The shelter-in-place orders have most Americans working from home. This huge shift in where we spend our time has changed the way certain specialty rooms are viewed. The National Association of Home Buyer’s (NAHB) data that was just collected shows that specialty rooms such as home offices and exercise rooms are on the must list for current home buyers.

The certain preference study data comes from the NAHB’s What Home Buyers Really Want. The survey asks recent and current home buyers what features they want in a home and a community. The most recent study was conducted in 2018 but the NAHB believes this trend will only grow with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Houzz.com recently conducted a survey that concluded that 55% of homeowners and practitioners have a home office, 25% work from their kitchen or dining room table, and 11% work from their sofa. The study also looked at the challenges the country is currently facing working from home. Thirty-percent find it hard to find a quiet location away from high-traffic living areas while 25% have trouble with getting a strong Wi-Fi connection as well as creating a comfortable workspace.

Working from home has become the norm and here are a few quick tips to enhance the space from NAR’s Realtor Magazine. Pick the right location such as a spare bedroom, dining room, den, or any quieter space you can find. Always make sure your lighting is perfect in the space to avoid eye strain. Last, make it ergonomic by arranging your chair, desk, computer, keyboard, mouse, and phone in a safe and efficient way. Make sure you are comfortable, this will allow for a more productive work from home day.

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Veterans are a big part of our community in the United States. The country honors these men and women who have served in the United States Armed Forces in many ways. One example is through VA Loans for veterans who would like to purchase a home. A VA Loan is provided by private lenders and is partially guaranteed by the Department of Veterans Affairs.

VA Loans are a great way for military borrowers to obtain a mortgage. They have been helping military families purchase a home since 1944. If you are interested in purchasing a home through a VA Loan here is what you need to know.

According to veteransunited.com, “A VA loan is a $0-down mortgage option issued by private lenders and partially backed, or guaranteed, by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Eligible borrowers can use a VA loan to purchase a property as their primary residence or refinance an existing mortgage.”

Unlike conventional mortgages, VA Loans are partially backed by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Lenders who originate the loans have more confidence with this guarantee from the VA and are able to offer $0 down financing and many great rates and terms.

There are many ins and outs of a VA Loan. A borrower can use full VA entitlement as many times as they would like to if the loan is paid off each time. You can have more than one VA loan at a time and even obtain another VA loan if you lost one to foreclosure.

VA Loans are mainly used for properties that are “move-in ready” and are not usually used for a fixer-upper or a property such as a working farm. They can only be used for a primary residence and not for investment properties or vacation homes.

Even though a VA Loan does not require mortgage insurance, you will be required to pay a mandatory fee. The VA Funding Fee enables the VA to keep VA Loans available and can be paid all at once or rolled into the loan amount. The VA loan entitlement will not let you get a loan with just any co-borrower. You can find some lenders who lend a joint loan. One of the great benefits of a VA loan is there is no prepayment penalty. Making an extra payment or adding money on top of your monthly payment is not penalized like with some conventional mortgages.

If you are a military veteran and would like to obtain a VA loan, here are the steps to the process. Before you can be approved for VA loan entitlement, you must be prequalified for a loan. A lender will be able to prequalify you for what you can afford based on income, credit, entitlement and any other financial factors they require. Once a lender prequalifies you, then you must be preapproved. This is the step in the process where a lender will verify income and your financial information. Once preapproved, the lender will give you a preapproval letter. When searching for a home and placing an offer, you must make sure that the home is VA loan approved.

Once you place your property under contract you will begin the VA appraisal. The VA appraisal is a requirement to make sure the property under contract is of fair market value and meets the VA requirements. When the VA appraisal is cleared you will be able to close on your new home.  Remember when purchasing a home, VA loans represent the most powerful lending program on the market for military borrowers.

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When buying a home there are many steps to the process. Once you have made an offer, you need to make sure you have money for a down payment, but that is not all the money you will need to bring to the table. Many homebuyers do not take into account closing costs. This can come as an unpleasant surprise, but if you understand closing costs and have saved for them, the home-buying process will run much smoother.

First, you will need to understand what closing costs actually are. This is important to the buyer because most of the closing costs are the buyer’s responsibility. Closing costs consist of the many fees for the services and expenses it takes to finalize a mortgage. Typically they are broken down into property-related fees, loan-related fees, mortgage insurance fees, property tax and homeowners insurance and title fees.

More importantly, is how much are closing costs? The amount usually runs between 2% and 5% of your loan amount. So if you have a $300,000 home purchase, your closing costs would run between $6,000 to $15,000. The best way to pay for them is out of pocket all at once. Some lenders do allow you to finance them by merging them into the loan, but you will end up paying more because of interest over the life of the mortgage. Some states, counties and cities offer low-interest rate loan programs and grants for first time home buyer’s closing costs.

