Southeast Florida Real Estate News


Dec. 25, 2019

Top 10 Flooring Trends for 2020: Tile, Terrazzo, and Beyond


Still have shag carpet in your spare bedroom? Cracked bathroom tile or scratched-up hardwood? Hey, it's probably time to get new floors.

More than 30% of homeowners cited flooring as what they dislike most about their homes, according to a survey by LightStream, the online lending division of SunTrust Bank. And, 73% of homeowners were planning some type of improvement project—so, it’s a safe bet that new floors will be high on many home improvement to-do lists.

New floors are a significant design refresher, as well as a solid investment that can increase your home’s value, says Dan DiClerico, home expert at HomeAdvisor.

“Putting down new flooring is a smart investment,” he says. “But more importantly, it can dramatically transform the look and feel of the home, while making it safer and more functional.”

But with so many flooring options out there today, what's best? We asked DiClerico and other home design and improvement experts to share their top picks for the biggest flooring trends of 2020.

1. Wood-look porcelain tile

Photo by Porcelain Tile Store
Porcelain tiles that look like wood? It may sound too good to be true, but wood-look tiles are all the rage these days.

“The designs are very convincing, so you could mistake them for real wood, without any wear and tear or risk of scratching,” DiClerico says. “In general, we’re seeing increased interest in engineered flooring over natural wood, mainly because it’s easier to maintain, without too much sacrificing of style.”

Cost: Installing ceramic or porcelain tile can run $3,000 to $4,000 for a 200-square-foot area, according to HomeAdvisor.

2. Marble-look porcelain tiles

Photo by Claudia Interior Design
Porcelain tiles that look like marble, instead of real marble, is another flooring trend, says Debbie Lori Travin of DLT Interiors, based in New York and South Florida.

“They look extremely realistic compared to their genuine counterparts, making it difficult to tell the difference but getting the same beautiful look at a fraction of the cost,” she says.

Cost: Tile flooring ranges from $13.50 to $83 per square foot.

3. Waterproof vinyl plank flooring

Photo by Flooret 
Waterproof vinyl floors are overtaking laminate in the flooring industry, says Nikki Watson, owner of the Design Quad, a home staging, design, and flooring firm in Dallas.

Like laminate, vinyl can have a wood look and is comparable in price, but it’s more durable. And since it’s water-resistant, it can be installed in kitchens and bathrooms and is more durable than laminate, she says.

Cost: Vinyl flooring costs can range from 50 cents to $5 per square foot, with installation an extra $3 to $5 per square foot, depending on the exact type of flooring.

4. Stained concrete

Photo by Cornerstone Architects 

Stained concrete works well in homes that “lean modern, industrial, or midcentury” and with “a clean, minimalist design scheme,” DiClerico says. The concrete is usually mixed, poured, and polished by hand.

Cost: Cost can be $2,000 for a 200-square-foot space.

5. Terrazzo

Photo by Moss Yaw Design studio 
“What’s old is new and new again,” says designer Sarah Barnard. And, terrazzo flooring is popular again.

Terrazzo is made from stone fragments, crushed glass, shells or other organic materials embedded in concrete and polished until smooth. It is best known as “large-format flooring in midcentury modern buildings,” she says, adding that it is an environmentally responsible material.

Cost: Terrazzo floors average $7,000 for a 200-square-foot space.

6. Large-format tiles

Photo by Squire Development Group 

“Homeowners and designers alike appreciate the scale of large tiles, plus the format minimizes the number of grout lines, for easy cleaning and maintenance,” DiClerico says.

Large format refers to 12-by-12-inch tiles or larger, up to 40 by 120 inches. Porcelain is a popular material, but ceramic and stone tiles are also popular, he says.

Cost: According to HomeAdvisor’s True Cost Guide, homeowners can expect to spend $3,000 to $4,000 on installing ceramic or porcelain tile for a 200-square-foot area.

7. Black-and-white patterned tile

Photo by Christa Pirl Interiors

Black and white tiles are popping up in a variety of home styles, including transitional styles and the modern farmhouse, says Julie Chrissis, a Boston-based home stager and interior designer.

“It gives a great bold look and can be paired with almost anything for a very custom finish,” she says.

Cost: Tile floors can cost $3,000 to $4,000 for a 200-square-foot space.

8. Slip-resistant flooring

Photo by Direct Tile Warehouse 

As aging in place in their existing homes becomes more common with older homeowners, DiClerico says more home improvement projects are focusing on safety, including installing slip-resistant flooring. Falls are the main cause of injury among older adults.

Slip-resistant flooring often comes in less expensive materials, such as vinyl or linoleum, making it a cost-effective project, he says.

Cost: Floors can cost $1 to $3 per square foot, according to HomeAdvisor, with installation an additional $500 to $1,000 depending on the space.

9. Engineered wood

Photo by The New & Reclaimed Flooring Company 

Engineered wood with a plywood core is a top choice for homeowners, says Nancy Ruddy of architecture and interiors firm CetraRuddy.

“They're strong and come in many veneer finishes, and use wood very economically and sustainably,” she says.

Oak, mahogany, and ash are the most on-trend finishes, Ruddy says, because they’re hard and less photosensitive than other woods, meaning they’ll last longer.

Cost: Engineered wood costs range from $4 to $13 a square foot.

10. Responsibly sourced and natural materials

Photo by Garrison Collection 
As homeowners grow more environmentally conscious, Barnard says, natural wood floors are becoming more popular.

More homeowners are seeking natural wood floors certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, which sets standards for responsible forest management, and floors that are finished with nontoxic wax or oil.

“Utilizing nontoxic finishes contributes to clean indoor air and a healthier family,” Barnard says.

Cost: Wood flooring can range from $3 to $14, depending on the type of wood chosen, but homeowners spend an average of nearly $4,400 to install wood floors, HomeAdvisor reports.

Article courtesy

Posted in Market Updates
Dec. 12, 2019

Why Paying Down Your Mortgage Faster Could Be a Good Investment Strategy

paying-mortgage-fasterPaying down your home mortgage balance faster than required is not a new idea. But you may be surprised to discover how powerful it can be. I will explain. But first, note the following.

