Searching for your home on the internet

Most home buyers do the internet home search. These home buyers are either looking at websites to find homes that are still on the market, or are receiving listings from their Realtors by e-mail. This is no different with my clients. Clients that I work with always find a discrepancy or two on the homes that still say “active” (meaning they are available to see and place an offer). Sometimes the home that is marked “active” will actually be under contract, or “off the market” for one reason or another. The question that is asked is, “if the home is no longer available to show, why is the status still active?”

That is a very fair question. The answer lies in several factors. The first factor is the technology itself. The second factor lies in procedure and etiquette for entering information in the Multiple List Service (MLS). The third factor is human error.

Many Realtors and Brokers have web sites where home buyers can search for homes that are for sale. You can get an idea of the abundance of these sites by going to an internet search engine and type in “home search Silver Spring.” The thousands of sites that exist all are run by different forms of technology. Although these websites pull information from the local MLS, the nature of the software running the websites will update the listings at different times. Some websites are actually a day or two behind the actual MLS. So, a home showing “active,” may actually be under contract.

Some internet home search websites are updated sooner than other websites, however, some are easier to navigate. If your desire is to find the home and jump on it before anyone else, relying on internet listings is not the way to go.

So much for technology. How about the human element? Realtors inputting information into the MLS also must follow a precise procedure and etiquette. The reason for the procedures is to ensure the accuracy of the information. A Realtor must input their listings within twenty-four hours of obtaining the listing, and must input all subsequent information accordingly. When the status for a home changes, such as having a contract or settling, the Realtor must input this information as well. It gets a bit sticky when the Realtor is working on final negotiations for a contract, but the contract has not been ratified. There is no contract yet so the status can not be changed. The Realtor won’t change the status until the final signatures are on the contract, and this limbo time will create some confusion and frustration for some home buyers and Realtors.

The final reason for discrepancies to exist is human error. There are times when the listing agent (Realtor who represents the seller) will forget to change the status of the home. This is mostly unintentional, however, it does add to the home buyer’s frustration.

The internet home search is helpful, fun and convenient. It is not perfect. Before running out to look at the home of your dreams, make sure it is still available by asking your Realtor to check the status. This will reduce your frustration and make home buying a more pleasant experience.

This column is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice.

by Dan Krell © 2005

Risky mortgages

Reading Friday’s Washington Post Article about Alan Greenspan’s comments on the housing market does not surprise me. Mr. Greenspan was concerned about the increase in the use of what was termed “exotic mortgages,” specifically interest only mortgages. In other words, “risky mortgages.”

A lot of media focus has been given to this type of loan lately because the national housing market. Locally, there has been media attention as well. Like me, the Washington Post has recently written about the potential hazards of interest only mortgages. In addition to interest only mortgages, there are many other non-traditional mortgages that are popular as well, which include 100% financing, no-doc loans, balloon notes, option arms, “sub prime” mortgages, and their many variations of each. I will only describe interest only mortgages and 100% financing. You can contact your local mortgage lender for more information regarding all non-traditional mortgage programs.

What some describe as “risky mortgages” are non-traditional mortgages that were designed to increase homeownership and to help those that can qualify for traditional mortgages. However, many more home buyers are looking toward these non-traditional mortgages to help them purchase more expensive homes which they might not otherwise qualify.

What are risky mortgages?

An interest only mortgage is just that, it is a mortgage where the borrower’s monthly payments only go to pay off the interest of the loan. The principal is never paid back until the home is sold or the mortgage is refinanced. There are several varieties of this type of loan but the underlying goal is the same, which is to allow a borrower to have lower mortgage payments. The intent for this program is to lower the mortgage’s impact on the borrower’s cash flow. In reality, however, the borrowers’ cash flow has been increased because of the added debt from the higher priced homes they purchase. Doing so only puts the borrower at a higher risk because the borrower’s cash flow has not been reduced and the mortgage principal never decreases during the life of the loan.

