Archive for August 2006

How to avoid overpaying in a buyer's market

My wife and I want to buy our first home, as she is expecting in about six months. However, the area where we want to buy is in a "buyer's market" with lots of homes for sale. We notice many "price reduced" hangers on the for-sale signs, so we are in no hurry to buy. The block where we almost bought a house last weekend has three houses listed for sale out of 20 houses on the block. How can we avoid paying too much?

Before you make a written purchase offer, ask your buyer's agent to prepare a written comparative market analysis, or CMA. This is the same form that listing agents prepare for their sellers at the time a home is listed for sale.

How To Put Your Sale On The Fast Track

It's every home seller's dream -- a fast sale. In today's market, crossing the finish line first, fortunately, isn't a matter of luck. To win the home-sale race, you have to stay ahead of the pack. Price the house right, market the house competitively, and make sure the house is in move-in condition.
Here are 3 key ways you can get your home on the home sale fast track:
1. Price To Sell
Don't over price.
A nationwide survey of the National Association of Realtors found homes that sell within four weeks of the initial listing sold for close to the original asking price. Homes on the market for up to six months sold for about 7% less than the asking price. Listings that languished for more than six months sold for 15% less than the asking price. Experience shows: a too-high price results in a slow-to-sell home.
Expertise pays off.
This is an area where our neighborhood expertise pays off. By performing a competitive market analysis, we can help you determine the best possible price--one that puts the most money in your pocket and gets it sold fast. We'll study listing and selling prices for similar homes in your neighborhood and compare your home's special features, improvements and condition. Interest rates, local economic trends and the availability of homes for sale in your area will also affect your home's value. The feedback we glean regularly from home seekers helps us keep our sellers informed of what today's buyers want and are willing to pay.
Be realistic.
The more realistic the asking price, the sooner your home will sell. Unrealistic prices, on the other hand, are the major cause of "shopworn" listings, causing potential buyers to wonder if something is wrong with the home beyond price.
2. Results Marketing
Create a marketing plan.
Once you've established a selling price, the next step in your fast-track strategy is a maximum-exposure marketing plan. An effective marketing plan can include:
• Tours to familiarize other agents with your home.
• Showing your home to qualified buyers.
• Advertising your home where it counts.
Offer buyer incentives.
For example, sellers can help with closing costs, provide a home warranty, give allowances for carpet or draperies, or pay utilities or lawn service for a limited time. Lowering cash barriers to the purchase will significantly enlarge the circle of potential buyers. We can discuss many other ways to market your home so it stands out from the competition.
3. Showplace Condition
Move-in condition.
To tempt a buyer, your home has to be inviting. Today's buyers generally don't have the time to do their own fixing up, so for maximum appeal your home must be in move-in condition.
Focus on curb appeal.
First impressions really do count. Inside your home, recognize that living condition is different from showing condition. Prospective buyers want to see your home in near-perfect condition, even if that's not the way they'll keep it once they move in. Make your home a "showplace" and you'll soon be taking a victory lap after a fast sale.

Give us a call for more tips on getting your home ready to sell, developing an effective marketing plan, or setting the right price for your home. With our experience and track record, together we can make sure you finish a winner.

Motrgage 101

Mortgage 101
By Broderick Perkins,

Once a simple task that meant comparing the fixed interest rate mortgages of a dozen or so lenders, the mortgage search today is more like finding your way through a maze. There are dozens of loan types, hundreds of loan programs and thousands of mortgage brokers, bankers, lenders, finance companies, credit unions, even stock brokerage firms originating loans.

Because there is so much to learn, finding a mortgage that fits doesn't begin with an application, but education. If there's but one aspect of the home buying transaction you take the time to learn in detail, make it mortgages. Discover too late that you can't afford your mortgage, and you could not only lose your home, but also be unable to purchase another one for years.

