What's the outlook for home prices?

By Marcie Geffner - Bankrate.com

Twenty-thirteen was a banner year for home prices, which shot up in many areas, making sellers happy and buyers not so much. Housing economists now say prices will continue to rise in 2014, though at a more modest and sustainable pace.

Lawrence Yun, chief economist of the National Association of Realtors, said sales of existing homes increased 20 percent and prices gained 18 percent over the last two years, cumulatively.

Sales are expected to top out at 5.13 million in 2013 and, to use Yun's words, "hold fairly even at about 5.12 million in 2014."

4 tips to survive a bank heist

By Marcie Geffner - Bankrate.com

Suppose you're in a bank branch when it gets robbed. Should you hit the ground and stay quiet? Confront the robbers? Try to take a photo or summon help?

While every situation is different and no one knows in advance how they'll react, the best advice for bank customers is to not do anything that might put themselves or others at greater risk of harm, says Doug Johnson, vice president of risk management policy at the American Bankers Association, a trade organization in Washington, D.C.

"It's important for individuals not to try to be heroes, not to panic, and to do anything the robber tells them to do, which is reasonable," Johnson says. "Certainly, they should not try to take pictures or try to be part of the solution to the crime. You do not want to draw attention to yourself in any way, shape or form."

Read more: http://www.bankrate.com/finance/banking/tips-surviving-bank-robbery-1.aspx

Homeowner tax breaks set to expire

By Marcie Geffner - HSH.com

Homeowners enjoy a number of preferences in the federal tax code. But three of those preferences expire on Dec. 31, 2013.

"There may be fewer homeowner tax breaks in 2014, unless the expiring provisions are extended," explained Mildred Carter, senior federal tax analyst at CCH Tax & Accounting, a Wolters Kluwer company in Riverwoods, Ill. "These include the itemized deduction for mortgage insurance premiums, the residential energy property credit and the exclusion from gross income for discharge of qualified principal residence indebtedness."

Read more: http://www.hsh.com/finance/mortgage/tax-breaks-homeowners-expire-2013.html

How to make investing less scary

By Marcie Geffner - Bankrate.com

Investors naturally tend to focus on the return they expect to receive from a financial strategy or investment. But that single-mindedness can be a huge mistake because it ignores the impact of risk.

Too much risk can lead to what Arlen Olberding, owner of Guidepost Financial Planning in Fort Collins, Colo., describes as "inappropriate responses," such as buying too aggressively when the stock market is overheated or selling in a panic when the stock market takes a dive.

"Make sure you're aware of what you're buying, how much risk you're taking and what you're comfortable with," Olberding says.

Read more: http://www.bankrate.com/finance/investing/investment-risk-how-to-lessen.aspx

How to refinance a house you're renting out

By Marcie Geffner - Bankrate.com

Buying a home is an attractive proposition in these days of low mortgage interest rates and fallen house prices. But if you want to buy a new home while renting out the old house, you could face a glitch. It might be hard to refinance a house that you're renting out.

That's because "things change when you're no longer dealing with a primary residence," warns Ben Chenault Jr., regional manager at Fairway Independent Mortgage in Birmingham, Ala.

Read more: http://www.bankrate.com/finance/refinance/refinance-house-renting-out-1.aspx

Buying a home during holiday season

By Marcie Geffner - Bankrate

The year-end holiday season is a good time for gift-exchanging, entertaining and general merriment. But what about buying a house? Should you try to do that in November or December, too?

If you're not picky about the home you intend to buy, the answer might be yes.

Sellers tend to avoid the end of the year due to the short days, wintry weather and conventional wisdom that says buyers are otherwise occupied, says Tim Deihl, associate broker at Gibson Sotheby's International Realty in Boston. But those who do choose to sell at year-end are often under pressure and highly motivated to cut a deal.

Read more: http://www.bankrate.com/finance/mortgages/5-reasons-to-buy-a-home-during-holidays-1.aspx

6 tips for boomerang home buyers

By Marcie Geffner - Bankrate.com

Folks in the housing biz love people who want to buy homes. And these days, many real estate and mortgage brokers feel especially fond of so-called rebound or boomerang buyers: people who lost a home to foreclosure, but are now ready to buy again.

