Spring and summer are the high season for home sales, but winter can be a buyer’s market. If you don’t mind a smaller pool of homes for sale or moving around the holidays, winter might be a good time for you to house shop.

Less Competition, More Leverage
Since spring and summer are the most active real estate seasons, many home sellers wait until then to list their homes. That means there are fewer homes for sale in the winter, but the sellers often have strong reasons to sell their homes soon, such as job relocation. These motivated sellers can be a boon to the home buyer.

While there are fewer homes to choose among, the smaller selection can save you a lot of time. Do you really want to traipse through 50 houses? It may be simpler to view the handful of homes for sale in the winter and choose the one that best suits your needs.

Just as there are fewer homes for sale during the winter, there are fewer buyers, too. That means less competition and sellers who are more willing to accommodate potential buyers. Use this knowledge to your advantage. Offer a relatively low (but not insultingly low) bid for the home you’ve selected, or ask for perks such as the living room furniture or the chandelier that you admire. The low number of potential buyers also means you have more time to make your decision. In the spring, you often need to choose a home and act quickly, but in winter you may be able to take your time.

Assessing a Home’s Winter Fitness
Viewing homes in the winter lets you see how it holds up to the weather. Did you feel cold while looking through the house? Is there a functioning heating system and hot water? Are the windows letting in drafts?

Availability of Agents and Others
Another advantage of buying a home in the off-season is the greater availability of industry professionals. Real estate agents will have fewer clients and more time to focus on your home search. Lenders will be more accessible for questions and assistance. Some lenders even waive fees during the off-season to encourage borrowers to use their services. Likewise, movers tend to lower their costs during the winter months.

Gray Gardens or Winter Wonderland?
Home buyers can be turned off by the bleak look of prospective homes in winter. Bare trees and lawns covered in gray snow aren’t the most picturesque. However, you’ll be able to see how well neighbors tend driveways and sidewalks, whether the town plows or salts icy streets, and whether kids come out to play in the snow. Around the holidays, you might even see the neighborhood decorated in its winter finest.

(Source: Realtor.com)

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Now that the U.S. government is once again up and running, it’s time to take stock of the government shutdown’s impact on the real estate market (especially the mortgage end of that market), and what happens immediately going forward.

One quick red flag comes from the National Association of Home Builders, which reports that newly-built single-family homes were down two points in October.

The NAHB says the decline may be due, in part, to the shutdown; but now that Uncle Sam is back in the chips the decline should be reversed in the coming months.

“A spike in mortgage interest rates, along with the paralysis in Washington that led to the government shutdown and uncertainty regarding the nation’s debt limit, have caused builders and consumers to take pause,” NAHB Chief Economist David Crowe said on Wednesday, just as a deal was being reached in Congress. “However, interest rates remain near historic lows and we don’t expect the level of rates to have a major impact on sales and starts going forward. Once this government impasse is resolved we expect builder and consumer optimism will bounce back.”

Crowe’s view seems to be the prevailing sentiment among real estate industry observers.

To get a good grip on where the real estate market is now, and where it’s going, realtor.com reached out to a handful of industry experts to set the record straight on the following key issues:

What Was the Damage From the Government Shutdown?

“Luckily not much,” says Jason Bonarrigo, a senior loan officer with Residential Mortgage Services in Braintree, Mass. “Most banks and investors continued to close loans and come up with short-term guidelines to work around getting tax transcript records from the Internal Revenue Service, but that’s about it.”

Others aren’t so sure the damage hasn’t been more severe.

“Unfortunately, Washington probably set the real estate market back six months at least,” said Cal Haupt, chief executive officer at Georgia-based Southeast Mortgage. “When they deadlocked previously in July 2011, they stalled a fledgling recovery six months.”

The recent shutdown was worse due to the impact of shutting down the government for 16 days and preventing mortgage lenders from obtaining IRS 4506T documents needed to close most borrowers’ loans, Haupt said.

What Happens Now?

The real estate market can pretty much pick up where it left off 16 days ago, our experts said.

Many lenders continued operating through the shutdown so the FHA did not have an effect on them,” said Malcolm Hollensteiner, director of retail lending at TD Bank. “So now that the FHA is fully open once again, we expect that it will be business as usual.”

Hollensteiner had one caveat: “Because lenders were continuing to process FHA loans through the shutdown, there may be a slight backlog of approvals on the FHA’s end, but that should not cause any significant issues.”

Others agreed with that sentiment.

“The only loans that were directly and immediately affected by the shutdown were USDA loans, which were completely unavailable, and jumbo loans, in those cases where the lender wanted documentation from the IRS,” said Rick Sharga, executive vice president at Irvine, Calif.-based Auction.com.

In both of those cases, loans that were in process will restart now that the agencies are open. “There will likely be some delays in processing and other inconveniences, but things will most likely be back to normal within a few weeks,” Sharga said.

Anything Else Mortgage Consumers Should Know?

