5 Things You Shouldn’t Do Before Buying a Home

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There’s a lot more to qualifying for a mortgage than simply saving up money for a down payment. You need to find a good real estate agent, have money on hand for closing costs, and understand your budget and taxes.

But for as much as there is to do while you’re preparing to buy a home, there are also things you shouldn’t do. Taking any one of these actions can jeopardize your purchase, leaving you disappointed at best, and potentially in a financial bind.

Don’t take on new debt

Mortgage underwriters consider your debt-to-income ratio when evaluating your ability to make monthly payments. If you have too much debt, it can affect how much you can borrow or whether or not you can even get a mortgage. Neil Cannon, a mortgage loan officer at PenFed Credit Union, encourages potential homeowners to start thinking about their debt usage as soon as they start planning to save for a down payment.

“If you want to own a home in two years, but you need to buy a car now, the decision on the car can affect your home purchase in two years,” Cannon explains.

He gives the following example: If you purchase a used car for $6,000 and pay it off within two years, you’ll look much better financially than someone who bought a $50,000 car with 0% financing and still has four years left on their auto loan.

While you should carefully evaluate any decision to take on debt years before purchasing a home, it’s especially vital to do so before closing. Cannon notes that if you prequalify for a mortgage, and then take out a loan for a car or other purchase prior to closing, it can threaten the entire deal.

Don’t switch jobs

Cannon says that before closing, your lender will perform a Verification of Employment — also known as a VOE. The VOE typically occurs up to two weeks before closing, though it can happen as late as hours before you sign on the dotted line.

If you’ve resigned between prequalification and closing, you will not be able to close. If you’ve switched jobs, you must have already reported to work at the time the VOE is completed if you want your new salary to be included.

Generally, though, it’s wise to stay with the same employer for at least two years before closing on your home. This is because compensation like bonuses, overtime, and commissions are variable, and your underwriter will need two years’ worth of documentation if you want this money to be considered as income on your mortgage application.

Cannon also notes that underwriters consider bonuses discretionary, no matter how your employer may pitch them.

“I have had dozens of clients tell me they have a ‘guaranteed bonus,’” says Cannon. “If that is the case, then it is not a bonus, and your employer is torturing the English language.”

This means that your bonus may not be counted as guaranteed income on your mortgage application, even if you feel confident your bonus will come in as it has in years past. If your bonus is particularly large, this could impact how much money you qualify to borrow — or if you qualify to borrow at all.

Don’t move money around

“If we cannot track the source of large deposits, we can’t use the assets for qualifying,” says Cannon.

“I had a recently married couple have a deposit of $14,000 into their savings account. It was all wedding presents, and it was basically all cash. It could not be traced. We could not use it.”

The couple was lucky: Their parents were able to give them a documented gift of $14,000 to make up the difference. Without their parents’ generosity, the couple wouldn’t have qualified, even though they had the money on hand.

If you cannot properly document where your money came from, the best-case scenario would be that your underwriter would not allow the funds to factor into the equation — meaning you can’t count them as an asset toward purchasing or closing on the home.

The worst-case scenario is that the underwriter could assume the money is recently acquired debt. Without documentation, the lender has no way of knowing. This could negatively affect your debt-to-income ratio.

Cannon notes that while it is possible to move money around, it’s wise to do so with guidance from your loan officer — especially during the 60 days prior to filling out your mortgage application all the way through closing.

Don’t sign a contract before getting prequalified

“You always want to be prequalified before you start shopping for a home so you do not make knee-jerk emotional decisions,” says Cannon. Signing a contract puts you under legal obligation. Doing so without being prequalified is a risky move, as you’ll lose any earnest money you put down in good faith at the time you signed the contract should you not qualify. You could also end up with a lawsuit against you, depending on how far the seller is willing to go.

Even if your contract has a financing contingency clause — meaning you have a set amount of days to secure a loan or terminate the contract — it’s still in your best interest to get prequalified. You may have as little as 15 days to secure a loan with the contingency.

If you are unable to, and you do not terminate the contract in writing within the specified time frame, some contracts will still legally obligate you to purchase the home. Because you lack capital, you won’t be able to. If the seller chooses to sue, you could end up in court.

Don’t assume you know as much as your real estate agent

With so much knowledge at their fingertips, it’s easy for today’s homebuyers to feel empowered. There are calculators that tell you how much you should theoretically be able to borrow. You can easily obtain an estimate on a house’s market value versus asking price. You can even research all the first-time homebuyer assistance programs in your area from the comfort of your couch.

But don’t mistake the ease of obtaining information for professional expertise. As a buyer, using a real estate agent costs you nothing. Your agent has likely gone through the home-buying process more than you will in your entire lifetime, and their depth of knowledge — especially of your local market — is something to take advantage of.

“If you are a buyer, you likely need guidance to figure out why this home seems overpriced to you and why that home looks like a great bargain,” says Cannon. “Realtors are compensated fairly, and good Realtors create value for their clients.”

The post 5 Things You Shouldn’t Do Before Buying a Home appeared first on MagnifyMoney.

The Best Mortgages That Require No or Low Down Payment

 

If you’re considering buying a home, you’re probably wondering how much you’ll need for a down payment. It’s not unusual to be concerned about coming up with a down payment. According to Trulia’s report Housing in 2017, saving for a down payment is most often cited as the biggest obstacle to homeownership.

Maybe you’ve heard that you should put 20% down when you purchase a home. It’s true that 20% is the gold standard. If you can afford a big down payment, it’s easier to get a mortgage, you may be eligible for a lower interest rate, and more money down means borrowing less, which means you’ll have a smaller monthly payment.

But the biggest incentive to put 20% down is that it allows you to avoid paying for private mortgage insurance. Mortgage insurance is extra insurance that some private lenders require from homebuyers who obtain loans in which the down payment is less than 20% of the sales price or appraised value. Unlike homeowners insurance, mortgage protects the lender – not you – if you stop making payments on your loan. Mortgage insurance typically costs between 0.5% and 1% of the entire loan amount on an annual basis. Depending on how expensive the home you buy is, that can be a pretty hefty sum.

While these are excellent reasons to put 20% down on a home, the fact is that many people just can’t scrape together a down payment that large, especially when the median price of a home in the U.S. is a whopping $345,800.

