With social distancing being an important part of life at the moment and so many parts of the economy suffering the effects of state lockdowns, some are worried about how all of this will affect the housing market. This is especially a concern for those who were hoping to buy a new home and have seen their plans potentially derailed by the pandemic. Is this a good time to consider buying a new home, assuming that it’s even safe to do so?
The answer may be surprising.
It’s a Buyer’s Market
With the current state of the world, the demand for real estate has dropped significantly. This has left those who have already listed homes for sale or who were planning to list over the summer in a position where there are far fewer people looking at their properties. For some sellers, this isn’t much of an issue; they can simply wait it out and stick to their previous plans. A lot of sellers don’t have that luxury, though. This creates a buyer’s market where a lot of sellers are willing to consider offers that they wouldn’t have in the past, giving potential buyers a lot more control in the home-buying process.
As the name suggests, it’s always good to buy in a buyer’s market. It isn’t necessarily a great time to list a home for sale, of course, since you’d likely have to settle for a lower offer than you were expecting if you want to move the property. This usually helps to balance out the market, with listing rates slowing down to meet demand until things pick back up again. This particular buyer’s market is a bit different than a lot of past ones, though.
Demand Is Staying Low
Most of the time, a buyer’s market is caused by shifts in the economy that have people trying to save money; an example of this would be a recession. These economic shifts temporarily reduce the number of people who are willing to take on large debts, creating a glut of sellers trying to entice a smaller pool of buyers. The buyer’s market typically fizzles out once the number of sellers shrinks or the economy stabilizes.
In the current buyer’s market, the economy certainly plays a factor. There is an external factor at play here as well, however: The physical distancing that COVID-19 requires has added additional worry about open houses and other forms of interpersonal contact that are traditional when buying or selling a house. There’s still a lot of uncertainty surrounding the pandemic, including how long it will last, so with this external factor and the currently stunted economy we could see demand stay low for longer than you would expect in a buyer’s market situation.
This isn’t to say that the market won’t recover, of course. Some states have already started reopening non-essential businesses and other parts of the economy, and other states have plans to start reopening soon. The economy will likely stay sluggish for a while, but reopening is the first part of recovery. Even the pandemic is becoming something less of a factor as people continue to practice social caution and science continues to work toward treatment and vaccine options. While market recovery may take longer than in the past, a recovery will happen, and the good deals that buyers can find now will become less common as things move forward.
If you do decide to shop for a home in the current market, make sure that you’re smart about it and stay safe. Maintain all physical distancing practices while looking at homes, even if there is only a seller or agent present. Ask whether no-contact options such as virtual tours or virtual closing with digital signage are options, and if touring the property request that any doors or other barriers be opened before you arrive to reduce contact. Wear a mask, bring hand sanitizer and take the same precautions that you would in any other social situation. This may seem excessive for viewing a home, but keep in mind that these practices not only protect you, but also protect the seller and agent as well.
If you've made a resolution this year to get your credit on track, getting started can feel a bit daunting. After all, it can sometimes seem as if credit agencies want to keep you in the dark about how scores are calculated. Not to worry - with some diligence on your part and a little insight into the world of credit score-keeping, you can get back on track in 2020.
Credit scores follow an algorithm first developed by the data analytics company FICO years ago. For a while, credit scores weren't the primary force behind a credit decision but over time the impact of a credit score became more and more important. Most every loan program available today has a minimum credit score.
There are five characteristics of your credit history that make up your three-digit score: your payment history, account balances, the length of your credit history, the types of credit used and how often you've applied for new credit. Credit scores will improve much more quickly by paying attention to the two categories that have the greatest impact on a score: payment history and account balances.
Payment history accounts for 35 percent of the total score. When someone makes a payment more than 30 days past the due date, scores will fall. An occasional "late pay" won't do much damage to your score but continued payments made more than 30 days past due definitely will. Preventing late payments is a key to recovering your score.
Account balances compare outstanding loan balances with credit lines and make up 30 percent of your score. If a credit card has a $10,000 credit line and there is a $3,300 balance, scores will actually improve, as the ideal balance-to-limit is about one-third of the credit line. As the balance grows and approaches or exceeds the limit, scores will begin to fall.
The remaining three have relatively little impact. How long someone has used credit accounts for 15 percent of the score, but there's really nothing anyone can do to improve this area other than to wait. Types of credit and credit inquiries both make up 10 percent of the score. By concentrating on payment history and account balances, scores will improve significantly over the next few months.
Remodeling Stats and Spending Trends to Inform Your Improvement Plans
Thinking about remodeling? You're not alone. According to a report from the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies, home improvement spending in the U.S. is up more than 50% since 2010.
