Improve Your Curb Appeal This Winter

improve-your-Curb-AppealAfter all of the excitement of the holidays, the sparkle of the lights and the over-stimulation of decorations, the rest of winter can seem lackluster. Don’t let your home add to the dreariness of the season.

Spruce up your curb appeal with the tips below and inspire your neighbors to create well-groomed street that will make drivers passing through smile.

Tend The Plants
If you’re currently located in a winter wonderland, then dig up any dead plants that won’t grow back. Replace them with cold-loving flowers, such as snowberry or lambs ear.

In warmer climates, this is the time for any landscaping changes you’d like to make. It will give your plants a chance to flourish by spring and have solid roots before the harsh heat of summer.

Light The Way
With daylight hours dwindling, well-placed outdoor lighting will help highlight your home’s best features in the evening.
Not only do they make your home look warm and cozy, but they also provide much-needed walkway lighting so that your guests arrive safely.

For a festive New Year’s sparkle, wrap white lights around the porch and in the trees.
Create A Custom Mailbox

Reclaim a vintage mailbox or get creative with paint to let the neighborhood know your family’s favorite sports team. A personalized letterbox says a lot about your household, so make it something special that doesn’t look like every other box on the street.

Also, visitors trying to find your home always appreciate large, easy-to-read address numbers visible from both directions.

Place Pots Strategically
Create focal points with terra cotta or colorful pots. Place them around your door to make a cozy entrance. Use evergreens and holly to give the curb appeal of your home a wintry feeling or brighten up a dark doorstep with cheerful pansies.

Paint Your Front Door
Perk up your curb appeal when the weather is dreary by painting your front door in a color that packs a punch. Try a vibrant red, bright blue or sage green. These colors will make your home feel warm and cheerful. However, don’t apply paint if the weather is below 40 degrees, because it will dry brittle and crack.

Fannie Mae And Freddie Mac, How They Impact Real Estate

fannie mae freddie macFannie Mae and Freddie Mac have been in the news quite a bit over the past few years, so it’s a good time to do a refresher on who they are and what role they play in the real estate market.

Who Are Fannie Mae And Freddie Mac?

Fannie Mae is the Federal National Mortgage Association. Freddie Mac is the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation. They were originally created to raise homeownership levels and increase the availability of affordable housing.

Fannie and Freddie don’t sell mortgages directly to homeowners. They buy mortgages from lenders, so the lenders can use the money to issue new home mortgages.

In 2008, due to mismanagement resulting in billions of dollars of losses, Fannie and Freddie were taken over by the government.

How Do Fannie And Freddie Impact Real Estate?

They contributed to the financial crisis and real estate downturn, by loosening underwriting standards, buying and guaranteeing risky loans and increasing purchases of mortgage-backed securities.

They are key players in the government’s Making Home Affordable foreclosure-prevention program. If your mortgage is owned by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, you may be able to refinance your loan and take advantage of lower interest rates.

They influence mortgage interest rates and the availability of home loans. Freddie, Fannie and the Federal Housing Administration together now guarantee about 90 percent of all new mortgages, far above their historic level.

What’s Going To Happen To Fannie And Freddie?

Fannie and Freddie’s future is uncertain. An amendment to the bailout legislation passed in 2012 which will require both to wind down by 2018. But this will not happen soon, if at all.

Congress must agree on a plan, which could take years, and then the market’s dependence on the companies and the financial backing they provide must be reduced.

As of the end of 2013, Fannie and Freddie will have repaid nearly all of the $187 billion dollar bailout loan back to taxpayers. In 2013, Fannie and Freddie made more than $100 billion and are involved in more than half of all new mortgages.

If you have further questions on this topic, please contact myself or your trusted mortgage professional. I’m happy to help.

What’s Ahead For Mortgage Rates This Week – 01-27-14

rates-this-weekLast week was an action-packed week for economic news, and all of it was packed into Thursday:

Weekly Jobless claims came in at 326,000 which was lower than the expected 330,000 new claims. This week’s claims were higher than the prior week’s 325,000 new jobless claims filed.

