Don't Be That Guy or Gal: 3 Easy Ways to Ruin Your Relationship with Your Real Estate Agent

Don't Be That Guy or Gal: 3 Easy Ways to Ruin Your Relationship with Your Real Estate AgentAre you thinking about buying or selling a home? If you don't know a real estate agent or have a referral to one, you may end up working with someone unfamiliar who you will need to build a relationship with. Of course, as with any relationship there's always a chance that things can go sour.

In today's blog post we'll share three easy ways that you can ruin the trust and rapport that you've built with your real estate agent.

#1: Lie or Embellish the Facts

When you ask a real estate agent to represent you in the home buying or selling process they're going to need accurate information to help you make the best decisions. Lying or embellishing the facts can cause significant issues and should obviously be avoided.

For example, if your agent asks you how much you can afford for your new home, give them an accurate figure based on your mortgage pre-approval, your income and your current financial situation. If you're selling your home and your real estate agent asks you about the home's maintenance history, be honest and don't try to cover anything up.

#2: Cheat on Them with Another Agent

Once you have a real estate agent searching for that perfect new home, they may need to expend quite a bit of effort in order to find exactly what you're looking for. Imagine how hard they would work if they discovered that you're having another real estate agent perform the same job, but only one of them will be paid for their work?

Don't cheat on your real estate agent. If you feel that your agent is doing a poor job or you could find someone better, let them know. It's better to move on than to have professionals working behind each other's backs.

#3: Fail to Be Trusting or Respectful

If you fail to show trust and respect for your real estate agent you can rest assured they're not going to bend over backwards to help you squeeze out that extra discount or get your home sale closed as quickly as possible. Treat your real estate agent as you wish to be treated and they'll be more than willing to do their job.

Whether buying or selling, an experienced real estate agent is the best way to ensure that your transaction goes according to plan and that you accomplish your goals. When you're ready to discuss buying a new home or selling your current one, contact your real estate agent and they'll be happy to assist, or contact us for a referral if you don't already have an agent you trust. Don't forget to keep the above points in mind!

FOMC Statement: No Year-End Surprises

You Ask, We Answer: How to Choose Between Expanding Your Current Home and Buying a New OneThe Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) said in its last statement for 2014 that although economic conditions have improved at a moderate pace, the Fed believes that the target federal funds rate of between 0.00 and 0.25 percent remains "appropriate." While labor markets show expanding job growth and lower unemployment rates, FOMC members noted that housing markets are recovering slowly.

Inflation remains below the committee's target rate of two percent; this was attributed to lower fuel costs. Household income and business investment were seen as increasing, and the underutilization of workforce resources was described as "diminishing." These developments indicate better economic conditions for consumers, business and job seekers, as employers picked up the pace of hiring.

Target Fed Funds Rate Unchanged

No year-end changes in monetary policy were made; the Fed issued its usual statement that developing economic conditions would guide the Committee's decisions concerning the target federal funds rate. The FOMC statement said that changes could be made according to progress toward or away from achieving the Fed's dual mandate of maximum employment and price stability. No specific date was given for raising the target federal funds rate. The FOMC statement noted that no change is likely as long as the inflation rate remains below the Fed's longer-term target of two percent.

The FOMC statement was followed by a press conference given by Janet Yellen, fed chair and Chair of the FOMC. 

Fed Chair: Oil Price Influence on Inflation "Transitory" 

Janet Yellen, chair of the Federal Reserve and FOMC, said that she expects lower oil prices to be a transitory influence on inflation, which continues to run lower than the Fed's target rate of two percent. Media representatives noted that Chair Yellen replaced the phrase "considerable time" with "patient" in reference to when the Fed might raise the target federal funds rate.

Ms. Yellen said that the gross domestic product (GDP) had increased by 2.50 percent over the prior four quarters ending with the third quarter of 2014, and said that the economy continues to grow at approximately the same pace. Concerning falling inflation, Ms. Yellen said that she expected the inflation rate to increase after transitory influences including oil prices dissipate. The Fed Chair said that she perceived lower oil prices to be a positive development for the U.S. economy on net.

In response to questions about when the Fed would raise the target federal funds rate, Chair Yellen said that it would likely occur sometime in 2015 and also mentioned "sometime after the next couple of FOMC meetings. This suggests that mid 2015 may bring a change, but Ms. Yellen repeated the Fed's oft-stated position that continual review of economic conditions and developing trends would impact any decision to change or not change the federal funds rate.

Be Prepared for Your Mortgage Pre-approval Interview by Having Answers to These 4 Questions

Be Prepared for Your Mortgage Pre-approval Interview by Having Answers to These 4 QuestionsSo – you've completed an initial mortgage pre-qualification and now you're ready to take the next step and meet with your lender or mortgage advisor for the pre-approval interview. Are you ready?

At this stage of the application process your lender will dig into your financial background to ensure that you're fully capable of making your mortgage payments and that you don't present too high a risk. Let's take a quick look at a few questions you should know the answers to before you go in for a mortgage pre-approval.

Do You Have a Specific Home in Mind?

If you've already picked out the perfect new home, be sure to bring along some of the details when you meet with your lender. At minimum you'll want to know the price range that you're expecting to buy in so that your mortgage advisor can try to find a mortgage that allows you to purchase the home and still meet your other financial goals.

What is Your Current Income from All Sources?

Your income (and that of your spouse, if you have one) will be a major factor in the size of your mortgage, your payment terms and the interest rate that you qualify for. If you have a significant income and it's clear that you will have little trouble making the mortgage payments you'll likely qualify for a shortened amortization period that includes a lower interest rate. Conversely, if you can only afford to make a bare minimum monthly payment you'll be facing a longer mortgage term.

