5 New Year’s Resolutions Every Homeowner Should Make for 2017

new years resolutions cover 300x157 - 5 New Year’s Resolutions Every Homeowner Should Make for 2017

2016 is coming to a close, and with the new year just around the corner, people across the world are gearing up to set their intentions for the upcoming year in the form of New Year’s Resolutions. And while you’re bound to make at least one standard resolution (like “finally get in shape” or “eat more vegetables”), as a homeowner, there are some home-specific resolutions you’ll want to think about to get the most out of your property and the experience of owning a home this upcoming year.

Here are 5 New Year’s Resolutions every homeowner should make for 2017:

1. Bump Up Your Mortgage Payments

If you have any sort of expendable income in 2017, you might want to think about putting it towards your mortgage. Making extra payments on your mortgage can have a huge impact on the total you end up paying out over the course of the loan. It can also shorten the amount of time you’ll be saddled with payments and can have you owning your house free and clear sooner than you expected.

The more you can contribute, the better. But even if you can only make a few extra payments per year – do it. Those extra dollars will add up and end up saving you serious dollars in interest over the course of your mortgage.

Create a 2017 budget and look for any areas where you can shave a few dollars, like your daily trip to the coffeehouse or an expensive gym membership. Then, re-purpose that cash and put it towards paying down your mortgage faster.

2. Explore Refinancing

2016 saw near record low interest rates on mortgages, and while they’ve slowly crept up towards the end of the year (current rates are around 4%), they’re still HALF of the average interest rates over the past 40 years (which averaged at 8.45%).

If you haven’t refinanced your mortgage recently, now is the time to do it. With a new president taking office, the economy may shift, and interest rates may rise.

Talk to your loan officer about refinancing and getting a lower interest rate. And if you’re in a variable rate mortgage, shift over to a fixed rate mortgage and lock in the low interest rates while you can.

3. Review and Renew Your Homeowners Insurance

A lot of homeowners roll over their insurance year to year, but if you haven’t reviewed your policy in a while, you might be missing out on some money-saving opportunities.

Shop around and get quotes to see what rates are competitive in the current market and if you’re paying more, see if your current company will match the lowest quote. If you have a stand-alone policy, think about bundling your auto and homeowners insurance with one company. Insurance companies will often offer discounts for customers who hold multiple policies. If you’ve made any major improvements to your home that could impact the insurability of your house (like clearing trees, installing a high tech security system or adding storm reinforcements), let your agent know. Improvements can often lower your premiums.

4. Declutter, Declutter, Declutter

While spring is traditionally the time for organizing (in the form of “spring cleaning”), there’s no better time for a fresh start – and a more organized home – than the New Year.

Cleaning out closets, getting rid of things you no longer want or need and taking a more minimalist approach to life can have huge benefits. Not only will your home look better, but you’ll also FEEL better as a result. Messy, cluttered homes can cause increased stress and anxiety, making it much harder to relax and enjoy your space. Clutter has also been shown to decrease creativity, productivity and focus, so if you want to have a happy and productive 2017, it’s time for the stuff to go.

Plan a day to go through all of your closets, cabinets and storage space. If you’re not actively using something, get rid of it. The benefits you’ll reap from decluttering will far outweigh the value of the things you get rid of.

5. Get Up To Speed On Safety

The new year is the perfect time to review the current state of your property and take any precautions necessary to ensure that you’re safe in the upcoming year.

Test your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors and replace them if necessary. Check your house for radon, a common, carcinogenic gas that can increase your chance of lung cancer (you can pick up a radon testing kit at the hardware store for less than $10). Meet with your family to review emergency evacuation plans in case of a fire, flood or other emergencies.

With these 5 resolutions, you’ll get the most out of your property – and of owning your home – in 2017 and beyond.

You Can Never Have TMI about PMI

You Can Never Have TMI about PMI | Simplifying The Market

When it comes to buying a home, whether it is your first time or your fifth, it is always important to know all the facts. With the large number of mortgage programs available that allow buyers to purchase a home with a down payment below 20%, you can never have Too Much Information (TMI) about Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI).

What is Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI)?

Freddie Mac defines PMI as:

“An insurance policy that protects the lender if you are unable to pay your mortgage. It’s a monthly fee, rolled into your mortgage payment, that is required for all conforming, conventional loans that have down payments less than 20%.