This is not for everybody

The accelerated mortgage paydown idea can only work for folks who have positive cash flow and/or available cash. It’s not for people who are struggling to pay their monthly bills.

The idea is only appropriate for folks who are looking for a very conservative, risk-free way to invest some surplus cash flow or funds. Obviously, if you believe you can earn 8% to 10% annually with other investment strategies, you are not going to be very excited about the idea of expending cash to earn 4% (or whatever your exact home mortgage interest rate may be) by paying off your mortgage early.

Finally, the idea is far more powerful when you intend to continue pumping the monthly accelerated mortgage paydown amount into a retirement account after your mortgage has been paid off.

With these thoughts in mind, here’s how the accelerated mortgage paydown strategy can work in the form of some sample scenarios.

Sample scenario

Pilar is in good financial shape. She has cash on hand and positive monthly cash flow. She expects to be in the same position for the foreseeable future. She has a $400,000 balance on a recently refinanced 30-year first mortgage that charges 4% interest.

Pilar’s monthly payment for principal and interest is only $1,910, but she has a whopping 30 years to go before the mortgage will be paid off, if she sticks to the prescribed monthly payment schedule. That means she will be a wizened 75 years old when the mortgage is finally extinguished.

Being 75 years old before your mortgage is paid off probably does not sound so great to most folks. Collecting a guaranteed, risk-free 4% (or whatever rate applies) return by paying down your mortgage quicker (thus avoiding the interest that would otherwise be charged on the principal you pay off early) probably sounds like a solid investment idea to many homeowners. After all, the stock market is looking rather frothy, and fixed income investments are still paying pitiful interest rates.

Say Pilar adopts the accelerated mortgage paydown strategy and immediately starts paying $3,500 per month instead of the scheduled monthly payment of $1,910. She will pay off her $400,000 mortgage balance in about 12 years, at age 57, instead of paying it off in 30 years, at age 75. She will earn a guaranteed 4% rate of return because that’s the interest rate she avoids on the accelerated principal payments. Not bad.

Loss of mortgage interest deductions

One objection against the accelerated mortgage paydown idea is that you will lose tax deductions because interest charges will go down more rapidly than if you stick to the scheduled monthly payments. This may be true, but so what? Consider the following points:

* The TCJA imposes stricter limitations on home mortgage interest deductions for 2018 - 2025. See here for more information.

* The TCJA’s greatly increased standard deduction amounts for 2018 - 2025 mean that many more folks won’t be claiming itemized deductions. Even if you itemize, the larger standard deduction reduces the incremental tax benefit from itemizing. See here.

Impact of future inflation or deflation

While the accelerated mortgage paydown strategy will yield guaranteed results, it is not foolproof. If we have a period of roaring inflation, paying down a mortgage with a relatively low interest rate earlier than required may no longer make sense. In this situation, it may be better to stop the accelerated paydown program, allow the mortgage term to stretch out, and pay the remaining balance back with cheaper inflated dollars.

On the other hand, the accelerated paydown strategy will work great during a period of deflation, because the mortgage is being paid down sooner when dollars are cheaper rather than later when dollars are more expensive.

Big advantage to continuing program after your mortgage is paid off

The accelerated mortgage paydown strategy can clearly be beneficial in and of itself because interest charges are avoided, and debt is eliminated from your personal balance sheet. Another advantage is you can stop and restart the program anytime you want (for example, when inflation or deflation strikes). However, the biggest payoff from following the strategy will probably be reaped by folks who have the cash flow and self-discipline to continue the program even after the mortgage is extinguished. This involves taking the monthly amount that was previously dedicated to the accelerated mortgage paydown strategy and stuffing it into a retirement savings account (whether taxable or tax-advantaged).

In our sample scenario, let’s say Pilar continues the program after her mortgage is paid off by putting $3,500 a month into a retirement savings account that earns 4% annually for another eight years. At age 65, she will have accumulated about $395,000 in the account. This seems like a much better plan than sticking with the status quo and making mortgage payments until age 75.

More sample scenarios

Here are some additional illustrations of how the accelerated mortgage paydown strategy can work.

Faster paydown

Now say 45-year-old Pilar pays $4,500 per month under the accelerated mortgage paydown program instead of making the scheduled monthly payment of $1,910. She will pay off her $400,000 mortgage balance in eight years and 10 months, at age 54, instead of paying it off in 30 years, at age 75. She will earn a guaranteed 4% rate of return because that’s the interest rate she avoids on the accelerated principal payments. If Pilar continues the program after the mortgage is paid off by putting $4,500 a month into a retirement savings account that earns 4% for another 11 years, she will accumulate about $745,000 by age 65. Sweet. Once again, this seems like a much better plan than sticking with the status quo and making mortgage payments until age 75.

Slower paydown

Let’s now be a bit less ambitious and assume that 45-year-old Pilar pays $2,500 per month under the accelerated mortgage paydown program instead of making the scheduled monthly payment of $1,910. This only requires an additional payment of $590 per month. Paying $2,500 per month will allow Pilar to pay off her $400,000 mortgage balance in about 19 years and two months, at age 64, instead of paying it off in 30 years, at age 75. She will earn a guaranteed 4% rate of return because that’s the interest rate she avoids on the accelerated principal payments.

Older individual

Finally, let’s now assume that Pilar is 55 instead of 45. She pays $4,000 per month under the accelerated mortgage paydown program instead of making the scheduled monthly payment of $1,910. She will pay off her $400,000 mortgage balance in about ten years and two months, at age 66, instead of paying it off in 30 years, at age 85. She will earn a guaranteed 4% rate of return because that’s the interest rate she avoids on the accelerated principal payments. This seems like a much better plan than sticking with the status quo and making mortgage payments until age 85.

The bottom line

You get the idea. With financial software, you or your financial adviser can put together your own accelerated mortgage paydown scenarios. Think about it.

