage refinance/ modification or a short sale) typically resulted in a huge tax liability (debt forgiveness is usually considered income). The legislation provided tax relief through 2009 to qualified underwater home owners and sellers seeking to avoid foreclosure. The legislation was extended several times thereafter.

Since the last extension expired December 31st 2013, the recent passage of the Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act was received as a reprieve by many underwater home owners expecting tax relief from debt forgiveness of short sales that closed during 2014. However, since the recent extension only covers mortgage debt forgiveness during 2014, those who have a short sale planned to close during 2015 find themselves in a tentative situation.

Current politics and economics have many pundits believing that any further extensions of the legislation may not be forthcoming. If you have a short sale planned for 2015, you should consult with your tax preparer about any potential tax liability you may incur.

© 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.

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Maryland Lead Program rental property registration

housing marketBeginning January 1st, if you own a rental property located in Maryland that was built before 1978, you must register with the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE). The new law extends the existing registration requirement for homes used as rental units built before 1950. The registration fee is $30 per unit, and must be renewed annually prior to December 31st.

Since the registration of rental properties built before 1978 began July 1st, many landlords and property managers have been planning to be in compliance by the New Year. However, many home owners, whose selling strategy includes a simultaneous rental listing, may not be aware of the new law; which could not only affect a potential lease, but may also incur potential penalties and/or liability for non-compliance. The coinciding listing strategy is an artifact from the market following the housing downturn; when many listed homes that did not sell were extemporaneously rented as a means to ride out the market, with the intention to sell at a later time when prices increased. For many home sellers today, a simultaneous rental listing is part of a selling strategy as a means to allow them to move (either by selling the home or by renting it to a tenant).

It is not uncommon that some of these sale/rental home listings are vacant. If you find yourself in this category, consider that you’re required to have the property registered with the MDE and lead inspected by an MDE accredited inspector before your tenant moves in. If the inspection requires any remediation to meet Program requirements, all work must be performed by a MDE accredited contractor.

If you’ve never registered with MDE Lead Poisoning Prevention Program, you need to contact the Rental Registry Division (410-537-4199) to be assigned a “tracking number.” A list of accredited inspectors and accredited contractors can be found on the “Lead Poisoning Prevention Program” website (www.mde.state.md.us/lead). Registration likely began early so as not to create bottlenecks and delays; however, if there is a chance your home could become a rental sometime during the New Year, you might consider not waiting until the last minute.

A July 1st MDE press release (news.maryland.gov/mde) emphasized that, “Exposure to lead is the most significant and widespread environmental hazard for children in Maryland. Children are at the greatest risk from birth to age 6, while their neurological systems are developing. Exposure to lead can cause long-term neurological damage that may be associated with learning and behavioral problems and with decreased intelligence.” And although lead poisoning cases decreased about 98% since the enactment of Maryland’s 1994 Lead Risk Reduction in Housing Act, a significant number of new lead poisoning cases were linked to homes built before 1978. The MDE cited a 2011 study, which found an 80% “likelihood” of lead paint in properties built between 1950 and 1960. The MDE also cited data analysis that almost half of the confirmed cases of initial lead poisoning reports from the last two years in Maryland counties outside of Baltimore City, “involved children living in post-1949 rental housing.” The MDE states, “Failure to register, certify or follow approved lead-safe work practices may subject property owners to thousands of dollars in fines and potential lawsuits.”

Details about the lead registration requirements and further information about the MDE Lead Poisoning Prevention Program can be obtained from the website (www.mde.state.md.us/lead).

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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.

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Changing the public’s opinion of real estate professionals

real estateGallup (gallup.com) conducts a regular poll of ethics and honesty of various professions. Although the survey is not inclusive of all professions, many are covered in alternating years. Results from the 2013 survey ranked the top five professions as (along with their corresponding “Very High/High” rating) nurses (82%), pharmacists (70%), grade school teachers (70%), medical doctors (69%), and military officers (69%). At the bottom of the list we can find lobbyists (6%), members of congress (8%), car salespeople (9%), state office holders and advertising practitioners were tied at 14%, and lawyers and TV reporters were tied at 20%.

Real estate agents were included in the 2011 Gallup Ethics and Honesty survey, where they were rated with a 20% Very High/High rating; which would be toward the bottom of the list. The 20% rating is actually an improvement from the 17% rating given in 2008. Believe it or not, the 20% rating seems to be the highest rating achieved by real estate agents since the first time they appeared in the poll in 1977; and 2011 was the second time for such a rating (2005 was the first). Historically, the rating ranged from 13% to 19%; not surprisingly, the lowest ratings seem to coincide with housing market slowdowns.

