Make Your Home Offer the Most Appealing

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Sales in February 2023 were up 14.5% month over month and still down 22.6% year over year according to the NAR Housing Snapshot. The median sales price dipped 0.2% to $363,000 and there are 2.6 months supply of homes on the market compared to 1.7 months a year ago.

"Inventory levels are still at historic lows, and consequently, multiple offers are returning on a good number of properties." According to Lawrence Yun, Chief Economist for the National Association of REALTORS´┐Ż.

It is still important to have a strategy for potentially competing with other buyers on the house you want to buy. The plan should include several available provisions and options, so that at the time of drafting the sales offer, you can consider exactly what to include based on the situation.

Unless a person is paying cash, you need to be pre-approved by a trusted mortgage professional long before you start looking at homes. Include the written pre-approval letter along with the offer. When you are making an offer on a home, have the mortgage professional available to reassure the listing agent by phone who will convey that to the seller.

If you’re concerned about multiple offers, make your best offer first because you may not get to counter and simply lose out to another buyer. Starting with a low offer and gradually coming up doesn’t work in highly competitive situations. In some cases, a low-ball offer could cast a pall on any consideration of your purchase contract altogether.

The listing agent will calculate the expenses on the different offers for the seller to show them what their net proceeds will be on each contract. Some types of financing have more costs incurred to the seller. Asking the seller to make repairs or other financial concessions could lower their net even though your offer may be higher.

From a buyer’s standpoint, contingencies provide options for things that may be uncertain like qualifying for a mortgage, discovery of major impediments to the condition of the home, and other things. To the seller, they are obstacles that may invalidate the contract causing the home back on the market. If the contingencies are necessary, try to make them as palatable to the seller as possible.

Instead of waiving your rights to make inspections, consider a very short inspection period to minimize the time the property is in limbo. Instead of asking for repairs, provide a simple "accept or reject" once the inspections have been made.

Try to accommodate the seller’s desired closing and possession dates. Sometimes an earlier date may be more desirable for a seller and other times, it might be a later date based on the home they’ll be moving into. Your agent can do some research and find a flexible alternative that may appeal to the seller.

Increase your earnest money deposit more than the minimum. It is a pecuniary indication that you are serious. Your agent can tell you what that amount should be and alternatives like increasing the earnest money after certain contingencies have been met.

Escalation clauses state that you are willing to increase your offer by a certain amount up to a specified maximum, subject to another bona fide offer being received before yours is accepted. Your agent will be able to further explain how these might work in your situation as well as share their experience with them in other similar negotiations.

You as a buyer and your offer to purchase need to be seen as the solution to the seller’s situation in price, terms, and reliability to close. Working with an experienced agent with seasoned negotiation skills is key to your success in buying a home in a competitive environment. Download our Buyers Guide.

A New Perspective on the Housing Market

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The housing market in 2021 and part of 2022 was anything but normal. Mortgage rates were at all time lows and may never reach those levels again. Double-digit appreciation drove prices to new heights. Low inventories fueled by high buyer demand made multiple offers a normal expectation.

As we look at the market snapshots provided by MLS in the various markets across the U.S., it appears that things may be returning to normal, but not necessarily in all areas. While there are more homes on the market now than a year ago, there are less sales due primarily to the doubling of mortgage rates in 2022.

Time on the market is lengthening but that can be explained by the removal of approximately 15 million homebuyers who now have affordability issues. When the market shifted, sellers expectations for what they thought their home is worth are not keeping pace with current conditions.

Some sellers who didn’t put their home on the market in 2021 and 2022 for whatever reason, remember the peak of the prices they could have sold their home for and now that they are ready, instead of looking at today’s prices, still expect to get the higher value.

Every experienced agent knows that all real estate is local and while you can look at trends on a national basis, it takes a knowledgeable professional to assess the local market, even on a neighborhood basis, to determine what a property will reasonably sell for currently.

A seller who has owned their home for several years is going to realize a good profit and return on their investment. If they are ready to sell in today’s market, that should be their focus and not on what might have been, had they sold at the recent high.

There is no way to predict when prices will achieve their high whether it is in stocks, bonds, commodities, or housing prices. It is only after it has hit the pinnacle and started retreating, that It can be identified.

Don’t be concerned about the market you missed regardless of whether you are a buyer or a seller. When real estate is viewed as a long-term investment, time takes care of things that can be incredibly stressful in the short term.

The average 30-year fixed-rate mortgage for the last 50 years is 7.76% according to the Freddie Mac PMMS survey. The current 6.60% is considerably below that benchmark and it appears to be trending lower. The current rate is what today’s buyer must pay to borrow.

