Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The small things a great buy can hide behind! (Nothing that the price can't fix!)

Don't let the cosmetics stop you from making a really great decision. 

    We are in a unique market here in North Oakland County, MI right now. Inventory is at historic low levels. By historic I mean 10+ year lows for number of homes for sale. Some statistics show the levels are the lowest in 40 years when adjusted for population growth. Enough of the boring stats, what does this mean to you as a home buyer? In a word - F-R-U-S-T-R-A-T-I-O-N! Running all over town at a moments notice, kids in tow, scrambling to write late night offers in a fit of caffeine-induced delirium. Trying to make sense of highest-and-best, 2nd best calls, final offers, dutch-auctions, "BATVAI disclosure-exempt" and a property may have multiple offers. Agonizing minutes, hours and days of waiting - only to find out someone else wrote an over-asking price offer, gave 79 days occupancy, guaranteed 20,000 dollars over appraisal, offered to pay the sellers moving cost and co-signed on their eldest child's college loans. Enough already!! Before you throw in towel and convince yourself that with the right lighting you really can turn the pantry into a 4th bedroom, lets take a deep breath, relax and take a fresh look at what is really happening in the 2014 market. 

    "Updated, Open-Concept, Maple cabinets, Granite counters"

    If I were to ask buyers what they were looking for in a new home, I would guess about 85% of the time the words "Updated, Open, Maple, Granite" would be the first words I got in response. I can't blame anyone - after all those are all very nice things. Updated brings to mind other words like "new" and "fresh". Open is "big" and "expansive-feeling" while having good "flow" and positive "Feng shui". Maple and Granite just speak for themselves - rich, luxury, custom. If you add all that up, buyers are looking for a new, fresh, big, expansive-feeling, flowing, luxury, custom home with positive Feng Shui. Who wouldn't want that? Consider the alternative: old, stale, small, cramped, restrictive-feeling, economy, production-style house with bad Feng Shui (I am not sure what make certain Feng Shui bad, but it apparently the bad kind causes Geopathic Stress - and that sounds even worse). 

    Conversely, when the same clients are asked what they didn't like about a home they will reply with: it felt dated, the floor plan was to closed-off, they weren't happy with the laminate counters or the old oak cabinets. As a casual observer (read: non-casual, active participant), I see a trend here (for which I place the blame squarely at the doorstep of HGTV). Home-buyer expectations have been altered. There is a growing expectation that buying home should be like buying a car - decide what options you want to have and then go find that model. When they don't have that model locally, have the dealer order one in from across town - or across the state - or from Ohio - or Texas - or have the factory build it. Seems logical (it cost's a few extra hundred for delivery sometimes, but why not, right?) A problem arises though when you apply this model to housing. As the old saying goes, in real estate 'location' is everything. You can't just have a house shipped in from somewhere else after all, right? Well, actually you can - I have done it, and if you want to do it I can help you through the process. No, not a 'house' that had factory-installed axles either - I mean like this:

    So what to do? Wait? Pray? New house dance? Hang out at home depot and wait for Renovation Raiders to show up? Keep refreshing your browser to try and catch that perfect house before someone else? Watch your real-estate app on your phone, ready to jump at a moments notice, hoping to beat everyone else to the newest and bestest listing, only to find out the sellers are going to wait 96 hours before considering any listings? I think there is a better and far under-utilized option in this market. Rehabilitation!

    As a Realtor, I see a unique opportunity for the shrewd client to get a better price with less competition. As a Realtor, I also have a unique opportunity to serve my clients needs beyond just advising them on purchase costs, inspections, title-work, and closing gift. 

    The straight forward model of buying a home goes through a predictable process: Look, Offer, Negotiate, Inspect, Appraise, Close. The model to buy and renovate a home also has a predictable process: Look, Offer, Negotiate, Inspect, Appraise, Close. Then Renovate. 

    Renovate? Doesn't that cost money? Won't it take time? Don't you need contractors for that? In a word - Yes (to all of the above). There is a old saying in the real estate business "There is nothing in a home that price can't fix". In other words, if you buy it right, then the money needed to renovate is built right into the purchase by paying less for the home. You can also put the rehab costs right into your mortgage at the time of purchase (there are several options for doing this now, including on standard conventional mortgages). 

