Financial Tips for Getting a Mortgage

I recently listened to a webcast on mortgages that had some tips that would be good for everyone.  So let me share those here.

While sites like Credit Karma are good for keeping tabs on your credit score, the model and, therefore, the range that Credit Karma uses is different than the one the credit bureaus use.  They are using an older model – Vantage 2.  This will change over time.  But as it stands now, their range goes to 990 versus the 850 of the credit bureaus.  So the score will come out different.  While it will still give you a very good idea of where you are generally with your credit score, you need to know exactly when it comes time to get a mortgage.  Everyone is entitled to one pull of their credit report from the bureaus at no charge, without it affecting your credit.  That can be done at www.annualcreditreport.com.  You will be asked for your SSN but this is a secure site.

  1. Why is this so important?  Before there are specific scores that determine what interest rate you will get on your loan.  So if you are thinking of buying any time in the next year, pull your credit report and work on improving your score if needed.
    1. 580 – the lowest score you can have to get an FHA loan. (you’ll need to put more down for a loan at this score – 10-20%
    2. 620 – the lowest score you can have to get a conventional loan or an FHA loan with the minimum of 3.5% down. However, anything up to 640 is considered a fair score so you will likely pay a higher interest rate.
    3. 640-719 is considered good and will get you a good rate.  But likely about 1/2 point more than an excellent score would give you. 
    4. 720 and above are considered excellent. But most banks consider 740  the minimum to be considered excellent and to get prime rate.  The rates you see advertised by lenders are typically for prime rate.   You also have to put down at least 20% to get prime rate.  
  2. As part of this, make sure you are not the victim of identity theft.  It can take a very long time to correct damage to your credit from identity theft. Some things to do on this front:
    1. Opt out of getting credit card offers.  You’ll save some trees but, more important, you will be eliminating one of the top ways your identity is stolen.  Visit https://www.optoutprescreen.com/?rf=t to do this.  In the meantime, shred or burn these offers.
    2. It goes without saying, don’t fall for email messages that tell you your account has been compromised and you need to follow the link to reset your credentials.  Your bank or credit card company would not alert you of fraud through email.  They also would not ask for your SSN over the phone.  Neither would the IRS – that’s another scam for another post.  At most, they will ask for the last 4 digits of your SSN.  Never give anyone your SSN over the phone.  If you are in doubt, tell whomever calls you that them you will call them back. Then look up the official phone number and call that.  
    3. Share your SSN with as few people as humanly possible.  Sometimes the identity theft is someone in the victim’s family. 
    4. When you sign up for things online, don’t use the same password you use for your bank, credit card and other financial accounts.  Come up with a password for those things that has nothing to do with any of your other passwords.

Even if you are not buying a house, you may refinance in the future, so it would serve everyone to protect your credit and credit score.   

If you are looking to buy or sell, even if it is down the road, contact me.  It’s never too early to prepare.

Michelle J. Lane
MICHELLE J. LANE, Realtor
Century 21 Commonwealth
CELL: 617 584-3904

How much Should you Spend on Home Maintenance?

June 30, 2016 by Michelle J. Lane, Realtor®

As a Realtor who specializes in homes that are part of an estate, I have seen a great deal of deferred maintenance in my time.

The two main reasons are:

  • these are the homes of people who lived through the great depression and have the mindset that they will fix what needs fixing, but no more. They see no point in changing things out if they are not broken.
  • The other reason is these are homes of people on fixed incomes – usually one person who has outlived their spouse for a number of years. So the money to keep the place up is not available.

The area I sell in – Newton, MA and the surrounding area – is considered affluent for the most part.  For the purposes of this article, I am focusing on what would be considered the middle or working class who own homes.  The affluent can spend far more than the rule of thumb would suggest and often do.

The generally accepted rule of thumb is that a homeowner should spend roughly 1-3% of the value of the home to maintain and improve.  Of course, that would vary depending on home values in your area.  In Newton, home prices start at $500K.  Most people are not going to spend $15K per year on tiny bungalow.  So, in expensive areas, where a high-priced home is still small, the rule of thumb is closer to the 1%.

Of course, you are not going to spend this each and every year.  But you do need to put the money aside.  When the roof or any other major component goes, you will need to have that money available to replace it.

