Understanding the Difference Between an Appraisal vs Neighborhood Listing Prices

Why is there such a difference between what my appraised value is and the price similar homes are selling for on my street?

It’s a great question, and you don’t have to be a mortgage professional or a real estate agent to understand the answer.

The distinction lies in the purpose of the two valuations and who is responsible for creating them.

Appraisals:

The purpose of an appraisal is to make sure that an independent non-interested third party verifies the “most likely” sale price based on the market value and condition of the home.

Appraisals are meant to be a realistic determination of the value of a home if it were to sell in the current market, in its current condition.

In addition, appraisers are governed by rules intended to standardize the subjective process of determining a home’s value.

Some of the key factors appraisers look at are: location, above ground size, room count, bathroom count, style of home, condition of property, amenities, and market conditions such as how long it takes for home to sell and if values are increasing, decreasing or steady.

Appraisers are also asked to look only at comparable sales within a certain distance, usually one mile except in rural areas, and within a specified period of time, which is 3 months in the current market.

Listing Prices:

Listing prices on the other hand are influenced by the real estate agent, and set by interested and often emotional sellers.

Sellers are not held by any rules when they list a home. In some cases, sellers take what they paid for the house, add what they have spent on improvements and even add amount for profit.

Often times, sellers will list their home based on the amount needed to pay for the real estate agent, closing costs and cover the amount of the mortgages.

Extra low prices are generally the result of an extra motivated seller that has to sell and move in a rush, so they’ll list their property below market comps in order to be the most competitive.

Throw in bank owned homes (foreclosed properties), and listing prices may be all over the place without a logical explanation due to an asset manager making decisions from another part of the country.

The Verdict:

While list price is never a good indication of what a home in your neighborhood is worth, appraisals are not an exact science that will determine the true value of your home either.

Some will argue that a home is worth what people will pay for it, so there’s obviously a little room for personal interpretation.  Either way, the bank securing that piece of real estate for a mortgage loan generally always has the final opinion that matters the most.

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March 28, 2010 by · Leave a Comment

Making Sure Your Cash-To-Close Comes From The Proper Source

Providing proper asset documentation and the actual source of the funds is a critical element of the loan closing process.

There’s nothing worse in a real estate purchase than making it all the way through the hoops and hurdles just to have a loan denied after the final documents have been signed due to the borrower using the wrong checking account for the down payment.

Seasoning of the down payment money is just as important as the source, which is why underwriters typically require at least two months bank / asset statements in the initial mortgage approval process.

A Few Acceptable Sources Of Down Payment Include:

  • Bank Accounts – checking / savings
  • Investment Accounts – money market, mutual funds
  • Retirement Funds – keep in mind that borrowing against a 401K plan will require a repayment, which will be calculated in the Debt-to-Income Ratio
  • Life Insurance – Cash value and face amount
  • Gifts – Family members can gift down payment funds with certain restrictions
  • Inheritance / Trust Funds
  • Government Grants – Many state, county and city agencies offer special down payment assistance programs

It is extremely important to make sure your loan officer is aware of the exact source of your down payment as early in the process as possible so that all necessary questions, documentation and explanations can be reviewed / approved by an underwriter.

A good rule-of-thumb to remember is that whatever funds you’re using as a down payment have to be pre-approved by an underwriter at the beginning of the mortgage approval process.

Basically, if you accidentally forget to deposit money in your checking account on the way to the closing appointment, it is not acceptable to get a cashier’s check from a friend’s account until you have a chance to pay them back later.

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Frequently Asked Questions:

Q:  What if I don’t have a bank account and cannot properly source my funds to close?

Cash on hand is an acceptable source of funds for some loan programs, but make sure you bring that detail up at the application stage

Q:  Can I use a bonus from my employer for my down payment?

Yes, but generally this needs to be a bonus you regularly receive

Q:  Can I borrow the money from a friend?