Article courtesy

Posted in News
Dec. 9, 2019

How to Sell Your House Fast: 5 Must-Know Tips to Move Your Property


If you need to sell your house fast, you probably don't have a whole lot of time to research the current real estate market and ponder how it'll affect your home sale. You just want sales guidance from a real estate agent (here's how to find a real estate agent in your area) or other pro that will help you find a buyer as fast as possible.

Well, here's the good news: It is possible for you, as a seller, to offload your home quickly. The experts say selling comes down to a few key to-do's that you should take care of before your property hits the market.

If you're ready to unload your abode, heed the selling advice of the experts below. Of course, we can't guarantee all homeowners a quick sale, but putting these tips into practice definitely won't hurt the chances of securing a buyer.

1. Tidy up to make your house stand out (and sell!)

If you're looking to sell quickly, you're going to want to start cleaning, especially before those listing photos are taken by your Realtor®.

"Pristine houses from sellers are more attractive to a buyer, which will keep the buyer excited," says Debi Benoit, principal and broker at Benoit Mizner Simon & Co. Real Estate in Wellesley, MA. "And an excited buyer may pay top dollar to the seller and will usually write an offer quickly."

Fast selling means getting rid of clutter both inside the house and in the yard and putting some elbow grease into making everything look like a brand-new home (yup, you might need a storage unit for maximum curb appeal).

And selling fast means cleaning from top to bottom in every room of the house. Wipe down cabinets, light fixtures, and drawers, remove any scuffs from the walls, give all kitchen appliances a once-over, clean air vents, shampoo your carpets, and then sweep, vacuum, or mop every inch of the house.

It will take you several days of work to declutter, but the payoff (making a sale!) will be worth it for a potential buyer. Trust us—this is a major part of selling a home quickly.

2. Have your house staged to sell fast

Be the best seller you can be, and go extra mile beyond cleaning. To do this, consider having your house staged, a real estate term that means decorating your place so that it is more attractive to buyers.

"It's best to present the home in its best light when you're selling," explains Nile Lundgren, an agent with Trent & Company in New York City. He once had a real estate listing—unstaged—on the market for five months without ever getting an offer to sell.

"We took it off the market, staged it, reshot photos, and put it back on the market," he says. "Within two weeks, we got into a bidding war and signed a contract for a sale shortly thereafter."

Real estate staging typically takes anywhere from a few days to a couple of weeks, depending on the availability of rental furniture, the movers, and the installers.

If you're facing a major time crunch to sell, Lundgren suggests focusing on staging the beds, sofas, tables, chairs, and art—items that make a house feel like a well-maintained home where people can live and get comfortable.

3. Hire a photographer to take listing photos for a quick sale

It may feel like hiring a professional will be a waste of money. After all, your cellphone has a great camera, right? But that can be a sale killer, says Rosamaria Acuña, a Realtor with Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices California Properties in La Jolla.

"First impressions are everything, and need to be done right," she says. "A professional photographer has all the tools to capture the right lighting and make everything look brighter and inviting." The pros also have wide-angle lenses to fit the entire room in the photo.

4. Selling quick means making your home available for showings

Once everything is set up, get ready to spend a lot of time away from your home so buyers and real estate agents can view the property comfortably—without you or your pets wandering around the halls. Selling fast is best done when homeowners aren't there for an open house.

Remember: If you want to sell your home pronto, you need to be flexible and open with your time, to allow buyers and real estate agents to tour it as often as possible.

5. Attract a buyer with the right price

Staging and marketing your home are important components, but at the end of the day, the amount of money you're asking buyers to pay could be what seals the deal.

"Nothing will help sell a poorly priced home—and a well-priced home can overcome many other issues," says Aaron Hendon, a Realtor with Christine & Company in Seattle. "To sell your home fast, your house needs to be priced to compete with the others currently on the market."

Your real estate agent will help you decide on the right listing price for your home by looking at a variety of factors: your house's age, any updates, square footage, and the school district.

An agent will pull up comparable homes, or "comps," that have sold in the area to evaluate the best sale price.

Article courtesy

Posted in Market Updates
Dec. 3, 2019

I Don't Have Money for Updates; Should I Offer a Discount When Selling My Home?


When your home is on the market, it needs to stand out from the crowd. And certain features like beautifully appointed open kitchens or impeccable hardwood floors are great at drawing eyeballs for listings. But what if you can't afford to renovate—even if certain things have fallen into a state of serious disrepair?

Some sellers may choose to offer an allowance, or discount, on their home to entice buyers. In this situation, the seller would agree to take the financial hit on repairing anything that the buyer sees as an issue. The allowance would be written into the buyer's offer, and the buyer would have to check with the lender for details that pertain to this type of clause. (Some lenders may have a problem with it.)

Benefits of offering an allowance

If you cannot afford to make necessary repairs to your property, offering a home improvement allowance is certainly a viable option.

Robert Rahmanian, principal and co-founder of REAL New York, says this might be a good strategy if you're having trouble selling your house or when a buyer brings up the need for updates.

"The allowance amount very much depends on the kind of updates that need to be conducted,” he says. The allowance may be determined based on the total price of the necessary updates.

According to Martin Eiden, a broker at Compass in New York, the first step is to get written estimates from contractors to do the work, and then offer an allowance for the estimated amount.

“I would present it like this: ‘We were considering updating the kitchen and baths but didn't want to choose a color the end buyer may not want, so these are the estimates, and the buyer can choose the final colors and finishes,’” he says.

This is a solid strategy for two reasons. “Buyers capable of having a ‘vision’ for the home may be excited because they have the ability to choose updates and colors to their personal taste and liking,” says Shafaq Chawla, a real estate agent at Compass in Los Gatos, CA. Also, by managing the project themselves, she says buyers will have peace of mind knowing that the repairs will be done to their liking.

Disadvantages of offering an allowance

However, there are also valid reasons against offering a home improvement allowance, chiefly the fact that most buyers favor a home that is move-in ready.

Chawla says although some buyers would enjoy the opportunity to customize the home, there are plenty of prospective buyers who will avoid going this route.

