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).

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 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.

Real estate auction home buying and selling

real estate auction
Real estate auction (infographic from warwickauctions.co.uk via visual.ly)

As the housing market continues to grow, buying and selling homes through the real estate auction is becoming more popular.  Contrary to popular belief, real estate auctions are not just for distressed properties.  Being part of a real estate auction can be exciting, but it’s not for everyone.  There are pros and cons for both the home buyer and seller.

A real estate auction is traditionally a “live” auction performed at a designated place where the bidders and auctioneer meet to conduct the auction.  You must be present, or have a proxy present, to make your bid.  You must register to bid at the auction, usually presenting proof of funds for your deposit.  The pace of the live auction can be very quick, so you have to pay close attention to the action.

Another form of real estate auction that has blossomed out of the foreclosure crisis, is the online auction.  The online real estate auction allows many homes to be auctioned simultaneously.  The atmosphere and pace of an online auction is different from a live auction.  Of course, buyers can make their bid from virtually anywhere, and the bidding can take place over days or weeks.

If you want to sell your home via real estate auction, the benefits include: decreasing your homes time on market; you know when the home will sell; the home sells “as-is;” home buyer contingencies are typically few or none.  The National Association of Realtors (nar.realtor) auction information describes homes that are good prospects (What Properties are Suited for Auction?) , which include: homes with a lot of equity; unique homes; vacant homes; and homes that are difficult to appraise.

However, real estate auctions are not for all sellers.  The downside to the auction is that your home may not sell, especially if you place a reserve (seller reserves the right to accept or reject highest bid) on the auction.  There are also costs that typically include the auctioneer’s commission and advertising costs, which could be due even if the home does not sell.

If you’re a home buyer, a real estate auction offers benefits for you too.  Real estate auctions offer another avenue to purchase homes other than those listed in the MLS.  This can be attractive especially when there is limited inventory of homes for sale.  Buyers guide the sale price through their bidding.  Unless it’s a blind bid auction (where bids are not disclosed to other bidders), you can decide if you want to increase your bid based on others’ bids.

If you want to buy a home at auction, do your due diligence.  Read the terms of sale, there may be a minimum bid, minimum deposit, and even a buyer’s premium (which can be as high as 5 percent of sale price) and other fees that may be due at closing.  Check the auction schedule frequently because the date and time may change, or the auction can be cancelled.  Understand the type of auction you’re bidding in, because you may not get the home even if you’re the highest bidder (especially online auctions).  Inspecting the property may be a challenge as you may have limited access.

Hire a Realtor to help you buy a home at a real estate auction

Hire a Realtor to assist and guide you through the details of buying a home via real estate auction.  Your agent can help you get the terms of sale and any due diligence material the auctioneer provides.  Additionally, they can also provide comps for the property to help you decide on your bidding strategy.  If you have the winning bid, your agent can help you with the details of getting you to settlement by assisting with contracts, financing, and other aspects of the sale.

From the National Association of Realtors auction section:

BENEFITS TO THE SELLER:
-Buyers come prepared to buy
-Quick disposal reduces long-term carrying costs, including taxes & maintenance
-Assurance that property will be sold at true market value
-Exposes the property to a large number of pre-qualified prospects
-Accelerates the sale
-Creates competition among buyers—auction price can exceed the price of a negotiated sale
-Requires potential buyers to pre-qualify for financing
-The seller knows exactly when the property will sell
-Eliminates numerous and unscheduled showings
-Takes the seller out of the negotiation process
-Ensures an aggressive marketing program that increases interest and visibility

BENEFITS TO THE BUYER:

Smart investments are made as properties are usually purchased at fair market value through competitive bidding
-The buyer knows the seller is committed to sell
-In multi-property auctions the buyer sees many offerings in the same place at the same time
-Buyers determine the purchase price
-Auctions eliminate long negotiation periods
-Auctions reduce time to purchase property
-Purchasing and closing dates are known
-Buyers know they are competing fairly and on the same terms as all other buyers
-Buyers receive comprehensive information on property via due diligence packet

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.

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.

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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.

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