    Yes, it will also take time. Have you heard the expression "Time=Money"? Well, in a low-inventory market (like the one we are in now) that is especially true. The money is being spent in the form of paying a premium price for preferred properties. The majority of buyers are fighting over the top two or three homes in each market segment. This leads to multiple bids, bidding wars, paying cash over appraisal value or even guaranteeing offers with no appraisal contingency. This is good for sellers, but not so good for buyers. 

     Yes, you will also need contractors for this. Contractors come in all shapes and sizes, just like Real Estate agents. Some specialize in certain areas, some are more generalized, some are good doing systematic work and some are just good at working the system. Working with a Realtor who wades into the rehab waters themselves and has a background in general contracting (::ahem::) certainly helps. 

    My job as your Realtor is not to follow the prescribed process and then bail if things get dicey. If you want someone who will just send you listings in email and wait for you either find something you like or just give up, you can get that from Realtor.com all on your own. However, if you are looking for an agent who is willing to help you explore alternatives, see solutions when others only see problems and get you from where you are to where you want to be, then try me. 

    If you have any additional suggestions or checks, leave me a comment below. You can always find me at my website JasonGault.com

Thursday, September 19, 2013

FHA "Back to Work" Program - Qualify now instead of 2 years from now!

FHA is making it easier to get back into Home-Ownership!!!

    Are you driving by real estate signs like this one, watching prices go up and thinking "only 2 more years and I can buy a home again?" Are you leasing a home because you were told you would have to wait at least 3 years before you could get a mortgage again? Do you have a friend, relative or co-worker who had circumstances beyond their control and wound up losing a home in foreclosure, bankruptcy or a short sale? Do you think it is about time someone figured out how to get people who got caught-up in that crazy out-of-control mortgage madness back into homes? If you answered "yes" to any of these questions, than you need to keep reading.

    FHA just announced the "Back to Work" program. With these new guidelines, borrowers who have had what FHA terms an 'Economic Event' in the past will now be able to qualify for a new mortgage 1 year out instead of the traditional 3 years. FHA recognizes that many good borrowers got put into bad situations and they have decided to try an help.

    The qualifications for this loan are the same as a traditional FHA loan with a few additional terms. The borrower has to be able to document the 'Economic Event'. An economic event is a change in either income or expenses that led to the loss of the original home. This could have been due to unemployment, divorce, change in family size, medical illness, mortgage payments adjusting or other reasons that made the original mortgage unsustainable. The outcome would have resulted in Foreclosure, Bankruptcy or a Short-Sale.  The event also must have occurred at least 12 months ago. The borrow also must have recovered from the event - that is to say their income and expense ratio must show that they can afford the new mortgage payments.

     Along with the above criteria, the borrow will also have to attend a HUD approved home ownership counseling class. The only catch hear is that out of 789 or so FHA approved lenders in the United States, only 60 or so will even be able to offer this program (and currently there are 2 or 3 in the entire country who have actually began to offer the program). The good news here though is that one of my loan partners can and is offering this program right now!

     So, to sum it up - if you have had a foreclosure, short-sale, deed-in-lieu, or bankruptcy over 12 months ago AND you want to become a home owner again right now then you need to call me - Jason Gault @ 248-236-5335

     If you have any additional suggestions or checks, leave me a comment below. You can always find me at my website JasonGault.com

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Annual Spring Home Maintenance Checks (more than just checking the smoke detectors)

March is upon us and that means spring is rapidly approaching. Cabin fever has certainly set in around my house, so we are all looking forward the seasons changing. If you enjoy spring like I do then your thoughts are already probably starting to drift to those upcoming outdoor projects you have been planning over the winter. In order to save any sudden surprises, I like to take a few hours and go over my “Spring Home Checklist” to make sure my home is fit and ready for summer enjoyment.

