5 reasons why this winter is the best time to buy

Jay Vorhees at JVM Lending put together an interesting blog post recently, and I want to share that with you below. Essentially, he finds five reasons why this current winter season is the best time to take advantage of the real estate market and buy a house! Enjoy:

Most of our agent-readers well know why winter can be a great time to buy from a real estate perspective. I am nonetheless repeating a few of the obvious reasons while also illuminating a few less-obvious mortgage-related reasons.

Image result for real estate agent in snow

1. Rates Hit Six Week Low! While rates have been climbing for most of the year, they hit a six week low last week in response to the oil glut and signs of a softer economy. Given that the Fed will likely continue to push rates up next year, this brief rate-reduction gives buyers a short-term opportunity to lock in a relatively low rate.

2. Lender Incentives. 
Many lenders are offering extra incentives to borrowers right now simply to maximize loan volume during a slower time of the year. This includes JVM of course, as we are offering a $500 closing cost credit to any buyer who gets into contract from now until January 31st. This does not apply to borrowers who are already in contract and locked.

3. Motivated Sellers. If someone is willing to go to the trouble to sell their home during the holidays/winter, they are usually more motivated to sell and willing to negotiate.

4. Fewer Buyers/Less Competition. There are fewer buyers and a lot less competition for homes. Many buyers pull out of the market in the winter b/c they don’t want to take the time to house-hunt during the holiday season or they don’t want to buy in the middle of the school year (if they have kids).

5. Seeing Properties at Their Worst. 
My neighbor has drop-dead gorgeous crape myrtle and Japanese maple trees all over his yard. In the spring and summer, his yard is an oasis of color. In the winter, however, his yard looks like a war zone. Buyers get to see homes at their worst in the winter, avoiding unpleasant surprises and knowing that their dream home will only look that much better, come spring.

The internet conveniently has numerous articles backing up my points above, in case any readers don’t want to take my word for it. Here are two: The Best Time of the Year to Buy Property from Financial Samurai; and Mortgage Rates Pull Back from Freddie Mac’s website.   

Two more successful closings!

I’ve had a streak of closings recently, including a long-time client who I’ve worked with seven different times now. She moved to Southern California a few years ago, so this investment property in Antioch will likely be my final transaction with her. She had become a friend and a wonderful client.  Thank you, Lori, for your ongoing support and friendship.
The other closing was 1944 Eagle Peak in Clayton and it was referred to me by a past client. Thank you, Jeff!
The pictures below are of a beautiful home that was my client’s respite. They remodeled it to their tastes and, in addition, it was an end unit overlooking Oakhurst golf course; a very peaceful setting.
Check out my client’s review:
My clients David and Nancy are getting ready to retire and move closer to their kids. The couple from Dublin wanted to live closer to their grandchildren in Clayton. They had a condo to sell in Dublin, thus it was a contingent offer that went smoothly and quickly. All parties were happy! As you can see from these pictures, they purchased a beautiful home with rolling hills beyond their back fences. The hardwood floors and sleepy gray/clean white theme throughout complement the peaceful backyard and the cozy bedrooms. I love a happy end to a real estate experience and connecting with wonderful people who I truly like. Give me a call to see what your real estate story could become.

The first-time buyer’s guide to real estate

Jim McKinley wrote a blog that I’ve made slight edits to below. Let me know what you think!

Buying your first home is exciting, but it can also be full of confusion, fear, and apprehension. After all, buying a home is a huge commitment, and if you’ve never done it before, there can be a lot of questions. However, by getting informed and preparing yourself appropriately, you can avoid many of the common pitfalls of buying your first home and step into this new stage of your life with confidence. To help everything go as smoothly as possible, follow these tips and tricks.

Get your Finances in Order

Many people might assume that it is time to become a homeowner based on their life situation, such as recently landing a well-paying job. However, no matter where you are at in your life, it takes quite a bit of financial preparation to correctly prepare for buying a house. First and foremost, you need to ensure that you have a solid budget. Some people might encourage you to put this off until after you buy your house, but your budget is an indispensable tool to figure out how much home you can afford. Secondly, save up a reasonable down payment. According to the Motley Fool, squeezing out enough money for a down payment might require a lot of expense cutting. We recommend using a savings calculator to help you figure out how much you’ll need to save each month.

Get Pre-Approved

Before you even begin to look at houses, go to some lenders to get pre-approved for a mortgage. This is not as scary as it might sound and can take a lot off your plate later. To be approved for a mortgage, the lender considers your credit score, how much you make, the amount you put down and your debt-to-income ratio, among other things. There are many different financing options available and a good lender will advise you accordingly.