The study found that, "Spending on improvements and repairs to the US housing stock continued on an upward trend in 2017, setting a new high of $424 billion. This represents a 10% increase from 2015 and more than 50% gain from the low in 2010." According to their analysis, 22 million homeowners across the country completed at least one home improvement project in 2017.
"The report attributed part of the increase to a shortage of new construction and a reliance on aging housing stock that requires upkeep and repair," said the New York Times. "Other factors include higher housing prices that have increased the available equity for home improvement loans, and a growing population of older homeowners who are financially equipped to pay for renovations."
The primary "spenders" fall into three main categories: Homeowners using surging equity to make improvements, homeowners playing catch-up on deferred maintenance and updates, and rental property owners.
The average expenditure on home improvement was rather modest; 40% of participants reported spending less than $2,500, and almost 75% spent less than $10,000.
Most common improvements
The most common project in 2017 was adding or replacing flooring, with 5.2 million homeowners, or 7%, upgrading their floors. The next most common projects were:
USDA Loans: They're Not Just for Homes in the Boonies
Have you heard of USDA loans? If you're a low-to-moderate-income homebuyer who doesn't have a lot of money for a down payment and who needs lenient credit requirements, you (or your lender) are probably focused on FHA loans.
But if you haven't taken a look at USDA loans, you may be missing out on an incredible opportunity.
If you're saying to yourself, "But USDA loans are only for homes out in the sticks," that's understandable. It's true that the loans were designed to help buyers in rural areas. But "rural" is a broader term than you may realize.
On the USDA website, you can enter an address in the search bar and check if it's eligible, or you can drop a pin in a location to find out whether USDA financing is available in the area. Consider these interesting results: Frisco, TX, currently the fastest-growing city in the nation, is not eligible for a USDA loan, but Prosper, just to the north and being called, "The next Frisco," is eligible. The popular Valencia, CA, north of Los Angeles is not eligible, but areas of Santa Clarita, the city in which Valencia is located, are eligible. There's no harm in looking, and you might find a real gem in an up-and-coming area.
Purchasing a home is arguably one of the biggest financial decisions you will make in your lifetime. As you start your hunt, don't forget there will be other costs associated with your purchase then the price of the home. Here are 5 fees to keep in mind as you begin to budget.
Spring and summer are traditionally seen as the best times to sell your house. Research has actually shown that homes sold during the first half of May tend to sell faster and sell for a higher average price than house sales at any other time of the year. Once you get into fall and winter, buyer competition doesn’t seem as fierce and average prices start to drop. This doesn’t mean you can’t sell during the off season, of course; it just means that you need to maximize the value of your home to get the most out of your property.
There’s Always a Buyer
Even though it’s the off season, there will always be someone out there who’s looking to buy a home. There are traditionally fewer home sales during the fall and winter, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t any. It’s easy to assume that you’ll have to take what you can get if you find someone who’s interested, but that’s definitely not the case. While there’s a good chance that you’re a motivated seller if you’re selling during the off season, keep in mind that many home buyers are motivated as well. It’s true that you might not get as much out of your home as you would near the start of summer, but don’t think that you’re necessarily going to have to settle either.
Aggressive Pricing Strategies
With that said, you’re more likely to sell quickly if you’re more aggressive with your pricing strategy than you would be during the summer. Don’t price your home for less than its worth – but cut a little closer to its actual value than you might otherwise. Determine the actual value of the home and what you need to get from the sale, then add a little more to the total to give yourself some wiggle room for negotiations. This lets you present the home as a great deal and still yield a bit to the buyer, convincing them that they really are getting a great deal on the property and need to make the purchase before somebody else comes along.
It’s always important to have your house looking its best when you’re trying to make a sale, but it’s especially important during the off season. This can be a chore, especially if you have trees dropping leaves all over the yard, but it’s worth it. If at all possible, your home should be the one that stands out from the neighborhood because it has fresher paint, a neater lawn, cleaner windows and any other adjustments you can make to improve its overall look. The more you can wow potential buyers, the more likely they are to actually buy.
Cut Out the Clutter
If you’re in the process of packing while trying to sell your home, take any boxes and anything that’s ready to go and get it out of the house and into a storage unit or elsewhere. The same goes for most of the clutter that we build up in our daily lives. When a potential buyer comes to look at the house you should ideally have everything pared down to some basic furniture, standard amenities and perhaps a few picture frames or other personal items that are tastefully presented around the house. You want buyers to see the house for its beauty and be able to picture their lives there, not to see how the house looks overflowing with your life.