The change to daylight savings time is a pretty good way to judge when to start looking at these things. Some of them, like a full inspection of the Air Conditioning system, are not necessarily a good idea to do until after the weather gets a bit warmer than it is now, but there is plenty to do between now and then.

Here are a few highlights from my annual checks:

·         Uncover A/C unit and test operation (wait until temperature has been above 50 degrees for 24 hours). Check that fins are clean and clear of debris.
·         Make sure gutters are clean, free of leaks and downspouts /drain extensions keep water draining away from house.
·         Check roof for leaks, missing shingles, condition of chimney and leaking flashing around vent stacks.
·         Windows and Doors - Check screens for holes. Check flashing and caulking for leaks.
·         Ensure dryer vent opens and closes with dryer operation. Clear the opening of lint and build-up.
·         Inspect driveway and walkways for loose bricks/blocks or heaved concrete and other trip hazards.
·         Inspect children’s play equipment for damaged or unsafe fixtures and conditions.
·         Clean stove hood, vent fan and filter.
·         Check / test / replace batteries in smoke detectors and Carbon Monoxide alarms. Make sure both are clean and free of dust.
·         Windows and doors open and close easily. Clean / lubricate locks and latches as required.
·         Check / Replace the furnace filter. Set the humidifier control to it’s “Summer” setting.
·         Check water heater for rust, signs of leaking and proper operation.
·         Manually cycle (trip) circuit breakers in breaker panel, testing for proper operation and reset.
·         Test and reset all GFCI outlets (generally in kitchen, bathrooms and exterior outlets).
·         Review family fire escape plan.

This is certainly not a comprehensive list; you may have additional things like a swimming pool or a hot-water heating system that has unique maintenance requirements. The best way to be sure you don’t miss anything is to have a professional home inspector look your property over every 2-3 years. They are trained to spot issues and will view your home objectively. I always recommend a client has this done prior to a purchase, and it can be a big money saver of the course of living in the home. Most home repairs are much less expensive to fix early on.

I hope this helps keep your home safe, healthy and efficient. If you have any additional suggestions or checks, leave me a comment below. You can always find me at my website JasonGault.com

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Short Sales, Fraud, and the FBI

Short Sales and Fraud

    Yesterday was quite a news day in our local area for Real Estate and short sales. Unfortunately, the news was not necessarily great. A somewhat well known broker/lender/accountant was the target of a search warrant and raid by the FBI and HUD. The warrant was sealed, and at this point the allegations are only allegations, so that story will have to play itself out. Many of you will remember though that just recently, former Michigan Supreme Court Judge Diane Hathaway plead guilty to bank fraud and concealing assets in connection with a previous short sale.

    I did get some calls from past clients with questions about the breaking news. Some of them had gone through a short sale; some of them are right now in the midst of trying to undergo a workout with their lender. One thing they all had in common was an uneasy feeling. When stories such as these steal the headlines, they cast a long, grey shadow over the entire process. This shadow brings additional uncertainty to those homeowners already facing an uncertain future.

    I decided to write this today to hopefully restore a little certainty to both my clients and anyone else may have questions. As a licensed Real Estate Agent and a Realtor, I always strive to be part of the solution and not part of the problem.

    This is a quick and dirty guide to what a short sale is and what it is not. The Department of Housing and Urban Development uses the term ‘Pre-Foreclosure Sale’ (HUD – PFS Faq’s). A pre-foreclosure sale is a mechanism through which a lender will agree to allow a borrower to sell the home for less than the amount owed. The lender will participate in this process when the borrower demonstrates they have a qualified hardship. A ‘qualified hardship’ is generally defined as a hardship that will result in an eventual foreclosure and was not intentionally orchestrated by the borrower.

    A short sale is not a method for someone to buy a bigger and nicer home and then ‘dump’ their current home just because they want too – referred to as a “buy and bail” by Fannie Mae. A short sale is also not a process for someone to sell a home because it is not worth what it once was, unless they have a qualified hardship. A short sale is also not a method for someone to sell their house to a third-party and then buy it back or rent it cheaper than their current mortgage payment (unless this is disclosed in writing to the lender and the lender agrees in writing).

