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Serving South Florida

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For over 35 years

Posts Tagged ‘home buying’

What Recent NAR Settlement Means for Home Buyers

The Department of Justice, in its regulatory capacity, has recently intervened to reshape commission structures, a move that will trigger a multitude of changes, especially for home buyers.

The National Association of Realtors ( NAR) settlement has not yet been accepted. It is proposed to go into effect at the end of June to mid-July.

The results of the NAR Settlement means that:

1.    NAR owned multiple listing services ( MLS) are prohibited from sharing offers of compensation to Buyers.

2.   MLS members are required to enter into written agreements with the buyers disclosing how they will be paid and by whom before showing a property.

What are Multiple Listing Services (MLS)? They are database platforms that agents and brokers pay to subscribe to. The agents and brokers use it to share information about properties for sale. Subscribers agree to rules about cooperating with and compensating all brokers who subscribe to it. If you are seeing listings on other sites (like Zillow), chances are, those sites are getting a feed from their local MLS.

Since the beginning of buyer agency, the buyer broker’s commission has been built into the sale price of the property. The buyer paid for the house and the seller paid outstanding bills, then collected their profit. Responsible seller’s brokers used a form called a “net sheet” to show sellers what their final profit was. Broker fees were deducted from the sale price along with taxes, water bills, or other costs of the sale.

The MLS system built commissions into the price. The seller, through their broker, published their offered commission to buyer’s broker on the MLS.

If the settlement is accepted and all offers of compensation are removed from the MLS system, we need ways that buyers can continue to pay our fees without undo burden.

1.   Include the Buyer Broker Fee in the Offer and request that it be included in the Sales price. This creates a way that the buyer broker commission is paid for in a mortgage, as part of the house purchase. Functionally, this is exactly the same as it has been. The buyer pays for the house, and the buyer’s broker fee is subtracted from the seller’s profit at closing.

2.   Lenders are seeking ways to create financing options for buyers, so that they can finance the buyer broker commission, if it is not included in the sale price.

3.   Buyers to pay the Buyer Broker fee outside of Closing or as a disbursement at Closing, though not reflected in the sales price. This is de minimis for cash Buyer but requires that a Buyer getting a loan have more cash to close.

Home Buyers will no longer have representation costs built into the real estate transaction when a property is listed through the MLS system and represents a property for sale by a licensed real estate agent, but Sellers will.

Buyers or their agents will have to approach Seller and ask permission to include the cost of representation within the transaction. Sellers have all the power to withhold their permission for the Buyer to do so. Seller’s representation costs, however, will continue to be included in the transaction, using the Buyer’s funds to pay for them.

Every Buyer will be obligated to sign an Exclusive Buyer Agreement in advance of being shown homes that specifies payment terms when seeing a home that is listed by a real estate agent, EVEN IF THE REAL ESTATE AGENT SHOWING THE HOME IS THE LISTING AGENT. THIS IS DUAL AGENCY!

Payment can be made directly by the buyer outside of the transaction, included in an offer to the seller requesting a credit to cover the expense, or through a commission offered by the listing agent. However, commissions won’t be advertised as part of the transaction on the Multiple Listing. Fee arrangements with the client may include an hourly fee, a lump sum fee, or a percentage-based commission.

This is a particular disservice to homebuyers requiring a loan. Buyers will have to pay their own agent out of pocket, on top of a down payment and other closing costs. Finding thousands of dollars to pay an agent could be a challenge, especially for first-time buyers, who typically have limited funds and also the greatest need for an agent’s guidance. VA Loans currently prohit paying a Buyers Agent directly by the Buyer.

The trickle effect resulting from this barrier to entry for first time homebuyers or move up home buyers will likely affect the economy negatively in the near term. Home buying and construction drives jobs, manufacturing, retail and more.

Removing the buyer’s representation cost from the transaction but leaving the seller’s representation cost in is extremely one sided and unfair.

Florida has more real estate agents than any state in the US and over 99.9% of agents in Florida are transactional agents who don’t represent the buyer or seller in a fiduciary capacity. According to Florida statutes, unless an agent establishes a single agent or no brokerage relationship with a customer in writing, they are by default considered transaction brokers.

The Florida Legislature some time back rewrote a law to say that if you’re a fiduciary agent, you have to disclose that, but if you’re transactional broker, you don’t have to. Why is transactional brokerage so attractive to the agents? It is because you don’t have the legal liability, you don’t have the responsibility that a fiduciary agent has.”

Optima Properties is a member of the National Association of Exclusive Buyer Agents

(NAEBA.org) and never represent Sellers. Optima Properties does not list or sell houses and never practice Dual agency. Optima Properties will never ask homebuyers (clients) to sign a “consent form” asking them to switch to another “Designated Buyers Agent or Dual Agent” within the team or same real estate brokerage in the middle of a real estate transaction because the buyer is interested in making an offer on one of their company’s real estate listings.

Click Here for a list of

“100 Services Provided to Home Buyers”

by Optima Properties

Benefits of Energy Efficient Homes

A recent survey from the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) found that energy-efficient features are among the most sought-after “must-haves” among homebuyers. Among those surveyed, 83% desired Energy Star-rated windows, 81% wanted Energy Star-rated appliances and 80% preferred energy-efficient lighting.