No, any money that needs to be repaid is typically an unacceptable source of funds

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Talk the Talk – Know the Mortgage Lingo at Closing

What the heck are they talking about?

Many borrowers go through the closing process in a haze, nodding, smiling, and signing through a bunch of noise that sounds like Greek.

Even though you may have put your trust in your real estate and mortgage team, it helps to understand some of the terminology so that you can pay attention to specific details that may impact the decisions you need to make.

Common Closing Terms / Processes:

1. Docs Sent

Buyers sit on pins and needles through the approval process, waiting to find out if they meet the lender’s qualification requirements (which include items such as total expense to income, maximum loan amounts, loan-to-value ratios, credit, etc).

The term “docs sent” generally means you made it!! The lender’s closing department has sent the approved loan paperwork to the closing agent, which is usually an attorney or title company.

Keep in mind that there may be some prior to funding conditions the underwriter will need to verify before the deal can be considered fully approved.

2. Docs Signed –

Just what it implies.  All documentation is signed, including the paperwork between the borrower and the lender which details the terms of the loan, and the contracts between the seller and buyer of the property.

This usually occurs at closing in the presence of the closing agent, bank representative, buyer and seller.

3. Funded –

Show me some money!

The actual funds are transferred from the lender to the closing agent, along with all applicable disclosures.

For a home purchase, if the closing occurs in the morning, the funds are generally sent the same day. If the closing occurs in the afternoon, the funds are usually transferred the next day.

The timing is different for refinancing transactions due to the right of rescission. This is the right (given automatically by law to the borrower) to back out of the transaction within three days of signing the loan documents. As a result, funds are not transferred until after the rescission period in a refinancing transaction, and are generally received on the fourth day after the paperwork is signed.

(Note – Saturdays are counted in the three day period, while Sundays are not). The right of rescission only applies to a property the borrower will live in, not investment properties.

4. Recorded –

Let’s make it official. The recording of the deed transfers title (legal ownership) of the property to the buyer. The title company or the attorney records the transaction in the county register where the property is located, usually immediately after closing.

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There you have it – an official translation of closing lingo.

As with any other important financial transaction, there are many steps, some of which are dictated by law, which must be followed.

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March 28, 2010 by · Leave a Comment

Five Myths About Home Values

During periods of economic growth, when home values are typically just going up, most homeowners do not question appraisals much.

And in times of turmoil when property values are declining, home sellers and even listing agents quite often question and pick apart appraisals.

However, the actual appraisal process changed very little over the course of the housing boom and bust cycle American homeowners witnessed between 2001 – 2009.

Since the topic of home values seems to be a hot discussion, let’s address the top five appraisal myths.

Appraisal Myths / Questions:

“I just put $15K into the property, why isn’t the appraised value higher? ”

Not all improvements to the property are equal in producing added value. A local real estate investment club used to tout buying a run-down, roach-infested property cheap, and after de-bugging and adding a fresh coat of paint and carpet – *presto* – the house would appraise like the new homes up the street.

Even with cosmetic repairs, the property may still be much more comparable to the foreclosure next door than the new home a block away. Look first to the “guts” of the property, the electrical, heating & air, etc. If they are updated, then the number of beds/baths and square footage are the next biggest weight, followed by a genuine updating of cosmetic improvements.

“But my home really compares to some of the properties in the neighborhood across the way…”

For example, if a homeowner preparing a house to sell adds $150,000 in upgrades to the kitchen, built-in cabinets and flooring, it may help the property show better in an open house and in magazine advertisements.

However, the seller might still be stuck with a $450,000 appraised value like the three comparable properties on their street vs the $750,000 they were hoping to list it for.

Even though the neighborhood across the main street had similar homes in the higher price range, especially after the seller’s extensive upgrades, appraisers will always use homes from the actual neighborhood to establish value first.

So basically, the seller simply over-improved their home for their specific neighborhood.

“This appraiser included foreclosures as comps – that’s not fair”

It isn’t fair, especially if your home is well-kept and in great condition compared to the run-down foreclosures in the neighborhood.