The NAR released its Existing Home Sales Report for December; sales of existing homes sold at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.86 million.

December’s reading fell shy of estimates of 490 million existing home sales, but the estimate was based on November sales that were later adjusted downward to 4.82 million sales of existing homes. Existing home sales for 2013 came in at 5.09 million sales, a 9.10 percent increase over 2012 sales.

The median price of a pre-existing home reached $198,000 in December, with the median price for all of 2013 at $197,100, which was an increase of 11.50 percent over the average price for an existing home in 2012. Pent-up demand and a lingering shortage of available homes likely contributed to last year’s rapid rise in home prices.

Mortgage Rates Mixed, FHFA Reports Slower Gain For Home Prices
Freddie Mac reported mixed results for average mortgage rates in its weekly PMMS report. The rate for a 30-year fixed rate mortgage fell from last week’s 4.41 to 4.39 percent.

The average rate for a 15-year mortgage dipped by one basis point to 3.44 percent; discount points for both 30 and 15-year mortgages were unchanged at 0.70 percent.

The average rate for a 5/1 adjustable rate mortgage rose from 3.10 to 3.15 percent with discount points unchanged at 0.50 percent.
FHFA, the agency that oversees Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, released its Home Price report for November 2012. This report is based on information gathered about homes with mortgages owned or backed by the two firms. According to FHFA, home prices increased by 7.60 percent year-over-year.

Home prices moved up by 0.10 percent in November as compared to a rate of 0.50 percent in October.

Leading Economic Indicators Suggest Economy Strengthening
The Leading Economic Indicators report for December moved up by 0.10 percent, which pushed the index to a reading of 99.4. December’s reading represented the sixth consecutive month that the index gained ground.

Economists associated with the LEI report note that while steady growth is expected during the spring, the economy will likely encounter a few obstacles including rising interest rates and possible political gridlock over raising the national debt ceiling.

This Week
This week’s economic news is set to include New Home Sales, the Consumer Confidence Index, and Weekly Jobless Claims. Freddie Mac’s PMMS mortgage rates and reports on consumer spending and consumer sentiment round out the week’s news.

The FOMC statement expected after the committee concludes its meeting on Wednesday is expected to provide news of the Fed’s plan for further tapering of its quantitative easing program.

Simplest Ways To Lower Your Heating Bill This Winter

reducing-your-homes-heating-bill-this-winterWhen the holiday season starts and the winter chill comes around, the heating bill at your property will naturally increase as you keep yourself warm and cosy. However, if your home is not being heated efficiently, you are essentially letting your hard earned dollars escape into the air as wasted energy.

What are some simple and inexpensive ways that you can cut down your heating expenses this winter and save yourself some money?

Only Heat The Rooms You Are Using

If you work from home and are spending eight hours of the day sitting in your home office, there is no need to keep the rest of the house toasty warm. If you have heaters that you can turn on and off for each room, you can direct the heat to the room that you are using.

0If you have a spare bedroom, you don’t even have to heat it at all unless a guest is coming to stay over.

Change The Air Filter On Your Furnace

If the air filter on your furnace is getting old and clogged up, it will block the airflow from the furnace itself which is a huge waste of energy. This will mean that your furnace works less effectively and it will also reduce its lifespan. It will only cost you $20 to change the air filter, but this little fix will make a big difference in the long run.

Turn On Your Ceiling Fan

You might think that turning on your ceiling fans in order to save money on heating makes no sense, but hear me out on this one. When you turn on your fans in reverse, they will actually draw the warm air throughout the house – helping to circulate it and keep it warmer.

Dress Warm At Home

If you live in a cold climate and you can walk around in your house in a t-shirt and shorts comfortably, you’re wasting money! If you wear warm clothing indoors during the winter, you will be able to keep your thermostat several degrees cooler and you will save yourself a lot of money over the winter.

