Real estate contract know-how

real estate contract
Do you know real estate? (infographic from househunt.com)

When I started selling homes almost sixteen years ago, a typical real estate contract (with addenda) may have been about twenty pages.  My mentor used to pine about the two-page contracts he used when he started in real estate.  I used to think he was exaggerating, but I found that he was actually telling the truth.  It is true that real estate contracts have evolved and become quite lengthy through the years. Today, our local Realtor contract with addenda can exceed sixty pages!  As much as it may sound like a chore, you should take the time to read and understand the real estate contract you are asked to sign.

In today’s world of convenience and digital everything, electronically signing your real estate contract may seem like a time saver.  Real estate apps make it all too easy for your agent to email you a boiler plate contract and ask you to click the mouse to sign it.  But do you really know what you’re signing?  More importantly, does your real estate agent know what they are asking you to sign?

A typical Realtor contract is a legally binding contract once it is ratified and delivered to all parties.  That means there are potential consequences for not doing what you agreed to do.  Don’t solely rely on your agent for an explanation of the contract, they may not fully understand it or its nuances.  As pedestrian as it sounds, read through the contract before you sign it.  Reading the contract will inform you of the terms and conditions to which you’re agreeing, which include your obligations and contingency timelines.  Reading the contract will also alert you to any errors and you need clarified.

The terms and conditions of your real estate contract are more than just the sale price and closing date.  Both the home buyer and seller have obligations in our local Realtor contract.  A few of the many obligations included in the terms are: settlement, obtaining financing, delivering a “clean” title, and providing access to the property.

Are there contingencies?  Typical real estate contract contingencies include financing, appraisal, and various inspections.  However, other contingencies may be included too, such as the buyer’s home sale, the seller finding a home, third party approval, or even reviewing the county or city master plan.  The contingencies you choose may vary depending on your situation.  Contingencies are time limited.  The contract describes how each contingency is met as well as timelines for completion and description of giving notice and responses.

Although the Realtor contract has become increasingly lengthy, it has become more standardized (at least in my area).  In the past, local agents needed to know or find out the contract and addenda requirements for multiple counties and cities, much of the time falling short.  Today, the Realtor contracts and addenda we use in Maryland are mostly consistent with each other, making it easier to put together and understand.

Make sure you are comfortable with the real estate contract you are signing.  You should ask your agent to take the time to sit with you and review the contract before you sign it.  If you’re a first-time home buyer or seller, getting the one-on-one review will allow you to ask questions about your obligations and the process.  Even if you have bought or sold a home in the past, reviewing the contract with your agent will make you realize how times have changed.  Since the contract is a devise, always consult with an attorney for legal advice.

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.

Quantitative easing housing legacy

quantitative easing
Fed Balance Sheet (infographic from raymondjames.com)

The Fed stopped purchasing mortgage backed securities and other assets through quantitative easing a few years ago.  But the  Fed still maintains the estimated $4.5 trillion of assets it has accumulated by extending asset maturity and reinvesting in the securities.  The result has been historically low interest rates, and bubble-esque home price spikes.  But that may change rapidly over the next six months.

Quantitative easing was a name for the Fed’s “large scale asset purchases” (LSAP) from mid-2008 to 2014.  The purpose of the LSAP was to keep boost the economy and housing markets by keeping interest rates low.  According to the Fed (federalreserve.gov):

In December 2008, as evidence of a dramatic slowdown in the U.S. economy mounted, the Federal Reserve reduced its target for the federal funds rate–the interest rate that depository institutions charge each other for borrowing funds overnight–to nearly zero, in order to provide stimulus to household and business spending and so support economic recovery. With short-term interest rates at nearly zero, the Federal Reserve made a series of large-scale asset purchases (LSAPs) between late 2008 and October 2014.

In conducting LSAPs, the Fed purchased longer-term securities issued by the U.S. government and longer-term securities issued or guaranteed by government-sponsored agencies such as Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac. The Fed purchased the securities in the private market through a competitive process; the Fed does not purchase government securities directly from the U.S. Treasury. The Fed’s purchases reduced the available supply of securities in the market, leading to an increase in the prices of those securities and a reduction in their yields. Lower yields on mortgage-backed securities reduced mortgage rates as well. Moreover, private investors responded to lower yields on U.S. Treasury securities and agency-guaranteed mortgage-backed securities by seeking to acquire assets with higher yields–assets such as corporate bonds and other privately issued securities. Investors’ purchases raised the prices of those securities and reduced their yields. Thus, the overall effect of the Fed’s LSAPs was to put downward pressure on yields of a wide range of longer-term securities, support mortgage markets, and promote a stronger economic recovery.