Unfortunately, if every recent sale, or nearly all sales, are foreclosures at reduced prices, then the appraiser is forced to use the recent sales and trends as comparable values.  High foreclosure rates generally depress values and show a trend of lowering prices. 

And abnormally high foreclosure rates generally depress values and show a trend of constantly lowering value.

“But I just put in a $50K pool, doesn’t that count for anything?”

Pools and professional landscaping rarely see a dollar for dollar value add on a property.  The value is going to mainly be based on comparable sales in a neighborhood.

“How can similar homes in the same neighborhood appraiser for such different values?”

This is a typical question for older neighborhoods where similar models may have drastic price differences.

Additional rooms and square footage can be the main reason for one property appraising higher than another.

Keep in mind, just because the market trend in a particular neighborhood is improving over time, the individual properties need to meet the same conditional improvements as the others in order rise with the tide.

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An appraiser is looking at several things when determining the value of a property: improvements, size and square footage of the living area, neighborhood amenities, location and the market trends around the area.

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How Do Mortgage Companies Value A Property That Has Not Been Built Yet?

It’s obviously easier to picture the process of estimating value on an existing property in a neighborhood that has a history of home sales, but the task of determining the value on new construction projects does pose some challenges.

Appraisals on homes that haven’t been built yet generally require the contractor and home buyer to supply more documentation in order to get a more accurate estimate of the property’s value.

The main purpose of this article is to give an overview of the appraisal process for a home buyer that is building a home vs purchasing standing inventory.

For some, building a new home can be both exciting and overwhelming.  Watching a project transform from idea to completed home with a front yard, white picket fence and a custom red front door is a rewarding experience.

Even if you are paying attention to all of the information from the beginning, there are still several details that have a tendency to catch even experienced builders off guard.

Game time decisions have to be made as cabinets and corners line up differently than the initial drawing could show, flooring doesn’t match the wall colors, or the sun hits a window the wrong way at dinner time.

While the last minute updates may cost you more money, they might also have an impact on the value of the property.

What Does An Appraiser Need For New Construction?

Plans –

The plans or construction drawings are usually done by your builder or architect. It lays out the floor plan of your home, sizes of rooms and square footage of your home.

They should include a floor plan layout, front elevation, real elevation & side elevations, mechanical and electrical details.

Specifications / Descriptions Of Material –

A “Spec” sheet has the type of construction materials you will be using. For example, whether your home will be built with standard 2 x 4’s or 2 x 6’s.

It also contains the type of insulation, roofing and exterior products that will be used in the construction, as well as floors, counter tops and appliances for the inside dressing.

Cost Breakdown –

The document that breaks down all of the costs associated with the construction, including land, building materials and labor.

A lender can generally provide you with blank forms for the spec and cost breakdown if your builder does not have them.

Plot Plan –

Shows where your home will sit on the site, any accessory buildings, well and septic locations, if applicable, and the finish grade elevations and direction of the drainage.

Once the lender has obtained the above information from you, they will forward a copy to the appraiser. It is the appraiser’s job to determine what the future value of the home will be once it is completed, per your plans, specs & cost breakdown.

Even though an appraiser will use the cost approach in the appraisal report, it is not the value that will ultimately be used by the lender.  The market approach to value, which uses existing sales of homes similar in size, quality, construction and location is the most common approach that lenders want for new construction.

The more complete and detailed your plans, specifications and cost breakdowns are, the more accurate your appraisal will be.

Once your home is complete, the appraiser will be asked to go out and inspect the home. They will report back to the lender what they have found, whether your home was completed according to the plans and specifications originally given, and if the value is the same as originally given in the report.

Sometimes the value has to be adjusted due to changes that were made during construction which may have affected the value of the home.

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Frequently Asked Questions:

Q:  Where can I obtain a set of plans?

