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.

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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Can we really see negative mortgage rates?

real estateSome speculate that it is possible for the Fed to set negative rates to stave off deflation; something that happened in Europe earlier this year.

Can you believe that 30-year fixed rate conventional mortgage rates have been below 5% for about five years? Rates have essentially been hovering around 4% (plus/minus) for the last three years. To put it in perspective, you’d probably have to go back to the 1940’s to get a lower rate. To contrast, rates from 1979 through the 1980’s were in double digits; and according to Freddie Mac’s Monthly Average Commitment Rate And Points On 30-Year Fixed-Rate Mortgages Since 1971 (freddiemac.com), the average mortgage commitment rate reached a peak of 18.45% during October of 1981.

With such low rates, it’s hard to imagine signing up for a mortgage at 18%, or 10%, or even 7% interest. Keep in mind that the consensus is that the average mortgage rate over the last forty years has been about 8.75%. And as economists have anticipated rising rates since 2011, rates have actually decreased.

Many thought that Fed would finally begin to raise the federal funds rate towards the end of this year. However, an interesting thing happened last week from probably the most anticipated Fed meeting ever. On September 17th, the Fed’s Open Market Committee issued a statement on the economy and monetary policy, and left the federal funds rate unchanged at a target rate of 0% to 1/4%. Although mortgage rates are not directly influenced by the federal funds rate, they are indirectly affected because the federal funds rate is the rate in which banks borrow money.

Initially it appears to be good news from the Fed’s September 17th press release, housing was described as improving, and it is felt that mortgage rates will likely to remain relatively low for the short term. However, in a press conference following the Fed statement, Fed Chair Janet Yellen referred to housing as “depressed.” Depressed is certainly not the description that anyone was expecting of a housing market that has seen slow improvement. Yet, it’s not the first time Yellen expressed concern for housing; she raised concerns about a housing market slowdown last year.

Should we also be concerned when others are optimistic? Maybe Yellen sees something that we do not. An August 16th 2013 Washington Post piece by Neil Irwin and Ylan Q. Mui details Yellen’s background and how she predicted the housing crisis and forecasted the following financial crisis (Janet Yellen called the housing bust and has been mostly right on jobs. Does she have what it takes to lead the Fed?). It’s not that Yellen is clairvoyant, as far as anyone knows, but rather her ability to connect the correct data points. In last week’s press conference she cited that housing was basically not improving in step with other economic indicators, such as employment.

So when will interest rates go up? Some speculate that it is possible for the Fed to set negative rates to stave off deflation; something that happened in Europe earlier this year. And in a couple of European counties, such as Spain, you could get a negative interest mortgage! CNN-Money reported on European negative interest rates, quoting Luca Bertalot (secretary general of the European Mortgage Federation) to say “We are in uncharted waters.” And described Spain’s Bankinter’s negative interest rate dilemma, saying that “they could not pay interest to borrowers, but instead reduced the principal for some customers (The crazy world of negative rates: Banks pay your mortgage for you?; money.cnn.com, April 22, 2015).”

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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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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.