In the June Open Market Committee press release, the Fed signaled that it would begin unwinding quantitative easing later in 2017 through “balance sheet normalization.”  Of course, the proviso was that the economy would “evolve broadly.”  The normalizing the balance sheet would “gradually reduce the Federal Reserve’s securities holdings by decreasing reinvestment of principal payments from those securities.”

There is little doubt that the 3.1 percent real Second Quarter 2017 GDP (bea.gov), along with a record breaking housing market during the first half of 2017 was a large part in the decision to move forward with the balance sheet normalization program.  At the very end of September’s Open Market Committee press release, the Fed stated that balance sheet normalization will begin in October.

How will unwinding quantitative easing affect the housing market?

Since the Fed’s announcement last week to unwind quantitative easing, there has been a lot of speculation as to how the housing market will respond.  Lawrence Yun, chief economist for the National Association of Realtors, issued a statement saying that he believes the Fed’s unwinding pace will be “in slow motion” and “mortgage rates would rise up only modestly over time.”  He expects that the 30-year fixed rate would only reach about 4.7 percent by the end of 2018 (nar.realtor).

But a sober 2013 article written by Edward Pinto, a former Fannie Mae executive, pointed out the immediate impact and consequences of quantitative easing (Is the Fed blowing a new housing bubble? wsj.com, April 9, 2013).  Pinto asserted that the home price surge of 2013 was due to the Fed’s LSAP rather than the often cited “broad based improvements in the economy’s fundamentals.”  Pinto stated, “The average mortgage rate during the first nine years of the 2000s was 6.3% compared with today’s [2013] rate of less than 3.5%. If mortgage rates were to increase to a moderate 6% in three years, say, some combination of three things would have to happen to keep the same level of homeownership affordability. Incomes would need to increase by a third, house prices would need to decline by a quarter, or lending standards would need to be loosened even further.”

Maybe the unwinding of quantitative easing is past due.  Home sale prices have since surged past 2006 home prices in some areas, and has considerably reduced the affordability of homeownership for many Americans.  Average wages have not increased significantly (if at all) since quantitative easing began.  Lending has loosened some, but not enough to make up for missing home buyer sectors (such as the move-up home buyer).

Home sellers may be in for a shock in 2018.  Rising interest rates will certainly moderate home prices.  However, rising mortgage rates would likely mean a return to stable housing market.  Mortgage interest rates will rise as sharply as they were reduced when the LSAP began, most likely rising above 5 percent by the end of 2018.

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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.

Consumer data breach

consumer data breach
Consumer data breach (infographic from breachlevelindex.com)

If you haven’t heard of the Equifax consumer data breach then you’re either uninformed or you just don’t care. Regardless, this breach of personal and private information should make you very concerned.  If not for your own personal data, then for our economy.  The Equifax breach was a massive data heist that included names, birth dates, addresses, phone numbers, and in some cases driver’s license numbers.

Besides causing personal harm, this data breach has the potential to wreak widespread economic havoc.  It was reported that the hack could impact up to 143 million consumers (almost half the country’s population is at risk).  If only 1 percent of the 143 million are not able to buy a home as a result of this data breach because of identification fraud or other credit report problems, that would be about 1,430,000 fewer homes sold, which is about 26 percent of all the existing homes sold in the US last year.  To put it in perspective, there was only a 20 percent drop in existing home sales from market peak (2006) to trough (2009) triggering the worst housing market since the Great  Depression and wiping out much of the country’s real estate wealth.

Let’s be clear, this is not a wake-up call.

The wake-up call came years ago when consumer data breaches and hacking first got the attention of the public and government.  Since, the snooze alarm has continually been reset.  According to the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse (privacyrights.org), since 2005 there have been 7,671 data breaches totaling to 1,070,164,636 records breached.  The clearinghouse only counts the data breaches that “have a high chance of exposing individuals to identity theft.”

One of the first consumer data breaches to draw government ire and fines was the Choicepoint breach in 2005.  The 145,000 consumers affected by that breach pales in comparison to the Equifax consumer data breach.  Choicepoint was fined $10million by the FTC as well as having to provide $5million for consumer redress.

