Friday, February 26, 2010

Say Good-Buy to Home Buyer Tax Credits

Late in 2009 President Obama signed legislation extending the home buyer tax credit through the first third of 2010. Well, here we are at the end of February and we’re counting down the days until the home buyer tax credit becomes a thing of the past and a topic of regret for many would be home owners.

April 30th is the drop dead deadline for anyone wishing to take advantage of these tax credits to be “under contract” to purchase a home. The term “under contract” literally means that you have a signed purchase agreement with the seller of a home that you want to buy. If you decide not to buy that specific house, not only do you run the risk of losing your earnest money but if you make that decision after April 30th, you will no longer qualify for the tax credit.

Attention. If you have thought about buying your first home, or selling the one you are in and buying a new home, today is the day to take action on those thoughts. This generous legislation has only 62 days remaining before it is gone.

I’ve heard many people speculate, “Oh, the government extended it once, they’ll extend it again, so I’ve got time.” Really? Don’t be so sure about that. I’ve got my finger on the pulse of the housing and home financing market and I’ve heard no such chatter about extending the tax credits.

“Yeah, but when April gets here, the government will see that there are still too many unsold houses and they’ll extend it again.” Again, really? Over the last year and a half, the number of unsold homes in the nation has dropped. According to Harley Wood Market Intelligence, “Existing home inventory levels posted its fifth consecutive month of declines in December. Inventory of existing homes dropped 6.6% percent to a preliminary 3,289,000 units from 3,521,000 units in November. This is the lowest level of existing home inventory units on the market since March 2006. December's inventory level is 11.1% lower than the 3.700 million units of inventory a year ago. Existing home inventory has recorded year-over-year declines for the past seventeen straight months. Recent increases in sales activity due to lower rates and the extended homebuyer tax credit have helped to improve inventory levels.” (February 26, 2010 at

So if you’re still wondering if now is the time to shop for a home, let me review the dollars that make sense in this equation.

If you haven’t owned a home in the past three years (that’s 36 consecutive months) you qualify for the maximum tax credit of $8,000. The tax credit can be applied when you file your 2010 taxes or you can file an amended 2009 tax return to include the credit. Either way, that a credit directly applied to the taxes you owe. I don’t know about you, but $8,000 is a lot of money. If you have owned a home and have lived in that home for 5 (five) of the past 8 (eight) years, you qualify for the $6,500 tax credit when purchasing a new home.
There are a couple of stipulations for both of these programs including income limits and purchase prices, but check with the lender of your choice to get the specifics. The most important stipulations are the deadlines. You must be under a binding contract to purchase a home no later than April 30, 2010 and you must close on that transaction no later than June 30, 2010.

The tax credit is a refundable credit which means that it reduces the tax bill you owe for the year you apply it. And if the tax credit reduces your tax bill below zero, you’ll get the difference as a tax refund. You’ll need to file tax form 5405 and include a copy of your settlement statement (a.k.a. HUD-1) from your closing to prove that you actually bought the home.

For parents considering this opportunity for their children, let me close with this information. The minimum age for claiming this tax is 18 years, at the time of closing. Also, anyone claimed as a dependent on someone else’s taxes is ineligible to claim the home buyer tax credit.

Friday, February 19, 2010

FHA Loans to Cost More

Just a few days ago, the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) changed their rules for borrowers applying for their mortgage backed loans. These rules are in part in response to the growing number of FHA mortgages that are facing foreclosure and in part to crack down on unscrupulous lenders who, as Commissioner David Stevens implies are responsible for the FHA’s increasing defaults and diminishing financial reserves.

In the past few years more and more consumers have turned to the FHA for home financing and the agency has approved too many risky loans so they are now repositioning. Commissioner Stevens told a group of reporters, “Not everybody should own a home.”

A quick insight regarding the FHA. This agency is a government insurance company that backs mortgages and refinance loans for lenders who follow their established guidelines. In 2009 the agency insured about 1.9 million loans which amounts to about 30% market share of the mortgage business. In comparison FHA backed only 1.1 million home loans in 2008.

Recent reports from December 2009 report that the agency is insuring a total of 5.8 million single-family homes. This amounts to over $750 billion in loans. That same report revealed that over 500,000 of these government insured loans were either seriously delinquent or headed for foreclosure.