Fortunately, there are many options for homebuyers with little money for a down payment. You may even be able to buy a house with no down payment at all.

Here’s an overview of the best mortgages you can be approved for without 20% down.

FHA Loans

An FHA loan is a home loan that is insured by the Federal Housing Administration. These loans are designed to promote homeownership and make it easier for people to qualify for a mortgage. The FHA does this by making a guarantee to your bank that they will repay your loan if you quit making payments. FHA loans don’t come directly from the FHA, but rather an FHA-approved lender. Not all FHA-approved lenders offer the same interest rates and costs, even for the same type of loan, so it’s important to shop around.

Down payment requirements

FHA loans allow you to buy a home with a down payment as low as 3.5%, although people with FICO credit scores between 500 and 579 are required to pay at least 10% down.

Approval requirements

Because these loans are geared toward lower income borrowers, you don’t need excellent credit or a large income, but you will have to provide a lot of documentation. Your lender will ask you to provide documents that prove income, savings, and credit information. If you already own any property, you’ll have to have documentation for that as well.

Some of the information you’ll need includes:

  • Two years of complete tax returns (three years for self-employed individuals)
  • Two years of W-2s, 1099s, or other income statements
  • Most recent month of pay stubs
  • A year-to-date profit-and-loss statement for self-employed individuals
  • Most recent three months of bank, retirement, and investment account statements

Mortgage insurance requirements

The FHA requires both upfront and annual mortgage insurance for all borrowers, regardless of their down payment. On a typical 30-year mortgage with a base loan amount of less than $625,500, your annual mortgage insurance premium will be 0.85% as of this writing. The current upfront mortgage insurance premium is 1.75% of the base loan amount.

Casey Fleming, a mortgage adviser with C2 Financial Corporation and author of The Loan Guide: How to Get the Best Possible Mortgage, also reminds buyers that mortgage insurance on an FHA loan is permanent. With other loans, you can request the lenders to cancel private mortgage insurance (MIP) once you have paid down the mortgage balance to 80% of the home’s original appraised value, or wait until the balance drops to 78% when the mortgage servicer is required to eliminate the MIP. But mortgage insurance on an FHA loan cannot be canceled or terminated. For that reason, Fleming says “it’s best if the homebuyer has a plan to get out in a couple of years.”

Where to find an FHA-approved lender

As we mentioned earlier, FHA loans don’t come directly from the FHA, but rather an FHA-approved lender. Not all FHA-approved lenders offer the same interest rates and costs, even for the same type of loan, so it’s important to shop around.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has a searchable database where you can find lenders in your area approved for FHA loans.

First, fill in your location and the radius in which you’d like to search.

Next, you’ll be taken to a list of FHA-approved lenders in your area.

Who FHA loans are best for

FHA loans are flexible about how you come up with the down payment. You can use your savings, a cash gift from a family member, or a grant from a state or local government down-payment assistance program.

However, FHA loans are not the best option for everyone. The upfront and ongoing mortgage insurance premiums can cost more than private mortgage insurance. If you have good credit, you may be better off with a non-FHA loan with a low down payment and lower loan costs.

And if you’re buying an expensive home in a high-cost area, an FHA loan may not be able to provide you with a large enough mortgage. The FHA has a national loan limit, which is recalculated on an annual basis. For 2017, in high-cost areas, the FHA national loan limit ceiling is $636,150. You can check HUD.gov for a complete list of FHA lending limits by state.

SoFi

For borrowers who can afford a large monthly payment but haven’t saved up a big down payment, SoFi offers mortgages of up to $3 million. Interest rates will vary based on whether you’re looking for a 30-year fixed loan, a 15-year fixed loan, or an adjustable rate loan, which has a fixed rate for the first seven years, after which the interest rate may increase or decrease. Mortgage rates started as low as 3.09% for a 15-year mortgage as of this writing. You can find your rate using SoFi’s online rate quote tool without affecting your credit.

Down payment requirements

SoFi requires a minimum down payment of at least 10% of the purchase price for a new loan.

Approval requirements

Like most lenders, SoFi analyzes FICO scores as a part of its application process. However, it also considers factors such as professional history and career prospects, income, and history of on-time bill payments to determine an applicant’s overall financial health.

Mortgage insurance requirements

SoFi does not charge private mortgage insurance, even on loans for which less than 20% is put down.

What we like/don’t like

In addition to not requiring private mortgage insurance on any of their loans, SoFi doesn’t charge any loan origination, application, or broker commission fees. The average closing fee is 2% to 5% for most mortgages (it varies by location), so on a $300,000 home loan, that is $3,000. Avoiding those fees can save buyers a significant amount and make it a bit easier to come up with closing costs. Keep in mind, though, that you’ll still need to pay standard third-party closing costs that vary depending on loan type and location of the property.

There’s not much to dislike about SoFi unless you’re buying a very inexpensive home in a lower-cost market. They do have a minimum loan amount of $100,000.

Who SoFi mortgages are best for

SoFi mortgages are really only available for people with excellent credit and a solid income. They don’t work with people with poor credit.

SoFi does not publish minimum income or credit score requirements.

VA Loans

Rates can vary by lender, but currently, rates for a $225,000 30-year fixed-rate loan run at around 3.25%, according to LendingTree. (Disclosure: LendingTree is the parent company of MagnifyMoney.)

Down payment requirements

Eligible borrowers can get a VA loan with no down payment. Although the costs associated with getting a VA loan are generally lower than other types of low-down-payment mortgages, Fleming says there is a one-time funding fee, unless the veteran or military member has a service-related disability or you are the surviving spouse of a veteran who died in service or from a service-related disability.

That funding fee varies by the type of veteran and down-payment percentage, but for a new-purchase loan, the funding fee can run from 1.25% to 2.4% of the loan amount.

Approval requirements

VA loans are typically easier to qualify for than conventional mortgages. To be eligible, you must have suitable credit, sufficient income to make the monthly payment, and a valid Certificate of Eligibility (COE). The COE verifies to the lender that you are eligible for a VA-backed loan. You can apply for a COE online, through your lender, or by mail using VA Form 26-1880.

The VA does not require a minimum credit score, but lenders generally have their own requirements. Most ask for a credit score of 620 or higher.

If you’d like help seeing if you are qualified for a VA loan, check to see if there’s a HUD-approved housing counseling agency in your area.