Most builders have basic plans they work from, and make modifications specific to their clients’ needs. When building a custom home, it’s generally a good idea to work with a reputable architect.

Q:  Is there a form I can use for the list of specifications?

Yes, HUD has a generic form that most lenders use and it will give the appraiser most of the details they need to complete your appraisal. Anything not listed on this form can be added by you separately on an additional sheet.

Q:  Can I use my contract with the builder for the cost breakdown sheet?

In most cases, the lender will accept the contract, however, they will want the builder to provide a cost breakdown to ensure that the builder has accurately bid your home.

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March 28, 2010 by · Leave a Comment

HOA Hurdles to be Aware of When Looking at New Properties

A Home Owner Association (HOA) can have a huge impact on your life when you buy a home in a PUD (Planned Unit Development) or Condominium Project.

According to Wikipedia:

A homeowners’ association (abbrev. HOA) is an organization created by a real estate developer for the purpose of developing, managing and selling a development of homes.

It allows the developer to exit financial and legal responsibility of the community, typically by transferring ownership of the association to the homeowners after selling off a predetermined number of lots.

It allows the municipality to increase its tax base, but reduce the amount of services it would ordinarily have to provide to non-homeowner association developments.

Most homeowner associations are incorporated, and are subject to state statutes that govern non-profit corporations and homeowner associations.

State oversight of homeowner associations is minimal, and mainly takes the form of laws, which are inconsistent from state to state.

The Pros and Cons of HOA’s:

A Home Owner Association may have the power to determine the color of your home, the number of pets you have and the type of grass you have to plant.

They also may have the power to levy assessments, dues and fines.

Or, they may be as simple as collecting a few dollars per year to make sure the grass is cut in the common areas.

HOAs are set up by CC&Rs (Covenants, Conditions & Restrictions) and become part of your deed.

The CC&Rs dictate how the HOA operates and what rules the owners, tenants and guests must obey.

You should take the time to review the CC&R for any prospective purchase to make sure that the home you are buying will be right for your lifestyle.

For instance, if you operate an Amway business from your home, it is possible the CC&Rs prohibit this type of activity. Or, if you have two dogs and three cats, the CC&Rs may limit you to one pet.

The CC&Rs are only a portion of the HOA.

Bylaws are another component of HOA’s that reflect the intention of the association.

Each HOA either has a managing Board of Directors, or a third-party property management company.

One issue to be sure you check on is potential assessments.

For instance, recently a Condo Association had a foundation problem and was assessing the members over $10,000 per unit.

Another PUD had a pool that required routine maintenance and certification.

Subdivisions are commonly set up as PUDs with an additional HOA.

Until the subdivision is complete, the builder is generally in charge of the HOA.

When complete, the management of the PUD is typically turned over to the homeowners at a special membership meeting.

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March 28, 2010 by · Leave a Comment

Assembling Your Home Buying Team – Knowing The Players


Buying a new home is literally a team sport since there are so many tasks, important timelines, documents and responsibilities that all need special care and attention.

Besides working with a professional team that you trust, it’s important that the individual players have the ability to effectively communicate and execute on important decisions together as well.

Real Estate Agent –

A Realtor® is a licensed agent that belongs to the National Association of Realtors®, which means they are pledged to a strict Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice.

A few of the important roles your agent performs:

  • Determine your home buying needs
  • Define your property search criteria – neighborhoods, school districts, local amenities…
  • Provide insight on market trends and property values
  • Negotiate purchase contracts
  • Pay attention to due-diligence periods and other important timelines
  • Articulate inspection and appraisal reports
  • Professionally estimate fair market value on listings

A common misconception of many First-Time Home Buyers is that hiring a real estate agent will end up costing more money.

However, the typical arrangement in a purchase transaction is for the seller to cover the buyer’s agent commission.  In some cases where a new home developer or For Sale By Owner is listing a property and offering a lower price to deal direct, it is still a good idea to have an agent in your corner to protect your financial and investment interests.

