Tag Archives: cash

What’s in a mortgage payment?

What’s in a mortgage payment? This infographic breaks down a mortgage payment into P.I.T.I. – principal, interest, taxes, insurance. When you’re buying a house, keep informed about how much that home will cost you, based on how much you put down and whether or not you will need to pay mortgage insurance.

mortgage paymentsThis mortgage payment-related infographic is from mlsmaps.com.

Real estate tips to guard against losing your home

Real estate tips to guard against losing your home

Time and time again, home-buyer wannabes state that the reason they are still fence-sitting is that they don’t want to end up in the same trouble the last generation of homeowners did.

Well, there’s a very slim chance of that happening, given the changes in the market climate: Homes are at rock-bottom prices (not sky-high), and mortgage guidelines are so conservative it is nearly impossible to even find one of the zero-down, quick-to-adjust, stated-income mortgages of yesteryear.

With that said, though, there is a handful of rules today’s home buyers and homeowners can follow to dramatically minimize the chances they will ever face losing their homes:

1. Never a borrower or a lender be. OK, so maybe NEVER is strong, but you’d be surprised at how many foreclosed homeowners actually bought their homes with conservative loans and at low prices many years ago, but got into trouble taking new mortgages and pulling cash out at the top of the market (then not being able to refinance or make the adjusted payment at the bottom).

Today’s home buyers can avoid this fate by starting out their homeowning careers with some ground rules in place around borrowing against their homes.

A good (albeit conservative) place to start is this rule: Decide not to borrow against your home equity for anything but well-planned home improvements.

Here’s another one: Whatever you do, don’t borrow against your home to lend money to someone else. I’ve seen dozens of homeowners over the years borrow to make an “investment” in a friend’s business or to lend money to a child or a parent. Borrowing against your home’s equity to make an investment in a business you know nothing about is a complete gamble with your home. Don’t do it.

2. Stop financial codependency. Related to the rule of thumb about borrowing to lend is this change of the bad habit of financial codependency.

This comes up most often when homeowners borrow money against their home or tap into their emergency cash cushion (leaving themselves unable to make their mortgage payments if they lose their job, etc.) to help an adult child make their own mortgage payments or bail them out of another crisis situation.

It also comes up where one spouse supports another spouse’s habit of overspending, debting, underearning, gambling, or even substance abuse, and ends up going into a financial hole as a result. Over time, these cases can create the temptation or even desperation to further leverage your home, and can run through a savings account, leaving the homeowner exposed and vulnerable in the face of a temporary disability, job loss or recession.

There are a number of powerful books on the market about how to cease being codependent, but many people struggle to recognize they even have this issue until it’s too late. Here’s a hint: If you regularly use money to protect a loved one from the natural consequences of their behavior, you are engaging in codependent behavior.

3. Stay conscious. Going on money autopilot, without occasional check-ins, is the root of many financial woes. Many money experts recommend automating your monthly payments so that your recurring bills are paid on time, every time. And almost any homeowner will vouch that there are few bills that seem to come up as frequently as your mortgage!

The problem is that once you automate your payments, it’s very easy to fall into the habit of simply ignoring your actual statements — and they may contain information that flags issues before they snowball into serious problems.

One homeowner recently realized that through no fault of her own, and despite never having missed an auto-payment, her home was facing foreclosure — all because the bank had somehow erroneously started crediting her payments to someone else’s mortgage account!

Also, financial autopilot mode can support habits like overspending and overdebting; the minimum payments may always get made without much attention from you, but the overall balances will rear their ugly heads and possibly pose a threat to your ability to pay your mortgage, in the event you ever face a job loss, medical bills or other financial crisis.

4. Do your own math before you buy. Only you can know the full extent of your non-housing-related financial obligations and values. Things like catch-up retirement savings, tithing and charitable giving, private school tuition, medical costs and the like can take big chunks out of your monthly budget that your mortgage pro is not accounting for when he or she tells you how much of a mortgage you’re qualified to borrow.

So, before you ever speak with a mortgage broker, it’s up to you as a responsible buyer and adult to get a very clear understanding of your own personal income and expenses, assets and priorities, and to use that knowledge to decide how much you can afford to put down and to spend monthly for a home.

Fortunately, an increasing number of are buyers doing this, and actually choosing to buy a home that costs much less than they are technically qualified for.

5. Don’t buy a house to fix a family or psychological problem. Beware of “pulling a geographic” — moving to a new neighborhood or town to try to run from your problems and bad habits.