Though eco-conscious sensibilities compel millions of homeowners to make their homes more energy-efficient, that’s not the only reason to upgrade your home. The following are a handful of the many benefits of energy-efficient homes.

Save money: The U.S. Department of Energy indicates upgrading to energy efficient appliances products can help homeowners reduce their energy costs by as much as 30%. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates you can save 11% on average on your total energy costs by air sealing your home and adding insulation in the attic and crawl spaces.

Improve resale value: Being able to market your home as energy-efficient when it comes time to sell it may help your resale value, especially as energy-efficient homes become better-known and more in-demand.

According to several studies, energy-efficient homes and apartments garner anywhere from 2% to 8% more in sales prices than their traditional counterparts. Research from the mortgage lender Freddie Mac found that homes with energy-efficient ratings sold for nearly 3% more on average than homes without such ratings.

Live healthier: The benefits of energy-efficient homes aren’t just economic, though health-related benefits certainly produce an economic incentive as well.

Energy-efficient homes boost your comfort level by also enhancing the indoor air quality by reducing pollen, dust, insects, and humidity, which leads to better quality of life.

Energy-efficient appliances are typically quieter than traditional models, as well, making their operation less intrusive to your daily life.

To learn more and find out how to perform some of these improvements yourself, visit DOE’s Energy Saver website.

Tools and Calculators for Homes:

Information, tools, and resource to help consumers seal and insulate their homes, including a DIY Guide to Sealing and Insulating with ENERGY STAR.

Information, tools, and resources to help consumers assess their home’s energy use, including the ENERGY STAR Home Advisor and the ENERGY STAR Home Energy Yardstick.

List of building energy software packages, some of which are available for free or a small fee.

A tool that allows a consumer to determine energy savings and costs associated with replacing non-ENERGY STAR-rated refrigerators.

Information, tools, and resources to help consumers increase the efficiency of their home’s heating and cooling system.

A tool developed as an industry-consensus roof savings calculator for residential and commercial buildings using whole-building energy simulations.

Beware of “Too Good To Be True” Lenders

Homeowners beware.
With the potential of a recession and rising mortgage rates; lenders are seeing fewer loan applications and many buyers are not able to qualify for legitimate loans. Homeowners are often coerced into using the equity in their homes to pay off debt, finance unexpected expenses and to cover job losses, etc.
Lenders that over promise are likely to be ones to stay away from. If you cannot qualify for a mortgage with a reputable financial institution if is best to wait to purchase a home until you can.
What Is Mortgage Fraud?
Any misrepresentation of information on a home loan application can be considered mortgage fraud, classified under Financial Institution Fraud (FIF). Mortgage fraud is typically carried out for profit or for housing.
  • Mortgage scams for profit: Those who attempt mortgage fraud for financial gain are typically lenders, brokers and other entities that make false claims to obtain monetary compensation or equity from lenders and homeowners.
How To Spot Mortgage Scams
In cases of mortgage fraud for profit, scammers most commonly promise victims to save their homes from foreclosure with term modifications and debt management, or to entice buyers with free services and reduced interest rates. Scammers prey on vulnerable homeowners and prospective homeowners who lack education or financial security.
Predatory mortgage lenders will often use tactics to make their offer seem like a good deal. You may be getting scammed. The following signs may indicate mortgage fraud.
‘Too Good To Be True’ Interest Rates
Mortgage rates that are noticeably lower than market interest rates are typically a sign of various hidden fees or even a bait-and-switch tactic. Predatory lenders may try to tell you that you no longer qualify for the advertised rate, or tack on additional fees after locking in the original rate if they think they can get away with it.
Your Loan Estimate Isn’t Honored
Your Loan Estimate gives basic loan information in a standardized format from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. It includes itemized costs of a loan, including fees, and is sent within 3 business days of a mortgage application. Lenders aren’t allowed to charge fees outside of the credit report fee prior to accepting the terms.
Mortgage Payment Scams
A mortgage payment should remain under 28% of your monthly income.  The higher your debt-to-income ratio (DTI), the riskier you are for a mortgage lender. If your lender is recommending a type of home that requires a loan larger than 28% of your disposable income, be wary.
Homes Overvalued
Overvalued property creates risk for legitimate mortgage lenders by generating an inaccurate resale valuation or an inflated borrower income that will be difficult to pay off with existing income.
Penalties For Prepayment
A prepayment penalty is charged for paying off your mortgage too quickly or for refinancing. While prepayment penalties can offer lower overall interest rates, oftentimes, they’re hidden in the fine print of agreements. As a result, many borrowers don’t realize the stipulations of the penalties and are hit down the line with fees. Generally, these penalties are included as a way for lenders to make money on interest payments at the expense of the borrower.
Your Credit Score Doesn’t Matter
Your credit score will always affect your mortgage rate, without exception. If you’re being offered a home loan that states this score won’t affect the mortgage, be wary. These tactics are typically scams that prey on low-income borrowers and generally come with undesirable terms.
Deceptive Marketing
Victims of predatory lending frequently describe being subjected to a flood of phone calls and letters from brokers and lenders, encouraging them to take out a home equity loan.
Red flag: Lenders who engage in high-pressure tactics, telemarketing, cold calling, and deceptive advertising campaigns.
Excessive Fees
Predatory lenders routinely charge borrowers fees totaling as much as 15% to 20% of the loan amount. Fees alone can have a ruinous impact on a homeowner’s equity. But add them to prepayment penalties and you’re locked into a high-rate, financially disastrous loan.
Red flag: You inquire about fees and charges, but you can’t get the facts. They insist there are no “upfront” fees.
Equity stripping
You need money. You don’t have enough coming in each month to cover your expenses. You have equity in your home. A lender tells you that you could get a loan. This is a big shock because you know you will have difficulty keeping up with the payments. The lender encourages you to “pad” your income on your loan application to help get the loan approved.
Equity stripping is particularly dangerous for people who find themselves in financial trouble. Scammers target people who are facing foreclosure or other financial hardships and make false promises of relief. Beware of anyone who pops up at what seems like the perfect time promising to let you cash in the equity you’ve built up without any consequences. Falling for this scam could end up with you losing your home and all the equity you’ve accumulated.
Red flag: Any suggestion that you can qualify for a loan when you know the truth is you cannot reasonably make the payments.
Balloon payment
You’ve fallen behind in your mortgage payments. Another lender offers to save the day by refinancing your mortgage and lowering your monthly payments. But beware. The payments may be lower because the lender is offering a loan on which you repay only the interest each month.
Red flag: Unrealistically low payments.
Loan churning
Senior homeowners who are asset-rich, but cash-poor are prime targets for this scam. A mortgage company contacts you offering to refinance your loan and throw in some extra cash along with it. The problem is, each time you refinance, the fees and interest rates are going up. Red flag: Lenders that contact you and any suggestion that a loan is the way to get your equity to start “working” for you.
Not all lenders are predatory. The best way to protect yourself against those who are is to be keenly aware of their tactics and always on the lookout for the red flags. If you need an explanation, talk to someone you can trust who has nothing to gain or to lose by the decision you make. Be careful how often you refinance your mortgage. Talk to a HUD-approved housing counselor (hud.gov/counseling) if you have questions or concerns about any mortgage loan transaction. Then consider all the costs of financing and repayment before you agree to a loan.