Considering that some buyers may see 5-7 real estate transactions in a lifetime, compared to an agent that closes the same amount in a month, it is obvious to see that there is a big advantage to having the ability to rely on that experience when your home and security is on the line.

Mortgage Professional -

A mortgage professional (loan officer, mortgage planner, loan consultant, etc.) is the glue that holds the entire transaction together (biased comment).

In addition to establishing the purchase price and monthly payment a borrower can qualify for, the mortgage team will also need to communicate with all of the other players on the home buying team throughout the entire process.

To highlight a few details your mortgage team is paying attention to:

  • Initial pre-qualification to determine purchase price / loan amount
  • Explain all loan program options that may fit your investment goals
  • Collecting / organizing loan approval documents
  • Watching economic indicators that influence daily rate changes
  • Locking rates
  • Communicating with title / escrow officers
  • Submitting loan package to underwriting departments
  • Updating disclosure / GFE paperwork within proper time frames
  • Following funding through the final recording
  • Tracking inspections, insurance and other lending requirements
  • Post closing rate / program monitoring (although that might just be us)

Insurance Agent -

The lender in any mortgage transaction will require a homeowner’s insurance policy (hazard insurance).

This policy protects the property in the case of fire, theft or other damage (except flood or earthquake, those are separate policies and may be optional).

If it is determined that the property that you want to purchase is in a flood zone, flood insurance is not optional, it is mandatory.

The flood zone determination will be done with a “flood certification” from a third-party provider.

Title and Escrow -

It is possible to have a title company and an escrow officer work for different companies.

Also, some states use closing attorneys and there are still a few states where they use abstract of title instead of title insurance.

In most purchase transactions, the seller has the option of choosing the title company.

The title and escrow officers are often thought of as the same role, but in reality are quite different positions.

The title officer takes care of all issues that have to do with the title (also referred to as the deed) of the property.

The lender may require a title insurance policy guaranteeing that the title is clear of all liens except those being filed by the lender.

Escrow takes care of receiving, signing, and notarizing the final loan documentation, as well as collecting the other paperwork associated with the home sale.

The escrow officer is a neutral third party that makes sure no money is transferred until all conditions for each side are met.

The money management of an escrow company include:

Finally, the escrow officer will see that you are properly recorded as the new owner with the county.

Home Inspector -

When you have found the home that you like, it is a wise idea to have a professional take a look at the home to see if there are any issues with the property that could be a problem in the future.

Even though some buyers have an “Uncle Joe” who has owed several homes and knows what to look for, a certified Home Inspector can be money well spent.

They will look at the functionality of the home to make sure the electrical, plumbing and physical aspects of the home are strong, which will help the buyer make an educated decision about following through with the purchase, or renegotiating certain aspects of the contract.

Keep in mind, the home inspector and appraiser have different jobs. An appraiser determines value, while the inspector looks for structural problems, defects or maintenance issues.

The inspector is doing this strictly for the buyer’s sake. The lender is not concerned if a faucet has a minor leak as long as the property is worth the sales price. Therefore, the lender generally does not require an inspection unless the purchase contract requires one.

So, an inspection is not required, but it is recommended. As a matter of fact, one of the forms in an FHA application package is one that says “For Your Protection: Get a Home Inspection.”

Appraiser -

While the appraiser is typically never seen by the home buyer, an appraisal is obviously an important component of a home purchase transaction.

The appraiser will conduct an analysis of the property to determine the current market value. The bank will always require an appraisal, and in some cases need a second opinion of value if the program guidelines or loan amount require it.

Appraisers compare the sales prices of similar properties sold in the neighborhood and surrounding areas with the subject property.

This can be a very tricky process, especially if there are few properties to choose from, or if there is an overwhelming amount of foreclosures and short sale listings.

Now, since two homes are rarely identical, the appraiser has the difficult job of trying to compare apples to apples; sometimes red delicious to yellow delicious, or sometimes Fuji to Winesap.