Since Equifax’s public announcement of the consumer data breach, Congress and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has called for hearings.  Of course, hearings take time and are a knee jerk reaction to the damage that has already been done.  But the hearings will address the many questions surrounding this incident, such as: how the hack occurred; why it allegedly took Equifax two months to reveal the hack; and why were Equifax executives allegedly allowed to sell company stock before the data breach announcement?

And because of the potential financial and economic impact of hacking and consumer data breaches, the questions that should also be asked include: Why hasn’t government taken steps to protect such information prior this data breach?  How will government protect consumers moving forward?

Are consumer data breaches becoming acceptable?

Equifax’s incident is not the first of its kind, and unfortunately, nor will it be the last.  But it is the largest breach of private and personal information to date.  This incident should make you wonder if the stewards of our private and personal information, along with the government agencies and bureaus, are incapable of or not totally invested in protecting the consumer.

Be vigilant.

Equifax has set up a site to check if you’re affected by this data breach, however many have demonstrated that it does not work properly.  It may be best to assume you’re at risk and take necessary actions to protect yourself. The Federal Trade Commission (www.consumer.ftc.gov/blog/2017/09/equifax-data-breach-what-do), the CFPB (www.consumerfinance.gov/about-us/blog/identity-theft-protection-following-equifax-data-breach) offer tips in protecting your personal and private data.

Copyright© Dan Krell
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Move-up home buyers still absent

move-up home buyers
Home sale prices July 2017 (Infographic from NAR.Realtor)

Could it be that the housing market is still recovering from the great recession?  Maybe, considering that the housing market has not fully returned to a stable cycle.  Consider the inconsistency of annual home sales that seem to surge every three years, the steep home price increases over the last four years, and the lack of move-up home buyers in the market.

Summer is typically the strongest time of year for the market.  However, the National Association of Realtors reported that existing home sales decreased during June and July of this year (a decrease of 1.8 percent and 1.3 percent respectively).  And July’s Pending Home Sale Index (projecting future sales) decreased 0.8 percent (nar.realtor).

Of course, the NAR’s take on this bump in the road is provided by their Chief Economist Lawrence Yun.  Yun described the discrepancy of wage growth to home price gains as a reason for this summer’s home sale slide.  He explained that the median home sale price increased 38 percent in the last five years, while hourly earnings only increase 12 percent.  He points out the obvious, that sharply increasing home prices are creating an affordability gap, which is pricing many home buyers out of the market.

Yet, according to the NAR, “Home buyer” traffic continues to grow, while the housing inventory continues to shrink (the national home sale inventory during July decreased 9.0 percent from the same time last year).

Yun stated:

The reality, therefore, is that sales in coming months will not break out unless supply miraculously improves. This seems unlikely given the inadequate pace of housing starts in recent months and the lack of interest from real estate investors looking to sell.

Home sale inventory has been an issue for the housing market since its slow recovery began four years ago.  Although many will explain away the dearth of homes for sale as a result of strong demand and quick home sales.  However, they do not take into consideration that currently for every three homes that sell, there is one that does not.  The 1 in 3 fallout is the expectation in a typical market, while there is only a 1 in 10 fallout in a market with strong demand (such as in 2005), so home buyer demand is not exceedingly strong.

Of course, the main reason for the low housing inventory is that home owners are staying in their homes much longer than in the past.

According to the NAR, between 1987 to 2008 home owners stayed in their home an average of six years before buying their next home.  However, since 2010, the average time grew to fifteen years!  The result is a lower number of move-up home buyers in the market, and a reduced number of homes to sell.

One of missing pieces to a stable housing market has been the move-up home buyer.  The move-up home buyer is the buyer who will sell their current house to move into another home.  The necessity of move-up home buyers was acknowledged as part of a healthy housing market way back in 1985, when the economy was recovering from the deepest modern recession at that time (Move-up Buyer Provides The Base For A Recovering Housing Market. chicagotribune.com. August 17, 1985). Part of the housing recovery of 1985 was the increased participation of the move-up home buyer. As move-up home buyers “upgraded” to larger home, more affordable modest homes become available to first time home buyers.

Low housing inventory combined with elevated first time home buyer activity has fueled home prices over the last four years.  Until move-up home buyers are fully participating in the market, we will continue to see continued lack of inventory, steeper home sale price increases, and unpredictable market cycles.

