First time home buyer assistance

Are you a first time home buyer worried, overwhelmed, or intimidated by the process? You’re not alone.  First time home buyers have had the most difficulty getting back into the real estate market after the Great Recession.  Many would-be first time home buyers lack the financial resources, while others worry about the long term value.  However, there is probably no better time than now to buy your first home.

This is a first time home buyer market

first time home buyer
First time home buyer assistance (infographic from mgic.com)

You may be one of the many would-be first time home buyers who opted to continue to rent or live with their parents until the timing was right.  Many would-be home buyers did the same, as a 2106 Pew Research Center report pointed out the millennial housing trend that may be associated with the decline in the homeownership rate since the Great Recession (For First Time in Modern Era, Living With Parents Edges Out Other Living Arrangements for 18- to 34-Year-Olds; pewsocialtrends.org; May 24, 2016).  However, economic factors have significantly improved, and the housing market has stabilized.  So what’s holding you back?

Are you overwhelmed or intimidated by the home buying process?

First time home buyer
First time home buyer (infographic from keepingcurrentmatters.com)

Buying a home can seem intimidating, and overwhelming.  But it doesn’t have to be. On the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale (Holmes & Rahe 1967), having a mortgage over $10,000 rates 31 (just above being foreclosed upon) and moving is rated as 20. This commonly used stress scale is cumulative, so the rating for buying a home is at least 51. However, being prepared can help you anticipate and deal with most circumstances that may arise.

Finding a professional and competent Realtor who will “be” with you throughout the process is highly important.  Of course, finding an agent whom you trust can be a process too.  It’s important to know your agent will be there for you, not only to answer questions and resolve your concerns, but to also represent your best interests.

What are your expectations?  Your home buying expectations are influenced by your experiences.  However you are also influenced by a combination of the media, relatives, friends, and co-workers.  Having very high and unrealistic expectations can not only increase your stress, but can but a wrench in the transaction before it starts. Discussing your expectations with your Realtor will determine if they are realistic or not.

Choosing your Realtor

Before deciding on the realtor you want to work with, informally talk to several about how they help first time home buyers.  Unfortunately, home buyer surveys (such as the annual National Association of Realtors Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers (nar.realtor)) suggest that the majority of home buyers and sellers typically hire the agent they first encountered.

Besides assisting in home searching and negotiating sales contracts, your agent should be by your side throughout the transaction.  Your agent should be available to you to help you maneuver the bumps and surprises that can derail your home purchase.

Even though you may not place an agent’s experience high in your list of agent characteristics,  a research study by Bennie Waller and Ali Jubran (“The Impact of Agent Experience on the Real Estate Transaction.” Journal of Housing Research 21, no. 1 (2012): 67-82) suggests otherwise.  They concluded that an experienced real estate agent can yield a better result than an agent with little or no experience.

Check your agent’s license.  Make sure your agent is a full time agent (meaning that the only job they have is selling real estate).  Don’t be shy about asking and calling your agent’s references.

First time home buyer down payment and closing cost assistance

If affordability, down payment and closing costs are a concern, apply for a first time home buyer assistance and/or grant program.  There are many programs available offered through local and state organizations. Your lender can help you find and apply to the programs for which you qualify.  Regular communication with your loan officer is important because the funding is limited annually and can quickly run out.

Locally, one of the mainstays for first time home buyer assistance is the Maryland Mortgage Program (mmp.maryland.gov).  The MMP is provided through the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development, and funded by the Community Development Administration.  It is described as “…providing home loans and down payment assistance to Maryland’s working families to encourage responsible homeownership and build strong communities, working through a network of Maryland Mortgage Program lender organizations.”

MMP loans are just like other mortgages, except that they offer competitive rates and offer additional assistance in the form of Down Payment Assistance and Partner Match Programs (up to $8,500 from the Department and possibly more from partner organizations).  Some Partner Match programs offer homebuyer grants.  However, other Assistance programs are generally in the form of deferred, no-interest loans.