“Depending on the scope of the work needed, it may require them to take time off from work or endure the hassle of chasing down contractors for the job," she says.

Plus, depending on the market, it’s possible that a home improvement allowance won’t even be necessary to entice buyers.

“In desirable neighborhoods with limited inventory, a home will likely sell, even if it’s outdated or saddled with condition issues," says Sarah A. Adler, a real estate salesperson at Citi Habitats in Brooklyn, NY.

Other options

Aside from offering a home improvement allowance, how can you attract buyers if you don’t have money to fix up your property? The best solution is to price it correctly. That includes taking into account the conditions in that individual market and how much work the buyer will have to put into the home.

But there’s also another option. Although you may not be able to do extensive repairs on your own, it’s possible to put some level of sweat equity into it.

“It costs you nothing to do a thorough cleaning and remove clutter,” Eiden says. In fact, he believes you’ll get the biggest return on investment by painting your home’s interior with a fresh coat of white. Best of all, you can do this yourself. White paint will reflect light and make the rooms appear bigger. Plus, it gives the appearance of a clean palette and can help potential buyers imagine themselves—and their stuff—in there.

Article courtesy

Posted in News
Nov. 5, 2019

The One Thing Home Sellers Forget to Hide Before an Open House


When getting ready to sell your house, there’s a lot to worry about—home staging, repairs, keeping rooms tidy for home tours, and more. But there’s also one important thing that many sellers forget to do: hide their prescription drugs.

Sorry to break it to you, but some "buyers" touring your home might just be rooting around for valuables, and you might be surprised by which medications fit the bill.

Here's what sellers need to know about the risks of prescription drugs at open houses, and how to keep all of their belongings safe.

Which drugs to hide during an open house

When preparing for an open house, plenty of homeowners put away their expensive jewelry, electronics, and checkbooks. But prescription drugs often get overlooked since they're generally tucked away in medicine cabinets and drawers.

Although the painkiller OxyContin may be the most commonly abused prescription drug (and at highest risk for theft), also high on the list are attention deficit disorder medications like Concerta and Adderall, depression and anxiety medications like Zoloft and Xanax, and sleep aids like Ambien.

Plus, prescriptions aren't the only drugs that could get swiped for recreational use. For example, over-the-counter cough suppressants (e.g., NyQuil) can be abused by being mixed with alcohol or other drugs. And sinus medications containing pseudoephedrine, like Sudafed, can be used to make meth. Even the heartburn medication Prilosec has been known to be abused due to the euphoric effect it has when taken with methadone.

Make sure these, and all other medications, are removed from your medicine cabinet. Even if a medication seems innocuous, it's better to be safe than sorry.

How to keep your belongings safe

If you’re getting ready to show your home, walk around the house thinking like a stranger. What’s easy to pick up? What might be easy to sell? This is a great guideline for medications, but also for hiding anyvaluables in your home. Think about wine, perfume bottles, expensive lotions, even your designer tie collection.

Since it can be hard to know what thieves are looking for, try walking around the house with a real estate agent to make sure you’ve noticed everything. Make sure you don't leave your checkbook in an unlocked drawer; and hide your laptop, tablet, and cellphone.

The safe way to discard old pills

After a good sweep of your medicine cabinet, you might find yourself with a few bottles of pills you don’t need anymore. While your instinct might be to simply trash them before an open house, there’s a better way to dispose of them.

Many homeowners are making use of Deterra bags, and other drug-deactivation systems, to safely dispose of medications. Deterra bags work by using an activated carbon pod, which, when mixed with warm water, absorbs the active ingredients in pills, patches, and liquids, rendering the drugs inactive.

“We’re giving them to agents to give to homeowners when they’re buying or selling homes,” says former Nevada Realtors president Heidi Kasama, a supporter of RALI, the Rx Abuse Leadership Initiative.

According to Nevada Business, RALI partners are distributing 500,000 pouches to residents of Nevada. Many other supporters of the initiative have had the opportunity to pass them out as well.

If you don't have access to a drug-deactivation bag, there are other ways to dispose of your unused medications. Drugs can be flushed down the toilet, but only if they are on the FDA's flush list. If they are not on the list, the FDA recommends mixing the drugs with an unappealing substance like cat litter or dirt, putting the mixture in a sealed plastic bag, and throwing it away in the trash.

The FDA also states that it's important to make sure you scratch out the information (like your name and what drug you were prescribed) on the prescription bottle.

If flushing and throwing medications away are not possible, you can always turn unused drugs into your nearest drug take-back location.

Why 'hidden' isn't always 'safe'

Once you’ve found everything of value, you may be wondering what to do with it. Your first instinct might be to hide valuables in a closet or in a drawer, but buyers often look in closets (to see how much storage space there is) and they can easily open drawers.

“When I tell owners to put valuables away, I recommend to not hide them in some obvious place, but put some thought into it, or put items in a safe,” Kasama says.

But if you don't have a safe, you might consider locking valuables in a desk drawer, buying a large (and heavy) trunk with a lock to store your valuables, or even putting them in the trunk of your car. If you have friends or family you trust living nearby, you might even ask if you can store a few boxes of your most precious items there.

Ask your real estate agent to keep an eye on buyers

Even if you think you’ve cleared out all your valuables, it’s still important to watch potential buyers in your house.

Of course, most of the time, the homeowner will be away when the house is being shown, so make sure your real estate agent is keeping an eye out for you.

Allison Jung, a real estate agent in Las Vegas, says she finds power in numbers when it comes to preventing theft in open houses.

“I have another agent, escrow or lender partner attend the open house with me,” Jung explains. “That way we can station ourselves in different parts of the house to keep an eye on things.”

Kasama says she’s always on the lookout for suspicious activity.

“We had a showing once, and four people came in,” she recalls. “They immediately split up and took off in two directions and didn't seem to want to listen to anything about the house. A big red flag. We called after them and said they had to all stay together and we would tour them through the house. They left very shortly after that, which tells me they were not there to look at the house.”

