What do today’s buyers want in a home?

NEW YORK – Aug. 5, 2015 – What building materials are trending in new-home construction? The latest Annual Builder Practices Survey, conducted by Home Innovation, reveals what buyers can expect to see in the new-home market.

1. Garages: The garage door is getting more enhancements, including windows, insulated doors, and doors made of composite or plastic materials. In 2014, 32 percent of all new single-family homes had bays for three or more cars – the most ever recorded in this study’s history.

2. Flooring: Carpeting continues to be the most popular flooring option for new construction, included in about 83 percent of all new-home bedroom installations. However, only about 40 percent of living rooms now have carpet. Hardwood flooring – both solid and engineered– is the second most popular type of flooring included in 27 percent of all new-home installations. Ceramic tile (which appears in 72 percent of all bathroom floor installation) follows in third place, making up 20 percent of all new-home floor installations.

3. Countertops: For kitchen countertops, granite continues to reign in two out of three homes (64 percent of new-home installations). Quartz/engineered stone is gaining popularity while laminate, solid surfacing and ceramic tile are losing appeal.

4. Appliances: Cooktops and wall oven combinations are gaining in popularity and make up about 24 percent of the market, compared to freestanding ovens (45 percent). Freezer-on-bottom refrigerators are gaining in popularity at 19 percent, while side-by-side has fallen to 28 percent of the share.

5. Kitchen sinks: More buyers are paying attention to their kitchen sink, with the single basin kitchen sink making a comeback, growing from 5 percent to 20 percent of all new single-family homes in the past decade. Also growing in popularity are granite/stone kitchen sinks (at 8 percent). One-piece cultured marble lavatories are continuing to decline in demand.

Source: “Material World: The Hottest Trends From the 2015 Builder Practices Survey,” BUILDER Online (July 29, 2015)

© Copyright 2015 INFORMATION, INC. Bethesda, MD (301) 215-4688

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4 Florida cities tops for seriously underwater homes

IRVINE, Calif. — July 30, 2015 — RealtyTrac released its second quarter (Q2) 2015 U.S. Home Equity & Underwater Report, which listed four Florida cities at the top of the list for homes seriously underwater – properties where the homeowners owe at least 25 percent more than the home’s current market worth.

Areas (population greater than 500,000) with the highest percentage of seriously underwater properties included Florida markets such as Lakeland (28.5 percent), Cleveland, Ohio (28.2 percent), Las Vegas (27.9 percent), Akron, Ohio (27.3 percent), Orlando (26.1 percent), Tampa (24.8 percent), Chicago (24.8 percent), Palm Bay(24.4 percent) and Toledo, Ohio (24.3 percent).

In addition, RealtyTrac looked at underwater homes that are also in the foreclosure process.

In the same Florida cities, over half of the homeowners going through foreclosure were seriously underwater:Lakeland (54.8 percent of foreclosures seriously underwater), Tampa (51.7 percent), Palm Bay (51.5 percent) and Orlando (51.2 percent).

Statewide, 23.6 percent Florida of homeowners with a mortgage were seriously underwater in the Q2 2015 – a drop from 23.8 percent in the first quarter and 30.3 percent year-to-year.

On the flipside, RealtyTrac found that 17.6 percent of Florida owners with a mortgage were “equity rich” with at least 50 percent equity. That’s a slight drop for the first quarter’s 17.8 percent but an increase from 15.9 percent year-to-year.

Looking only at homes in foreclosure, 62.8 percent in Florida were seriously underwater, while 18.6 percent, even though going through foreclosure, were equity rich.

“Strong South Florida price increases over the past few years have moved many homeowners from negative to positive equity. We would encourage the remaining distressed homeowners to ask for a Broker Price Opinion (BPO) regarding the value of their property – many may be surprised at their improving value,” says Mike Pappas, CEO and president of Keyes Company in South Florida.

