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.

Home buyer life hacks

home buyer life hacks
5 Home Buyer Life Hacks

“Life hacks” have been trending everywhere the last few years, from the internet to social media.  Life hacks are typically actions or wisdoms to make life easier.  However, home buyer life hacks are not easy to find.

The home buying experience can be time consuming and stressful.  Over time, the home buyer’s responsibilities change.  In fact, the home buying experience has drastically changed in the last decade.  Consider that mortgage programs and Realtor® contracts changed and continue to evolve.  Which includes the TILA-RESPA Integrated Disclosure (TRID) rule that went into effect last fall, which changed how a transaction settles.  Here are a five home buyer life hacks to make the experience straightforward and more enjoyable.

The first home buyer life hack is to learn about the home buying process.  Certainly a must for first time home buyers.  However, even experienced home buyers may find themselves in strange waters if they’ve not bought or sold a home in the last couple of years.  Becoming acquainted with home buying process can help you anticipate and prevent most surprises that can upset the flow of the transaction.

Home buyer life hack number 2 – make a budget.  Creating a budget may take the romance out of the buying process, but will help you with your home search and contract decisions down the road.  Consult a professional if necessary.  In making your budget, consider your income, debts and other financial obligations, as well as your life style.  Make a housing budget that includes mortgage, property taxes, HOA or condo fees (if any), homeowner’s insurance, utilities and maintenance.  In creating your budget, also consider future changes to income and home related cost increases.

Home buyer life hack number 3 – know what to expect from the housing market.  Knowing whether the housing market is benefitting the seller or buyer can help decide on a winning home buying strategy.  Understanding that a low inventory market may necessitate you and your agent to do a little more leg work to find homes for sale.  Know the current housing trends for the neighborhoods you are perusing, so you can prepare for competition and multiple offer scenarios.

Home buyer life hack number 4 – hire a professional.  The process isn’t rocket science, however, you can easily find yourself in over your head if you’re not experienced in buying a home in today’s market.  Although some home buyers believe they can get a better deal by not using an agent to help them buy a home, it could end up costing more because of poor negotiating in price, home inspection, and other add-ons.  Hiring a buyer agent can also free up time that is necessary to conduct the process.  Experts know the market such that they can help you determine the best offer price.  They can also package your offer in a way that facilitates the transaction.

Most home buyers will follow home buyer life hacks 1 through 4.  However, they will take for granted that everything they are told is true.  Which brings us to home buyer life hack number 5 – do your due diligence.  As you can imagine, not everything you are told is true or depicted accurately.  “Trust and verify” can help you identify and reduce hidden and obscure risks by verifying the truth.  Conduct your due diligence throughout the home buying process; from the veracity of a seller’s statements about their home to vetting the professionals you hire.

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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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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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Preparations before you buy a home

House - Chevy Chase MDSo, you’ve been checking out homes online and have been bitten by the “bug.” You’ve patiently waited out the market and feel it’s time to jump in but not sure where to start. Whether you’re a seasoned or first time home buyer; don’t make the common mistake of overlooking the essential preliminary activities of the home buying process.

Experts agree that checking your credit report prior to starting the home buying process is essential. Your credit report is the basis for the credit score that is often used by mortgage lenders to decide if you qualify for a loan, and it may also be used as a means to decide your interest rate. If your credit report is inaccurate, it can cost you time and money.

Believe it or not, mistakes on credit reports are more common than you might think. According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), you’re entitled to a free annual credit report, which can be obtained for free from the “official” credit report website (annualcreditreport.com). The free report does not include a credit score, however, you can get it from the credit repositories for a fee; the CFPB cautions that the scores you receive may not be the same scores that lenders use for decisions on extending credit.

I often talk about doing due diligence, and many home buyers are attentive and thorough in negotiation, and home inspections; but many are not as careful when choosing their real estate agent and lender. Although buyers tend to work with the first or second agent they meet; there is a consensus that you should interview several real estate agents so as to know what to expect and to ensure you receive the service and attention you require. The same goes for any service provider you may use in the process, including the mortgage lender. And even though it has become more common for buyers to talk with several loan officers about mortgage programs and interest rates; however, it is recommended that you ask about lender fees as well.

Don’t be shy in choosing in choosing other service providers either – it’s going to be your home after all. Choosing a home inspector, pest inspector, and title company can take a little time, and it may seem easier to go with whomever your agent recommends; but sometimes price or proficiency is sacrificed for convenience. For example, a few moments of time to interview home inspectors can be the difference between having an adequate home inspection or a very thorough one.

Before you spend time visiting homes, it is highly recommended that you get qualified for a mortgage by a lender. An approval indicating that your income and asset documents and credit report were reviewed by the loan officer gives added credence to any purchase offer.

Don’t forget to make a housing budget. In addition to your mortgage payment, insurance, and property taxes, the budget should include utilities, maintenance and other expected expenses. The budget should also project increases in these payments as well. Rather than keeping to the maximum loan qualification, a realistic budget can reveal your comfort level on the price you’re willing to pay for a home.

Besides your real estate agent, more information about credit reports, mortgages and the home buying process is available from the CFPB (consumerfinance.gov) and HUD (hud.gov). With preparation, your home buying journey will be more enjoyable!

by 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. This article was originally published the week of April 21, 2014 (Montgomery County Sentinel). Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws. Copyright © Dan Krell.