Obtaining information is easy. Mortgage information sources are as numerous as mortgage types. Web sites, topical newspaper articles, mortgage books, consumer seminars and workshops can help. Professionals, including financial planners, real estate agents, mortgage brokers and lenders, can also assist you.

Examine your finances

First, compare fixed-rate mortgages with adjustable rate mortgages to determine which type best fits your current financial lifestyle and, to some extent, your future obligations 15 to 30 years down the road. Learn how much of a mortgage you can afford. Lenders are apt to qualify you for as much as they are willing to lend, which can be more than you can really afford. It's up to you to take stock of your income and expenses, both current and projected, to determine what you can comfortably manage each month.

Along with your mortgage payment of interest and principle, remember to add related insurance costs, taxes, homeowner association dues and any other costs. Also, obtain copies of your credit reports from all credit reporting agencies. Obtaining your credit report in advance gives you time to challenge missing information, errors, or other discrepancies. If necessary, you can put a statement on your credit report to explain any blemishes you can't cure. Lenders likely will ask you to explain problem areas on your credit record anyway. Your attention will let the lender know you are conscientious about your finances.

Shopping for lenders and loans

When you are ready to shop for a loan you have two basic choices -- direct lenders and mortgage brokers. Direct lenders have money to lend. They make the final decision on your application. Lenders have a limited number of in-house loans available. Brokers are intermediaries who, like you, have many lenders from which to choose. If you have special financing needs and can't find a loan to suit them, an experienced broker may be able to ferret out the financing you need. Mortgage brokers, however, are paid with a slice of the amount you borrow, some more than others.

Along with shopping the source, you'll also have to shop loan costs, including the interest rate, broker fees, points (each point is one percent of the amount you borrow), prepayment penalties, the loan term, application fees, credit report fee, appraisal costs and a host of others.

Your application

Before you actually apply for a mortgage on or off line, gather documents necessary to prove claims you'll make on the application. The application will ask for information about your job tenure, employment stability, income, your assets (property, cars, bank accounts and investments) and your liabilities (auto loans, installment loans, mortgages, credit-card debt, household expenses and others).

The lender will run a credit check on you, but you'll have to supply supplemental documentation including paycheck stubs, bank account statements, tax returns, investment earnings reports, rental agreements, divorce decrees, proof of insurance, and other documentation. If the lender deems you creditworthy, it will likely hire a professional appraiser to make sure the value of the home you are about to buy is commensurate with your loan amount.

Lock it down

During your loan application, get a rate lock - an essential document in a rising mortgage rate market. On or offline, a rate lock -- in writing - guarantees you a certain interest rate and terms for a given period.

· Lock in all the costs you can, the interest rate, and points.

· Set the lock ''on application'' rather than ''on approval.'' On approval means you won't have a stab at rates until the loan application is approved. In a rising market, a lock on approval would cost you more in higher interest rate.

· Along with shopping around for the best mortgage, shop around for both the terms of the lock contract and its cost. Both can vary.

· Your lock-in period should be long enough to allow for settlement, contingencies imposed by the lender or the purchase contract and other factors that could delay the process. Consider all factors that could delay your settlement, including the time it will take you to provide requested materials about your financial condition, unanticipated construction delays on a new house and the like.

· Most lock periods range from 15 to 60 days. Anything longer could be cost prohibitive. Ask your lender to estimate (in writing, if possible) the average time for processing loans. Once you lock-in a rate, you must make sure that your loan is approved and closed before the commitment expires. Follow up on your loan application to make sure you don't delay sending additional documents the lender requires.

Get preapproved

Finally, once the lender approves your loan, you've been prequalified for a certain amount, but that doesn't guarantee you the loan. Prequalification indicates you are creditworthy enough to obtain a loan and it lets you know how much the lender is willing to lend you based on your income and debts. Often, the lender has yet to pull your credit report. It's wise to take the next step and get preapproved for a specific amount the lender will actually lend you.