Mortgage insurance requirements

Because VA loans are guaranteed by the Department of Veterans Affairs, they do not require mortgage insurance. However, as we mentioned previously, be prepared to pay an additional funding fee of 1.25% to 2.4%.

What we like/don’t like

There’s no cap on the amount you can borrow. However, there are limits on the amount the VA can insure, which usually affects the loan amount a lender is willing to offer. Loan limits vary by county and are the same as the Federal Housing Finance Agency’s limits, which you can find here.

HomeReady

 

The HomeReady program is offered by Fannie Mae. HomeReady mortgage is aimed at consumers who have decent credit but low- to middle-income earnings. Borrowers do not have to be first-time home buyers but do have to complete a housing education program.

Approval requirements

HomeReady loans are available for purchasing and refinancing any single-family home, as long as the borrower meets income limits, which vary by property location. For properties in low-income areas (as determined by the U.S. Census), there is no income limit. For other properties, the income eligibility limit is 100% of the area median income.

The minimum credit score for a Fannie Mae loan, including HomeReady, is 620.

To qualify, borrowers must complete an online education program, which costs $75 and helps buyers understand the home-buying process and prepare for homeownership.

Down payment requirements

HomeReady is available through all Fannie Mae-approved lenders and offers down payments as low as 3%.

Reiss says buyers can combine a HomeReady mortgage with a Community Seconds loan, which can provide all or part of the down payment and closing costs. “Combined with a Community Seconds mortgage, a Fannie borrower can have a combined loan-to-value ratio of up to 105%,” Reiss says. The loan-to-value (LTV) ratio is the ratio of outstanding loan balance to the value of the property. When you pay down your mortgage balance or your property value increases, your LTV ratio goes down.

Mortgage insurance requirements

While HomeReady mortgages do require mortgage insurance when the buyer puts less than 20% down, unlike an FHA loan, the mortgage insurance is removed once the loan-to-value ratio reaches 78% or less.

What we like/don’t like

HomeReady loans do require private mortgage insurance, but the cost is generally lower than those charged by other lenders. Fannie Mae also makes it easier for borrowers to get creative with their down payment, allowing them to borrow it through a Community Seconds loan or have the down payment gifted from a friend or family member. Also, if you’re planning on having a roommate, income from that roommate will help you qualify for the loan.

However, be sure to talk to your lender to compare other options. The HomeReady program may have higher interest rates than other mortgage programs that advertise no or low down payments.

USDA Loan

USDA loans are guaranteed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Although the USDA doesn’t cap the amount a homeowner can borrow, most USDA-approved lenders extend financing for up to $417,000.

Rates vary by lender, but the agency gives a baseline interest rate. As of August 2016, that rate was just 2.875%

Approval requirements

USDA loans are available for purchasing and refinancing homes that meet the USDA’s definition of “rural.” The USDA provides a property eligibility map to give potential buyers a general idea of qualified locations. In general, the property must be located in “open country” or an area that has a population less than 10,000, or 20,000 in areas that are deemed as having a serious lack of mortgage credit.

USDA loans are not available directly from the USDA, but are issued by approved lenders. Most lenders require a minimum credit score of 620 to 640 with no foreclosures, bankruptcies, or major delinquencies in the past several years. Borrowers must have an income of no more than 115% of the median income for the area.

Down payment requirements

Eligible borrowers can get a home loan with no down payment. Other closing costs vary by lender, but the USDA loan program does allow borrowers to use money gifted from friends and family to pay for closing costs.

Mortgage insurance requirements

While USDA-backed mortgages do not require mortgage insurance, borrowers instead pay an upfront premium of 2% of the purchase price. The USDA also allows borrowers to finance that 2% with the home loan.

What we like/don’t like

Some buyers may dismiss USDA loans because they aren’t buying a home in a rural area, but many suburbs of metropolitan areas and small towns fall within the eligible zones. It could be worth a glance at the eligibility map to see if you qualify.

At a Glance: Low-Down-Payment Mortgage Options

To see how different low-down-payment mortgage options might look in the real world, let’s assume a buyer with an excellent credit score applies for a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage on a home that costs $250,000.

As you can see in the table below, their monthly mortgage payment would vary a lot depending on which lender they use.

 

Down Payment


Total Borrowed


Interest Rate


Principal & Interest


Mortgage Insurance


Total Monthly Payment

FHA


FHA

3.5%
($8,750)

$241,250

4.625%

$1,083

$4,222 up front
$171 per month

$1,254

SoFi


SoFi

10%
($25,000)

$225,000

3.37%

$995

$0

$995

VA


VA Loan

0%
($0)

$250,000

3.25%

$1,088

$0

$1,088

HomeReady


homeready

3%
($7,500)

$242,500

4.25%

$1,193

$222 per month

$1,349

USDA


homeready

0%

$250,000

2.875%

$1,037

$5,000 up front,
can be included in
total financed

$1,037

Note that this comparison doesn’t include any closing costs other than the upfront mortgage insurance required by the FHA and USDA loans. The total monthly payments do not include homeowners insurance or property taxes that are typically included in the monthly payment.

ANALYSIS: Should I put down less than 20% on a new home just because I can?

So, if you can take advantage of a low- or no-down-payment loan, should you? For some people, it might make financial sense to keep more cash on hand for emergencies and get into the market sooner in a period of rising home prices. But before you apply, know what it will cost you. Let’s run the numbers to compare the cost of using a conventional loan with 20% down versus a 3% down payment.

Besides private mortgage insurance, there are other downsides to a smaller down payment. Lenders may charge higher interest rates, which translates into higher monthly payments and more money spent over the loan term. Also, because many closing costs are a percentage of the total loan amount, putting less money down means higher closing costs.

For this example, we’ll assume a $250,000 purchase price and a loan term of 30 years. According to Freddie Mac, during the week of June 22, 2017, the average rate for a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage was 3.90%.

Using the Loan Amortization Calculator from MortgageCalculator.org:

Assuming you don’t make any extra principal payments, you will have to pay private mortgage insurance for 112 months before the principal balance of the loan drops below 78% of the home’s original appraised value. That means in addition to paying $169,265.17 in interest, you’ll pay $11,316.48 for private mortgage insurance.