National numbers

Nationwide, 13.3 percent of all properties with a mortgage were seriously underwater in Q2, an increase from 13.2 percent of all homes in the first quarter. However, they dropped from 17.2 percent year-to-year. At the peak of the foreclosure crisis in 2012, the percentage was 28.6 percent.

“Slowing home price appreciation in 2015 has resulted in the share of seriously underwater properties plateauing at about 13 percent of all properties with a mortgage,” says Daren Blomquist, vice president at RealtyTrac.

“However, the share of homeowners with the double-whammy of seriously underwater properties also in foreclosure is continuing to decrease and is now at the lowest level we’ve seen since we began tracking that metric in the first quarter of 2012,” he adds.

© 2015 Florida Realtors®

Miami Home Prices, Sales Continue to Strengthen, Housing Inventory Shortage a Reality

Submitted by Lynda Fernandez on September 19, 2012 – 11:33am

 

Miami, FL – Miami home prices rose again in August, marking nine consecutive months of appreciation, according to the 25,000-member MIAMI Association of REALTORS and the local Multiple Listing Service (MLS) system.   The median sales price of Miami-Dade condominiums, which has increased each of the last 14 months, increased 28.4 percent to $146,500 compared to a year earlier.  The median sales price of single-family homes rose 10.8 percent to $195,000.  

“Despite the shortage of housing inventory, Miami home sales remain strong and continue to drive significant price appreciation,” said 2012 Chairman of the Board of the MIAMI Association of REALTORS Martha Pomares.  “There is evident demand for Miami properties, particularly from foreign buyers and investors who recognize Miami’s desirability and profitability.  Miami remains the top market for foreign buyers in the nation, and local international activity continues to grow.” 

In August the average sales price for condominiums in Miami-Dade County increased 20.9 percent to $283,497.  The average sales prices for single-family homes increased 28.4 percent to $408,810.  

Florida Statewide Home Prices
Statewide median sales prices in August increased 5.8 percent to $147,000 for single-family homes and 13.2 percent to $102,980 for condominiums, according to data from Florida Realtors Industry Data and Analysis department and vendor partner 10K Research and Marketing. The national median existing-home price for all housing types was $187,400 in August, a 9.5 percent increase from August 2011, according to the National Association of Realtors (NAR).

Miami Home Sales Rise Again in August
Total residential sales in Miami-Dade County increased 7.0 percent compared to a year earlier, compared to record sales levels in August 2011.    The sales of existing condominiums in Miami-Dade increased 8.0 percent, from 1,382 to 1,492.  Sales of single-family homes increased 5.0 percent, from 1,009 to 1,059, year-over-year.   

Statewide sales of existing single-family homes totaled 18,669 in August 2012, up 10.8 percent compared to a year ago.  Statewide condominium sales totaled 8,767, up 5.7 percent from those sold in August 2011. Nationally, sales of existing single-family homes, townhomes, condominiums, and co-ops increased 7.8 percent from July and were 9.3 percent higher than they were in August 2011, according NAR.

“Miami is experiencing a mini-boom fueled mostly by demand from international buyers but also by population growth resulting from migration from other states, baby boomers, and local consumers,” said 2012 MIAMI Association of REALTORS Residential President Patricia Delinois.  “Miami’s firm position as a major global city is expected to continue to draw demand long into the future, as businesses, residents, visitors and tourists, investors, and vacation and second homebuyers take advantage of all that our vibrant and unique city has to offer.”

Shortage of Housing Inventory in Miami-Dade 
Over the last year, the inventory of residential listings in Miami-Dade County has dropped 26 percent from 15,405 to 11,431.  Compared to the previous month, the total inventory of homes decreased 0.2 percent.   Currently, there are 4.2 months of supply in Miami-Dade.  Total housing inventory nationally increased 2.9 percent at the end of August and was 18.2 percent below year-ago levels, which represents an 8.2-month supply at the current sales pace.  