You may be tempted to spend it on the more fun things like décor and furnishings.  That’s a lot more enjoyable than replacing a furnace or a roof – what seem like invisible improvements.  But deferring the maintenance greatly reduces the value of the property and hurts its ability to sell quickly, even in a hot market.

You are probably hearing all the stories about bidding wars, especially in the hot markets like the Boston. And you might think that any house will sell.  But bidding wars are happening with the houses that are in move-in condition.  Not on houses that need a lot of repair.  Today’s buyers just don’t have the money to make the repairs after buying a home.  And they are not able to make the repairs themselves.  All the reasons for that will be in a follow on blog post, so stay tuned for that.  This one will be long enough!

When clients have deferred maintenance on their homes, I have to explain why their home is not worth as much as their neighbors that was in better condition when it sold.  I actually have people say they don’t understand why today’s buyers are so fussy.  What’s wrong with Formica countertops and linoleum floors?  The old appliances are built better, etc.  Aside from aesthetics of the home starting to look a bit beat and shabby, it matters because everything used to build your home has a set lifespan.  Sure, we agents call all tell stories of homes that are time capsules where everything put in the house 50 years ago is still there and working.  I even sold a 1912 home with its original furnace that was still running.  But those are the exceptions, not the rule.  Everything is going to go sooner or later.

To give you an idea of when that sooner or later is, the chart in this article breaks down the Average Life Span of Homes, Appliances and Mechanicals.  This will not only help you plan for replacement of these items in your house, but should help buyers know how much they are going to have to put into a house they are buying and when they can expect to spend that money.

The contents of this chart have come from several sources, mainly a This Old House article.   http://www.thisoldhouse.com/toh/article/0,,216991-4,00.html    They even give a rough estimate of the cost to replace each item.

Average Life Span of Household Components

Appliance Items Lifespan
Kitchen Appliances 10-20 years
Central A/C 15 years
Electric Water Heater 11-14 ones that are SS lined can last longer
Furnace (Hot Air) 15
Hot Water Boiler 20-30
Thermostats 35

 

Roofing Lifespan
Asphalt / Rubber 10-25+
Wood Shingles 10-40
Metal 25-40
Clay Tile / Concrete Tile / Slate / Copper 50+

 

Flooring Lifespan
Carpeting 8-10 (I’ve seen it left unreplaced for 50+)
Linoleum / Vinyl / Laminae 25
Engineered Wood / Concrete 50
Bamboo / Hardwood / Tile / Marble / Slate 100+

 

Garages Lifespan
Garage Door 20-25
Garage Door Opener 10-15
Light inserts 20

 

Footing and Basement Lifespan
Poured Concrete / Fieldstone / Concrete Block 100+
Sump Pump 5-12
Bamboo / Hardwood / Tile / Marble / Slate 100+

 

Materials Lifespan
Wood – Floors / Doors / Cabinets / Windows / Millwork 100+
Cast Iron  – Tubs / Pipes 50+
PVC Pipe 50+
Fiberglass 10-15
Bamboo / Hardwood / Tile / Marble / Slate 100+
Porcelain – Sinks / Toilets 50
Engineered Trim 30
Insulation 100+
Hardboard / Flooring Underlayment / Softwood 30
Particleboard / Plywood 60

 

Electrical Lifespan
Accessories and Controls 10+
Copper wiring 100+

 

Exterior Lifespan
Brick / Stone / Engineered Wood / Fiber Cement 100+
Vinyl 20+
Engineered Wood / Concrete 50
Stucco 50-100
Paint 7
Mortar 25-50
Caulking 5-10
Decks 10-30
Aluminum Downspouts / Gutters 20-30
Galvanized Steel Downspouts / Gutters 20
Copper Downspouts 100+
Window Glazing 10+

 

Notice that natural materials – stone, brick, wood, cast iron, have a very long life span.  Which is why homes with these materials in abundance are worth more than homes with linoleum, carpets and fabricated materials.  There are exceptions – PVC lasts as do some engineered woods.  And this will improve over time.  But the difference is that natural materials develop a patina over time that gives them character.  Fabricated materials just get shabbier over time.  Not to discourage any one from using them.  There is not the same supply of natural materials that there once was so new construction has to move to these newer materials.  And some building codes require them.  But scarcity is another element that gives the natural materials value.

All of these life spans are averages – they will vary based on how well used items are and the climate.  And, of course, on how well you maintain the house.  A leaking roof will rapidly deteriorate interior components.  But this should serve as a good planning tool – for maintenance and for knowing what a buyer will mentally deduct to come up with the market value of your home at the time of sale.