Apps To Facilitate Your Move

Buying a home and moving is stressful on many levels.  Here are some Apps to make the moving an easier endeavor. Like other productivity apps that can be downloaded on your smartphone, move-planning apps will help you keep everything organized.

Dolly: So you’ve arrived at your new home and realized you don’t have the person-power to haul that bedroom furniture upstairs? No problem! Dolly (free, iOS, Android) connects you with helpful delivery people looking to make a few bucks. These strong-backed guys and gals have no qualms about carrying your furniture to its new resting place in your new home and there’s never any haggling over price.

Flying Ruler:  Flying Ruler will help you measure anything in your home. Not sure if that sofa will fit in your new living room? Is it too large to come through the front door? Flying Ruler can help you be sure. This app is a tape measure, ruler, protractor, and a goniometer.

Google Keep: Google Keep (free, iOS, Android) is the ultimate sharable note application. When you’re planning a move you will quickly find yourself making lists … and then making lists of those lists. That’s where Google Keep’s shareable, synced lists and notes come in so incredibly handy. When things get really hectic you can even record voice memos and Google Keep will actually transcribe them into readable text for you to browse later.

Handy: With Handy you can schedule a move-out or move-in cleaning by a vetted and background-checked professional. You can also book handyman services like furniture assembly, TV mounting or picture hanging to help you settle into your new home. Moving assistance is available, too! You’ll leave with your home in better condition than you found it in, and your new place feeling like home right away.

Magicplan:  Floor plans are a crucial tool for envisioning your new living space and deciding where to place furniture and home goods. Use Magicplan on your phone or tablet to scan and measure rooms, then compile them using their drag-and-drop interface to create a complete floor plan.

MakeSpace: If you’re downsizing or moving to a home short on storage space, MakeSpace will come in handy. Just book an appointment, and its team of professional movers will come to pick up your stuff and haul it off to storage. When you want your items back, schedule a delivery, and the team will return your goods. MakeSpace will bring complimentary supplies, like bubble wrap and free MakeSpace bins.

Meta ( Facebook) Marketplace:  If you’ve ever moved you already know that you eventually get to a point where you’ve packed up all the important stuff and would rather just throw everything else in the garbage than wrap it, box it and haul it. That’s no longer necessary because there are people all over your town who will buy your old stuff and they’re on Facebook Marketplace (free, iOS, Android).

MoveAdvisor: MoveAdvisor is another comprehensive moving app allowing you to take inventory, find movers and establish a moving timeline all in one place. The app itself is free of charge to download and use, but you’ll have to pay for any services you book.