The bottom line

Under some circumstances, a low- or no-down-payment mortgage, even with private mortgage insurance, could be considered a worthwhile investment. If saving for a 20% down payment means you’ll be paying rent longer while you watch home prices and mortgage rates rise, it could make sense. In the past year alone, average home prices increased 16.8%, and Kiplinger is predicting that the average 30-year fixed mortgage rate will rise to 4.1% by the end of 2017.

If you do choose a loan that requires private mortgage insurance, consider making extra principal payments to reach 20% equity faster and request that your lender cancels private mortgage insurance. Even if you have to spend a few hundred dollars to have your home appraised, the monthly savings from private mortgage insurance premiums could quickly offset that cost.

Keep in mind, though, that the down payment is only one part of the home-buying equation. Sonja Bullard, a sales manager with Bay Equity Home Loans in Alpharetta, Ga., says whether you’re interested in an FHA loan or a conventional (i.e., non-government-backed) loan, there are other out-of-pocket costs when buying a home.

“Through my experience, when people hear zero down payment, they think that means there are no costs for obtaining the loan,” Bullard says. “People don’t realize there are still fees required to be paid.”

According to Bullard, those fees include:

  • Inspection: $300 to $1,000, based on the size of the home
  • Appraisal: $375 to $1,000, based on the size of the home
  • Homeowners insurance premiums, prepaid for one year, due at closing: $300 to $2,500, depending on coverage
  • Closing costs: $4,000 to $10,000, depending on sales price and loan amount
  • HOA initiation fees

So don’t let a seemingly insurmountable 20% down payment get in the way of homeownership. When you’re ready to take the plunge, talk to a lender or submit a loan application online. You might be surprised at what you qualify for.

The post The Best Mortgages That Require No or Low Down Payment appeared first on MagnifyMoney.

5 Reasons to Call a Real Estate Agent Before Your Vacation

Top real estate agents, as local experts, can show you a place the way only long-time residents can see it.

You might be surprised to hear this, but if you want to maximize the benefits of a vacation and minimize your costs, you ought to give a top real estate agent in the area a quick call.

Top real estate agents, as local experts, can show you a place the way only longtime residents can see it. They make insightful tour guides because they spend every waking moment trying to convince people to move into the neighborhood.

Not only that, but if you end up loving your trip so much you want to live there forever, it doesn’t hurt to have a contact on the inside. Good agents can help you crunch the numbers and figure out whether it’s financially viable to own a vacation house in your lovable getaway place. (Here’s how to calculate how much house you can really afford.)

Ask any agent who knows what they’re doing and they’ll talk your ear off about how they can help you on your travels, but we thought to boil it down to the five ways they can save you money in the long run.

1. They Can Be Your 15-Minute Tour Guide (Just Ask Politely)

If you’re vacationing, chances are the hip urban vibe or tranquil oceanscape will spark a sense of wanderlust. The problem is that there are too many special boards out there advertising “$15 Cruise on The Bay!” at Fisherman’s Wharf or “Scenic Waterfall Hike!” on the big island of Hawaii. Who goes to a place just to see the same stuff they get at home?

No one knows the local landscape better than a good real estate agent. They have to — without extensive knowledge of local schools, eats and local things to see and do, they would have nothing to show potential buyers.

For example, real estate agent Dan Ihara, who happens to be in the top 1% of sellers in Hawaii, knows the waves in Honolulu unlike anyone else.

He knows most of the people buying homes in Honolulu are headed there for the surf culture. And he’s got the inside scoop on great surf spots you’ll never find in a guidebook.

Any real estate agent will be happy to spend 15 minutes chatting with you, especially if there’s potential for you to become a client later on.

Here’s how to use that short introductory call to your advantage:

1. Get “what it’s like to live there” recommendations for local sights, eats and things to do to get a feel for what the city is all about. These places are guaranteed to be cheaper — and better quality — than tourist sites that attempt to squeeze as much money out of you as possible.

2. Get recommendations for areas in your price range.

3. Make plans to see the highest performing rental areas.

The best part about using an agent as a tour guide is that you’ll build a positive relationship if you decide to buy a property in that location down the road.

2. They’ll Be Straight With You

Owning a vacation home cuts the cost of lodging and food when you travel, as you’ll have a full kitchen to store and prep meals. Plus, in some markets, you can make enough renting out the home when you don’t use it to cover the cost of the second mortgage.

On the other hand, you should be careful when you consider buying a vacation home.

As Wall Street Journal reporter Jeff Brown writes, “Among the common rookie mistakes are focusing on purchase price, rental rates and recent market trends and counting on more renters than are likely.””

A local agent can give you insights about buying in the area.

The next time you visit your favorite destination — perhaps in the Cayman Islands, the South of France or the Gold Coast of Australia — a top real estate agent can sit down and help you understand what you can reasonably afford.

We put together several questions to ask in a meeting with a real estate agent to better your understanding of owning a vacation rental. Your ultimate goal is to learn if you can make money or break even on your vacation home, or if you’ll need to pay for a second mortgage.

1. How is the vacation rental market in this area? Do vacation homeowners usually get strong occupancy rates? What is the average vacation rental occupancy rate in this area?

2. How much do you think I can afford in a vacation home? How much do homes usually rent for per week in this area?

3. Do you have a relationship with any vacation rental companies that could care for or rent out the property for me? How much would that cost?

4. Do you think I will make money, break even or lose money on this vacation home?

5. What is peak season for vacation rentals in this area?

3. They Can Provide the Latest & Greatest on Trendy Neighborhoods

Real estate agents also know what’s going on in the local market, what homes move the fastest and what vacation areas are ripe for investment. For example, in Las Vegas, top 1% agent Jeff Galindo can anticipate the trends of his area better than any travel agency.

“When things started changing about a year ago, or 18 months ago, give or take, those homes are the ones that started getting swallowed up,” he said. “Those are the ones that people took out of the market and started buying and flipping and rehabbing. So it’s really difficult for anyone to find anything under $100,000 today in our market, which is unusual.”

These neighborhoods are not only good places to invest in, but they’re the areas you should see on vacation. The faster homes start to move, the more interest there is in a particular area, which means locals can’t get enough of it.

Take San Francisco. Visit the city and you might get stuck at Fisherman’s Wharf, on a cable car in Union Square or licking ice cream off your fingers in Ghirardelli Square. The true expression of San Francisco culture, though, is in the Mission District, or the Hayes Valley neighborhood, or in the Castro. These places also have rising home prices.