Find a Great Agent

A good real estate agent can provide you with huge benefits when it comes to looking for your home. The housing market and lingo can be confusing. When you work with a real estate agent, they can advise you on how to write the best offer and discuss the current market so you can focus your energy on searching for a home. According to The Balance, an agent is a great asset; they can ask questions for you and obtain disclosures. Real estate agents are particularly helpful for first-time homebuyers who might not be aware of the home-buying process and a good referral source for reputable lenders.

View Houses in Your Area

Now that you have all the preliminary work squared away, it’s time to start looking at houses. Preferably, you’ll want your real estate agent to set up showings based on your criteria. Your agent can point things out that you might have missed and help gauge whether the home is listed for a good price.

Image result for house for saleNegotiate your Closing Costs

Once you find your perfect house, you need to close the deal. There are fees tacked on to buying a home called closing costs. Everything from lender fees, title insurance to title search fees. To the average person, these can begin to sound like a second language. You can shop a rate, but many lenders will quote you the lowest rate of the month, because until you lock in a rate, it is a moving target. Look to reviews and potentially how smooth your closing will go. Review your Loan Estimate closely and ask about all fees you do not understand. Once you understand everything, negotiate with your lender for lower fees.

Move

Give yourself more than enough time to pack and move to prevent yourself from rushing. If you hate packing, you might even want to consider hiring a moving agency. If you have children, you might drop them off at a family member’s house to give yourself a couple hours of uninterrupted packing.

Home buying is an exciting, nerve-wracking process. By following these steps (and hiring the right lender and agent), your can home-buying process will be a lot smoother.

Congrats to my clients who bought in Pleasant Hill!

I want to congratulate my recent client Vimi and her partner Liz for closing on their new home! They celebrated in a unique, cultural way that I found really interesting and was thankful to be included in such a personal experience. As you can see in some of the pictures below this was a house blessing which they called a puja. It’s always exciting to help a client find their home, get their offer accepted, and then close. This was definitely a first; they were not allowed to move in until the blessing occurred and they spent the night in the vacant home after the blessing!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Vimi is of Indian (Hindu) descent and this is how it was explained to me:  A “puja” ritual, which is performed many times to mark lifetime events (birth, wedding, new home, etc.), is not required in their religion but many do it. Some Hindus do a daily puja ritual in the home, some do it at regular temple ceremonies or festivals, and some don’t do it at all! It was a very cool spectacle to witness. We started with an incense stick, flower petals, bananas, spilled rice, boiling milk, fire, and red and yellow powders (that, when mixed with water, allowed them to mark the Om symbol on the frame of the door). There were songs and hymns, and personal prayers.  A Ganesha statue was also part of the ceremony, who is the remover of obstacles. As the god of beginnings, he is honored at the start of rites and ceremonies. What a beautiful way to honor and celebrate a new home.

Everyone has their own way to celebrate buying a new home. I was honored to be a part of this ceremony, and am really happy that I was able to help Vimi and Liz find their home.

Why borrowers should consider a 30-year mortgage

Jay Vorhees at JVM Lending has written an excellent blog about borrowers and their understanding of liquidity, and why borrowers should consider the lower 30-year mortgage payment. Besides the flexibility it offers, it allows a sort of cushion for any borrowers who may find themselves in personal trouble, and is also usually a good long-term investment. Read on below to get the full picture, with two cents from me – can you say liquidity:

 Borrowers often underestimate the importance of liquidity. Especially when times are good. When rates are relatively low (under 8%), we always recommend using financing (obtaining a mortgage) to buy real estate, even if borrowers have ample cash. Similarly, we usually advise borrowers who want lower 15-year rates to take a 30-year mortgage. Even though borrowers can afford the higher 15-year mortgage payment, the lower 30-year mortgage payment offers them more flexibility. There are several reasons why borrowers should value liquidity more:

1. Job Loss, Major Illness, Injury, Legal Troubles, Recessions. People often forget how quickly fortunes can turn (especially those of us in sales), and how important cash is when income dries up. This is particularly the case when the economy turns and financial instruments and hard assets drop in value and become difficult to sell.  An abundance of cash during unexpected hard times often means the difference between bankruptcy and muddling through.