These are just a few simple ways that you can reduce the heating costs for your property this winter. For more helpful tips and advice, feel free to contact your trusted mortgage professional.

Pros And Cons Of Adjustable Rate Mortgages

pros-and-cons-with-arm-mortgageWhen you are in the market for a new home, you may be faced with numerous options for financing your home. One of the choices you will have to make is whether to apply for a fixed or adjustable rate mortgage.

In some cases, an adjustable rate mortgage may be your best option, but keep in mind, they are not the answer for everyone. Adjustable rate mortgages can be risky for some borrowers and it’s important to understand both the pros and cons.

When To Consider An Adjustable Rate Mortgage
Perhaps one of the best things about ARMs is they typically have a lower starting interest rate than fixed rate mortgages. For some borrowers, this means it is easier for them to qualify for a loan.

ARMs Are Beneficial For Borrowers Who:
Anticipate an income increase – for borrowers who are anticipating their income to increase over the next year or two, an ARM may be the right option.

Will be reducing their debt – those borrowers who have automobile loans or student loans that will be paid off in the next few years may benefit from an ARM which would allow them to qualify for a larger mortgage today anticipating their ability to convert to a fixed-rate mortgage.

Are purchasing a starter home – when you anticipate living in a home for five years or less, an adjustable rate mortgage may help you save money for a bigger home.

Adjustable Rate Mortgage May Contain Hazards
There are a number of different types of adjustable rate mortgages and they are each tied to specific interest rate indexes. While an ARM may offer borrowers some flexibility in terms of income and debt ratios, the downsides cannot be ignored. Some of the cons of using an ARM to finance your mortgage include:

Increasing rates – borrowers should carefully review their loan documents to see how frequently their interest rates may increase. Some loans adjust annually while other may not increase for three to five years after the mortgage is signed. For borrowers, this means they can anticipate an increase in their monthly payments.

Prepayment clauses – oftentimes, lenders include a prepayment penalty with ARM loans which can be devastating for borrowers. Before agreeing to an ARM, make sure you read the documents very carefully to determine how long you need to hold the loan
Home Values – one of the biggest challenges borrowers face with an ARM is what happens if the property value decreases: Refinancing a home into a fixed-rate mortgage may be impossible if this occurs.

Borrowers who are searching for the right mortgage should discuss all options with their loan officer. There are specific instances when an ARM may be the best option and there are other times, such as if you plan to stay in your home for more than five years, where a fixed-rate mortgage may be your best option.

Flaws You Cannot Hide By Staging Your Home

staging-your-home-for-saleWhen you sell your home, you want it look as good as possible. To do this, your real estate agent will help you stage your home or, if needed, help you find a professional to stage your home.

This means de-cluttering your home, re-arranging furniture, and de-personalizing each room.

A staged home is more appealing to buyers and helps to highlight your home’s positive features. However, staging is not meant to cover major flaws in your home. Some things just have to be repaired.

Roof Problems
It doesn’t matter how pretty your home is, your buyer is going to expect you to fix roof problems or adjust your price to cover them. Your roof is one of the most important parts of your home.

Cracked Tile
Of course, you can use throw rugs to cover cracks in your tile, but chances are your buyers are going to look under them. Then they may think you are trying to hide a serious problem like a shifting foundation. Save yourself the headache and have your floors fixed.

Broken Windows
You have to expect your buyers to walk around your home checking out the views from the windows. They’re going to notice any cracks. If you have the budget, consider upgrading your windows and making your home more marketable. At the very least, you should have the glass replaced.

Torn Screens
If you have torn screens, your buyers may think you don’t take care of your property. Yet, screens are fairly easy to fix on your own. With the right supplies from your local hardware store, you can have new, sleek screens in less than a day.

Should I Shorten My Mortgage Term

shorten-mortgage-termWhen you first bought your home a few years ago, perhaps you started off with a 30 year mortgage. Now, you are considering refinancing and changing it to a 20 year or even a 15 year mortgage.