Consumers should be aware that the market changes very rapidly and they should be prepared for worst-case scenarios, warned David Williams, a vice president at Right Start Mortgage, in Pasadena, Calif. “Make sure you are working with seasoned loan and real estate veterans who have been through all types of markets, so you can navigate the obstacles with minimal effects,” Williams said.

Perhaps the best advice came from Haupt, who said Americans should shrug off the political shenanigans in Washington, D.C.

“Buying a home at the current lower prices and historically low rates is optimal,” Haupt said. “My advice would be: Do what is best for your family and take advantage of the favorable prices and rates. Rates will rise and property values will follow suit due to limited supply. Don’t let Washington get you down.”

(Source: Realtor.com)


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The Federal Housing Administration (FHA) recently enacted a rule change allowing borrowers who have fallen into foreclosure, bankruptcy, or a short sale to become eligible for a brand new mortgage backed by the FHA in as little as one year from the date of their previous foreclosure auction, the date of closing on a short sale, or the discharge date on a Chapter 7 bankruptcy. Considering the previous waiting period for a government-backed mortgage was three years, the new rule that shortens the wait to one year is a shiny new present to buyers who had all but accepted the reality of becoming renters for the foreseeable future. The new rule is in effect till Sept. 30, 2016.


In order to qualify for the reduced waiting period, buyers must provide proof of suffering an economic event that caused them to fall into financial instability. Examples of such an economic event include: a loss of job; a 20 percent or greater reduction in income for six or more month; a death of a wage earner; or a serious medical issue.

Furthermore, buyers must also provide documentation of a clean financial record for the past 12 months and show their ability to make the payments on their newly proposed mortgage. The buyer is also required to complete a course on housing counseling.

Banks have options

It is important to note that banks maintain the discretion of whether to offer loans to previously delinquent homeowners under the new FHA one-year rule. However, it is believed that most banks will adapt and change their practices to comply with FHA rules.

The FHA’s new one-year rule is an exciting and favorable option for buyers, while both Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac still keep a seven-year waiting period on foreclosures; a two- to seven-year waiting period on short sales; and a four-year waiting period on bankruptcies.

(Source: YAHOO! Homes)

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Ask just about any real estate agent to list the three most important things a property should have, and you’ll likely hear: “location, location, location.” That phrase has been in use at least since 1926, according to The New York Times, and is just as relevant now as it was then.

But why does location matter so much? For starters, you can’t move a home — at least not easily or inexpensively. When you buy a home in a good location, it’s usually a solid long-term investment.

Real estate agents often advise their clients to buy the worst house — a property that could use some TLC — on the best block. Why? Because fixing up a home in a great neighborhood will give you the best return on your investment. Quite simply, it will be easier to sell later on. Conversely, you can buy a beautiful home that doesn’t need any work. But if the block is sketchy or just plain bad, you could have a hard time selling the property at a decent price.

So if “location, location, location” is so important, what makes a location good? Here are five characteristics to look for when buying a home. If you can get all five, chances are the home’s a great investment.

1. A safe neighborhood

People want to live where there’s little or no crime. Naturally, they want to feel safe in their homes and will pay extra for it. A safe neighborhood means people will feel free to walk around, be outdoors and interact with their neighbors. Communities still exist today where people don’t lock their doors, and they know their neighbors are there for them in a pinch.

2. Good schools

Being in a good school district is important, even if you don’t have school-age kids and never plan to have any. Fact is, young families always will be buying their first or second homes. They will do their home search based on location in general and good school districts in particular. The better the school district, the higher the values of the surrounding homes can be.

Found a home you love but the school district is subpar? Be aware of that issue for resale down the road. Bottom line: When you buy a home, you should always think like a future seller.

3. Convenient access to popular places, shops and restaurants

Everyone wants to be near the best commercial districts. The closer to the hubbub of a particular town or the best parts of a city, the better the location — and the more someone is willing to pay for a home. In beach communities, the closer to the beach, the more valuable the property.

4. Water access and views

No matter which town or city, someone will always pay for a great view or to be on or near the water. Put a home right on a waterway or on a hill with panoramic views and you’ve got a great location.

5. Access to public transit and/or freeways

In major cities, the farther you live from the bus, subway or other types of mass transit, the less valuable the home. A good location means being very close, and having easy access, to public transportation. Being near a train or bus can get you anywhere in a short amount of time. In some towns, where a commute by car is inevitable, easy access to the freeway makes for a good location. Adding 20 minutes to a commute just to get to the freeway never helps a location.

What makes a bad location?

There are some common characteristics that make a location “bad,” no matter where you are.

Ever see a home with a backyard that faces the freeway? Whether the home is in Denver, Dallas or Dubuque, such a location is likely always going to be considered undesirable. Is the home on a busy intersection or a four-lane road? Again, it’s probably considered a bad location, no matter which town it’s in or what the nearby neighborhood is like.