Now there are always exceptions.  A good number of the estate homes I sell are more valuable to a builder for the land they sit on than they would be for a home buyer to live in.  So if you are thinking of selling your home and not sure where you fall, contact me before you do any work on your home and I will let you know the value of your home as it stands and with repairs and upgrades.

Michelle J. Lane
MICHELLE J. LANE, Realtor
Century 21 Commonwealth
CELL: 617 584-3904

 

 

 

Post Foreclosure Aftermath

This is an important article to share given the number of foreclosures that have happened in recent years.

http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/10/14/us-usa-housing-foreclosures-insight-idUSKCN0I30BU20141014feedType=RSS&feedName=businessNews

The gist of it – banks are looking to enforce delinquency judgements on people who have foreclosed in recent years, with Fannie Mae being the most aggressive.  People are being surprised by large judgements for foreclosures they thought were behind them.

Even if you have moved on from your foreclosure and rebuilt your life, they can still get a judgment against you. To what degree depends on the state of your foreclosure. Details here http://www.cga.ct.gov/2010/rpt/2010-R-0327.htm

For those of you in Massachusetts, they can get a judgement against you, but they must notify you 21 days before the foreclosure sale date of your home.

In CT, they can without giving notice.

The good news is that the larger banks – BoA, Citi, Wells Fargo and JP Morgan don’t typically go for delinquency judgements. Frankly, the banks should not be doing this given they got billions in the bailout. AND that they caused the problem in the first place by giving out untenable loans.

My advice – if you do get a notice, read up on the code for your state, then contact an attorney. I know you won’t want to spend the money, but better a few hundred or thousand dollars to get representation than to get a judgement against your for tens of thousands. if the bank is successful in getting a judgement against you, they can levy your bank accounts and garnish your wages, crippling you financially and dragging down your credit score yet again.

If you find yourself in foreclosure now, there is no shame in it.  The economy is still tough and will be for a while longer.  The best thing you can do is to talk to an attorney now to see what the ramifications will be if it goes that far.  Also, to speak to a Realtor to see if you can salvage some equity out of your house by selling before it is too late.

Want to talk about selling your home? Feel free to contact me.

Michelle J. Lane

Michelle J. Lane
Century 21 Commonwealth
CELL: 617 584-3904

Home Equity is Your Best Investment

 
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Like most Americans, it’s home equity, not stock equity, that will pad my bank account when I hit the retirement finish line. 

About two-thirds of Americans invest in home ownership, but only half of us invest in stocks. (I suspect this is in no small part because we have to make our mortgage payments every month or the bank comes and takes our houses back.) 

The fact is, more of us are getting rich by buying and paying off our homes than by picking the next Facebook.

Here are some interesting facts from the National Center for Real Estate Research:

  • 6 in 10 of us have more home equity than stock equity.
  • One-fifth of Americans’ total net worth is home equity.
  • Home owners accumulate, on average, $167,000 in their lifetimes, compared to $42,000 for renters.
  • The median wealth for the poorest American home owners, those earning less than $20,000, is 81 times that of renters with similar income.

In a recent study that took into account falling home prices, buying was still more likely to generate wealth than renting, simply because renters are more inclined to spend instead of save and invest in stocks.

The bottom line is this: Even if renting appears cheaper on a spreadsheet, the forced savings of home ownership leads to wealth more reliably than renting. Many of us simply don’t have the willpower or motivation to save our discretionary income and invest it in stocks. 

So unless you’ve got the inside track on the next hot future IPO, keep making your mortgage payments.

Granted, you will not see the equity in your home until you go to sell it.  There is no good reason to use the equity in your home unless you are using the money to make an investment in that will give a better return than your home.  But, for many of us, the equity in our homes is the majority of our net worth and, when the time comes that we do need to live off that money or, god forbid, go in a nursing home, that money will be available to make our later years more comfortable.

 
 

If you are Contemplating a Short Sale – do it this year!

Back in 2007 Congress approved a debt forgiveness law for homeowners when they do a short sale and the lender forgiveness portion is not repaid.