Once you’ve built equity of 20% in your home, you can cancel your PMI and remove that expense from your mortgage payment.”

As the borrower, you pay the monthly premiums for the insurance policy, and the lender is the beneficiary. Freddie Mac goes on to explain that:

“The cost of PMI varies based on your loan-to-value ratio – the amount you owe on your mortgage compared to its value – and credit score, but you can expect to pay between $30 and $70 per month for every $100,000 borrowed.” 

According to the National Association of Realtors, the average down payment for all buyers last year was 10%. For first-time buyers, that number dropped to 6%, while repeat buyers put down 14% (no doubt aided by the sale of their home). This just goes to show that for a large number of buyers last year, PMI did not stop them from buying their dream homes.

Here’s an example of the cost of a mortgage on a $200,000 home with a 5% down payment & PMI, compared to a 20% down payment without PMI:

You Can Never Have TMI about PMI | Simplifying The Market

The larger the down payment you can make, the lower your monthly housing cost will be, but Freddie Mac urges you to remember:

“It’s no doubt an added cost, but it’s enabling you to buy now and begin building equity versus waiting 5 to 10 years to build enough savings for a 20% down payment.”

Bottom Line

If you have questions about whether you should buy now or wait until you’ve saved a larger down payment, let’s get together to discuss our market’s conditions and to help you make the best decision for you and your family.

The Truth About Housing Affordability

The Truth About Housing Affordability | Simplifying The Market

From a purely economic perspective, this is one of the best times in American history to buy a home. Black Night Financial Services discusses this in their most recent Monthly Mortgage Monitor.

Here are two of the report’s revelations:

  1. The average U.S. home value increased by $13,500 from last year, but low interest rates have kept the monthly principal & interest payment needed to purchase a median-priced home almost equal to one year ago.
  2. Home affordability still remains favorable compared to long-term historic norms.

The report explains:

“Even though the value of the average home in the U.S. increased by about $13,500 over the last year, thanks to declining interest rates it actually costs almost exactly the same in principal and interest each month to purchase as it did this time last year.

Even taking into account the fact that affordability can vary – sometimes significantly – across the country based upon the different rates of home price appreciation we’re seeing, that’s a pretty incredible balancing act between interest rates and home prices at the national level…

Right now, it takes 20 percent of the median monthly income to cover monthly payments on the median-priced home, which is well below historical norms.”

However, the report warns that affordability will be dramatically impacted by an increase in mortgage rates.

“A half-point increase in interest rates would be equivalent to a $17,000 jump in the average home price, and bring that ratio to 21.5 percent. This increase is still below historical norms, but puts more pressure on homebuyers.”

Bottom Line

If you are ready and willing to purchase a home of your own, let’s get together to find out if you are able to. Now is a great time to jump in.

The Dangers of “Tight Mortgage Credit” Headlines

The Dangers of “Tight Mortgage Credit” Headlines | Simplifying The Market

The availability of mortgage credit is not at the same level that it was during the boom in housing (2005), and that’s good news. However, the constant headlines which talk about “tight credit” are causing some potential home buyers to doubt their ability to purchase. We want to rectify the misconception of what is required for a down payment in order to purchase a home in today’s market.

Freddie Mac recently discussed the confusion many first-time homebuyers have about the down payment they need in order to buy:

“Did you know that the average down payment among first–time homebuyers is 6% and it’s 13–14% for repeat buyers…It’s possible to put down even less.

Many potential homebuyers think that only the FHA helps make mortgage loans with low down payments. Not true.

Freddie Mac’s Home Possible mortgage products let qualified homebuyers put down as little as 3%.”

Brenda Garcia Lemus of John Burns Real Estate Consulting reports that this is also the case with newly constructed homes: 

“Our home-builder clients sell hundreds of homes every weekend to buyers with 5% down payments and below average credit scores. Yet, many middle-income households with average credit and access to a 5% down payment assume they cannot become homeowners because of the ‘tight credit’ headlines.”

Bottom Line

Before you ‘disqualify’ yourself, let’s get together to find out if you qualify to buy today.

