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I'm John Askins of Royce Realty in Houston, or text me directly at (832) on my blog I'll keep you updated on the latest trends and info about our local and state real estate market. Member - HAR Technology Advisory Group

Working to get your home ship-shape for showings will increase its value and shorten your sales time.

Many buyers today want move-in-ready homes and will quickly eliminate an otherwise great home by focusing on a few visible flaws. Unless your home shines, you may endure showing after showing and open house after open house — and end up with a lower sales price. Before the first prospect walks through your door, consider some smart options for casting your home in its best light.

1.  Have a Home Inspection

Be proactive by arranging for a pre-sale home inspection. For $250 to $400, an inspector will warn you about troubles that could make potential buyers balk. Make repairs before putting your home on the market. In some states, you may have to disclose what the inspection turns up.

2.  Get Replacement Estimates

If your home inspection uncovers necessary repairs you can’t fund, get estimates for the work. The figures will help buyers determine if they can afford the home and the repairs. Also hunt down warranties, guarantees, and user manuals for your furnace, washer and dryer, dishwasher, and any other items you expect to remain with the house.

3.  Make Minor Repairs

Not every repair costs a bundle. Fix as many small problems — sticky doors, torn screens, cracked caulking, dripping faucets — as you can. These may seem trivial, but they’ll give buyers the impression your house isn’t well maintained.

4.  Clear the Clutter

Clear your kitchen counters of just about everything. Clean your closets by packing up little-used items like out-of-season clothes and old toys. Install closet organizers to maximize space. Put at least one-third of your furniture in storage, especially large pieces, such as entertainment centers and big televisions. Pack up family photos, knickknacks, and wall hangings to depersonalize your home. Store the items you’ve packed offsite or in boxes neatly arranged in your garage or basement.

5.  Do a Thorough Cleaning

A clean house makes a strong first impression that your home has been well cared for. If you can afford it, consider hiring a cleaning service.

If not, wash windows and leave them open to air out your rooms. Clean carpeting and drapes to eliminate cooking odors, smoke, and pet smells. Wash light fixtures and baseboards, mop and wax floors, and give your stove and refrigerator a thorough once-over.

Pay attention to details, too. Wash fingerprints from light switch plates, clean inside the cabinets, and polish doorknobs. Don’t forget to clean your garage, too.



Lending giants Bank of America Corp. and Citigroup offer mortgages at discounted rates, aimed to stir more lending among low-income borrowers and those with subprime credit histories. The loans are originated through a program by the Neighborhood Assistance Corp. of America, a national nonprofit group that primarily assists low-to moderate-income borrowers.

Under the program, the discounts, which will be offered on fixed-rate mortgages, will be greater than what banks usually reserve for borrowers with high credit scores, significant assets, and large down payments. To get the discount in the loan program, the borrowers will have to pay mortgage points, which are upfront fees that lower the interest rate on a mortgage.

For example, if borrowers pay a mortgage point — which is equal to 1 percent of the total loan amount taken — they typically receive a discount of 0.25 percent on the mortgage interest rate. However, under the loan assistance program, the banks will offer a 0.5 percent discount for a single mortgage point.

NACA, the originator of loans under the program, doesn't require borrowers to have down payments or to pay closing costs. It also approves borrowers for mortgages as soon as 12 months after a default on a loan. NACA conducts in-depth reviews of applicants' payment histories and requires income and asset documentation, according to CEO Bruce Marks.

The banks' move to work with NACA follows on the heels of a $16.65 billion settlement reached by Bank of America with government regulators last August, as well as a $7 billion settlement Citigroup reached last July. The settlements were reached following accusations that the banks sold risky mortgage securities during the run-up to the housing crisis. Neither bank admits to wrongdoing. But the settlements do require that the banks assist struggling home owners, such as lending to low-income borrowers.

The banks, however, say that their decision to issue NACA loans wasn't related to the settlements.

source:  Wall Street Journal


As housing values rise, home-equity loans and lines of credit are staging a comeback, MSN Money reports.

