Archive for March, 2013

Pending Legislation Could Help Homeowners Refinance

Friday, March 29th, 2013

The Responsible Homeowner Refinancing Act, a recently proposed bill in the House of Representatives, would help millions of homeowners refinance at lower interest rates, thus saving thousands of dollars a year and rewarding those who have been responsible in keeping up with mortgage payments.

HARP, he current refinancing program, only saves homeowners on the average about $2500 a year, but the new bill would increase the savings and the opportunity to refinance for millions of borrowers who met the eligibility requirements. The new bill also will supposedly help many who do not qualify under HARP.

Here is what else the new bill will do:

• Allow for streamlined refinancing options for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac borrowers, whether or not they are currently underwater. Under the HARP program many underwater borrowers were cut out because of a lack of equity; the new legislation will require all servicers to adhere to the same set of rules, thus providing more underwater borrowers the opportunity to refinance.

•  Eliminate appraisal costs for every borrower under the program

•  Reduce refinance fees that are paid up-front

•  Remove other barriers to competition, so that other lenders could compete for your business

•  Streamline the application process so it is quicker

•  Extend HARP for one year, so that eligible borrowers could access the program

I am happy that this new bill may help some borrowers be able to refinance into lower rate loans, however, the new bill will still only apply to borrowers whose loans are Fannie or Freddie loans. There is still a very large pool of homeowners out there who would love to refinance but do not have Fannie or Freddie loans. There has been talk of legislation that would help these other borrowers, but so far we have not seen it materialize. My hope is that this will be the next big focus of our legislators.

To track the progress of this bill you can visit this site.

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Can Shorter Term Loans Save You Money?

Tuesday, March 26th, 2013

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Buying and Selling Real Estate: Should You Hire a Lawyer?

Friday, March 22nd, 2013

I decided to write this post because of the crazy antics I have seen in the real estate profession, especially lately. I want to preface this by saying that there are many wonderful, experienced and knowledgeable agents out there, but unfortunately there are even more who are not. Every week I see examples of contracts that are not properly executed, comments that are made that are incorrect, and even blatant misrepresentation of clients and agents giving legal advice (which is usually incorrect)…not to mention the plethora of ethical violations that happen on a regular basis.

If you frequent my blog you know that I always try to write things in a positive light, but I just don’t have a better way to say this: it is extremely beneficial for buyers and sellers to work with a broker who is also an attorney, OR if they want to work with their current agent, to have an attorney review their legal documents. I say this because it can help avoid litigation, and we all know that it is a litigious society in which we live.

Here are some of the things that I see happening all the time, which can be avoided by either working with a broker/attorney or having an attorney review your paperwork:

1. Agents drafting addenda to the contract without having it looked over by an attorney or broker (only attorneys can draft contracts, as they are trained to understand the legal ramifications. Since addenda are part of the contract they should not be drafted by people who are not attorneys…or in the LEAST their broker should review any drafted document before it becomes part of the contract).

2. Agents giving legal advice (only attorneys are allowed to give legal advice)

3. Failure to fill out the contracts correctly (omitting information, checking the wrong boxes or writing in language that could create legalities)

4. Trying to negotiate tough situations that could have legal ramifications (including short sales and tricky resale situations) – lawyers are professionally trained negotiators (again, other real estate agents CAN be good negotiators, but if you have a difficult situation you may want to consider having an attorney get involved).

There are many other ethical violations that continue to inundate our profession, and most of them do not depend on whether or not one is an attorney; however, an attorney is usually better able to recognize an ethical violation, especially when one is cleverly couched. This is perhaps the thing I see most often and, sadly, many of the agents committing offenses have no idea they are doing so. What does this mean? The real estate profession as a whole NEEDS to have better training standards and stricter license and license renewal requirements.

Some people think that real estate agents do not work hard – I know this is not true. The skilled and good agents work their tails off. In fact, I work longer hours as a broker than I did when I practiced law. If you have an agent who is not working hard, than you are working with the wrong agent. Please check into an agent’s credentials before signing up to work with one. Check into not only their real estate industry experience, but their education and extra certifications. Don’t be afraid to ask!

If you have an experienced agent he or she can tell you if a situation arises that is beyond the scope of their training or abilities, and oftentimes their broker can intervene and help straighten things out. If you do not have an agent and are thinking of buying or selling, there are several broker/attorneys out there who possess skills many do not, and the best part is…you pay no extra money to avail yourself of their legal skills if your agent is also an attorney!

The bottom line is to be aware so you can make sure  you are getting the best representation possible when buying or selling real estate.


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Do You Really Know What Your Home is Worth?

Monday, March 18th, 2013

If you are thinking of selling, refinancing, or just want to get an idea of what your home is worth, you have many options. Most people these days like to do things themselves, since there is so much information available at our fingertips online. There are also some great real estate sites and many local brokerage sites, so there are multiple ways to access the information. But you need to be careful, as what you get on some of those sites may be inaccurate, especially in today’s market.