Next, let’s look at the property-related fees that are included in the closing costs. These include the appraisal fee and the home inspection fee. When purchasing a home you will need to know how much the property is worth and what shape the property is in. A certified professional appraiser will be sent to the home to evaluate the home’s worth. This is very important when obtaining a mortgage. The lender needs to know if the property is worth the amount that you want to borrow. A lender wants to make sure they can recoup the value of the home if you default on your loan. Typically the appraisal fee will run between $300 to $400. A home inspection is required when getting a mortgage. A lender wants to make sure the home is structurally sound and in good enough shape to live in. A home inspection fee usually runs between $300 to $500.

Other fees included are loan-related fees. First, there is the application fee which covers the costs of processing your application. These costs usually include credit checks and administrative expenses. Assumption fees can also be included when there is an assumable mortgage that you are taking over from the seller. Many states will require the use of an attorney at the closing. This will add attorney fees which will vary depending on the amount of work the attorney does for you. Pre-paid interest fees are also included. Lenders typically require you to pay the interest that accrues on the mortgage between the date of settlement and the first monthly payment due date. The biggest chunk of loan-related fees goes to the loan origination fee a.k.a the underwriting fee, administrative fee, or processing fee. This fee is the cost for the evaluating and preparing of your mortgage loan. This cost is about 0.5% of the loan amount. Just like a realtor, if you work with a mortgage broker, there will be a fee. A broker commission will usually be about 0.5% to 2.75% off the home’s purchase price.

Mortgage insurance fees are also included. These include mortgage insurance application fees, upfront mortgage insurance and FHA, VA and USDA fees. Mortgage insurance application fees are included if you make a downpayment of less than 20% of your mortgage. Upfront mortgage fees are there because many lenders require first-time borrowers to pay the first year mortgage insurance premium upfront. FHA, VA, and USDA fees will be tacked on if the Federal Housing Administration insures you, Department of Veterans Affairs, or the U.S. Department of Agriculture. For an FHA you will pay 1.75% of the loan amount, for the VA loan you will pay between 1.25% to 3.3% and the USDA will cost 1%.

Property taxes, annual fees and insurance will also need to be considered. Property taxes will cost about two months’ worth of city and county property taxes at closing. The homeowners association fees will also be required upfront as well as the homeowner’s insurance premium.

When purchasing a home one of the most important documents handled is the title. Title fees include the search fee (to make sure the title is clean and the seller really owns the property), the lender’s title insurance (this protects the lender in case there is an error in the title search) and owner’s title insurance (this protects the buyer if the title comes up with any problems).

So there will be no surprises before you go to closing, mortgage documents will be given to you prior to closing. The loan estimate and the closing disclosure are the two most important. The loan estimate details all the fees, interest rate and other closing costs for your loan and the closing disclosure confirms what was written in the loan estimate. These documents need to be read carefully before you go to closing.

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The country might be on hold with the pandemic but life and life events still must go on. We will always have a need to buy and sell our homes. Even in these times, there are many major life changes that still occur that lead to the need to sell your home. Both buyers and sellers find themselves in these situations so it is not a lost hope to sell your home during the pandemic.

Technology is on your side. The stay-at-home guidelines are giving a lot of potential buyers tons of time to browse the internet. This makes a great gateway for real estate listings. Through Social Media, online marketing tools and virtual walkthroughs, your home for sale will be at the buyer’s fingertips through the internet. Realtors have conveyed that buyers are actively looking online and reaching out to them. Buyers are still making offers and homes are still being sold via paperless technology.

There might be a slow down in foot traffic but buyers are still out there. According to the NAR Flash Survey: Economic Pulse, Realtors have reported that they have not seen a dip or an increase in buyer activity. To a seller that means they have the opportunity to catch those buyer’s interests. It just takes one potential buyer to make an offer on your listing.

The NAR Flash Survey: Economic Pulse also showed that 56% of NAR members said that their sellers are removing their listings from the market. This number sounds scary to some but is great news for a potential seller during this time. The less competition in the market, the better your chances. The fewer listings Realtors have to search the more potential your listing will end up at the top of the buyer’s search list.

Using a professional to list your home is important in any housing market. Realtors adapt to the market and are always ready to list your home. During these untraditional circumstances, Realtors are using technology for both buyers and sellers. Real Estate professionals’ top priority is to keep everyone safe while keeping their real estate needs on track.

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There are many factors that influence mortgage rates such as inflation, economic growth and most importantly the Federal Reserve. When determining mortgage rates, the Federal Reserve’s monetary policy is taken into consideration.

