December 30, 2015

How seasonality affects new home sales

By Marcie Geffner -

Realtors who don’t sell many new construction homes might think this market is subject to extreme seasonality due to the challenges of building homes in winter.

That’s not entirely true, however.

While places that have severe winter weather do experience more new-home sales seasonality than locales with milder climates, annual cyclicality is due more to demand patterns than supply constraints, says Michael Carliner, an independent housing economist and consultant in Potomac, Md.

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Realtors, Build Your New Home Sales

Marcie Geffner -

Many Realtors sell a few new construction homes now and then. Some other Realtors sell dozens of these homes every year, year after year. If you're in the low production group, how can you ramp up your sales — and commissions — from a few to a lot?

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December 28, 2015

Will you get a pay raise in 2016?

By Marcie Geffner -

Employees hoping for a pay raise in 2016 may be disappointed. The outlook isn't favorable except for the select few who are at the top of the corporate hierarchy or have skills essential to their employer.
Annual raises and cost-of-living increases were common before the 2008 financial crisis. Since then, pay raises have been hard to come by.
Today pay raises are all about results, says Michael Lazarchick, a professional employment counselor in Mays Landing, New Jersey.
"If (the employer) perceives somebody as talented -- doing more and making money for them -- they will pay to get those people, and those people will do well," Lazarchick says. "But the average person? No. They aren't necessarily going to get a pay raise."
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December 14, 2015

Should sellers say yes to FHA buyers?

By Marcie Geffner -

Federal Housing Administration-insured mortgages allow buyers to buy homes with less-than-perfect credit and small down payments. The minimum down payment is just 3.5% of the home's purchase price.

A small down payment, by itself, shouldn't be a concern for sellers, says Rob McAllister, owner and broker at West Seattle Mortgage in Seattle. But when you pair a small down payment with a low appraised value, the situation becomes more nuanced.

McAllister describes a situation where a buyer has enough cash for a 20% down payment, but the appraiser says the house is worth 10% less than the negotiated price. If the seller refuses to reduce the price, the buyer can still pay the agreed-upon amount. In that case, the mortgage's loan-to-value ratio is close to 90%, which the lender is likely to approve.

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Saving for something fun!

By Marcie Geffner - Bankrate

By her own admission, Nicole Roberts is "awful" at saving money. But even she managed to save for something fun.

"I don't have an emergency fund, and I should have," Roberts says. "And yet I was able to identify that I really wanted to go to Comic-Con, and if I was going to do it, I needed a certain amount of money."

The event pass to Comic-Con International -- an entertainment and comic convention held annually in San Diego -- hotel room and costume supplies cost $600. For Roberts, a 39-year-old fundraiser in Los Angeles, that sum represented a significant financial commitment.

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Reverse mortgage requires forward thinking

By Marcie Geffner - The Washington Post

Lisa Lajoie has been trying to buy the 1,400-square-foot home in Brockton, Mass., where she grew up ever since her mother, Aline Lajoie, died 17 months ago.

Lisa, who is 46, asserts that she has been approved three times for a new loan to purchase the home where she lived with her mother, but the servicer of her mother’s reverse mortgage has refused to cooperate with her.

Now she is surrounded by moving boxes as she tries to save her home from foreclosure. In late October, an auction date just two days away was postponed until early January.

Read more:

November 16, 2015

How to get an apartment building loan

By Marcie Geffner -

Apartment building loans are a lot like other residential real estate financing. It all starts with a property, borrower and lender, and it all ends, if all goes well, with a closed loan and newly purchased or refinanced property.

Here's a guide to what borrowers need to know about how to buy and finance apartment buildings:

What constitutes an apartment building?
Detached homes, condominiums, duplexes, triplexes and fourplexes typically are classified as one-to-four-unit properties, or one-to-fours. Properties that have five or more dwellings are categorized as apartment buildings or multifamily housing.

A loan for a duplex, triplex or fourplex doesn't differ much (if at all) from a loan for a detached house, but loans for larger properties involve "a little different underwriting, a little higher qualification," says Dan Borland, office manager for commercial real estate at Wells Fargo in Orange County, California.

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How to be a mortgage lender's favorite borrower

By Marcie Geffner -

Getting a mortgage isn't just about whether you can qualify. It's also about whether you can work well with your loan officer, making the process smoother and easier for both of you.