Experts caution against expecting the move to solve the problem on the grounds that, in the words of mindfulness guru Jon Kabat-Zinn, “wherever you go, there you are.” If you have bad habits in Chicago, moving to L.A. doesn’t purge the bad habits — only working on the actual dysfunction itself will do that.

There’s a real estate-specific version of pulling a geographic, which we’ll call “pulling a residential.” This is where people buy a home or buy a new home in an effort to cure a deeper family or psychological issue; sort of like that old (and equally bad) idea of having a baby to try to save your marriage.

If your children are fighting because they lack personal space, that’s one thing. But if there are deeper issues going on with your children, your family or your relationship (even your relationship with yourself), do not fantasize that owning a home or moving up is going to automatically solve them.

In fact, the opposite is often true: The larger the financial and maintenance obligations that come with a home, the more a mortgage and property taxes can add strain to already troubled relationships.

Tara-Nicholle Nelson is an author and the Consumer Ambassador and Educator for real estate listings search site Trulia.com.

Four steps to buying a house in 2012

Q: I am on a mission to buy a home. I’ve wanted to own a home my entire life, and thought I would miss the opportunity to buy while the market was down, because I had no real savings when the market crashed. I think I’m ready, though, and prices still seem low. What should I be doing now to make this happen in 2012?

A: The recession has done lots of favors for buyers-to-be, including dropping prices and interest rates to bargain levels. But it has also created a lending and housing market climate in which loans are tough to get, tensions about buying into a down market run high, and transactions are harder and longer to close than they have ever been.

Here are the things to do now, to buy a home this year:

1. Fix credit problems. More deals than ever are dying on the vine, and credit problems are a top reason home-sale transactions fall out of escrow. Detect and correct errors on your credit report now by reviewing the federally mandated free reports you can get at AnnualCreditReport.com.

2. Study up. Do some research, both online and offline, into things like:

Areas: Start your online research into decision points like tax rates, school districts, neighborhood character and even prices in various areas. Check out NabeWise.com for some local insight into neighborhood flavor and personality.

When you start connecting with local agents, ask them to brief you on neighborhood market dynamics. They can give you a deeper view into need-to-knows like how long homes typically stay on the market and whether they generally go for more or less than the asking price, so you can be smart about how you search vis-à-vis what you have to spend.

Agents: This is the perfect time to ask your family and friends for a referral to an agent they know, have used and love. Then, follow up by doing an online search for the agent’s name and seeing what sort of online reviews and activities you find. When you’ve narrowed the field down to a few, call them up and set up a meeting to find out if you’re a good fit.

Distressed properties: In some areas, more than 40 percent of the homes on the market are short sales and foreclosures, and they involve a very different timeline and set of facts than traditional home sales. Read up and talk with the agent candidates you interview about what you should expect from these types of listings, to minimize surprise and manage your expectations way in advance.

3. Save even more. Sounds like you’ve worked hard for a number of years to save enough cash that you think you’re in the clear when it comes to funding your down payment and closing costs. Studies show that after months of saving, people often let up and relax into a spending season. Even at your early stage in the process, it’s easy to start noticing and buying the furnishings and touches you want to install in your new home.

Although you shouldn’t feel deprived or forgo amazing and affordable deals on things you know you’re going to need, rest assured that no matter what amount of cash you have on hand, when you start house hunting, making offers, closing your transaction or moving in, the time will definitely come when you’ll wish you had more.

You might want to ratchet up your offer a bit to best another buyer, or you might just end up with a place that needs a little sprucing up. It might be months before you know exactly what you’ll need extra cash for, but now is not the time to press the gas pedal when it comes to your monthly spending.

4. Purge. Now’s the time to sell, donate or give away as much of your personal possessions as you can. Use the proceeds to pad your cash cushion, or tuck the donation receipts away for your tax records next year.

Start here, and chances are good that your house hunt — and purchase — will be in full swing by spring, if not sooner.

Tara-Nicholle Nelson is an author and the Consumer Ambassador and Educator for real estate listings search site Trulia.com.

Foreclosure sales are up on the West Coast, except for Washington

Foreclosure sales on the West Coast started strong for the beginning of 2012, with Washington as the exception, according to ForeclosureRadar.

Arizona, California, Nevada, and Oregon are the other states included in the report – all of which saw increases in foreclosure sales to investors. Trustee sale investors pay the full amount in cash without inspections or title insurance prior to purchase.