Another popular mortgage program is the no down payment mortgage, or 100% financing. This program helps borrowers who have little cash for down payment and closing costs. The program provides the borrower with a loan that is one hundred percent of the purchase price. Typically, the borrower relies on a long term approach for building equity. However, recently, borrowers have relied on the strong real estate market to grant them short term equity gains.

These are two wonderful mortgage programs, when employed properly help home buyers. The risk in these two programs is paradoxical. What was devised to help home buyers with limited funds and/or cash flow becomes a tremendous burden when the borrower has a financial set back. Because the principal on the loan is either not reduced at all or is reduced marginally within the several years of the loan, the borrower could easily become “upside down” if they fall behind on their mortgage. Added interest and penalties on unpaid amounts quickly add additional thousands of dollars to the overall mortgage. Being upside down is a term used to describe when you owe more than the home is worth.

Again, these mortgage programs are great devices that have helped to increase home ownership across the country. All mortgages are risks, some are riskier than others. Home buyers should understand the risks involved before choosing any mortgage program.

by Dan Krell © 2005

How your interest rate effects you

Last week, I was in Starbucks talking about interest rates and the current real estate market. It was not unusual that I was in Starbucks nor conducting business there, as it seems that Starbucks, these days, maybe second to the golf course in the culmination of business. This day, I happened to be talking with Ken Cusick. Ken and I were discussing the vulnerability of those homeowners who purchased their home with adjustable mortgages, primarily interest only mortgages and their mortgage rates. Ken had a lot to say about this topic. Ken is the principal of Cusick Financial, LLC, a financial consulting firm located in Olney, MD specializing in residential and commercial financing.

Ken and I agreed that many homeowners have a great mortgage rate because of the historically low interest rates we have had recently. I expressed my concern about the many homeowners who have bought their home with an interest only or variable rate mortgage to either allow them to buy more home than they normally could afford, or to keep payments down. After all, the interest rates for these mortgages usually started between three to four percent. This cut the mortgage payment by at least a few hundred dollars a month, if not more.

Ken had a few things to say in response, as well as a few words of advice. First, Ken asserted that because the interest only and variable rate mortgages are tied to short term indices, they usually tend to be a better deal than 30-year mortgages (which are tied to long term bonds and indices). Depending on the type of index the mortgage is tied to, the interest rate can change annually or even as frequently as monthly. He stated that the unusually low interest rate environment we have had in the past five years has made housing more affordable, which paradoxically led to the significant increase in home prices we have experienced.

Second, Ken stated that those homeowners who have a fixed rate mortgage would always be able to afford their home as long as their income never decreases and they never need to sell their home. Even if there is a correction in the real estate market to lower home prices, these homeowners are in good shape.

Third, homeowners who have interest only or variable rate mortgages are subject to the volatility of the market as rates rise and fall, and are at significant risk. As interest rates rise, their monthly mortgage payments rise. Additionally, as interest rates rise, the cost of housing rises and housing demand decreases. This creates difficulty for those who were betting on interest rates to stay low because the affordability of the mortgage becomes an increasing burden on those who may not be able to afford higher payments. Add that to the possibility of their home being devalued increases the burden of loss.

Ken’s advice was simple. If the homeowner could not afford the mortgage payment with an increase of of interest by two to three percentage points, then they should refinance into a fixed rate mortgage. He admits the payment will be higher, but the comfort that the payment will not change should be peace of mind in an uncertain future.

If, however, the mortgage rate does not adjust in three to five years and the homeowner intends to sell in within that time period, Ken says to hang in there. The logic is that the only risk the homeowner takes is the possibility of the home depreciating in value. If the mortgage balance is 70% to 80% of the current home value, then the risk is much less.

To many, Ken’s advice would seem a bit too conservative. I, however, believe that this advice to be the consensus of good financial planning.

by Dan Krell © 2005

This column is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice.

There are options if you are in Foreclosure

Popular culture has a way of taking an item or an event and making it over simplified for the lay folk so as the item or event becomes a trite expression of a generation or decade. You can spot this happening when certain new buzzwords fly about the air. The event or item becomes trendy and ingrained in the psyche, then eventually becomes passe. This has become the case of trying to buy a pre-foreclosure. A pre-foreclosure is when the distressed homeowner still owns the property, most likely is still living in the home and is facing a sure loss of their hard earned money and home.

