Mortgage lender shell game

mortgage lender
How to choose a mortgage lender (infographic from consumerfinance.gov)

Realtors and other real estate professionals eagerly look forward to the annual Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers.  The Profile, published by the National Association of Realtors, provides insight into the preferences and decisions of home buyers and sellers. After thirty-five years of publication, the Profile has become somewhat of an important contribution to housing trends and economics.  But did you know that the mortgage lender and the mortgage industry has a survey of their own?

The National Mortgage Database (NMDB) is a multiyear project conducted by the Federal Housing Finance Agency (fhfa.gov) and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (consumerfinance.gov).  The NMDB project incorporates two consumer surveys, the National Survey of Mortgage Originations and the American Survey of Mortgage Borrowers.  The NMDB is meant to provide statutory guidance and lending policy direction.  The database has yielded interesting data about how and why borrowers choose their mortgage lender, as well as their experiences and interactions during the mortgage process.

The NMDB has produced a colossal amount of data across many aspects of the consumer-mortgage lender relationship.  The preliminary analysis indicated that consumers don’t really shop for a lender.  Many home buyers use the mortgage lender recommended by their agents and others.  Most notable is that about half of the home buyers surveyed only considered one mortgage lender.  Not a surprise is that the small percentage of home buyers who apply to more than one lender are typically motivated by better terms (such as interest rate).

The mortgage lender is an important aspect of the home buying process.  Unfortunately, the NMDB suggests that home buyers are not doing their homework, and possibly choosing their mortgage lenders for the wrong reasons.  The mortgage process is an intricate dance between the buyer, the loan officer/processor and the underwriter.  The mortgage lender can either provide a smooth and “stress free” closing, or a bumpy process that can cause anxiety and delays.

When you’re buying a home, “time is of the essence” (it states that on the first paragraph of your contract).  Choosing the wrong lender can cause delays and potentially cost you money.  Issues can occur with any mortgage lender at any time during the mortgage process.  Problems can sometimes stem from the inexperience of the loan officer/processor, who does a poor job communicating what is needed from you.  More often, issues arise during the underwriting process because of a slow turnaround time.

Believe it or not, many mortgage lenders have their loan officers, processors, and underwriters separated in different offices.  Sometimes the different offices are located in different cities, which can add time to the process.  Sometimes. lenders have their processing and underwriting all in the same office, which helps facilitate communication and a loan approval.

As a home buyer, RESPA gives you the right to choose your mortgage lender.  The process of choosing the best lender for you should not be much different than choosing your Realtor.  Ask your agent and others whom you respect for referrals.  Do your homework and consider at least three of the referrals, if not more.

In addition to comparing interest rates, compare the lender fees.  Lender fees can vary and can add unnecessary cost to your closing.  Since you will be communicating with the loan officer and processor a great deal through the home buying process, talk to them to get a feel for how they interact with you.  Besides to asking about their company, ask the loan officer about their background and experience.  Find out how their underwriter operates and ask about the underwriting turnaround time.  And make sure the lender is licensed.  You can check a lender’s licensing by checking with the consumer portal of the Nationwide Multistate Licensing System  (also known also known as the Nationwide Mortgage Licensing System or the NMLS).

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.

New homes allure is neurological

new homes
New homes (infographic from candysdirt.com)

Last week I mentioned that new home sales jumped 18.7 percent year-over-year, which is a ten-year high.  It should come as no surprise that new homes are selling like hotcakes.  After all, existing home inventory has been and remains historically low, which doesn’t give many options to home buyers.  But there are other reasons for the allure of new construction.  Some of the home buyers’ motives are apparent and some are not so obvious.

The idea of buying new construction goes beyond the “new home feel.”  Buyers of new homes are attracted to modern designs and trends that are incorporated into new houses.  New home construction takes advantage of modern building techniques and materials that allow for the open floor-plan concept that many home buyers prefer.  Many of the materials used in new construction are “engineered” for efficiency and longevity.

Buyers of new homes like the feeling that there will be minimal maintenance for the first year.  Everything is brand new and there is sense of confidence that the home’s systems won’t need major repairs or replacement.  Being the first owner of a home also gives assurance that they won’t have to deal with the poor maintenance habits of the previous owner.  This is a plus for home buyers who don’t have a lot of financial reserves to address home maintenance emergencies.  Instead, they can begin to save and budget for future repairs and replacements that should be years down the road.

New home builders take advantage of current trends in green building practices.  Many new home builders tout their LEED certification, demonstrating their commitment to energy efficiency and sustainable resources.  Green building practices are not only used when the home is built, but is actually built into the design.  Home owners seeking LEED certified builders believe they will have a smaller impact on the environment and save money on energy costs.

A new trend that buyers are pursuing is the “healthy home.”  The healthy home concept emphasizes the quality of the air inside the home.  Home buyers are becoming aware of the physical and environmental benefits of good indoor air quality, which can improve their emotional well-being and reduce the potential for respiratory distress.