Ideal customers are not only financially well-positioned, they're also knowledgeable, realistic and cooperative, says Joe Metzler, mortgage consultant at Mortgages Unlimited in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Conversely, no matter how qualified you are to get a mortgage, your loan might never close if you ignore instructions and treat your mortgage lender like a misbehaving puppy.

"Some people get it. Some don't," says Jay Dacey, mortgage broker at Metropolitan Financial Mortgage in Minneapolis. "You don't have to have perfect credit or super-high income to qualify. It's really more about their attitude than their finances."

Read more:

November 9, 2015

What is FHA mortgage insurance?

By Marcie Geffner -

FHA loans, insured by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), are one of the most popular choices for people who want to buy a home or refinance an existing mortgage.
FHA loans require only a very small down payment and have relatively relaxed guidelines for borrowers to qualify. But FHA loans aren’t the best choice for every borrower, in part because they require mortgage insurance, which adds an additional cost to the loan for the borrower.
Read more:

November 3, 2015

Your new home: farther out or closer in?

By Marcie Geffner - NewHomeSource

Some brand-new homes are built in city centers. Others are constructed farther out in new-home communities of hundreds or even thousands of homes.

These days, those farther out houses can be an especially good buy for home shoppers.

That’s because city-center houses generally have rebounded in value significantly faster than suburban houses in many cities since the low of the Great Recession, says Lance Ramella, a senior vice president at John Burns Real Estate Consulting, a real estate industry consultancy headquartered in Irvine, Calif.

The slower appreciation of farther-out houses suggests there’s an open window of opportunity for buyers to purchase new-construction homes at relatively more affordable prices in many farther-away towns.

Read more:

October 27, 2015

5 Fast Facts About Mobile Check Deposit

By Marcie Geffner - Bankrate

Mobile check deposit, or "remote deposit capture" as it's known to banks, lets you deposit a check into your bank account by taking a picture of it with your smartphone or tablet.
One Bank of America study of 1,300 adults found 63% of those who used a smartphone to do their banking had used mobile deposit.
And a November 2014 survey from The Pew Charitable Trusts found that 37 of the nation's 50 largest banks offer consumers mobile deposit.
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When to buy energy-efficient appliances

By Marcie Geffner - Bankrate

The average U.S. family spends about $2,200 each year for energy costs, and the use of large appliances accounts for a hefty chunk of that total, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.
That means families can save money by replacing old appliances with newer, more energy-efficient models, says Kateri Callahan, president of the Alliance to Save Energy, a nonprofit coalition that promotes energy efficiency.
"You want to be smart and save money, you buy an energy-efficient appliance," Callahan says.
Read more:

October 7, 2015

Should you buy your parents' home?

Marcie Geffner -

If you love your parents' home, why not buy it from them?

The idea might have a lot of appeal across the generations from you to your parents and even their parents – but don’t let your heart win over your head on the decision.

Living together with your parents after buying their home has become a trend, says John Graham, emeritus professor of marketing and international business at the University of California, Irvine, and co-author of "All in the Family: A Practical Guide to Successful Multigenerational Living." 

Buying your parents' home is "consistent with this whole idea that we're returning to the interdependence of the extended family and moving away from the 50-year experiment of the nuclear family," Graham says.

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Journalist receives Bronze Award

Ventura County Star reports:

Marcie Geffner, of Ventura, received an award in the National Association of Real Estate Editors’ 65th annual Journalism Awards, which recognize excellence in reporting, writing and editing stories about residential and commercial real estate.

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3 Vets tell their home and VA loan stories

By Marcie Geffner -

Saving a $100,000 down payment to buy a home with six children in the family is no easy task.

That's why David Dei Rossi, 60, and his wife Cindy, 50, chose a VA loan when they bought their home in Gilroy, Calif., in March 2014.

The VA loan, guaranteed by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, allows zero-down financing and offers borrowers competitive interest rates and flexible guidelines to qualify.

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If ever there were a fan club for VA loans, Howard Lovely, Jr., surely would be a member.

He might even be club president.

Lovely, 51, likes VA loans so much he's used them for his home, business and even retirement plan.

"The VA loan system is a great program if you take advantage of it and utilize it," Lovely says.

