Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Number of home buyers paying with cash increasing

One of the real estate industry trends of 2013 was fairly easy to spot. Cash buyers accounted for one-third of all home sales in the past 12 months. This is about where it has been for the last three years.

Surprisingly, cash home sales took a jump in November, according to RealtyTrac. Cash sales accounted for 42 percent of all homes purchased in November, which is the highest level since RealtyTrac began tracking it. The percentage of cash sales in October was higher than average at 38.4.

Who pays cash?

There are certain segments of the population that have the liquid assets available to pay cash for homes.

  • flippers

  • retirees who are downsizing

  • wealthy who are investing or purchasing vacation homes

  • investors who expect the market to improve enough for a good return on investment through rentals

  • overseas buyers

  • people who have trouble getting financed

What it means

While the housing market is slowly heading back to normal, the rising number of cash sales is a sign that recovery is not complete. The pace is simply not sustainable.

The trend upward in cash-only sales began when mortgage rates began to tick up. Buyers with cash are willing to forego the tax advantage of carrying a mortgage to save on interest. Other savings for cash buyers include loan origination fees, appraisals and some closing costs.

Other advantages for cash buyers include avoiding the loan qualification process and the ability to close the deal very quickly.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

How your property taxes are paid

Last week, we talked about where your property taxes go. This week, we’ll talk a little about how they are paid, which for most homeowners is a line item on their mortgage statement.

For most borrowers, holding property taxes in escrow is required by the lender. Some lenders who will let you do it still discourage it by charging you more interest. Today, though, most banks won’t even give you the option of not having an escrow account unless you can prove you have a certain amount of funds on hand or you have a certain amount of equity in your home, usually 20 percent.

No matter what state you live in, if you have a mortgage, chances are pretty good that your lender pays your property taxes through an escrow account. In fact, many people never even become aware of the monthly allocation until their mortgages are paid in full and they are directly responsible for paying the property taxes themselves.

Even if your bank pays your personal property taxes, you should receive a copy of the bill at least once each year, whether you pay your property taxes directly to the tax authorities or through your mortgage lender.

Always keep the latest copy of your tax bill where you have easy access to it. You never know when you might need it to prove residency. For example, some school districts require it when you enroll the kids in school, particularly if you're enrolling them in a new school. And you'll ALWAYS need it to do your income taxes, too!

The obvious reason to use an escrow account is, quite honestly, convenience. Simply adding it to your mortgage payment, not worrying about the paperwork, ensuring that it is paid on time... it honestly negates any cons related to escrow.

Some people who own their home continue to use an escrow account because they can set it on autopilot and don’t have to worry about making the payments when they are due.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

What do property taxes pay for?

The end of the year brings holiday celebrations, New Year’s resolutions, football playoffs and bowl games, and for many, the dreaded property tax bill.

If you're like most people, you look at your property tax statement and automatically think "That's too high." But if you take a closer look, you'll see that your property taxes are spent in a lot of different areas, which is why it’s so hard to get lower taxes overall.

Depending upon where you live, your property taxes fund any number of state and local government functions. Here are the most common lines you'll see on your property tax.


By far, public schools are the largest single line item in nearly any property tax bill. A commitment to providing the best possible education often leads to higher local property values. In addition, the houses in neighborhoods with higher rated schools generally have higher prices. Although public school systems get funding from a variety of sources, including federal government, state government, fund raising efforts, the largest source is generally from property taxes. This is also why any tax reduction attempts meet strong resistance from both school employees and parents of school-aged children.

Public roads and parks

Although a lot of money from gasoline goes to roads, those are mostly financed by state and federal government. City and neighborhood street repair comes from property tax. Public park maintenance is funded as well.


Depending upon the area in which you live, your property tax bill may also include certain utility costs that are provided by the county or municipality, which could include sewer, water and maybe garbage collection.

Government administration costs

This is a relatively small part of the local budget, but it covers salaries and benefits for municipal administrative staff and the buildings that house them.

Public safety

Many people mistakenly think that traffic citations fund police budgets, but most of their operating budget is provided through property taxes. Firefighters are also included in this category. This includes not only salary and benefits for policemen and firemen, but support personnel as well the acquisition of buildings and police cars.


Although they’re not usually very large parts of your tax bill, they are considered highly desirable in most communities and largely beyond political haggling. When a tax increase is on the ballot, it rarely fails.

City and county allocations

Both rely primarily on real estate tax revenues to support their operations, so taxes are usually collected and paid to both. In many cities and counties, one government agency may collect the tax under a single bill, then apportion the funds, so you may pay your taxes to your municipality who then forwards the required portion to your county.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The pros and cons of buying a home during the holidays

Two weeks ago, we talked about the pros and cons of selling your home during the holiday, so this week we'll talk about why buying your home at the same time presents challenges and opportunities.