4. They Can Help You Get More for Your Money

If you are in the market for a vacation home, one strategy to maximize the house you’ll get for your money is to buy a home you can fix up.

Real estate agents will know about properties like these in your vacation destination that are most likely in your price range. If you’ve dreamt about owning a treehouse in Kauai, talking to an agent before you fly over to the island could give you the confidence you need to start looking.

(Don’t forget to check your credit before you start shopping around. You can view two of your credit scores for free on Credit.com.)

5. They Can Help You Pick Your New Perfect Neighborhood

A real estate agent is the person best equipped to match you to neighborhoods she thinks will become your favorite. In addition to roaming the streets to find your favorite new bistro, you’ll get acquainted with areas you could see yourself — and your family — living in.

As Mynor Herrera, top 1% real estate agent in the Washington, Virginia and Maryland areas told us, “There’s so much that a local agent can bring to the table just by institutional knowledge of that marketplace.”

The real estate agent will know the best neighborhoods and get a feel for how people actually live life in your destination.

Ultimately, meeting with a real estate agent on your vacation can give you a new perspective on the area and what it’s like to live there. You may even get inspired to finally buy the beachfront hideaway you’ve always wanted.

Image: Petar Chernaev

The post 5 Reasons to Call a Real Estate Agent Before Your Vacation appeared first on Credit.com.

10 Cities Where Millennials Are Buying Homes (& 10 Where They Aren’t)

Millennials are increasingly becoming homeowners, but in some cities more than others.

With staggering student loans, fewer affordable starter homes and lower earnings than the previous generation, young adults own fewer homes than ever. Considering the reputation millennials have in the media for poor financial skills — avocado toast, anyone? — it’s no surprise the millennial generation is very slowly entering the home buying market. Although millennials are the largest generation of adults, they only account for 7.5% of the value of all U.S. homes.

ABODO, an apartment listing company, analyzed the 100 largest metropolitan statistical areas by population from the U.S. Census Bureau 2015 American Community Survey to find the highest and lowest percentage of all millennial householders who are owners.

Home buying among adults ages 18 to 35 has slowed. In 2005, 39.5% of this age group owned homes. That share fell to 32.1% in 2015. (Remember, when buying a home, your credit plays a major part. Before stepping into the home buying market, it’s a good idea to check your credit. You can see a free snapshot of your credit reports on Credit.com.)

This trend might reverse. Recently, more millennials have been entering the home-buying market. Only time will tell if this trend will stick, but for now, here are the 10 cities millennials are buying homes — and the 10 where they aren’t.

Cities Where Millennials Are Buying Homes

10. St. Louis, Missouri-Illinois
Millennial Home Ownership: 40.2%

9. Detroit-Warren-Dearborn, Michigan
Millennial Home Ownership: 40.2%

8. Boise City, Idaho
Millennial Home Ownership: 40.6%

7. Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Millennial Home Ownership: 41.0%

6. Scranton-Wilkes-Barre-Hazleton, Pennsylvania
Millennial Home Ownership: 41.9%

5. Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington, Minnesota-Wisconsin
Millennial Home Ownership: 42.4%

4. McAllen-Edinburg-Mission, Texas
Millennial Home Ownership: 43.3%

3. Des Moines-West Des Moines, Iowa
Millennial Home Ownership: 43.6%

2. Grand Rapids-Wyoming, Michigan
Millennial Home Ownership: 45.3%

1. Ogden-Clearfield, Utah
Millennial Home Ownership: 51.0%

Cities Where Millennials Aren’t Buying Homes

10. Durham-Chapel Hill, North Carolina
Millennial Home Ownership: 25.2%

9. Madison, Wisconsin
Millennial Home Ownership: 24.7%

8. New Haven-Milford, Connecticut
Millennial Home Ownership: 24.4%

7. Fresno, California
Millennial Home Ownership: 23.6%

6. San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, California
Millennial Home Ownership: 20.5%

5. San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, California
Millennial Home Ownership: 20.2%

4. New York-Newark-Jersey City, New York-New Jersey-Pennsylvania
Millennial Home Ownership: 19.8%

3. San Diego-Carlsbad, California
Millennial Home Ownership: 19.8%

2. Urban Honolulu, Hawaii
Millennial Home Ownership: 18.3%

1. Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, California
Millennial Home Ownership: 17.8%

Image: Bauhaus1000

The post 10 Cities Where Millennials Are Buying Homes (& 10 Where They Aren’t) appeared first on Credit.com.

What to Do Before You Start Your Home Search

The process of buying a home can be nerve-wracking for some who have not been through it before, but with a little bit of preparation, you can help minimize some surprises along the way.

One important thing you can do as soon as you start thinking about buying a home is checking your credit report. Ideally, this should be done at least six months before purchasing a home in order to give yourself time to dispute information, if needed. It is important to know how your payment history is being reported by your creditors. And if you see any unfamiliar information, it’s important to know how to take action.

Consumers are entitled to a free copy of their credit report, from each of the nationwide consumer reporting agencies, once a year by visiting annualcreditreport.com.

What should you look for? Any information that might be inaccurate or incomplete. In the personal information section of your credit report, is your name (and any former names, such as a maiden name) listed accurately? Is your address up to date? Are there any addresses you don’t recognize? In the account information portion of your credit report, are all of the accounts listed complete and accurate? Are there any accounts that you don’t recognize? Do the balances appear accurate?

If you find information that appears inaccurate or incomplete, contact the lender or creditor associated with the account. You can also contact the nationwide consumer reporting agency that issued the credit report. If necessary, take steps to change some of your credit-based behaviors.

Here are some other items to include on your checklist as you prepare to buy a home:

— Gather any required documents you may need to apply for a mortgage. Tax returns, pay stubs and bank statements are among the ones you’ll need.

— Figure out how much home you can afford. There are a number of online mortgage calculators that can help. Remember a home’s purchase price is only part of the picture; you may also be responsible for a down payment, closing costs, taxes, insurance and other expenses. Learn your debt-to-income ratio and familiarize yourself with the requirements for loan qualification.

Buying a home is one of the most important – and largest – financial decisions you may make, and you owe it to yourself to prepare for it thoroughly and thoughtfully and hopefully smooth out any bumps in the road to home ownership.