A preapproval - in writing - is the amount the lender guarantees it will lend you, based on a thorough analysis of your application. The preapproval not only gives you the security of shopping for a home you can afford; it tells the seller you are a serious buyer ready with solid financing. That's a negotiating edge you want in any market.

Seahawks Moving Practice Facility To Renton

By Associated Press
RENTON - The Seahawks are moving their headquarters from their cramped location in this suburb east of the city to Renton south of Seattle - the same suburb where the SuperSonics are considering building a new arena.
Alex Pietch, director of Renton's economic development department, confirmed on Monday that the Seahawks plan to move onto a 20-acre, waterfront site on the southeastern shore of Lake Washington.
"We have been in talks with the Seahawks for some months in advance of this," Pietch said.
Tod Leiweke, the Seahawks' chief executive, deferred questions on the move to a Tuesday press conference at the team's current headquarters next to Northwest University in Kirkland. In a news release Monday morning, the team said it would be announcing a "new facility upgrade" on Tuesday.
The team's 20-year lease with Northwest University for the land that holds the current, 44,000 square-foot headquarters - remodeled in 1999 - ends this year. The Seahawks plan to break ground on their 120,000 square-foot Renton site this fall and move in time to have their 2008 training camp there.
"I can see Paul Allen and his yacht tied up here swinging on the hook watching the practice from the bridge of his beautiful yacht," said Renton resident Bill Kennamer. "I just have no hesitation to say 'what a great idea.' "
The site is owned by Seahawks' owner Paul Allen's Vulcan Inc., a management company that invests in science, the arts and movie production, among other ventures.
Pietch said Allen, Microsoft Corp.'s cofounder, had purchased the land in the mid-1990s in hopes of making it a headquarters for his "technology and all of his entities." That plan fell apart, Pietch said, in 2002 when various owners of surrounding properties could not come to terms.
The Seahawks approached Renton about six months ago with the idea of using the Vulcan land for a new, far larger and more modern team facility and training camp headquarters. The Seahawks' current training camp is at Eastern Washington University in Cheney each summer.
"We opened our arms and said, 'Please come,"' Pietch said.
Renton is the home of Boeing's Commercial Airplane headquarters and its 737 and Business Jet production lines where they've added a thousand jobs. It's also home to IKEA's most profitable store in North America. It's going to be the new home of the Federal Reserve Bank now under construction.
And it’s home to the new urban village 'The Landing' with shops, restaurants, apartments and a hotel to be built on former Boeing property where Fry's Electronics flourishes.
"As the region continues to densify, we think that the city is going to be one of the most important urban centers around Lake Washington," Pietch said.
It wasn't too many years ago Renton was hurting. Then city boosters came up with the ad campaign 'Ahead of the Curve.'
Public relations man Michael Hamilton says, "You know we started doing this 7 years ago and it's pretty remarkable when you think that back then we said 'Renton was ahead of the Curve' and it sort of just keeps proving itself."
The move follows an NFL moneysaving trend toward keeping training camps at team facilities rather than the traditional, remote college campus settings. More teams prefer staying home in their more lavish facilities with better field and medical conditions. And players enjoy being able to commute to their in-season homes while at training camp.
Renton is also on the list of places the NBA's SuperSonics will talk to about building a new arena should talks with Seattle on a proposed $220 million upgrade of KeyArena fall through.
In February, majority owner Howard Schultz threatened to possibly move or sell the franchise. He said the Sonics have lost about $60 million in the past five years, and blamed a revenue-sharing lease with the city of Seattle.
"The timing of the Seahawks' announcement and our discussions with the Sonics are coincidental," Pietch said. "The Sonics' talks are entirely independent."
The site the Sonics are considering - along with places in suburban Bellevue east of Seattle - is south of the Seahawks' new headquarters, near a Boeing Co. production plant for its 737 aircraft. The Sonics' arena would be part of a developing entertainment and residential complex known as "The Landing."
Pietch said Renton is waiting for the Sonics to determine whether staying within Seattle city limits will be a viable alternative beyond the 2010 end to its KeyArena lease.
"The Sonics have indicated to us all along their first priority is securing a deal with the city of Seattle," Pietch said. "Our discussions with them have always been, 'If not Seattle, then you should take a look at our site."'
For now, Renton is plenty happy with the economic benefits the new Seahawks' facility - and especially their training camp move - will bring.
"This is another championship-caliber entity moving into the city of Renton," Pietch said.