In late 2008 as the housing market slowed dramatically, home-equity borrowing came to nearly a standstill as lenders became cautious because values were falling so quickly. Then by late 2011, nearly a third of U.S. homes with mortgages owed more on their loan than their house was worth. 

In markets where home prices are rising, though, lenders are starting to issue equity loans once again. New players have jumped in too. For example, Discover Financial Services is offering fixed-rate home-equity loans of $25,000 to $100,000. The offer is for current customers, but eventually will be extended to others. 

While lenders may be more willing to extend a home-equity loan, they are being more cautious than they were in the past. Lending on 100 percent of owners' equity is now rare, and borrowers won’t likely get more than 85 percent of that amount. 

source:  MSN Money


Some investors are gradually pulling out of the housing market after helping to propel it to double-digit gains in 2012 and 2013.

Twelve percent of existing-home purchases last year were made by individual investors, a drop from 16 percent a year ago, according to the National Association of REALTORS®. During the housing crisis, investors had been making up nearly one-third of home purchases, and in some markets, even more than half.

Why are they leaving the market now?

"Investors are concerned with a potential rise in interest rates," says Lawrence Yun, NAR's chief economist. "It makes it less attractive in a rising interest rate environment."

Home prices increased the last two years, and values are up from a year ago. Coupled with that, the number of distressed properties — which investors long have been attracted to for the deep discounts — have also fallen.

Some real estate professionals hope that less competition from investors are bringing first-time home buyers back into the market.

"The reduction in appetite from investors has put a temporary lid on home sales that has yet to be offset by the first-time home buyer," writes Peter Boockvar, chief market analyst with the Lindsey Group.

While they're lessening their buying sprees, investors appear to be holding onto the properties they have purchased and are not rushing to sell, housing analysts say. Rents have risen from a year ago.

"We are really happy with our portfolio of homes," Aaron Edelheit, CEO of Atlanta-based The American Home, told CNBC. "Our demand for rental properties is strong. We have 95 percent rented." Edelheit says the company would not likely be buying any more homes, but renting the ones they have. The company currently owns about 2,400 single-family rental homes.

source:  CNBC


More millennials are finally leaving their parents’ homes to form their own households, but they may need financial help to do it.

A new report by consumer lender loanDepot shows that about two-thirds of parents – or 67 percent – will use savings to help their children buy a home. loanDepot surveyed 1,000 parents and 1,000 millennials (those between 18 and 38 years old) to find out about parents’ financial assistance in a home purchase.

Seventy-five percent of the millennial-aged home buyers who received financial help from their parents said the assistance was what made it possible for them to buy a home, according to the survey.

"Support from parents is playing a significant role in the housing recovery, and this new research indicates the trend will increase," says Dave Norris, president and chief operations officer at loanDepot. "Without that financial support, it’s likely the pool of millennial first-time buyers would be even smaller than today."

Half of the parents who plan to help their children purchase a home said they plan to contribute toward the down payment, while 20 percent say they will cover closing costs and 20 percent will cosign the loan, according to the survey.

About 68 percent of parents who plan to help their adult child purchase a home say they will do so with no strings attached – providing financial support without expecting any payment in return. But 36 percent of millennials surveyed say they would view any parental financial aid toward a home purchase as a loan that will need to be repaid in the future.

"Our new survey confirms most millennials plan to own a home someday, and their parents are more than supportive of their efforts," Norris says. "Their interest in home ownership will likely pick up once they start their own families, reduce debt, and have been working long enough to earn a decent income and save money."

source:  loanDepot


The Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) has announced enhanced non-performing loan (NPL) requirements for sales of NPLs by Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae (the Enterprises) that will reduce risk to taxpayers by transferring it to the private sector.  FHFA believes that the sale of severely delinquent loans through NPL sales will reduce Enterprise losses and improve borrower and neighborhood outcomes. 

The enhanced NPL sale requirements draw upon the experience of Freddie Mac’s two pilot sales of NPLs last year and this year.  The loans in these two transactions have an aggregate value of approximately one billion dollars in unpaid principal balance. 

