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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Bill seeks to stop second-lien holders from killing short sales

WASHINGTON – July 27, 2012 – Second-lien holders are being blamed for derailing many short sale transactions. But a bill working its way through Congress – the Fast Help for Homeowners Act – would, if approved, require second mortgage lenders on federal mortgages to report their final decision on a short sale agreement within 45 days. If the second-lien holder doesn’t do that, the deal would automatically be approved on the 46th day. U.S. Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Calif., proposed the legislation.

Greg Galli, a broker with Suburban Realty in Palmdale, Calif., supports the bill after seeing some of his recent short sale transactions fall through because second-lien holders refused to negotiate. He recalled one incident in which the second-lien holder refused a $6,000 payment from the first-lien holder in order for a short sale to move forward. Instead, the second-lien holder demanded $1,400 more, amounting to a total of $7,400, and all from the homeowner.

“(Second lien-holders) can really delay the deal if they don’t want to respond, or if they just don’t want to do anything,” Galli told HousingWire. “It doesn’t make sense. If they let it go to foreclosure, the second lien is going to lose out completely. It would make sense for us to work through the process, and then they can negotiate.”

Some in the housing industry aren’t in favor of legislation that might push a second-lien holder to make a faster decision on a short sale. Critics argue that first-lien holders need to be more willing to work with second-lien holders on an agreement that favors both parties.

“I am always hesitant to force second-lien holders or any lender to do something that they didn’t contractually agree to upfront, because ultimately that will add to the cost of future credit and reduce its availability,” Mark Zandi, Moody’s Analytic’s chief economist said.

Source: “Evasive Second-Lien Holders Thwarting Short Sales,” HousingWire (July 25, 2012)

© Copyright 2012 INFORMATION, INC. Bethesda, MD (301) 215-4688

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.

REO inventory posts big drop from a year ago

WASHINGTON – Aug. 31, 2012 – The amount of foreclosed homes on banks’ books has dropped by 18 percent in the last year, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. reports. The FDIC also says that levels have been dropping since the third quarter of 2010.

As of June 30, banks held $41.7 billion in REO properties – that’s down from $51.2 billion one year prior.

But more foreclosures are likely on the way, a recent report by CoreLogic warns. About 1.3 million homes are in the foreclosure process. While that’s down from 1.5 million reported a year ago, the numbers are still elevated.

Still, while “levels of troubled assets and troubled institutions remain high … they are continuing to improve,” says Martin Gruenberg, FDIC acting chairman.

The improvements are leading more banks to post greater profits and even start to lend more. Lending rose 15 percent compared to last year, according to the FDIC report.

Source: “Bank REO Down 18% From One Year Ago,” HousingWire (Aug. 28, 2012)

© Copyright 2012 INFORMATION, INC. Bethesda, MD (301) 215-4688

Home loan late payments hit 3-year low in 2Q

LOS ANGELES – Aug. 8, 2012 – U.S. homeowners are getting better about keeping up with their mortgage payments, driving the percentage of borrowers who have fallen behind to a three-year low, according to a new report.

Still, the rate of decline remains slow, credit reporting agency TransUnion said Wednesday. The percentage of mortgages going unpaid is unlikely to return anytime soon to where it was before the housing market crashed.

Some 5.49 percent of the nation’s mortgage holders were behind on their payments by 60 days or more in the April-to-June period, the agency said. That’s the lowest level since the first quarter of 2009.

The second-quarter delinquency rate is down from 5.82 percent in the same period last year, and below the 5.78 percent rate for the first three months of 2012.

The positive second-quarter trend coincided with an improving outlook for the U.S. housing market.

A measure of national home prices rose 2.2 percent from April to May, the second increase after seven months of flat or declining readings. Sales of new homes fell in June after reaching a two-year high in May. Sales of previously occupied homes also declined in June, but were higher than a year earlier.

Home refinancing surged in the second quarter, as interest rates sank to historic lows. And more borrowers with underwater mortgages – or home loans that exceed the value of the home – refinanced through the government’s Home Affordable Refinance Program than ever before.

“More people are making their payments, and that’s great,” said Tim Martin, group vice president of U.S. housing for TransUnion. “I expected a little bit better, but maybe we’ll see some more of that pick up in (the third quarter).”

Even as housing trends turned positive earlier this year, the U.S. economy began to show signs of faltering. The national unemployment rate remained stuck at 8.2 percent, and the pace of job growth slowed sharply, with employers adding an average of only 75,000 jobs in the April-June quarter. Hiring appeared to pick up in July, however, with employers adding 163,000 jobs.