 

It’s Not Always Marriage Before Mortgage

It’s Not Always Marriage Before Mortgage | Simplifying The Market

There are many people sitting on the sidelines trying to decide if they should purchase a home or sign a rental lease. Some might wonder if it makes sense to purchase a house before they are married and have a family. Others may think they are too young. And still, others might think their current income would never enable them to qualify for a mortgage.

We want to share what the typical first-time homebuyer actually looks like based on the National Association of REALTORS most recent Profile of Home Buyers & Sellers. Here are some interesting statistics on the first-time buyer:

It’s Not Always Marriage Before Mortgage | Simplifying The Market

Unmarried couples jumped up to the third spot, right after their married counterparts and single women. Many couples are buying a home before spending what would be a down payment on a wedding.

Bottom Line

You may not be much different than many people who have already purchased their first home. Let’s get together to determine if your dream home is within your grasp.

Think All Millennials Live in Their Parent’s Basement? Think Again!

Think All Millennials Live in Their Parent's Basement? Think Again! | Simplifying The Market

According to the Census Bureau, millennials have overtaken baby boomers as the largest generation in U.S. History. Millennials, or America’s youth born between 1982-2000, now represent more than one quarter of the nation’s population, totaling 83.1 million.

There has been a lot of talk about how, as a generation, millennials have ‘failed to launch’ into adulthood and have delayed moving out of their family’s home. Some experts have even questioned whether or not millennials want to move out.

The great news is that not only do millennials want to move out… they are moving out! The National Association of Realtors (NAR) recently released their 2016 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers in which they revealed that 61% of all first-time homebuyers were millennials in 2015!  

The median age of all first-time buyers in 2015 was 31 years old. 

Here is chart showing the breakdown by age:

Think All Millennials Live in Their Parent's Basement? Think Again! | Simplifying The Market

Many social factors have contributed to millennials waiting to buy their first home. The latest Census results show that the median age of Americans at the time of their first marriage has increased significantly over the last 60 years, from 23 for men & 20 for women in 1955, to 29 & 27, respectively, in 2015.

Those who went to college and took out student loans are finally paying them off, as the terms on traditional student loans are 10 years. This means that a large portion of the generation is making its last loan payments and is working toward saving for a first home.

As a whole, the first-time homebuyer share increased to 35% of all buyers, up from 32% in 2014. Not all millennials are first-time buyers, they also made up 12% of all repeat buyers!

Bottom Line

Millennials will continue to drive the housing market next year, as well as in the years to come. As more and more realize that owning a home is within their grasp, they will flock to own their piece of the American Dream. Are you ready to buy your first or even second home?

How Long Do Families Stay in a Home?

How Long Do Families Stay in a Home? | Simplifying The Market

The National Association of Realtors (NAR) keeps historic data on many aspects of homeownership. One of the data points that has changed dramatically is the median tenure of a family in a home. As the graph below shows, for over twenty years (1985-2008), the median tenure averaged exactly six years. However, since 2008, that average is almost nine years – an increase of almost 50%.

How Long Do Families Stay in a Home? | Simplifying The Market

Why the dramatic increase?

The reasons for this change are plentiful. The top two reasons are:

  1. The fall in home prices during the housing crisis left many homeowners in a negative equity situation (where their home was worth less than the mortgage on the property).
  2. The uncertainty of the economy made some homeowners much more fiscally conservative about making a move.

However, with home prices rising dramatically over the last several years, over 90% of homes with a mortgage are now in a positive equity situation with 70% of them having at least 20% equity.

And, with the economy coming back and wages starting to increase, many homeowners are in a much better financial situation than they were just a few short years ago.

What does this mean for housing?

Many believe that a large portion of homeowners are not in a house that is best for their current family circumstances. They could be baby boomers living in an empty, four-bedroom colonial, or a millennial couple planning to start a family that currently lives in a one-bedroom condo.

These homeowners are ready to make a move. Since the lack of housing inventory is a major challenge in the current housing market, this could be great news.

Buying a Home? 4 Demands to Make on Your Real Estate Agent

Buying a Home? 4 Demands to Make on Your Real Estate Agent | Simplifying The Market

Are you thinking of buying a home? Are you dreading having to walk through strangers’ houses? Are you concerned about getting the paperwork correct? Hiring a professional real estate agent can take away most of the challenges of buying. A great agent is always worth more than the commission they charge, just like a great doctor or great accountant.