But there is another reason why home buyers are attracted to new homes, and it lies within the brain.  Research has demonstrated time and again that consumers respond to novelty.  This means that home buyers have a tendency to want “new.”  This can be interpreted into making an old home new by renovating a kitchen, bathroom, etc.  Or it can mean buying a newly built home.

new homes
the desire for new homes may start with the limbic system (infographic from success-mohawk.com)

The novelty seeking behavior of the home buyer isn’t just a choice, as some may argue, it’s neurological.  Basically, the desire for a new home lies within the brain.  A study conducted by Nico Bunzeck and Emrah Düzel (Absolute Coding of Stimulus Novelty in the Human Substantia Nigra/VTA; 2006; Neuron 51, 369-379) demonstrated that the hippocampal region of the brain responds to novel (new) stimuli.  The hippocampal region is part of the limbic system, which is noted for being responsible for memory and emotions.  It has also been associated with motivation.

The study also discusses the idea that novelty seeking behavior isn’t just emotional, but it is also rewarding.  This means that there is a behavioral loop for seeking new things, including buying a new home.

Home sellers need to take note of these findings.  Translating this study to home buyers may mean that a home’s feeling of “newness” is important, regardless if it’s construction, renovation, or even how the home is decorated.  Understanding what attracts and motivates home buyers can be the tipping point to get a home sold.

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.

Blockchain, Bitcoin and real estate

blockchain
How will blockchain help the real estate transaction? (infographic from floridarealtors.org)

Is a Bitcoin mortgage in your future?  Probably not.  Mortgages will not be in Bitcoin in the near future.  But that doesn’t mean that the blockchain technology that underlies cryptocurrency won’t be making the real estate transaction cheaper and more efficient.

Brad Finkelstein reported on the difficulties of a Bitcoin mortgage (Virtually No Chance Soon for Any Bitcoin Denominated Mortgages; National Mortgage News, 2014).  Cryptocurrencies have a history of volatility, Bitcoin most recently lost about a third of its value (see: Bitcoin at crossroads after shedding more than $27 billion in value; marketwatch.com; September 14, 2017).  Instability of the currency is a major issue for a thirty-year mortgage.  Finkelstein stated that such short-term losses could cause the mortgage holder to “lose their shorts,” and cause the borrower to default.  He also pointed out that regulatory hurdles will be difficult to transcend, stating that mortgage rules and closing disclosures are calculated in dollars.  Not to mention the difficulty of appraising a home’s value in Bitcoin.  Additionally, all parties that are part of the transaction (such as appraisers) need to accept payment in Bitcoin.

Finkelstein also pointed out other cryptocurrency flaws.  Unlike currencies such as the euro or yen, cryptocurrencies are not backed by a government that guarantee an exchange rate.  Because of the lack of government backing, cryptocurrency values are easily manipulated.  Cryptocurrencies have also been associated with illicit internet transactions.

Although cryptocurrency mortgages may not be feasible, Finkelstein noted that “cash” transactions conducted in Bitcoin is a possibility.  Luke Stangel reported on a Miami mansion recently listed for sale in Bitcoin (Brother, Can You Spare a Bitcoin? Miami Mansion Is Listed for About 1,400 Bitcoins; realtor.com; September 6, 2017).  Two real estate agents interviewed about the sale stated that some aspects of the transaction may still be traditional, such as an escrow being deposited as well as title transfer.  However, the transferred funds would be Bitcoin.

Stengel’s report suggested that the interest in conducting real estate deals in cryptocurrencies is to speed up the sales process and provide a secure transaction.  However, because of the associated processes that occur during a transaction, the timing of such a transaction may not differ much from any other cash transaction.  Security is another issue and can be debated as Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies have had their share of hacking too.

With so many issues and hurdles, cryptocurrency on its own may not be the (immediate) future of real estate.  However, its underlying technology is of interest.  The technology that makes Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies possible is called blockchain.

Blockchain technology has the potential to revolutionize the real estate transaction by reducing the time and cost needed for processing a mortgage and title.  Blockchain technology is essentially a chain of blocks.  Each block records and holds information.  When a block is recorded, it is encrypted and cannot be changed.  The recorded information can be currency (such as a Bitcoin transaction), records, contracts, etc.  The draw to blockchain is that it is decentralized, making it difficult to corrupt and easy to restore.  Additionally, retrieving information is much faster because the chain of information is essentially available at your fingertips.

Many are skeptical of blockchain technology.  Not so much because of its disruptive potential, but because it is not impervious to problems.  Some issues include security, cost and complexity.   A revealing critique of blockchain was written by Jason Bloomberg (Eight Reasons To Be Skeptical About Blockchain; forbes.com; May 31, 2017).

However, blockchain advocates still maintain that the technology provides ease of access and secure recording of blocks of information.  The touted benefits are claimed to decrease the time of the average real estate transaction, and reduce the cost to the consumer as well.

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.

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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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.