    During the course of a short sale, the seller will be asked to disclose a number of things. These will generally include: bank statements (all accounts that all mortgagees have an interest in or access too), pay stubs, w2’s, tax returns, IRS form 1056-T, a detailed list of monthly household expenses, a narrative explaining the hardship, and other information as requested by the lender. The seller will also be instructed to list the home for sale with a real estate broker who will provide listing documentation, assist the seller in communicating with the lender, and market the home according to highest and best practices, including listing the home at market value to attract a market value offer.

    Short sales can be a difficult process to maneuver; sometimes there are three or four stakeholders that all must agree on the terms before a final approval can be issued. The negotiation process is not overly complicated, but it is tedious and protracted. There are no shortcuts, magic bullets or ‘secret’ telephone numbers. The keys to short sale success are patience, persistence and perseverance.

    The short sale process does have a negative effect on the seller’s credit. This is the result of the missed or late payments that led up to the short sale and the manner in which the short sale is reported to the credit rating agencies. These factors can result in a reduction in not only in a FICO score reduction, but limit the seller’s ability to secure other loans, have an effect on security clearance ratings, cause an increase in insurance premiums and have other collateral effects. A short sale has less impact overall than a foreclosure, but the seller does not walk away unscathed.

    The important points to remember from this brief update are:
"Trust Me"
  1. 1.      Short sales are a voluntary resolution agreed to by the seller and their lender based on the mitigating circumstances.
  2. 2.      A qualified hardship is a necessary component of a short sale.
  3. 3.      You will be signing disclosures and affidavits stating that all representations made are true and accurate and the sale is an Arms-Length transaction.
  4. 4.      Any professional (be they a Realtor, accountant, lawyer, title company, or otherwise) who advertises an easier, softer, quicker or cheaper process without disclosing all the options and ramifications upfront is obscuring the truth by omitting facts. 
  5. 5. You should always consult an independent attorney and CPA for legal and tax related questions when undergoing a short sale.

    For more information on Short Sale acceptable practices and fraud, be sure and check out these short sale related web pages from Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, HUD and FHA.

    For any additional questions, you can find my website "here"

Friday, February 22, 2013

ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE WARNING!!! (The foreclosure zombies are coming)

Zombie (foreclosure) Apocalypse is happening!!!

Do not panic! Panic is the enemy of surviving a zombie attack! Please remain calm and continuing reading for (financial) life saving information.

No, despite the EAS warning broadcast recently by KRT-TV in Great Falls, MN, there are no hoards of zombies coming down Main St. You are in no danger of being eaten on your way to work this morning. That undulating mass swelling outside the local electronics mega-store banging on the doors and licking the glass is not the un-dead searching for brains (although, they maybe should be? That is another blog topic all together); they are just waiting for the new iRazor Phone or the X-station 7 or that 187” TV.

     So what exactly am I talking about? Zombie Foreclosures! Yes, you read that right, Zombie Foreclosures. If you do not know what that means, or you or someone you know experienced a foreclosure, or is in the process of a foreclosure, you need to keep reading.

     A zombie foreclosure can occur when a lender starts the foreclosure process (generally by sending a demand letter) and then just…..stops. How many of you have that ‘home’ in your neighborhood? You know the one, it has been vacant for 3 years, yet no foreclosure information can be found. There are a few weathered and sun-bleached papers taped to the front door. The storm door lazily droops off the bottom hinge, giving a mournful groan with every passing breeze. The overgrown landscaping has begun to march up the front steps and is poised to reclaim the front porch. If you suddenly found yourself in the midst of a black and white horror movie, this looks like the place where the zombies live. The truth is they just might.

     You ask your local Realtor about it and they say the deed is still in the name of the last (and still current owner). No evidence of a foreclosure can be found. Realty-Trac reports pre-foreclosure activity, but that information is over 36 months old. It’s a zombie! It can come back from the (foreclosure) dead.