Moved:  Designed to be your personal moving concierge, Moved manages the entire moving process for you. The app is a one-stop shop for your move. It will organize your move every step of the way, from finding movers, hiring packers and selling unwanted items, to updating your address and even hiring cleaners and painters. The service also helps you find moving professionals, affordable packing materials, and storage facilities

OfferUp:  OfferUp is the largest mobile marketplace in the United States to buy and sell goods locally, and you can do so straight from your phone! Just take photos of the items you’re selling, describe the items and set a price. Buyers can message you through the app and make an offer, then arrange to meet you and retrieve the item.

RideShipper: You’ve got a car, bike, boat, or something else you need shipped?  With RideShipper you fill in the free vehicle shipping quote and you get almost instantly up to 4 estimates from reputable shipping companies.

Sortly:  Sortly is an inventory app built with small businesses in mind, but also great at cataloging all your beloved items and ensuring that they make it to your new home in one piece. Use your smartphone camera to snap images of items and Sortly automatically catalogs them for you. You can add barcode info for additional details and check off items as you’re unpacking.

TaskRabbit:  Need someone to help you move, pack, unpack or help with almost any moving-related task you may need? With Taskrabbit you’re able to state the task you need done and get matched with a freelancer (referred to as “Taskers” on the platform) who can do it for you.

TurboScan:  One thing you don’t need to haul along to your new home is piles and piles of papers you’ve let stack up over years of home office neglect. You could scan them with your printer, but that would take forever, so download the TurboScan app (free, iOS, Android) and capture perfect scans of every document in mere seconds.

Unpakt:  Moving companies are everywhere, but which one will give you the best rate? Get rid of the stress of searching for the best deal and let Unpakt find it for you. Compare prices between a variety of local and reputable moving companies and even contact the mover of your choice right from the app. Unpakt offers a price guarantee that only changes if you add or remove an item or service.

How To Win A Bidding War!

A bidding war is when at least two prospective buyers have made legitimate offers for a home that are similar and the Seller wants to select the best offer and terms for themselves. Bidding wars are common—in most of 2020, over half of home offers presented have faced competitive bids, according to Redfin’s study. Although historically low interest rates have sparked buying activity recently, some neighborhoods are always sought-after and attract multiple offers whenever a home comes up for sale.  Exclusive Buyer Agents are experts in winning bidding wars and getting credits during the due diligence period.

Expect to be in a bidding war In a hot housing market, it’s often not enough to quickly make an offer on a house but to have the highest price and best terms.

Here are a dozen ways you can get an edge on the competition.

  1. Offer to Pay in Cash

If you have the ability to offer an all-cash bid, you gain a distinct advantage because you eliminate the possibility of a mortgage falling through before closing. Buying with cash will make the process go quicker because you won’t need to go through the approval process with a lender, who would also request an appraisal. If you can’t cover the entire purchase price in cash, you could agree to a larger down payment on the house, which increases your approval odds and might make your bid more attractive.

  1. Get Pre-Approved

Pre-approval is a step most buyers will take anyway, but it’s absolutely essential for anyone in a competitive bidding situation. Pre-qualification is not enough, as it doesn’t show that the lender conducted the same amount of due diligence—such as checking your earnings and doing a hard credit check—that a pre-approval would require.

  1. Know Your Financial Limits

When you’re preparing for a bidding war, think of it like an auction—you need to know how much house you can afford before you actually bid. Once you know the maximum amount you’re willing to bid, you can include an escalation clause in your purchase offer to ensure you can instantly counteract any other bid. An escalation clause lets you increase your bid to avoid being outbid by another buyer up to a specified amount.

  1. Provide More Earnest Money

Buyers typically provide 1% to 5% of the purchase price as earnest money—a form of a security deposit—in a purchase contract, which gives sellers the assurance that you will follow through with the purchase. If you bail out on the contract without citing a contingency, you will likely lose the earnest money. If you put down more than the typical earnest money amount, it will tell the seller that you’re determined to follow through to the closing.

  1.  Be open to making offers sight-unseen

Speed is key in a seller’s market as competitive as this one. If you’re interested in a home but live far away or just haven’t been able to tour it, you can still throw your hat in the ring. Video tours and 3D walk-throughs have made sight-unseen offers much more feasible. Almost two-thirds (63%) of people who bought a home last year made an offer on a property that they hadn’t seen in person.

  1.  Remove Some or All Contingencies

When you make an offer to purchase a house, you know the deal could fall through for numerous reasons, and you don’t want to lose your earnest money because of it. That’s why you include contingencies in the purchase contract; if the home inspection uncovers major problems or you can’t sell your current home in time to close on the new one, you can get out of the contract without penalty. Almost no offers contingent on the sale of a home will win a bidding war. Sell your home, rent and then start trying to get a home under contract. Simultaneous closings are so 1990’s.

If you can’t waive contingencies, sweeten them for the seller. Opt to expedite the contingency timeline.

  1. Be Flexible on the Move-in Date

First-time home buyers and those who have already sold their previous home might be in a position to be flexible with the sellers on their move-in date. A seller might ask for more time if they have concerns about potential delays for a new home build. In this case, they could go through the closing and then rent the home back from you for a few weeks or a month. This flexibility could be as valuable—if not more valuable—than a higher bid on the house.