Home prices have experienced 7.16% appreciation for the last fifty-five years according to the Federal Reserve Economic Data of the St. Louis Fed. Compared to the average inflation rate of 4.3% for the same period, homes provide a hedge against inflation and a significant contribution to personal net worth.

If you’re in the market to buy or sell, contact your real estate professional to find out what your market is doing and what options you have available.

Rethinking Backup Offers

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Like with any professional, there are tools and techniques available to help with particular situations. They might be more popular at certain times and might even be put aside or forgotten at others. For real estate professionals, one of those is the backup offer.

In a situation where there are multiple offers, the seller can accept any offer for whatever reasons are important to them, leaving the makers of the other offers disappointed. There is always some uncertainty that the buyers on a contract will close accordingly. To hedge on that possibility, the seller may choose to make a counteroffer to one or more of the other offers to be a backup should the primary contract not close.

From a buyer’s perspective, the purpose of a backup offer is to be next in line to have the chance to purchase the property should the first contract fall through. The benefit is that you’ll be next in line to purchase the home without having to submit another offer and possibly, get into a bidding war. It simply moves from the first backup to the primary contract position.

The buyer in the backup position also experiences uncertainty if it will work and possibly, feeling like they could be wasting their time while waiting to hear the outcome of the first contract. Some of these buyers will continue to look at homes in the likelihood that another acceptable or better property becomes available.

Should this situation occur, the buyer in the backup position may or may not have the ability to withdraw from their contract. It will depend on how the agreement is written. It is important to understand the rights and limitations, as well as when they can be exercised.

A backup offer can lock you into a binding contract until the primary contract’s buyer is approved and closed or until it fails to close and the backup buyer becomes the primary. The backup may or may not have a unilateral way to withdraw the offer prior to one of these outcomes.

Considerations that need to be understood by sellers and buyers alike are:

  • Can a buyer in a backup contract unilaterally withdraw at any time?
  • Will the earnest money be deposited on a backup offer?
  • Will the timelines for contingencies like mortgage or inspections need to be made before becoming the primary contract?
  • Will there be any fees incurred by the backup buyer?

Sellers sometimes use a backup offer to apply leverage to the primary contract’s buyer. For instance, if the seller feels the buyers’ demands on repairs are too high, the seller might say something like "if you’re not willing to accept it ‘as is’, I have another buyer waiting to do so."

Many buyers, as well as their agents, don’t want to obligate themselves to a back-up offer. However, in certain situations, it is a good tool to have the opportunity to purchase a home that meets their needs.

In the highly competitive market experienced in 2021 and part of 2022, some buyers may have been reluctant to use a backup because of the slim possibility that it would become the primary. With the shift in the market due to the interest rate increases, a backup offer could be a viable tool to get the home of your dreams.

Your real estate professional can help you understand the advantages and disadvantages of backup offers. Recognizing that contracts are legal and binding agreements, you can also consult an attorney who can confer with your agent to understand the situation.

Download our Buyers Guide

Playing Monopoly Is Good Homework

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If you’ve ever been in a Monopoly game after most of the properties have been purchased and developed, it can be a relief to land on Free Parking, knowing the dice must rotate to the next player giving you a respite from paying rent. Like the game, in real life, it would be nice to avoid paying rent and even better to have people paying you rent for property you own.

Winning in the game of Monopoly is all about investing. If you travel around the board, trying to buy the ultimate property and pass Go to get another $200, you’re missing the opportunity to purchase good properties along the way that could lead to upgrading into your dream home.

Starting early to buy your first home gives a buyer a chance to acquire a property with a minimum down payment, and inevitably, have a lower payment than paying rent for a similar home. As the home appreciates and the loan amortizes, the equity grows. Within a few years of average appreciation, the down payment can double or triple based on the leverage of using other people’s money.

They could use the equity to stair-step their way into a larger home and finally, their dream home. Or, if that homeowner’s goal is to acquire rental properties, they could convert that home to a rental and buy another home on a low-down payment, owner-occupied mortgage to allow that property’s equity to grow in the same way.

Multi-unit properties could be another option. Finance it with the same type of owner-occupied, low down payment mortgage to achieve leverage that isn’t available to non-owner-occupied investors; live in one unit and rent the others. FHA, VA, and conventional mortgages allow for owner occupants to purchase up to a four-unit building with minimum down payments.

It is very impressive to see the portfolios of properties that some young people have built by focusing on their goals, living within their means, and not getting distracted along the way. You can learn a lot from them but be careful about getting into a game of Monopoly with them; they know how to play the game.

Let’s connect and talk about some of the specifics.