Do You Have Any "Black Marks" on Your Credit?

If you have any negative spots in your credit history you'll want to ensure that you're able to answer for them, because your lender will certainly ask about them. Be honest and confident, and remember that the lender wants your business as much as you want to receive a pre-approval for mortgage financing.

What Are Your Plans in the Next Five to Ten Years?

Finally don't forget that interest rates will continue to fluctuate and that may have an impact on your mortgage in the near future. Be sure to share any major financial plans that you have with your mortgage advisor as they can keep you appraised of any refinancing opportunities that come about.

Buying a home is an exciting time – one that will be far less stressful if you are fully prepared for the many steps along the way. Contact your local mortgage professional today to learn more about how you can get pre-approved for mortgage financing.

Home Builder Index Stays Near Nine Year Peak

Home Builder Index Stays Near Nine Year Peak

Home Builder Sentiment slipped to a reading of 57 in December according to the National Association of Home Builders Housing Market Index. November's reading of 58 prompted analysts to project a reading of 59 for December. The latest reading marks the sixth consecutive month for readings above 50. Any reading over 50 indicates that more builders are positive about housing market conditions than not.

The one-point decline in December's reading kept the NAHB Housing Market Index within two points of a nine-year high reached in September.

NAHB: Housing Market Index Suggests Slow Return to Normalcy

NAHB's chief economist, David Crowe, said that December's reading was in line with NAHB's assessment that housing markets are on a "slow march back to normal." Home builder confidence in conditions contributing to the NAHB Housing Market Index also fell in two categories while remaining unchanged in one.

The gauge of builder confidence in current market conditions moved from last month's reading of 62 to 61. Builder confidence in upcoming home sales fell from 65 to 64, while confidence in prospective buyer traffic was unchanged at a reading of 45. These results are consistent with real estate market trends slowing during the holiday season and winter months.

Builders Challenged in 2014, Better Conditions Expected in 2015

Analysts said that steady builder confidence may be a result of builders surviving a tough year in 2015. Market conditions, unpredictable interest rates and higher costs of supplies along with high unemployment subdued builder confidence during 2014. The New Year brings prospects of easing mortgage standards and better labor markets, which are expected to boost builder confidence as more home buyers enter the market for new homes.

The Commerce Department is set to release Housing Starts for November on December 16; analysts expect an increase to 1.035 million starts on a seasonally adjusted annual basis as compared to October's reading of 1.01 million starts. A positive reading for housing starts could further bolster home builder confidence for future readings.

What's Ahead For Mortgage Rates This Week - December 15, 2014

What's Ahead For Mortgage Rates This Week December 15 2014

Although there were few scheduled economic events related to mortgages and housing, last week brought an article about housing projections for 2015. Other news included increased job openings along with lower than expected jobless claims and higher mortgage rates.

Job Openings, Retail Sales and Mortgage Rates Rise

The U.S. Department of Commerce reported that November job increased to 4.80 million as compared to October's reading of 4.70 million job openings. Weekly jobless claims corresponded as new claims fell to 294,000 as compared to the prior week's reading of 297,000 new jobless claims. This was the lowest reading for new jobless claims in three weeks. Analysts had expected a reading of 206,000 new jobless claims.

Further signs of economic strengthening were seen in the retail sector. Retail sales posted their strongest gains in eight months with a gain of 0.70 percent in November according to the Commerce Department. November's reading exceeded expectations of a 0.40 percent increase which was based on October's original reading of a 0.30 percent increase in retail sales. November's retail sales (excluding automotive sales) rose by 0.50 percent, which was the highest reading since June. October's reading was later revised to 0.50 percent. Automotive sales rose by 1.70 percent in November, which was their highest reading since August.

Amidst last week's economic gains, mortgage rates also rose. Freddie Mac reported that the average rate for a 30-year fixed rate mortgage was 3.93 percent, a gain of four basis points over the previous week. The average rate 15-year mortgage gained 10 basis points at 3.20 percent. The average rate for a 5/1 adjustable rate mortgage rose by four basis points to 2.94 percent. Average discount points for all three loan types remained steady at 0.50 percent.

Analysts Offer Housing Predictions for 2015

Fortune reported predictions made by analysts during a panel discussion on housing trends. David M. Blitzer, chairman of the S& P Index Committee, characterized next year's housing trends as "mysterious." Analysts pinpointed the influence of the millennial generation as gaining strength in housing markets. As millennials begin to buy their first homes, their tastes and preferences are expected to overshadow the long-held influence of the baby boomer generation. Millennial influence includes a trend called millennial mis-match; Millennials prefer to live in high-cost areas including New York City, Honolulu, Hawaii and Austin, Texas, but their status as first-time home buyers conflicts with this preference. Other trends discussed by analysts attending the panel discussion included:

Mortgage rates predicted to rise: Stronger economic conditions and no Federal stimulus are expected to contribute to rising mortgage rates, which some analysts said were expected to rise to approximately 5.00 percent for a 30-year fixed rate mortgage.

Home price growth and affordability expected to decline: Home prices gained 6.40 percent year-over-year in October 2014 as compared to growth of 10.60 percent for the same period in 2013. High demand for homes in pricey markets coupled with rising mortgage rates are expected to price the middle class out of many high-demand markets.

What's Ahead

This week's scheduled economic events include the Wells Fargo/National Association of Home Builders Housing Market Index report for December and the Commerce Department's December report on Housing Starts. The Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) of the Federal Reserve will release its customary statement after its meeting concludes on Wednesday. The FOMC statement will be followed by a press conference given by Fed chair Janet Yellen, who also chairs the FOMC.

