Monday, June 18, 2012

Homeowner's Insurance: Put the Right Policy In Place

In order to obtain a home loan, a borrower is usually required to have a homeowner's insurance policy in place. Experts agree that the most important question homeowners should ask when shopping for a plan is the A.M. Best rating of each company. New companies pop up all the time, and homeowners need to be informed about what a company can offer in terms of protection against potential risk.

Consumers should also become familiar with the liability portion of their policy. ACV (Actual Cash Value) policies pay claims based upon the depreciated value of the item or items lost. However, replacement cost policies will pay the full cost required to actually replace the items.

To ensure that the right amount of insurance is purchased, homeowners should obtain an appraisal every five years or so. If additions are made or remodeling takes place, homeowners will need to revisit and possibly upgrade their plan as well.

Experts say there are several important mistakes homeowners should be especially careful to avoid. The first is being dishonest on an application. This is absolute grounds to reject any claim. Secondly, if the property contains a detached structure - such as a guest house, a barn, a workshop, or a garage - be sure to include each one on the insurance policy. Finally, do not over-insure. Homeowners can save a little money by insuring only those items and structures that need to be replaced.

15-Year Fixed Rate Loans

A 15-Year Fixed Rate loan works well for borrowers who are nearing retirement and want to be debt-free when they get there. Because payments in a 15-year scenario are amortized over half the length of a 30-Year Fixed Rate loan, the monthly payments will be significantly higher in comparison. This is an important factor to consider before committing to a 15-year loan. However, the interest rate on a 15-Year Fixed Rate loan will be lower for the same reason - financing for 15 years costs much less than financing for 30 years.

If a borrower is 50 years old and would like to be debt-free when retiring at age 65, then a 15-Year Fixed Rate loan will allow the borrower to meet that goal as far as their mortgage is concerned. However, if there is any question as to whether the borrower will be able to commit to the higher monthly payment, the alternative is to take a 30-Year Fixed Rate mortgage and make pre-payments with some consistency. If the borrower has the discipline to make those extra payments whenever possible, he or she can still attempt to meet the same goal.

I prefer to educate my borrowers so they can compare the benefits of each program and have the opportunity to review loan options with their financial advisors.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

The Short Sale

While a short sale may be a last resort for many homeowners facing foreclosure, it also represents a great opportunity for potential home buyers and real estate investors. This article is designed to help answer a few basic questions about the substantial risk and reward involved in this extremely complex and often drawn out process.

What is a Short Sale?

A short sale is a legally-binding agreement to allow a home to be sold for less than the amount that is owed. And, while short sales are not by any means common or easy, because of increasing inventory levels and foreclosures in some parts of the country, lenders are much more eager to negotiate with borrowers who are having trouble paying their mortgages. For potential home buyers and real estate investors, a short sale also offers a great opportunity to purchase property at a significant discount.

However, don't expect a lot of help from the lender without first providing a sales contract from a qualified buyer and all the information required by the lender's loss mitigation department.

Of course, lenders are not looking to bail out "flippers" or other borrowers who simply overextended themselves. In most cases, a borrower must have suffered a serious financial hardship that directly caused him or her to default on the mortgage: the loss of a job, a serious illness, or the death of a loved one.

A written declaration and supporting documentation demonstrating financial hardship will definitely be required by the lender. This may include pay stubs, tax returns, and liquid asset statements, among other documentation.

Key Considerations to Keep in Mind

It's important to note that the difference between what is owed on a mortgage and the final amount the lender collects after the costs of the sale, including real estate commissions and possibly other charges don't simply disappear in a short sale. The difference is called a deficiency, and the lender determines if they will be forgiving this deficiency, continuing with a payment plan on some portion of the loss, or pursuing the Seller for the full deficiency. In the past, if this deficiency was forgiven it was considered taxable income to the borrower. However, thanks to the Mortgage Forgiveness Act of 2007, the tax burden for qualifying canceled mortgage debt (as high as 35%) for primary residences only has been temporarily waived.  The federal timeline has been extended to 2012 although states are not required to follow it for state income. So while deficiencies may not be taxable currently, they could be come taxable in the future and the seller in a short sale could still be liable for the deficiency balance.

If there are multiple liens against the property, all lien holders will have to be involved in the negotiation process, not just the first lien holder. Therefore, communication and patience are essential components of any short sale. This is why an experienced real estate agent and mortgage professional become so valuable to this process.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Interest Rates Change Daily

Interest rates change constantly, but it is important to know that rates are cyclical. If rates are currently at historical lows then we know there is a strong probability rates will go up again, and vice versa. Certain economic indicators such as unemployment data, consumer price index, retail sales data, and consumer confidence all have an effect on mortgage interest rates. But the key factor to watch is the relationship between stocks and bonds.

When the economy is slow and the stock market is "bearish," many investors move money out of stocks and into bonds and mortgage-backed securities. This causes mortgage interest rates to go down. When the economy is doing well, the stock market rallies and is considered "bullish." Investors then have a tendency to move their money out of that safe haven of bonds and mortgage-backed securities and back into stocks. As a result, mortgage interest rates go up.

My team and I keep a close eye on mortgage interest rates at all times in an effort to alert our clientele of opportunities to obtain lower financing. Let us know if you have any questions for us.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Pros and Cons of a Bi-Weekly Mortgage Program

When borrowers enter into a contract to make bi-weekly payments on their mortgage, the amortization schedule is accelerated. For example, with a 30-year amortization schedule, the borrower makes 12 payments per year. In a bi-weekly arrangement, the borrower makes 26 'half' payments, which allows the loan to be paid off in 22.8 years instead of 30 years. It's the same as making 13 monthly payments.

This ultimately saves the borrower thousands of dollars in interest rate fees. However, bear in mind that bi-weekly programs usually have some type of setup, transaction, and maintenance fees associated with them. A custodian manages the bi-weekly payments in a trust account (and also makes a profit on the interest accrued there). Because the lender really doesn't accept partial payments, this middle man is still making monthly payments to the lender on some type of pre-payment schedule.

It is important for the consumer to know that the same results can be achieved without hiring an outside company to do this. As long as your loan program carries no pre-payment penalty, pre-payments can be made on a monthly or annual basis to shorten the loan term to save money on interest or remove PMI charges on loans that have less than a 20% down payment. The borrower simply needs to indicate the extra payment is being made toward the principal balance, and have the discipline to make these extra payments as scheduled.