Distressed Sales Decrease
Strong demand for bank-owned (REO) properties and improved processing of short sales continues to yield absorption of distressed listings and to contribute to price appreciation.  In August, 45.8 percent of all closed residential sales in Miami-Dade County were distressed, including REOs (bank-owned properties) and short sales, compared to 56 percent in August 2011 and 47 percent the previous month.  Nationally, distressed sales accounted for 22 percent of August sales.

Cash Sales Reflect Strong International Presence 
In Miami-Dade County, 64 percent of total closed sales in August were all-cash sales, compared to 62 percent in August 2011 and 64 percent the previous month.  Cash sales accounted for 45 percent of single-family and 78 percent of condominium closings.  Nearly 90 percent of foreign buyers in Florida purchase properties all cash.  Reflecting the stronger presence of 
international buyers in the Miami real estate market, all-cash sales nationally were unchanged from the previous month at 27 percent of transactions in August; they were 29 percent in August 2011. 

Note:  Statistics in this news release may vary depending on reporting dates. Statistics reported by MIAMI are not impacted by NAR’s rebenchmarking efforts.  MIAMI reports exact statistics directly from its MLS system.

Why you shouldn’t pay down your mortgage faster

NEW YORK – Aug. 31, 2012 – The impulse to pay off your mortgage more quickly than you need to is understandable, especially these days.

Interest rates are near historic lows, so it’s possible to replace a 30-year mortgage with a 15-year loan and still afford the monthly payments. Or, if you’ve already refinanced at a dirt-cheap rate, you can take those savings and pay down your principal faster.

But the allure is more emotional than financial. Mortgage debt provides great financial flexibility, and paying it down fast probably isn’t the best way to grow your nest egg.

“Generally speaking, there’s no advantage to paying down a mortgage earlier than you need to,” says Greg McBride, senior financial analyst at Bankrate.com

That’s because the interest on mortgages is low, it helps lower your taxes, and paying less every month gives you chance to reinvest the savings in more productive ways. Among the better options: paying down higher-interest credit cards, or saving for retirement.

Start with rates on 30-year mortgages. The average rate is 3.66 percent, close to the lowest level since the 1950s.

But in reality you pay an even lower rate when factoring in tax breaks. The federal government gives borrowers a break by allowing them to deduct mortgage interest from their income. And if instead of using the extra cash to pay down your mortgage you put it in a tax-advantaged retirement fund like a 401(k), your taxes are reduced even further.

Jim Sharvin, a certified public accountant with the firm McDowell Dillon & Hunter in Torrance, Calif. says if you are thinking of paying down the principal of a mortgage more quickly than necessary – either by switching to a shorter-term loan or sending extra principal payments to the bank – consider first doing the following:

• Pay down all high-interest debt, like a credit card. It’s the first priority because it’s very expensive debt, and it has no tax or other financial benefit.

• Build a cash cushion to cover unexpected expenses or loss of income.

• Bolster your retirement savings by putting the maximum amount allowed by law into a tax-sheltered plan such as a 401(k), a 403(b), or IRA. This also reduces your taxes.

• Fund a college savings program such as a 529 plan for your children, especially if you live in a state with an income tax. These programs shelter the money from state and local income taxes.

Once these priorities are taken care of, the next step is a matter of preference.

You could take the money you borrowed at 3 percent and try to reinvest it in a way that earns more than that. If you have time to ride out ups and downs of the market, 3 percent should be relatively easy to beat.

Or you could pay down your mortgage quickly. If you are just going to park your money in money market funds or certificates of deposit that yield less than 3 percent, it makes sense to pay down that mortgage debt. And it sure would be nice to have no mortgage when you retire.

There are other situations where it’s smart to pay down a mortgage early.

The first scenario is when you’re trying to eliminate the cost of private mortgage insurance, or PMI. That’s the insurance you must carry if you put down less than 20 percent on your home. It makes sense to speed up payments on your principal until you’re allowed to drop the insurance.

