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Help With Down Payments

January 23, 2019


Restating the main theme from the prior post, people who want to buy homes do not need “great” credit scores or large down payments.  Home buyers can obtain mortgages with as little as 3.0% down.  What about those people who have not saved enough for the low down payment plus closing costs plus prepaid escrow?  Do they have any options to help cover their required cash to close?  The answer is, “YES!” Here are some options for cash-strapped buyers:

  • Request that the seller contribute cash at closing to help cover the closing costs and prepaid escrow.  Mortgage guidelines allow the seller to contribute specific percentages of the home sale price to cover transaction costs and escrow, but not the down payment.  If the buyer’s agent can negotiate that the seller helps cover these items, then it can be done within the guidelines.  The greater the down payment, the more the seller can contribute.
  • Borrow from an employer-sponsored retirement account.  In many cases, home buyers with 401K or other retirement accounts may be able to borrow against the account balance to help purchase a home.  These are loans – the home buyer signs paperwork agreeing to repay the retirement account.  Different retirement plan managers have different rules, so home buyers should check with their HR departments and retirement plan managers to determine their eligibility.  Buyers can use retirement funds to cover down payment, escrow and loan costs.

  • Obtain a cash gift from a blood relative.  Parents, grandparents, siblings, and other blood relatives are allowed to give cash to help home buyers.  “Give” is the key word because all parties must sign documents stating the funds are a gift and not a loan, so no repayment is expected.  A recent Wall Street Journal article notes that now more first time buyers obtain relative gifts to help buy their homes.  Buyers can use gift funds to cover down payment, escrow and loan costs.
  • Government down payment assistance programs.  These programs are available from many state, county, and city governments.  They often require home ownership education classes and other commitments from home buyers.  These assistance programs may have income requirements.

The good news here is that cash-strapped home buyers can obtain low down payment loans and many can use one of these options to help close their loan.  Do you know someone who wants to buy a Georgia home but has limited cash?  Connect them with me.  We at Dunwoody Mortgage will help them explore all available options to buy a home sooner rather than later.


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Low Down Payment / Credit Score Mortgage Options

January 16, 2019


Joe Tyrrell, an executive with mortgage software company Ellie Mae, recently stated, “People still have the misunderstanding that they need a FICO score above 720 and more cash for a down payment, so they don’t apply for loans because they assume they’ll be denied.”  These would be borrowers are self-selecting themselves out of the home buying market based on false assumptions.  So let’s clear up some mortgage myths.

Firstly, borrowers do not a need “great” credit score to win mortgage approval.  Conventional loan guidelines allow credit scores down to 620.  FHA loan guidelines allow credit scores down to 580.  And now non-traditional loans exist that can approve borrowers with scores down to 500 and derogatory credit events (e.g., bankruptcy or foreclosure) in the last two years.  Note that the lower one’s credit score, the higher the interest rate the borrower will face.  But FHA interest rates for lower credit score borrowers are not ridiculously high relative to rates for higher credit score home buyers.


Secondly, winning loan approval does not require home buyers to break their proverbial piggy bank and make a large down payment.  Home buyers can obtain FHA loans with a minimum 3.5% down payment, and they can win conventional loan approval with a 3% down payment.  And if the home buyer qualifies, he / she could obtain a low-interest Home Ready or Home Possible loan with a 3% down payment.  Qualifying military veterans can secure 0% down payment VA loans.  Buyers in rural areas can receive 0% down USDA loans in approved counties.

What may confuse potential home buyers about down payments is the fact that conventional loans require a 20% down payment to avoid mortgage insurance.  But as long as the buyer can win loan approval with the added monthly mortgage insurance expense, the buyer can get their mortgage with a down payment of only 3%.  This 20% down payment myth  requirement is widely held.  Even some financial journalists hold this incorrect notion, as shown by this statement in a recent Wall Street Journal article, “While conventional mortgages can require buyers to put down as much as 20% of the purchase price up front, FHA buyers can pay as little as 3.5%.”  Regardless of what some journalists write, I can help home buyers win conventional loan approval with a down payment as low as 3%!!

Home buyers should remember that they will have to pay closing costs and prepaid escrow in addition to the down payment.  So buyers should plan to invest more cash than just the down payment at closing.  But buyers have options to help with their cash to close needs.  We will explore those options in the next post.