Normally, the portion forgiven is treated as taxable income to the borrower.  The Debt Forgiveness Act provides relief to troubled borrowers when some portion is forgiven.  That relief expires on Dec 31st, 2012.  The transaction must close by Dec 31st to qualify.  The Act could possibly be extended, but there is no guarantee.   Given how long short sales take to process, if you are considering a short sale, contact your Realtor (me) now to find out your options and how to proceed.

Borrowers whose debt is reduced or eliminated will receive a year-end statement from their lender, IRS Form 1099-C. Eligible homeowners must complete several lines on IRS Form 982 which must be included when filing their federal income tax return to claim the mortgage relief. For more information, review IRS Publication 4681 and IRS Form 982, or consult a qualified accountant or attorney.

15-Minute Fixes for your Credit Score

(from creditcards.com)

Improving your credit score can feel like a gargantuan task. But by spending just 15 minutes, you can give your credit score anywhere from a small bump to a major boost. Here are some tips from credit experts on quick — and sometimes easy — ways to raise your score.

1. Set up automatic bill payment or alerts. The one thing you need to do is pay bills on time — that has the biggest impact on your score.   One way to do that is to set up automatic bill payment through your bank or credit union, at least for the typical minimum amounts of your bills,.   Or, if you’re not comfortable with automatic bill payment, set up regular email or text message alerts to remind you of bill due dates.  On-time payments over a period of about six months can increase your score by as much as 50 points.  It shows you are getting responsible about your bills.

2. Pay down revolving debt. If your credit card debt is more than 35 percent of your credit limit, it’s probably dragging your score down, but paying balances down can provide a quick boost. Experts recommend setting up regular automatic payments to make a dent in your debt.

A good rule to follow is this: For every $1,000 of available credit, try to use less than $350.  Say you have three cards, each with a $1,000 limit. One has a $500 balance, one has a $350 balance, and one has a $250 balance. Pay on all of them, but pay more on the first one to bring it down under 35%.

3. Pay your credit card bill early. If you use your card for everything from groceries to utilities to a pack of gum to get rewards — but pay in full each month — pay early. Because if you charge, say, $2,000 each month but pay your bill after you get your statement, it looks as though you’re carrying a large balance when you’re not.

Check when the statement closing date is.  Making the payment before the statement closing date — just five or six days early — can make a big difference over time. It will be reported to the credit bureaus as a $0 balance and will look like you’re holding less credit.

4. Ask your credit card company to raise your limit. If you carry a credit card balance but have been making payments on time and make enough money to support a higher credit limit, a quick phone call to your credit card company could raise your score. A higher credit limit will lower your credit utilization ratio (the amount of available credit you’re using), experts say. However, experts also say it’s important to be honest about whether that step would tempt you to rack up more debt.

5. Go online to dispute an item on your credit report. Some experts advise consumers to dispute a possible credit report error by registered mail, and to include evidence. But, let’s face it, many never get around to making copies, hunting down a stamp and heading to the post office. All three major credit bureaus offer the option of filing a dispute online — and it can be faster and easier, experts say. 

The first thing to do is pull a copy of your credit report from all three bureaus. You can do it free once a year at AnnualCreditReport.com. Look at each one and see if there’s anything you don’t recognize. If you have any questions about information on your reports, you can file a dispute online. You can track it online, too, so it’s a lot quicker.

6. Just say no to too many inquiries. When you’re buying those cool new sunglasses and the cashier asks if you’d like to get a 10% discount by signing up for a store credit card, just say no. Whenever you take new credit, you get a ding on your credit score, so don’t apply for new credit cards all the time. 

7. Get a late payment removed from your credit report. In the “it-can’t-hurt-to-ask” category, it sometimes pays to call a creditor and ask to have a late payment removed from your credit report.

8. Play what-if with your credit score. Each consumer’s credit history is different, so spend a few minutes at the consumer website Credit Karma. The site offers a peek at your credit score — though it’s not the widely used FICO score — and offers a simulator that allows you to see how different actions you could take would likely affect your score.

It is often repeated that, when it comes to credit scores, there are no quick fixes. However, if you follow these tips, you could see a big improvement in your credit score — with just a small investment of time.

MICHELLE J. LANE, Realtor
Century 21 Commonwealth
CELL: 617 584-3904
michelle@michellelanerealtor.com
www.MichelleLaneRealtor.com

Ten Tax Tips for Individuals Selling Their Home

IRS Summertime Tax Tip 2011-15, August 8, 2011

The Internal Revenue Service has some important information to share with individuals who have sold or are about to sell their home. If you have a gain from the sale of your main home, you may qualify to exclude all or part of that gain from your income. Here are ten tips from the IRS to keep in mind when selling your home.