The pros

The holiday season can be a good time to find a home. If you are planning to buy a home, but are waiting until the market heats up in the Spring, you might want to reconsider.

Right now, interest rates remain low, but because there is less demand for mortgage loans, you could get an even better rate.

Prices can be lower because sellers may drop their asking price

Fewer buyers = Less competition

Homeowners who keep their homes on the market are motivated sellers

Tax deduction for the current year

Fewer closings = faster transactions

The cons

Of course, there are some disadvantages to trying to buy a new home during the holiday. There's a shortage of inventory—the best homes in your price range may not be available because the seller may choose to wait until Spring. The market is slower because many agents schedule vacations at this time of the year. A blanket of snow can hide defects in the home's exterior and the landscape as well.

If you’re considering buying a new home, this time of year could prove to be advantageous. It could be the best time of year to buy. Talk to your REALTOR® to discuss your options.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

How to get a better rate on your mortgage

When you buy a new home, you can reasonably expect that the cost of borrowing will add up to a great deal of money. Anything you can do to shave even tenths of a percent off the percentage rate can potentially save you thousands of dollars over the 30 years you'll carry the mortgage.

There are a number of things you can do to help yourself get a better rate on your mortgage:

Check your credit score

To get an idea of what your credit score is, you can check with free services or at MyFICO.com, which costs around $20. Looking at these reports can give you a general idea of what your score is and how to improve it. If you pull your own scores, make sure to compare them to what your lender is seeing.

Fix any errors on your credit report

Look through your credit report from each company for errors and negative items. Try to fix any errors that you find as quickly as possible. Each reporting agency will have details about disputing information. If the issue is not resolved after filing a complaint, contact the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Pay your bills on time

From time to time, it's easy to put off paying a bill on its due date. It really seems insignificant, especially if you're having trouble making ends meet. Just one late payment, though, can cause your credit score to drop.

Reduce the amount of debt you owe

One of the criteria your mortgage lender looks at is your debt-to-income ratio, which is simply how much debt you are carrying compared with your monthly income. This number affects whether you qualify for a loan and what your interest rate will be.

Keep your old accounts open

Part of your credit score is based on the length of your credit history. It will not hurt to keep an old account open until your mortgage is secured. It may even be beneficial to keep your oldest account open even if your annual fee is due.

Don't apply for any new credit

When you decide that you're going to apply for a mortgage, don't apply for new credit of any kind. Not only can it mess with your debt to income ratios, if you have few accounts or a short credit history, inquiries can have a greater impact on your credit score.

Make sure to discuss your credit scores – and how they affect your mortgage rates – with your lender. They may be able to make other suggestions about how to improve your credit score so that you may qualify for a lower rate, which could save you a lot of money in the long run.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Selling a home during the holidays

The holidays are in full swing. People are busy planning parties, shopping, trying to reach goals for the year, making travel plans. Probably not the best time to sell your home, right?

Not necessarily.

This could be an opportune time to sell your home. Of course, there are some cons to trying to sell at this time of year, but selling now offers you some distinct advantages over waiting until after the first of the year.

  1. People looking for a home over the holidays are more likely going to be serious buyers.

  2. A lot of sellers take their homes off the market, which means serious buyers have fewer homes to choose from

  3. Less competition right now means more money for you.

  4. The number of homes on the market will drastically increase after the first of the year. Less demand means less money.

  5. Houses show better when they’re decorated over the holidays.

  6. Buyers are more emotional during the holidays and tend to spend more money, which means you can get closer to your asking price.

  7. Because they are likely to be on vacation, buyers have more time to look at new homes over the holidays and are more likely to come on weekdays.

  8. The tax break they receive is a motivating factor for many buyers.

  9. Companies traditionally use January to relocate employees who can't wait until there are more homes available in the spring.

It should be noted that there are some drawbacks to selling your home during the holidays. You may prefer not to schedule showings and closings at this time. You may not want to move during this time – not only are schedules hectic, the weather is not always cooperative. Speaking of the weather, if you live in a colder climate, snow and ice cuts down on foot traffic.

If you’re considering selling your home, it could be the best time of year to sell. Talk to your REALTOR® to discuss your options.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Why flood insurance rates are rising

As a homeowner, you may have noticed two developments concerning flood insurance recently:

  1. You now have to buy flood insurance

  2. It's really expensive

This is not due to your insurance company raising rates because they are paying for damages caused by Hurricane Katrina, Superstorm Sandy, or Midwest flooding in 2012. It is due to the Biggert-Waters Insurance Reform Act of 2012. The Act made sweeping changes to the National Flood Insurance Program and they just kicked in last month. At the point that Congress passed the new law, NFIP was $18 billion in debt.