The chief attraction is strong motivation, says Kent Temple, broker/owner of Keller Williams Realty -- The Temple Team in Mooresville, N.C.

"If you've been through a foreclosure, you've already been a homeowner," Temple says. "You know what it's about. You know the process. You've been through hell sometime in the last seven years, and if you really want to buy a house, you are so willing to do whatever it takes."

With that in mind, here's a look at what rebound buyers need to know before buying a home after foreclosure.

Read more: http://www.bankrate.com/finance/mortgages/tips-boomerang-buyers-homes-1.aspx

What stays, what goes when you buy a home?

By Marcie Geffner - HSH.com

If you're buying a home, you might well be concerned about what's included in the sale and what's not. Do you get the brand-new refrigerator? The potted plants? The area rugs? The crystal chandelier?

The answer: maybe.

"If it's bolted in," says Jim Walker, a realty agent with 1st American Realty in Carmichael, Calif., "it's pretty obvious that it's supposed to stay."Generally speaking, anything that's attached to the property is considered a "fixture," and all fixtures are sold with the property. Examples include window shutters, ceiling fans, track lighting and built-in shelving systems.

Anything that's not attached can be removed by the seller. Examples include furniture, decorative accessories and most artwork hung on the walls.

While the fixture rules might seem straightforward, it can get complicated. Items like appliances, playground equipment, window coverings and big-screen TVs could be fixtures if they're attached or not fixtures if they're freestanding.

Read on: http://library.hsh.com/articles/first-time-homebuyers/what-stays-when-you-buy-a-home.html

Mortgage rates find a direction: down, barely

By Marcie Geffner - Bankrate.com

Mortgage rates stood nearly still this week, edging down slightly in the absence of any news that would send rates decisively in either direction.

Market rates were "kind of trying to find a direction" after Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke signaled in mid-June that the central bank might stop its quantitative easing program later this year, but then began backpedaling after investors panicked and rates rose, says Stephen LaDue, a senior loan officer for PrimeLending, in Brookfield, Wis.

Rates might remain calm for a while, unless something else happens to shake up the status quo. And there are plenty of "something elses" that could occur.

Read more:

Is unpermitted construction worth the risk?

By Marcie Geffner - HSH.com

The freedom to do whatever you want with your home is an attractive benefit of home ownership. For some, that freedom means converting a garage into a bedroom, adding a deck, enclosing a sun porch or making other improvements without getting a building permit.

But if you buy a home with unpermitted renovations, it can create a financial nightmare for you, the new homeowner.

Unpermitted renovations aren't easy to uncover, says Kim Bregman, broker/owner of Optima Properties, a realty brokerage in Boca Raton, Fla. One way to find them is to look for anything in the home that appears to be inconsistent with the original floor plan.

Read more:

A pocket-full of problems

By Marcie Geffner - California Real Estate

Pocket, or off-market, listings are a significant concern right now for Realtors. While the practice of keeping listings off the MLS is not new, the prevalence of this practice has been growing, creating an environment that can negatively impact both Realtors and buyers and sellers.

Traditionally, the term "pocket listing" generally referred to a home that was listed for sale to a broker, but was not marketed to other brokers through the MLS. The listing was figuratively hidden in the broker's pocket.

Read more:
(Flip to page 20)

Why summer home buying is so hot

By Marcie Geffner - HSH.com

June 21 marked the first day of summer. But to Realtors, only one season matters: home-buying season, which occurs annually from March to September.

Seasonality presents important implications for buyers and sellers, and is naturally most pronounced in markets with seasonal change. But other factors like the school year and expiring leases have a lot to do with home-buying season as well.

"Most buyers don't want to move in the middle of a snowstorm, and most sellers realize their house will show better when buyers can see the beautiful flowers, the landscaped lawn," says Matt Phipps, a Realtor at Phipps Real Estate in Warwick, R.I. "A new roof will show really well from a curb-appeal standpoint in spring or summer compared with having snow covering it."