Getting Comfortable with the New Normal Mortgage Rates

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The biggest shock to homebuyers is the soaring mortgage rates of 2022 that doubled in one year resulting in approximately 15 million mortgage ready buyers displaced from the market due to affordability issues.

As of February 23, 2023, the 30-year fixed rate mortgage was at 6.5%. While that is twice as high as it was on January 6, 2022, it is still lower than the 7.75% average rate since April 2, 1971, according to the Freddie Mac Primary Mortgage Market Survey.

When rates increase at a rapid pace like this, it takes time for the public to adjust and begin to accept it as the new normal.

Prior to the housing bust that led to the Great Recession, the normal for mortgage rates was in the 6% range and existing home sales were over 6.5 million for three years. From 2007 to 2014, home sales were closer to 5 million with 2008-2011 at just above 4 million annually.

From January 17, 2008 to March 5, 2020, mortgage rates averaged 4.32%. In this 12-year period, buyers experienced some of the lowest mortgage rates ever and became to expect that rates would always be that low.

Then, during the hardest part of the pandemic, the government took unprecedented actions to influence rates even lower to where they averaged 3.06% between March 5, 2020 and March 17, 2022.

It appears that mortgage rates have peaked in this latest cycle. In December 2022, the rates came down for four straight weeks following two weeks of slightly higher rates. The question is what to anticipate for 2023.

The National Association of REALTORS´┐Ż is expecting mortgage rates to be below 6% in the last half of 2023 possibly, 5.5% to 5.7%. Zillow’s chief economist believes rates will drop to around 5.5% for 2023. The Mortgage Bankers Association expects that "30-year mortgage rates will end 2023 at 5.3%." Fannie Mae forecasts rates will end 2023 at 5.7%.

Relying on the experts, rates are not going to return to the unusual levels during the pandemic or even in the past 12-14 years. The new normal may well indeed be at the mid-5% level and when the public gets use to it, sales will begin to rise again.

Some buyers may need to adjust their price points because higher payments are directly impacted by the higher rates. Even if they could have afforded more with the lower rates, that was a missed opportunity. When the Fed gets inflation under control and the market rebounds from the pent-up demand, another window could be lost.

David Stevens, CEO of Mountain Lake Consulting, and former Assistant Secretary of Housing recently said in a LinkedIn post talking about the housing market in 2023 "So be advised…this may be the one and only window for the next few years to get into a buyers’ market. And remember…as the Federal Reserve data shows…home prices only go up and always recover from recessions no matter how mild or severe. Long term homeowners should view this market…right now…as a unique buying opportunity."

When do you lock your mortgage rate?

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Locking your interest rate protects you from increases due to market conditions. Locking early safeguards your budgeted payment. By locking the rate, if the market goes up, you get the lower rate; if it goes down after the lock, you may be able to pay a fee and lower the rate.

Knowing when to take the lock is determined by which direction you think the market is going. If you think rates are going up, lock in early. If you think rates are going down, ride the rate to within a few days of closing.

Some lenders may allow a borrower to lock a rate after pre-approval but is more common to not offer a lock until there is a signed contract on a home. Even with a pre-approval, it could easily take 30 days or more to close a transaction and the rates can move a lot in that period.

There may be a fee charged to lock a rate which is determined by the lender. Generally, the longer the time for the rate lock, the higher the fee.

There is a lock period established by the lender that guarantees the rate, if the loan is closed by the expiration date. Normal lock periods can be between 30 to 60 days. Longer periods may be available but will probably require higher fees.

Things that could affect your rate lock are:

  • The appraised value comes in lower than what was expected in the sales contract.
  • The borrowers’ credit changes considerably before the closing.
  • The loan amount changes after the rate lock.
  • The loan type changes.
  • The down payment decreases before the closing.
  • Some income, like bonuses or overtime, could not be verified.

If a higher rate at closing means that you will no longer be able to qualify for the mortgage, it may be more important to lock in early. Looking at what the rates have done for the preceding weeks may indicate a trend but at the same time, markets have turned overnight and started moving in the opposite direction.

A trusted mortgage professional can give you good advice and why they feel you should either lock the rate or let it ride. Your real estate agent can help also but ultimately, the decision is yours.

Get the Buyer Incentives to Act Now

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Sellers, who last year, were not willing to make any concessions, are much more likely to do so this year due to the softening of the market because of inflation and higher mortgage rates affecting affordability for buyers.

Concessions can take place in different forms. A seller could offer to pay the buyer’s closing costs or pay points for the buyer to get an FHA or VA loan. Another option would be to pay for a 2/1 buydown that would lower the buyer’s payments in the first two years of the mortgage.