Shortening your mortgage term and refinancing can be a smart financial move, but before you make this decision there are a number of factors that you should consider.

Switching to a shorter mortgage will mean that your monthly payments will be higher, but you will be 100% paid off much sooner and you will save thousands of dollars in interest rates. Here are a few of the factors to consider before making this decision:

Has Your Situation Improved?
Perhaps you have moved to a higher paying position, allowing you to earn a higher income and pay off more of your mortgage every month? Or maybe you have received an inheritance, which will help you to make the payments? Perhaps your expenses have gone down and you will have more money left over from your wage?

Whatever the reason, if your financial situation has improved you might want to consider switching to a shorter mortgage. With your spare money, you will be able to make the larger payments and get your house paid off sooner.

Is The Improvement Long Term?
However, it is important to consider whether this improvement will last for the long term. Will your higher wage stay that way for the next several years? Are there any hidden expenses that you are failing to factor in?

You might be set up to repay larger monthly amounts on your mortgage at the moment, but you don’t want to set yourself up for failure in the future if your finances change.

What Are The Refinancing Costs?
Keep in mind that refinancing often comes with costs and fees, so make sure that you subtract these when you are making your calculations. It can sometimes take at least two or three years to recoup the fees, so make sure that you don’t plan on selling your home in the short term.

Can You Get A Better Rate?
One of the advantages of refinancing to a shorter mortgage is that you can sometimes get the opportunity to find a better rate. Perhaps if you have an adjustable rate you will be able to convert it to a fixed rate. Take a look at what is available and ask your financial advisor for help.

These are just a few important factors to consider when it comes to shortening your mortgage term. For more info about your home, contact your trusted mortgage professional.

What’s Ahead For Mortgage Rates This Week – 01.20.2014

rates-improve-slightly-this-week-in-mortgage-reviewWelcome news arrived last week as lower mortgage rates and a higher number of housing starts were reported. Other economic news was mixed:

The Federal Reserve released its Beige Book Report released last Tuesday indicated modest economic growth throughout the 12 Federal Reserve districts. Analysts predicted that this would cause the Fed to further reduce the volume of monthly asset purchases made under its quantitative easing program.

The Atlanta, Cleveland and Kansas City districts reported slower home sales, which supported recent expectations of slowing gains in home prices.

Mortgage Rates Dip, Housing Starts Up
According to Freddie Mac, average mortgage rates fell last week. The rate for a 30-year fixed rate mortgage dropped from 4.51 to 4.41 percent with discount points unchanged at 0.70 percent. The rate for a 15-year fixed rate mortgage was 3.45 percent as compared to the prior week’s reading of 3.56 percent.

Discount points rose from 0.60 to 0.70 percent. The average rate for a 5/1 adjustable rate mortgage dropped from 3.15 to 3.10 percent; discount points rose from 0.40 to 0.50 percent.

The National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Home Builders Confidence Index dropped slightly in January. Although expectations were for a reading of 59, January’s reading was 56 and lower than December’s revised reading of 57.

The NAHB Index has increased by 19 percent year-over-year and is expected to continue rising in 2014 due to relatively lower mortgage rates, and pent-up demand for homes.

Housing starts for December came in at 999,000 against expectations of 985,000 and November’s revised reading of 1.11 million. Cold weather and concerns over rising mortgage rates in 2014 were cited as causing fewer housing starts. As the Fed tapers its QE program, mortgage rates are expected to rise.

Consumer sentiment toward the economy was lower than expected according to the University of Michigan Consumer Sentiment Index for January. The confidence index was expected to rise to 84.0 based on December’s reading of 82.5, but only achieved a reading of 80.4.
Higher gasoline prices and a slower labor market likely contributed to wavering consumer sentiment; rising inflationary expectations were also considered a cause.

This Week
This week’s scheduled economic news includes an action-packed Thursday as today is Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday and no economic reports are scheduled for Tuesday, Wednesday or Friday.

