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.

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.

First time home buyer assistance

home for sale

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 inspectors make mistakes too

home inspectors
Home inspection checklist (infographic from nar.realtor)

The home inspection has become a standard part of the home buying process.  Even in very competitive buyer situations, you can still work in an inspection without hurting the chances at getting the home of your dreams.  And although you should never forgo the inspection, you should know that the home inspection offers an opinion. However, home inspectors are not always accurate or relevant, they make mistakes too.

Nick Gromicko and Kenton Shepard, of the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors, shared their thoughts on the limitations of the home inspection (The Limitations of a Home Inspection; nachi.org).  First, home inspectors are “generalists.”  They may not necessarily be an expert in all aspects of home building and/or systems.  However, they are trained to spot potential problems and may recommend you consult with an expert.

They pointed out that home inspections are limited to what the inspector can see.  Anything that is not accessible to the inspector cannot be seen and inspected.  This includes anything behind walls, under floor coverings, or blocked by furniture or other items.

Gromicko and Shepard stated:

“Safety can be a matter of perception. Some conditions, such as exposed electrical wiring, are obviously unsafe. Other conditions, such as the presence of mold, aren’t as clear-cut.”

They further stated:

“Every home has mold and mold colonies can grow very quickly, given the right conditions. Mold can be a safety concern, but it often isn’t. The dangers represented by mold are a controversial subject.”

They conceded that “other potential safety issues that fall into the same category.”  Hazardous materials and environmental issues require specialists, and most often require samples for lab analysis.

Daniel Goldstein wrote that some home inspectors go too far (10 things a home inspector won’t tell you; marketwatch.com; February 23, 2016).  Some inspectors dwell too much on “superficial” items such as chipped paint and surface mold.  And they often provide long lists of items that may or may not be a problem without putting them into context. He stated:

“So what constitutes going too far? A less helpful inspector might dwell on things like surface mold, chipped paint or other superficial problems, or present buyers with a long litany of issues, with no context about their relative importance and no estimate of the cost of fixing them.”

Understand your home inspection has limitations, so moderate your expectations.  A good strategy is to have a conversation with your inspector about what you could expect.  Every home is different for many reasons, but often present similar issues.  Your inspector should be able to explain what you might expect due to the home’s age and level of maintenance.  Some inspectors may also be able to point out future potential issues based on the inspection.

Additionally, when it comes to hazardous materials, environmental issues, and other controversial subjects, you must go beyond the hysteria and educate yourself.  Getting the facts about such topics, which many home owners encounter, can help you understand the risks and how to reduce or eliminate them.  If issues are identified in the inspection, get an expert’s opinion.  An expert can provide further information, advice and context.

Choose an experienced home inspector with references.  Check to ensure their license is active.  Home inspectors in Maryland are licensed by the Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation (dllr.state.md.us/license/reahi).  The stated requirements to become a licensed home inspector include the completion of an approved 72-hour home inspector training course and pass the National Home Inspector Examination.  Although Maryland home inspectors are licensed, look for an inspector with additional credentials.  Many inspectors are also certified by professional organizations such as the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors (NACHI.org) or the American Society of Home Inspectors (homeinspector.org).

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Home buyer multiple offer survival guide

Home buyer multiple offer survival guide
Home buyers survival guide to multiple offers (infographic from nar.realtor)

The real estate market is getting increasingly competitive for home buyers.  But it’s not true for all homes.  Neighborhood homes that have been selling the quickest and for most money are the homes that fill the discerning home buyers’ need for a turn-key home.  You can count on these homes attracting many home buyers, as well as multiple offers.  These situations can be frustrating, but being prepared can possibly increase your chances of winning the multiple offer scenario.  Many home buyers need not come up empty, confused, and frustrated when they encounter multiple offer situations. Here’s a home buyer multiple offer survival guide.

The Home buyer’s survival guide to multiple offers

When confronted with a multiple offer scenario, you must understand the seller is in the driver’s seat.  This is a hard pill to swallow for many expecting it to be a buyer’s market.  But for the homes that show the best and are priced the best, you should expect competition from other home buyers.  Giving up the expectation that you’ll be able to negotiate a contract on your terms will help you in formulating a competitive offer.

Although you may not realize it, your emotions guide much about your home buying decisions.  Formulating your offer for a multiple offer situation will be more sound if you stick to the facts. Focusing on the facts will help you stay focused on the larger picture of buying a home.  Using data and facts can also help you be more persuasive when you present your offer to the seller.

Home buyer multiple offer survival guide on the housing market

Understanding the local market can be a major plus when putting your offer together.  Housing trends can influence home buyer competition and price.  However, understanding your limitations can help your home buying strategy too.  You may be limited in the amount you are willing to spend, the type of mortgage for which you qualify, your closing date, and a number of other issues that may affect the terms of the contract.  Don’t be discouraged if you think your limitations may lessen your offer’s attractiveness when it’s compared to others.

Certainly, don’t get caught up in media reports on real estate. The housing market is a hyper-local phenomenon.  Regional markets are different and have different sales trends.  Locally, even neighborhoods may differ significantly.  Be prepared with local market information, as well as your limits.

Home buyer multiple offer survival guide on financing

The general consensus when competing with multiple offers is to put your best foot forward.  Decide on the best price you feel comfortable paying for the home.  Cash deals are difficult to compete against.  However, you can beat a cash deal if your offer has a higher price and your lender has provided you a very strong approval letter.  If you didn’t meet with your lender prior to looking at homes, make an effort to provide your lender with all necessary documents for them to provide you an approval letter that is only subject to underwriting and appraisal (or the equivalent).  The stronger the lender letter, the more confidence the seller will have in you to complete the transaction without delays or hiccups.

Haven’t met with a lender yet? Start your own mortgage file with basic items the lender will need from you. Your lender will need recent pay stubs, W-2 statements, bank statements, 401k statement, and any other financial information you think you may need (which may include child support or disability income). Self employed individuals will need whatever documentation they can muster (including tax returns) to support their declared income. Being organized will facilitate the mortgage process.

Home buyer multiple offer survival guide on contingencies

Try to keep your contingencies to a minimum.  There may be some contingencies you may be able to avoid, and some may be necessary.  You must consider contingencies carefully and soberly, as they offer some protections if you can’t (or don’t want to) move forward with the purchase.

Home buyer multiple offer survival guide on home inspections

Although some agents suggest skipping the home inspection contingency in a multiple offer situation, I do not recommend that.  Many homes have deferred maintenance that can lead to costly repairs.  Even renovated homes that appear to be in good condition can have major issues which can go unnoticed.  Instead of skipping the home inspection, try to have a short inspection period (have the inspection scheduled ahead of time).  Some home buyers have an opportunity to conduct a pre-offer home inspection.  This allows them to eliminate the contingency from their offer, as well as knowing the general condition of the home.

Home buyer multiple offer survival guide on finding homes

If you’re finding multiple offer situations too intense, try to find homes that have little or no home buyer competition.  Ask your agent about finding homes that are not listed in the MLS.  Some agents already seek out such homes.  Alternatives could be For Sale By Owner, bank owned, auctions, and even farming specific neighborhoods for owners ready to sell. Your agent can also search through expired and withdrawn MLS listings to find homes.

There are a couple of disadvantages to looking for homes not in the MLS.  Although you may reducing the home buyer competition, you may encounter competition from real estate agents looking for listings.  Additionally, finding a willing seller of home you desire may take some time.

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.