The “Very High/High” rating used to compare consumer opinion of professions may be a little misleading. The 20% “Very High/High” rating in ethics and honesty could lead one to believe that agents are generally viewed negatively. However, in 2011 the “Low/Very Low” rating was 22%; while the 57% “Average” rating may be more indicative of consumers’ opinion of real estate agents’ ethics – which is indifference.

The National Association of Realtors® has for years tried to influence public opinion of Realtors® and the industry (not all real estate agents are Realtors®; Realtors® are members of the NAR), by publicly promoting the high ethical standards by which Realtors® are held. Many are unaware that a code of ethics was adopted in 1913 by the association (which was then called the National Association of Real Estate Boards), and has since strived to instill and maintain a high level of integrity in the field.

With such emphasis on ethics, you might expect that public opinion would be much higher. Unfortunately, the limited research on consumer perception of ethics is mixed at best. And according to one study, consumers consider price, quality, and value more important than ethical criteria in purchase behavior (The myth of the ethical consumer – do ethics matter in purchase behaviour? The Journal of Consumer Marketing. 2001;18(7),560-577.)

The reality may be that consumers are not necessarily concerned about ethical behavior or honesty when hiring agents; which may be why the NAR has decided to add a compulsory dimension of “value” for practitioners so as to increase public opinion of the industry. In an effort to increase professionalism standards, the NAR recently approved an “aspirational” Code of Excellence. A report on the November 10th NAR Board of Directors meeting stated (realtor.org), “The goal is to raise the practice of real estate measurably through increased training in the competencies that consumers value. These competencies include the stewardship of property listing data, privacy and security of consumer information, advocacy of property rights, community involvement, and technology.” NAR President Steve Brown was quoted to say, “This is the first step in a process for the continuing improvement of our profession…”

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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.

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Value vs. affordability – how inflation affects home prices

homes for saleHome buyers have been tagged as being too picky for not buying homes this year. Surely home buyers have a right to be particular; after all, they’ll be spending a lot of time in the house – and spending a lot of money to get it too! But, maybe there are other reasons that home buyers have become hesitant.

Consider the uncertainty that immediately followed the Great Recession, when home sales volume dropped off. At that time home buyers seemed overly analytic, weighing many factors including short term value. Yet in truth they were fearful about economic uncertainty, and paying for a home that could potentially depreciate after closing.

The specter of another housing bubble in late 2013 may have seemed farfetched by many. But the double digit appreciation in many housing markets around the country reminded many home buyers of the environment that existed in the pre-downturn “go-go” market of 2005-2007. Anecdotal reports of bidding wars and high listing prices in early 2014 may have scared off some home buyers who reported not wanting to participate in such a market.

Reasons for home sales sluggishness during the latter part of this year may have been signs that the fear of a home price bubble was being realized by home buyers. As home buyers sought value, home sellers wanted higher home price appreciation. Was the psychology of fear playing a part in the ongoing home pricing struggle?

In hindsight, the limited housing inventory that existed during 2013 may have caused upward pressure on home prices by forcing increased competition among home buyers. The rapid home price appreciation may have also been the reason for many home owners to go to market. Brimming with listings, housing inventory swelled to levels not seen in years. Yet it may not be home prices per se that is at issue, but rather affordability.

Affordability goes beyond just the purchase price of a home. It comprises the overall costs of home ownership; which includes monthly mortgage payments, property taxes, homeowners’ insurance, regular and emergency maintenance, and utility costs. Putting aside home prices, home buyers are faced with the prospect of sharply inflating ownership costs. Consider the April 25th LA Times article reporting on utility costs (U.S. electricity prices may be going up for good; latimes.com); Ralph Vartabedian stated, “… the price of electricity has already been rising over the last decade, jumping by double digits in many states, even after accounting for inflation. In California, residential electricity prices shot up 30% between 2006 and 2012, adjusted for inflation, according to Energy Department figures. Experts in the state’s energy markets project the price could jump an additional 47% over the next 15 years.”

Savings also affect the affordability of a home. Marilyn Kennedy Melia, in her May 17th feature: Savings Habits and the Housing Market: American are saving less, issues with affording a home (nwitimes.com), reported that a lack of savings is preventing some home buyers from purchasing homes by not having enough for a down payment and/or little for homeownership costs. She described a recent Bankrate survey that indicated “…51 percent of Americans have more emergency savings than credit card debt, the lowest percentage since the financial site began tracking this issue in 2011.” Doug Robinson, of NeighborWorks America, was quoted to say, “Two-thirds of the people who faced foreclosure didn’t have any emergency savings…

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Overcoming challenges of a winter home sale

home saleSome might say that selling a home during the winter is advantageous because of limited seller competition. Although it may be true that there is less competition, there is typically less home buyer traffic during winter months as well. Additionally, many home buyers who look during the winter months expect home sellers to be more flexible about pricing, and may subsequently make a lowball offer. However, if you’re having your home on the market during the winter, preparation and marketing can increase your success.