If you really want to get a potential buyer’s attention, show them that you’re prepared to answer any questions they might have about the house. Get a pre-inspection so you’ll know about any issues that you might not have noticed, making necessary repairs or disclosures as needed. Gather up documentation about the heating and cooling system, any maintenance that’s been performed and even details like the energy ratings on the windows. If you really want to go the extra mile, track down photos of the house from different seasons or pictures of any flowers or trees in bloom so that potential buyers will have an idea of what they can look forward to.
Inspections are an important part of the home-selling process. The home inspector will locate any potential problems with the property, making sure that all involved know what’s wrong and what needs to be fixed. What happens then, though? Whose responsibility is it to fix the issues that the home inspector discovered?
As with a lot of problems, the answer is a resounding “It depends.”
One big determining factor in how problems found in a home inspection are dealt with is how severe the issues are. A major problem with a property can be a deal breaker for many buyers. Depending on where you live, such a problem may even have to be addressed before the property can be sold. State-level restrictions vary, but most are rooted in making sure that sellers can’t avoid fixing potentially dangerous problems or leave them for the buyer to discover on their own. Even if a problem isn’t critical, most states require that any problems found by a home inspection be disclosed to potential buyers. This disclosure is a big deal, as it can significantly affect how much the buyers are willing to pay.
Loan Program Requirements
Beyond repair and disclosure requirements that vary from state to state, different loan programs (such as those offered by the Federal Housing Authority or Department of Housing and Urban Development) may have additional requirements when it comes to problems discovered during a home inspection. Many programs have very specific guidelines regarding the condition of the property that a buyer can purchase using those loans. If a loan program won’t allow a purchase while unsatisfactory conditions exist, the issues must either be repaired or have satisfactory arrangements made to facilitate the repair before the purchase can continue. Keep in mind that not all loan programs will make allowances for future repairs, either; in those cases, the repairs will either have to be made in full or the buyer will have to find a different lender that does not follow the same strict requirements.
In the event that there aren’t specific regulations at the state level or restrictions in the buyer’s loan program concerning problems with the property, it falls to the buyer and the seller to determine what repairs will be made. This is typically part of the price negotiation, as buyers are willing to pay more for a property that they don’t have to make extensive repairs to. In many cases, sellers may offer to cover the most pressing repairs and address any serious issues while the buyer assumes responsibility for any other issues found in the buyer’s home inspection disclosure. In many cases this will be agreed to in writing, either at the request of one of the parties or as a condition of the mortgage loan that the buyer is using for the purchase. By formalizing the agreement in writing, it ensures that both parties understand their responsibility and protects the seller from potential legal action regarding issues that weren’t addressed (provided that the seller completed all of the repairs that they agreed to.)
The strength of the housing market can have a big effect on who does the bulk of repairs on a property. If similar properties are plentiful and interest rates are low, it creates what’s referred to as a “buyer’s market”; buyers have a lot of options and can easily walk away from the purchase if they don’t get what they want. In this situation, the buyer has a lot of leverage and can usually get the seller to agree to either a lower price or a higher percentage of the repairs. When the opposite occurs and there are few choices and higher interest rates, a “seller’s market” is created. Buyers can’t walk away as easily and be guaranteed a good deal elsewhere, so sellers can often hold their ground more and get buyers to agree to higher prices or a greater percentage of repairs.
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Iveth Caruso, your REALTOR in the North Atlanta Area
A mortgage is one of the biggest single debts you’re likely to willingly take on. As such, being able to properly manage your mortgage is very important. With so many options when it comes to loans, repayment and refinancing, it can all get a bit confusing. One point in particular that you might hear a lot of talk about is prepaying your mortgage.
Should you prepay your mortgage?
Should you focus on other things first? Before rushing into prepayment, make sure you have all of the information first. We’ll start by looking at exactly what mortgage prepayment is and how it works.
What Is Mortgage Prepayment?
As the name suggests, mortgage prepayment is the act of paying some or all of your mortgage principal before it’s actually due. This can take a number of forms, from paying a higher amount than the actual payment that’s due each month to making additional payments in months where you have money to spare. Some homeowners even make a single large additional payment every year after getting a tax return. Regardless of the specific form that prepayment takes, the end result is the same: More of your outstanding mortgage balance gets paid off, resulting in a decrease in both the amount that you still owe and the amount that interest can be applied to.
What Are the Benefits of Prepaying?
There are several benefits to prepaying your mortgage, regardless of how often the payments are made. Consider the following and how they might apply to your mortgage situation:
Are There Any Downsides?