It’s also good to pay down your mortgage if you don’t have the discipline to reinvest extra money wisely. Handing the money to your mortgage company is one way to protect you from yourself.

Even if paying down a mortgage fast is the best choice, there are smarter ways than opting for a 15-year loan. That’s because the shorter term locks you into a higher payment, and that can become a burden if money gets tight.

A 30-year loan gives you options. If find yourself with extra money, then pay down the principal as aggressively as you like. But if you’re short, scale back to the regular monthly amount. That flexibility is probably worth the slightly higher interest rate on the 30-year loan these days, Sharvin says.

To compare a 15- and 30-year mortgage, consider this example: One homeowner with a $200,000 loan chooses a 3.75 percent 30-year mortgage, which costs $926 per month. Another chooses a 3 percent, 15-year mortgage, which costs $1,381 per month.

The homeowner with the 30-year loan ends each year with $5,460 in savings from lower payments and a tax break of about $770. He puts all that money into a 401(k), saving himself an additional $1,560 in taxes. That’s a total annual savings of about $7,800. If he earns a 5 percent return over 15 years, the homeowner will have accrued $170,000.

The homeowner with the 15-year loan will have no extra savings after 15 years. But then his mortgage payments will end. He’ll try to catch up, but he’s starting from so far behind that by the time 30 years are up – and both loans are paid off – the homeowner with the 30-year loan will have $124,000 more in savings.
Copyright © 2012 The Associated Press, Jonathan Fahey, AP business writer. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

More homeowners refinancing through HARP

WASHINGTON – Aug. 8, 2012 – According to the Federal Housing Finance Agency’s (FHFA) June Refinance Report, one-third of all home refinances through Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were made through the Home Affordable Refinance Program (HARP) – the highest percentage of homeowners helped by HARP since the program began in April 2009.

FHFA attributed the increase in HARP volume to record-low mortgage rates and program enhancements announced last fall. After failing to meet forecasts, the federal government tinkered with HARP. Last fall, it removed the loan-to-value (LTV) ceiling for borrowers who refinance into fixed-rate loans and, for some borrowers, it removed or lowered fees.

Also in the report:

• Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac refinanced more loans through HARP in the first half of this year, 422,969, than the 400,024 it refinanced in all of 2011.

• HARP refinances for loans with LTV greater than 125 percent were also up in June – more than 40 percent of HARP loans.

• More than two-thirds of borrowers in states hard-hit by the housing downturn – Florida, Nevada and Arizona – refinanced through HARP in June, compared with 33 percent nationwide.

FHFA says that since 2009 Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac refinanced more than 2.2 million loans through their existing programs and more than 1.4 million loans through HARP.

FHFA has the full report posted online.

© 2012 Florida Realtors®

Vacation-home buyers pounce on short sales, foreclosures

ORLANDO, Fla. – July 10, 2012 – The vacation-home market, hit particularly hard by walk-away owners during the real-estate downturn, appears to be making a comeback, with sales growth in recent years exceeding that of primary residences.

Central Florida’s second-home market has been thriving, thanks to a seemingly irresistible combination of record-low prices and record-high numbers of tourists. The Orlando metropolitan area was recently listed, for instance, as one of the country’s “10 hot spots for foreign buyers” by Inman News, an online real-estate news service.

Second-home sales nationally through last year have grown 15 percent since 2008, while sales of regular homes have fallen 13 percent during that time, according to a recent report by the National Association of Realtors. Local agents say that national trend also holds true for the Orlando area, largely because of the area’s cheap real-estate prices and an increasing supply of prospective buyers in the form of vacationers and other visitors, particularly Canadians and South Americans.

“Six months ago through the Easter rush, buyers wanted something for under $150,000, and you could find 40 to 60 listings,” said Joe Rogers, property manager for Florida Scandinavian Vacation Homes and Management in Kissimmee. “Now it’s more like five to 10 listings. The market is evaporating, and the inventory is being sucked up in a vacuum.”