Sites like Zillow and Trulia provide easy access to recent sales, and even provide estimates for the value of your home. Some things they may not take into consideration are:

1. The condition of your home and comparable sold properties

2. Upgrades

3. Additions – sometimes these take a long time to show up in the public records, which could alter the valuation of your home

4. Very recent sales (closed in the last few days)

5. Pending sales that are about to close escrow (as they will have an affect on your sales price should you decide to sell)

6. Whether or not your property is distressed or other recent sales were distressed

7. Inside knowledge about other homes that may have just gone into escrow or appraised

8. Other factors. There may be other factors that can affect your sales price, such as information displayed in the confidential remarks on sold properties (that only licensed agents can see) that provide details – for example, commissions may have been reduced, sellers may have reduced the sales price due to expensive necessary repairs, or other factors could have affected the sales price. Also, there may be information about construction in the surrounding area that can affect sales prices in the future (freeway extensions, plans for new shopping centers, Or there could be issues with the condition of the home that sold.

All of these details are important in analyzing your home and making sure you get the correct information. Thus it is very important that you consult a local area real estate broker or agent to provide you with a specific and detailed market analysis.

There are many things we can do ourselves these days online, but if you are considering selling make sure you get the right information so that you can make an informed decision. Real estate agents are there to help you, and I do not know of any who charge for a detailed market analysis. So find a skilled agent to assist you, and make sure you have all the pertinent information before making any major decisions.

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Top 10 Home Remodeling Projects

Wednesday, March 13th, 2013

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What is an Escalation Clause and Should You Use One?

Monday, March 11th, 2013

Escalation clauses are becoming very popular again. Although controversial amongst those who work in the real estate field, they are not illegal nor prohibited. If you are a buyer or seller you should understand what they are and how they work…they could be a blessing or they could cost you in a big way.

An escalation clause allows a buyer presenting an offer to agree to pay a certain fixed amount higher than any other competing offers made on the property. Thus, the buyer has a huge advantage over other buyers. Usually there is a cap placed on the price overage.

Let’s look at an example. Say Mr. Seller puts his home on the market for $500,000. According to recent solds in the neighborhoods this is a fair price. He receives 3 offers, all for $500,000, and one with an escalation clause for $1,000 above any other bids, up to $510,000. Mr. Seller can either send out a multiple counter offer to all buyers, seeing if any of them will come up in price. If they do, the buyer with the escalation clause will still come in $1,000 higher, up to $510,000. If the comps do not support value over the $500,000 asking price, the only way any buyer getting a loan will be able to pay for this home is to agree to pay over appraised value, which many buyers will not or cannot do. Thus, the buyer with the escalation clause, who is presumptively willing to pay over appraised value, has an edge.

This sounds great for the buyer, who oftentimes cements his place as the winning bid in multiple offer situations. It also sounds great for the seller, who will undoubtedly sell his home over asking price. However, there are some major caveats when using these clauses, and you need to make sure you understand how they work in order to decide whether they are right for you.

Buyer Caveats

1. Place a limit on your bid. If you are going to utilize an escalation clause, it is important that you do put a cap on your price increase, for obvious reasons. Do not put yourself in a situation where you could be taken advantage of.

2. Understand possible consequences if your escalated offer is accepted. You need to make sure that you understand will happen if your offer is accepted. If you are obtaining a loan with 20% down, for example, you will have several options. You can include the higher contract price in your 80% loan amount, if possible. If not, you will need to be able to pay the cash difference. Similarly, if you do not include the increased price in your loan amount and the home doesn’t appraise, you will need to be able to pay the amount in cash over appraised value…unless you have a contingency in your contract giving you the right to cancel should the home not appraise – but this would make your escalated offer not very desirable to the seller and really defeats the purpose of an escalation clause.

3. Seller could use your offer to her advantage. Consider this: if you submit an offer with an escalation clause, it is possible the seller could use that to solicit higher offers, just by letting other potential buyers know there has been an offer presented with an escalation clause. This could be detrimental, so you have to decide whether you want to put yourself in that position. Also, how long does the seller have to contemplate your offer? You want to discuss this with your agent, and possibly limit the time the seller has to make a decision.

4. How do buyers really know there IS an escalation clause on a submitted offer? You need to be careful, because even if a listing agent informs you that there is an offer coming in with an escalation clause, you want to make sure any offer you present is one you can afford, and one that you can afford the increased price should the home not appraise at the price you are offering. In other words, if you know there is another offer with an escalation clause and thus decide to make your offer up to $10,000 over comparable market value, you have to be comfortable with the possibility that you will need to pay the $10,000 cash above appraisal value if the home does not appraise.

If you are a buyer who has been told there is an offer on the table with an escalation clause, you should have your agent obtain proof of this offer before presenting an offer. The listing agent can do so without disclosing the name of the other buyer or the price offered, by whiting out specific terms (name and price) and showing you the offer form.