Okay, here’s the biggest change. Although no specific date has been given, starting sometime this spring borrowers will have to pay more upfront for the Up Front Mortgage Insurance Premium (UFMIP). This change may not become permanent, but at least for a while this premium will increase from the current 1.75% of the loan amount to 2.25%.

FHA charges homeowners this mortgage insurance as an up front fee and as an additional monthly insurance premium added to their payment. As an example on a $250,000 loan, the borrower would pay $4,375, or 1.75% at closing. This amount can be paid by the borrower, or added to the base loan amount effectively increasing the amount the borrower is obligated to repay. With the increase in UFMIP, the same loan would cost the borrower $5,625, and increase of $1,250.

Additionally the FHA has stated that it will ask Congress to raise the ceiling on the amount it can charge borrowers for the annual mortgage insurance premiums that are paid every month. Currently these premiums cannot exceed 0.55% of the loan amount. On that same $250,000 loan, that’s $1,375 a year broken down into monthly payments of $114.58. No estimates of just how high this increase may go have yet been released.

Two other significant changes are also coming. Borrowers with credit scores below 580 will be required to put down a minimum of 10% of the home’s purchase price. While FHA still insures loans with these low credit scores, good luck finding any lender who is willing to touch these loans. There area a few still out there, but most lenders have taken the opposite approach with some requiring borrowers to have credit scores of 640 and higher. Statistics show that most home mortgage defaults are by borrowers with credit scores below 580.

The other significant change is to seller concessions. Currently sellers who really want/need to sell their home are allowed to “help buyers” by conceding up to 6% of the purchase price toward the buyer’s closing costs. They are not allowed to apply any of these concessions toward the borrower’s down payment, but they can, in effect, reduce the home’s price by covering some or all of the buyer’s closing costs. FHA will reduce these “seller concessions” from 6% to 3%.

There are no announced plans to change the current guidelines allowing for family members to “gift” the down payment and closing costs which will most likely make this option more popular with some home buyers. However, before going down this path, check with your lender for the specific requirements and paperwork.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Home Buying Season Secrets

Wasn’t it just the other day when that large furry brown member of the rodent family emerged from his home in Pennsylvania and saw his shadow, thus guaranteeing us another six weeks of winter? Well all I have to say about that is BAH!! Regardless of what a celebrated marmot says I say winter may last another six weeks, but I believe the temperature in the OKC metro housing market is about to warm up.

I share an office with realtors at Metro First Realty in Oklahoma City. There are about 140 realtors working out of that office and while none are bragging about having too much business, I do hear conversations that their phones are beginning to ring with people making inquiries about homes.

So call me an optimist or say I’m delusional, but I’m writing this article to share with you some secrets that just might come in handy should you find yourself in the market to buy or sell a home during the upcoming home buying season.

Buyers remain the boss. Few of us know someone who recently put their home on the market and watched it sell within a few weeks. Most of us know the family who has had their home on the market for months with little activity. My own parents listed their home for sale in northwest Oklahoma City and showed it only twice in twelve months. Home sellers need home buyers, and home buyers are playing hard to get.

Weather the perfect storm – low rates, dropping prices and tax credits. Yes now is a great time to buy a home…if you have three things. Steady employment, at least a 3.5% down payment and good credit. If you have these things, then you can take advantage of rates in the low 5% range, seller’s willing to negotiate on price and federal tax credits when you file your 2010 taxes.

Prepare for credit shock. I still receive calls about once or twice a month from someone who is self-employed wanting to know if they can still get a home loan based on their credit score without having to prove income. No, you can’t. A lot of lenders are even beginning to raise their minimum credit scores for the “easy to qualify for” FHA mortgages. Very few lenders (present company included) still offer FHA loans with a 620 FICO. Most have raised their minimum scores to 640 or higher.

Think long term. “What if I buy a home and the value continues to fall?” Fortunate for home owners here in the OKC metro, housing values have grown over the past twenty years at a modest 4% to 5% per year. Other markets around the country experienced exploding home values in the double digits. And now these markets are reaping the fallout from overinflating their home values. Our economy is cyclical and what goes down, will also go back up.