Ideally, you have your furnace checked and cleaned annually by a licensed HVAC professional. But if you don’t, this might be at the top of your list to ensure your home is comfortably heated to warmly greet home buyers from the cold.

Checking the condition of the home’s roof, gutters and downspouts can lessen the impact of severe weather, including heavy snow and ice. Ice dams resulting from melted and frozen snow are known to lift roof shingles and siding – which can allow water to make its way into your home. Water penetration from ice dams can damage ceilings, walls and window casings. Left unrepaired, mold and possible structural issues may develop; which is obviously an issue when selling a home.

Snow and ice removal/treatment from sidewalks and steps is essential when selling your home, so as to lessen the possibility of someone slipping and getting hurt from a fall. Additionally, downspouts should also be cleared of snow to reduce drainage blockages, which can be a source of water buildup around the home’s foundation.

Another winter concern is plumbing maintenance. Problems with pipes can arise anytime the temperature falls below the freezing point. There is a misconception that frozen water inside pipes cause pipe ruptures; however, pressure that builds up from trapped air within frozen pipes is typically the culprit. A licensed plumber can advise you on preventing freezing pipes.

If you’re selling a vacant home, you might consider winterizing it. “Winterizing” is a term that describes the draining of the plumbing system. Winterizing may reduce the risk of bursting pipes and damaging plumbing fixtures. Hiring a licensed plumber to winterize/de-winterize may decrease the probability of damage to the plumbing system from any high pressure build-up. If you are out of town, you might consider having a trusted person regularly check on the home (even if you are listed with a real estate agent). This person can take care of any house related issues that may arise while you are away.

Decluttering your home can sometimes be a challenge; and during winter months, it can be even be more challenging to keep the home clutter-free. Winter is when we spend time indoors, creating comfort areas where we may accumulate “stuff.” Organization can help limit accumulation of winter clutter, but a daily tidy up may also be necessary to be ready for any buyer viewing.

Just because it is winter does not mean you should stop actively marketing your home sale. Having a winter pricing and marketing strategy can prepare for showings and negotiating with lowball offers. Weather permitting, winter open houses are a great way to allow potential home buyers to view your home in a controlled concentrated time period. Communicate with your agent about showing times and instructions; you may need additional notice for any last minute tidying as well as changing your availability due to the holiday season.

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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.

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Helping family with homeownership

real estateThe holiday season is about spending time with family and enjoying each other’s company. But as a consequence of the Great Recession, some family members (including adult children) have made “family time” a year round thing by moving in. Whether it’s a child moving back with parents after college, or maybe family who suffered a financial hardship; having accommodating family can be a blessing. However, as the economy slowly improves, the post-recession family nesting trend is changing and many are (re)establishing their own homes.

Some people are taking advantage of an improving housing market to create one of the recent housing trends – purchasing an investment property to “house” family members. Although the benefits of purchasing an investment property and having family live there may not be obvious, some realize that it can be mutually beneficial. Having a trusty and inherently loyal family member live in the rental property can mean a regular rent check, as well as ensure that the home is maintained. As with any investment property – the longer you own it, the greater potential for long term equity.

Some are banking on recent rising home values and taking out a home equity line to purchase investment homes, although some are fortunate to have the assets to pay cash. However, many rely on financing the property, which requires a hefty down payment (typically 20%) as well as an interest rate slightly higher than that of the owner-occupant mortgage you might have on your own home. And although buying an investment property to house family members sounds as if it is a no-brainer to get them out of your own house; due diligence is required to determine if this is advantageous for you, as well as consulting with your tax preparer about tax benefits and/or consequences.

If buying the investment property is not an option, you may be able to help family qualify for a mortgage of their own. Although FHA mortgages are typically common among first time home buyers and/or buyers who need a low down payment loan; FHA has been the go-to program for helping family buy a home –especially when the home buyer falls short of qualifying on their own because of a lack of employment history, assets, and qualifying income. Although Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and VA permits co-borrowers who are not intending to live in the home to co-sign for family; FHA has additional features that may make the loan more attractive. Besides allowing family to gift the borrower’s down payment, FHA may allow alternate credit sources to be substituted when the borrower has insufficient established traditional credit.

Although “co-signing” as a non-occupying co-borrower might help your child or some other family member become a home owner, it should not be taken lightly. You have to consider that even though you do not intend to live in the house or make the mortgage payments, you are signing the mortgage note. Not only could you be held responsible if payments are not made, your credit may even be dinged even if payments are late.

Although there are benefits to having extended family live together, you might be thinking of helping them start their own household. Before making any decisions, do your due diligence. And talk to several lenders, as with any mortgage loan program – underwriting varies from lender to lender and guidelines typically change without notice.

© 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.

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