Three Hot Renovations That Will Boost Your Home's Value Without Breaking the Bank

Three Hot Renovations That Will Boost Your Home's Value Without Breaking the BankAre you feeling the "renovation itch" or perhaps looking for a fun project that you can take on which will provide you with a return on your investment? There are numerous home upgrades and renovations that can add value to a home without costing a large sum of money to complete.

Let's take a look at three popular home renovations that can increase your home equity without draining your bank account.

Paint Your Home Inside and Out

Painting the interior or exterior of your home costs very little when compared to how much it can freshen up your home's appearance and increase its value. Painting is also an excellent time to get rid of any old wallpaper or other decor touches that are a little dated. Spend some time browsing through Pinterest or through home improvement websites in order to choose a color palette that is warm and inviting without being too bold. Remember, if the goal is to increase your home's value you'll need to paint using colors that buyers will find attractive.

Upgrading Your Windows

If your local environment is cold or wet during parts of the year you may find that upgrading your windows improves your home's appearance and provides you with some additional savings in the form of reduced energy costs. Look for windows that are energy-efficient and that are guaranteed to eliminate drafts. Depending on the area of the country that you reside in, you may find that windows that are insulated with vinyl or aluminum are your best bet.

Finishing Your Basement into a Suite

If you have an unfinished basement which has a lot of space and running water you may want to consider finishing it in to a full basement suite. Some buyers will be enticed by the additional rental income that can come from a suite, while others will be excited at the opportunity to provide an older child or family member with their own suite inside of the same home.

You'll find that investing a little time and money in your home now can pay huge dividends later when it's time to sell and move on.

First Time Buyers: Understanding How Property Taxes Work and What You Can Expect to Pay


First Time Buyers: Understanding How Property Taxes Work and What You Can Expect to PayAre you about to buy a house or condo or thinking about buying for the first time? Congratulations!
Owning your own piece of real estate is a liberating experience and one that will provide you with the foundation to build your personal wealth and equity. Once you own your own home you'll be responsible for a variety of new costs, including property taxes which are assessed by your local government to pay for municipal services.
In this blog post we'll share how property taxes work and what you can expect to pay for them when you buy your new home.
It All Begins With a Local Property Tax Assessment
As mentioned above, local governments assess property taxes as a means for paying for police officers, fire fighting services, road maintenance and the other various costs that come with running a town or city. Whether you're buying a house, a townhouse or a condo, the property that your home sits on is inside of an area known as an "assessment area".
When the local government determines what your local tax levy or tax rate will be, they will assess your home based on the real estate market value of similar homes in the area. You can multiply your tax rate by the assessed value of your home to determine how much you'll owe in property tax.
Property Taxes As Part of Your Closing Costs
When you close on your new home you'll have to pay property taxes, and your real estate agent will help you to understand how much these taxes will be and how they will be paid. In most cities and counties you'll pay a pro-rated amount of property tax that covers the time span from the date you purchase the home until the end of the year, after which time you'll be paying your full assessed rate.
Don't Forget Your Overall Tax Picture
Finally, don't forget that property taxes can be factored in to the rest of your overall tax picture. Check with your accountant or another financial professional to determine whether or not you can write your property taxes off against your income tax to save some additional money. There are numerous tax benefits to owning a home, so it's best to start using them from day one.
As with all other taxes, property taxes are a fact of life that every homeowner faces. When you're ready to buy a new home and to learn more about how property taxes will affect your purchase, contact me at (615) 426-3182 for expert advice. I will be happy to sit down and do an orientation meeting with you and answer all your questions. ~ Shawn

Trying to Save on Your Closing Costs? Here Are Three Tips That Can Help Lower Them

Trying to Save on Your Closing Costs? Here Are Three Tips That Can Help Lower ThemWhether you're about to close on a lovely new house for your growing family or a stylish beachfront condo so you can retire close to the ocean, one thing is certain: you're going to face a variety of closing costs. Insurance, taxes, financing fees, title fees, attorney fees and other costs will need to be paid, and if you're a savvy buyer you'll do everything you can to save on them.

In today's post we'll share three quick tips that can help you reduce your closing costs when you buy your next home.

Tip #1: Include Closing Costs in Your Negotiations with the Seller

As closing costs are a part of the real estate transaction they're an excellent item to include in your negotiations with the seller.

For example, if you consider that closing costs might be 3 or 4 percent of the home's value you can try to bring the seller's asking price down to get those costs included. Or, you may be able to entice the seller with the prospect of a quick sale if they are willing to pay your closing costs in order to get you to sign on the dotted line.

Tip #2: Compare All of Your Mortgage Options

If you're using mortgage financing to cover some of the up-front purchase cost of your home you'll have other closing costs to pay including lender fees, mortgage insurance and more. Be sure to compare all of your options with your trusted mortgage advisor to ensure that you're getting the best possible deal and paying the least amount in fees and interest.

You may also be able to save a bit on your closing costs by choosing a "no points" mortgage. In this type of mortgage you'll end up saving on closing costs but you'll be left paying a higher interest rate. Spend a bit of time doing the math to determine the best course of action.

Tip #3: Ask About Every Fee You're Required to Pay

Finally don't forget that you're the customer and that you have the right to know about each one of your closing costs and why you're expected to pay them. Being informed about all of the various items in your transaction will help ensure that you're not paying something you could have avoided.

There you have it – three excellent tips for reducing your closing costs when you purchase your next home. For more information and advice about mortgage closing costs and how to best manage them, be sure to get in touch with your local mortgage professional.