Timing the market. Investors try various strategies every day to buy stock at it’s absolute lowest point so they can take advantage of it’s rise. Home buyers try and apply the same strategy. The problem is most of the time there’s plenty of a particular stock to go around even if other investors want to buy the same stock. But when you find a home that meets your needs and fits your budget, the stock strategy of timing the market may not be so smart. There are a limited number of houses that truly meet your criteria, but there are other buyers out there who share your buying position and are probably looking for the house you just found.

Go to the concession window. Sellers want to sell their homes. In some cases, they need to sell their homes. Because of this need, many sellers are willing to “chip in” to pay for some or all of a buyer’s closing costs. FHA still allows for sellers to contribute at least 3% of the purchase price toward the borrower’s closing costs.

Foreclosure properties can be a good buying option. But they can also present unique problems inexperienced buyers should be aware of. If you’re interested in buying a foreclosed property, my best advise is to work with an agent experienced in these types of sales. Their advice and their experience will prove invaluable to helping you pick the right property and avoid buying a lemon.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Sell Your Home in Half the Time

Freeze frame on our nation’s economy. If no new houses were built, there are enough unsold houses to satisfy the needs of the majority of buyers for about nine months. In other words, if no new homes were built it would still take nine months to sell all the houses that are available for sale today.

According to one of the nation’s websites that track such figures, the month of January marked the first month in the past 18 months when the number of homes listed on the nation’s MLS totaled more than the month before. In fact January saw a 2.9% increase in available homes in the 27 major U.S. housing markets used to measure these trends.

And to top it off, they’re still building houses in my neighborhood. In fact workers just studded in walls and rafters this week on a new home being built on the lot adjacent to mine. Nation wide, 2010 new housing starts are projected to be down about half of their recent high of 1100 per month in late 2007. This means that not only are there more available homes than there are buyers for several months to come, new home builders are starting over 500 more new homes to add to the already glutted inventory.

Gloom, despair and agony on everyone… Right? Nope! I met someone this week with a track record to back up her claims to sell your home in half the time other Realtors take. How does she do it? Well I asked her to share some of her secrets and she didn’t even flinch. Like she didn’t care if other realtors (and even those folks who want to sell their homes without a realtor) knew how she did it.

“I sell my customer’s homes faster than other Realtors because of a few tricks of the trade, but really it boils down to the fact that I work harder than most other Realtors” Melodee said. By the way, her name is Melodee Dailey with Coldwell Banker Twin Rivers Real Estate, Inc. ( So here is how she does it.

Trust. The seller has to know that they can trust that their Realtor will do what they say they will and actually do more than they say the will in order to sell their house. Melodee told me that in a typical week she attends at least 4 events that allow her to network with other business people and potential buyers. This week she’s crammed 7 such meetings into her schedule because next week she’s going on vacation. “My customers know how busy I am doing everything possible to sell their home in the quickest possible time. That’s why when I make recommendations of a few things they need to do to make their house stand out in the crowd, they’re receptive and in most cases do what I suggest” Dailey said.

Staging. Most sellers live in their home and have become accustomed to the way it “feels”. But a good realtor sees the potential in every home they list and know how to make that home look and “feel” the best it possibly can. “That’s why I have a full-time home stager working for me” said Dailey. “I can see the potential and I can sell that potential to prospective buyers; that’s my specialty. But my stager knows how to stage a home better than I do. We each use our strengths to do what the seller expects us to do…sell their house.”

Pictures. It’s the difference between the snapshots I would take at a family picnic and the portrait the professional took of my daughter at her wedding. The pictures used to present a home to potential buyers make a huge difference in whether or not the buyers actually decide to put that home on their list to see. “Again, I know how to spot a home’s potential and I know how to get that home in front of potential buyer’s eyes, but I’m not a professional photographer, that’s why I also have a full-time professional photographer who knows how to capture a buyer’s attention so they will put that home on their ‘must see’ list of homes” Dailey emphasized.

Internet. National statistics reveal that 86% of home buyers decide which homes to consider after first previewing them on the Internet. Dailey continued, “Home buyers use a variety of websites to preview potential homes, so it is imperative that a listing Realtor build a large base of websites on which to market each of their listings. And then they have to use these sights to aggressively sell their clients house”