How a Coat of Paint Can Determine Your Home’s Sale Price

An inexpensive can of paint holds a lot more power than you think.

From the time of year to the neighborhood, a lot of factors come into play when you’re selling a home. But here’s one variable you might not have considered — color.

During open houses and online searches, the colors of your home are constantly working for or against you. That’s according to Zillow, a real estate and rental marketplace, which examined over 32,000 photos from sold homes around the country to see how certain paint colors impacted their average sale price compared to homes of similar value with white walls. Here’s what they found.

A Change of Trends

The colors that added value to your home just a year ago can now be hurting its sale price. In 2016, painting your kitchen a shade of yellow could help your home sell for $1,100 to $1,300 more. However, this year, a yellow kitchen could lower your home’s value by an estimated $820, according to Zillow.

Some color preferences remained consistent, with terracotta walls still devaluing a home. Just last year, homes with terracotta walls sold for $793 less than Zillow’s predicted selling price. This year, that number more than doubled, with homes with terracotta walls selling for $2,031 less.

The takeaway: If you’re looking to sell your home, you may want to avoid a terracotta shade. Also be cautious in general when choosing dark and bold colors.

Keep it Light

“Painting walls in fresh, natural-looking colors, particularly in shades of blue and pale gray, not only make a home feel larger but also are neutral enough to help future buyers envision themselves living in the space,” said Svenja Gudell, Zillow’s chief economist, in a statement.

In fact, homes with blue bathrooms, including lighter shades of blue or periwinkle, sold for $5,440 more than expected, Zillow found. Kitchens with light blue-gray walls sold for $1,809 more than expected, and walls with cool, natural tones like soft oatmeal and pale gray also had top-performing listings.

Light, simple walls performed best among sellers, however, walls with no color had the most negative impact on sales price. Homes with white bathrooms or no paint color, for instance, sold for an average of $4,035 less than similar homes, Zillow noted.

Head Outside

As if it isn’t stressful enough worrying about your rooms’ colors, your home’s exterior color can also impact its sale price.

To that end, buyers typically enjoyed a pop of color, with homes featuring dark navy blue or slate gray front doors selling for $1,514 more. Buyers also responded positively to trendy mixes of light gray and beige, or “greige,” exteriors versus basic tan stucco and medium-brown shades.

If you’re trying to sell your home, a can of paint can be a wise investment — so long as you choose the right color. Keep these findings in mind before you head to the paint store. Likewise, just as color impacts sale price, know that selling your home can impact your credit. Don’t forget to check your credit report card before you start picking out paint chips.

Image: andresr

The post How a Coat of Paint Can Determine Your Home’s Sale Price appeared first on Credit.com.

2 Times an Adjustable-Rate Mortgage Makes Perfect Sense

The interest rate on your loans determines how expensive it is to borrow money. The higher the interest rate, the more expensive the loan.

With a conventional, 30-year fixed-rate mortgage, borrowers with the best credit can expect to receive a 4.23% interest rate on that loan. The average homebuyer borrows about $222,000 when they take out a mortgage, which means paying a staggering $168,690 in interest over the term of the loan.

When you need to repay balances in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, even half a point of interest can make a huge difference in how expensive your mortgage is. If you borrowed the same amount but had a rate of 4.73% rate, you’d pay $192,190 in interest — or almost $24,000 more for the same loan.

Given that interest rates make such a big impact on how much your mortgage costs, it makes sense to do what you can to get the lowest rate possible. And this is where adjustable-rate mortgages can start to look appealing. In two cases especially, it makes perfect sense to go with an ARM: when you plan to pay off your mortgage quickly, or you plan to move out of the home within a few years.

Adjustable-Rate Mortgages Can Allow You to Borrow at Lower Rates

An adjustable-rate mortgage, also known as an ARM, is a home loan with a variable interest rate. That means the rate will change over the life of the loan.

ARMs are usually set up as 3/1, 5/1, 7/1, or 10/1. The first number indicates the length of the fixed rate period. If you look at a 3/1 ARM, the initial fixed rate period lasts 3 years. The second shows how often the interest rate will adjust after the initial period.

Some ARMs come with interest rate caps, meaning there’s a limit to how high the rate can adjust. And their initial rate is often much lower than traditional fixed-rate loans.

This can help you buy a home and start paying your mortgage at a lower monthly cost than you could manage with a fixed-rate mortgage. Borrowers with the best credit scores can access a 5/1 ARM with an interest rate of 3.24% right now.

The Risks ARMs Pose to Average Homebuyers

“The main advantage of an ARM is the low, initial interest rate,” explains Meg Bartelt, CFP, MSFP, and founder of Flow Financial Planning. “But the primary risk is that the interest rate can rise to an unknown amount after the initial, fixed period of just a few years expires.”

Homebuyers can enjoy extremely low interest rates for a month, a quarter, or 1, 5, 7, or 10 years, depending on the term of their adjustable-rate mortgage. But borrowers have no control over the interest rate after that.

The rate can rise to levels that make your mortgage unaffordable. Remember our earlier example, where just half a point of interest could mean making the entire mortgage $24,000 more expensive?

ARMs adjust their rates periodically, and the new rate is partly determined by a broad measure of interest rates known as an index. When the index rises, so does your own interest rate — and your monthly mortgage payment goes up with it.

The variable nature of the interest rate makes it difficult to plan ahead as your mortgage payment won’t be static or stable.

“Imagine at the end of year 5, rates start going up and your mortgage payment is suddenly much higher than it used to be,” says Mark Struthers, a CFA and CFP who runs Sona Financial. “What if your partner loses their job and you need both incomes to pay the mortgage?” he asks. In this situation, you could be stuck if you don’t have the credit score to refinance and get away from the higher rate, or the cash flow to handle the extra cost.

“Once you get in this spiral, it is tough to get out,” says Struthers. “The spiral just gets tighter.”

And yes, adjustable-rate mortgages can go down. While that’s possible, it’s more likely that the rate will rise. And some ARMs will limit how high and how low your rate can go.

Struthers puts it plainly: “ARMs are higher-risk loans. If you can handle the risk, you can benefit. If you can’t, it can crush you. Most people do not put themselves in a position to handle the risk.”

Who Can Make an ARM Work in Their Favor?

