I Am Ready to Buy a Home – What Do I Do First?

June 2, 2015

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Buying a home is still the American Dream and the hope of most people in this country. It is a sign of stability and progress and a way to show that you are moving up in the world. I have had buyers literally break down in tears during the closing process because they have finally achieved “the dream”. June is National Homeownership Month and I will be answering some of the questions that I am asked most often. If you have a question that you would like to have answered, feel free to leave it in the comments section or email me directly. Let’s start with the most obvious question….

I am ready to buy a home – what do I do first? 

Because the purchase of a home is as much a financial decision as it is a personal one, the first thing that you would have to do is check your credit and know your score. If you have not pulled your credit report in a while then use an established site like AnnualCreditReport.com to access your file. You can also use a site like CreditKarma.com which will provide your score, update you monthly concerning your credit activity and give you helpful tips for maintaining a strong credit profile. Once you pull your credit report, you are ready to move on to the next step if your score is at least a 620 and you are free of judgments, liens, bankruptcy, foreclosures and short sales. If you have any of these issues then you will have to do a little more research to see what type of timeframe is required before purchasing.

Buying a home is a huge financial undertaking and knowing your credit history and score is the first step of many towards making a reasonable purchase. A 620 credit score is the minimum starting point but lenders may require a higher score in order to get you the best loan and rate. If you have a 620 or above, then you can take the next step which is to call a Realtor.

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Starting Your Short Sale Process on the Right Foot

February 23, 2011

The first step in the beginning the short sale process is for you to determine and document your reasons for falling behind in your mortgage payments. Most often the hardship is due to the loss of a job, medical expenses, divorce or the sharp increase in the interest rate. Once it has been determined that you have a legitimate hardship then there are two steps that can be taken simultaneously; the first is to call the lender and the second is to call a realtor.

Calling your lender takes time and patience but is necessary to begin the short sale process. Because short sales are so prevalent, banks have entire departments dedicated to handling incoming calls from homeowners on this issue.  Once you have a bank representative on the phone, express your desire to begin the short sale process. There are so many programs that you may qualify for and I will begin to discuss each one in subsequent posts; so just know that you have options as you begin this process.

At the same time that you are calling your lender, you will need to find a realtor that has experience with short sales. Your home must be listed with a realtor in order for the bank to process your short sale request. Because short sales are a specialty area, you need to find a realtor that is experienced with the process. There is a widely recognized certification for realtors – the Certified Distressed Property Expert or CDPE – whcih means that the realtor went through intense training to understand the short sale process. Often times, realtors will team up with attorneys and allow the lawyers to process the short sale once a contract is received. In either case, ask the realtor what process they use and what are the results. You have to be very comfortable with this realtor because as you will see, they will have access to personal family documents.

At your initial meeting with the realtor, they will assemble the ‘short sale’ package.  Included in this package are the following documents:

  • Hardship Letter & Supporting Documentation
  • Two Years Tax Returns
  • Two Months Bank Statements
  • Two Months Pay Stubs
  • Listing Agreement
  • Homeowner’s Association Contact Information
  • Last Monthly Mortgage Statement

Be prepared to sign off on the following documents at the initial meeting:

  • Authorization letter – authorizing the realtor (and attorney) to discuss your account
  • Financial Worksheet detailing your monthly income and expenses
  • IRS form 4506T- EZ authorizing the bank to pull your tax returns on file with the IRS
  • Short Sale disclosure form – detailing the issues surrounding the short sale

This can be an overwhelming process. It may seem like a lot of forms to sign and documents to bring but the lender wants to be able to evaluate your total financial picture when determining the strength of your short sale request. Also, remember the lender can refer back to your initial financial documents presented when you originally applied for the home loan as well as any refinance documents submitted at the time. Make sure you present a consistent financial picture.

The key to starting your short sale process on the right foot is twofold. First, notify your lender right away if you are falling behind or anticipate falling behind on your mortgage. Sometimes the lender will notify you if a previous program did not work and they will initiate a short sale. But don’t assume that no news is good news – they can foreclose quickly in the state of Georgia.  Second, get your documents ready for your first meeting with the realtor. Different lenders want information in various stages so you want your realtor to be prepared to hit the ground running from the first day of the listing. Don’t make them have to call and wait for you.

There are several types of short sales and I will begin to cover each one in subsequent posts. Bookmark this blog and tell others.


Do You Qualify for a Short Sale?

February 20, 2011

 

For the past few years foreclosures reigned supreme in the real estate market. As a realtor, I had to get used to the bank’ additional paperwork and timetables for closing a foreclosure transaction. Every bank was different not to mention the paperwork on the government or HUD properties. But we all learned the system and got used to the new foreclosure normal.