  1.  Start low, bid high

A lot of successful buyers today win by making an offer that exceeds the asking price…in fact it is expected. This also means that a lot of buyers end up exceeding their budgets. To prevent this, only search for homes that are listed 10-15% below what you can afford, so that you can make an over list price offer.

  1.  Offer to pay some of the seller’s costs

Home buyers can make their offers more competitive by offering to pay for expenses that are typically covered at least partially by the seller.

  1. Write a Personal Note

Home sellers, especially ones who have lived in a home for a long period of time, can sometimes be swayed by a personal note that explains why you believe this is the home of your dreams. For example, you might know that the current owner raised a family in the home, and you can discuss how you hope to do the same. It might seem a bit over the top, but it’s certainly worth a try when not much separates your offer from others. And yes—sometimes it works.  Avoid putting any personal information in the letter that may expose the Seller of real estate agents from violating Fair Housing laws.

  1.  Prepare to lose before you win 

With more than half of offers facing competition these days, it’s more likely than not that you’ll get into a bidding war if you’re in the market for a home. It’s also wise to know when to walk away. It’s OK to put your search on hold if you reach the point where you’re not comfortable making the aggressive offers that are often necessary to win in today’s market. You don’t want to end up with buyer’s remorse, after all.

  1.  Use an experienced Exclusive Buyer Agent that has been successful with winning bidding wars and speak with their references. Be prepared to ask to be in a Back Up position if you lose the bid. The market is too competitive and offers move too fast for novices to be effective at winning bidding wars in a multiple offer situation.

Tips for Buying a Home in a Seller’s Market

Seller's market
Seller's market

Buying a home in a Seller’s market always has its challenges. But when you’re trying to do it in a seller’s market, the difficulty can reach a new level. When the market favors the seller, time is of the essence. Multiple offers happen with more regularity in a seller’s market than a buyer’s market, because a seller’s market is defined in part by low inventory and a surplus of home buyers. A beautiful home that is priced well can attract more than one offer.

In a seller’s market, you should always assume you’re competing against several other offers. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t buy a new home in a seller’s market, when there are more buyers than homes, and sellers can afford to hold out for higher offers. You just need to make sure you do it right and arm yourself with the right information:

Here are a few things to consider as you prepare your offer when buying in a seller’s market:

Choose an Experienced REALTOR: In sports and in business, it’s important to have the best players on your team when facing fierce competition. In a seller’s market, that means choosing a real estate agent who not only has proven expertise in the neighborhoods you’re interested in but is also highly responsive and efficient. Make sure to use an Exclusive Buyer’s Agent that owes you a fiduciary and works in your best interest.

Demonstrate Credit Worthiness: You should get Pre-Approved for a home mortgage with a local lender before touring homes if you need to get financing. By obtaining a pre-approval for a mortgage before you start home shopping, you’ll know how much buying power you have. Your offer may have far more credibility than competing ones where buyers didn’t take this step.

Lower Your Expectations: When the inventory of homes is limited, you probably can’t afford to wait for the perfect house to hit the market. Prepare yourself to adjust your expectations. It makes the most sense to make exceptions to your criteria for things that can be changed. For example, you can renovate or add a bathroom someday, but you can’t change the home’s location or lot size.

Make your Best Offer first, be Ready to Bid: Make your best offer but be prepared for it not to be your final offer. High home prices can lead to home appraisals that don’t climb as fast, leaving lenders to not fund the loan. Home buyers should have money set aside the pay the difference between a contracted purchase price and the appraisal.

By Prepared to Make Concessions: Your relative lack of power in a seller’s market doesn’t just affect the question of price. It carries over to every other aspect of the deal, too. Shorten the inspection period, be flexible on closing dates; you should be prepared to accommodate the seller’s needs even if it is an inconvenience to you.

Don’t be that buyer who wants to wait until the weekend to view a home in a seller’s market. By the weekend, that home could be sold. Try to be one of the first showings. Sellers usually don’t enjoy having buyers come through their homes at all hours of the day, so most would like to see their home sold quickly. If you write a good, fast, and clean offer, your chances of acceptance are far better than those of a buyer who is unprepared or is unrealistic on price.

Finally, don’t get carried away with the pressure to buy, even in a seller’s market. Remember that a home decision has a long-term impact on your financial future. It may be better to let a house go than make a poor decision that’s expensive to change.

Should You Refinance During The COVID-19 Situation?

Covid-19 and Refi

Covid-19 and Refi

Rates are lower than ever; when a refinancing is done right, it can save you thousands of dollars. But not every potential refi makes the cut. Sometimes the expenses just don’t justify the potential savings.

It is time to refinance your home mortgage if the terms lower your mortgage interest rate, pay off their mortgage years earlier, or saves thousands in interest over the life of the loan. You can save serious money by refinancing your mortgage. But due to refinancing fees and expenses, not every refi makes financial sense.

COVID-19 is creating changes with lenders and how they are doing business. This is resulting in refinancing taking longer and getting stricter than it has been in the past. Although the mortgage process is considered essential as a financial transaction, depending on where you live, there may be changes related to COVID-19  involving your appraisal, rate lock and closing process.