Read more:

10 Tips to price your for-sale home right

By Marcie Geffner - HSH.com

Home sellers naturally want to sell their home quickly and for the highest possible amount. The key is the asking price. Here are 10 tips to help you price it right.

No. 1: Consider the comps. "Comps" are comparable homes in your neighborhood that were for sale, recently were sold or are currently for sale. Comps are the most important factor in pricing your home.

Consider comps in conjunction with local market conditions, including the supply of for-sale homes relative to buyer demand, says Allyson Bernard, owner of Real Estate Professionals of Connecticut in Danbury.

"Less inventory means you can probably push the envelope a little bit on (pricing) your home, but we're not in a market where you can double your price or increase it 30 or 40 percent above what the comps are showing," Bernard says.

Read more:

Should you sell your house as a pocket listing?

By Marcie Geffner - Bankrate.com

Pocket listings might be the hottest controversy in real estate today. That's because many home sellers are attracted to the perceived benefits of selling a house outside of the brokers' multiple-listing service, or MLS. But the practice has some significant downsides for sellers as well.

Traditionally, the term "pocket listing" referred to a situation in which a property seller and real estate broker signed a listing agreement that allowed the broker to offer the property for sale, but keep the information out of the MLS and, figuratively, keep the information in his or her pocket. Nowadays, the term is sometimes used more broadly to refer to properties that are offered for sale without a listing agreement or use of the MLS.

Read more:

Make sure the bank takes your foreclosed home

By Marcie Geffner - Bankrate.com

What happens to a house when the beleaguered owner moves out, and the lender never finishes the foreclosure paperwork?

It becomes a zombie house.

The term "zombie house" applies because the absent homeowner is still legally responsible for the foreclosed property and can be haunted by property taxes, homeowners association fees, fines for building code violations and other expenses.

A zombie house can be plagued by such other problems as squatters, mosquito-infested swimming pools and natural gas leaks.

A zombie house is sometimes referred to as a "zombie title" house, but in fact, the title isn't in question, says Daren Blomquist, vice president at RealtyTrac, a real estate data company in Irvine, Calif.

"The public records are very clear that the homeowners still own the property," Blomquist says. "The issue ... is that they are unaware they still own the property, and they are then held responsible for expenses related to that property."

Read on: http://www.foxbusiness.com/personal-finance/2013/05/28/make-sure-bank-takes-your-foreclosed-home/

The new home equity loans

By Marcie Geffner - HSH.com

Home equity loans used to be all the rage. Then they got a bad rap. Now they're back in style, but with some twists intended to make them safer for lenders and borrowers alike.

Equity loans are cyclical largely because they track the housing market. When prices rise, homeowners have more equity to borrow against. When they fall, the opposite is true.

For the 12-month period which ended February 2013, a composite of 20 major U.S. cities posted price increases of 9.3 percent, the highest annual growth rate since May 2006, according to the S&P Case-Shiller Home Price Indices. Consider that and it's clear why home equity loans "are making a comeback," says Neena Vlamis, president of A and N Mortgage Services in Chicago.

Still, these loans aren't the free money they were often perceived to be during the equity-rich housing boom of the early-2000s, says Kelly Kockos, senior vice president and home equity products manager at Wells Fargo in San Francisco.

Read on: http://library.hsh.com/articles/home-equity/the-new-home-equity-loans.html

Knock, knock: I'd like to buy your home

By Marcie Geffner - HSH.com

Shopping for a home can be frustrating when so few houses are for sale. However, a sharp Realtor can help you locate and buy a home that's ripe for sale, but not yet posted on the brokers' multiple-listing service (MLS) or public real estate websites.

Ken Pozek, a Realtor at Keller Williams Realty in Northville, Mich., says he uses three direct approaches to contact potential sellers:

No. 1: Letters. Mail a letter to homeowners in the area. The letter mentions you by name, tells the homeowners your home-shopping story and tries to induce them to consider selling their home.

No. 2: Phone calls. Call those same homeowners, asking whether they or anyone they know in the neighborhood might be willing to sell you their home.