Now we have another ‘new normal’ – short sales. As I said in a previous post, short sales are overtaking foreclosures in the real estate marketplace. Given all of the other options for the homeowner, a short sale can actually be a ‘win-win.’  How do you know if you qualify for a short sale? It all begins with the nature of the hardship.

Your lender will want to know why you can no longer make your mortgage payment. Here is where it gets interesting… the answer can not be:   1) my house is not worth what I paid for it, 2) I no longer like the neighborhood or  3) I just want something else.  I am not making light of a very serious situation but sometimes people want to use the short sale process to dump one home and move into another. That will not work.

An example of a real hardship is as follows:

  • Loss of a job
  • Job relocation
  • Reduction in income
  • Serious medical issues
  • Dramatic change in interest rate
  • Death of a family member
  • Divorce or separation

The lender will want to see proof of the hardship such as a divorce decree, death certificate, termination notice, medical bills, etc.  This will provide proof that you are in a very serious situation and that while you would like to continue to make your mortgage payments, you are no longer in a position to do so.  A defined hardship is the first step in researching your eligibilty for a short sale.


Turning a Fixer Upper Into a “Dream Home”

January 15, 2011

Dream Home

 

Have you ever walked into a home and thought “this would be perfect if it just didn’t need work”? Well, I hear that comment all the time from buyers because there are so many foreclosures on the market. Many of these homes need carpet, paint, kitchen & bath remodeling, new flooring, etc.  In the long run, all of these repairs are minor if the home is in a great neighborhood, good school district and has a desireable floorplan.

What stops most buyers from turning a fixer upper into their dream home is work and vision. Some buyers simply can’t see past dirtly green carpet and riped tile floors. It takes vision to see hardwood floors and granite countertops in a home that has orange paint on the wall. For other buyers, the idea of calling 18 different contractors and getting bids for the work is overwhelming. They would just rather buy the house in the next community that doesn’t need all that work. Makes sense to me.

Now imagine this. I have two homes on the market; one for $36,900 and the other for $39,900. Both need no more than $20k in fixup work – carpet, paint, appliances, etc. ( I am not an inspector so this is what I can see). So can you imagine designing your kitchen, baths and living room according to your style? All of this for under $60,000 and a really low monthly payment. Does it become worth it to you?

Also, imagine three other things. One, the costs of the repair work can be rolled into your loan to purchase the home. You will only have one payment. Two, a renovation specialist will come out at no cost to you and help you visualize and price out the cost of your upgrades. This information is sent to the lender for review. Finally, the work can be completed within 60 days after you close on the house. The renovation specialist hires the contractors and supervises the work. You move in!

Now when you go househunting, don’t shy away from the fixer uppers. Start looking at them with vision. Look in magazines if you can’t visualize what you want. Turn that fixer upper into your dream home.

BTW, call me if you want more information on the fixer uppers that I have listed. I can make this work for you!


Can I Still Sell My Home in Today’s Market?

November 1, 2010

Not in recent history has there been a more uncertain time in the real estate market. We have record numbers of foreclosures, some of which are being challenged because of unclear documentation and possible fraud, as well as the introduction of short sales on a massive scale. Short sales bring uncertainty because none of the parties involved know exactly what the bank will do as far as accepting the terms of the contract and releasing the homeowner from any future liability. We have homeowners “under water” meaning that they owe more on their homes than the homes are worth and many of these people are simply choosing to walk away. We have home sitting on the market longer and selling for less if they sell at all. When was the last time that the terms ‘house’ and ‘depreciate’ were mentioned in the same sentence?

It is in this environment that I am frequently asked by homeowners if they can still sell their home given today’s market. My answer is “YES” but only in certain circumstances. If the seller can answer ‘yes’ to three of the four following questions, then they are in a position to sell their home; otherwise they have to stay put and wait for the market to fully recover. (Whatever that means).

Question #1 – Do you have sufficient ‘equity’ in your home? We used to include appreciation in our calculation of equity meaning that your equity was the difference between what the home could be sold for on the open market and what was remaining on the loan. This is still the calculation of equity but now we have to be realistic about the value of the home. Very few people have any equity if they purchased their homes in the last 5-8 years and marginal equity if they purchased in the last ten unless they had a substantial down payment. However, if you have owned your home for a while and know for sure that you can answer ‘Yes’ to having sufficient equity, then you are one step closer to being able to sell your home.

Question #2 – Do you have substantial savings to cover a shortfall? If you did not answer ‘yes’ to the first question but can answer ‘yes’ to this one, you are still in business. Perhaps you have enough money saved to cover any shortfall at the closing table meaning that if your home sells for less than your loan balance, you can make up the difference. Some people will pay the difference because they are getting a tremendous deal on the home they are moving into.