Understanding Mortgage Insurance and the Difference Between FHA, VA and USDA Mortgages

Understanding Mortgage Insurance and the Difference Between FHA, VA and USDA MortgagesAre you thinking about using mortgage financing to buy a new home? If so, you've likely heard about mortgage insurance policies requirements and you may be wondering how they will affect you. In today's blog post we'll explore mortgage insurance and explain the difference between conventional, FHA, VA and USDA mortgage insurance policies.

How Does Private Mortgage Insurance or "PMI" Work?

While there are a number of reasons that your lender may require mortgage insurance, in general you'll be required to purchase a conventional PMI policy if you are putting less than 20 percent of the home's value in as a down payment. Another way your lender might explain this is that you have a "loan to value" or "LTV" ratio of higher than 80 percent, which means that the amount of your loan divided by the value of your home is higher than 0.8.

The cost of your private mortgage insurance policy will vary depending on a number of factors, such as your financial situation, FICO credit score, the cost of your home and more. Generally speaking you'll be required to pay from one-half to one percent of the cost of your monthly mortgage payment in insurance fees. Once your LTV ratio moves below 80 percent you may no longer be required to pay for PMI.

How Does VA Mortgage Insurance Work?

If you qualify for a mortgage from Veterans' Affairs you'll be pleased to know that you won't be required to pay for mortgage insurance. In some instances you actually won't be required to pay a down payment either, meaning that you may be able to borrow up to $400,000 to purchase a home without having to invest a cent of your own capital.

How Does USDA Mortgage Insurance Work?

Did you know that the Department of Agriculture runs a mortgage program? The USDA Rural Development mortgage offering is government-backed and like the VA mortgage program above you can finance 100 percent of the cost of your home without investing a down payment. However, unlike the VA program you'll be required to pay for mortgage insurance. Currently the annual mortgage insurance premium on USDA loans is 0.5 percent.

How Does FHA Mortgage Insurance Work?

Finally, don't forget about the Federal Housing Administration's mortgage program. If you qualify for a FHA-backed mortgage, you'll be paying about 1.35 percent in mortgage insurance premiums if you make the minimum down payment.

As you can see, there is a bit of a learning curve involved with fully understanding how all of the different types of mortgage insurance work. To learn more about mortgages and how insurance can benefit you, contact your local mortgage professional today.

What's Ahead For Mortgage Rates This Week - December 8, 2014

What's Ahead For Mortgage Rates This Week December 1 2014

Last week's economic reports related to housing and mortgages were few, but construction spending, the Fed's Beige Book report, non-farm payrolls and the national unemployment report indicated trends for the end of the year.

Construction Spending Increases

U.S. construction spending rose by 1.10 percent in October according to the Commerce Department. This reading translates to a seasonally-adjusted annual rate of $971 billion. Analysts had expected an increase of 0.70 percent based on September's original reading of -0.40 percent, but September's reading was revised to -0.10 percent on Tuesday. Private spending on residential projects increased 1.30 percent.

Federal Reserve Beige Book Indicates Economic Improvement, or Not

Oil prices were cited by participants in the Federal Reserve's survey of regional business leaders; Texas and the Gulf coast areas noted that falling oil prices were a threat to those economies, while other participants said that lower prices at the gas pump were putting more cash in consumers' pockets. The report noted upward pressure on both minimum wages and higher wages for skilled workers. Wages have remained mostly flat while consumer costs have increased; higher wages can provide more discretionary income for consumers and may build confidence for would-be home buyers that have been waiting for more positive economic trends.

Freddie Mac: Mortgage Rates Down

Freddie Mac's weekly survey of average mortgage rates brought good news for home buyers and homeowners seeking to refinance their mortgages. The average rate for a 30-year fixed rate mortgage fell from 3.97 percent to 3.89 percent. The average rate for a 15-year fixed rate mortgage fell to 3.10 percent from last week's reading of 3.17 percent and the average rate for a 5/1 adjustable rate mortgage dropped to 2.94 percent from last week's reading of 3.01 percent. Average discount points were unchanged for all loan types at 0.50 percent.

Labor Data Mixed, Unemployment Rate Unchanged

Weekly jobless claims beat expectations by 1000 fewer jobless claims with a reading of 297,000 new claims against expectations of 298,000 new claims. The prior week's reading was higher at 314,000 new jobless claims. The Commerce Department also released Non-Farm Payrolls figures for November with 321,000 jobs added against expectations of 235,000 jobs added and October's reading of 243,000 jobs added. Holiday hiring and climate related slowdowns are expected to impact year-end labor statistics. Analysts prefer to look at trends occurring over several months to determine labor trends.

What's Ahead

Next week's scheduled economic news includes reports on November retail sales and consumer sentiment in addition to Freddie Mac's mortgage rates survey and the Commerce Departments weekly jobless claims report.

You Ask, We Answer: How to Choose Between Expanding Your Current Home and Buying a New One

You Ask, We Answer: How to Choose Between Expanding Your Current Home and Buying a New OneDoes your home feel like it's starting to burst at the seams? Many homeowners across the country can relate to this feeling having bought a home only to run out of space due to a growing family or for other reasons. Let's take a quick look at a few questions that will help you to determine whether buying a new home or expanding your current home is the best choice when you're in need of some extra space.

Why Are You in Need of More Space?

The first question you'll need to answer is... "why?" Are you running out of space because you've decided to start a family and have another child on the way? Or perhaps you've decided to start a business out of your home and you've outgrown the small room you had set aside as your office? Whatever the case, a major renovation or a move to a new home are both major decisions and ones that shouldn't be made lightly. Sit down with your family and consider why you need more space and what you would do with a larger home if you had one.