The Federal Reserve’s monetary policy is set by the Federal Open Market Committee. The Federal Reserve itself is the central banking system of the United States of America. The goal of the Fed is to boost job growth while controlling the amount of inflation. The Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) has a certain way of maintaining its goal through monetary policy. This is done through the federal fund rates. The federal fund rates are “interest rate that banks charge one another for short-term loans.” These federal fund rates help shape mortgage rates along with other long-term loans.

Neither the mortgage rates or the fed rates follow each other necessarily. Most of the time, the federal funds rate and mortgage rates tend to go the same direction. There are times in history when the Fed has  lead the market and other times the mortgage market has lead.

The FOMC meets eight times a year to work on any necessary changes that might need to be made to the monetary policy. If they make a change, FOMC will let investors know the result of their decision before making the change. This way there will be a consensus derived from the investor’s opinion on the FOMC’s decision. The consensus, for the most part, agrees with the Fed’s decision whether to cut rates, raise them or keep them the same.

Currently, the federal funds rate has been reduced to a range of 0% to 0.25% as of March 15, 2020. The central bank plans to keep the federal funds rate close to zero for the time being. They also will conduct a round of quantitative easing which is a form of economic stimulus the central bank has used in the past.

The quantitative easing planned is for the Feds to purchase around $500 billion of Treasurys and approximately $200 billion of mortgage-backed securities. The Fed hopes this will “add cash to the mortgage banking system to reassure lenders that it’s safe to lend because the Fed is willing to buy the resulting mortgage-backed securities.”

Federal funds rate will not only influence the mortgage rates in the housing market but will also influence the home equity lines of credit (HELOC). The HELOc rates are usually adjustable rates and are based off the Wall Street Journal’s prime rate. In a nutshell, when the Fed cuts the federal funds rate, the interest rate on HELOcs will also go down.

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Single-family starts grew in numbers this February according to estimates from the Housing and Urban Development and Commerce Departments. The great start stems from builder confidence and low mortgage rates.

The Federal Reserve rolled out an emergency rate cut making rates hit a historic low. Currently, the benchmark interest rate range is 1% to 1.25%. Freddi Mac reports an average 3.45% for a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage and 2.95% average for a 15-year fixed-rate mortgage. What does this mean for the housing market? Potential buyers who are just on the verge of purchasing a new home will now have a great incentive to jump on the opportunity.

The Single-Family Housing Starts and Builder Confidence is shown in a graph depicting the 3-month moving average. According to the graph, the 3-month average for single-family construction is higher than post-recession high. The single-family starts showed an increase of 6.7% making it a 1,072,000 seasonally adjusted annual pace in February.

Builder confidence is going strong with construction at a fast pace due to warmer weather. There were 539,000 single-family homes under construction reported in the month of February 2020. The numbers look as though they do not reflect a rise, however, they are making up for the declines seen in early 2019. Other sectors are also seeing an increase. Currently, there are 683,000 apartments under construction which is 12% up from this time last year. This also marks a post-Great Recession high for apartment construction.

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Mortgage rates have been at record lows for a while now, but with a new emergency rate cut from Federal Reserve rates are at historic lows. Now is the time to refinance or buy a home with the half percentage point cut by the Fed this week which puts the benchmark interest rate range at 1% to 1.25%.

“It’s definitely a good time for someone looking to buy a home to get financing,” said Mark Hamrick, senior economic analyst for Bankrate.

Hamrick believes that rates will still go lower. According to Freddi Mac, last weeks are at an average 3.45% for a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage and 2.95% for a 15-year fixed-rate mortgage.

“If you’re trying to look for the silver lining in the midst of the current climate,” said Hamrick, “the mortgage interest rate is close to the top of the list.”

The spring market is looking up with the help of the rate cuts. Those that are on the cusp of purchasing a new home might move a step quicker with the favorable rates. The entire real estate sector, not just individual buyers will benefit.

“Hesitant home buyers will be enticed to take advantage of low-interest rates,” said Lawrence Yun, chief economist at the National Association of Realtors, in a statement.

As mentioned earlier, rates will drop even more but should home-buyers wait for lower rates? Those that are in the market to refinance or secure a new mortgage need to weigh the benefits. According to Mike Hennessy, a certified financial planner with Harbor Crest Wealth Advisors in Fort Lauderdale, “if you can meaningfully save on your interest costs, build equity quicker, or extract equity at a reasonable cost to fund a renovation project, then take the bird in hand today.”

Run the numbers to see if it would be beneficial to refinance. Comparing your current rate with the rate that is being offered on a mortgage refinance will help answer your question.

“If the new rate is 75 basis points (0.75%) lower than the current rate, that it’s generally going to be worth it to refinance after the costs of the refi,” said Cynthia Meyer, a certified financial planner with Real Life Planning in New Jersey.