  1. In general, you are eligible to exclude the gain from income if you have owned and used your home as your main home for two years out of the five years prior to the date of its sale.
  2. If you have a gain from the sale of your main home, you may be able to exclude up to $250,000 of the gain from your income ($500,000 on a joint return in most cases).
  3. You are not eligible for the exclusion if you excluded the gain from the sale of another home during the two-year period prior to the sale of your home.
  4. If you can exclude all of the gain, you do not need to report the sale on your tax return.
  5. If you have a gain that cannot be excluded, it is taxable. You must report it on Form 1040, Schedule D, Capital Gains and Losses.
  6. You cannot deduct a loss from the sale of your main home.
  7. Worksheets are included in Publication 523, Selling Your Home, to help you figure the adjusted basis of the home you sold, the gain (or loss) on the sale, and the gain that you can exclude.
  8. If you have more than one home, you can exclude a gain only from the sale of your main home. You must pay tax on the gain from selling any other home. If you have two homes and live in both of them, your main home is ordinarily the one you live in most of the time.
  9. If you received the first-time homebuyer credit and within 36 months of the date of purchase, the property is no longer used as your principal residence, you are required to repay the credit. Repayment of the full credit is due with the income tax return for the year the home ceased to be your principal residence, using Form 5405, First-Time Homebuyer Credit and Repayment of the Credit. The full amount of the credit is reflected as additional tax on that year’s tax return.
  10. When you move, be sure to update your address with the IRS and the U.S. Postal Service to ensure you receive refunds or correspondence from the IRS. Use Form 8822, Change of Address, to notify the IRS of your address change.

For more information about selling your home, see IRS Publication 523, Selling Your Home. This publication is available at www.irs.gov or by calling 800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676).

MICHELLE J. LANE, Realtor
Century 21 Commonwealth
CELL: 617 584-3904
michelle@michellelanerealtor.com
www.MichelleLaneRealtor.com

Ten Tax Tips for Individuals Selling Their Home

IRS Summertime Tax Tip 2011-15, August 8, 2011

The Internal Revenue Service has some important information to share with individuals who have sold or are about to sell their home. If you have a gain from the sale of your main home, you may qualify to exclude all or part of that gain from your income. Here are ten tips from the IRS to keep in mind when selling your home.

  1. In general, you are eligible to exclude the gain from income if you have owned and used your home as your main home for two years out of the five years prior to the date of its sale.
  2. If you have a gain from the sale of your main home, you may be able to exclude up to $250,000 of the gain from your income ($500,000 on a joint return in most cases).
  3. You are not eligible for the exclusion if you excluded the gain from the sale of another home during the two-year period prior to the sale of your home.
  4. If you can exclude all of the gain, you do not need to report the sale on your tax return.
  5. If you have a gain that cannot be excluded, it is taxable. You must report it on Form 1040, Schedule D, Capital Gains and Losses.
  6. You cannot deduct a loss from the sale of your main home.
  7. Worksheets are included in Publication 523, Selling Your Home, to help you figure the adjusted basis of the home you sold, the gain (or loss) on the sale, and the gain that you can exclude.
  8. If you have more than one home, you can exclude a gain only from the sale of your main home. You must pay tax on the gain from selling any other home. If you have two homes and live in both of them, your main home is ordinarily the one you live in most of the time.
  9. If you received the first-time homebuyer credit and within 36 months of the date of purchase, the property is no longer used as your principal residence, you are required to repay the credit. Repayment of the full credit is due with the income tax return for the year the home ceased to be your principal residence, using Form 5405, First-Time Homebuyer Credit and Repayment of the Credit. The full amount of the credit is reflected as additional tax on that year’s tax return.
  10. When you move, be sure to update your address with the IRS and the U.S. Postal Service to ensure you receive refunds or correspondence from the IRS. Use Form 8822, Change of Address, to notify the IRS of your address change.

For more information about selling your home, see IRS Publication 523, Selling Your Home. This publication is available at www.irs.gov or by calling 800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676).

MICHELLE J. LANE, Realtor
Century 21 Commonwealth
CELL: 617 584-3904
michelle@michellelanerealtor.com
www.MichelleLaneRealtor.com