For now, do you have a friend or co-worker who wants to buy a house but is concerned about the down payment or credit score requirements?  Connect them with me and I will help them obtain the best mortgage for their financial situation and home needs.

VA Mortgage Volume Grows (Again)

December 28, 2018

For the seventh straight year, the number of homes purchased using VA mortgages has increased.  VA home purchase loan volume has increased dramatically in the last five years – up 59%.  610,000 VA home loans have been closed in the current fiscal year, generating $161 billion in loan volume.  According to Chris Birk, director of education at Veterans United, “More Veterans have used this $0 down loan in the last five years than in the prior dozen years combined.”  VA loans now comprise about 10% of the residential mortgage market.

Many experts consider the VA loan to be the “most powerful home loan on the market.”  One key reason – low interest rates.  Industry researchers report that VA loans have consistently had the lowest interest rates for 53 straight months.  A second key reason – veterans can obtain a loan with a zero down payment.  That enables many veterans to buy now instead of waiting several years while saving money for another loan program’s minimum down payment.  A third reason – VA loans require no monthly mortgage insurance payment.  Combining these three factors can make a home purchase much more affordable for American military veterans.

 

 

Given the many VA loan benefits, any veteran considering a home purchase should investigate the VA loan option.  The first question a veteran should ask is, “Do I qualify for a VA loan.”  A prior Mortgage Blog post from 2016 addresses this question in detail.  See the post, VA Loans:  How to Qualify, by Clay Jeffreys.  The key update to this post is that the 2019 VA loan limit will be $484,350, as opposed to the $417,000 amount valid in 2016.  A quick summary is that VA loans are available to the following people:

  • People who were on active duty for 90+ days during wartime.
  • People who were on active duty for 181+ days during peacetime.
  • People who served 6+ years in the National Guard or Reserves.
  • Spouse of a service person who died in combat OR resulting from a service related disability.
  • Some people who have served as public health officers or in the Coast Guard.

To qualify, veterans must submit service related documents to the VA, which then provides a Certificate of Eligibility (“COE”) to the mortgage lender.  For example, active duty personnel submit the military form DD-214 to obtain the COE.  The VA requires different documents for National Guard and Reserves personnel.

Instead of standard monthly mortgage insurance, the VA charges a funding fee, based on the home buyer’s service record and down payment percentage.  The lender simply adds the funding fee to the loan balance.  See the post, VA Loans:  Funding Fee, by Clay Jeffreys for a more detailed funding fee explanation.

Do you know a veteran considering a Georgia home purchase?  We at Dunwoody Mortgage love helping veterans buy homes.  We deliver these great VA loan benefits with the excellence service all Dunwoody Mortgage customers receive.  Tell veterans you know to call me.  We will treat them with the honor, respect, and excellence they deserve.


Generation Z is Preparing to Buy Homes

December 13, 2018

A recent study by realtor.com shows that Generation Z (ages 18 – 24) members show their strong home ownership desire because they prepare financially for a home purchase.  The study reports that Gen Z-ers are twice as likely as the previous generations to be saving or plan to be saving for a home purchase by age 25.   The study also noted that 40% of Gen Z-ers plan to become home owners by age 25.  These young people desire to buy homes at rates similar to Millennials and Gen X-er’s, but Gen Z-er’s have started saving sooner than prior generations.

The study shows that 79 percent are certain that they want to own a home, a level similar to the preceding generations.  Only 4 percent of this young generation say they do not want to buy a home.  The striking difference lies in the fact that, by age twenty-five, 74 percent have either started saving or plan to start saving for a home purchase.  Only 33 percent of the prior generations matched this saving discipline.  Some economists speculate that their graduating into one of the best labor markets in decades has given Gen Z-er’s a savings boost.

Other interesting details reported include:

  • Gen Z shows the least home-buying desire for investment or tax savings purposes (29 percent and 16 percent, respectively).
  • The top two reason for Gen Z home purchases are:
    • Customizing their own living space at 61 percent.
    • Raising a family in a home they own at 55 percent.

Great loan programs exist that can help young home buyers (older buyers, too) buy houses for as little as 3 percent down, and with interest rate and mortgage insurance discounts.  And military veterans can obtain VA loans with no down payment.  So young buyers who have started saving may be able to buy a home sooner than they think.

