Rising home values are fueling a return in home-equity lending, allowing consumers to remodel, consolidate debt or help pay tuition bills.

By the middle of 2012, home prices had finally gained enough ground for lenders to begin marketing these loans and lines of credit again, and for homeowners in many areas — particularly along both coasts — to have equity to borrow against.

“The demand is starting to increase, particularly in the coastal markets,” says Kelly Kockos, Wells Fargo senior vice president and home-equity product manager.

In the second quarter of 2013, 2.5 million residential properties returned to a state of positive equity, according to propertydata firm CoreLogic, bringing the total number of mortgaged homes with positive equity to 41.5 million. Just 7.1 million homes — or 14.5% of all residential properties with a mortgage — are underwater.

Tapping into this growing equity isn’t as easy as it once was, however, and borrowers can’t take out as much as they could before the housing bust, when many were using the cash to live beyond their means.

These days, says Greg McBride, senior financial analyst with Bankrate.com, most lenders won’t let you borrow against every nickel of equity, like they did before the housing bust. “Lenders now require you to retain a 20% equity stake,” he says.

You’ll also have to document your income and ability to repay the loan, unlike in years past. And lenders, burned in the foreclosure crisis, are now requiring a full appraisal of your home.

“There are a lot of lenders that are still suffering from their previous decisions in home-equity [lending],” says Keith Gumbinger, vice president of mortgage-data firm HSH.com. When overvalued properties that had home-equity loans fell into foreclosure, those lenders recovered nothing.

Loans and lines of credit
Most lenders offer two basic home-equity products. The first is the home-equity loan, in which banks make a one-time lump sum disbursement of funds against your home equity, with a fixed rate and a fixed repayment schedule of five, 10, 15 or sometimes 20 years.

Borrowers paying a contractor for major home renovations or consumers consolidating debt or paying off a large medical bill often use this loan.

At the end of August, the last period for which data are available, the average rate for a home-equity loan to a borrower with good credit (FICO score of 740 or above) for 10 years or longer was 6.28%, according to HSH’s survey of 370 lenders. That’s an attractive rate, analysts say, especially when compared with the interest on credit cards. However, it’s not as cheap — at least in today’s low rate environment — as the home-equity line of credit (HELOC) that borrowers can draw down over time, using a checkbook to borrow money as needed.

This credit typically comes with a variable rate, based on the prime lending rate and a margin of one or more points. In September, the prime was at 3.25%, making these loans cheaper than traditional home-equity loans for most people. Exactly what rate you get will depend largely on your credit score and the amount of equity you have in your home, Gumbinger says. At the end of August, the average rate among 370 lenders for a HELOC to a good-quality borrower was 5.2%, according to HSH.

This lower rate has made HELOCs the most popular choice, as well as the most widely available, analysts say. These lines work well for do-it-yourselfers working on a project over time, and those who have recurring expenses, such as college tuition or even wedding expenses.

“There’s a lot more flexibility around when you borrow and how you repay,” McBride says. “And you’re not paying interest on something you haven’t used yet,” he adds. As with a credit card, you can make a minimum payment when money is tight or accelerate payments as you see fit.

Lenders like them because they are less risky, Gumbinger says. For instance, they can cut off the rest of a $20,000 credit line if a borrower fails to repay the first $10,000 on time.

The process
Securing a home-equity loan isn’t nearly as easy as it was before the housing bust. In fact, today it looks a lot like applying for a first mortgage: You’ll have to gather documentation of your income and assets to apply. Your home also must appraised, so lenders can know how much credit to extend to you.

Here’s a rough idea of how lenders would make that calculation:

If your home appraises for $200,000 and has a mortgage of $150,000, you would have $50,000 in equity, but would probably only be able to borrow about $10,000, to retain the 20% stake most lenders are requiring.

The minimum loan most lenders will do is $10,000, Gumbinger says. Kockos says that’s true for Wells Fargo. However, the bank’s HELOCs have a minimum of $20,000.

Many homeowners are surprised to find that they can’t borrow as much as they would like. “Everyone thinks their home is worth more than it is,” McBride says.

Of the 41.5 million mortgaged properties with positive equity in the second quarter, 10.3 million had less than 20% equity. These “under-equitied” mortgages accounted for 21.1% of all mortgages in the second quarter, according to CoreLogic.