Read on: http://library.hsh.com/articles/first-time-homebuyers/how-to-buy-a-home-that-is-not-for-sale.html

DIY Remodeling is rewarding when not frustrating

By Marcie Geffner - Bankrate.com

By day, John Melton, 42, is a human resources manager at a construction company in Phoenix.

By night, weekend and vacation, he's the quintessential do-it-yourself home remodeler, equipped with a workshop, tools, materials and the know-how to get such jobs done.

His latest DIY home remodeling project, a family room makeover, took longer than he'd expected, but his budget, about $3,500, was pretty close to the final cost, and the results were well worth the time and money, he says.

Read on: http://www.foxbusiness.com/personal-finance/2013/03/04/diy-remodeling-is-rewarding-when-not-frustrating/

Bank arbitration: strategies for fighting it

By Marcie Geffner - Bankrate.com

Consumers who get into an argument with a big bank might want to write off their loss and run for the exit rather than stand and fight.

That's because most large banks restrict consumers' dispute resolution options, according to "Banking on Arbitration: Big Banks, Consumers and Checking Account Dispute Resolution," a report last year by the Safe Checking in the Electronic Age Project by The Pew Charitable Trusts in Washington, D.C.

The report found 64 percent of big banks' checking account agreements contained clauses that required mandatory binding arbitration, banned class-action lawsuits, waived the consumer's right to a jury trial, limited damages and liability, shortened statutes of limitations, or imposed other limits on dispute resolution.

Read on: http://www.bankrate.com/finance/banking/arbitration-strategies.aspx?ic_id=ts2

Housing market's for-sale inventory has shrunk

By Marcie Geffner - Bankrate.com

Homebuyers are back. But they're not finding many for-sale houses to choose from.

This dearth of houses isn't imaginary. In fact, the pool of properties actually has shrunk in housing markets across the nation.

Only 2.32 million existing homes were available for sale in the U.S. at the end of September, according to the National Association of Realtors. That figure represented a 5.9-month supply of for-sale homes at the September pace of sales. The supply would have lasted 8.1 months at the previous year's then-current pace of sales.

So, what happened to all the houses?

Leslie Appleton-Young, chief economist for the California Association of Realtors in Los Angeles, and Rick Sharga, executive vice president of Carrington Mortgage Holdings, a mortgage company in Aliso Viejo, Calif., offer some answers.

Sellers are on the sidelines. Some homeowners have no reason to move. Others aren't motivated because they would take a loss at current prices or they still owe more than their homes are worth.

"They're not sure what they want to do," Appleton-Young says.

Read on: http://www.mercurynews.com/real-estate/ci_22444488/real-estate-watch-housing-markets-sale-inventory-has

Pull the necessary permits when remodeling

By Marcie Geffner - Bankrate.com

If there's one part of the home remodeling process that homeowners especially dislike, it's getting a building permit. But permits are more than mere pieces of paper. Homeowners who skirt around them face risks.

One protection afforded by a permit is usually an inspection by the municipality, says Jim Bateman, owner of Bateman Custom Construction, a home remodeling company in Fairfax, Va.

Inspections can expose shoddy workmanship, building code violations and safety hazards that otherwise might not be discovered until a problem occurs.

Bateman offers this hypothetical example: "If I did electrical work on somebody's house and I wasn't a licensed electrician, I may have done it to code, but if, for some reason, I violated the code and the house burned down, the (homeowners) insurance (company) possibly won't pay for it."

Still, a municipal inspection isn't a guarantee.

Read on: http://au.finance.yahoo.com/news/pull-necessary-permits-remodeling-080054597.html

Consider kitchen remodel a few years before moving

By Marcie Geffner - Bankrate.com

It's no secret to Realtors that fabulous kitchens sell homes. Improve the room used primarily for food preparation, and the entire house will feel homier to residents, guests and prospective buyers alike.

The appeal of a modern kitchen is so powerful that Robert Criner, president of Criner Remodeling, a home remodeling company in Newport News, Va., said homeowners should consider remodeling an outdated or dysfunctional kitchen regardless of how long they intend to keep the home.

"A lot of people think they aren't going to sell for two or three years," Criner said. "Then they realize right before they decide to sell: I have to put a face-lift on the kitchen. Why not do it now, and enjoy it for three or four years, and then it's modernized and ready to sell when you get to that point?"

