Fed halts rate increases (JVM Lending)

Jay Vorhees at JVM Lending shared an interesting blog recently about the Fed halting rate increases. We’ve posted about the Fed and how it affects the housing market many times in the past, so I wanted to break it down for you again. First, Jay’s blog:

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Yesterday, the Fed announced that there will be no more rate hikes in 2019. And many people in the mortgage and real estate industries cheered. But a lot of economists and Fed-watchers are more worried than ever.

Here is just one of many articles (from the WSJ) I read today illuminating serious concerns. The Fed has the toughest job in the world. It needs to build up enough ammo to fight the next recession without actually causing the next recession.

The problem for the Fed is that it needs to lower rates 4-5% to effectively help the economy when a recession hits. But, the Fed Funds rate is only 2.5% today, and if the Fed raises rates any more, they could cause a recession.

So, that leaves more Quantitative Easing as a likely option when the next recession hits. But that too may be less effective because the Fed still holds almost $4 trillion in MBS and Treasuries, down a little from, but still close to, its peak holdings of $4.5 trillion.

So, what does all this mean for those of us in the real estate and mortgage industries? It means the sun will shine a little brighter this year for all of us. But, the more the Fed artificially induces bright sunshine now, the longer the sun will be behind a cloud in the future.

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So, like the Portuguese biscuit maker who just keeps making buscuits no matter what the economy does, we should all do the same – as fast as possible. Because our current economically-sunny weather won’t last, and we need to be ready for the cloudy weather that is certain to come and that will likely now last even longer.

Okay, that’s a lot to take in, right? Here is my takeaway: cash is king and save your money to buy when the market dips. Europe is already in a slowdown, we are seeing the tech stocks take a hit, and this past week we now have an inverse yield curve, which in the past indicated a recession in the next year or so. Who knows what will happen (nobody has a crystal ball, but you can save)?

Why curb appeal is so important

My friend Jay Vorhees at JVM Lending wrote a blog about the importance of curb appeal for marketability and “appraisability.” I’ve shared with you below!

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I live near a home that was on the market for nearly three months before it finally ended up selling for over $200,000 less than its original list price. In contrast, I live near another home that is the same size as the home I just referenced, and it recently sold over asking on the same day it hit the market; it also sold for over $200,000 more than the house I referenced in the first sentence!

One of the biggest differences between the two homes is curb appeal. The home that sold for less than asking has a front yard that consists mostly of 40-year-old junipers while the more expensive home has far more appealing landscaping. What is most interesting to me is that the nicer home’s landscaping was not elaborate or expensive; it was merely fresh and very well-maintained.

If the lower priced home had spent $15,000 to take out the junipers and refresh its landscaping, I think they would have made back that money many times over. As most agents know, it’s all about “Curb Appeal.”

According to a survey, what really sets a house apart is a nice yard, a new mailbox, exterior lights, and a welcoming front porch. In contrast, having a dirty exterior, unmown lawns, dead plants, weeds, overgrown flower beds, a garish house color, a tacky mailbox, no trespassing and beware of dog signs, or chain link fencing can really reduce curb appeal.

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Most agents are well aware of these factors and do a good job of coaching their clients. The above factors significantly affect marketability of a home, and it often takes a surprisingly small amount of time and/or money to enhance curb appeal. It also influences appraisers! They are more likely to correlate to the higher range of a price point if the curb appeal of a house is better – even if the interior isn’t as nice.

-Kristin’s wrapup: Overall, it is amazing how some small improvements can help the sale. Whether it is staging, putting in fresh bark and potting some flowers, painting the kitchen cabinets, or adding a stone countertop, I believe this helps a home get more showings, sell faster and ultimately get more money.

Divorcing and selling a home

My friend Jay Vorhees at JVM Lending put out a good blog recently about a tricky subject: divorcing and selling a home. Apparently, March tends to be the peak divorce-filing month because it’s after the holidays but before summer.

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Jay has some go-to advice for those who need to know about mortgages and divorces:

  1. The only way a spouse can get “off a loan” is with a full refinance.
  2. Stay cordial before the divorce, because if you want to buy before it is finalized, the non-buying spouse must sign a quit-claim.
  3. It takes 6-12 months of court-ordered payment history before spousal support income of any kinda can be used.
  4. There need to be at least 3 years of future payments before one can qualify for spousal support (i.e., can’t use income if support ends at age 18, and the kids are currently 16 and 17).
  5. Lenders must have a court-approved settlement agreement before a transaction can close, once they find out about a pending divorce.
  6. Divorcing spouses can hire private judges to expedite settlements in order to close mortgages sooner. This can be an affordable alternative (as little as $500 sometimes).
  7. Increasing a mortgage to buy out a spouse is not considered “cash out” as long as all cash proceeds go to the spouse getting bought out.
  8. All marital debt must be accounted for when qualifying, unless there is a court order or decree that specifically states which spouse is responsible for which debt.
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Okay! That’s a lot of information that I hope none of you ever have to use. However, it is good information if you do or are thinking about it. Call me if you have any questions.