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.

Improving home buyer credit scores

home buyer credit scores
Credit scores (infographic from visual.ly)

There’s been a lot of anticipation about the new credit scoring model by VantageScore (vantagescore.com).  It’s supposed to increase the availability of credit to many consumers.  Launching this fall, VantageScore 4.0 is touted to be a more accurate scoring system that uses trending data instead of “snapshots.”  This credit scoring system is also supposed to help those with limited credit, and incorporates the improved credit reporting standards included in the National Consumer Assistance Plan.  This and other new scoring systems have a lot of promise, but will improving home buyer credit scores help the mortgage process?

Let’s take a step back to see how home buyer credit scores reporting has evolved in recent years.  The National Consumer Assistance Plan (nationalconsumerassistanceplan.com) was launched in 2015 as a result of an agreement between the credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) and New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.  The agreement stemmed from Schneiderman’s investigation into the credit reporting agencies’ practices including (but not limited to) the accuracy of collected data, the practices in handling consumer disputes, and the reporting of medical debt.

The National Consumer Assistance Plan’s focus is to improve the consumer’s experience as well as increase data quality and accuracy.  Consumers will have increased information related to credit report disputes, including instructions on what to do if they’re dissatisfied with the result of their dispute.   Additionally, there is an “enhanced dispute resolution process” for fraud victims.

Among the many changes made by the National Consumer Assistance Plan to increase accuracy and quality of data includes: issuing consistent standards for those who report data to the credit agencies; medical debt won’t be reported during a 180-day waiting period so as to allow for insurance payments to catch up with billing; and the elimination of reporting of debts that were not contractual (such as parking tickets).

From The National Consumer Assistance Plan:

Consumers visiting www.annualcreditreport.com, the website that allows consumers to obtain a free credit report once a year will see expanded educational material.

Consumers who obtain their free annual credit report and dispute information resulting in modification of the disputed item will be able to obtain another free annual report without waiting a year.

Consumers who dispute items on their credit reports will receive additional information from the credit reporting agencies along with the results of their dispute, including a description of what they can do if they are not satisfied with the outcome of their dispute.

The credit reporting agencies (CRAs) are focusing on an enhanced dispute resolution process for victims of identity theft and fraud, as well as those who may have credit information belonging to another consumer on their file, commonly called a “mixed file.”

Medical debts won’t be reported until after a 180-day “waiting period” to allow insurance payments to be applied. The CRAs will also remove from credit reports previously reported medical collections that have been or are being paid by insurance.

Consistent standards will be reinforced by the credit bureaus to lenders and others that submit data for inclusion in a credit report (data furnishers).

Data furnishers will be prohibited from reporting authorized users without a date of birth and the CRAs will reject data that does not comply with this requirement.

The CRAs will eliminate the reporting of debts that did not arise from a contract or agreement by the consumer to pay, such as traffic tickets or fines.

A multi-company working group of the nationwide consumer credit reporting companies has been formed to regularly review and help ensure consistency and uniformity in the data submitted by data furnishers for inclusion in a consumer’s credit report.

Recent credit reporting changes are sure to make an impact for home buyer credit scores.  But, you may still have impaired credit that would make it difficult for you to buy a home.  So how can you improve your home buying process?  Be proactive!

A credit report contains a lot of information about you.  It reveals your personal information, including where you’ve lived and worked.  It indicates the credit cards and other loans you have, and how you pay on them.  It may also include any collection activity against you, as well as bankruptcies, liens or judgements.  Know what’s being reported about you by obtaining your free annual credit report (annualcreditreport.com) and dispute discrepancies.  Successful disputes should improve your credit score.

However, if your home buyer credit scores are impaired as the result of poor habits, don’t despair.  You can improve your credit report and score on your own by creating “good” credit habits.  First: make sure you pay your bills on time.  Planning specific times each month to pay bills will make it hard to miss a payment.  Second: reducing credit card balances may improve your credit score.  And third: be mindful of how many credit cards you maintain.  Having too many credit cards could lower your credit score.  Also, be careful to not apply for too much credit at any given time, as these “inquiries” could lower your score as well.

To learn more how a credit report functions, affects you, and how improve your home buyer credit scores, visit the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (consumerfinance.gov), the Federal Trade Commission (ftc.gov), and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC.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.