Read on:


Refinancing a rental house isn't easy

By Marcie Geffner - Bankrate.com

Buying a house is an attractive proposition in these days of low mortgage interest rates and fallen prices. But if you want to buy a new home, while renting out the old one, you could face a glitch. It might be hard to refinance a house that you're renting out.

That's because "things change when you're no longer dealing with a primary residence," warns Ben Chenault Jr., regional manager at Fairway Independent Mortgage in Birmingham, Ala.

"A lot of people want to jump on the great deals, but they still have their current home and don't want to wait for that home to sell," Chenault says. "They think, 'Aha! The rental market is good; I'll just rent it out.' But what if someone stops paying the rent? Are you sunk? If the answer is 'yes,' you probably shouldn't do it."

Read on: http://www.detroitnews.com/article/20130408/BIZ01/304080312/Refinancing-rental-house-isn-t-easy

10 tips for first-time home buyers

By Marcie Geffner - HSH.com

First-timers are crucial to healthy housing markets because they enable existing home owners to sell their current home and purchase another one. That means if you're thinking about buying a home, you're important -- someone who owns a home can't sell it without you.

With that in mind, here are 10 tips to help you achieve your goal of homeownership.

No. 1: Get prequalified. Sellers typically won't accept your offer unless it's all cash or you have a lender's letter saying you can get the financing you need to close the deal. Consequently, being prequalified for a loan is crucial, says Matt Phipps, a Realtor at Phipps Real Estate in Warwick, R.I.

Read more: http://www.foxbusiness.com/personal-finance/2013/04/11/10-tips-for-first-time-homebuyers/

Mortgage rates remain rangebound

By Marcie Geffner - Bankrate.com

Mortgage rates remained essentially unchanged this week, or "rangebound," to use a little mortgage industry-speak, as U.S. economic conditions continued to be stable, yet uninspiring.

The benchmark 30-year fixed-rate mortgage fell to 3.61% compared to 3.64% last week, according to the Bankrate.com national survey of large lenders. The mortgages in this week's survey had an average total of 0.32 discount and origination points. One year ago, that rate stood at 4.1%. Four weeks ago, it was 3.78%.

Read more: http://www.foxbusiness.com/personal-finance/2013/04/18/mortgage-rates-barely-fall-remain-rangebound/

What's the value of paying points?

By Marcie Geffner - HSH.com

Mortgage shoppers naturally want to lock in the lowest mortgage rates possible. However, the fees associated with your loan are an important reason why you shouldn't shop for a mortgage simply based on the lowest interest rate available.

The largest set of fees associated with any mortgage are what's known as points, which can -- and do -- affect the interest rate on your loan. If you're willing to pay what are known as "discount" or "origination" points, you can reduce or "buy down" your interest rate. On the flip side, there are also "rebate" or "negative" points. The way rebate points work is that if you can't or don't want to pay your closing costs out of pocket, you can take a higher-than-market interest rate that will substantially reduce or even zero out your closing costs.

Read on: http://library.hsh.com/articles/first-time-homebuyers/whats-the-value-in-paying-points.html

How to pay off a mortgage faster

By Marcie Geffner - Bankrate.com

A lot of homeowners want to pay off their mortgages before the end of the loan term. This is especially true for borrowers who want to repay their home loans before retirement. There are a number of ways to accomplish a mortgage payoff.

The two easiest ways to put more money toward a mortgage are to set up automatic payments from a bank account or use the lender's website, explains Jerald Banwart, senior vice president of customer operations at Wells Fargo Home Mortgage in Des Moines, Iowa.

"For those who have a plan to pay off their loan, we will go out and withdraw the money from your account to make your payments … or you can go online anytime on our website," he says.

Automatic payments can be made monthly, bimonthly or biweekly to match the borrower's employment pay periods, if that's the borrower's choice.

Read on: http://www.bankrate.com/finance/mortgages/pay-off-mortgage-quickly.aspx?ic_id=tsMortLk1

Low interest rates: economic boom or bust?