5. Do not waive your contingencies. Make sure you keep your loan and inspection contingencies when using escalation clauses…you always want to make sure you know if there are any issues with the home that could cost you lots of money, and similarly you never want to waive your loan contingency (unless you happen to have enough cash to cover the purchase price in the event your loan does not go through.)

Seller Caveats

1. Escalation clauses may not be in the sellers’ best interests and could backfire. If you are a seller who has received an offer with an escalation clause, and other potential buyers know about this, it could ruin your chances of getting other offers. If the buyer with the escalation clause does not qualify or backs out for another reason, you could be left with accrued market time and no other offers.

Let’s understand this using the above example. Say buyer 1 presented the offer with the escalation clause; buyers 2 and 3 know this and also know it is highly unlikely the home will appraise beyond a certain number. Not knowing what buyer 1 offered, nor the terms of his escalation clause, they may simply decide it’s not worth it to present an offer at all under the circumstances. If you accept buyer 1’s offer and down the road the contract is canceled, you now have to start all over marketing your home, as you have no backup offers. You go back on the MLS with the accrued market time, potentially causing other buyers question why your home has not sold.

The important lesson here is to really understand how escalation clauses work, whether you are a buyer or a seller. Buyers need to be sure they can accept the terms should their escalated offer be selected. Buyers and sellers should talk to their agents and brokers to make sure using an escalation clause is in their best interests, and I also suggest consulting an attorney before doing so. Escalation clauses can be beneficial if you are careful.



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Are We Headed Toward Another Housing Crash?

Sunday, March 3rd, 2013

There are many people who feel we are headed toward another real estate bubble. With scare inventory, increasing prices, bidding wars, multiple offer situations, governmental programs falsely inflating prices, and buyers willing to pay over appraised value to purchase a home, it is easy to see why many feel this way.

Today’s market is very different from that of the early 2000s. Let’s look at the differences to determine if a crash is likely:

1. Scarce inventory. The lack of inventory is problematic, and it is the biggest issue amongst buyers’ agents. It has led to some desperate measures on behalf of many borrowers in order to get their offers accepted in multiple offer situations, which are common (see below). Back in the early 2000s we did not have inventory issues. People were selling homes right and left, moving up. The ease at getting loans made it simple for almost anyone with a job to jump into the game and purchase a home. Today’s scarce inventory is definitely driving demand, but there are other factors that prevent the frenzy we witnessed years ago.

2. Tighter lending standards Back in the early 2000s, lenders were heavy players in handing out loans to anyone, even those who were not really qualified. Inventory was not scarce like it is today, and loans were very easy to obtain, with no-doc loans that bypassed employment and income verification – types of loans that are pretty much impossible to get today (unless one wants to go through a private lender and pay a very high interest rate). Today it is not easy to get a loan; even with strong employment history and good credit would-be borrowers  have to jump through hoops.

3. Stricter appraisal standards. In the early 2000s appraisal standards were very loose – we saw drive by appraisals, and basically many appraisers were just gold stamping contract prices without deep scrutiny. Today appraisers will not do so, and must adhere to strict guidelines. Prices have increased in most areas, and appraisers do take this into consideration, but it is no longer a free for all when it comes to appraisals. The appraisers with whom I have spoken say they are not 100% caught up with what is happening in the market, and guidelines prohibit them from looking at only the last sale, which may be tens of thousands of dollars higher than other sales in the neighborhood in the last 6 months…thus they have to look at both in order to assess value.

For example, let’s say in your neighborhood 4 similar homes sold in the last 6 months at close to $450,000. A fifth home, also similar to the other four, then closes escrow at $500,000 (there could be many reasons for this – bidding wars, cash buyers, buyers paid over appraisal value, or a government agency could have falsely inflated the price – click here for more information on this.) You decide to list  your home now, based on the $500,000 sale, and you do so. A buyer comes along who offers that price, but the home appraises lower. This is because the appraiser will look at all five sold properties, not just the last sale.

4. Buyers paying over appraised value. Many buyers don’t care what the appraised value is, and they are willing to pay the cash difference between it and their loan amount. This has been common in many areas, and is a factor in increasing comparable value. This tactic puts those buyers in the most expensive homes in their neighborhoods (which is never a goal, but what many feel they have to do to get their contracts accepted today). Back in the heyday of the early 2000s we didn’t really see this issue because we didn’t have appraisal issues. So this time around it is the buyers who are driving the prices higher due to the lack of inventory and the high demand.

I believe that we will not see another housing crash, based on the above factors. What I think will happen is that we will see the higher prices and lower inventory for a while, possibly until the end of this year, and then at some point things will level off. Many homeowners who have been underwater (their home is worth less than their mortgage balances) will find themselves no longer so due to rising prices. This will allow them to sell their homes, creating more inventory and less distressed property. At that point prices will simmer and stop escalating, and we will finally see a return to “normal” market trends.



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