Demand better consumer financial protection

consumer financial protection
Consumer Financial Protection and Dodd-Frank (infographic from CreditUnionTimes www,cutimes.com)

In an effort to reform the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (consumerfinance.gov) to become a better steward of consumer protection, H.R.5983 – Financial CHOICE Act of 2016 was introduced during the last congress.  The effort to compel oversight on the now embattled agency, as well as provide for a panel of decision makers (in lieu of a single chairperson), is unfortunately highly politicized.  As financial consumers, we should demand a better and fair protection agency serving without political motive.

From the Executive Summary of the The Financial CHOICE Act
Creating Hope and Opportunity for Investors, Consumers and Entrepreneurs:

SECTION THREE: Empower Americans to achieve financial independence by fundamentally reforming the CFPB and protecting investors.

  • Change the name of the CFPB to the “Consumer Financial Opportunity Commission(CFOC),” and task it with the dual mission of consumer protection and competitive markets, with a cost-benefit analysis of rules performed by an Office of Economic Analysis.
  • Replace the current single director with a bipartisan, five-member commission which is subject to congressional oversight and appropriations.
  • Establish an independent, Senate-confirmed Inspector General.
  • Require the Commission obtain permission before collecting personally identifiable information on consumers.
  • Repeal authority to ban bank products or services it deems “abusive” and its authority to prohibit arbitration.
  • Repeal indirect auto lending guidance.

Some have hailed the CFPB because it was created out of good intention. There is no question that the CFPB has done a great job in collecting and publicizing consumer complaints.  The announcements of consumer complaints seem to be a public airing of consumer grievances, which sometimes signaled forthcoming action from the agency in a specific financial sector.

However, critics contend that the CFPB rules have made lending more burdensome for both lenders and consumers by increasing bureaucratic red tape.  It has also increased the cost of lending to consumers by adding levels of compliance measures that are now embedded within the lending process.  Critics have also complained that the CFPB’s enforcement is not fair and unequal in focus.

Critics are becoming increasingly vocal, not only because of the sometimes invasive rule making, but more recently of how offenders are chosen and penalized.  Jacob Gaffney’s article for HousingWire (Former CFPB attorney pretty much just confirmed the worst fears of the mortgage industry: housingwire.com; January 3, 2017) earlier this year discussed two genuine concerns about the CFPB:

1) “The CFPB targets lenders for enforcement action based on opaque internal decisioning;” and

2) “Monetary penalties seemed determined by revenue, not equalitarian application of said enforcement action.”

Gaffney quoted Ronald Rubin, a former enforcement attorney at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, (from a December 21st 2016 piece “The Tragic Downfall of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau” published online nationalreview.com) as confirming these concerns.  For example, the Wells Fargo fake consumer account scandal, one of the most egregious consumer scandals post financial crises, was not addressed by the CFPB (until it was too late) because Wells Fargo was allegedly “not a target of the agency at that time.”

Referring to the complaint database, Rubin stated:

The CFPB’s complaint database contained grievances against almost every financial business. Enforcement targeted the companies with the most revenue…rather than those with the most complaints.”  He further stated: “Targets (of the CFPB) were almost certain to write a check… Even the size of the checks didn’t depend on actual wrongdoing — during investigations, Enforcement demanded targets’ financial statements to calculate the maximum fines they could afford to pay.

The recent PHH Corp v Consumer Financial Protection Bureau case highlighted some of the alleged abuse of power by an agency with no oversight.  US Appellate Judge Kavanaugh wrote in his opinion:

That combination of power that is massive in scope, concentrated in a single person, and unaccountable to the President triggers the important constitutional question at issue in this case

…This is a case about executive power and individual liberty. The U.S. Government’s executive power to enforce federal law against private citizens – for example, to bring criminal prosecutions and civil enforcement actions – is essential to societal order and progress, but simultaneously a grave threat to individual liberty.”

We’ve followed the career of the CFPB since it was established in the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010.  Shortly after the financial crisis, we eagerly anticipated the new agency to help those who were the target of abusive lending and foreclosure practices.  Since its inception, however, controversy has embraced the agency.

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.

Unpacking is part of the buying process

unpacking tips
Unpacking tips (infographic from visual.ly)

People don’t really give it much thought until they’ve already moved.  Maybe that’s the reason for a lack of information and guidance about unpacking.  I estimate that for every six articles about packing and moving, there’s probably one about unpacking.  And like buying a home and moving; there should be more thought to unpacking because it’s the first activity that makes your new digs feel like home.

Unlike packing for a move and decluttering, unpacking seems to get left out of the home buying process.  Many believe that you instinctively come home after settlement (or signing a lease) and just unload all the boxes and just begin living as you did in your previous home.  But the reality is that unpacking can be just as, if not more, overwhelming than the move itself.   And this applies to whether you’ve hired a moving company or concierge service to unpack for you, or you do it on your own.