Article courtesy

Posted in Market Updates
Oct. 6, 2019

8 Mortifying Questions You'll Be Asked When Applying for a Mortgage



If you need a mortgage to buy a home, rest assured: Prospective lenders will ask you a lot of questions. After all, loaning someone money is a risky proposition, so they'll want some assurance you'll pay them back!

So what questions might they ask you? Allow us to outline the most common queries during a consultation, and to tell you what constitutes a decent answer—and what doesn't. That way, your mortgage pre-approval process won't be derailed by any big surprises.

Ready? Make sure you have answers to these questions before you start the loan application process.


1. What is your credit score?

For starters, let's look at your credit score—the numerical representation of how well you've paid off past debts. If you're in the dark on what your credit score is, get your score for free at, or your full report at You may also be able to get a free score through your bank or credit union, or another financial institution.

Lenders typically offer the best interest rates to customers with the highest credit scores, generally 750 and above. Yes, you may get a loan without a good credit score. But you'll pay higher interest rates if you do. Try to improve your score before you apply for a loan.

2. Do you have sufficient credit history?

A common misconception is that if you have a great credit score, you have the credit issue covered. Casey Fleming, author of "The Loan Guide: How to Get the Best Possible Mortgage," sees people who are proud of the fact they only have one credit card, which they hardly use, and a credit score of almost 800."It's not just the score," he says. "The whole purpose of the credit report is to have some sort of record that you have been able to establish credit and pay it back as agreed, reliably." If you haven't done that, lenders won't be in a hurry to lend you money. You have what is known as "thin credit."

If you only have one credit card, for example, you may not qualify for a prime loan with the lowest interest rates, regardless of your credit score. Your loan officer may recommend that you go out and get another credit card, or take out a small car loan, and come back when you have built a better track record of paying back debt.

3. How much is your countable income?

"Not everything you make necessarily counts," warns Fleming. "It's not unusual for someone to have this idea they make $200,000 per year, and an underwriter says they actually make $100,000 per year."

The reason? A lender may not include any income that is sporadic, new, or for something that the lender determines isn't a sure thing. Plus, ending a verifiable source of income you've had for years can also send up red flags, even if you have a new source of income to take its place.

Heather McRae, senior loan officer at Chicago Financial Services, Inc. in Chicago, IL, had one mortgage refinance borrower who retired during the loan approval process. Even though he had plenty of money from his pension and Social Security benefits, they had to wait a couple of months to document his new retirement income before he could get the loan.

Take-home lesson? Make sure your lender is aware of any recent changes to your income—not just the amount, but where it's from.

4. Have you changed jobs recently?

People often move and buy a home at about the same time they change jobs. That can be a problem, especially if the new job compensates you in a way that's different from the old one.

For example, say you were making an $80,000 base salary at your last job. You moved for a great job, where you get a $60,000 base salary, plus expected bonuses of $40,000, plus stock benefits. If you're expecting the underwriter to count your salary as $100,000 or more, you'll be disappointed. "If you don't have a history to document that you have received that over two years, you can only use the lower base salary," says McRae.

If you changed job fields, and your base pay stayed the same or improved, your loan approval may depend on the lender you are working with. Some lenders don't care if you've even changed job fields completely, as long as you are a W-2 employee. Other lenders want you to stay in a new job field for one or two years first to establish yourself, before they'll loan you money.

5. Do you have enough cash on hand?

Lenders expect you to have enough assets, such as cash and securities, to be able to pay for your down payment, inspections, and closing costs. An amount in reserve is important, too. The catch is that you probably won't be able to count 100% of your assets for these purposes.

For example, say you have $20,000 in the bank, your parents have promised to give you $10,000 to help with the down payment, and you have $80,000 in your stock brokerage account. Sounds like you have $110,000 available to buy a house, right?

The lender won't see it that way. They'll count the $20,000, assuming you can show with bank statements showing that it's been in your account for a while. The promise from your parents is less sure. The lender may want to see the money in your account, and get a signed letter from your parents stating that the money is a gift.

As for the $80,000 in your stock brokerage account, it may not be worth as much in the lender's eyes as you think. Lenders often knock 25% to 35% off the value of a stock portfolio, according to Fleming. They assume selling off a stock portfolio and other securities will incur expenses. You may owe taxes on capital gains—they don't know how much, so they'll assume the worst.

Also, the stock market fluctuates, so if you have to cash in to buy a house, you could have to sell stock on a down day. If you need to sell stock to buy a house, and you are borderline on qualifying to have enough assets, consider cashing in before you apply for a loan.

What if you're saving money in a shoebox under the bed? It doesn't count. Put your money in the bank, and keep it there for at least a couple of months, so that it shows on your bank statements.

6. How much other debt do you have?

You could have a great income, plenty of cash, a high credit score, and still not qualify for a loan. The deal killer may be all the other monthly payments you have to make, from credit card companies to auto loans. You can even be derailed by back taxes, due to the Internal Revenue Service. Lenders compare your monthly debt payments to your income to determine whether they think you can handle your mortgage.

Tempted to go out and buy new furniture for your new house before the loan closes? Watch out—that added monthly expense can throw off your debt-to-income ratio, and ruin your chances of getting a loan. It's a classic mistake.

7. What home are you hoping to buy?

You can't control everything. For example, you could be trying to buy a condominium, and it turns out that the condo association isn't viable, by underwriter's standards. McRae says that sometimes the condo association doesn't have enough insurance coverage, or other problems come up.

8. Are you single, married—or getting a divorce?

Lenders aren't going to ask you how you're getting along with your spouse. But they are interested if you are in the midst of a divorce, or if you have other major changes going on in your life that can affect your finances.

McRae had some clients who were getting a divorce in the middle of the transaction. The couple didn't think they needed to mention this. They thought it wouldn't make any difference, because they were still both on the loan and the divorce was amicable. However, the husband was obligated to pay alimony and child support. The underwriters had to charge the alimony and child support as expenses to the husband. Meanwhile, they couldn't give the wife credit for those payments under underwriting guidelines, because she had not been receiving them for six months. In the end, it killed the deal. They couldn't get the loan.