TransUnion anticipates the mortgage delinquency rate will continue to decline. But it doesn’t see it falling below 5 percent this year.

The national delinquency rate remains well above its historical range, an indication many homeowners are still struggling five years after the housing downturn.

Before the housing bust, mortgage delinquencies were running at less than 2 percent nationally. It took about three years after the housing market crashed for the delinquency rate on mortgages to climb to a peak of nearly 7 percent in the fourth quarter of 2009. The rate has been trending down since then.

Home prices need to recover further for the delinquency rate to decline.

At the state level, Florida led the nation with the highest mortgage delinquency rate of any state at 13.48 percent, down from 13.91 percent a year earlier. It was followed by Nevada at 10.85 percent; New Jersey at 8.15 percent; and, Maryland at 6.79 percent.

The states with the lowest delinquency rate were North Dakota at 1.32 percent; South Dakota at 1.94 percent; Nebraska at 2.24 percent; and, Wyoming at 2.41 percent.

Foreclosure hotbeds Arizona and California each saw marked improvement during the second quarter.

California’s mortgage delinquency rate fell nearly 22 percent to 6.13 percent from a year earlier, while Arizona’s declined 21 percent to 6.14.

One reason for the sharp declines in mortgage delinquency rates in those states is that homes tend to move faster through the foreclosure process than in Florida, New York and other states where the courts play a role in the process. That leads to logjams of cases involving home loans that may have gone unpaid for two years or more.

“You have states that are taking a long time to work through the delinquencies that they have, which is keeping their numbers up,” Martin said.

TransUnion’s research is culled from its database of 27 million anonymous consumer records.
Copyright © 2012 The Associated Press, Alex Veiga, AP real estate writer. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Lenders seize 10,000 South Florida residential properties in first quarter: report

April 13, 2012 10:30AM

Lenders seized over 10,000 residential properties in the first quarter of 2012 in South Florida, according to a report from Condo Vultures. “More than 165,000 properties in South Florida have changed ownership forcibly in South Florida since the first year of the real estate crash in 2007,” said Peter Zalewski, a principal with brokerage and consultancy Condo Vultures. “We expect this total to grow in future quarters as more than 300,000 notices of default have been filed against South Florida properties to date. The unanswered question is when are the lenders going to put the bank repossession on the resale market for purchase.” — Alexander Britell

 

Bank of America invites 19,000 distressed homeowners to Miami Beach for help

South Florida Business Journal by Brian Bandell, Senior Reporter
Date: Wednesday, April 11, 2012, 12:55pm EDT

Brian BandellSenior Reporter – South Florida Business Journal

Bank of American has invited more than 19,000 homeowners in South Florida with late payments to the Miami Beach Convention Center to help them work out their mortgages.

The bank (NYSE: BAC) reserved 140 rooms for the event, taking place Thursday through Saturday. Jessica Garcia, a VP in national mortgage outreach for Bank of America , said it is bringing 50 customer specialists and 30 underwriters to work with homeowners. Most of them have loans that Bank of America is servicing for investors.

Bank of America has about 1 million mortgages under servicing in Florida, and about 22 percent of them are delinquent, she said.

Garcia said any customer who is 60 days or more late on their mortgage payment is encouraged to attend, but they should call ahead (855-201-7426) and have their financial records ready to present. That includes pay stubs, tax returns and bank statements.

Bank of America has many different ways to help homeowners, depending on their financial capabilities and what the investor in their loan will allow, Garcia said. The solutions could include a 90-day forbearance, adding missed payments to the end of the mortgage term or reducing the interest rate, she said. Generally, the goal is to make the mortgage payment no more than 31 percent of the borrower’s monthly income, she said.

“If we can do a loan modification and the customer wants to remain in the home, and they want to be with us a few hours, then we can do it right there,” Garcia said.

Bank of America also has sped up the process to approve short sales, Garcia said.

Florida Realtors issued a press release on Tuesday praising Bank of America’s decision to reduce its short sales approval process to 20 days.

Rental market helps South Florida housing

An improving rental market is helping South Florida’s residential sales market, according to Zillow.com. The Zillow Rent Index showed rental rate growth in each of South Florida’s three counties in January compared to the same period in 2011, the Sun Sentinel reported. “A thriving rental market will stimulate home sales as investors snap up low-priced inventory to convert to rentals,” said Stan Humphries, chief economist at Zillow. [Sun Sentinel]

What you should not do when listing your home….

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.