That doesn’t mean no one can benefit from adjustable-rate mortgages. They do come with the benefit of the lower initial interest rate. “If you plan to pay off the mortgage during that initial fixed period, you eliminate the risk [of getting stuck with a rising interest rate],” says Bartelt.

That’s exactly what she and her husband did when they bought their own home.

“In my situation, we had enough savings to buy our house with cash. But the cash was largely in investments, and selling all the investments would push our income into significantly higher tax brackets due to the gains, with all the cascading unpleasant tax effects,” Bartelt explains.

“By taking an ARM, we can spread the sale of those investments out over 5 years, minimizing the income increase in each year. That keeps our tax bracket lower,” she says. “We avoided increasing our marginal tax rate by double digits in the year of the purchase of our home.”

She notes that another benefit of taking the ARM in her situation was the fact that she and her husband could continue to pay the mortgage past that initial 5 years if they chose to do so. “The interest rate won’t be as favorable as if we’d initially locked in a fixed rate,” she admits. “But that option still exists, and having options is power.”

Planning for a Quick Sale? An ARM Might Work for You

Another way ARMs can provide benefits to homeowners? If you won’t live in the home for long. Buying the home and also selling it before the initial rate period expires could provide you with a way to access the lowest possible rate without having to deal with the eventual rise in mortgage payment when the rate increases.

“ARMs are typically best for those who are fairly certain they won’t be in the house for a long period of time,” says Cary Cates, CFP and founder of Cates Tax Advisory. “An example would be a person who has to move every two to four years for their job.”

He says you could view taking out an ARM as a way to pay “tax-deductible rent” if you already know you don’t want to stay in the house for more than a few years. “This is an aggressive strategy,” he explains, “but as long as the house appreciates enough in value to cover the initial costs of buying, then you could walk away only paying tax-deductible interest, which I am comparing to rent in this situation.”

Cates says you’re obviously not actually paying rent, but you can mentally frame your mortgage payment that way. But you need to know the risk is owing on your mortgage if you go to sell and the home hasn’t realized enough appreciation to cover what you spent to buy.
He also reminds potential homebuyers that you take on the risk of staying in the home longer than you expected to. You could end up dealing with the rising interest rate if you can’t sell or refinance.

What You Need to Know Before Taking an ARM

Before applying for an adjustable-rate mortgage, make sure you ask questions like:

  • What is the initial fixed-interest rate? How does that compare to another mortgage option, and is it worth taking on a riskier mortgage to get the initial fixed rate?
  • How long is the initial fixed rate period?
  • How often will the ARM adjust after the initial rate period?
  • Are there limits to how much your ARM’s rate can drop?
  • How high can the ARM’s rate go? How high can your monthly mortgage payment go?
  • If the mortgage’s interest hit the maximum rate, could you afford the monthly payment?
  • Do you have a plan for selling the home within the initial rate period if you want to sell before paying the adjusted rate?
  • Could you pay off the mortgage without selling if you did not want to pay the adjusted rate?

Do your due diligence and understand the risks and potential pitfalls before making a final decision. But depending on your specific situation, your finances, and your plans for the next 5 years, you could make an ARM work for you.

The post 2 Times an Adjustable-Rate Mortgage Makes Perfect Sense appeared first on MagnifyMoney.

How to Find a Starter Home in a Hot Housing Market

Here are five tips from experts on how best to snag a starter home right now.

An overheated real estate market is never good news for buyers in search of a budget-friendly starter home.

But thanks to increased confidence in the economy, leading more people to make large purchases like new homes, that’s exactly the type of real estate market 2017 is ushering in.

According to a recent report from the National Association of Realtors (NAR), the share of households that believe the economy is improving soared to 72% in the first quarter of 2017. “Forty-seven percent believe that strongly, up from 45% in Q4 2016 and 44% one year ago in Q1 2016,” NAR said.

When there’s increased competition for homes, prices generally go up. (Go here to see how much house you can afford.)

A new report from Redfin bears this out, revealing home prices in February increased 7.2% from a year earlier. What’s more, homes priced for less than $240,000 witnessed the highest appreciation — skyrocketing 8.4% year over year in February and 100% since the market lagged in 2012.

Combined with a lack of housing stock — Redfin reports a 6.4% decline in new listings in February — and you have what might be a daunting buying experience for newcomers.

With that in mind, here are five tips from experts on how best to snag a starter home right now.

1. Work With a Professional

This may seem like less-than-helpful advice, but it’s the first suggestion most experts offer when discussing the predicament faced by first-time home buyers.

“You want someone who knows the neighborhood,” said Jessica Lautz, managing director of survey research and communications for NAR. “It could be difficult if you go it alone.”

Seek out an agent who is knowledgeable about the areas in which you’d like to search so you can help avoid these first-time homebuyer mistakes.

2. Get Pre-Approved Before Starting a Search

Before discussing the pre-approval issue, it’s important to sort out your finances and to do it before embarking upon a search.

This effort should include reviewing your credit score. If it’s less-than-stellar, you can reach out to lenders for tips regarding how best to improve it, said Boston-based Redfin real estate agent James Gulden. You can view two of your credit scores for free, with helpful updates every two weeks, on Credit.com.

“Sometimes people see their credit score and don’t know where to go from there,” said Gulden. “All lenders have different thresholds for what they’re willing to take on in terms of a buyer’s credit score. And they will also look at your employment profile.”

When you’re ready, it’s wise to obtain pre-approval for a mortgage before wading into the market. Not only will it ensure you lose no time when you’re ready to make an offer, it will help clarify what you can realistically afford.

3. Be Prepared to Make Compromises 

Even seasoned, older buyers make compromises. Whether it’s the price, condition or amenities, compromising is part of the process.

“It’s more common for millennials to make compromises on first homes, but all buyers really do compromise on something,” said Lautz.

Translation: Figure out what you are willing to let go of or do without.

4. Be Patient

Buying a home is a process, no matter how much money you have. So mentally prepare yourself for the process, including the ups and the downs. Preparing for the downs includes not getting too attached to any one house.

“It’s easy to lose a couple and say, ‘Forget this, we’ll keep renting,'” said Gulden. “A lot of people are losing out on the first five or six homes they submit an offer on before being successful. From a mental standpoint, it’s very easy to get connected to a place, and when you don’t win a place, it can be upsetting. But in this market, it’s important to be able to brush it off and realize there are other places that will be coming onto the market.”