Other factors that can make for a “bad” location: very close proximity to a fire station (good if your house is on fire, not so good if you’re trying to sleep); a hospital (frequent ambulance sirens); an airport (sounds of jet engines 18 hours per day) or a school (traffic from buses or parents dropping off children or kids yelling and playing).

Some “good” and “bad” qualities simply vary by community. If you know your local community, you know which parts of town are less or more desirable. It’s always smart to rent in a new community before committing to a home purchase. Renting allows you time to become familiar with the location.

All these things matter when you’re considering the location of a home for sale. But never lose sight of what matters most to you about the location. If you’re crazy about baseball, for instance, you might love owning a condo near your city’s professional baseball team ballpark. Someone who doesn’t like baseball, on the other hand, would probably not want to live near all the commotion.

Location, location, location really does matter — a lot. But as always, the most important thing is to buy the right home for you, at the right time.

(Source: YAHOO! Homes)


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With mortgage rates creeping up toward 5% as 2013 draws to a close, potential home buyers have some decisions to make — and soon.

A laundry list of economic issues, including inflation, consumer credit, and rising home prices has the U.S. housing market on the way to making a clean break from the days of the 3.50%, 30-year fixed-rate mortgage for the foreseeable future.

The danger for potential homebuyers isn’t that mortgage rates are nearing 5.00%; the real threat is that rates could go higher, to 5.50% or even 6.00% in 2014.

Think of it this way:

Buyer A snares a $300,000 fixed-rate, 30-year mortgage at a 5.00% interest rate, with the following payments:

• Monthly payment = $1,610.46

• Total payment = $579,569.69

• Total interest = $279,769.69

Buyer B grabs a $300,000 fixed-rate, 30-year mortgage, at a 6.00% interest rate, with the following payments:

• Monthly payment = $1,798.65

• Total payment = $647,515.44

• Total interest = $347,515.44

Buyer B will pay about $67,746 more for having a 6% mortgage rate, compared to a 5% rate, over the life of the loan.

Rates currently stand at 4.20%, according to Freddie Mac’s weekly mortgage rate survey.

While rates have been in decline the last few weeks, the big picture shows a general rise in rates to between 4.00% and 4.50% before the end of 2013. Which raises this question for potential homebuyers: Should you jump off the fence now, with rates still fairly reasonable, or do you wait and risk having to deal with mortgage rates as high as 5.00% or 6.00% in 6-to-12 months?

Here are some factors to consider:

Rates will likely rise — and soon: “Most people agree it is only a matter of time before rates hit 5%,” said Peter Grabel, a mortgage loan originator at Luxury Mortgage Corp. in Stamford, Conn. “The housing market has clearly turned the corner in most areas. I think a year from now people will look back and realize that this was a great buying opportunity.”

The Federal Reserve will stop “tapering”: For the last five years, the Fed has embraced a policy of low interest rates, primarily by buying up securities in the U.S. mortgage market. But all indications say the Fed will ease off on those purchases, thus driving interest rates up even further. “Rates in the 3% range are gone forever because the Fed will soon be pulling out of their mortgage backed securities purchasing program,” said Tim Lucas, editor-in-chief of the mortgage website MyMortgageInsider.com. “When the Fed stops buying, demand for these securities will fall dramatically, and rates will jump back up to typical levels. Once the unemployment rate nears 6.5%, the Fed could stop buying these securities, sending rates higher. We’re at 7.3% unemployment now, with positive economic signs at every turn.”

Home values are rising: The longer you wait to buy a home in this real estate market, the more expensive the purchase price will likely be. That’s because U.S. home prices are on an upward trend. CoreLogic, an Irvine-Calif.-based data analysis firm, estimates that U.S. home prices have risen 12.4% from August 2012 to August 2013.

The autumn buying season is underrated:  Some mortgage professionals advocate buying now, not just because rates are reasonable but because there is less competition in the residential real estate market compared to the busier spring and summer buying season. ”Next to spring, fall can be the best season to buy a home, although this year the economic climate is different from recent years,” said J.D. Crowe, senior vice president at Georgia-based Southeast Mortgage. “During the past few years there has been a large inventory of homes. This year the reverse is true and we are experiencing a housing shortage. But fall is still a good time to buy a home, as you can take advantage of year-end tax breaks and the fall weather makes it an ideal time to move.”

Of course, the perfect time to buy a new home is when you are financially and emotionally ready for that obligation — likely the biggest financial investment of your life.

“Life events drive real-estate decisions — birth of baby, better school, death, divorce, parent moving in, illness, kids off to college, work relocation, unemployment, raise, bonus, hurricane — all the good planning on the buy side can wipe out the best of decisions when someone has to sell in a ‘bad’ market, said Diane Saatchi, a Long Island, N.Y., real estate broker. “Because of this, my advice to would-be buyers is to buy when they need and can afford to, as timing rarely makes a difference in personal real estate.”

(Source: Realtor.com)


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