When done, the estimate of value is given. If that value is below the purchase price, then negotiation may take place. If it is at or above the purchase price, we are ready to go forward.

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March 28, 2010 by · Leave a Comment

What You Need To Know About The Home Inspection Process

Congratulations on finding a house!

You now have only a few days from when you signed the purchase and sales agreement to have a home inspection.

Chances are your real estate agent made the offer contingent upon a satisfactorily home inspection and obtaining mortgage financing.

What Is A Home Inspection?

According to Wikipedia, a home inspection “is a limited, non-invasive examination of the condition of a home, often in connection with the sale of that home. This is usually conducted by a home inspector who has the training and certifications to perform such inspections.

The inspector prepares a written report, often using home inspection software, and delivers it to a client, typically the home buyer.

The buyer uses the knowledge gained from the home inspection to make informed decisions about their pending real estate purchase.

The home inspector describes the condition of the home at the time of inspection but does not guarantee future condition, efficiency, or life expectancy of systems or components”.

It is not the job of the home inspector to estimate market value or to let you know you got a good deal on the price of the home. This is done typically through an appraiser.

Why Have A Home Inspection?

Buying a home is the single most expensive investment many of us will ever make.

A home inspection is designed to provide the home buyer with the information they need to make a more informed decision about the property.

The home inspection report should clearly identify any potential significant defects, and give the home buyer a realistic estimate of the costs of repairs so that they can be negotiated in an updated purchase contract.   An inspection should also highlight any areas or features that need to be addressed in the near future which may be reaching the end of their useful life span.

What Do Home Inspections Cost?

The home buyer generally has to pay for the inspection up front, but there may be an agreement in the purchase contract for the seller to reimburse those fees at the time of closing.

Home inspection fees vary from state to state. An estimated cost of a home inspection is around $250-$400, depending on what services have been selected, as well as where the house is located.

In addition to the general home inspection, there are many common services that home buyers also choose to have preformed when having a home inspection. These additional services are not typically included in the general home inspection fee.

Optional Home Inspection Services:

  • Wood destroying pests
  • Radon gas
  • Lead base paint (homes built before 1978)
  • Asbestos
  • Carbon monoxide
  • Pools, spas, barns, or other external structures
  • Docks and sea walls
  • Underground sprinkler systems
  • Septic

Once the inspection is completed, the buyer generally has seven days to put in writing the “request for repairs” required by the seller to make prior to taking possession of the home.

The sellers may not be obligated to make every repair, so make sure you read the purchase and sales contract carefully to make sure the agreement does not state that the home may be sold in “as is” condition.

The Home Inspection Process:

A home inspection should include examination of all major systems, including the plumbing, heating, air conditioning, electrical, and appliance systems.

The home inspector will also look at the structural components, such as the roof, foundation, basement, exterior and interior walls, chimney, doors, and windows.

It is recommended that the home buyer and/or representing buyer’s agent be present at the time of the home inspection.

A typical home inspection can take between 1 ½ hours to 3 hours, depending on the size and condition of the home.

Remember you are paying for the home inspection. Follow the home inspector around and ask questions about the condition of your home and how to maintain it.

The attached link will help give you a better idea of what happens during a home inspection provided by the American Society of Home Inspector’s visual home inspection demonstration video. CLICK HERE FOR VIDEO

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Important Factors To Consider When Getting Financing On A Foreclosure, Short Sale or New Construction

Short sales, foreclosures and new construction homes all have caveats that need to be considered when pursuing financing.

If the guidelines and potential pitfalls are not properly understood, you could face delays in closing or potentially even a denied loan.

Short Sales & Foreclosures -

Short sales and foreclosures are everywhere. They often represent great value when looking to by a new home.

However, they also present a unique set of problems that homebuyers need to be aware of and plan for.

1.) Property Condition

Typically, when homeowners are facing foreclosure or looking to short sell their house, it means they lack the financial means to pay the mortgage or maintain the property.