     So, what exactly does that mean? For the owner, it unfortunately means that they could be (and most likely are) responsible for the last 3 years of property taxes, Home Owner Association Dues, blight fines, ordinance violations and any other fees, taxes or assessments levied on the property. It means they still own a property that has no upkeep and is in a horrible state of repair. It means the township may soon condemn the property – and guess who gets the bill for the tear-down and cleanup? You guessed it – the property owner. It also means that the foreclosure they thought happened 3 years ago hasn't happened. Their thoughts of maybe qualifying to buy another home after the 3 year foreclosure rule no longer apply. It can also mean that when they make an attempt to solve this problem, it will re-awaken the bad debt account on their credit and decimate what they have worked hard for three or four years to rebuild.

     For the lender, it means they started the foreclosure process but for one of several reasons it never followed through. They may have decided the collateral was not worth the cost of foreclosing. They may have gotten assumed by another, bigger lender who has not yet gotten to that file. They may have ‘reset’ the foreclosure because a workout plan was being negotiated and then never resumed the process. There is no requirement that a lender must foreclose on a property. There is also no legal requirement that a lender must pursue a foreclosure to completion once they start the process. Some lenders will mail a notice of dismissal when the stop the foreclosure process; many more lenders do not.

     For potential buyers this can mean they may wind up buying a foreclosed property that neither the lender nor the prior owner completely own. This can lead to having large amounts of money tied up into a property they can neither get clear title to nor sell.

     Moneynews.com reports that some 10 million homes have gone through the foreclosure process since 2006; as many as one-fifth (20%, or 2 million) of those foreclosures have not been completely resolved. A hoard of 2 million Zombie titles floating around is enough to put anyone in the market at risk of getting bitten. It also means that there could be as many as 2 million 'bitten' home owners who do not know they are infected.

     So what can you do? If you had a foreclosure, a quick check with a Real Estate agent (::ahem::) is a good place to start. They can pull a copy of the public record to determine if the Sherriff (foreclosure) Sale did in fact take place and to whom the title was transferred. This could also show if the title was re-conveyed back to the previous owner after the foreclosure auction (you can convey a Quit Claim Deed to someone without their knowledge simply by filing it with the county). Your Realtor (:::ahem:::) can also be a great referral source for a qualified Real Estate Attorney to review your foreclosure documents and advise you on how to proceed if there is a zombie lurking in your closet.

     Again, if you had a foreclosure, DO NOT PANIC – panic is your enemy when dealing with a zombie. Call a Realtor (:::ahem:::) let help you learn how to avoid the zombie apocalypse.

(Yes, KRT-TV did broadcast a Zombie warning – I hope it brings a little humor to your day - here it is)

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

FHA is getting more expensive, but this is a good thing.

Changes are coming to FHA in 2013

Just about everyone who has bought a home in the last five years is familiar with the term “FHA” loan. Since the mortgage crisis in 2007, FHA has become the low down payment loan of choice for many borrowers. In fact, prior to the downturn in 2007, FHA insured about 2% of all purchase money mortgages; that number had increased to over 33% of all mortgage nationally, and is currently floating  in that range. And by now you are probably thinking, so what, right? Things are about to change.

                Let’s talk for a minute about what FHA actually does and does not do. FHA does not loan money. When you get an FHA loan, you are basically getting a conventional loan with a lower down payment and some increased flexibility in the qualifying standards. This increases the risk for the lender. To offset this risk, FHA insures the lender against loss in the case of borrower default. The current top limit on this insurance is 96.5% of the loan value (and this is why FHA loans require a minimum of a 3.5% down payment). This can people who may have bruised credit or less money for a down payment get a home. Sounds like a pretty noble idea, right? It is, sort of…there are some costs though. Please keep reading.

                There are two main costs associated with an FHA mortgage. The upfront mortgage insurance premium (UFMIP) and annual mutual mortgage insurance (MMI) premiums. The UFMIP is paid as a fee at the time of closing and the MMI premium is added to the monthly payment. The standard used to be that the MMI would be dropped when the loan-to-value (LTV) reached 78%. Starting in April of 2013, on a 30 year FHA mortgage with an LTV of greater than 90% at the time of origination, the MMI premium will be payable for the life of the mortgage. This can add cost not only to the monthly payment, but the total paid over the life of the loan. For full details, see the HUD Mortgagee Letter 2013-4.