“If you’re planning to stay in your home, run the numbers to see if it makes sense to refi from a 30- to a 15-year mortgage as well,” she said. “You may be able to pay around the same amount every month and get your house paid off a lot sooner, with lower total interest costs.”

Even with the historic low rates, always shop around. Lenders offer competitive rates and some will include closing cost.

“You shouldn’t assume you’re going to get a good deal from a big bank just because you have your checking and saving account with them,” Danielle Seurkamp, a certified financial planner with Well Spent Wealth Planning in Cincinnati, Ohio said. “Often the smaller, community banks offer the best deals.”

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Just like any other consumer product the more something is in demand the better the market for it. The housing industry is no exception to the rule. Everyone needs a place to live so this, in turn, affects every aspect of the housing market from real estate to lending to title. The data collected regarding if and when people are moving can interpret if the housing market is thriving.

There are a variety of sources and people interpreting the data collected. This can hinder a potential home buyer’s research when it comes to the housing market. There are many “spin doctors” who want to influence the public and might be steering them in the wrong direction. When it comes to research, there are many ways to discern what is fact and what is fiction.

Go to the facts, remember for the most part numbers don’t lie. The Census Bureau is a great neutral source. The Census Bureau is supervised by the Economics and Statistics Administration within the Department of Commerce.

The history behind the Census Bureau is interesting within itself. Founded in 1790 when Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson appointed U.S. marshalls throughout the country to collect data on the 3.9 million residents. For the next 150 years, the six question census added many categories that included manufacturing, agricultural, mining, fisheries, native language and others. In 1940, data on housing was added (other than the names of those living in households) and the real estate industry began using the data to predict the health of the housing market.

The homeownership rate is an important statistic to focus on as a baseline to research. An interesting fact according to the census, is that the homeownership rate has held steadily for approximately 60 years. According to housingwire.com, the ” rate is calculated on the proportion of households that are owner-occupied and has continuously held strong in the 60-70% range throughout the years.” Throughout the years the highest at 70% was in 2005 and the lowest at 62% was during the recession.

Statistics in migration patterns show that 43% of people move due to housing-related issues, 27% move because of family-related issues, 18.5% move because of employment issues and 10.6% move for other various reasons. The Southern Region of the country has seen the largest migration pattern.

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Low Mortgage interest rates have supported a surge in custom home building in the fourth quarter of 2019. The NAHB’s analysis of Census Data from the Quarterly Starts and Completions by Purpose and Design survey revealed that custom home building increased at the end of 2019.

The US Census Bureau’s Survey of Construction (SOC) is a survey conducted by the US Census Bureau and partially funded by HUD (Department of Housing and Urban Development). The SOC reports up to date national and regional data on housing starts, completions and characteristics of all residential housing. The data which is collected includes the start date, completion date, sales date, sales price (single-family houses only), and physical characteristics of each housing unit, such as square footage and number of bedrooms. The Quarterly Starts and Completions by Purpose and Design is based on the Building Permits Survey and from the Survey of Construction (SOC).

The National Association of Home Builder’s analysis shows 44,000 total custom building starts during the fourth quarter of 2019. This is a 16% gain over the same quarter in 2018 which totaled to 38,000 total custom building starts. Data shows a solid gain occurred during the last four quarters with custom housing starts totaling to 177,000.

The custom home building market will continue to expand with demand from both owner and contractor built homes. The low mortgage interest rates will protect the custom home building market thus maintaining the positive custom home building outlook.

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A new year has brought good news for the housing industry. The first week reported that the average U.S. fixed rate for a 30-year fixed mortgage averaged at a low 3.72%. The findings were 80 basis points below data reported a week earlier.

George Ratiu, Realtor.com’s chief economist said, “The conventional 30-year loan slid 2 basis points to 3.72% in the first week of 2020. Rates remain about 80 basis points lower than the first week of 2019.”

Ratiu predicts that employment and wage gains will fuel the housing industry. The economy will maintain a moderate growth trajectory this year.

The 15-year FRM also was at a low 3.16% which was down from this time last year’s reportings of 3.99%. The average rate dropped in just one week from 3.19% to 3.16%. The 5-year Treasury-indexed hybrid adjustable-rate mortgage also averaged 3.46% which was lower than the 3.98% reported this time last year.

“As mortgage rates remain favorable, buyers are likely to get a head start on the spring shopping season in the first couple of months of this year,” Ratiu said. “A stronger infusion of new homes in affordable price ranges would be a welcome gift for the New Year.”

Sam Khater, Freddie Mac’s chief economist, believes the rates have maintained around 3.7% for the last couple of months because of ” the combination of improved economic data and market sentiment has led to stability in mortgage rates.”

“The low mortgage rate environment combined with the red-hot labor market is setting the stage for a continued rise in home sales and home prices,” said Sam Khater.

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