Buydowns can be temporary or permanent and are achieved by pre-paying the interest at the time of closing. Typically, the seller will do this as an inducement to the buyer. While individual lenders set the price for permanent buydowns, a common rule-of-thumb would be two points, or two percent of the mortgage amount, to buydown the rate 0.5% for the life of the mortgage.

A more common type of buydown is a 2/1 where the payment is calculated at 2% lower than the note rate for the first year and 1% lower for the second year. The third and following years, the payment would be calculated at the note rate.

$400,000 Purchase Price, 80% loan-to-value @6.27% for 30 years
Cost of buydown – $8,099
1st year 2nd year Remainder
Payment Rate 4.27% 5.27% 6.27%
P&I Payments $1,775 $1,992 $2,221
Monthly Savings $446 $229

In the example above, the seller would pre-pay the interest on the buyer’s mortgage for the first two years to subsidize the difference in the note rate and the payment rate.

A 2/1 buydown is a fixed interest rate mortgage where the buyer must qualify at the note rate. It is a standard, conforming loan and applies to FHA, VA, or conventional. The benefit is that the buyer will have lower payments for the first two years which can help them settle into the home and not exhaust their resources initially.

Closing costs and pre-paid items are commonly included in seller-paid incentives for the buyer. Many times, they are described in the listing and/or sales agreement as "Seller to pay up to $X,000 in closing costs or pre-paid items on behalf of the buyer."

The benefit to the buyer is that less money is needed to close the loan. Lenders are agreeable to this type of provision if it is stated in the sales contract.

Car dealers have been providing incentives in the form of upgrades, below market interest rates, pre-paid regular service for a period, and other things to incentivize a buyer to purchase now. It is also common practice for new home builders to do the same.

In the resale home market, while these things have been done in the past, there wasn’t a need for sellers to incur the additional expenses with such a short supply of homes. The market certainly changed in 2022 with fewer qualified buyers in the market due to the higher interest rates. Now, sellers are starting to offer incentives but regardless, buyers can include the incentives in a sales contract for the seller to consider.

Your agent will be able to help you understand what things are common in your market to help with some of the concerns facing buyers today.

Compare Before Deciding on the Standard Deduction

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The TCJA of 2019 dramatically increased the standard deduction so that many homeowners benefit from taking that rather than itemizing their deductions. Taking the standard deduction may result in a larger deduction even if you have no expenses that qualify for claiming itemized deductions.

Another thing reinforcing taking the standard deduction was low rates at the time and the interest plus property taxes were less than the standard deduction.

In 2022, mortgage rates more than doubled, so, anyone who purchased a home or refinanced at the higher rates might benefit from itemizing rather than taking the standard deduction. The takeaway in this article is to compare both methods each year to see which way provides the larger deduction.

For 2022, the standard deduction for married couples filing jointly is $25,900, for single filers and married individuals filing separately is $12,950, and for heads of households is $19,400. There are increased amount for seniors over 65.

Mortgage interest, points paid to purchase a home (paid by seller or buyer), and property taxes are deductible on Schedule A. Other items allowed as deductions are charitable contributions, medical expenses in excess of 7.5% of taxpayers’ adjusted gross income, and casualty and theft losses from a federally declared disaster.

In 2019, IRS reported that 89.5% of people took the standard deduction which is easier to file, doesn’t require receipts, and may yield a higher deduction than itemizing but the only way to be sure is to compare both ways.

For more information, download Publication 529 or contact your tax professional. Download our Homeowners Tax Guide for more information on homeowner taxes.

Negotiate a Buydown to Get into a Home Now

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If you are a prospective homebuyer, things have changed in the past year. Most notably, mortgage rates have more than doubled which has created an affordability gap that has taken approximately 15 million buyers out of the market.

Inventories are growing but it isn’t because more people are deciding to sell their homes; it is because it is taking longer to sell properties because less people are qualified. Current housing inventory is a little more than a quarter of what it was in 2008.

Buyers are wondering when the market will return to normal, as if mortgage rates at three and four percent should be commonplace. The average mortgage rate between April 1971 and November 2022 is 7.76%.

Predictions for mortgage rates in the third quarter 2023 range from 4.5% for Fannie Mae, 5.0% for Mortgage Bankers Association, and 5.2% for Freddie Mac.

Traditionally, over the past 35 years, there is a 175-200 basis point difference between the 10-year Treasury and the 30-year mortgage rates. However, recently, the spread has been 300 basis points. Some experts explain this to indicate that the Fed’s tactics for lowering inflation is working and the mortgage market will soon respond which is indicated by lower rates in the past few weeks.