As with any variable-rate loan, HELOCs can move up with shifts in interest rates.

And borrowers should consider the risk of consolidating credit card and other unsecured debt into a home-equity loan or HELOC. While you can write off the interest on these loans on your taxes, McBride says, you’re also converting this debt to a secured position, which could threaten title to your home should you not pay it off on time.

here are also closing costs to consider, just as there are with a first mortgage. While some lenders will absorb these costs — sometimes in exchange for a slightly higher interest rate — others will not. Moreover, if lenders waive or defer these costs, they may bill you for them if you close the account early.

Moreover, there are rules that borrowers must be mindful of, such as meeting the minimum draw for a HELOC within a certain period of time, as well as early termination fees. These fees can be costly, so read the fine print when applying for a loan.

Consider the time frame over which you would use the line or sell your home. Does that meet the lender’s minimum requirements, or will you be stuck with a penalty or deferred closing costs?

Borrowers should shop on the basis of both rates and fees, as they can vary widely by lender. “Home-equity markets are open, but not equally,” Gumbinger says. “Individual lenders in a market may not participate or may not be all that competitive. You really do need to shop around.”

(Source: MSN Money)

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Stephen Hussey, a Boston-area home inspector and real estate agent, sees it too often: home buyers blowing deals because they simply weren’t ready to compete in today’s fiercely competitive housing market.

Up against five or more bidders for the same home, these slow-off-the-mark shoppers did not prepare well, and then blamed themselves or others for not nabbing the dream home that seemed within their grasp.

“When it comes time to pull the trigger, you have to know what to do and move fast,” said Hussey, a home inspector at JMC Associates in South Boston and a real estate agent at Meridian Realty in the Back Bay. “You have to be as proactive as possible.”

At a time when sellers are gladly fielding multiple bids, real estate specialists say the edge usually goes to those who have done their homework, nailed down financing, screened and hired a trusted real estate agent and home inspector, written advance purchase-offer letters, and mapped out a clear, disciplined bidding strategy.

“I’m seeing who’s winning and losing in this market and it’s usually the little things that make the difference,” said Andrew Sarno, a realtor at Re/Max Andrew Realty Services in Medford. “Inexperienced people are getting creamed out there.”

Here is a quick guide to moving fast:


See how fast homes are selling in your target market — and how much above asking price. Then once you get over the shell shock, think about expanding outward to other communities — and do your homework there, too. Sarno said he has seen people with their hearts set on living in trendy Cambridge, Somerville, or Arlington, only to be overwhelmed by the mass of buyers at open houses and the high bids offered right away.

When Sarno suggests those buyers widen their search to less expensive communities — in this case, Medford, Melrose, or Malden — they usually haven’t researched those markets properly and their slow reaction can cost them even more deals.


There are a lot of pitfalls in getting a mortgage, and even the most careful buyer can overlook something as simple as an expiration date.

First, understand that being “prequalified” doesn’t mean you are ready to close fast. Prequalified is usually an informal, tentative agreement from a lender that establishes the rough parameters for a future mortgage, said Vincent Gregory, a vice president and regional sales manager at Rockland Trust.

Being “preapproved” is a more rigorous process and puts a buyer in a better position to move fast. This entails providing the gamut of financial info — pay stubs, tax returns, etc. — so lenders can calculate what they might offer, Gregory said. During this process, lenders will also check your credit history, so it makes sense to beat them to it and review your credit records for accuracy.

Even then, some people with preapprovals forget the offers are usually good for only 90 days. Banks also reserve the right to change terms if interest rates rise, as they have in recent months, Gregory said.

Those changes can slow the bidding and closing process, so stay in close contact with the lender that provided the preapproval.

Kimberly Allard-Moccia, a broker at Century 21 Professionals in Braintree and president of the Massachusetts Association of Realtors, said she has seen buyers blow last-minute deals because they weren’t aware their mortgage agreement was either inadequate or expired.

“Many sellers in this market don’t even want nonapproved people in their homes,” said Allard-Moccia.


To speed through the shopping part, buyers should have a firm idea of “must-haves” and “desirable but not critical” items that they can quickly check off while touring homes. Also expect most homes to attract multiple bids — often 5 percent or more above asking price — so make sure you know beforehand what your absolute limit is.