Do you know a young professional who talks about buying a home – perhaps a coworker or a niece or nephew?  Or has a friend with an adult child mentioned their kid’s home buying plans?  If so, please refer them to me.  If they are ready to buy now, we at Dunwoody Mortgage will get them into a home with a great loan that fits their needs.  If they are not ready to buy right now, we will coach them and help them to best prepare for their home purchase.  We love working with young (and older) home buyers.


Self-Employed Home Buyers – Helpful Loan Options

November 21, 2018


When obtaining a mortgage, self-employed home buyers face more detailed underwriting scrutiny regarding their income.  Conventional loans require analysis of the borrower’s net income as shown on their tax returns.  This can cause two challenges to self-employed buyers.

Firstly, underwriters compare year to year tax returns.  An income decline can cause loan denial.  As an example, one of my clients flips houses.  He wanted to buy a house in early 2016.  His 2014 tax return showed strong income.  He planned to sell two flipped homes in December 2015, but they were delayed about 3 weeks – until January 2016.  The income from those home sales did not appear on his 2015 income tax return.  Therefore, his income declined from 2014 to 2015, and he could not win conventional loan approval at that time.  He had to wait 12 months.  Then we won loan approval using a strong 2016 tax return.

Secondly, underwriters use the net income after business expenses to qualify a self-employed buyer.  Smart business owners expense as much as possible to lower their tax payments.  But the greater their expenses, the lower their net income, making it harder to qualify for a higher priced home loan.  Conventional loan underwriting guidelines work directly opposite to smart business tax strategy.  That can make it hard to qualify for the desired home.     

We can solve these problems by using a non-traditional mortgage that defines income using bank statements.  The underwriters determine income based on the statement deposit history.  The underwriters can specify income using 12 months of personal bank statements or 24 months of business bank statements.  Only 100% company owners can use business bank statements.  Qualifying for this loan requires that the borrower has been self-employed for at least 2 years.

So what’s the catch?  First of all, these loans typically require a 10% down payment – no 3% or 5% down loans.  Also, these non-traditional loans carry higher interest rates than traditional loans.  The borrower must decide if the higher interest payment is worth buying the house now.  For someone with significant tax write-offs, it may make sense to continue saving tens of thousands in tax payments in exchange for spending a little extra per year on mortgage interest. 

Do you know a self-employed friend or family member who wants to buy a home?  If you do, please connect them with me.  I will evaluate their ability to qualify for a traditional mortgage, and we will go that route if possible.  If tax savings or declining income becomes an obstacle, I can work to put them into a home sooner rather than later using a non-traditional loan.  With home prices and traditional mortgage rates rising, it may make financial sense to go ahead and buy now.

 

Cash Out Refi or HELOC – Key Questions

October 25, 2018


 

 

In the last post we covered the fact that American households have over $6 trillion of accessible home equity and described the two main ways home owners can access that equity – a cash out mortgage refinance and a home equity line of credit (HELOC).  I promised to make my recommendations on which option is best for a home owner, based on a set of questions.  You will find my recommendations below:

Question #1:  Do I want a fixed payment, or can I live with changing interest rates and payments?  Recent economic conditions show rising interest rates.   HELOC accounts typically carry a variable interest rate that increases as market interest rates increase and decrease as the market decreases.  Borrowers obtaining a cash out mortgage refinance often secure fixed rate mortgages, so the payments do not change over time.  Which do you prefer?

Question #2:  Am I disciplined to proactively pay down my loan over time, or will I only make minimum payments?  HELOC accounts typically require interest-only payments.  If you only plan to make the minimum payments, you may be surprised in a few years when your HELOC account matures and the bank expects you to pay off the remaining account balance.  If you will proactively pay down the balance, you will not have this surprise.  Refi mortgage payments fully amortize over the loan term, so your monthly payment always includes a principal component.  And when you make the last payment, your original loan balance will be fully repaid.  Which option is best for you?

Question #3:  How much money do I need, $100,000 for a home renovation or $10,000 for a home repair?  In short, if you do make extra principle payments, how long will it take you to repay the loan balance?  The lower the amount and the faster you repay it, the less likely increasing interest rates will burst your budget.  If you need a renovation amount of cash, selecting the long-term fixed mortgage rate may be a better option since it provides a fixed payment over a long time period.

Question #4:  Why do I need access to my home’s equity?  In my opinion, home renovations, repairs, and debt consolidations serve as good reasons to tap home equity.  These are steps that ultimately increase your equity or improve your overall financial position.  To me, that’s a wise use of your home equity.  On the other hand, tapping home equity for expendable items or vacations may not be the best use of a home’s equity.