Bottom line? Make sure to keep your loan officer informed about what's going on. You can do whatever you want after the loan closes, as long as you keep up your payments. But when in doubt, avoid making big changes to your life and financial situation before or during the loan approval process.

Article Courtesy

Posted in News
Oct. 2, 2019

How Long Does It Take to Close on a House?

How long does it take to close on a house? During your house-hunting adventures, you've turned on (and hopefully off) at least 20 water faucets and peered into about 50 closets (oh, the things you've seen!). And now, at long last, you've saved your down payment, researched mortgage rates, shopped for just the right lender, and (finally!) found the perfect home. Your mortgage has been painstakingly secured with that winning lender, you've made an offer, and it has been accepted. More good news: Your home inspection comes off without a hitch. Congrats!

Now, exactly how long does it take to close on a house? It's the eternal question in real estate—for both buyers and sellers. Read on to get the gist of the closing process and the timeline you can expect, plus a guide to what can slow things down in the home-buying process—or speed things up.

How long will it take to complete the process?

One recent study found that real estate closing times are getting longer—on average it now takes 50 days. And while that may seem like an eternity to eager buyers or sellers, there's good reason home buying doesn't happen lickety-split. For one, buyers who require mortgages It turns out, home buying is more than just saving for a down payment, completing a mortgage application, and making an offer. Even if the terms of the sale are agreed upon by all parties, it's still wise to anticipate a bump or two in the road.

Here are the typical hiccups—ranging from lender snags to insurance oversights—that can increase the time it takes to close on a home sale.

It turns out, home buying is more than just saving for a down payment, completing a mortgage application, and making an offer. Even if the terms of the sale are agreed upon by all parties, it's still wise to anticipate a bump or two in the road.

Here are the typical hiccups—ranging from lender snags to insurance oversights—that can increase the time it takes to close on a home sale.through lenders must finish the loan application process and home appraisal.

Home buyers should also use this time to complete their due diligence by reviewing the property title and completing a home inspection, says Todd Huettner of Huettner Capital. This chunk of time also gives both the seller and buyer time to plan their move.

What can slow down a closing?

Even though a mortgage has been secured and a property is under contract, the occasional hitch can take the closing process from warp speed to ultra slo-mo. This is where you learn that sometimes, the most seemingly straightforward home-buying process can still be fraught with obstacles.

  • Funds: Yes, you guessed it. The most common reason for a delayed closing is usually related to buyer financing, says Jerry Koller of California's International Home. The leading issue: getting a mortgage approved by a lender. Buyers can avoid this time drain by obtaining a mortgage pre-approval letter from the lender, something many sellers require along with an offer. And remember, even with a mortgage pre-qualification for a conventional loan, it can take 30 days for the lender to complete its due diligence once an offer is made, so plan accordingly. All-cash buyers save a significant amount of time by avoiding the mortgage process—a fairly obvious real estate fact of life but one worth noting nonetheless. (Side note: Choose a loan officer who communicates well and can walk you through the process step by step, and financing will feel much less overwhelming.)
  • Appraisal disparities: In order for a mortgage to be approved, the lender needs an appraiser to value the home. But if the appraiser's valuation comes in low, it will take time to renegotiate the price of the real estate and rework the mortgage through the lender.
  • No insurance: Failing to secure homeowner insurance until the last minute slows down a closing, since it's often required in the terms of the mortgage before you move in, says Paul Moore, a real estate agent and broker in Virginia. Be sure you know ahead of time what, if any, insurance stipulations your home loan has.
  • Contingencies: "If a buyer needs to sell their existing home and/or a seller needs to buy a new home, this could also delay the expected closing date," says Colin T. McDonald at Re/Max Capital in Albany, NY.
  • Short sale: Sometimes a home is sold at a price lower than what the owner still owes on the mortgage. This is known as a short sale. In this case, the owner must have the lender for the original mortgage loan agree to accept a pay-off amount lower than the remaining balance on the mortgage. This can sometimes prove a challenging task and can potentially impede the closing process.

How to speed up a closing

If you want to ensure your purchase reaches the closing date finish line in record time, here are things you can do to help.

  • Resolve title issues: Sellers should resolve any problems—such as a tax lien—regarding the title to the property, says Susan Naftulin, president of Rehab Financial Group. Provide the title company with copies of the satisfactions before the title search, to avoid any red flags. If you haven’t satisfied the lien, informing the title company that you want it paid out of closing proceeds will keep the process moving along.
  • Address repairs: A home inspection usually generates a laundry list of repairs that need to be resolved before closing. While sellers can make the repairs, in general, it's much faster for them to just reduce the price or give the home buyers a tax credit so they can make their repairs on their own time.
  • Communicate: Jack Matos, director of escrow operations at Proper Title, based in Palatine, IL, says buyers with questions about the closing documents or walk-through concerns need to immediately inform their Realtor® or attorneys. "Any significant changes at this late hour will require new forms and review periods," he says. All that said, don't feel pressured to just rush through things without fully understanding them. Your real estate agent is there to make sure you're comfortable throughout the entire closing process. When in doubt, don't be afraid to take a breather and discuss whatever's nagging you, until you're confident you can sign on the dotted line.

Article Courtesy

Posted in News
Oct. 1, 2019

How to Buy a House in Your 20s—and Why You Really Should


Curious about how to become a homeowner in your 20s? If you're dubious it can be done, we get it. Between entry-level salaries, college loans, and the desire to just be young and have fun, 20-somethings often think buying real estate is beyond their reach. No so! It is entirely possible to buy a home in your 20s, and it will benefit you big-time down the road. Here's how you can make your home-buying dreams come true much sooner than you think.

How to buy a house in your 20s: Save for a down payment

Being a homeowner with a mortgage is not like renting. To afford to buy a house at your age, you'd better have some cash saved up for a down payment on your mortgage—a lot of cash, actually.

Granted, you don’t have to put down 20%, but doing so enables you to avoid paying private mortgage insurance, a premium that can increase your monthly payment by up to 1.15%.