Even though such vacation-home sales aren’t tracked locally, Rogers estimated that prices for those properties have increased as much as 20 percent in the past six months. Financing for second-home mortgages, nonexistent just a few years ago, is now available with downpayments of 30 percent, he noted.

Despite the reported price increases of recent months, area properties are still so deeply discounted from the 2007-08 housing bubble that buyers can still find deals.

In Osceola County’s Reunion Resort community, which allows short-term rentals, vacation-home broker Scott James recently secured a $535,000 contract on a home that had been valued at $1.5 million at the market’s peak. Many of these sales, he said, are in the Davenport area of Polk and Osceola.

“A lot more investors are circling those areas and buying up a lot of the properties, especially the foreclosures,” said James, owner of Luxury Lifestyle Vacation Homes, which is based in Davenport.

The area’s resort-home market was troubled during the bubble by unscrupulous property-management companies that pocketed rental income without maintaining the properties. But many of those overseas operations went out of business during the real-estate downturn, according to James.

On a national level, the vacation-rental website HomeAway Inc. recently estimated that 39 percent of vacation-home buyers in the U.S. have purchased distressed properties. Resort-home owners had abandoned their properties at higher rates than regular homeowners had in recent years, pushing a larger share of vacation houses into foreclosure and further driving down second-home prices.

Prices in the second-home market plunged by more than a third in the past five years as prices for primary residences fell by a quarter, according to the National Association of Realtors’ latest Investment and Vacation Home Buyers Survey.

“A lot of people who walked away from properties walked away from vacation properties because it doesn’t really affect their property overseas,” said Rogers, the Kissimmee property manager. In other words, foreign buyers were able to maintain their credit ratings back home even after their U.S. investment properties slumped in value and they stopped paying their mortgages, triggering foreclosures and repossessions.

Looking ahead, the second-home market is likely to heat up further, said Lawrence Yun, chief economist for the national Realtors group.

In the association’s latest survey, eight of every 10 people who responded indicated that they considered this to be a particularly good time to buy a vacation home – and one-third of the second-home owners said they were likely to consider purchasing yet another vacation home within two years.

“Given that the number of people who are in their 40s is somewhat larger than the 50-somethings, the long-term demographic demand for purchasing vacation homes is favorable,” Yun said, “because these younger households are likely to enter the market as their desire for these kinds of properties grows and individual circumstances allow.”

© 2012 The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Fla.), Mary Shanklin, The Orlando Sentinel, Fla. Distributed by MCT Information Services.

What you should not do when listing your home….

Study: Bank of America, Wells Fargo, JPMorgan lead Florida in complaints

Senior Reporter – South Florida Business Journal

Bank of America, Wells Fargo Bank   and JPMorgan Chase Bank    are the institutions Florida consumers complained about to regulators the most in 2011, according to a study by Miami-based bank analyst and economist Kenneth H. Thomas.

Working through his company K.H. Thomas Associates, Thomas obtained records of complaints filed against financial institutions to the Florida Office of Financial Regulation’s    Division of Financial Institutions, the state’s chief bank regulatory agency.

Florida consumers lodged 1,231 complaints against banks in 2011, down from 1,379 in 2010. However, that’s still significantly higher than the 992 complaints from 2008 – when the financial meltdown was just starting to take hold.

The trend in hard-hit South Florida wasn’t so positive. Complaints from Monroe, Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties increased to 180 in 2011 from 149 the year before. Thomas said it’s because the housing problems are worse in South Florida.

“Even though the economy has improved in the state, we are still the epicenter for the housing crisis,” he said. “People stilling trying to do workouts and modifications, and they aren’t getting the help they are looking for from these banks.”

Filing a complaint against a bank is a serious matter, Thomas noted, as it involves filling out a five-page form and attesting that the information is true. He recommends that people try to work out issues with their bank before contacting the OFR.

