A couple of weeks ago, we received a letter from a homeowner who was at her wits’ end.

She wanted to buy a home as a short sale in Michigan. She made an offer that went nowhere and the house ultimately went into foreclosure. She and her family moved into the home, only to be told by a law firm engaged on behalf of the servicer that Freddie Mac doesn’t allow tenants to purchase occupied homes. She then contacted her congressional representative (which didn’t seem to produce any results), and then us.

She wrote: “I have great credit and have been preapproved for the purchase. And I will gladly accept the home as is without our government having to spend one more dime of your money or mine. It seems so simple. Can you help point me in the right direction?”

After the story ran, we heard from Brad German, a spokesperson for Freddie Mac. He was concerned about what had happened in the case and offered to track it down for us.

Ilyce spoke to the homeowner and it turned out that in the three weeks since she had written to us, her offer had finally been negotiated through Freddie Mac’s Home Steps program. But it had taken nearly a year from the time she first made an offer as a buyer to the time when her offer was being considered. She wanted to know why.

After deconstructing the timeline, a couple of things became clear: Communication about where homes are in the process of short sale and foreclosure is probably not as clear as it should be, and the right people aren’t getting the right information in a timely manner. Moreover, the processes of short sales and foreclosures remain opaque, mired in legalities that aren’t necessarily rooted in common sense.

Poor communication and an opaque process continue to confound borrowers, buyers, sellers, lenders and servicers alike. In the interests of helping shed a little sorely-needed light on the subject, German spent a couple of days digging in.

It turns out that a short sale couldn’t happen on the property because the lender and investors couldn’t come to an agreement with the actual owner of the property (who was not the person writing to us). In fact, that person went AWOL and no one could track him down.

“We were open to the short sale and reviewed the documents,” German said, “But we couldn’t find the seller to reach an agreement.”

When the seller couldn’t be reached, the property couldn’t be sold. To clear the title, the property was scheduled for a foreclosure sale in January. In Michigan, there is a six-month redemption period (in some states there is no redemption period), in which the owner of the property has the opportunity to reclaim it from foreclosure.

German says that during the redemption period, Freddie Mac “goes dark,” meaning the company has no contact with any buyers regarding the property. He admits that, up to the point that the property goes into foreclosure, all contact is with the owner of the property, which didn’t happen since the owner was AWOL. Freddie Mac assumes the seller’s broker is communicating information to the buyer’s agent, who then communicates it to the buyer. That apparently didn’t happen in this case.

Once the property was foreclosed on and went into redemption, and the six months were up (on July 9, in this case), a couple of things happened.

“We now had clear title and could move forward with the sale,” German explained. At the same time, Freddie Mac had received an inquiry about the homeowner from Rep. Candice Miller (R-Mich.) and was starting to do research. “While we were processing the inquiry, we were also working with the buyer to explore other options.”

The buyer had moved into the property when the prior owner was still around and had a lease that expired in May. At that point, she went into a month-to-month lease with Freddie Mac’s Home Steps program.

“We regularly sell foreclosures to tenants through Home Steps, and I’m not sure why she was told otherwise. We also sell to investors who plan to rent out the property,” German explained.

Once the property was in Freddie Mac’s REO inventory, it was available to be sold. German said that once the company received proof of funds (which happened in early August), it provided the tenant/buyer with closing proceeds equal to 3 percent of the sales price toward closing costs and gave her $500 toward her choice of homeowner’s warranty. The tenant/buyer is purchasing the home in “as is” condition.

When Ilyce called the tenant/buyer, she confirmed that the sale was on track even though the closing date hadn’t yet been scheduled. German said that the tenant/buyer has a personal contact who she can call to make sure the closing does get scheduled. She is thrilled.

The story has some lessons for others who are either trying to purchase a short sale or a foreclosure from a lender’s REO inventory.

To start, short sales are complicated because they involve multiple parties. “You have a buyer, seller, real estate agents, the lien holder, sometimes a mortgage insurer, the investor and lender. All of these parties have to come to the table and have to negotiate an acceptable sales price and terms,” German noted.