Do you have a friend pondering whether to access their home’s equity?  Please refer them to me.  I will ask them these questions (and more) and coach them to make the best decision for their own unique circumstances.

Is Your Home Your Piggy Bank?

October 18, 2018

A recent study shows that for the first time ever, accessible (or “tappable,” the term used by the study) US home owner equity has exceeded $6 trillion.  The number of home owners with equity that they can access has reached about 44 million.  In the first half of 2018, this tappable home equity increased by about $636 billion.

Ultimately this means that many Americans can utilize their home equity to fund home renovation projects, cover education costs, consolidate higher-interest debt, or fund other household needs.  Americans typically access their home equity in one of two ways, a home equity line of credit (HELOC) or doing a cash out refinance on their entire mortgage.  Here are some costs and benefits of each option:

Cash Out Refinance:

  • Interest rate is typically fixed.
  • Fully amortizing – some of each monthly payment is principal.
  • Pays off existing mortgage so borrower starts with a new loan term and interest rate.

HELOC:

  • Variable interest rate.
  • Interest only payments – balloon due at end of loan term, often 10 years
  • Lower closing costs than a cash out refinance.
  • Does not change your current mortgage interest rate or amortization term.

So which option is best you ask?  Well, that depends considerably on the home owner’s circumstances.  As a mortgage lender, here are some questions I think a home owner should ask him / herself to help determine which option is right:

  • Do I want a fixed payment or can I live with changing interest rates and payments?
  • Am I disciplined enough to proactively pay down my loan quickly, or will I only make minimum payments?
  • How much do I need?  $100,000 for a home renovation or $10,000 for a home repair?
  • Why do I need to access my home’s equity?  Is the reason really worth tapping my equity?

Answers to these questions form the basis for a home owner’s decision.  In the next post, I will opine on my preferred options based on these questions, and give a recent client scenario.

Do you have a friend considering a renovation or needing funds for a child’s education in the next 3 months?  Please refer them to me.  I will ask them these questions and coach them to make the best decision for their own unique circumstances. 

 

Atlanta Home Market Update

September 26, 2018


A new report on the Atlanta housing market shows a significant decline in home sales, year over year, along with a much greater decline in Atlanta home sales as compared to the national housing market.  The number of August Atlanta home sales declined 7.1% from 2017 to 2018.  The national decline in home sales was only 1.1% for the same period.  The data shows varying results for different parts of the metro area:

  • Cobb County sales declined 9%
  • DeKalb County sales declined 8%
  • Clayton sales declined 17%
  • Gwinnett County reported a more than 10% sales decline
  • On the other hand, Fulton County sales increased 14%

Atlanta home prices continue to increase, even while the number of sales decrease.  One example of this is the Old Fourth Ward section of Atlanta.  From 2017 to 2018, the number of home sales declined 19%.  But at the same time, average prices in the Old Fourth Ward have risen by about 35%.

Atlanta’s housing challenge is an inventory shortage, especially at the lower end of the home price spectrum.  ReMax reported that the supply of homes listed for sale in metro Atlanta was down 13% in August as compared to August 2017.  Ultimately, buyers compete against each other for desirable homes and this forces prices up.

From my experience, it seems that homes priced under $300,000 have seen strong competition this year.  One client found a home priced around $260,000 in an attractive Gwinnett neighborhood.  My client’s offer was one of about 20 offers on this one house.  Some Realtor friends have told me about making offers on Atlanta condos where the listing agent received 12 – 15 other offers.

It is very tough for buyers to compete in this market.  I have several clients who have decided to put home ownership on hold until 2019.  It takes patience and persistence to keep going.

For pointers on how a lender can help a buyer compete, see this prior Mortgage Blog post:  https://wp.me/p1Gub-YJ.  Buyers should talk with Realtors about other ways to make their offers more attractive.  Effective ideas include:

  1. If cash is available, the buyer can offer to pay the purchase price regardless of the property’s appraised value.
  2. The buyer must have a flexible schedule to visit homes and make offers right when they hit the market.
  3. The buyer can consider writing a personal note to the seller explaining why the house is perfect.  (I’ve seen this work before.)

Experienced Realtors can offer more effective tips for winning the contract.  If you have a friend or coworker wanting to buy a home in Atlanta, ask if they want their lender to help them beyond financing a house by helping win the contract.  Then refer them to me.  We at Dunwoody Mortgage will do all in our power to help them win the contract and close on the purchase, and we will do it quickly too.