You want to deal with one of the best agents in your marketplace. To do this, you must be able to distinguish an average agent from a great one.

Here are the top 4 demands to make of your real estate agent when buying a home:

1. Tell the Truth About the Price

When making an offer on the home you want to buy, make sure that your agent walks you through their plan for getting both the seller – and the bank – to accept that price. Too many agents will just take the offer that you suggest and then try to ‘work’ both you and the seller in the negotiating phase later. In a competitive market, you need an agent who is going to help you make the best ‘initial offer’ so that you stand out from the crowd. Every house in today’s market must be sold twice – first to you and then to your bank.

The second sale may be more difficult than the first. When prices are surging, it is difficult for appraisers to find adequate, comparable sales (similar houses in the neighborhood that closed recently) to defend the selling price when performing the appraisal for the bank. A red flag should be raised if your agent is not discussing this with you at the time of the original offer.

2. Understand the Timetable with Which Your Family is Dealing

You will be moving your family into a new home. Whether the move revolves around the start of the new school year or a new job, you will be trying to put the move to a plan.

This can be very emotionally draining. Demand from your agent an appreciation for the timetables you are setting. Your agent cannot pick the exact date of your move, but they should exert any influence they can to make it work.

3. Remove as Many of the Challenges as Possible

It is imperative that your agent knows how to handle the challenges that will arise. An agent’s ability to negotiate is critical in this market.

Remember: If you have an agent who was weak negotiating with you on parts of the purchase offer, don’t expect them to turn into a superhero when they are negotiating with the seller for you and your family.

4. Find the Right HOUSE!

There is a reason you are putting yourself and your family through the process of moving.

You are moving on with your life in some way. The reason is important or you wouldn’t be dealing with the headaches and challenges that come along with buying. Do not allow your agent to forget these motivations. Make sure that they don’t worry about your feelings more than they worry about your family; if they discover something needs to be done in order to attain your goal, insist that they have the courage to inform you.

Good agents know how to deliver good news. Great agents know how to deliver tough news. In today’s market, YOU NEED A GREAT AGENT!

Taking the Fear out of the Mortgage Process

Taking the Fear out of the Mortgage Process | Simplifying The Market

A considerable number of potential buyers shy away from jumping into the real estate market due to their uncertainty about the buying process. A specific cause for concern tends to be mortgage qualification.

For many, the mortgage process can be scary, but it doesn’t have to be!

In order to qualify in today’s market, you’ll need to have saved for a down payment (the average down payment on all loans was 11% last month, with many buyers putting down 3% or less), a stable income and good credit history.

Throughout the entire home buying process, you will interact with many different professionals, all of which perform necessary roles. These professionals are also valuable resources for you.

Once you’re ready to apply, here are 5 easy steps that Freddie Mac suggests to follow:

  1. Find out your current credit history & score – even if you don’t have perfect credit, you may already qualify for a loan. The average FICO Score of all closed loans in September was 731, according to Ellie Mae.
  2. Start gathering all of your documentation – income verification (such as W-2 forms or tax returns), credit history, and assets (such as bank statements to verify your savings).
  3. Contact a professional – your real estate agent will be able to recommend a loan officer that can help you develop a spending plan, as well as determine how much home you can afford.
  4. Consult with your lender – he or she will review your income, expenses, and financial goals in order to determine the type and amount of mortgage you qualify for.
  5. Talk to your lender about pre-approval – a pre-approval letter provides an estimate of what you might be able to borrow (provided your financial status doesn’t change), and demonstrates to home sellers that you are serious about buying!

Bottom Line

Do your research, reach out to professionals, stick to your budget, and be sure that you are ready to take on the financial responsibilities of becoming a homeowner.

Buying a Home Can Be Scary… Know the Facts [INFOGRAPHIC]

Buying a Home Can Be Scary... Know the Facts [INFOGRAPHIC] | Simplifying The Market

Some Highlights:

  • 36% of Americans think they need a 20% down payment to buy a home.
  • 44% of Millennials who purchased a home this year have put down less than 10%.
  • 71.8% of loan applications were approved last month.
  • The average credit score of approved loans was 731 in September.