How Much Space Do You Need?

"How much space" is another consideration that you'll need to make in order to come to the best decision between expansion and buying a new home. If you find that your needs are perfectly suited except for that missing bedroom you may want to undergo a renovation. Conversely, if you find that you could use at least 2 or 3 new rooms and some extra room in the garage, you may want to start shopping for a new home.

Note that expanding your home to add an extra bedroom or to finish the basement will provide a limited amount of additional space - space which may end up feeling constrained later if your family or needs continue to grow. If you're thinking bigger over the long term, you'll likely be better served in finding a larger home that has extra room that you can grow into.

Other Factors for Consideration

If you're thinking about expanding your current home you'll want to consider how this will impact the other rooms in the house. Are you going to feel the need to renovate every room once that new bedroom is added? If so, is renovating a wise investment or should you simply move on to a newer home?

Buying an Investment Property? Here's How You Can Maximize Your Rental Revenue

Buying an Investment Property? Here's How You Can Maximize Your Rental RevenueWhether you're buying a ski-in/ski-out condo at your favorite resort or you're thinking of picking up a small home in a busy tourist area, buying a property for short-term rental purposes can be an excellent investment that quickly begins to provide additional revenue.

Let's take a quick look at a few steps that you can take to maximize the revenue that your investment properties bring in each month.

Upgrade Your Home to Give It a Luxurious Feel

It should go without saying that if you want your home to rent for a high price it has to have a significant amount of value behind it. After you purchase the home, spend some time on upgrades that help to enhance the home's beauty and usability. If possible each sofa should be a sofa-bed so that additional guests can stay the night. Upgrade the televisions, have Wi-Fi internet access available and provide a phone number that guests can call if anything goes awry.

Professional Photos and Copywriting

If you're renting your property out to short-term or vacationing tenants you're most likely going to use online services like VRBO, HomeAway or AirBnB to attract new business. While these sites have a lot of visitor traffic you're also going to face a high level of competition from other property owners in the area. It's worth paying a professional photographer to take pictures of your home as well as having a professional copywriter handle the sales copy for your listing. These are one-time costs that can help you to defeat your competition and close high-ticket clients.

Cater to Large Groups or a Niche Crowd

There are a number of "niche" travelers out there and if you can cater to these groups you'll find that you're able to charge more than the average vacation property. For example, you may be buying a home in a popular wedding destination that can be marketed to couples who are being married. If you're buying a larger 3 or 4 bedroom home, be sure to note that it can house large groups who may be traveling together.

Referrals and Repeat Business

Finally, don't forget to ask your clients to refer you to their friends and family who many want to stay in your unit, and always invite them to return in the future. You may want to consider offering a discount to repeat visitors to encourage them to visit annually.

Renting out your vacation home or investment property can provide a lucrative income stream as long as you have a professional approach and focus on providing a high level of customer service.

Understanding the Difference Between a Mortgage Pre-qualification and a Pre-approval

Understanding the Difference Between a Mortgage Pre-qualification and a Pre-approvalIf you're in the market for a new home and you've been researching mortgages, you've likely come across the terms "pre-qualification" and "pre-approval". While these terms are self-explanatory in some circumstances, they are quite different in regards to mortgage financing.

In today's blog post we'll explain the difference between a mortgage pre-qualification and a pre-approval.

Pre-qualification: an Initial Look at Your Mortgage Options

The first – and easiest – step on the way to receiving mortgage financing to buy a home is known as pre-qualification. During this process you'll meet with a mortgage advisor or lender who will assess your financial history including your current income and any debts that you might have. Using these numbers they'll perform a quick calculation that suggests how much mortgage financing you might qualify for when you're ready to buy a home.

Your mortgage professional will also answer any questions that you might have about the process, including what interest rates you may qualify for, how much you'll need to invest in your down payment and more.

Pre-approval: A Conditional Mortgage Commitment

After you've been pre-qualified for your mortgage and you're ready to start looking for a new home you'll go through the pre-approval process. At this time your mortgage advisor or lender will take a much deeper look into your current financial situation, including pulling a credit report to assess how much risk they will have in lending you money. You'll also complete a full mortgage application as this will allow your lender to get a conditional approval for a certain amount or range. Finally you'll be informed about the interest rate and the terms of the mortgage once you find your new home and complete the purchase.

The Final Step: Finding the Perfect Home

Now that you've been pre-approved and have received a conditional commitment from your lender, you're ready to find that perfect new home. On top of having a better idea of your price range and what you can afford, you'll find that sellers are far more receptive to your offers as having a pre-approval signals that you're a serious buyer who is ready to make your move.

When you're ready to buy your new house or condo, your local mortgage professional is ready to help. Contact them to learn more about pre-qualification, pre-approval and your financing options. Enjoy your new home!

The LTV Ratio: How 'Loan-to-Value' Works and Why You Need to Understand This Ratio

The LTV Ratio: How 'Loan-to-Value' Works and Why You Need to Understand This RatioAre you in the market for a new home? If you plan on using mortgage financing to buy your next home you've likely heard the phrase "loan-to-value" or the acronym "LTV" before. Let's take a quick look at the loan-to-value ratio including why it's important, how to calculate it and how it can affect your mortgage.

What is the Loan-to-Value or LTV Ratio?

In short, the LTV ratio is a number that compares how much money you owe against your home with its resale value in the marketplace. A low LTV ratio indicates that you have far more equity in your home than you owe in mortgage payments; conversely, a high LTV ratio indicates that you owe almost as much as your home is worth.