How the Lender Can Help Win the Contract

August 14, 2018


The last post covered reasons why we have such a sellers’ market in Atlanta real estate.  Now let’s cover how a lender can help win a contract.  We lenders have a few ways to help strengthen our buyers’ offers relative to competitors.

Firstly, many listing agents prefer to work with local lenders rather than the national and online lenders.  The Realtors also like the ability to communicate with local lenders – they can call us with any issues or questions and often get a faster response than with a national lender.  I once had a Realtor who was listing a home tell me, “We chose your client’s offer because they had a letter from you, and we know that you would make the closing happen on time.”  Trust is important and we local lenders work hard to build that trust in our markets.

Secondly, when my clients make an offer, sometimes the listing agent will call me to verify the information provided in the prequalification letter.  I’m always happy to talk with the agents, and I use this as a chance to actively promote my client’s strengths.  I once took a call from a Realtor on the Saturday of a holiday weekend.  When I answered she immediately responded, “Oh thank goodness!  A lender who works Realtor hours not bankers hours.”  We can be available on weekends and in the evenings to help our buyers.  I have volunteered to proactively call listing agents on my client’s behalf.  It helps to promote my client’s strengths.

The most powerful way a lender can help a buyer win a contract is to underwrite the buyer with a “to be determined” property — before the buyer actually makes an offer.  We fully underwrite the buyer, but without the property-specific details.  So there’s no appraisal, no title work, etc. (until a house is under contract).  This gives the ability to provide a letter stating that underwriting has already approved the borrower.  It also allows us to shorten the closing timeframe (since we don’t have to underwrite the buyer again) and potentially eliminate the financing contingency, which is standard on most home purchase contracts.  Having underwriting approval positions the buyer strongly relative to other offers with only prequalification letters.  The only offer stronger is a cash offer.  In competitive markets expecting multiple offers on listed homes, this approach can position the buyer to better win.

If you have a friend or family member who has been making home purchase offers and is frustrated about not winning, have them contact me.  We at Dunwoody Mortgage will do everything possible (from a lender perspective) to help them win.

 

A Seller’s Market – Thoughts on Why

July 26, 2018


The seller’s market continues on in the Atlanta area.  I have recently heard Realtors talking about their clients making offers on homes that have 12 – 15 competing offers.  One Realtor friend told me about a home that he listed last December.  The Realtor did painstaking research on the neighborhood and comparable properties.  The analysis said a fair price was $299,000.  The winning offer was $355,000!  That’s about 18% over the asking price.

So how did we get to this point?  According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, one key factor is that for over 10 years now, home construction has not kept pace with US population growth.  The article stated that current home construction per household is close to its lowest level in 60 years – since the late 1950’s.  In years past, this lower construction level was somewhat offset by the number of foreclosed homes available for purchase.  But that is no longer the case as foreclosure rates have decreased dramatically since the Great Recession.

In the Atlanta metro area, this housing “shortage” is compounded by population growth.  The Atlanta Journal Constitution reported in June that the metro area’s recent annual population growth of 1.5% exceeds the rates for eight of the top ten US metro areas.  With this growth rate, Atlanta is on pace to surpass the population of Philadelphia by 2022, becoming the eight most populous city in the country.

See the source image

All of this affects the mentality of a big group of potential home buyers.  They currently own a home, and they want to move to meet the needs of a growing family or shorten their commute.  But their income level will not support two mortgages, so their offers must be contingent on selling their current home.  That creates two problems.  The first is that sellers can choose from multiple offers and they are much more likely to choose a non-contingent offer than a contingent one.  Secondly, these would-be home buyers are very reluctant to list their current home without having a new home under contract.  And it makes sense – they don’t want to sell their current house and not be able to buy a new one.  Let’s face it…moving stinks, and having to move twice stinks twice as much.  So many would-be home buyers are “sitting on the sidelines,” waiting for the market to get less competitive before they seriously look for homes.

Dunwoody Mortgage can actually help our clients better position themselves to win competitive home purchase situations.  You ask, “How can the lender help the buyer win a contract?”  I’ll tell you…in the next blog post.  If you or someone you know wants to buy a house and doesn’t have time to wait for the next post, call me.  I would love to tell you how Dunwoody Mortgage can help home buyers win in this sellers market.