A property in poor health can cause many financing issues for traditional financing.  FHA loans have specific rules requiring that the property is move-in-ready, unless you’re using a 203(k) Rehab Loan.

2.) Timing Challenges

Short sales typically come with awkward timeframes for purchase contract approval and loan closing.

Each bank is different, but approval can take anywhere between a week to 120 days.  As a general rule, the larger the bank the longer it takes to get short sale approval.

The lack of a set timeframe for short sale approval makes the timing of loan submission, rate locks and closing very challenging. You have your approval conditions cleared to close on time, just to find out that new appraisals, income, employment and asset verifications need to be updated by an underwriter to cover the most recent 30 days. Worst case, purchase contracts and legal documents may have to be re-submitted to a bank for an updated approval.

Either way, be prepared for a lot of redundant paperwork when purchasing a short sale property.

New Construction -

Home buyers looking to purchase new construction using FHA financing will have more hoops to jump through than those purchasing through conventional (Fannie Mae / Freddie Mac) financing.

If you want to use FHA financing to purchase new construction then you need to be aware of a number of issues that can trip you up.

First, you MUST have a certificate of occupancy (C.O.) certifying that the property is complete and move-in-ready. If you do not have this then you typically CANNOT go FHA. You’ll need a renovation loan, but a FHA 203K WILL NOT work.

You’ll need to employ the Fannie Mae HomeStyle for a property without a C.O.

In addition to the C.O. you’ll need some combination of the following documents as dictated by your lender and your unique situation:

  • Builder’s Certification
  • One Year Builder Warranty (10 YR Warranty may be required)
  • Termite Inspection (when applicable)
  • Septic Inspection (when applicable)
  • Well Test (when applicable)
  • Construction Permits

There are a number of factors which go into exactly what combination of documentation will be required to satisfy your lender and FHA, so it is best to work with an experienced loan officer when purchasing new construction with FHA financing.

If you plan on using conventional Fannie Mae / Freddie Mac financing you’ll still have hoops to jump through, just not as many as FHA. You’ll also have a higher down payment requirement and the credit qualification guidelines tend to be stricter.

Whether it be FHA financing, conventional financing or renovation financing, it’s important to have a qualified home buying team in place that can lead you through the maze of paperwork and negotiations.

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Top Five Market Factors That Influence Mortgage Rates

Timing the market for the best possible opportunity to lock a mortgage rate on a new loan is certainly a challenge, even for the professionals.

While there are several generic interest rate trend indicators online, the difference between what’s advertised and actually attainable can be influenced at any given moment by at least 50 different variables in the market, and with each individual loan approval scenario.

Outside of the borrower’s control, the mortgage rate marketplace is a dynamic, volatile, living and breathing animal.

Lenders set their rates every day based on the market activities of Mortgage Bonds, also known as Mortgage Backed Securities (MBS).

On volatile days, a lender might adjust their pricing anywhere from one to five times, depending on what’s taking place in the market.

Factors That Influence Mortgage Backed Securities:

1.  Inflation –

According to Wikipedia:

In economics, inflation is a rise in the general level of prices of goods and services in an economy over a period of time. When the price level rises, each unit of currency buys fewer goods and services; consequently, annual inflation is also an erosion in the purchasing power of money – a loss of real value in the internal medium of exchange and unit of account in the economy.

A chief measure of price inflation is the inflation rate, the annualized percentage change in a general price index (normally the Consumer Price Index) over time.

As inflation increases, or as the expectation of future inflation increases, rates will push higher.

The contrary is also true; when inflation declines, rates decrease.

Famous economist Milton Friedman said “inflation is always and everywhere a monetary phenomenon.”

Public enemy #1 of all fixed income investments, inflation and the expectation of future inflation is a key indicator of how much investors will pay for mortgage bonds, and therefore how high or low current mortgage rates will be in the open market.

When an investor buys a bond, they receive a fixed percentage of the value of that bond as ‘coupon’ payments.