Thursday’s reports include Weekly Jobless Claims, Freddie Mac’s PMMS, along with Existing Home Prices, FHFA Home Prices and Leading Economic Indicators.

Build A Home Gym For Your New Year’s Resolution

building-a-home-gymWhile many people claim every January that they are going to exercise more, a lot of them give up after the first couple of months. It takes a great deal of effort to make it to the gym before work or have the energy to go afterward.

So don’t make a New Year’s resolution you know you won’t keep. Set yourself up for success by bringing the workout to you. Build your own home gym.

Designate A Space
The ideal situation would be to dedicate an entire room to your new home gym. That way you can close the door, crank up the music, block out the children arguing and focus on you.

However, a section of your garage or the back of your basement will also work. You just need enough room for a set of weights, a mat, a bench and a cardio machine, if you have one.

Prepare The Area
Put down a rubberized floor, especially if you’re in a basement or garage with concrete surfaces. You can purchase them pretty cheaply in foot-by-foot interlocking squares. Then hang mirrors.

This is important so you can watch your form when lifting weights. Also, you might want to put in a stereo system and TV for when you want to listen to music or watch instructional videos.

Decide How Much To Spend On Cardio Equipment
Cardio machines can get expensive and there are many types to choose amongst. If you’re a marathon runner, then you’ll probably want a treadmill. However, you can choose as many or as few as you want, such as an elliptical, stair stepper or stationary bike.

If you don’t want to break the bank for a fancy machine, then a good old jump rope will do the trick.

Choose Your Weights
You can go with a barbell weight system with resistance pulleys or just a set of dumbbells. Make sure you get a bench, so you can vary your lifting routine and properly stabilize yourself for certain exercises.

Make Space For Your Yoga Mat
Yoga mats are great for padding your knees, hands and back when doing abs and stretching — or for actually practicing yoga.
Many people don’t take the time to stretch after a workout, but it’s extremely important in order to improve flexibility, correct posture and prevent injuries. If you create a defined are to limber up, then it’s more likely to become a regular part of your routine.

Dodd-Frank Update For 2014: The Qualified Mortgage Rule

dodd-frank-updateThe Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act’s latest provision – the Qualified Mortgage rule – is going to effect on January 10, 2014.

While, like many of Dodd-Frank’s other features, its ability to protect customers remains to be seen, one of its impacts is already clear. Taking out a home loan just got harder.

The QM rule contains a set of provisions that, if followed, may protect lenders from lawsuits. They will also make it harder for customers to qualify to borrow money to buy a house.

Verifying Incomes
Lenders now have to follow stringent procedures to verify that borrowers can repay their loans. While many home loan lenders are already verifying and documenting borrower incomes, assets and debts, they will have to create additional paperwork to prove that they did their jobs.

DTI Caps
For a loan to be considered a qualifying mortgage, the borrower’s debt-to-income ratio can be no more than 43 percent. This means that if a borrower has $4,500 in gross monthly income, his total debt payments including his new mortgage cannot exceed $1,935 per month.
Previously, some lenders had been willing to go up to 45 percent.

Fee And Term Caps
Lenders will be less able to make creative loans, as well. Loans that meet the QM rule can be no longer than 30 years in length. They also cannot have closing costs and fees that exceed a cap of 3 percent of the loan’s balance.

Who Gets Impacted?
The good news is that the normal borrower taking out the normal loan might not notice the new QM rule. Borrowers that get squeezed are those that need to take out a loan that doesn’t fit the box laid out by the provisions. These include:

– People in high-cost cities that need 40-year or interest-only mortgages to lower their payments.
– Self-employed people and contractors that need to be able to borrow money on “stated” income without detailed verification.
– Borrowers that can afford a loan but have other debts, like student loans.
– Those that need non-traditional loans with high fees.

While the law still allow a lender to make a loan that isn’t a qualifying mortgage, given that the loan won’t have the same legal protections, its costs remain to be seen. This could end up pricing people with special needs out of the home loan market.