Question #3 – Can you price your home aggressively and continue to adjust the price until the home is sold? When a home is priced correctly, it will attract buyers and ultimately an offer. When it is priced above the current market, it will sit without notice. As a matter of fact, an overpriced home will actually help to sell other homes as buyers will use it for comparision purposes. If you can afford to price your home aggressively (at or slightly below market) and can also afford to adjust the price until an offfer is received, then you can still sell your home. By the way, price adjustments are usually in increments of at least $5,000 per adjustment depending on the price point of the home and community.

Question 4 – Can you afford to modernize/update your home? One of the hardest jobs of a realtor is to market a home that is not in ‘show ready’ condition particularly in this market. Outdated wallpaper, light fixtures, personal photos, massive collections all amount to clutter and expense to a potential homebuyer. If you can not afford to have the home professionally cleaned (particularly carpet) and freshly painted, then at a minimum remove all clutter including personal photos, collections, etc. When a buyer goes through a home that is outdated, they begin to see massive costs in modernizing it. As realtors, we used to be able to offer allowances but many lenders will not allow this. If you have lived in the home so long that you can no longer be objective, bring in a friend or ask a realtor for an evaluation. Be ready for the truth and be ready to take action. Remember your overall goal.

If you have answered ‘Yes’ to three of the four questions, then you are in a position to sell your home. A properly priced updated home will draw attention and offers. In this world of uncertainty, a buyer may welcome a chance to purchase a home without the risk associated with a foreclosure or the wait associated with a short sale.


WAYS TO IMPROVE YOUR CREDIT SCORE BEFORE YOU SEARCH FOR A HOME

September 8, 2010

I get calls everyday from prospective buyers asking what they need to do to get into a home. The answer is always the same – they have to start with a lender, pull their credit, talk about their debts and then get “pre-qualified”. Once I get this information from the lender, we can begin the homebuying process. If you believe that there are ‘issues’ on your credit, the following article by Paige Tepping will give you some great tips to straighten them out before you begin the home search.

RISMEDIA, September 8, 2010–Many prospective homeowners find out the hard way the importance of a good credit score when they apply for a home mortgage, especially after the subprime loan crisis. If you are considering buying a home in the near future, it is a good idea to give your credit score a check-up and then take positive steps to improve your credit score if you find problems. Ideally, it is best to begin working on improving your credit score at least six months before you plan to start shopping for a home.

According to the experts at Buy-and-Sell-House-Fast.com, the following tips will help you improve your credit and should be taken before you begin your home search.

The first critical step in taking care of your credit is to check your credit report. Unfortunately, many people fail to take this all important first step. Instead, they wait until they have applied for a mortgage loan to find out from the lender that there are problems with their credit scores.

By checking your credit score before you apply for a mortgage loan, you gain the opportunity to find out if there are problems which you can correct and discrepancies that need to be removed. When you check your credit report, make sure you check all three of the national credit reporting agencies: Experian, Trans-Union and EquiFax.

Review your credit report carefully for items that may be erroneous. If you believe that an item on your credit report is reported in error, you have the right to contest it. To do so, you will need to contact the credit reporting agency and explain why you believe the item is inaccurate. Supporting documentation such as receipts and cancelled checks can help your claim. Alternatively, you can engage a credit report repair services firm to fix your credit report.

If there are derogatory items on your credit report that are accurate but which could cause problems in your loan application, you cannot have them removed; however, you can take positive steps to counteract them. In the event that you have missed payments in the past, take steps now to get your bills current. Even if it means tapping into money that you might be planning to use for a down payment, it is essential that you get your accounts current and keep them that way. Begin by immediately making your payments on time. There is nothing which can lower your credit score more quickly than late payments. Ideally, make an attempt to begin sending in your payments a few days ahead of time to make sure they arrive on time and you do not have any more late payments on your record. If necessary, begin taking advantage of electronic payments in order to make sure your payments are made on time. Over time, this can make significant difference.

Keep in mind that eradicating all of your credit balances is really not the solution. In fact, credit can be your friend when you are looking to make a big purchase such as a home. The key is to make sure your credit is positive, not negative. Toward that end, avoid actually closing out your accounts. Instead, make an effort to pay down your balances and keep them paid down well below the minimum or completely paid off, but do not close the account. When your lender runs your credit to make a decision on your mortgage application, he or she will want to see that you have had a long credit management history.

After reviewing your credit history, if you see that most, if not all of your credit cards are maxed out or nearly maxed out, it is time to sit down and plan an aggressive strategy for paying some of them down. One of the critical factors that often determine your ability to be approved for a mortgage loan is your debt to income ratio. In addition, high credit card balances can drag down your credit score. Therefore, it is important to look at paying off some of your balances.

It is generally better to begin with your highest-rate balances first. Many consumers are tempted to move around balances when they receive an offer from another bank that is good; however, before you do this, remember that the worst thing you can do when you are trying to make a major purchase is to open new accounts.

By following these guidelines, you can improve your credit score and improve your chances of being approved for your home mortgage loan.