That’s correct, you can hire someone to unpack for you.  However, just like packing house, it can get expensive.  Of course, charges vary.  However, if this is the way you decide to go – get multiple estimates from insured and bonded companies.  Once the service unpacks for you, consider taking the time to review where they stored items.  This will save you time later when you need to find something in a hurry.

Unpacking a house on your own may seem overwhelming (even with the help of friends), but don’t give in to procrastination.  Extreme procrastination can lead you to living out of moving boxes for a prolonged period.  Instead, make a simple unpacking plan and prioritize.  Although the chore of unpacking seems to be the physical aspect of unloading boxes; there can be an emotional drain of deciding where to best place and store items.

When packing your previous home, you most likely packed each room and labeled each moving box for their destination room.  And although unpacking each room in sequence may seem logical, you most likely won’t get it all done in one day.  The result can leave you frantically digging through boxes searching for items you use on a daily basis.

To avoid this trap, consider unpacking essential items first.  Having the essentials put away first will help you feel as if there is continuity.  You will find it easier going about your daily routine without disruption – even if you don’t unpack all the boxes.  Of course, it helps if you’ve marked the boxes containing essential items when you packed.  However, if you didn’t, that’s ok too.

If you’ve unpacked the essentials first, you’ll notice that you’ve become aware of the available storage spaces.  As a result, you’ve set the tone for each room, and the entire unpacking process becomes easier.  You’ll be able to go through your room priority list quicker and get through storing items where they belong with less deliberation and angst.

When unpacking essentials, focus on the kitchen and bathrooms first.  Chances are that you will need to use these rooms throughout the day as you unpack.  Then go through your priority list of rooms, unpacking the essentials.

Once the essentials are put away, you may feel at ease and in control.  You can then unpack rooms in sequence or as prioritized.  You may also decide to go through the remaining boxes at a leisurely pace.

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.

35 years of home buying changes

home buying changes
Years of home buying changes? (infographic from keepingcurrentmatters.com)

This week’s release of the National Association of Realtors® Annual Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers marks the 35th year of NAR’s analysis and description of home buyer and seller behaviors and attitudes.  You may not remember what it was like in 1981, but the country was coming out of a deep recession.  The economy was still scarred with double-digit unemployment, inflation and interest rates.  The 35th issue makes us think about home buying changes over the years.

According to the US Census Bureau (census.gov), the median price for a new home in 1981 was $68,900, while in 2010 the average new home price was $221,800.  Freddie Mac’s (freddiemac.com) data indicates that the average mortgage interest rate in 1981 was 16.63 percent, and 4.69 percent in 2010.  Surprisingly, the cost of housing (when financing 100 percent of the sale price) has only increased about 17.5 percent from 1981 to 2010!

People want their space and privacy.  According to the American Enterprise Institute (aei.org), the median square feet per person in a home in 1981 was about 550sf, while in 2014 it was 987sf.  This expansion in personal space was expressed in the home size.  The median size of a home in 1981 1,550sf, while 2010 it was 2,169sf (according to the Census Bureau).  Also consider that the typical home of 1981 only had one and a half bathrooms, and the expectation today is that a home should have at least two and a half bathrooms.

An October 18th news release from the NAR (Five Notable Nuggets from NAR’s Home Buyer and Sellers Survey’s 35-Year History; realtor.org) provided some insight into how the housing market has changed through the years.  One noticeable factor is the reduced number of first time home buyers entering the market due to underemployment, student debt, lack of down payment, or delaying family formation.  Last year’s percentage of first time home buyers dropped the lowest rate since 1987; and “according to the U.S. Census Bureau, the homeownership rate for 18-35 year-olds is currently at 34.1 percent, the lowest level in records dating back to 1994.”

It’s becoming apparent that real estate agents are not being replaced by the internet.  Although a majority of home buyers use the internet to assist them with the home buying process, the NAR reported that 90 percent of home buyers and sellers surveyed for this year’s profile worked with a real estate agent.  As a result, for-sale-by-owner transactions were at the lowest level ever (FSBO transactions peaked during 2003-2004).

The home buying process now takes longer than it used to.  Putting aside recent changes to the mortgage process, the 2016 Home Buyer and Seller Profile brings attention to the amount of time a home buyer needs to find a home.  According to the NAR, the average time to find a home was relatively unchanged from the 1980’s to about 2007; which about seven to eight weeks.  The duration of the home search peaked at twelve weeks from 2009 to 2013.  However, since then the average time needed to find a home is about ten weeks.  The increased search time is due to a number of factors.  Brisk sales combined with periods of low inventory has not provided home buyers with much of a choice from which to select.  Not to mention an unprecedented amount of available information that has created a savvy home buyer.

Copyright © Dan Krell

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Home inspection surprises

home inspection surprises
home inspection surprises (from wini.com)

The American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI) often conducts surveys to measure home buyer satisfaction. Although most home buyers are typically satisfied with their home inspections, you should be prepared for home inspection surprises after you move into your new home.