If you don’t have a ton of money in savings, one way to afford the down payment is to ask Mom and Dad for financial help. Another option to afford the down payment bill is to apply for down payment assistance.

Depending on your income and other factors, you could qualify for one of over 2,200 down payment assistance programs nationwide, which help out first-time home buyers with low-interest loans, grants, and tax credits.

So, how much money are we talking about? Well, one study found that buyers who use down payment assistance programs save an average of $17,766. Sadly, most consumers aren't aware of these programs, or assume they're too difficult to qualify for. Don't be one of them!

Along with a down payment, homeownership will require you to pay the monthly mortgage, property tax, and homeowners insurance. But sellers usually take care of the closing costs for real estate transactions.

Shore up student loan debt

Student loan debt has surged to an average of $28,950 per borrower, reports the Institute for College Access & Success. But college debtdoesn’t automatically prevent you from becoming a homeowner.

Most mortgage lenders require a borrower’s debt-to-income ratio—how much money you owe divided by your income—to be no more than 36%. So, someone making $6,000 a month and paying $500 a month in student loan debt would be able to afford a maximum monthly mortgage payment of $1,680—in many markets, that's plenty to buy real estate. But, if you’re shouldering too much student loan debt to qualify for a mortgage, you may still have a few options.

One way to make room for a mortgage is to refinance and extend the life of your college loan. This results in smaller monthly payments over a longer period of time, so you’ll have more you can put toward a mortgage. The caveat is you'll end up paying more in interest over the life of your college loan, but it means you can buy a home now and, in turn, take advantage of today’s low mortgage interest rates, says Heather McRae, a senior loan officer at Chicago Financial Services.

Moreover, nearly half of states today offer housing assistance to college grads carrying student loan debt. For instance, New York's new Graduate to Homeownership program provides assistance to first-time buyers/college grads in the form of low-interest-rate mortgages or up to $15,000 in down payment assistance. You can meet with a mortgage lender to find out if you qualify for one of these programs.

Check your credit score

Unlike older generations, home buyers in their 20s tend to have shorter credit histories. That can be a problem, since if you have limited credit history, the odds are greater that you have a mediocre credit score—the numerical representation of how well you've paid off past loans (like credit cards).

Mortgage lenders usually require borrowers to have a minimum credit score of 660; they also look at your credit utilization ratio—your current debts, divided by the credit limit on the sum of your accounts.

For example, if you’re carrying a $400 debt on your credit card and have a $1,000 credit limit, your credit utilization ratio is 40%. Unfortunately, relatively new credit users tend to have a higher credit utilization ratio.

You’ll want to get a free copy of your credit report at Check for errors—1 in 4 Americans spots mistakes on their credit report, according to a Federal Trade Commission survey. And, if your credit isn’t up to par, you may have to take a few months to raise your score. Or you can get someone with good credit(like your parents) to co-sign the loan for you to help you become a homeowner.

Purchase a starter home

As a first-time home buyer, you don’t have to find your “forever home” right now.

“I tell young buyers all the time, ‘This is your first home—it’s not your last,'” says Linda Sanderfoot, a real estate agent at Coldwell Banker in Neenah, WI.

In fact, there are a couple of big financial benefits to buying a starter home while you’re in your 20s. First, your mortgage payments will probably be more affordable, since you’ll likely be buying a cheaper house. Second, you may be able to get a 5- or 7-year adjustable-rate mortgage and qualify for a lower interest rate than you would with a 30-year fixed-rate loan—a good decision as long as you plan on moving to your dream home before the loan's interest rate lock expires. Talk to your real estate agent about buying a starter home.

Plan for unexpected home expenses

All home buyers should have a rainy day fund to pay for emergency home repairs such as roof damage or a gas leak, as well as monthly mortgage payments, closing costs, insurance, and property tax. And this is especially important for young or first-time buyers. Why? Research shows many millennials are less financially responsible than older generations.

A study by TD Ameritrade found that more than 9 in 10 millennials overspend, fall short on savings, or take on additional debt at least once a month per year. Furthermore, a recent survey found 52% of millennials said they feel pressure to keep up with their friends due to always going out.

Consequently, “Don’t buy at the top of your budget," says Sanderfoot. "Unless you’re buying new construction, you need an emergency fund for big repairs.”

She adds that home buyers may also want to get a home warranty, which is a policy that would cover the cost of maintenance and repairs for certain home appliances if they break down. (Plans start at about $300.)

Article Courtesy

Posted in News
Oct. 1, 2019

What Is a Property Lien? An Unpaid Debt That Could Trip Up Your Home Sale


Property liens are one of the most common conditions that can slow down a real estate transaction. So what exactly is a lien on a house? In general, it is a legal notice that's put on file as the consequence of an unpaid debt. When creditors want you to know that you owe them, and they mean business, they may choose to take legal action by placing a lien on your biggest asset, your home.

A lien, or debt, can feel like a huge black spot on your record, but there's no need to panic. In the real estate world, they're much more common than most buyers and sellers realize. Read on for your must-know guide to resolving such claims and moving forward with the sale.

What are property liens?

"A lien usually comes from either unpaid taxes, a judgment made in court, or from unpaid bills," explains Jocelyn Nager, a lawyer who specializes in debt collection.

A claim filed against property could include missed mortgage payments or any payments owed to contractors for work done on the home. Payment to creditors for the lien will be required before a property can be purchased.

Types of liens on houses

There are a number of liens that creditors may place on your home. These are the most common:

  • Mechanic’s lien: When general contractors, carpenters, plumbers, painters, or other repair companies work on your home, they may file a claim on the property as insurance to make sure they’re paid.
  • Judgment lien: If you have lost a court case and there was a judgment against you, the winning party of the lawsuit can file this against your home until the payment is collected. This type of lien is also sometimes imposed by an attorney if you do not pay your bill for legal services.
  • Tax lien: If you do not pay your federal, state, or county taxes, the government may file a tax lien on your home for what you owe on your property.

How does a lien affect a real estate transaction?