2. Ability to Buy Distressed Assets. When the economy turns and asset prices tank, there are often tremendous bargains to be had for anyone with even a little cash. After the mortgage meltdown, for example, one of our clients purchased eight rental properties for around $100,000 each. He was out of pocket less than $250,000 for all of those purchases, and all of the properties cash-flowed from the start. In addition, they are all worth close to $300,000 now. I watched many other clients do the same thing in the stock market after both the dotcom crash and the 2008 meltdown.

3. Investment Returns Exceed After Tax Cost of Mortgage. This does not apply to everyone of course, but many borrowers can often invest money that they do not put into their home and earn a return that exceeds the cost of their mortgage, especially after tax benefits are taken into account. Example: Borrowers A and B both have $250,000. “A” puts down 50% on a $500,000 house; “B” puts down 20% and invests the $150,000 he saves. In the long run, Borrower B will have a much higher net worth and more liquidity along the way if his investment yield exceeds his rate by 2% or more (not difficult over the long term).


Interesting, right?  I saw this first hand in the down turn, people with cash bought investment properties.  They are usually patient and don’t get caught up in all the hubbub.  Many can’t see past the downturn and believe it will never improve, however we are not building any new land and history shows us that what does down, goes back up.   Remember cash is king, so start saving and get a leg up on the next down turn.

Interest rates: is the latest increase a deal-breaker?

My friend Jay Vorhees at JVM Lending had a fun blog about the 1/4% rate increase recently. He compared it to be equivalent to just less than four lattes per month, to put it into context. You can see the highlights of that blog below, and then our fun take on it!

From Jay: There have been a lot of rumblings in the news lately about rate increases…mostly b/c rates have been increasing :).

The Fed recently announced an increase in the Fed Funds rate with more on the way, and rates have been increasing in general in response to positive economic reports, as most everyone knows. As a result, rates are now back at levels not seen since 2011. The good news is that rates remain very low by historical standards, as we remind everyone over and over (6% was a “gift” in 2006; 7% was awesome in the 1990s; and 9% was unimaginable in the 1980s).

The other good news? Rates affect payments much less than most people think. Here is the rule of thumb: for every 1/4% increase in rates, a mortgage payment increases by about $15 per $100,000. That’s less than four Starbucks Lattes per month. So, in a “Starbuckian economy,” a 1/4% increase in rates will increase the payment on a $500,000 loan by about 20 Lattes per month. That’s not too bad, especially when you consider that those lattes may be tax deductible too.

From Kristin: So, let’s compare a 6-pack of beer, an average cost of which is about $9, to the 1/4% rate increase. You could get almost two 6 packs for that increase. Or maybe a new shirt on sale at Old Navy. A decent bottle of wine at Trader Joe’s will run you about $15. Eating out at many restaurants in downtown Walnut Creek might cost about $15 per person before tip.

So, before you get too worried about the rate increase, consider that what you’re really losing is just a new shirt, or a couple of beers, or one lunch out with friends. Or, god forbid, a handful of lifeblood, I mean lattes, before work! All said, this increase won’t have too much of an effect on your life.

Of course, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. According to this article, mortgage rates are fast approaching 5 percent, which is a fresh blow to the housing market.

Bob Schwab: Is the real estate market finally going back to normal?