As a Realtor, it used to be pretty common for a buyer to say, “Oh, and I am interested in buying a foreclosure,” at the end of the first meeting. Lately, it has become trendy for buyers to assert that they are looking for a pre-foreclosure because it is believed that the home is still in good condition. The main reason for these assertions is that buyers believe they are getting a great bargain. Unfortunately, it is far from the truth. Most people, who buy a foreclosed home, pay a premium because the market is very strong. Even when the home is distressed, the buyer will pay top dollar for a home is a particular neighborhood, knowing that they will have spend another $50,000 to $100,000 to fix the home. Certainly a pre-foreclosure will sell for market value.

The unfortunate player in this scenario is the distressed homeowner who faced a hardship or two and fell behind on their mortgage payments. Many people facing late payments or foreclosure usually lack information of where to get help. The U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) recommends that the first thing the homeowner should do is to call their lender if they are falling behind on their mortgage payments, or they know they will have problems making the mortgage payment. By calling the lender and explaining the situation, the lender will usually provide options to help the homeowner through the hardship. HUD also highly recommends that the homeowner call a HUD-approved housing counseling agency to assist. Information on the housing counseling agencies is available on the HUD website www.hud.gov.

According to BankRate.com, lenders want to help the borrower as much as possible. The last thing the lender wants is to spend thousands on legal fees to foreclose on a property then have to sell it. Some of the options that lenders extend to delinquent homeowners include a forbearance and mortgage modification. These provisions are usually more prevalent with FHA and VA backed mortgages, however, they are also offered for conventional mortgages as well. A forbearance is a special repayment plan where the lender arranges payments such that it will allow the homeowner to make mortgage payments after the financial crisis. Usually this is a fix for a short-term financial crisis.

If the homeowner is seriously behind on your mortgage, the lender can modify the mortgage. A modification is when mortgage payments that have not been paid are added to the principal of the existing mortgage. This allows the homeowner to essentially catch up and get back on track.

Recently, it has become common to see many pre-foreclosure sales. This when the owner has fallen behind in their mortgage payments or is even in the foreclosure process and sells the home on their own or through a Realtor. In most cases, this may be the last resort for the homeowner because they cannot pay the mortgage even with the modifications. Although the homeowner cannot keep the home, this is usually a good arrangement because the homeowner can pay off the mortgage and get the equity out of the home to apply it towards the purchase of a smaller and more affordable home.
If you or someone you know has the misfortune of falling behind on the mortgage, talk to the lender, they want to help.

Copyright Dan Krell 2005.

What happens to your home in a divorce?

What happens to a family home in a divorce?

When divorce is imminent, people tend to worry about the children’s future, how to treat the mother-in-law who was so nice (lucky fellow), how their friends will react. Of course, these should be at the top of one’s mind. There are many concerns to worry about.

Beyond family concerns, finances and real estate are important also. Figuring out who gets what and how much can get messy, antagonistic and litigious. That is why an attorney should be consulted on these matters.

But what about the marital home? There are various options and outcomes. Sometimes the agreement is amicable.  However, there are many times where spouses disagree and rely on their legal counsel.  Sometimes, the court steps in and appoints a trustee to determine the disposition of the home.

It’s common for one party to offer to buy out the other’s interest in the home.  But in doing so, coming up with the money may be a challenge.  “Cash-out” refinance and home equity lines are sometimes a solution if the spouse meets the lender’s underwriting guidelines.   Of course, if the home has no equity, then relying on a cash-out refi may not work.

Selling a home is emotional and stressful. Selling a home during a divorce can compound the stress.  It’s important to be as objective and fair as possible when making decisions about the marital home.   If you are selling your home, hire a professional Realtor who is objective and adept in handling such sales.  Consult with an attorney on matters of separation and divorce.

by Dan Krell © 2005
Copyright Dan Krell 2005.