Allard-Moccia said it helps to have cash handy for an immediate deposit — usually about $1,000 upfront and an agreed-upon additional amount within about 10 days. A deal can fall apart over deposit mishaps, she warned.

Real estate specialists said buyers can move more quickly if they already have a polished letter drawn up, that includes polite, flattering things about the seller’s home. Faced with similar bids, a seller may well go with someone they like.

One real estate agent knows of a buyer who won a bidding contest because she mentioned in an offer letter that she was a single mom, while another bidder landed the purchase because he had mentioned he was a war veteran.

Make sure you have a home inspector lined up beforemaking an offer.

Buyers should never waive their right to have a home inspected before a purchase, even if the seller is pressuring you to do so. Instead have an inspector at the ready, who is willing to show up right away. You can head off trouble by including a clause in the offer letter that you won’t renegotiate if the inspection finds less than, say $5,000 in potential repairs.

The bottom line is that sellers are in the driver’s seat in the current market, and they tend to want organized, disciplined, and serious buyers who can distinguish themselves from the pack if all bid offers are roughly equal.

“People are going up against veteran buyers who have bid on a number of homes already,” said Sarno. “You have to be prepared.”

(Source: Globe Newspaper Company)

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It’s a hotly debated question among economists and analysts right now: What will the recent spike in mortgage rates do to the housing market?

Mortgage rates fell to 4.75% last week, down from 4.8% for the average 30-year fixed-rate two weeks ago, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association.

Existing home sales in August hit a 6½-year high, rising by 1.7% from July, according to the National Association of Realtors. The report measures sales that closed for contracts that were signed one or two months earlier. Weekly data on mortgage-purchase applications suggest, however, that higher mortgage rates are leading to a mild slowdown in demand, and a modest drop in the average amount of debt sought by prospective buyers.

The upshot: higher rates could have a greater impact on price than on the total level of sales.

Over the long run, “there’s no major correlation between rates and prices,” says Douglas Duncan, chief economist at Fannie Mae. Moreover, even at 4.75%, interest rates are still very low by historical standards. But the speed at which rates climb matters in the short-run, Mr. Duncan says, because it can force would-be buyers to adjust what they’re willing to pay.

Consider: a homeowner shopping for a $500,000 house and making a 20% down payment would have been able to purchase a home in April with a 3.5% rate that offered a $1,800 monthly payment. Right now with a 4.75% mortgage rate, the same house would cost 16% more on a monthly-payment basis, or almost $300 more.

Of course, this math doesn’t account for the fact that home prices are also higher than they were a few months ago—meaning sellers may have lost the advantage they had on prices earlier this spring. Since many buyers who need a mortgage shop for a house based on how much they’re going to pay every month, the increase in rates together with the increase in prices could lead to some sticker shock.

Other data, however, show that the amount of debt sought by prospective borrowers has fallen from a peak in early May, before mortgage rates began to rise, as the accompanying charts illustrate. While borrowing amounts are still above their year-earlier levels, the rate of growth has slowed.

In early September, the average loan on an application for a mortgage to purchase a home had fallen to $252,400, down from a high of $269,700 in April. While some of this decline could be seasonal, the average loan amount in early September was up by 7% from one year earlier, compared with gains of 12% witnessed in April.

Rates jumped this summer as investors began to anticipate that the Federal Reserve would wind down its bond-buying program later this year. On Wednesday, the Fed opted not to begin that process, saying it still wanted to see stronger economic growth. The Fed also indicated that it was keeping a close eye on how housing markets were digesting higher financing costs.

In 1994, the average 30-year mortgage rate jumped from 7.1% to 9.2% by the end of the year, denting a broad-based housing rebound. An annual home-sales gain of 13% that June became a 7% decline the following May, according to Moody’s Analytics. In 1996, rates rose from 7% to 8.3%, slowing single-family home sales from an annual gain of 11% to a gain of just 3% eight months later.

To be sure, interest rates aren’t nearly so high today, and the market could eventually shrug off a 4.5% mortgage rate. But in the short run, the overall level of rates may not matter as much as the speed of the increase in those rates. If higher rates stick, it remains to be seen just how quickly buyers and sellers will adjust to that over the next few months.