Our in-house lender Bob Schwab recently sent an article about the housing market and its ups-and-downs over the last decade-plus. He thinks it’s about time that the real estate market goes back to normal.  Here is what is says, with my take at the end!
Image result for real estate market
The housing market has been anything but normal for the last eleven years. In a normal real estate market, home prices appreciate 3.7% annually. Below, however, are the price swings since 2007 according to the latest Home Price Expectation Survey:
After the bubble burst in June 2007, values depreciated 6.1% annually until February 2012. From March 2012 to today, the market has been recovering with values appreciating 6.2% annually. These wild swings in values were caused by abnormal ratios between the available supply of inventory and buyer demand in the market. In a normal market, there would be a 6-month supply of housing inventory.
When the market hit its peak in 2007, homeowners and builders were trying to take advantage of a market that was fueled by an“irrational exuberance.” Inventory levels grew to 7+ months. In this simplified view, with that many homes available for sale, there weren’t enough buyers to satisfy the number of homeowners/builders trying to sell, so prices began to fall.
Then, foreclosures came to market. We eventually hit 11 months inventory which caused prices to crash until early 2012. By that time, inventory levels had fallen to 6.2 months and the market began its recovery. Over the last five years, inventory levels have remained well below the 6-month supply needed for prices to continue to level off. As a result, home prices have increased over that time at percentages well above the appreciation levels seen in a more normal market.
That was the past. What about the future?
We currently have about 4.5-months inventory. This means prices should continue to appreciate at above-normal levels which most experts believe will happen for the next year. However, two things have just occurred that are pointing to the fact that we may be returning to a more normal market.
Listing Supply is Increasing
Both existing and new construction inventory is on the rise. The latest Existing Home Sales Report from theNational Association of Realtors revealed that inventory has increased over the last two months after thirty-seven consecutive months of declining inventory. At the same time, building permits are also increasing which means more new construction is about to come to market.
Image result for real estate
Buyer Demand is Softening
Ivy Zelman, who is widely respected as an industry expert, reported in her latest ‘Z’ Report“While we continue to expect a resumption of growth in resale transactions on the back of easing inventory in 2019 and 2020, our real-time view into the market through ourReal Estate Broker Survey does suggest that buyers have grown more discerning of late and a level of “pause” has taken hold in many large housing markets. Indicative of this, our broker contacts rated buyer demand at 69 on a 0- 100 scale, still above average but down from 74 last year and representing the largest year-over-year decline in the two-year history of our survey.”
With supply increasing and demand waning, we may soon be back to a more normal real estate market. We will no longer be in a buyers’ market (like 2007-February 2012) or a sellers’ market (like March 2012- Today). Prices won’t appreciate at the levels we’ve seen recently, nor will they depreciate. It will be a balanced market where prices remain steady, where buyers will be better able to afford a home, and where sellers will more easily be able to move-up or move-down to a home that better suits their current lifestyles.
Bottom Line
Returning to a normal market is a good thing. However, after the zaniness of the last eleven years, it might feel strange. If you are going 85 miles per hour on a road with a 60 MPH speed limit and you see a police car ahead, you’re going to slow down quickly. But, after going 85 MPH, 60 MPH will feel like you’re crawling. It is the normal speed limit, yet, it will feel strange. That’s what is about to happen in real estate. The housing market is not falling apart. We are just returning to a more normal market which, in the long run, will be much healthier for you whether you are a buyer or a seller.
Note:  This is a nationwide overview, but there are always micro areas that buck the trend.

Borrowers beware of Google: JVM Lending

Jay Vorhees at JVM Lending wrote another great blog about Google, and how it can be both a friend and enemy. I have my own story about Google, but I’ll get to that at the end. First, read Jay’s take on why borrowers should beware of Google:

Image result for google

One of the reasons loan officers and borrowers were able to get away with so much fraud prior to the mortgage meltdown was the lack of public records and information in general. That is no longer the case, and borrowers need to be extra careful nowadays because underwriters Google everything – borrowers, employers, self-employed businesses, and even renters.

We recently had a transaction questioned because the borrowers rented out their $500,000 departing residence to a person who already owned a $1.5 million home. The underwriter Googled the name on the rental contract and rightfully wanted to know why the renter would want to downsize into a rental that was much smaller and in a vastly inferior neighborhood.

We had another situation where the borrower was subject to numerous criminal allegations that will likely prevent him from garnering business for his consulting firm (killing the deal), and this too came up with a Google check because it was all over the news.

Underwriters also Google employers to make sure they exist, no longer exist (if the application says a business with losses is closed down), or that public records match what is stated on the loan application. We have had borrowers, for example, claim to not have ownership interest in a business to avoid providing corporate tax returns, but the internet made it clear that they were owners.

Sometimes borrowers try to fool us, and sometimes they are just not careful enough when filling out their loan applications. Either way, they need to be ultra-careful these days because there really is no getting away with anything. In addition, once an underwriter thinks the borrower might be trying to mislead, she will not want to approve the loan under any circumstances because of the risk.

Kristin’s take: This is a great blog. My own Google story is about sellers who Googled the buyer, and some criminal allegations showed up. We only had one buyer, so we accepted the offer, but we figured out from the internet that he wasn’t the most stand-up individual. Sure enough, we had problems closing. They were contingent on the sale of their condo, and that also did not go smoothly, between the two, we were delayed a month.   In this situation I had no control over the other parties or the process.  In the middle of all this, our buyer went out and bought a vehicle, which changed his debt-to-income ration and had to be paid off with some of the proceeds in addition to a tax lien. It dragged out the process and naturally, the sellers were very frustrated. That was just one of many issues that were not shared with me.   If my clients had another offer I believe after their Google search they would  have never accepted the buyer but they were prepared for a rocky road;  none of us knew how painful it was going to be.

Moral of the story? Always Google, and be prepared to be Googled.

Are homebuyers going to hit the pause button?