“To get to that point, you have to be really upset,” he said.

The OFR complaint page is here.

The most common complaint in 2011 was account balance disclosures, at 28 percent of all filings, according to Thomas. That includes disputes about overdraft fees – the subject of many lawsuits against banks – and other automatic fees.

The second most frequent complaint was mortgage problems, at 23 percent. Other common issues were general loan complaints and credit card disputes.

Thomas’ records show that most complaints the OFR received in 2011 were referred to federal regulators to follow up on. Only 7 percent of complaints were found to have no violation, and 4 percent were resolved by the OFR.

On the bright side, Thomas noted several banks didn’t receive any complaints. That includes Miami-based City National Bank    of Florida and Northern Trust    .

City National Bank President and CEO Jorge Gonzalez said his institution excels in customer service because it has a 65-year history in the state and it makes sure its bankers don’t have too many clients to service.

“If a banker has 20 relationships, they can probability deliver a high level of service to everybody, but if they have 100 relationships, they can probably only deliver a high level of service to a few of them,” Gonzalez said. “It’s a slightly more expensive model, but you need that for best-in-class service.”

Last year, City National hired Steven Clark as its service director. Clark has experience with customer service in both banking and hotels, such as the Ritz-Carlton. He said his goal is to create a concierge-level customer experience.

Gonzalez said it’s worth it to spend on customer service because that reduces client turnover, which is expensive. He said it’s important to treat all customers the same – no matter how much money they have. Some institutions offer higher levels of service to wealthy clients.

Many banks, especially those struggling with losses, have cut back on staffing levels in recent years. That includes top complaint-getter Bank of America    (NYSE: BAC). Officials with BofA didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Space Coast Credit Union had the most complaints of Florida-based institutions and was in fifth overall. Thomas noted that SCCU had a 0.6 percent deposit market share in Florida in 2011, but attracted 6.5 percent of all complaints.

SCCU spokeswoman Meredith Gibson said the credit union changed its Member Rewards relationship pricing program in 2011 for all 370,000 members, and that resulted in some people moving to different types of checking accounts. She said former members of Eastern Financial Florida Credit Union    , which SCCU merged with in 2009 to enter South Florida, have complained at a higher rate than historical SCCU members.

“They experienced many charges as a result of the merger, and they continue to be unhappy with SCCU’s practices in some areas,” she said. “A particular market condition that caused complaints in 2011 is dissatisfaction with the disposition of requests for mortgage loan modifications. While SCCU has been actively working with members who are experiencing hardships, there are cases where we cannot provide a solution that is satisfactory to the borrower.”

Gibson said SCCU has an internal system for tracking and responding to customer complaints, and these entries are regularly reviewed by senior management.

“To date, the OFR has not found that SCCU is in violation of any regulation and has closed all cases,” she said.

Considering that BofA holds a 19.1 percent deposit market share in Florida, Thomas said its 13.6 percent share of all complaints isn’t that bad. Wells Fargo (NYSE: WFC), SunTrust (NYSE: STI), Regions Bank    (NYSE: RF) and BB&T    (NYSE: BBT) also had a lower ratio of complaints compared to their deposit market share.

However, both JPMorgan Chase Bank (NYSE: JPM) and Citibank    (NYSE: C) had a high share of the complaints compared to their place in the Florida deposit market, Thomas’ study found.

The most banks that received the most complaints in Florida in 2011 were:

  • Bank of America and affiliates: 172
  • Wells Fargo Bank and affiliates: 115
  • JPMorgan Chase Bank and affiliates: 99
  • Citibank and affiliates: 53
  • Space Coast Credit Union: 48
  • SunTrust Bank and affiliates; 48
  • Regions Bank: 25
  • BB&T: 24
  • HSBC Bank and affiliates: 19
  • BankAtlantic (NYSE: BBX); 18
  • Capital One (NYSE: COF): 18

BRACE YOURSELF FOR TRIPWIRE IN THE HARP PROCESS

March 02, 2012 12:00PM

By Kenneth R. Harney

The most ambitious federal mortgage program to date aimed at millions of underwater homeowners is poised to take off in the coming two weeks, yet some key issues could hinder borrowers’ participation. One of them involves something most owners know nothing about: Who was your mortgage insurer on your underwater loan?