5. Write a Personal Letter 

Gulden admitted this tip is not exactly novel, but it can give you an edge in a particularly competitive market.

Writing a personal letter to the seller, enclosed with your offer, can help set you apart when there are 10, 15 or even 20 more offers. And those numbers are no exaggeration, said Gulden, who recently helped clients submit an offer for a Cambridge property with 24 bids.

“If you don’t include a letter or something to differentiate yourself from others, then it’s all just numbers and dates on paper for the seller,” said Gulden. “Introducing yourself and telling the buyer who you are, why you like the property makes a big difference.”

Image: Tempura

The post How to Find a Starter Home in a Hot Housing Market appeared first on Credit.com.

Freelancers: Here’s What You Need to Know About Getting a Mortgage

When it comes to mortgage loans, there’s a special exception for freelancers, business owners, and even Realtors.

When my husband (then fiancé) and I began preparing to purchase our first home, I was a burden.

I know what you’re thinking — my writing career as a freelancer simply must not have been generating enough money to allow me to contribute, and I needed to ride on the coattails of my fiancé’s full-time job and steady paycheck to get the home of my dreams.

Given the reputation of a freelancer’s income, I don’t blame you. And having started on this new career just months before house hunting, I actually was a little strapped for cash.

However, it wasn’t my uncertain income that excluded me from the mortgage-qualifying round. Despite my limited pennies, I was more than willing to be an equal partner in the house-buying process.

The bank? They had different ideas — ideas I didn’t even know existed until I was in the thick of it all. They told me my income would not be considered when pre-approving us for a mortgage loan amount. Instead, the loan would be based on my fiancé’s income alone.

This came as a surprise, to say the least. So I’ve made it my mission to spread the word to others who might find themselves in the same boat. Let’s break this down, shall we?

What Freelancers Need to Know

When it comes to mortgage loans, there’s a special exception for freelancers, business owners and even real estate agents — basically, it’s a rule for people who are self-employed with a sporadic income.

So, what exactly is this rule? Well, the bank told me I needed two full years of freelancing income history for them to consider for our loan amount. (Shopping for home loans? Be sure to check your credit first. You can view two of your free credit scores, with updates every two weeks, on Credit.com.)

Be warned: These specific restrictions might vary from bank to bank, so you’ll want to talk to your own lender to determine what you need.

The general rule is that you’ll need to share 24 months’ worth of income history in the form of your personal and business tax returns. They average those two years to get a general idea of how much you make during a typical year, which they can then use to determine what size loan you could realistically handle. (You can see how much house you can afford here.)

Since I had only been freelancing for a handful of months, I had next-to-no information to share with them. My business was just getting off the ground — I barely had two months of income to report, let alone two full years.

So we were left with a choice: Either we could wait for two years until I had built up a solid enough income history as a freelancer for them to consider, or we could qualify for a loan using just my husband’s income.

The latter option was a little demoralizing. I was making money, so why couldn’t I be an active part of the purchasing process? Why was I being punished by having to take a backseat and watch my fiancé sign his name on that pile of paperwork? Starting my own business as a freelancer was a scary enough leap without being made to feel like a lesser half of our partnership.

However, it didn’t take me long to begin to understand where the bank was coming from. It’s a risk to lend money to a freelancer — someone who might make $7,000 one month and $700 the next. But just because I could understand it, didn’t mean I liked it.

So my fiancé and I worked out an arrangement so I could still feel like I was involved in our home purchase. I wrote him a check to contribute to our down payment, and we continued to shuffle money around between the two of us to cover the mortgage and other living expenses until we were married and shared joint accounts.

It was a bit of a roundabout way to involve me in the process, and it still had its frustrating moments.

As a freelancer, I still work full time — just not in the way a bank can calculate. But in the end, it was actually a good thing. The fact that we received our loan amount after reporting only my husband’s income means we took on a loan and bought a house priced well within our budget.

While the process was far from painless, knowing we’ll never be house poor? Well, that’s priceless.

Image: Peopleimages

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This Common Mistake Can Kill Your Mortgage

If you're thinking about buying a home, you'll want to avoid this common mortgage mistake.

In order to qualify for a mortgage, you need to show your lender that you have a down payment and access to funds for closing. This money needs to come from documentable sources prior to moving it from your bank account to your escrow account. Unfortunately, a lot of people don’t do this, which can end up creating unnecessary challenges during the underwriting process.

Lenders are going to require at least 60 days of asset documentation from each source that your money comes from. This is required because your mortgage lender will need to verify that the money promised does exist and is eligible for use.

Let’s say you’ve put your money into escrow and, as requested, are doing your best to document the movement of money from the account going to escrow. This entails providing a bank statement specifically showing the money leaving your account and the money being accepted by escrow through an EMD (earnest money deposit).

If you can’t get a bank statement, though — say it’s the middle of the month and new statements are not out yet — the next best thing is to get a bank printout confirming the transaction and confirming the amount of money remaining in the account. (There are literally dozens of other things you also should be thinking about during the home buying process. Here are 50 ways you can get ready for buying your home.)

How a Bank Printout Can Help You Close

The bank printout must show the date of the transaction and the current timestamp of the printout, confirming that the money has been moved prior to the printout date. If the bank printout does not have this information, it will automatically halt the closing process of your loan and delay your loan contingency removal or extend your close of escrow date.

This method can be used for both your down payment and funds for cash to close. This is to provide authenticity for your account and to show clearly on paper that the account is yours and the money is yours to use. Banks and lenders require this information to be clear cut and “in your face.” Never assume that “common sense” will be enough.

Documents & Other Items You’ll Want to Avoid

Providing any of the following items in lieu of the bank printout will not work:

  • A bank statement with someone else’s name on it
  • Bank statement in trust
  • Pictures of bank statements taken from a smartphone or snapshot application
  • Bank printout with no timestamp and date

In addition, the bank printout and timestamp must show the remaining balance that is left in your account. For example, if you had $130,000 in assets and your down payment from this account was $50,000, your account statement should now show $80,000 remaining.

If you are looking to purchase a home, talk to a seasoned loan professional who can walk you through properly documenting the money required to buy your home. Also, take a few minutes to check your credit scores so you’ll know going in what kinds of terms you’re eligible for. You can get your two free credit scores, updated every 14 days, at Credit.com.

Image: GlobalStock

 

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