By Marcie Geffner - Bankrate.com

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke says low interest rates stimulate the U.S. economy but for savers, low rates aren't all that great, as Bernanke himself also said in a speech Oct. 1 in Indianapolis.

"People who rely on investments that pay a fixed interest rate such as certificates of deposit are receiving very low returns -- a situation that has involved significant hardship for some," Bernanke said.

Here's why today's low interest rates haven't been a welcome benefit to many consumers.

Just ask Pablo Solomon. The artist, 65, lives on a ranch north of Austin, Texas, with his wife, who manages the business side of his endeavors.

Read on: http://www.bankrate.com/finance/savings/low-interest-rates-economic-boom-or-bust.aspx?ic_id=Top_Stories_link_2

Call it a housing recovery, but not a boom

By Marcie Geffner - Bankrate.com

U.S. housing markets are in a recovery. But the rebound from the depth is modest, and how long the housing recovery will last is anybody's guess.

Evidence of an upswing is so plentiful that Rick Sharga, executive vice president of Carrington Mortgage Holdings, a real estate company in Aliso Viejo, Calif., says "virtually every metric" points to a housing recovery.

Specific numbers vary, as always, from one month and one locale to the next, yet it's clear that, on a national basis, sales of both brand-new and existing homes are up, prices are up, residential building permits are up, and sales of bank-owned foreclosure properties are down.

"A market that was at an incredibly low point has stabilized and is showing signs of getting better," Sharga says. "But it's all relative. We're not looking at a boom. We're looking at a slow and steady recovery."

Read on: http://www.bankrate.com/finance/real-estate/housing-recovery-not-boom.aspx

Swipe! How a debit card helps you pay as you go

By Marcie Geffner - Bankrate.com

Consumers love debit cards.

And no wonder. This payment method is convenient and secure, and it allows consumers to "pay as they go and track their spending of ready funds," says Ed Kadletz, head of debit and prepaid cards at Wells Fargo in Minneapolis.

But what really happens when a consumer makes a purchase with a debit card? Here's a quick tour through the three-part process.

Read on: http://au.finance.yahoo.com/news/swipe-debit-card-helps-pay-080012644.html

Can real estate make you rich?

By Marcie Geffner - HSH.com

House flippers weren't the only ones who lost big when the real estate market crashed. Plenty of consumers lost their down payment, their home equity and their homes.

So is a home a good investment? Or is it only a place to live and a nice tax write-off for those who can claim the federal mortgage interest deduction?

Housing is still a way to build wealth, but that's typically only achieved over the long term, says Keith Gumbinger, vice president of HSH.com.

"You don't know what the long-term value of your home ultimately will be," says Gumbinger, "but odds are that at some point down the road, you'll have some stake, some equity component of your home."

Read on: http://library.hsh.com/articles/home-equity/can-real-estate-make-you-rich.html

How to refinance your condo

By Marcie Geffner - HSH.com

If you own a condominium and want to refinance your mortgage, you'll need to meet two sets of loan guidelines: one that applies to you and another that applies to your condo owners' association.

The rules for you are essentially the same regardless of the property type, but the rules for your association can create issues when refinancing your loan, says Joe Metzler, a mortgage specialist with Mortgages Unlimited in St. Paul, Minn.

The first issue is whether your condo has been approved for conventional (Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac) or FHA financing. Approval is required because your association is essentially a third-party involved in refinancing your loan and that involvement adds "an additional element of risk" for the lender, Metzler explains.

5 dumb excuses for ditching a checking account

By Marcie Geffner - Bankrate.com

Consumers come up with plenty of reasons to close their checking accounts. They favor cash or prepaid debit cards. They don't want to pay bank fees. Or they have an ideological grudge against big banks. But the fact is a basic checking account still offers a good value and important features for most people.

The benefits start with safety and security but don't end there. Checking accounts also offer debit cards, ATMs, text alerts, direct deposit, online bill pay, electronic record keeping and mobile banking. So if you've been thinking about closing your checking account, you might want to think again. Here are some typical excuses for closing or not holding a checking account and why they're ill-advised.

Read on: http://www.bankrate.com/finance/checking/excuses-for-ditching-checking-account.aspx