Combining Down Payment Assistance with a Partner Match program can significantly reduce the amount you need to buy your first home!  The Down Payment Assistance program is a loan of up to $5,000.  The loan is a zero-percent deferred loan, which is repaid when you pay off the main Maryland Mortgage Program mortgage when you refinance, or sell the home.

Department of Housing and Community Development has partnered with many organizations and employers that can provide you with additional assistance.  Your current employer may be a participant with the Partner Match program (check the Partner list at mmp.maryland.gov).  Local organizations also offer home buyer assistance (including the Moderately Priced Dwelling Unit Program) as well, such as the Housing Opportunities Commission (hocmc.org) and The City of Gaithersburg (gaithersburgmd.gov).

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.

Buyers and sellers – Mentally prepare to be in real estate market

from stress.org

Realtors® are guilty of romanticizing, if not glorifying, the idea of buying and selling a home.  And it’s probably true for many, that initial thoughts of buying or selling a home (and everything that goes along with it) are sanguine.  And yet, shortly after they are faced with details of the move, many are hit with the reality that the process is full of potential pitfalls and setbacks.  Buying and selling a home can be a confusing endeavor, that can become overwhelming if you’re not mentally prepared.

Getting through the process of buying and selling requires organization and planning to seek the best outcome.  As a home buyer you organize before viewing homes by having a mortgage approval in hand, as well as determining a price range and area in which you are looking.  As a home seller you have a plan in place before the home is on the market; which includes a pricing and marketing plan, as well as having your home in its best possible condition so as to give the best impression.

Even though the process of buying or selling a home is straightforward (after all it’s not rocket science), being prepared for various stages can help you through potential issues.  If you’re a first time buyer or seller, having a checklist helps you be aware of where you are in the process.  Even if you’ve bought or sold a home before, you should be aware of changes to the process that have been made in the last eight years.

You should also be aware that every transaction is different; each transaction has a different set of personalities, conditions, and issues.  You no doubt have heard your relatives’, friends’ or coworkers’ account of their buying or selling experience.  But chances are that they may not remember the snags they endured.  Reactions among buyers and sellers, as well as their real estate agents, vary depending on their personalities and life circumstances.  So, your experience may be similar to others’; however, be prepared that it could also be very different.

Additionally, many never realize how many individuals are involved in getting their transaction to settlement.  Besides the buyer, seller and real estate agents, there is a lender, a title company, and a home inspector, (among others); each increasing the number by a factor of their employees, and increasing the opportunity for Murphy’s Law to interrupt your smooth settlement.

Although the process of buying or selling a home appears to be task oriented, there is also an emotional component.  Did you know that having a major change in living conditions and taking on a mortgage are rated in the Holmes and Rahe Stress Inventory?  This acknowledges that buying and selling a home is an emotional investment that could impact your emotional wellbeing (positively and negatively).  Chances are that at some point you may feel the added pressure of your sale/purchase.

Mental preparation for your home purchase or sale may include moderating expectations and anticipating how you may cope with various circumstances that may arise.  Mental preparation can help maintain a feeling of control over your transaction.  It can be helpful to work with an agent who can address your worries and fears about the transaction through listening and empathy.  Most of all, hire an experienced real estate agent, who not only has the ability to problem solve and work through problems, but will help you organize and prepare.

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Housing affordability in a post recession world

HomesI talk to lots of people at open houses. You shouldn’t be surprised to hear that although some express concerns about increasing home prices and their ability to buy a home, many also express their exasperation with increasing rents. And although home prices and ability to get a mortgage are among top concerns for home buyers, according to Realtor® Magazine (Top 6 Home Buyer Concerns, realtormag.realtor.org, August 24,2015); buyer apprehensions have not changed much over the years. There is always a group of buyers who fuss over home prices, down payments, and mortgages. So much so, that it seems as if it is a permanent part of the housing landscape.