Home equity credit line recommended as safety net

By Robert J. Bruss
My husband and I owe about $57,000 on our home mortgage at 6.75 percent interest. We have that amount in a money market account, which only earns around 4 percent interest. I think we should take that money to pay off our home loan and never have to worry about mortgage payments again. I am 58 and my husband is 56. He took an early retirement buy-out from his employer, but I still work as a legal secretary because I enjoy getting out of the house each day. Do you think we should pay off our mortgage now? --Marilyn H.

DEAR MARILYN: If paying off your mortgage will deplete your liquid reserves, I suggest you do not rush to pay off your home loan. However, if you have lots of idle cash sitting around the house, and you are 100 percent certain you will never need the $57,000 again, go ahead and prepay your mortgage.

Although that 6.75 percent interest rate might seem high, it really isn't when you consider its after-tax cost. Presuming you itemize tax deductions, your after-tax cost of that mortgage is around 4.75 percent.
The big problem most folks don't think about when prepaying a home mortgage is that they might need that money again in the future. If that happens, especially when they are retired, sick or unemployed, they are often unable to borrow on their home except at loan-shark interest rates and terms.
If you decide to prepay your home loan, before you do so, I highly recommend you obtain a home equity credit line (HELOC) now while you are still working and have adequate income to qualify. That HELOC won't cost anything, except a $50 annual fee, but it will bring peace of mind knowing it is available by just writing a check in case of an emergency.

What are some tips every home buyer should know to get started?

If you think it's about time you bought a home instead of renting, a little homework before you start looking will increase your odds of finding the best buy for you. Here's how:

Dig up your down payment Know where your down payment cash will come from. If it's coming from stocks, go ahead and sell them. If Aunt Jessie is loaning the money, get it in hand so you are ready to go.

Nail down your financing It's tough to home shop if you don't know what you can afford. Together with a reputable lender, we can help you determine how much home you can afford and which loan program will maximize your buying power. By getting pre-approved for a loan, you'll be a better prospect in the seller's eyes.

Take your time Don't jump at the first home you see. Let us introduce you to different areas and home types to see what suits your needs the best. Do your homework Once you've found the home you want, ask us to run a competitive market analysis of other homes that have recently sold, so you'll be able to make a sensible offer to purchase.

Enjoy! With expert assistance and a positive attitude, home shopping can be fun and rewarding.

Three Easy Steps toward a Happy Credit Report

During the moving process it’s very convenient to use credit for everything from your home loan to your furniture financing to those fluffy new towels. While you’re busy filling out application after application, inquiries are being added to your credit history! Too many inquiries can lower your credit score and prevent you from obtaining future credit at the best rates possible.

By following these three simple steps, both you and your credit report can emerge from the moving process in a healthy state:

Watch out for department store credit card offers

Department stores love to promote their store cards. Oftentimes, a discount is offered if you apply for a card at the time of purchase. Don’t forget--when you apply for their card an inquiry will be placed on your credit report. And, if you qualify for the card you will have another revolving account on your credit report. For some, another revolving account won’t hurt their credit, and might even help it. But if you have too many revolving accounts another card could negatively impact your credit standing.

Beware of "piggy-back" offers

Retail stores have been known to place “piggy-back” offers on their credit applications. These are typically an offer for another credit card, in addition to the regular store card. To tempt you to apply for the additional card the store will usually have a special promotion, such as a store gift certificate.