Calculating your LTV ratio is easy. Simply divide the amount that you have (or will have) remaining in your mortgage by your home's value. For example, if you own a home worth $250,000 and you still owe $150,000 on your mortgage, the calculation would be $150,000 divided by $250,000, which gives you a LTV ratio of 0.6 or 60 percent.

Why is the LTV Ratio Important?

Your LTV ratio is important for a number of reasons. First, your mortgage lender will use this figure as part of their risk calculation when they assess your financial suitability for your mortgage. If you're only putting 5 percent of the purchase price in as a down payment you'll have a LTV ratio of 95 percent, which is a more risky loan than one with a LTV ratio of 30 percent and thus will almost certainly come with a higher interest rate.

If you have a LTV ratio higher than 80 percent and you're getting a mortgage from a conventional lender you'll also be required to pay for private mortgage insurance or "PMI". Although PMI rates generally sound quite low – in the neighborhood of 0.5 to 1 percent – they can add hundreds of dollars to your monthly mortgage payment. Note that PMI may not apply to you if you're seeking out a government-backed mortgage from Veteran's Affairs, the USDA or the FHA.

While the LTV ratio might seem simple, this number can affect your mortgage in a variety of ways. Contact your local mortgage advisor today to learn more about the LTV ratio and to have your questions answered by an experienced professional.

What's Ahead For Mortgage Rates This Week - December 1, 2014

What's Ahead For Mortgage Rates This Week December 1 2014Last week's scheduled economic events were packed into Tuesday and Wednesday, but several housing-related reports were released including the Case-Shiller National and 10-and 20-City Home Price Indices for September, The FHFA House Price Index also for September, and New and Pending Home Sales for October.

Case-Shiller, FHFA Report Slower Growth in Home Prices

According to Case-Shiller home price indices released Tuesday, the national rate of home price growth has slowed from August's year-over-year reading of 5.60 percent to September's reading of 4.90 percent. This was the lowest rate of home price growth in two years and was seen by analysts as a positive development in terms of sustainable price growth.

Double-digit percentage gains in home price growth in 2013 and earlier this year drove many would-be home buyers to the sidelines as narrow inventories of homes caused bidding wars in high-demand areas. 20 cities tracked by Case-Shiller had mixed results, with home prices falling in nine cities, rising in nine cities and prices were unchanged in two cities.

FHFA, the Federal Housing Finance Agency and overseer of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, reported year-over-year price growth of 4.30 percent in September against August's reading of 4.80 percent. Lower price gains for September were expected as the prime period of summer sales wound down. FHFA reports on home prices related to mortgages and properties held by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Pending and New Home Sales Show Mixed Results

The National Association of Realtors® reported that the Pending Home Sales Index dipped to 104.3 in October as compared to September's reading of 105.1.Lawrence Yun, chief economist for the National Association of Realtors®, said that lagging wage growth and tight mortgage credit conditions were stalling demand for homes. Pending home sales usually close within two months and serve as a gauge for upcoming home sales and mortgage activity. A reading of 100 for the Pending Home Sales Index is equivalent to pending home sales performance in 2001.

Better news came from the Department of Commerce New Home Sales report for October. New home sales achieved a five month high with a reading of 458,000 new homes sold on a seasonally-adjusted annual basis. October's reading was 0.70 percent higher than September's reading of 455,000 new homes sold, but missed analysts' expectations of 469,000 new homes sold. New home sales increased by 1.80 percent year-over-year with regional rates as follows:

  • Midwest: +15.8 percent

  • Northeast +7.1 percent

  • West -2.7 percent

  • South -1.9 percent

The median price of new homes rose to a record high of $305,000 in October. The supply of new homes rose to a 5.60 month supply from September's reading of a 5.50 month supply of new homes.

Mortgage Rates Fall or Flat, Jobless Claims Rise

Freddie Mac reported that the average rate for a 30-year fixed rate mortgage fell from 3.99 percent to 3.97 percent; the average rates for 15 year mortgages and 5/1 mortgages were unchanged at 3.17 percent and 3.01 percent respectively. Average discount points were unchanged for all loan types at 0.50 percent.

New Jobless Claims rose to 313,000 last week and surpassed 300,000 for the first time in several weeks. Analysts had expected a seasonally-adjusted reading of 288,000 new jobless claims. Analysts said that a rise in claims could indicate a slower pace in hiring, but said that weekly readings are too volatile to indicate a trend. The four-week average of jobless claims was 294,000 new claims, which was near an eight-year low.

What's Ahead

Next week's scheduled economic events include Construction Spending, the Fed's Beige Book Report, Non-Farm Payrolls and the National Unemployment Rate. Freddie Mac's PMMS report on mortgage rates and Weekly Jobless claims will also be released as usual.

You Ask, We Answer: Should I Consider a Warranty when Buying a New Home?

You Ask, We Answer: Should I Consider a Warranty when Buying a New Home?Are you buying a new home? If so, you've likely pondered whether or not you should invest in a warranty to protect your investment. In today's blog post we'll briefly explore home warranties including some of the pros and cons of buying one and how they differ from homeowner's insurance.

The Benefits of Buying a Home Warranty

Home warranties are an excellent solution if you're buying a brand new home which has a lot of new appliances and fixtures inside of it, or if you're not really the "do it yourself" type and would prefer to make a service call if something inside of your home breaks down.

For example, imagine that you have a home warranty that covers your central air conditioning system and one day it stops working. You simply call the warranty provider to book a service call and as long as the problem falls within the scope of your warranty the repairs are completed without any additional cost to you.