From Trulia.com

The housing market is experiencing year-over-year home price gains. The September 29th release of the S&P/Case-Shiller U.S. National Home Price Index (spindices.com) that indicated the 10-city composite increased about 4.5% year-over-year, while the 20-city composite increased about 5% year-over-year. And a recent report from Zillow Research (zillow.com) that indicated median national home prices increased about 3.3% year-over-year during August, while median national rent increased 3.8% during the same period. However, owning a home may be presently a lower percentage of income when compared to other historical periods: Zillow Research indicated that the U.S. Share of Income Spent on Mortgage was about 15% during June 2015, and the U.S. Share of Income Spent on Rent was about 30% during June 2015; while the Historic Share of Income Spent (during 1985 to 1999) was 21% and 24% respectively.

Infographic: Americans Living With Roommates: A Growing Trend | Statista
You will find more statistics at Statista.com

Home prices certainly affect housing affordability. However, affordability may also be affected by the cost of qualifying of a mortgage. Although there is a recent movement for lenders to loosen credit guidelines, qualifying for a mortgage is still more difficult today than it was a decade ago.

Laurie Goodman, Director of the Housing Finance Policy Center at the Urban Institute, recently wrote about how the lack of private-label mortgage securitization has affected many who don’t fit government backed mortgage guidelines. (Mortgage securitization is what provides the mortgage market liquidity, and allows banks to make the loans.) Goodman had this to say about the present lack of private-label mortgage securitization: “The disappearance of this market has affected the availability and cost of mortgages for one group of borrowers—those with less wealth and less than perfect credit who do not quality for government-backed loans” (Why you should care that private investors don’t want to buy your mortgage anymore, urban.org, October 9, 2015).

Goodman pointed out that prior to the great recession, the private-label mortgage securitization market was thriving; however post recession, private-label securitization has all but “collapsed.” Presently, mortgages are primarily government backed and or purchased by Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, FHA, VA and others; which eliminates many borrowers with imperfect credit and/or don’t meet strict guidelines. However, if the private-label securitization further retreats or is eliminated, she predicts that borrowers with perfect credit and those living in “expensive” regions (such as Washington DC, New York, San Francisco) will be affected as well.

Tight credit guidelines may not be the only reason for many renters to rule out a home purchase. Not having an adequate down payment is another reason many don’t qualify for a mortgage. The lack of savings by Americans was documented by a survey conducted by the Consumer Federation of America (7th Annual Savings Survey Reveals Persistence of Financial Challenges Facing Most Americans, consumerfed.org, February 24, 2014).

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Regardless of investment value – homeowners do better than renters

million dollar homes

Many years ago, buying your first home used to be a rite of passage that usually coincided with starting a family. Your first home was not just a place to live; but was considered an investment that was expected to grow and provide a “nest egg” for your later years.

Several generations later, a lot has changed. We view investments differently, and have become amateur number crunchers trying to get the most of our money. But what was once considered a sound long term investment has now been deemed as poor judgment.

Of course to real estate investors, housing is a commodity; they take risks to reap rewards. Short term real estate investors (“flippers”) are often viewed as opportunists, buying homes at a discount and selling at retail value. The flipper’s goal is to have a quick turnaround between the time of acquisition and resale (flip), avoiding as much carrying cost as possible. The risk for the flipper is very high, especially in fickle markets; but the payoff can be very rewarding. It is not unusual for a flipper to lose money on a project because of delays, unexpected costs, and/or poor timing.

Long term real estate investors acquire homes to be used as rental properties, banking on the properties’ appreciation when it comes time to sell. Although the financial reward for this investor is long term, the risk is considered to be leveraged over time as well. However, unexpected costs and loss of rent can make such an investor rethink their plan and cut their losses.

For the rest of us, however; housing may not be such a great investment after all, according to many financial pundits. One such pundit, Morgan Housel (of Motley Fool fame), wrote about his meeting with Robert Shiller (of Case-Shiller fame) to give some telling insight about home values (Why your home is not a good investment; usatoday.com; May 10, 2014). Shiller told Housel that the housing market is “a provider of housing services” and “not a good provider of capital gains.”