This is the fourth largest month on record in California, and the busiest since March of 2011, stated ForeclosureRadar

California also saw a substantial increase (+14.6 percent), and the state underwent the most activity, with investors purchasing 3,964 properties for $766.2 million, according to ForeclosureRadar…

Read the rest of this article from DSNews.com here: “Foreclosure Sales Up for West Coast States Except Washington.”

Five bright spots in the real estate recession

The real estate market meltdown was much more severe and has lasted much longer than even the most bearish housing market observer would ever have predicted. Rather than values taking a dip, they’ve taken a double dip in many places; and the housing sector drama has infected the job market and the entire world’s economy.

Yet, there are some very shiny silver linings to this whole mess — a handful of ways in which our mindsets, habits, behaviors and approaches to money, mortgage and even life decision-making — have been changed by this real estate market debacle. As I see it, here are the five best things about this housing recession:

1. People now buy for the long term

Even Jeff Lewis, that reality TV house flipper extraordinaire, has declared that he’s tapped out of the flipping business for the foreseeable future, trading in his real estate wheeling and dealing for the design business.

Recently, he mentioned having lost six homes in the real estate market crash.

While Lewis flipped homes as his business, just five years ago, many Americans — homeowners and investors alike — took a short-term view on their homes, buying them with the idea that they could count on refinancing, pulling cash out or even reselling them anytime they wanted, at a profit.
Reality check — those days are gone. Now, buyers know they’d better be prepared to stay put for somewhere between seven and 10 years (shorter in strong local markets, longer in foreclosure hot spots) before they buy if they want to break even. And this is causing them to take mortgages they can afford over time, and make smarter, longer-term choices about the homes they buy.

2. Dysfunctional properties are being weeded out and creatively reused

real estate market recessionMunicipalities like Detroit and Cleveland are demolishing blighted and decrepit properties in dead neighborhoods en masse, intentionally shrinking their cities to match their shrinking populations. These efforts are also eliminating breeding grounds for crime, and focusing resources on the neighborhoods that have a better chance of surviving and thriving in the long term.

In the so-called “slumburbias” of central California, Nevada and Arizona, McMansions are being repurposed into affordable housing for groups of seniors, artist communities and group homes.

3. American housing stock is getting an energy-efficient upgrade

The news would have you believe that every American has lost his or her home, walked away from it, or is now renting by choice. In fact, the vast majority of homeowners have simply decided to stay put.

Instead of selling and moving on up, homeowners are improving the homes they now plan to stay in for a long(er) haul. And this generation of remodeling is focused less on granite and stainless steel, and more on lowering the costs of “operating” the home and taking advantage of tax credits for installing energy-efficient doors, windows, water heaters and more. And while the first-time homebuyer tax credit is a thing of the past, the homeowner tax credits for energy-optimizing upgrades are in effect until the end of this year.

4. People are making more responsible mortgage decisions, and building financial good habits in the process

Buyers are buying far below the maximum purchase prices for which they are approved. They are reading their loan disclosures and documents before they sign them. And, thanks to the stingy mortgage market, they are spending months, even years, in the planning and preparation phases before they buy: paying down their debt; saving up for a down payment (and a cash cushion, so that a job loss wouldn’t be disastrous); being responsible and sparing in their use of credit to optimize their FICO scores; and creating strong financial habits in one fell swoop.

5. Our feelings about debt and equity have been reformed

Americans no longer use their homes like ATMs, to pull out cash, pay off their credit cards and then start the whole overspending cycle over again. Many can’t, because their homes are upside down and cannot be refinanced in any event — much less to pull cash out.

Others have been reality-checked by the recession, and are dealing with their non-mortgage debt the old fashioned way: by ceasing the pattern of spending more than they make, and applying the self-discipline it takes to pay their bills off.

Home equity, in general, is no longer viewed as an inexhaustible source of cash. Rather, we see it as a fluctuating asset to be protected and increased — not so much through the vagaries of the market, but through the hard work of paying the principal balance down. Many of those refinancing into today’s lower rates aren’t doing it to pull cash out, as was the norm at the top of the market; instead, they are refinancing into 15-year loans to pay their homes off sooner than planned, or reducing their required payment so their extra savings can be applied to principal.

Of course, it remains to be seen how lasting these changes will be if and when home prices go up and mortgage guidelines loosen up. But since neither of these things look likely to happen in the short term, hopefully there’s a chance that these behavior shifts will become part of a permanent mindset reset for American housing consumers.

Tara-Nicholle Nelson is an author and the Consumer Ambassador and Educator for real estate listings search site Trulia.com. ClientDirect.net.