A 2012 ASHI survey conducted by Harris Interactive indicated that home buyer confidence was boosted in eighty-eight percent of respondents who had a home inspection before buying. A 2011 ASHI survey revealed that about seventy-two percent of homeowner respondents indicated that their home inspection helped them avoid potential problems with their home.

Although the surveys suggest a majority of home buyers are usually satisfied with their home inspections, there are some that are not.  It’s not unusual to read or hear about a home inspection that is not perfect.  And sometimes the home inspection goes awry from the start.  An agent once told me a story about a home inspector who flooded a condo because he wanted to check the fill rate of tub by closing the drain; he walked away and forgot about the quickly filling tub.  Years ago, I witnessed how a home inspector almost caused a fire by turning on an oven – if the inspector first checked inside before turning the oven on, he would have noticed that is where the homeowner stored pans separated by paper towels.

There’s a lot going on during a home inspection to distract the inspector from their duties.  And no one said home inspectors are supposed to super human or perfect; but there is an expectation that they are thorough.  Not so much because they are paid professionals; but rather, they’re relied on for information about one of the highest cost purchases of a lifetime – your home.

When you first meet with your home inspector, they will tell you they are not perfect.  However, they are supposed to follow “standards of practice.”  Years before home inspectors were licensed, ASHI developed standards of practice as a means of establishing expectations placed on inspectors.  Many of those standards have since been incorporated into state home inspector licensing laws.

Maryland’s home inspector licensing law (COMAR Title 9 Subtitle 36 Chapter 7) states that the inspector identify the scope of the inspection, and visually inspect “readily accessible areas” to determine it the items, components and systems are operating as intended, or are deficient.  Further, to be in accord with the standards of practice, a home inspection: “Is intended to provide…objective information regarding the condition of the systems and components of a home at the time of the home inspection; Acts to identify visible defects and conditions that, in the judgment of the home inspector, adversely affect the function or integrity of the items, components, and systems inspected, including those items or components near the end of their serviceable life; May not be construed as compliance inspection…; Is not intended to be construed as a guarantee, warranty, or any form of insurance; Is not an express or implied warranty or a guarantee of the adequacy, performance, or useful life of any item, component, or system in, on, or about the inspected property…”

Given the limitations of the home inspection, home buyers are sometimes confronted with surprises about the condition of items that were not readily seen during the inspection, such as: the roof, chimney, foundation, and HVAC.  However, you can limit subsequential issues by having a licensed contractor further examine those areas during the inspection period.

Copyright © Dan Krell

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Think resale when home buying

think resale when home buying
think resale when home buying (infographic from pureenergies.com)

A common question, especially among savvy first time home buyers, is what will the resale value be like when they sell?  Of course they are not asking for a specific price, but rather they question if the future home buyer will find the home just as desirable as they do. In other words, think resale when home buying.

That is a good question, since your home is one of the largest investments you’ll ever make; and you want to make sure you’re making a sound investment.  Some things to keep in mind when buying a home and keeping an eye to the resale includes: focusing on current desirability; keeping the home complimentary to the neighborhood; considering added value; and not going overboard with updates and upgrades.

Ask yourself what attracted you to the home you’re purchasing and you’ll have a number of items that probably will make it desirable to the future home buyer.  Most likely at the top of the list is the location.  “Location, location, location” may be cliché, but it holds true.  Items such as the home’s accessibility to metro and major commuter routes are important, along with its proximity to neighborhood and local amenities.  Other top attractors to the home possibly include the living space and back yard.

Consider the future plans for the area, as it could affect the home’s resale.  You can view the master plan for the county and specific localities on the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission’s website (montgomeryplanning.org).  You can decide if the home you’re about to buy will be impacted by some future development or zoning change.

Another resale factor is how the home compares to its neighborhood cohorts.  Is the home similar or does it obviously different?  Has the current owner modified the existing living space in any way?  Have they converted a three-bedroom home into a two-bedroom home; or similarly, added a bedroom by taking space from an existing bedroom or living area?  Such modifications can make the home feel cramped and smaller and affect future resale.

Think about how the home seller updated and upgraded the home.  Although not all updates add value, many will increase the home’s appeal to buyers.  Keep an eye on the kitchen, bathrooms, and flooring, as home buyers typically consider these as high cost upgrades and can affect resale value.  Ask the seller if they hired licensed contractors for major renovations and additions.  Also, check for appropriate permits, and ask for plans and invoices.

Additionally, do your due diligence when it comes to “green” upgrades.  Although the home seller may have considered the investment into green upgrades money saving, they are not always reliable and can be expensive to repair.  And it may be all the rage among home owners, solar panels may come with lease payments and/or replacement costs with little or no net savings; so it’s a good idea to ask for associated lease agreements and utility bills, as well as replacement and maintenance costs.

When it comes time for you to sell, don’t go overboard when with updates and upgrades.  Contrary to belief, doing too much to the home could have a minimal return on your investment, or even decrease the value.  Updates and upgrades should be comparable to similar homes in the price range to maximize return on your investment. Also, steer clear from short lived trendy designs.  Experts recommend to focus on function and substance when making upgrades.

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.