Once a property is put under contract for a mortgage, the title company will perform a search for any liens that have been filed against the property. Simply put, if one turns up, it puts the transaction temporarily on hold.

Mortgage companies will not agree to finance a property until the lien is satisfied, or paid off, which is the responsibility of the seller. In most cases, this will encourage the seller to take quick action toward resolving the debts. However, the seller might also refuse payment or contest the claim. If this happens, the sale must be put off until a definitive outcome can be reached.

If a seller refuses to pay, the buyer has two options. Since the refusal can be viewed as a breach of contract, the buyer then has the right to walk away from the sale without losing his or her earnest money deposit. Alternatively, the buyer can accept financial responsibility for any liens, in order to move the transaction along.

In a cash transaction, the buyer and the seller are free to come to a resolution on their own.

What to do if your property is subject to a lien

The first step is for the sellers to determine whether the property lien is genuinely their responsibility. Because these holds are searched for by name, sometimes multiple matches will pop up.

Family members who share similar names or those whose names are unusually common may find themselves being asked about liens they did not incur. In this case, it's best to work with your real estate agent and title company to determine what proof is needed to clear up the issue. Usually, all it takes is something as simple as the verification of your birthdate or home address.

If, however, you're the seller and the property lien is on your house, it's crucial to start resolving the issue as soon as possible. You'll want to get in touch with the lien holder and arrange how to pay it off. Typically, the repayment will come out of the proceeds of the sale of the house, so you'll want to take the title company's advice on how best to handle the situation. In particularly complicated situations, like tax liens, you might also want to seek legal counsel.

If you're the buyer purchasing a property in foreclosure or a sale at auction, it's possible that you will have to pay off any lingering debts. That's why it's critical for buyers to be aware of what they're getting into before bidding on one of these properties. While they might seem like a better deal upfront, they can end up costing much more than a traditional sale when all is said and done.

Article Courtesy

Posted in News
Sept. 23, 2019

5 Dire Mistakes People Make Moving Their Pets to a New Place


Moving involves so many tasks: planning, packing, hiring movers, enlisting emotional and physical help, and lots more. Moving with pets can add even more to your to-do list.

When we moved a couple of years ago, I never really considered how our two Lab mixes, Coco and Cookie, would handle it. That was a big mistake. I looked up a few tips online and tried my best to put them into practice. But, for the first few days in the new house, my dogs were stressed and anxious, got into fights with each other and barked all the time—all unusual behavior.

After a couple of weeks, they started to adjust, and their anxiety subsided. But it got me wondering what I could have done to make this move less traumatic for them.

To help keep your animals calm and safe when moving to a new place, we've highlighted some top mistakes pet owners make in the process. Here are some moves that experts say pet owners should avoid if they want a smooth transition.

1. Keeping pets around on moving day

Moving day will probably be chaotic, so boarding pets, or having them stay elsewhere for the day or overnight, is a good idea, says Nicole Ellis, a pet expert and certified professional dog trainer with the online pet sitter and dog walker network Rover.

Cats can be confined to a specific room in the old or new place to keep them away from the activity, says Mikel Delgado, a cat behavior expert at Rover. She suggests placing a sign on the closed door that reads, “Cat Inside: Please Do Not Open Door,” to prevent escapes.

We boarded our dogs for a few days during our move, which gave us time to start unpacking and get their things set up before bringing them home. Knowing they were safe and out of the way made the move less stressful.

2. Washing pets’ things before the move

Familiar smells ease pets’ anxiety, Ellis and Delgado say. It may seem like a good idea to wash your pets' belongings or buy them new things before a move for a fresh start, but don’t.

Beds, blankets, toys, litter boxes, and food and water bowls bring the scent of the old home into the new one, and this substantially reduces pets’ stress and helps them adjust, they say.

Delgado also suggests not packing pets’ items until the last minute, so they’ll feel at home while you’re preparing to move.

3. Not keeping an eye on them in their new environment

Once you've moved, Ellis recommends watching your pets closely as they explore their new place—and checking (inside and outside) for possible escape routes. For instance, even if your new house has a fence, “Dogs can jump higher than we are often aware, so keeping them company outside is always safest,” she says.

She also suggests walking them around the neighborhood one step at a time to ease them into new sights and sounds, which can be overwhelming.

Another tip: Introduce yourself and your pet to neighbors. Give your number to neighbors and explain that your pets are still adjusting to a new place, so if they’re barking too much, neighbors can politely tell you.

4. Changing their setup too much

For cats, “Home turf is everything,” Delgado says. Cats are territorial and feel safest in familiar spaces; moving can cause unusual behavior, such as hiding, fearfulness, and being more vocal. Setting up a “safe room” with your cats' necessary and favorite things for the first few hours, days, or even weeks helps them adjust.

Once cats get comfortable and are acting like their normal selves, they can be free to explore the rest of the house, Delgado says.

Ellis recommends arranging beds, crates, and toys as close to the old setup as possible. Giving dogs a sense of familiarity with where their stuff is located makes them feel more at home.

This is a tip I found online that seemed to work for us. We placed our dogs’ beds next to the couch in the living room of the new home, similar to where they had been in the old home, and put their water bowl in a similar spot in the kitchen. I also didn’t wash their favorite blankets and bedcovers before we moved, even though it was tempting.

5. Changing your pets’ routine

Routines are important for both dogs and cats, so sticking to regular feeding schedules, walk times, play activities, and other familiar tasks creates stability.

“They really rely on their favorite blankets, beds, and scratching posts to feel safe, and routine is very important to cats,” Delgado says.

Our dogs love their routine. They wake up at 6 a.m. every morning, ready to go outside to use the bathroom and then have breakfast. We kept up this schedule in the new house.

The bottom line is that settling pets into a new place will take time. How much depends on the individual animal, the pet experts say. Ellis urges pet parents to have medical records, microchip numbers, and current photos on hand, in case a pet gets lost.

Pets may show signs of stress and anxiety for several days, but there should be signs of improvement, Delgado says. If not, or if pets aren’t eating, call the vet.

Article Courtesy

Posted in News