How a Home Warranty Differs from Homeowner's Insurance

Home warranties and homeowner's insurance are vastly different but work together to protect your investment. Insurance policies cover your home against unexpected damage – fires, crime, wind storms, water damage and more, depending on your policy. A home warranty tends to cover items inside of the home – the furnace, the plumbing, electrical wiring and appliances – and will provide you with discounts on repairs or replacement should the covered items break down or otherwise stop working.

Cost and Other Home Warranty Downsides

Of course, there are a few downsides to buying a home warranty. You'll need to pay the up-front purchase cost of the warranty unless you're buying a brand new home in which the warranty is included. You'll also find that warranties generally won't cover a lack of maintenance due to the previous homeowner, which can be a bit of an issue if something breaks down and you find out it's not going to be covered. Finally you may find that any necessary repairs are actually less costly than the warranty itself.

Case-Shiller Home Prices: Price Growth Slows in September

CaseShiller Home Prices Price Growth Slows in SeptemberAccording to the Case-Shiller National Home Price Index, annual home price growth slipped to a seasonally-adjusted rate of 4.80 percent in September. This was 0.30 percent lower than August's year-over-year reading of 5.10 percent.

Cities posting the highest year-over-year gains in home prices were Miami, Florida 10.30 percent, Las Vegas, NV with a gain of 9.10 percent, San Francisco, California posted a gain of 7.90 percent, Dallas home prices gained 7.40 percent and home prices increased by 6.70 percent in Portland, Oregon.

David M. Blitzer, chairman of the S&P Dow Jones Index Committee, said that Florida and the Southeastern region showed sustained strength. Citing gains in builder confidence and housing starts and pre-crisis levels for foreclosures and mortgage defaults, Mr. Blitzer said that the outlook for housing in 2015 should be "stable to slightly better."

Analysts said that higher inventories of available homes had slowed home price growth. Cooling home prices allow more buyers into the market, which creates a better balance between buyers and sellers. Rapidly increasing home prices in late 2013 through early 2014 forced buyers onto the sidelines as investors and cash buyers drove home prices higher and raised demand for available homes.

Cities Post Incremental Month-to-Month Gains

Case-Shiller's 10-and 20-City Home Price Indices were 15 and 17 percent below their mid-2006 peaks with 18 of 20 cities tracked showing slower growth in September than in August. Top month-to-month gains were incremental, with Miami, Florida and Charlotte, North Carolina gaining 0.60 percent, Las Vegas, Nevada gained 0.40 percent and Dallas, Texas gained 0.30 percent. Denver, Colorado, Tampa, Florida and Portland, Oregon posted month-to-month gains of 0.20 percent.

Cities posting no month-to-month gain included Los Angeles, California and New York City.

The steepest decline in month-to-month home prices was seen in Washington, D.C. at -0.40 percent., followed by Atlanta, Georgia at -0.30 percent San Francisco, California, Atlanta, Georgia, Chicago, Illinois, Detroit, Michigan and Seattle Washington posted month-to-month declines in home prices of -0.20 percent. San Diego, California and Boston, Massachusetts posted declines in month-to-month home prices of -0.10 percent.

FHFA House Price Index Unchanged in September

The Federal Housing Finance Administration posted no gain on its month-to-month reading for September, although analysts had expected a gain of 0.40 percent from August to September. Year-over-year, FHFA reported a 4.50 percent gain in home prices between the third quarter of 2013 and the same period in 2014.

On a positive note, Seasonally-adjusted home prices for purchase-only transactions rose in 40 of 50 states during the third quarter of 2014. The top five states posting the highest annual home price gains were Nevada, Hawaii, California, North Dakota and Florida.

Buying a Home with a Mortgage? A Quick Guide to Closing Costs and What to Expect

Buying a Home with a Mortgage? A Quick Guide to Closing Costs and What to ExpectWhether you're just starting to shop for a new home or you've already found the perfect new house and you're ready to submit an offer, if you're taking out a mortgage loan to cover some of the home's purchase price you should be aware of the various closing costs you may encounter.

In today's blog post we'll share a quick guide to closing costs and what you can expect to pay when you buy a new home.

What Closing Costs Do Buyers Typically Pay?

As you move forward in the home purchase process you'll incur a variety of fees that cover document preparation, inspections and other services that are required to fully process your mortgage. Your application and processing fees cover the cost of preparing your loan application and submitting it to your lender. Your credit report fee covers the cost of pulling a credit report which is used to assess your suitability for a mortgage and whether your loan is worth the risk.

You'll likely pay an appraisal fee as you'll need a proper appraisal of the home's value, and you may need to pay a flood certification or survey fee depending on where the home is physically located. Additional fees that you may incur include wire transfer fees, commitment fees, courier fees and private mortgage insurance application fees.

Finally you'll also encounter a number of closing costs that aren't directly related to your mortgage, including insurance costs, attorney fees, property taxes, government filing or recording fees and more.

Consider Negotiating with the Seller

It may be worth asking the seller to pay some - or all - of your closing costs, depending on the offer that you've submitted and how strong of a negotiating position you're working from. Trust in your real estate agent's advice in this regard as you'll want to avoid spooking the seller by asking them to cover costs that they didn't anticipate.

As you can see, there are a number of different closing costs that you may encounter when you purchase a new home. An experienced mortgage professional will help you to better understand these costs and can show you areas where you may be able to find some additional savings. When you're ready to buy your next home, contact your local mortgage professional and they'll be happy to share some advice.