If you’re trying to buy a short sale, it can take 60 days or, as in this case, a whole lot longer. Staying with the program is key to a successful resolution.

“Buyers should stay in constant contact with servicer. If they are not getting traction with the servicer, and we own the loan, they can call us. And we can take a look and try to help,” German advised. The best number to call is 800-424-5401. (Fannie Mae offers a similar service, call 800-7FANNIE.) You can also call HUD housing counselors 24/7 at 888-995-HOPE.

Home buyers who want to live in the property get a leg up on investors who want to rent it out with Freddie Mac’s 15-day “first look” program.

“In the case of a tenant who has serious interest and capacity to purchase, they should be working closely with their real estate agent so once the property is in inventory and becomes available for sale, they can get the offer in as quickly as possible.”

It’s nice that in this case, the tenant/buyer will wind up closing on the property, even though the process stretched out a year. German tells buyers not to give up hope. “We want you to buy a house.”

(Source: Tribune Media Services)

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Home prices and mortgage rates aren’t the only costs on the rise when it comes to buying a house these days. Expect higher closings costs as well, according to a new study by

The average closing cost, which includes origination plus third-party fees, is $2,402, up 6 percent from last year.

Lenders appear to be boosting fees before the rise in mortgage rates turns borrowers off and makes it harder for lenders to attract new customers, a George Mason University real estate and finance expert told Bankrate.

“”They know when rates go up, loan applications plunge, so they are trying to generate more earnings on anticipation of lower application volume and lower profits,” Anthony Sanders said.

Lenders say the increased costs reflect more federal regulation from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Bankrate looked at origination and third-party fees. Origination fees include items such as points, a calculation used to compensate loan officers; and payments for the loan application, other document preparation, loan processing and broker or originator fees. Third-party fees include payments for such items as the appraisal, closing attorney, inspections and surveys.

Bankrate, however, said not all lenders include all of the fees, and actual closing costs are probably much higher because its analysis did not account for the most highly variable costs, such as title insurance, title search, taxes and other government fees and escrow fees.

Bankrate asked up to 10 lenders in each state plus Washington, D.C., to provide good-faith estimates for a $200,000 mortgage loan on a single-family house in a state’s largest city, and for a borrower with excellent credit who was putting up 20 percent in for a down payment. Banks are required to disclose all fees on the good-faith estimate.

Bankrate ranked Georgia fourth in costliest closing costs in the South behind No. 1 South Carolina, No. 2 North Carolina; and No. 3 Florida.

Nationally, Hawaii had the highest average closing costs ($2,919), followed by Alaska ($2,675), S.C. ($2,658); California ($2,639) and New Mexico ($2,566). Such costs were cheapest in Wisconsin ($2,119), Missouri ($2,188), Kansas ($2,193), Michigan ($2,203) and Washington ($2,208).

The rise in closing costs mirrors similar increases in home prices and mortgage rates.

Experts advise homebuyers to shop around for the best rates and closing fees, and get a good faith estimate, which will allow consumers to see all fees associated with the loan.

(Source: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

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Portending relief for inventory-starved housing markets in the not-so-distant future, 8.3 million homeowners, or about 18 percent of homeowners with mortgages, will gain enough equity to sell their homes in the next 15 months without resorting to short sales, according to data aggregator RealtyTrac.

“Steadily rising home prices are lifting all boats in this housing market and should spill over into more inventory of homes for sale in the coming months,” said Daren Blomquist, vice president at RealtyTrac.

“Homeowners who already have ample equity are quickly building on that equity, while the 8.3 million homeowners on the fence with little or no equity are on track to regain enough equity to sell before 2015 if home prices continue to increase at the rate of 1.33 percent per month that they have since bottoming out in March 2012.”

The 8.3 million “resurfacing” homeowners currently have anywhere from 10 percent negative equity to 10 percent positive equity, according to RealtyTrac’s September report on home equity.

Though a homeowner with low equity is not technically underwater, that borrower still typically faces more difficulty in selling a home than a homeowner with more equity because the proceeds of a low-equity sale may not be enough to adequately contribute to sales-related costs and a down payment on a new home.