(Source: The Wall Street Journal)

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Existing-home sales hit their highest level in 6 1/2 years in August, as fast-rising mortgage rates pushed buyers to close deals, the National Association of Realtors (NAR) reported today.

Existing-home sales rose 1.7 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.48 million in August from 5.39 million in July, and were up 13.2 percent annually, according to NAR.

“Rising mortgage interest rates pushed more buyers to close deals, but monthly sales are likely to be uneven in the months ahead from several market frictions,” said NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun. “Tight inventory is limiting choices in many areas, higher mortgage interest rates mean affordability isn’t as favorable as it was, and restrictive mortgage lending standards are keeping some otherwise qualified buyers from completing a purchase.”

Existing-home inventory at the end of August increased 0.4 percent to 2.25 million homes, representing a 4.9-month supply of homes at the current rate of home sales, NAR said.

That’s down from a five-month supply in July and a six-month supply a year before, the trade group said.

(Source: Inman News)


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Seasoned real estate investor Kurt De Meire led an eager group of students on a field trip to a recent foreclosure auction. He wanted to show them how to flip homes — find bargains and resell them quickly at a profit.

At one point, he nonchalantly pulled an item out of an envelope from one of his clients, an investor who couldn’t make it to the Pomona, Calif., auction that morning. The newbies ogled it. It was a cashier’s check for $1 million.

“There will be millions of dollars of real estate sold here,” De Meire said, gesturing toward veteran bidders in T-shirts and jeans as the auctioneer began rattling off property addresses. “These people would not be here if they weren’t getting good deals every day.”

The house-flipping frenzy of the mid-2000s, glamorized on TV reality shows such as “Flip This House” and “Flipping Out,” helped drive prices to unrealistic heights before the housing bubble burst. Since then, investors paying cash for distressed properties have been credited with helping the real estate recovery.

Relatively low housing prices and interest rates have fueled a renewed fascination with flipping in the past few years. But competition from large private funds buying homes to rent out, and rising prices, are changing the market.

House flipping increased 19 percent year over year across the nation in the first half of the year, a July report from housing data firm RealtyTrac shows.

“I would say the climate is getting a lot more difficult for the house flipper,” said Ryan Meltcher, of Brea, Calif., who invested in about 80 homes last year. “It’s harder to find good inventory.”

Investors have various ways to buy available, lower-cost properties. One route is to attend the auctions of homes going into foreclosure.

Homes aren’t the only properties on the block; apartment and commercial buildings are part of the mix too. Postponements are common, as owners in default scramble behind the scenes for loan modifications, try to sell the home at a loss or file for bankruptcy. De Meire’s client who gave him the $1 million check didn’t score the property he wanted at the auction in Pomona. The sale rolled.

De Meire owns CountyRecordsResearch.com in Huntington Beach, Calif. The firm, operating in California, Arizona and Nevada, processes foreclosures for lenders, tracks distressed real estate and teaches investors how to buy the properties. He also provides a bidding service at auctions for investors who can’t attend.

When he takes would-be flippers on field trips to the auctions, De Meire, in his wide-brimmed hat, speaks in a slow, instructive style as he explains the auction process. He also explains other ways investors can find opportunities, all before a home is relisted.

You can approach a homeowner long before the foreclosure auction, he tells the students, once the property goes into default, which is the first step in the repossession process.

Or you could buy a delinquent note from the bank at a discount and take over the home loan, he suggests, essentially becoming the lender, and eventually foreclosing on and reselling the property at a profit.

Another idea: Try to buy the home from the lender immediately after the auction in what’s technically called the trustee sale, after no one has bid on it and the home has just reverted to the bank.

Or snap up the home from another investor who bid successfully on the property at the auction — an on-the-spot flip. This scenario offers the luxury of an escrow period, De Meire said, and a chance to get financing and title insurance, which can’t be done before bidding at the auction.

But, De Meire said: “Don’t ever limit yourself to bidding at these sales. There’s much more to this business.”

Virgil Thompson, of Los Angeles, who performs energy audits on buildings for a national company, came to Pomona to learn how to buy properties at the foreclosure auction. But after listening to De Meire, he left with another idea.

“I like his smart strategy of buying the note,” Thompson said.

(Source: Chicago Tribune)

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