The loans included in NPL sales will generally be severely delinquent – typically more than one year past due.  FHFA’s goal is to achieve more favorable outcomes for the Enterprises and for borrowers by providing alternatives to foreclosure wherever possible.  In addition, reporting by servicers on borrower outcomes will be required after the transactions close, which will allow the Enterprises to document whether the desired outcomes are being achieved. 

Future NPL sales by the Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae must meet a lengthy list of enhanced requirements, but one important to households battling foreclosure may be the most interesting:

  • Servicers are encouraged to sell properties that have gone through foreclosure and entered Real Estate Owned (REO) status to individuals who will occupy the property as their primary residence or to non-profits.  For the first 20 days after any NPL that becomes an REO property is marketed, the property may be sold only to buyers who intend to occupy the property as their primary residence or to non-profits; 

NPL buyers and servicers, including subsequent servicers, are required to report loan resolution results and borrower outcomes to the Enterprises for four years after the NPL sale.  These reports will help inform whether to make future changes to NPL sales requirements and determine whether an NPL buyer and NPL servicer continue to be eligible for future sales based on pool level borrower outcomes, adjusted for subsequent market events.  Consistent with applicable law, FHFA and/or the Enterprises will provide public reports on aggregate borrower outcomes at the pool level.  

source:  FHFA


If the bank or government can’t save a person from foreclosure, can a crowd?

“Crowdfunding” sites are on the rise as desperate home owners turn to trying to raise money from friends, family, and strangers to try to stay current with their mortgage payments. 

“Listings asking donors to ‘Help save my children's home’ and ‘Help avoid foreclosure’ are popping up across dozens of fundraising Web sites like GoFundMe, Indiegogo, FundRazr, and GiveForward,” CBS reports. 

The sites were created as a way to help people fundraise for specific causes, such as medical bills, youth sports, education, or now saving a home. The sites will take a portion of the donations collected, about 4 to 10 percent. 

Foreclosures are sometimes viewed as an “avoidable crisis,” so troubled home owners are having mixed luck on the sites so far, CBS reports. For example, CBS notes that in about 100 campaigns on GoFundMe, less than 1 percent have been able to raise enough to save the home. However, one couple has been able to raise on GoFundMe more than $7,500 of the $15,000 they need to save their home from foreclosure. 

source:  CBS


More than 1.5 million older Americans have lost their homes to foreclosure and millions more are at risk, according to an AARP report. The risk appears to be greatest among Americans 75 years and older, as well as minority home owners.

About one in 30 adults 75 and older face foreclosure today. That's significant when compared to 2007, when one in 300 home owners aged 75 and older were at risk of foreclosure.

Furthermore, older minorities — particularly African Americans and Hispanics — have foreclosure rates that are nearly double than those of white home owners at the same age, the report notes.

What’s more, the number of older adults who are underwater on their mortgage is alarmingly high. About 3.5 million — or 16 percent of older home owners — have underwater mortgages, which could put them at risk of foreclosure.

“The Great Recession was brutal for many older Americans,” says Debra Whitman, AARP’s policy chief.

Just in the past six years, the number of loans held by older Americans who are seriously delinquent on their mortgage soared more than 450 percent.

Many older adults live on fixed incomes and are in retirement, which makes catching up with their mortgage payments once they fall behind particularly difficult.

Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., is promoting more mortgage principal reductions and loan-modification programs.

"These are people who in many instances have never missed a payment in 20 years," Cummings told the Associated Press. "You see grown men crying because of the potential loss of a home."

source:  Associated Press 


Is it finally time to sell your house?

That’s the question on homeowners’ minds as house prices just posted their largest annual gain since 2005 — congrats to those no longer “underwater” on their mortgages — even as interest rates remain tantalizingly low. But here’s the catch: Those same higher prices can make buyers as choosy as a Michelin restaurant reviewer.

“A house with a $1,600 mortgage payment last year now has a $2,000 mortgage payment,” one broker told the Wall Street Journal. “Buyers are saying, ‘I better like it.’”

To increase your home’s “like” quotient, read on to see which upgrades are worth making and which aren’t.