Rates are quite low and because your home is your biggest financial investment, the equity can be very useful as a resource in times of trouble. But if you’re thinking of financing your home loan there are several steps you should take to make sure that it’s the right move for you.

How Long Do You Plan On Being In Your Home?

Being able to answer this question will help you figure out the term length you want on any refinanced mortgage; but there’s another reason asking this question …

If you plan on moving within the next 5 – 10 years, it could be worth your while to look at an adjustable rate mortgage ( ARM).  You get a lower rate initially with an ARM because the rate can adjust after the teaser period. But if you move before the end of the fixed-rate time frame, you don’t have to worry about whether the rate is going up and down in the end. Additionally, your payment will tend to be lower because most adjustable rate mortgages are based on 30-year terms.

Age Of Current Loan

The age of your current loan sometimes plays a role in whether you can refinance. Even if you can refinance, it does not always make sense.  When you refinance you have to pay closing costs.  If you are not planning on staying in the house past the breakeven point when the savings and the additional expenses paid starts to net to overall reduced costs for home ownership, the it is not the time to refinance.  You may want to accelerate buying a new home to realize the saving from lower interest rates.

Plans For Monthly Savings

If you determine that you’re going to save money by refinancing based on the rate and term you can get, make sure that you have a plan for what you’re going to do with the monthly savings in order to put yourself in a better financial position. No one knows exactly when COVID-19 is going to end and how long it will take for the economy to recover. If you can save money now, you can work on establishing the savings need should the vaccine be delayed or we continue with a longer recession

You could use your savings to build up an emergency fund. Maybe you choose to allow yourself to save money in the future by paying off high-interest debt now. You can also use this to catch up on saving for retirement if you stopped contributing temporarily while dealing with the situation caused by the virus.

It’s a very volatile market right now, so we advise all of our clients to rely on the advice of their Home Loan Expert and Financial Advisors at all times.

The Mortgage Refi Process

Approving a mortgage is a complicated process, one that requires a lender to validate a borrower’s income, check the value of the home being used as collateral and scrutinize the title history of the property.

Just as refinancing applications picked up, the coronavirus pandemic dramatically changed the way everyone in the mortgage industry works. Loan officers no longer go to the office. Appraisers stopped walking through houses. And no one gathers around the title company’s closing table. The process is a little slower because everybody’s working from home right now. Things that would take an hour to do are taking a day sometimes.

It is more difficult to verify a borrower’s employment. A task once dispatched with a quick call to the borrower’s human resources department now means leaving a voicemail and waiting a day or two for a response.

Meanwhile, homeowners looking to refinance may have to get in line behind buyers who need a mortgage so they can close on a house which are a priority with lenders.

The mortgage industry already had been digitizing, and lenders quickly adapted to many changes. One stumbling block, though, is that most lenders still require some documents to be signed in the presence of a legal witness and notarized.  Florida allows for mobile notaries and they are busier than ever.

Sometimes, documents are being signed remotely and online and mobile notaries are not allowed yet.  You need to allow time for in person notarization and overnight mailing of documents.  Digital closings may be the way of the future, but we are not there yet.

What You Can Do to Secure a Smooth Refinance

Here are a few ways you can make the refi process as smooth as possible:

— Get your paperwork in order. Don’t let something simple like a missing document delay your refinance. Collect PDFs of financial documents, including pay stubs, bank statements, tax returns and retirement accounts.

— Make sure the lender will honor your rate lock. In normal times, lenders extend rate locks for 30 to 60 days, meaning you won’t have to pay more if rates go up before your loan closes. These aren’t normal times, though, and many refinances aren’t closing within 30 to 60 days, so make sure your lender is willing to extend your rate lock if your deal is delayed.

— Keep your credit score tight. Now isn’t the time to miss a payment, take on new debt or otherwise do anything to lower your credit score. Lenders are being especially strict about borrowers’ credit histories.

 