How does it affect homeowners?

Biggert-Waters phases out flood insurance subsidies on hundreds of thousands of older homes. This means that premiums will necessarily skyrocket. Homes sold after Biggert-Waters passed in July, 2012, or those whose policies lapse, will see their premiums immediately go up to the non-subsidized actuarial rate.

Part of the Act raised what's known as the base flood elevation (BFE) for certain areas, which means that some homeowners who never had to carry flood insurance now have to. If your home is now in a high risk zone, you may have to raise your home by putting it on pylons, which could cost tens of thousands of dollars, but will not significantly increase the value of the home.

Homeowners who have properties in the new FEMA flood zones could experience flood insurance premium increases of 500-1000%. Mortgage payments in effect double when seeing that kind of increase. This means that property values go down. Owning a home along the nation's coasts and river valleys becomes less attractive. Building a new home in these areas becomes almost impossible.

Reaction to Biggert-Waters is gaining momentum as homeowners realize exactly how it affects their homes’ value and premiums. If you find that your premiums have risen, talk to your insurance representative.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Moving truck driving tips

Many people choose to rent a moving truck rather than hiring professional movers in order to save money when they move. Make sure to review all safety information with the rental business before driving the truck.

Here are some guidelines for safe truck driving.

Drive defensively

Practice these basic driving habits so others know your intentions and to help prevent accidents.

  • Check the mirrors for other vehicles frequently.

  • Never tailgate. Trucks require more time and room to stop.

  • Never use the passing lane on the interstate.

  • Allow more room and more time for lane changes.

  • Watch sharp turns. Trucks are longer and wider than cars, so they need more turning area.

  • Always use your turn signal to let other drivers know your intentions.

  • And, of course, always wear a seatbelt!

Vehicle safety

  • Make sure to familiarize yourself with the truck before hitting the road.

  • Never drive if you are over-tired.

  • Avoid medication and never drive under the influence of alcohol.

  • Bring a friend or family member to help with the driving.

  • Stop every two hours or so to prevent fatigue.

  • Stop regularly for coffee or soda and a snack, or just to stretch your legs.

Backing up

  • Avoid backing up if you can. If you must back up, have someone direct you from the side at the rear.

  • If you're towing anything, it's best to NEVER back up.

Save money on fuel

  • Obey the speed limits.

  • Gradually build to the desired speed.

  • On the highway, keep a consistent speed and don't attempt to pass.


  • Set the emergency brake every time you park.

  • Turn the wheels away from the curb with the truck faced uphill; toward the curb when facing downhill.

  • Look for "drive-through" parking spaces to avoid backing.

  • If you're stopping at a hotel, always park in well-lit areas. Lock all doors and padlock the safety chains if you're towing anything.

  • At road stops and restaurants, park where you can see the vehicle.


  • Allow at least five vehicle lengths between you and the vehicle ahead of you.

  • Brake earlier than you think you need to.

  • Ease off the accelerator when stopping to avoid shifting cargo.

Avoid height-related accidents

  • Know the height of the vehicle you're driving.

  • Be aware of low canopies, overpasses, bridges, tree branches, parking garages and signs prohibiting truck traffic.

  • Don't use the drive-through at a restaurant. Park the truck and walk in.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Does checking your credit hurt your score?

One of the myths surrounding personal credit scores is that checking your own credit reports and scores will make your score go down. That myth has been around for nearly as long as credit reporting agencies.

This myth hurts home buyers because it discourages them from checking their credit report in order to know what’s in it. If your report has erroneous information, at worst it could result in you being turned down for a loan. At best, it could cost you thousands of dollars by paying a higher interest rate than you should.

The simple fact is that checking your own scores does not affect them in any way. It’s what’s known in the industry as a “soft” inquiry. When you make the request, it will show up in your report, but it does not affect your score.

A “hard” inquiry from any potential creditor can adversely affect your credit score because it represents potential new debt that doesn’t yet appear in your credit report as an account. One piece of advice: If you have a friend who works at a bank or car dealership, don’t have them pull a credit report just so you can see it. If you don’t have a long credit history, this hard inquiry could affect your score enough to cause a problem.

Requesting a copy of your own credit report will not affect your credit scores. An inquiry will be added to your report as a record that you requested it. This type of inquiry is sometimes called a “soft” inquiry because it is shown only to you. Therefore, you can check your own credit report as often as you like with no effect on your credit scores.

You can request your own scores from any number of sites for a minimal cost. Ask your REALTOR® to recommend where you should make a request.