Though it was announced by the Obama administration late last year, the so-called “HARP 2.0″ — the second version of the Home Affordable Refinance Program — will only hit full stride around the middle of this month, when Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac finish tweaking their automated underwriting systems to accept applications, and lenders and mortgage insurance companies start handling large volumes of requests.

The revisions are crucial for owners who have outstanding mortgage balances in excess of 125 percent of the current resale values of their homes. Under the second version of HARP, there is no upper limit on permissible loan-to-value ratios, or LTVs. You can owe twice or even three times the value of your home and still qualify for a refinancing at today’s low interest rates. The earlier version imposed a limit of 125 percent, which cut out millions of the hardest-hit victims of the real estate bust.

The latest HARP also comes with streamlined underwriting — no requirement for physical appraisals in many cases, speedy processing and elimination of some of the deal-breaker fees imposed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in recent years.

The objective, federal officials say, is to get it right this time around by removing the previous obstacles to widespread participation by lenders and severely underwater borrowers. Industry studies estimate that as many as 6.9 million loans could fit the broad requirements for refinancing, but that far fewer — somewhere around 2 million borrowers — are likely to qualify on all the detailed eligibility criteria.

Among the key rules:
— Only loans owned or guaranteed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are eligible. Underwater borrowers who have FHA, VA or other types of mortgages are not. Both companies’ websites offer “look up” features that tell you whether they own your loan.
— Your mortgage must have been purchased or securitized by either company no later than May 31, 2009, and must have an LTV ratio in excess of 80 percent.
— You must be current on your loan with no 30-day late payments during the six months preceding application and no more than one late payment during the last 12 months.

If you think you qualify right now, you can apply to your mortgage servicer and ask how to proceed. Once the fully automated program gets going in a couple of weeks and your LTV is higher than 125 percent, you should also be able to shop around among other lenders who are large enough to run servicing operations of their own.

But be aware of a little-noticed glitch that has arisen in the program that could hamper your opportunity to refinance. Some lenders may not want to proceed with your application solely because of a detail buried in your loan documents that was always beyond your control — the name of the mortgage insurer on your current loan. If it is United Guaranty, they may set your application aside because that firm alone has not agreed to adhere fully to the streamlined procedures other insurers accepted as part of the basic deal with the White House, Fannie and Freddie to kick-start the revised refi program.

The issue is technical and complicated — United Guaranty has refused to waive its rights to force lenders to repurchase what it considers badly underwritten loans, and is requiring additional underwriting in some cases. All other private mortgage insurers have waived their rights. The net effect of United Guaranty’s policy, say lenders and federal officials, is to disrupt the intended fast and efficient processing of HARP refi applications — potentially denying lower interest rates to as many as 10 percent to 15 percent of underwater borrowers who might otherwise qualify.

Some major lenders, such as Quicken Loans, said in interviews that they will have to either set aside or reject HARP applications where the original loan carries United Guaranty insurance. United Guaranty, a subsidiary of giant insurer AIG, said in an email statement to me that it “fully supports the Obama administration’s efforts” in revising HARP, and that only a “minority” of its insured mortgages should be affected by its policy disagreement with the rest of the industry.

Bottom line for you if you’re deeply underwater and interested in a HARP refi: Proceed with your application anyway, but be aware there are tripwires and snares that could derail you.
Ken Harney is a syndicated real estate columnist.

HAMP New Guidelines

Expanding our efforts to help more homeowners and strengthen hard-hit communities | Janus International Realty.