How To Set Up A Home Office

Home Office

Home Office

I’ve spent more than three decades with a home office. When you work at home, even part time, you discover that a makeshift desk area on a kitchen counter or the dining table isn’t the best setup. Having a dedicated home office, even if it’s compact, makes a big difference in comfort and productivity. Having a dedicated space also serves as an important signal to those who live with you that you’re ‘at work’. Create boundaries within your home that your family members understand.
Stake Out Your Spot 
You need to pick a spot in your home with the fewest distractions, and where all the essentials (like electrical outlets and your modem) are close by. Modern WiFi is a wonderful thing but understand it can still be inconsistent in even the most tech-friendly neighborhoods. I anticipate that our connectivity speed will be further degraded by all the streaming and game-playing that is happening now, in addition to everyone trying to work from home as well……be patient and see if you can upgrade to a higher speed with your home Internet provider.
Also, try to find a spot near a window with some natural light so you don’t feel completely tucked away from the world. Think about storage and try to keep work-only items grouped together. Think outside the file box to find an organizational system that works for you; see what you can use around your home. It’s more important to give everything that has been sitting out in piles a permanent home than it is to buy new containers. Here are a few ideas for organizing your home office:
·     A grid of clipboards on the wall can make for a handy place to keep papers organized.
·     Wall-mounted cups keep frequently used supplies neat and within reach.
·     Cups and bowls borrowed from the kitchen make great desktop and drawer organizers.
·     Labeled, open-top baskets on shelves are great for people who like piles
·     Traditional files are still useful for important documents.
Set Ground Rules with the People in Your Space
Set ground rules with other people in your home or who share your space for when you work. I say “morning,” but not everyone who works from home follows a nine-to-five schedule. Yours might be a “getting started” routine at another time of day. I want my elderly parents to be able to call me anytime, but have reminded them that “after 6” is the best time to get my undivided attention. I ask other family members and friends to respect my work hours and stick with the less obtrusive email or text for non-emergencies.
Act as if you are “going to work”. Whatever your routine was when you were going to the office, try and maintain it now that you are working from home. Exercise, shower, get dressed (not pajamas), and then “go to work”. I try and avoid eating at my desk and taking a coffee break, lunch break, etc.  Use these times to reconnect with other household members and address their needs and concerns.
Think About Your Back, Feet and Shoulders 
Pick a back-friendly, ergonomic chair if at all possible and always make time for exercise (don’t forget to stretch!). I prefer to stand or walk around while I am on the phone but now that my husband is working from home as well, we find that this is distracting to one another. Go outside and get some fresh air while on that call.
Although you can easily work on a laptop from anywhere, an entire day, week, or even a month spent looking down at a screen is not going to do your neck muscles any favors. If you have the space and the budget, think about upgrading to a decent-sized computer monitor to plug your laptop into. I use two monitors so that I can multitask between emails, software applications required for my work, calendars, and more.
Most desks, chairs and monitors and still designed for the average sized man. I have made adjustments by ensuring that my monitors are at eye level. You can use boxes, books, magazines or anything you have around the house to easily accomplish this…no need to be purchasing special desks, risers, etc. If your chair is not adjustable, use pillows, etc. to ensure that you are sitting at the right height to keep your back straight. I have purchased an ergonomic cushion that provides comfort and support for my spine as well as adds two includes to my seat height.
Make Friends with Your Postal Worker or Delivery Person 
Thank goodness for USPS, UPS and FedEx!!! These people get bonuses at Christmas for their daily deliveries to my door. I have always been an online shopper for convenience and time-saving and now that I am getting deliveries for food, office supplies and more the visits to my front door have increased ( still can’t find toilet paper however).
Take the time to let your local postal worker or delivery person in your neighborhood know you’re now working from home if your work involves a lot of envelopes and packages. I have made a point in the past to have a few daily words with the drivers that frequent my home. It helps when my local delivery person knows I’m working at home and sending and receiving envelopes and packages on a regular basis.  In today’s world something as simple as leaving a note on your door explaining your situation will work and be appreciated.  My UPS driver told me a couple of days ago that I can leave the package outside my front door with a note to pick it up or if I see him in the neighborhood to just hand him the box…..no need to go out to the UPS store!!!
Pump the Brakes with Social Media
Social media can be absolute poison if you don’t limit yourself. It’s definitely good to stay on top of the news during these uneasy times, but if you allow yourself to be sucked into endless posts, you might look up at the clock and discover you lost three or four hours of your day.
I enjoy social media and participate for both personal and work reasons, but I have learned to use it wisely.  I check it before I head to my office with my morning coffee and then again at the end of the day. That doesn’t mean you can’t laugh at someone’s funny online story, or post about your favorite sports team or TV show. Just try to limit the damage during work hours.
Freshen up.
Give yourself a big pat on the back, because the hardest work is now behind you! Today is all about making your home workspace fresh and clean, so it will be a healthier, more pleasant place to spend time in.
·     Vacuum your home office from top to bottom. Use an attachment to clean window treatments, high corners and fabric lamp shades.
·     Wipe down shelves and surfaces with a damp microfiber cloth.
·     Use monitor wipes to clean your screens.
·     Use a keyboard cleaner to blow dust from between the keys or gently clean them with cotton swabs.
·     Bring in some fresh plants to help clean the air.
Straighten up your home office before you are done working each day. Bring the coffee cups back to the kitchen and completely clear your desktop.
We are all anxious and a routine will help keep our life as “normal” as possible in these difficult times. Don’t be hard on yourself if you are not as productive as when in the office. Working from home is a mindset and a discipline and cannot replace a normal work environment. It takes time, discipline and commitment to find the right balance for your personal and family needs.

What Is Not Covered Under Standard Homeowners Insurance?