But even as a giant swath of homeowners are expected to resurface, an even larger segment reportedly won’t come up for air anytime soon. Some 10.7 million homes have at least 25 percent negative equity or more, representing 23 percent of properties with a mortgage, according to RealtyTrac.

That’s down from 11.3 million in May 2013 and 12.5 million in September 2012, the firm said.

The report also found that 1 in 4 homeowners in foreclosure has positive equity, meaning those owners have a better chance of selling their homes before foreclosure proceedings conclude.

That’s “assuming they realize they have equity and don’t miss the opportunity to leverage that equity,” Blomquist said.

(Source: inmanNEWS)

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Policy changes by two of the biggest players in the mortgage market could open doors to home purchases this fall by thousands of people who were hard hit by the housing bust and who thought they’d have to wait for years before owning again.

Fannie Mae, the federally controlled mortgage investor, has come up with a “fix” designed to help large numbers of consumers whose short sales were misidentified as foreclosures by the national credit bureaus. Under previous rules, short-sellers would have to wait for up to seven years before becoming eligible for a new mortgage to buy a house. Under the revised plan, they may be able to qualify for a mortgage in as little as two years. Homeowners who are foreclosed upon generally must still wait for up to seven years before becoming eligible again to finance a house through Fannie. Industry estimates suggest that more than 2 million short-sellers might be affected by credit bureaus’ inaccurate descriptions of their transactions.

Meanwhile, the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) has announced a new program allowing borrowers whose previous mortgage troubles were caused by “extenuating circumstances” beyond their control to obtain new mortgages in as little as a year after losing their homes instead of the current three years. They will need to show that their delinquency problem was caused by an income drop of 20 percent or greater that continued for at least six months, and that they are now “back to work,” paying their bills on time and earning enough to qualify for a new FHA-insured mortgage.

Fannie Mae’s policy change came after months of prodding by the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), the National Consumer Reporting Association, the National Association of Realtors and Pam Marron, an outspoken consumer advocate in Florida. They all sought fairer treatment of borrowers who had participated in short sales in recent years. Marron, a mortgage broker, spotted the erroneous reporting of short sales on credit reports and mounted a campaign to correct the problem.

In a short sale, the lender approves the sale of a house to a new buyer but typically receives less than the balance owed. In a foreclosure, the bank takes title to the property and seeks to recover whatever it can through a resale. Though the two types of transactions are distinct and involve significantly different losses for banks — foreclosures are far more costly on average — the nation’s major credit bureaus have no special reporting code to identify short sales. As a result, critics say, millions of people who have undertaken short sales in recent years may have their transactions coded as foreclosures on their credit bureau reports.

That matters — a lot — because Fannie Mae and other major financing sources have mandated different waiting periods for new loans to borrowers who have completed short sales compared with borrowers who were foreclosed upon — in this case, two years vs. seven. Under the new policy, which takes effect Nov. 16, short-sellers who find that their transactions were miscoded on their credit reports and are able to put 20 percent down should alert their loan officers and provide documentation on their transaction. The loan officer should advise Fannie Mae about the credit report coding error. Fannie will then run the loan application through its revised automated underwriting system.

Freddie Mac, the other government-administered mortgage investor, continues to require a four-year waiting period for short-sellers who cannot demonstrate “extenuating circumstances” as having caused their problems. If they can do so — documenting income reductions beyond their control that wrecked their credit — they may be able to qualify for a new Freddie Mac loan in two years.

FHA’s policy change may prove to be an even more generous deal for some previous homeowners. Like Freddie Mac, FHA wants to see hard evidence of what economic events beyond the borrowers’ control — loss of a job, serious illness or death of a wage earner, for example — led to the delinquency or loss of the house. Applicants must be able to show 12 months of solid credit behavior, participate in a housing counseling program and get through the agency’s underwriting hoops. But unlike with either Fannie or Freddie, if you qualify under FHA’s revised rules, which are now in effect, and your lender approves, you might be able to buy a house with a new, low-down-payment mortgage in as little as a year.

It’s worth checking out.

(Source: The Washington Post)

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