  • A Lesson from RobertRobert, a 25-year old software engineer, applied for an electronics department store card while he was purchasing a stereo for his new apartment. There was an offer on the application to receive a $25 store gift certificate if he also applied for a bank credit card. “All I had to do was sign another line on the form and I applied for the card and got the gift certificate,” said Robert, “but I didn’t think about what another credit card would do to my credit.” Remember that if you’re approved for both cards, two new accounts will be added to your credit report.

Take care when shopping around for mortgage rates

While it’s a good idea to shop around for the best mortgage rate you can find, keep in mind that lenders will check your credit before they can decide on your loan terms. This credit check will place an inquiry on your credit report. Many scoring models combine all mortgage lender inquiries within a 30-day period into one inquiry. So, try to limit your shopping time to 30 days.

Moving to a new home is an exciting event, and your credit plays a major role in the moving process. With a little care and preparation you can ensure that your move is a credit-healthy experience.

Prequalification vs Preapproval

There are some key differences between prequalification and preapproval for a loan that you need to be aware of. Loan prequalification is a simple process. It takes into account very basic information regarding your financial status and gives you an amount for which you may qualify. This can be done strictly on a verbal level or electronically over the Internet. The prequalified amount is based solely on the information you provide. In most markets, prequalified buyers usually hold little clout compared to preapproved buyers due to the fact that the information given during the prequalification process is not thoroughly investigated and therefore may be unreliable. Where a preapproved buyer is actually approved for a loan of a certain amount, a prequalified buyer is only told that they might be approved for a certain amount.

Preapproval is a much more involved process. The lender will take all pertinent information regarding your finances and perform an extensive check on your current financial status. This will ultimately give you the exact amount that you will be eligible for (depending on what type of loan you decide to go with). Being preapproved lets the seller know that you have gone through an extensive financial background check and there should be no unexpected obstacles to buying the home. You can see how being preapproved would be more attractive to a seller than just being prequalified.

The type of mortgage you apply for will depend on many factors, but the majority of that decision will be based on your ability to pay a monthly installment. If you can only afford a $1000 dollar a month payment, you are not going to go out and buy a $250,000 home, unless you have a large sum of money set aside to make a sizable down payment! Financial planners say that you shouldn't pay more than 28% of your gross income for housing (that includes principal, interest, taxes, and insurance). Depending on your debt to income ratio, that percentage may change.

Once you have determined what you can afford, the next step is to choose a mortgage plan. There are many different mortgages out there, so take some time and explore all of the possible plans for which you qualify. You could save yourself thousands of dollars in the long run!

Your agent can save you time and money by being your professional guide through the entire loan process. They will be able to counsel you on the advantages and disadvantages of certain types of loans and help you understand the "real" cost of a mortgage. Your agent will also act as your personal advocate and liaison between you and the lender as you proceed through the approval process and closing by working with your lender on a regular basis.

How do I prepare the house for sale?

First and foremost, put it in the best condition possible, especially if you are in a market with few buyers and lots of homes for sale. That means taking care of any major repairs that could deter a buyer (such as replacing any broken windows or replacing a leaky roof) if you can afford it. Next, work on your home's curb appeal. Make sure your landscape is pristine. Mow the grass, clean up any debris and weed the garden beds. Plant a few annual flowers near the entrance or in pots to be placed by the door. Other quick fixes that don't cost a lot of money but can help you get top dollar for your home:
.Clean the windows and make sure the paint is not chipped or flaking.
.Be sure that the doorbell works.
.Clean and freshen up rooms, furnishings, floors, walls and ceilings. Make sure that bathrooms and kitchens are spotless.
.Organize closets.
.Make sure the basic appliances and fixtures work. Replace leaky faucets and frayed cords.
.Eliminate the source of any bad smells, such as the kitty box. Use air freshener or bake a batch of cookies before your open house to ensure that the house smells inviting.
.Invest in a couple of vases of fresh flowers to place around the house and next to any information about the house you have prepared for buyers.