What's Ahead For Mortgage Rates This Week - November 24, 2014

Whats Ahead For Mortgage Rates This Week November 24 2014Last week's scheduled economic news included the NAHB/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index, Housing Starts and Existing Home Sales. FOMC meeting minutes were released along with weekly Freddie Mac mortgage rates and weekly jobless claims.

In addition, the National Association of Realtors® suggested that FHA should lower its mutual mortgage insurance premiums (MMI) as its fund for paying claims has normalized since recession.

Homebuilder Confidence Nears Nine-Year High

The National Association of Home Builders/ Wells Fargo Housing Market Index achieved a reading of 58 for November. This was two points higher than the expected reading of 56 and four points above September's reading. This was the fifth consecutive month of readings above 50.

Readings above 50 indicate that more builders are confident about housing market conditions than not. Components of the index improved with builder confidence in present sales of new homes up 5 points to a reading of 62, confidence in sales over the next six months rose by two points to 66, and the reading for prospective buyer traffic rose four points to 45.

Housing Starts Slow, Existing Home Sales Suggest Stronger Housing Market

Housing starts were lower by 2.80 percent in October at a seasonally-adjusted rate of 1.01 million against an expected reading of 1.03 million and September's reading of 1.04 million homes started. October's reading was affected by a 15.50 percent drop in multi-family construction, but single-family home construction increased by 4.20 percent. Analysts noted that the multi-family sector is notoriously volatile.

The National Association of Realtors® reported that the seasonally-adjusted annual rate of existing home sales for October exceeded the expected reading of 5.15 million with 5.26 million existing homes sold. October's reading also surpassed September's reading of 5.17 million previously-owned homes sold. October's reading represented a 1.50 percent increase over September sales of existing homes, and was the highest reading since September 2013.

The median price of previously-owned homes rose to $208,500 in October, which represented a 5.50 percent increase year-over-year. The inventory of homes for sale is higher with a 5.1 month supply of homes available, which was a year-over-year increase of 5.20 percent. Higher inventories of homes available and low mortgage rates were seen as factors contributing to more home sales.

Builders, Realtors® Call for Lower FHA Premiums

Kevin Kelly, chairman of the National Association of Home Builders and the National Association of Realtors® called for the FHA to lower its mortgage insurance premiums. The cost of FHA loans, which require borrowers to pay an upfront mortgage insurance premium and annual premiums that are pro-rated and added to monthly mortgage payments, were seen as an obstacle to first-time and moderate income homebuyers. This request was based on a report that indicated the FHA fund for paying mortgage insurance claims is in the black for the first time since 2011.

Mortgage Rates, Jobless Claims Fall

Freddie Mac reported that average mortgage rates fell across the board on Thursday with the average rate for a 30-year fixed rate mortgage lower by two basis points at 3.99 percent, and the average rate for a 15-year fixed rate mortgage lower by three basis points at 3.17 percent. The average rate for a 5/1 adjustable rate mortgage dropped by one basis point to 3.01 percent. Average discount points remained the same for all loan types at 0.50 percent.

The Commerce Department reported that new jobless claims fell to 291,000 from the prior week's reading of 293,000. Analysts expected a reading of 280.000 new jobless claims, but this was the tenth consecutive week of readings for fewer than 300,000 new jobless claims. The four-week rolling average of new claims rose by 1750 to a reading of 287,500. The four week average reduces the volatility of weekly jobless claims and provides a more accurate reading of unemployment trends.

What's Ahead

Next week's scheduled events include the Case-Shiller 10 and 20-City Home Price Indices, FHFA's House Price Index and New and Pending Home Sales reports. There are no reports set for Thursday or Friday due to the Thanksgiving Holiday.

USDA Mortgages: Take Advantage of These Low-Rate Mortgage Loans to Buy a New Home

USDA Mortgages: Take Advantage of These Low-rate Mortgage Loans to Buy a New HomeAre you thinking about buying a home in a rural or suburban area? If so, you'll want to take a look at the United States Department of Agriculture's mortgage programs as you may qualify for them.

In today's blog post we'll introduce the USDA Rural Development Single Family Housing Guaranteed Loan Program, explain the benefits of this mortgage program and how to determine if you qualify.

What is a USDA Mortgage Loan?

The USDA mortgage program is one of a number of programs in which the federal government will guarantee a mortgage loan as long as the recipient meets certain criteria. The intent of this program is to provide a boost to residents of rural or suburban areas who are struggling to obtain a traditional mortgage.

USDA mortgage loans are an ideal solution for those who are looking for 15 or 30-year amortization periods as they tend to have lower interest rates than mortgages offered by banks and other lenders.

USDA Mortgage Loan Benefits

There are numerous benefits to USDA mortgages that make this an enticing option compared to a mortgage from a traditional lender. As these loans offer full 100 percent financing you won't have to place a large down payment when buying the home. The USDA offers very competitive 15 and 30-year fixed interest rates, something you won't find from many banks or other mortgage lenders.There's also no maximum home purchase price with USDA mortgages, however note that you'll still be limited by your risk and your ability to manage the monthly mortgage payment.

USDA Mortgage Loan Requirements

The USDA mortgage program is open to all homebuyers that meet a number of initial requirements. The home you intend to purchase has to be located in a rural area (as determined by the USDA) and it cannot be a vacation home or investment property. As with any mortgage, you'll need a relatively clean credit history. Finally, note that your annual income will also be assessed and you'll need to prove that you're within 115 percent of the region's median income.

As you can see, the USDA Rural Development Mortgage program can be an excellent option if you're planning on buying a home in a rural or suburban area. Contact your local mortgage advisor today and they can explain the USDA home loan program and answer any questions that you might have.