                There are many factors that determine the amount and term of the FHA costs assessed when closing the mortgage. The purpose of this blog was not to explain them all. A qualified loan officer is always going to be your best reference for that information. The point here is to illustrate that FHA is changing, and the cost is going up. This will begin to make conventional financing options more appealing to buyers.

For sellers this will be good news as the underwriting and appraisal standards for conventional loans are more conducive to closing the transaction. For buyers, this means that if they have not applied for a mortgage by April 2013, they will want to review conventional options with their mortgage professional. For Realtors this means we need to be aware of the changes to properly counsel our clients. For Americans this means that HUD is doing something to shore up the MMI fund before FHA needs to be rescued by another bailout, and that is good for everyone.

As always, please contact me with your Real Estate related questions at www.JasonGault.com. Happy Selling!

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Still not convinced the Market is turning around?

   (Author note: I love what I do for a living. I am passionate about Real Estate and my clients. I find myself talking about that subject a lot. The conversation that sparked today's post took place during the infamous 'blackout' of Superbowl 47.)

    So I was having a conversation the other day. A friend of mine asked how the Real Estate business was doing. In a word - it is doing great! I went on to explain that in most local markets (with pretty much all of North Oakland County and the surrounding areas being one of those 'local' markets) in Michigan, the tide has turned in Real Estate. The market went from being heavily in favor of buyers to a sellers market in the last 12-18 months. The response I received: "Well of course you are telling me that, you sell real estate."

   Okay, I confess, I do sell Real Estate. In fact in the last year I sold more of it than any year in the last five. Now, I would like to say that I am just that good, that I crafted gold out of lead and sold the unsellable. I would like to say that sellers are defenseless against my negotiating prowess and my marketing is so powerful that buyers enter a trance-like state, gobbling up homes like zombies on a quest for food. I would love to say those things (some agents actually do! - I am also glad they do and I explain why below.)

   Now, that isn't to say that I am not good at what I do. I am. Very good in fact. What I do is educate my clients on every aspect of their transaction and the local market. In order for me to do that, I have to do my homework. Yes, the dreaded "H" word! It is no more fun than it was in third grade, but it is just as important (I even have to occasionally ground myself because I waited until Sunday night to do that project due on Monday morning.) One of the places I do a bit of business in Brandon Twp, MI. I can tell you almost anything about that market, including average prices, demand trends, inventory levels, average on-market time, yearly transaction numbers and trends, and, well, just about anything else you would want to know. I know this information because I study the market.

   Here is a good snapshot of the current trends in the Brandon Twp real estate market. I know this information is accurate because I did my own homework. I researched the sales in the MLS and public records databases. I compared the numbers seasonally so the comparisons were apples to apples. I made the graphs using the data so I know not only what they mean, but where the information came from.
In thirty seconds my clients can absorb 4 years of data, thousands of transactions worth of information, so they know their decisions are based on solid numbers.

   Here is another snapshot of Inventory levels as a function of buyer demand. Knowing how many homes are for sale in your local area is of little value unless you understand how many buyers are looking in your area. It is also quite helpful to understand what they are buying and how much they are spending.

By Q4 2012, sales were out pacing new listings for the first time in 4 years. This indicates a Seller Market and means buyers will be competing for your home.

   Real Estate is not alchemy, nor is it rocket science. If someone is giving you promises that sound too good to be true - like mom told you - they probably are. If you have questions that can't get answered, but you get offered 'industry jargon' and a keychain and a coffee mug instead, think twice. I said earlier I like it when people make crazy promises and absurd claims. I like it because the 'Kryptonite' to those 'super-claims' is an educated client. My clients get educated.

   Buying and selling a home is an emotional experience, but the process and mechanics of the transaction are not. They are clearly defined, predictable based on past performance, and easily understood - IF - you do your homework. That is what I do. And I do it well. My clients deserve nothing less!

As always, please contact me with your Real Estate related questions at www.JasonGault.com. Happy Selling!