While there are definitely benefits to prepaying your mortgage, there are potential downsides as well. Some mortgages, especially those with adjustable rates, are designed to not allow prepayments; if you attempt to prepay on the mortgage, this can trigger a penalty fee. Additionally, some lenders only accept prepayments in certain forms and will apply any other money received as simply an early payment against the next month (which means that the money will go toward interest and principal and not just your principal loan balance.) Attempting to prepay when you have significant debt elsewhere or don’t have a safety net built up for yourself isn’t a good idea, either; your mortgage likely has a lower interest rate than most if not all of your other debts, so you may be better off paying them off and building up savings and retirement funds first before you start worrying about prepaying a mortgage.
Should You Prepay Your Mortgage?
Whether or not you should prepay your mortgage depends on a number of factors. You should consider the type of mortgage you have, how much your monthly mortgage payments are and what your interest rate looks like. You should also take a look at your overall finances and how well prepared you are for emergencies and retirement; it’s possible that your money would be better off going elsewhere at the moment. Even if prepayments seem feasible and affordable, make sure that your lender accepts prepayments without penalty and that you know how they prefer to receive prepayments. Those extra payments won’t do much good if your lender simply applies them against interest or charges you a penalty fee because prepayments aren’t allowed by your loan.
Do you have any questions? I can help!
Iveth Caruso, your REALTOR in the North Atlanta Area
Choosing to enter the home buying process is likely the largest financial decision you will make in your lifetime, so it is not one that should be taken lightly. Ensuring that your other current and upcoming financial responsibilities are under control is crucial to having a smooth transaction and being able to enjoy your investment fully. These tips will help you prepare your budget for purchasing your dream home.
Calculate your monthly income. How much money is coming in every month? This is the amount that is left after taxes, health insurance, and retirement savings are taken out of your monthly salary.
Understand your current expenses. Make a list of all your current recurring expenses month to month. Don’t forget to factor in things like loan payments, gym memberships, car maintenance, groceries, self-care appointments, etc.
Determine where you can find savings. Are there any ongoing memberships or subscriptions you don’t use that can be canceled? Can you cut out your daily coffee or eating out lunch? Make these adjustments right away to start saving more.
Boost your financial standing. Before buying a home, it is recommended that you dedicate extra effort to paying off other debts and boosting your credit score. Taking these steps will help you during the loan approval process.
Don’t move finances around. Your lender will review your bank statements during the pre-approval process and then again during underwriting. Any large withdrawals or deposits may throw a red flag so try to avoid these when possible. If you can’t, make sure you have proper documentation to explain the movement of money.
Have any questions? I can help!
Iveth Caruso, your REALTOR in the North Atlanta Area
Buying your first home can be an eye-opening experience in terms of encountering unfamiliar documents and forms. Fortunately, working with a qualified buyer’s agent like me makes it much easier to wade through the paperwork, understand the lingo, and successfully reach the closing table.
After closing on your home, don’t be surprised if confusing and unsolicited correspondence related to your purchase starts arriving in your mailbox—or by email, phone, or text. Examine these inquiries cautiously, staying alert for potential scams!
What sets the wheels in motion?
After your purchase closes, the title company files the deed on your property with local government authorities, recording a change in ownership. Once this happens, your name and address become publicly-accessible information.
Con artists rely on this information to execute various scams. Additionally, they may be trolling online social media posts or hacking into email accounts, searching for clues of upcoming or recently completed home purchases.
Any related details or contact information can help execute their schemes, including real estate wire fraud, which targets about-to-close homebuyers and aims to strip them of everything they’ve saved to purchase a home.
Five Homeowner-Related Schemes
Con artists rely on tricking people into parting with their money or revealing sensitive personal information. Some scams are easy to spot, while others are more clever. Homeowners, in particular, should be wary of:
1. Fake utility bills. A new homeowner is threatened that their electricity (or other essential utility) will be shut off unless a payment is made immediately. If you’re in any doubt about the status of your account, look up the provider’s phone number and speak to a customer service representative.
2. Mortgage protection insurance. Similar to life insurance, mortgage protection insurance is designed to help a family stay in their home if a homeowner dies, by paying off the mortgage. Legitimate companies offer this product, but scammers also attempt to scare homeowners into buying fake policies.
3. Mortgage payment administration. Some companies offer to help homeowners pay off their mortgage faster by sending bi-monthly payments to an intermediary (and tacking on substantial administration fees). If you want to accelerate your mortgage payments, make direct arrangements with your lender.
4. Property tax payments. Scammers send a letter or place a call, threatening that you’ll lose your home if you don’t immediately pay overdue property taxes. Real estate taxes are typically calculated at closing (prorated between the buyer and the seller) and included in your monthly escrow payments. To verify your status, contact your local tax authority.