Mortgage Consultant Bob Schwab posed an interesting question on his blog recently: is purchase demand softening? He writes that over the last several years, buyer demand has far exceeded the housing supply. This has led to home prices appreciating by an average of 6.2 percent each year since 2012.

The Foot Traffic Report, Realtors Confidence Index (both National Association of Realtors), The Showing Index (ShowingTime), and The Real Estate Broker Survey (The Z Report by Zelman and Associates) are the four major reports used to measure buyer activity. Three of the four have revealed that the purchase demand may, in fact, be softening:

Image result for housing market

The Foot Traffic Report

Latest reports say buyer demand remains strong, due to supply and new construction remaining unable to keep up with buyer demand – despite a healthy economy and labor market.

The Showing Index

In July 2018, the Showing Index recorded buyer interest deceleration compared to the previous year for the third month in a row. They think buyer demand is softening.

Realtors Confidence Index

This measure reported slower homebuying activity in July 2018, down from the same month one year ago. It is the fifth straight month they’ve seen a decline, so they agree buyer demand is softening.

The Real Estate Broker Survey

The Z Report also finds buyer demand to be softening, stating that “a level of “pause” has taken hold in many large housing markets.” Their buyer demand rating of 69 (1-100 scale) is above average, but down from 74 last year.

Image result for housing market

When most of the major measures of buyer activity report that demand is softening…it may just be true. According to Bob, the strong buyers’ market directly after the housing crash was followed by a six-year stretch of a strong sellers’ market. If demand continues to soften and supply begins to grow, as expected, there will be a return to a more neutral market. Though that wouldn’t favor buyers or sellers immediately, it is a better long-term look for real estate.

A direct quote from Bob: The era of cheap money might be coming to an end. Interest rates on mortgages are up three-quarters of one percent in the last year. The Federal Reserve is expected to raise short-term rates one-quarter of one percent at their September meeting and another one-quarter of a percent in December. Come October, bonds will have to stand on their own feet again as the Fed will officially end its “quantitative easing.” There are also some early signs of wage inflation as the unemployment rate continues to improve and businesses struggle to find employees. As I always remind my clients, mortgage rates are still fantastic from a historical perspective. They are still sitting in the mid to high fours. If you are considering buying a home or refinancing a mortgage this would be a great time to make a move.”

And my take: As rates and prices have increased, we are starting to see homes sit on the market longer and sell for less than they did six months ago. It really depends on the home and location. In Parkmead, buyers seem to want single story homes with current updates and a flat yard, as with the sale of 1691 Lilac. We still have an inventory shortage, but buyers are now taking their time, and a shift isn’t necessarily a bad thing. We will see if the lull is seasonal, but it most likely we will see the rate of appreciation slow down and sellers may have to adjust what they believe the value of their home is and buyers may not get as good of a deal as they expected. 

Eliminating PMI (private mortgage insurance)

According to my friend Jay Vorhees at JVM Lending, there are three options for eliminating the private mortgage insurance (PMI) obligation associated with a conventional loan plan. We go over his three options below, with a little input from yours truly:

Image result for refinancing

Option #1: Refinancing

If your property appreciates to the point where we can garner a new appraisal to support a value high enough to reduce your loan-to-value (LTV) ratio to 80 percent or less, you can refinance into a new loan with no PMI. This assumes, of course, that rates remain favorable. Keep in mind that most appraisers will correlate to the purchase price for the first six months, making it wise to wait at least this long to start the refinance process.

Option #2: Paying down

You can eliminate PMI by paying your loan down if you notify your servicer with your request, have a good payment history, and are willing to prove to the servicer that your property has not depreciated with an appraisal in some cases. This can help you pay down your loan to an amount equal to 80 percent of the original purchase price.

Option #3: Proving home

If your loan is owned or backed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, you can eliminate PMI by notifying your servicer with your request, as long as your loan has seasoned for two years with a good payment history. You’d also have to provide a current appraisal with high enough value to support a 75 percent LTV. If your loan is more than five years old, your LTV can be 80 percent. If you prove your home has appreciated to the point where the LTV is at 75 percent or less, you can eliminate PMI this way.

As rates increase, the option of refinancing becomes less feasible. There are currently loans called 80/10/10 or 80/15/5 where you take a HELOC (home equity line of credit). The buyer puts down 10 or 15 percent and the HELOC covers the balance and there is no PMI. The only issue is the HELOC has higher rates that tend to move with the market. They work well if one gets abonus or is expecting a pay increase and the HELOC can be paid off quickly. Always speak to your lender about the various options. I know from experience if you work with JVM, you are in good hands!