Why I only refer clients to lenders I trust!

I won’t be pasting the entirety of Jay Vorhees of JVM Lending’s blog about this here. I’ll just hit the major points. But this is a perfect example of why I only refer clients to lenders I trust. Read on:

Last week, a borrower came to us to discuss her refinancing because she had lost trust with the lender she was working with (America’s largest non-bank lender). She was trying to refinance the house she lived in but it was owned by her Dad and she was not on the title, so a refinancing was impossible.

In any case, she was trying to refinance the house she lived in but it was owned by her Dad and she was not on title.  So a refi was impossible – something the other loan officer failed to comprehend – and it had to be structured as a purchase.

Further complicating things was a “gift of equity” down payment, the need for “cash out” for improvements, and the need to avoid capital gains taxes for the seller – all issues that the other loan officer had zero understanding of.

In any case, one of our Mortgage Analysts quickly figured out how to structure the loan and then re-locked the same borrower with the same lender via our correspondent relationship but at a 1/2 percent lower rate. 

I share this story not to make JVM the hero but to once again warn buyers away from the big call center mortgage companies. The call centers stuff bodies into cubicles to do nothing but sell.

Those “bodies” often do not have the skill to close transactions when there is even a small amount of complexity, and…their rates are way higher to boot.  

That’s Jay’s horror story about call centers. It does a great job of explaining why I prefer to refer specific lenders I know who will always get the job done. It creates a smoother process for everyone that way. Most banks or Quickens of the world don’t fully underwrite upfront; it requires a lot of paperwork initially, but it creates a very smooth process to closing. This way the buyers are aware of any potential issues before you ever write an offer. They also don’t tell you that once you are in contract, you are handed off to loan processor who you have never spoken with and many loan agents are on to the next approval and are no longer in the immediate loop. Communication often falls apart at this point. Your loan officer may be local, but the processor could be in a different state.

I currently have a new home buyer who is shopping three different lenders looking for the best rate. With two of them, I expect possible delays and a questionable overall experience for my buyers. One is fantastic, but a first-time home-buyer doesn’t understand those nuances far outweigh an eighth of a point difference in an interest rate. Hopefully whoever they choose will do right by them and it will be smooth sailing.

I just closed on a house (blog to come on Thursday). When we first met, they were talking to one of the largest non-bank lenders. I recommended they speak to JVM and just compare the experience and decide who they would like to work with. They closed with JVM and when I handed them the keys, they remarked at how smooth the overall process was for them and when compared to their friends who recently purchased and had a loan with one of the big banks, they said their lending experience was horrible.

The Fed lost control over interest rates – so now what?

My friend Jay Vorhees of JVM Lending had a great blog recently about The Fed and interest rates. Here is the article below, with my two cents included:

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Rates are at an eight-month low right now – about 1/2 percent lower than they were at their peak in October. I should add though that they still remain about 1/2 percent higher than they were last year at this time. So, did the Fed finally achieve its stated goal of pushing up rates?

Not in the way anybody expected.

According to former Senate Banking Committee Chairman Phil Gramm, the Fed now has less control over interest rates than at any other time in its 105-year history. I won’t go into all the details, but it has to do with its massive bond holdings (almost $4 trillion) and the excess reserves in the banking system. You can read more about it here.

The Fed can influence rates in the short term with its actual policies and statements, but the markets now seem to have much more say in the matter than the Fed. We are watching this currently, as the Fed’s short-term rate increases are not resulting in long-term rate increases like we have seen in the past.

What this means is a repeat of what I have been saying repeatedly over the last several years – nobody really has any idea of what will happen with rates (or anything else for that matter – remember Mr. Trump’s election?). A slowing world economy could continue to bring rates down, or a resurgence in bank lending (according to the article referenced above) could spark an inflationary spiral that will send rates through the roof.

Suffice it to say that we will see a lot more volatility in both the stock and bond markets for a long time to come. What is really scary though is what will happen when everyone figures out that there is no way that the world can ever pay back the $250 trillion in worldwide debt that has built up over the last ten years. When that happens, today’s environment will seem like very calm sailing.

Bond Market

Lastly – despite the uncertainty, many pundits are now predicting low (and even declining) rates throughout 2019.

Great stuff from Jay, right? So, here are  my thoughts: The Fed came up with four rate hikes last year, and now the mortgage rates are lower than expected as stock market sways are leading people to bonds. What that means for the real estate market, especially locally is that more buyers maybe taking advantage of getting in now.  I am starting to see the market pick back up, but this year it didn’t happen on January 3rd, didn’t really see it until the weekend after January 7th when the kids returned to school from their holiday break.  January has been interesting the last few years, as buyers have been out, but sellers want to wait until March and they often loose that burst of lots of buyers and no inventory.   At any rate, nobody has a crystal ball and I believe we will be on a wild ride as the stock market will have more volatility (as it is suppose to).

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.

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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.   

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.

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:

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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.

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:

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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!