5. Home warranties. Many legitimate companies offer home warranties, which can help new homeowners protect themselves, in case a significant problem was overlooked during the inspection. Scammers, however, may attempt to sell fake policies to unsuspecting buyers.
Note that several of these schemes aren’t limited to new homeowners.
How can you fight back?
In the U.S., the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) takes a leading role in collecting all types of complaints from consumers and sharing details with appropriate law enforcement agencies. Contact them at 877-FTC-HELP (382-4357) or ftccomplaintassistant.gov.
Scams perpetrated by mail are considered mail fraud and can be reported to the U.S. Postal Service at 800-372-8347 or postalinspectors.uspis.gov
Have any questions? I can help!
Iveth Caruso, your REALTOR in the North Atlanta Area
You’ve found a house you’d like to purchase, and you’re ready to make an offer. It’s time to take a closer look at the purchase contract—perhaps the most important legal document for real estate transactions—and decide how you want to modify its terms, including adding various contingencies.
Contingencies? Yes, it’s an uncommon word. The real estate industry is filled with unfamiliar terminology. A contingency refers to particular provisions in a standard purchase contract. If the condition isn’t met, you’re allowed to back out of the purchase, without penalty.
Contingencies are a good thing, in terms of protecting buyers. They can also backfire if you insist on too many contingencies or are competing with less demanding buyers.
Here are several key points to keep in mind.
1. Know the market.
In a seller’s market (when there aren’t many properties in a specific price range or a particular geographic area for sale), contingencies will encourage sellers to find a more accommodating buyer. In fact, in a strong seller’s market, some buyers severely limit their contingencies and offer more than the seller’s asking price, potentially triggering a bidding war. In a buyer’s market (when there are more properties for sale than there are interested buyers), sellers are more likely to accept buyer contingencies.
Don’t know what market your area is experiencing right now? That’s okay. I specialize in staying current on that information for your local market. Just ask me!
2. Understand which contingencies are common (and which aren’t).
I can also provide the best advice on which contingencies are appropriate and commonly accepted in your market. Every area operates under different standards and conventions.
A few examples:
Home inspection - If something is seriously wrong with a house, you’ll want to know before you buy, not after the closing, when it’s too late to address the issue with the seller. Inspections are primarily designed to evaluate the structural and mechanical condition of a property, although specific conventions vary by market. Inspections may also check for mold, radon, pests, lead, septic systems, or other specific concerns. A home inspection (at the buyer’s expense) is a highly recommended contingency clause.
Attorney review - The seller, the buyer, or both may request a certain number of days to have their attorney(s) review the contract for sale and the closing documents.
Mortgage financing approval - Smart buyers secure a pre-approval letter from their lender before submitting an offer. However, your mortgage financing could still fail to reach final approval due to findings in the property inspection, a too-low appraisal, or a final review of your financial situation.
Approval of homeowner association (HOA) documents - If you are buying a property governed by an HOA, you can request these documents before making an offer to ensure the HOA is on solid financial ground. Alternately, this can be a contingency item.
Early occupancy (with payment of rent) or furniture move in - If your time frame requires a critical move-in deadline, such as the start of a school year, you may want to stipulate this as a contingency.
Appraised value - The appraisal may come in lower than your offer, in which case an appraisal contingency can provide an option to attempt to renegotiate the selling price. Also, note that lenders can reject your mortgage application if an appraisal comes in too low.
Home warranty - A buyer may make the sale contingent on their ability to secure a home warranty on the property. Be aware that some home warranties require a home inspection before purchase to prove that a warranty claim is not a pre-existing condition.
Sale of a current home - This contingency requires the seller to agree to delay closing until you’ve found a buyer for your current home. It’s a tall request, especially in a seller’s market. If the contingency includes a “bump” clause or “kick out” clause, the seller can continue marketing their home in hopes of finding another buyer.
3. Watch those dates!
If your contract includes deadlines related to contingencies, be sure to monitor them carefully. I will help you stay on top of these too.
Dates matter, since even a one-day lapse could put you in jeopardy of non-performance of your contractual obligations, potentially resulting in the cancellation of your purchase contract and loss of your earnest money.
Add any critical deadlines to whatever calendar system you rely upon, as well as alerts a couple of days before the deadline hits.
Have any questions? I can help!
Iveth Caruso, your REALTOR in the North Atlanta Area
The information on this site is intended to be a free resource to provide general information to the public. The information is intended to supplement instruction from your legal, financial or real estate adviser. The information contained on this site should never be taken as a substitute for legal or financial advice from a licensed professional.