Homeowners Insurance Coverage
Until it happens, most homeowners think of disasters as something that won’t happen to them. Disasters can be as minor as a tree branch falling and breaking a few windows, or as concentrated as a pinhole roof leak slowly dripping water into a residence—causing mold or other ripple effects. Sadly, too many people who experience disaster on a large or small scale may find the trauma continues when it’s time to file an insurance claim.
You need to be knowledgeable about what your Homeowner’s Insurance does and does not cover. These common held assumptions about insurance are items that are NOT covered and may require additional insurance or riders.
Wear and Tear Is Covered-Myth
Fact: Coverage typically includes damage from fire, weather and theft, not damage due to general wear and tear or neglect. As a policyholder it’s up to you to maintain your home, including making routine repairs and protecting your home from pests. If you neglect to take care of your property ( a leaky roof) you may not be covered.
You’re Insured in Case of Flood Damage, Earthquakes, Tornadoes and Hurricanes-Myth
Fact: Although some weather-related damage is generally covered, such as from hail, other storm related damage from wind or water may not be.
Floods require specific flood insurance from the Federal Government. Earthquakes might be covered, but sometimes they require additional insurance. Hurricane and tornado damage requires a separate windstorm policy. Sinkholes, mudslides and other earth movement (except in CA) requires a separate endorsement.
All Personal Belongings Are Fully Covered-Myth
Fact: Homeowners insurance typically covers furniture, clothing and other personal items, but more valuable items like jewelry and artwork may require an add-on policy. Homeowners should routinely inventory belongings to determine if policy limits meet their coverage needs.
You Have Protection Against Any Injuries That Happen at Home
-Myth
Fact: Your policy’s liability coverage protects you if a guest is hurt in your home, but if a family member is injured at home, it’s normally covered by health insurance.
Home Businesses Are Part of the Package
-Myth
Fact: A home business requires business insurance to cover property damage and liability; homeowners should consult with their insurance carrier or agent to be sure they’re fully covered from disasters large or small
You Can Rebuild For The Amount Of The Insurance Coverage-Myth
Fact: Unless you insured for “replacement value” you may be under insured to rebuild your home. “Ordinance of Law” exclusions may not cover to the changes to building codes and the additional costs of bringing the property up to code if damaged.
Overflows of back-ups from your sump pump, sewer or drain are covered-Myth
Fact: A standard policy does not include coverage for these issues and require a separate endorsement.
It may not seem like particularly interesting reading material, but it’s better to take the time to thoroughly understand what your insurance policy covers than to be stuck in a situation where you’re not sure when you really need it.

What Home Buyers Can Learn From a Seller’s Disclosure Statement

Sellers Property Disclosure

Any responsible buyer wants to know everything about the home they’re buying before signing on the dotted line. After all, this is probably the biggest purchase you will ever make, so due diligence is a must. The majority of the real estate agents in Florida are Transactional Agents and do not owe the Buyer a fiduciary duty, An Exclusive Buyer Agent does and will work for the buyer to determine all the information known about the property and advise you on inspections, permit searches, etc. Reviewing the Seller’s Disclosure is the first step in this process.

A Seller’s Disclosure in the State of Florida Is a standard form that is essentially a checklist in which a seller indicates the condition of the different features of a property, any known problems affecting the property, and any pending legal issues. This could include things like knowledge of lead-based paint, water damage, pest damage, past repairs, past insurance claims, any history of property line disputes, etc.

Typically, a seller’s disclosure form is filled out by the seller along with their listing paperwork. When buyer’s agents go into the Multiple Listing Service (MLS) to look up potential properties for their clients, that disclosure statement should be available or can be requested from the listing agent.

I am increasingly running into situations wheretransactional brokerage firms are taking the position that since a Seller’s Disclosure is NOT required by law that are not asking the sellers of their listings to fill one out. The first line of the SPDR provides “Notice to Licensee and Seller”; the less they know, the easier it is to make a “deal”. They are relying on the fact that other transactional agents working with buyers will feel the same and not ask for a Sellers Disclosure.

Although sellers aren’t required to complete this specific SPDR form, a residential seller does have to comply with the rule established in Johnson v. Davis. In that case, the Florida Supreme Court held that “where the seller of a home knows of facts materially affecting the value of the property which are not readily observable and are not known to the buyer, the seller is under a duty to disclose them to the buyer.” These material facts are sometimes referred to as latent defects. In addition, in Rayner vs. Wise Realty Co. of Tallahassee, the First District Court of Appeal provided that this same disclosure requirement applies to residential properties that are being sold as is.

In cases were the listing agent does not provide a Sellers Disclosure I request that the Seller answer all my questions in writing and provide a comprehensive list of questions that encompasses everything asked on the SPDR and more.

A seller’s disclosure form is NOT a substitute for a home inspection. Remember, sellers are required to disclosure only problems they know about. Most homeowners don’t go in their attic very often, and have probably never been up on their roof, and they aren’t required to do so before filling out the disclosure. While this document can provide a lot of valuable information, the home inspection is another layer of protection for a buyer.

The importance of this disclosure statement is just one of the many reasons why it’s critical for buyers and sellers to use an Exclusive Buyer Agent ( EBA) during any real estate transaction. EBAs are up-to-date on the latest laws and regulations and are very experienced with the complex documents and paperwork. They can help walk buyers through the disclosure so they understand all aspects of the home they’re buying and recommend the appropriate home inspections ( WDO, Radon, Leak Testing, Mold, and more) to ensure that any hidden defects are found in advance of the purchase.