Worth It: A new front door. Strictly in terms of return on investment, a steel one topped the list of Remodeling magazine’s annual Cost vs. Value Report for 2014 — recouping 96.6 percent of the average price. But a fresh coat of paint can work wonders, too.

Not Worth It: A home-office remodel. We know what you’re thinking: With so many more people working from home, wouldn’t it be brilliant to rewire the space for electronic equipment, say, and install commercial-grade carpeting? Not really. The magazine gave it the lowest return on investment (48.9 percent), and the guy who oversaw the study says, “Home offices don’t sell houses.”

Worth It: A back-up power generator. It’s the biggest gainer in the study, jumping 28 percent over last year, and plays especially well in areas brutalized by storms.

Not Worth It: Major bathroom work. “You could install the most spectacular jetted tub, and it still might not suit a buyer,” says Patsy O’Neill, a sales associate with Sotheby’s in Montclair, NJ. “Meanwhile, you’d have spent tens of thousands of dollars.” That explains why it made’s list of “6 Worst Home Fixes for the Money” and why you should stick to things like re-grouting the shower.

Worth It: Roofing replacement. There’s a reason this ultimate “curb appeal” enhancer consistently makes Remodeling’s list and is up 11.2 percent over even last year: A roof is the first thing prospective buyers notice even before exiting their cars, and you can kiss that sale good-bye if yours looks like it’s been through hell.

“It’s a huge turn-off,” says O’Neill, “and makes buyers predisposed to find even more things they don’t like.” For the look of luxury at very affordable prices, check out the Value Collection Lifetime Designer Shingles from GAF (, North America’s largest roofing manufacturer.

Not Worth It: Major kitchen renovations. Again, the key word is “major,” and again it’s a “taste” issue.



Are you a first-time home buyer? An established homeowner? An empty nester?

Whatever stage of life you’re in, it pays to make sure you have the right insurance – and you’re not paying for coverage you don’t need.

Homeowner policies can be customized to fit to your lifestyle, so you’re not automatically paying for coverage on home upgrades you don’t have, such as security systems, expensive jewelry or antique collections, says Charles Valinotti, senior vice president with insurer QBE.

He says regardless of lifestyle stage, there’s one type of coverage everyone should have – insurance to replace possessions in their homes. “If the home is destroyed, contents will be replaced at today’s value.”

Here’s a summary of other essential insurance coverage to fit your lifestyle:

When you’re new to home-buying

You’ve closed the deal on your biggest purchase yet and you need sufficient protection, even though you don’t have many belongings. You’ll need insurance for the structure of your home, as well as against common disasters, such as fire, severe storms, vandalism and theft. Extra liability insurance is a good idea in the event someone is hurt in your home.

“Remember to add coverage as you make improvements costing more than $5,000 or add TVs, computers, stereos and furniture to your home’s inventory,” says Valinotti.

When you’re an established homeowner

You’ve moved into a home that fits your family’s needs and is filled with belongings you’ve acquired – such as family heirlooms, artwork and expensive jewelry or rugs – that typically aren’t covered by a basic homeowner’s policy. Make a home inventory video to document your personal property and keep the video in a safe place away from your home, like in a bank safety deposit box.

“Established homeowners should consider buying an insurance policy ‘floater’ or ‘rider’ to cover these special items,” Valinotti says.

When you’re an empty nester

Not only have your children moved out to work or attend school, you’ve scaled down your lifestyle. Valinotti suggests that now is the time to reassess the value of your home and your possessions. “If your children have taken their things with them, such as furniture, laptops or televisions, you may need less coverage than you did before,” he says. Thinking about starting a home business now that the kids are gone? If you work at home, you may need a supplemental liability policy that covers your work-related activities. If you decide that you’re finished with your homeowner responsibilities and want to rent an apartment or condominium, remember: You still need insurance coverage.

Valinotti recommends talking with your insurance agent about what protection is essential for your specific stage of life. “That way, you’ll be sure to have enough coverage to return to your current lifestyle should you experience a major loss,” he says.

source:  ARA