According to Shiller, home prices from 1890 to 1990 (adjusted for real inflation) are “virtually unchanged.” Housel further added that home prices between 1890 and 2012, adjusted for real inflation, “went nowhere;” and decreased 10% from 1890 to 1980, when adjusted for real inflation. Shiller even suggested that “real” home prices could decrease over the next 30 years, due to a number of factors including obsolescence and advances in construction techniques.

With all the stats and figures, are those who touted the investment value of long term home ownership – wrong? Not necessarily. The consensus is that home ownership offers stability as well as many other benefits including: a place to live, a place to raise a family, and belonging to a community. These intangibles may be responsible for the research conclusions by Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies, that indicated there is an association between home ownership and growing wealth; where home owners fared better than renters (Herbert, McCue, and Sanchez-Moyano; Is Homeownership Still an Effective Means of Building Wealth for Low-income and Minority Households? Was it Ever? Joint Center for Housing Studies Harvard University, September 2013).

Is buying a home a bad investment? Housel pointed out that even Robert Shiller owns a home, and (at the time of the interview) indicated he would buy a home if he were in the market.

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Survey may indicate buyers need attentive agents

buyer agentA recent MarketWatch report indicated that the top four reasons why millennials are not buying homes include: lack of down payment; student loan debt; credit card debt; and not knowing where to start. The reasons per se may not surprise you; however, regional differences are interesting.

Daniel Goldstein’s May 30th report (Millennials in Texas and in California reject home ownership for vastly different reasons; marketwatch.com) tries to tie together a recent Carrington Mortgage survey and the lack of homeownership participation among millennials. Since millennials are supposed to be the heir apparent to the U.S. economy; he ponders about why there is only a 38% homeownership rate (according to CoreLogic) among millennials when mortgage interest rates are at record lows. The figure pales in comparison to the homeownership rate of 52% of the same age group in 1980 – at a time of double digit interest rates!

Millennials in the western region of the U.S. seem to be mostly concerned about down payment. This may be due to the region including many high cost metro areas. Additionally, the western region has seen much of the home price growth and hot markets we hear about in the media.

Midwestern region millennials are mostly concerned about student loan debt, which has a direct impact on their debt-to-income ratio. The midwestern region has some of the lowest cost of living areas, which influences wages and ability to qualify for a mortgage.

The top concern for millennials in the northeast is credit card debt. And while having credit card debt is not necessarily a bad thing (as long as credit is not maxed out and payments are timely); many do not understand the general concepts of credit reports, and the relation between credit scores and credit card debt.

Whereas most of the country seems to be concerned about wages, savings, and debt; southern millennials (which includes Maryland, DC, and Virginia) are reported to be generally stumped about the home buying process.

What millennials reported in the survey is what generally daunts first time home buyers – the overwhelming process of buying a home. Although not considered rocket science, buying your first home can be intimidating. And it’s not just because it is one of the most expensive purchases of a lifetime; but also because the process is multifaceted with many possible pitfalls. Recent industry trends have also made the process less personal, leaving many home buyers to “figure it out” on their own.

Millennials’ concern about the home buying process may not necessarily be economics as it is about the industry itself. It may be a telling sign that “continuity of care” in the real estate industry is lacking, and should have many professionals revisit the client centered business model.

Although recent industry trends favor real estate agent teams as a means to high volume home sales; buyers who work with a team may not necessarily be overly satisfied with communication and support. Millennials and other first time home buyers may be seeking seasoned real estate agents and loan officers who are able to listen to their needs and concerns, while being able to educate and provide guidance. Much like having the ability to talk to a physician directly, rather than communicating through messaging services and technicians; having a single Realtor® who can promptly answer phone calls and emails, may greatly increase satisfaction and quality of service.

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