With MBS, an investor might buy a bond that pays 5%, which means for every $100 invested, they receive $5 in interest per year, usually divided up over 12 payments. For the buyer of a mortgage bond, that $5 coupon payment is worth more in the first year, because it can buy more today than it can in the future, due to inflation. When the markets read signals of increasing inflation, it tells bond investors that their future coupon payments will be less valuable by the time they receive them. So basically, this causes investors to demand higher rates for any new bonds they invest in.

2. The Federal Reserve

As part of its 2008-2010 stimulus effort, the NY Fed spent almost all of its $1.25 trillion budget buying mortgage bonds. Many believe this strategy kept mortgage rates lower over a 15 month period.

The lending environment significantly changed between 2008, when the Fed began its mortgage bond purchasing program, and early 2010 when the market was left to survive on its own.

When the MBS purchase program was announced in November 2008, mortgage bonds reacted immediately and dramatically.

But at that time, there weren’t any investors willing to take a risk in buying mortgage bonds. The meltdown in the mortgage market and world economies lead many investors to shy away from the risks associated with MBS, which is why the Fed had to step in and basically assume the role as the sole investor of mortgage bonds.

However, loan underwriting guidelines drastically tightened up by 2010, which may create a little more confidence in the mortgage bond market.

3. Unemployment –

Decreasing unemployment will suggest that mortgage rates will rise.

Typically, higher unemployment levels tend to result in lower inflation, which makes bonds safer and permits higher bond prices. For example, the unemployment rate in March 2010 was at 9.7%, just slightly below its highest mark in the current economic cycle.

Every month, the BLS releases the Nonfarm Payrolls (aka The Jobs Report) which tallies the number of jobs created or lost in the preceding month.

The previous report indicated a loss of 36,000 jobs. Not necessarily a number that will move the needle on the unemployment gauge, but some economists suggest we need about 125,000 new jobs each month just to keep pace with population growth. So that negative 36,000 is more like negative 161,000 jobs short of an improving unemployment picture.

One flaw to pay attention to with unemployment rates is that the method of surveying fails to capture part-time workers who desire full-time employment, discouraged job seekers who have taken time off from searching and other would-be workers who are not considered to be part of the labor force.

4. GDP –

GDP, or Gross Domestic Product, is a measure of the economic output of the country.

High levels of GDP growth may signal increasing mortgage rates.

The Federal Reserve slashes short-term rates when GDP slows to encourage people and businesses to borrow money. When GDP gets too hot, there might be too much money floating around, and inflation usually picks up. So high GDP ratings warn the market that interest rates will rise to keep inflation concerns in balance.

Spiking GDP with flat/increasing unemployment begs some questions.

There are two major indicators that help provide more context:

1. Increases to worker productivity – employers are getting more work out of their current employees to avoid hiring new ones

2. Surges in inventory cycles – when the economy first started contracting, manufacturing slowed down to cut costs, and sales were made by liquidating inventory.

This is like a roller coaster cresting a hill, where one part of the train is going up, the other down. Eventually, the other side catches up, inventories are rebuilt by manufacturing more than is being sold. Both surges can throw off periodic reports of GDP.

5. Geopolitics –

Unforeseen events related to global conflict, political events, and natural disasters will tend to lower mortgage rates.

Anything that the markets didn’t see coming causes uncertainty and panic. And when markets panic, money generally moves to stable investments (bonds), which brings rates lower. Mortgage bonds pick up some of that momentum.

Acts of terrorism, tsunamis, earthquakes, and recent sovereign debt crises (Dubai, Greece) are all examples.

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Putting It All Together:

Economic data is reported daily, and some items have a greater tendency to be of concern to the market for mortgage rates. If you are involved in a real estate financing transaction, it’s helpful to be aware of these influences, or to rely upon the advice of a mortgage professional who is already dialed in.

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March 28, 2010 by · Leave a Comment

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