"The gap between the 30-year fixed mortgage rate and the government borrowing rate is much higher today than it has been historically," NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun, said. "If we didn’t have this large gap, mortgage rates wouldn’t be 7%, they would be 5.8%."

There is opportunity for prospective buyers in today’s market. The slowing of housing sales, down 34% from December 2021, have changed the environment buyers were experiencing in 2020 and 2021. Instead of having to pay a premium over the list price, many sellers are willing to negotiate on price.

Without multiple offers being the normal, buyers can expect to include contingencies for financing, appraisal, inspections, and possibly, the sale of a home currently under contract.

Some buyers who are confident that mortgage rates will come down soon have opted to purchase now with an adjustable-rate mortgage. This can lower the rate by about one percent for the first period which can be five years. When mortgage rates returned to acceptable, the borrower could refinance to a fixed-rate mortgage.

Another option to consider would be to do a buydown on the mortgage rate. Assuming that in the "softer" market, the seller would accept an offer to buydown the interest rate for the first two years. It would allow the buyer to purchase at today’s prices, with much lower payments for the first two years.

Example

$500,000 Purchase Price, 80% loan-to-value @6.13% for 30 years | Cost of buydown – $8,934
1st year 2nd year Remainder
Payment Rate 4.13% 5.13% 6.13%
P&I Payments $1,940 $2,179 $2,432
Monthly Savings $492 $253

This type of mortgage is a standard, conforming, fixed-rate loan where the buyer must qualify at the note rate. The payment for the first year is 2% less than the note rate and for the second year is 1% less than the note rate. The difference must be paid in advance at closing and in the case of this example, the seller paid it based on contract negotiations.

During this period of lower payments, if the rate comes down, they could refinance the property. Let’s further assume that the rates come down at the end of the first year. If the property is refinanced before the pre-paid interest is owed, the lender is required to reimburse the borrower which could be applied toward the cost of refinancing.

When the mortgage rates do return to an acceptable rate, there may be considerable pent-up demand from the mortgage-ready buyers who were priced out of the market. This could lead to another seller’s market where high competition results in prices above list price and sellers not willing to accept contingencies.

Temporary rate buydowns have been available for decades. Their main purpose is to help a borrower get into a home with lower payments initially. In some cases, they need it because they depleted their cash reserves on the down payment; in other situations, maybe, they are upwardly mobile and expect to be making more income soon.

The reason lenders across the country are talking about them now is because they provide a reasonable and viable alternative to buying a home at today’s prices without having the higher payment initially for the current rates. It especially makes sense if you believe that rates are coming down soon.

Your real estate agent can give you more information about this and explain how you can negotiate with the seller to pay the fee to get this type of loan. Call us at (888) 440-4220.

If you’re on the sidelines, at least get ready…

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If you’re on the sidelines to buy a home, there are things you can do to be ready when you do get back in the game.

Improve your credit score to qualify for the best mortgage rate available which are reserved for those with the highest scores. Get a copy of your current credit reports from all three of the main credit bureaus: Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian. You can get them at AnnualCreditReport.com without paying for them.

While you won’t see a credit score on these reports, you will see a history of your available credit accounts. According to the Federal Trad Commission, one in five people have at least one error on one of their credit reports which can lower your score or increase the cost or likelihood of receiving new credit. Identify and correct these mistakes.

Explain in writing the error in the report and include copies of documents that support your dispute. Both the credit bureau and the business that supplied the information must correct the information that is in error. There will not be a fee to correct it. You can get specific info for the process on each credit reporting companies’ website and from the FTC Consumer Advice.

There is a term call "credit utilization" which describes how much of your available credit on each revolving account is currently being used. If the limit on one card were $10,000 and you had a $5,000 balance, the utilization ratio is 50%. Amounts above 30% can negatively impact your credit score even if you do pay the balance each month.

Any delinquent items that may appear on your credit report need to be cleared up. Regardless of whether there is a legitimate reason, it needs to be explained to the credit bureau. Beginning in 2023, medical collections less than $500 will no longer be reported on consumer credit reports.

Continue to save for a down payment because mortgages less than 80% of loan-to-value require mortgage insurance which increases the monthly payment. The exception to the rule is for VA loans which do not require it. The cost of mortgage insurance could add 0.5% to 2% or more to the payment.

Lower your debt-to-income ratio by paying off installment loans for cars, boats, and other things.

While there are legitimate credit repair services available, you may be able to get excellent advice from a trusted mortgage professional. You’ll eventually want to be pre-approved before you start looking at homes. Your real estate agent can make a recommendation to connect you with someone who will get you ready to get back into the game.