Read more:

Mike Davis has plenty of praise for the VA Loan Guaranty Program, a veterans benefit guaranteed by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Not long ago, the VA loan had a so-so reputation. But Davis, a recent home buyer and VA borrower, formed a favorable impression of the loan based on his personal experience.

In fact, he says he'd encourage other servicemembers to look into the VA loan as a benefit of their service and see whether it makes sense for them.

"The stereotype is that it's a lot more cumbersome, and it's slower," Davis says. "I think they've made good progress on (fixing) that."

Read more:

September 15, 2015

6 smart strategies for buying CDs when rates rise

By Marcie Geffner -

Investors who put money into certificates of deposit, or CDs, generally want protection against loss of their principal and at least a small return on their investment.
In recent years, those returns have been minuscule as interest rates have scraped the bottom of the proverbial empty barrel.
But now, with the Federal Reserve nearing a decision on whether to raise its benchmark federal funds rate, should investors take a fresh look at CDs?
Yes, says Roger Young, senior vice president and manager of fixed income at Fidelity Investments.
Young thinks investors should consider CDs, in part because the anticipated bump in rates is already being built into their returns.
"If we go back to 2014," he says, "the 2-year Treasury note was yielding about 40 basis points for the year. Today it is yielding 70, so the market is already anticipating."
Read on:

September 14, 2015

What mortgage borrowers need to know about TILA-RESPA

By Marcie Geffner -

Despite repeated redesigns, the forms lenders use to convey information about a home loan to borrowers are notoriously complicated.

The latest attempt, this one by the federal Consumer Financial Protection Agency (CFPB), combines multiple documents into just two forms:

- A three-page “Loan Estimate” form
- A five-page “Closing Disclosure” form

In a brochure, the CFPB says the new forms will:

- Reduce paperwork and consumer confusion
- Help consumers understand complicated transactions
- Make it easier for consumers to compare loans and decide whether they can afford a home and mortgage, including property taxes and homeowner insurance
- Warn consumers about prepayment penalties and other loan terms they might want to avoid
- Make closing cost estimates more accurate
- Give consumers more time to review final terms and costs before they sign their closing documents

Read on:

3 must-have mobile banking alerts

By Marcie Geffner -

Low balance. Mobile deposit. Unusual activity.

If you haven't set up these alerts in your mobile banking app, you might want to do it now.


Because they will help you stay informed about your finances whenever, wherever and however you want, says Michelle Moore, head of digital banking at Bank of America.

These alerts are highly customizable and can be part of your best practices for smart financial management. Log in to your bank's app or call your financial institution for help setting up alerts.

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August 13, 2015

Some homeowners run cool on pools

By Marcie Geffner - The Washington Post

California homeowner David Cady is over his swimming pool. So much so that he recently paid a contractor $8,700 to smash the top of the concrete structure, bury the rubble in the back yard and fill in the entire space with compacted dirt.
The pool wasn’t a selling point when Cady, 53, and his wife Connie, 50, bought their home in Danville, east of the San Francisco Bay Area, 22 years ago. The pool got a lot of use when the couple’s son, Ryan, 18, and daughter Erin, 15, were part of the under-10 set, but over time the teenagers’ focus shifted away from the family’s back yard.
Read more:

August 5, 2015

How much equity is needed to refinance?

By Marcie Geffner -

Many homeowners think they need a big chunk of equity to refinance. But in fact, it's possible to refinance with very little equity or even none at all.

How much you'll need depends on a number of factors, says Michelle Velez, sales manager at W.J. Bradley, a mortgage company in San Mateo, California.

Read on:

July 30, 2015

HECMs require financial assessment

By Marcie Geffner -

Until recently, homeowners who were at least 62 years old could tap the equity in their home through a reverse mortgage with little, if any, consideration of their personal financial situation.

But no more.

New federal-government guidelines now require an assessment of each prospective borrower's income, assets and debts, explains Eric Meehan, owner of Golden Opportunity Mortgage in San Diego.

"No longer is it just age, equity and the value of the home and based on life expectancy," Meehan says. "On top of that, they take a look at your monthly income and assets versus your revolving debt. They want to know your monthly payments, taxes, insurance, credit cards - any other monthly debt that you pay."

Read more:

July 10, 2015

Show your kid smart money habits

By Marcie Geffner -

It's a common complaint of parents that their young adult children aren't financially responsible. And there might be some truth to that grumbling. If your kids haven't stepped up, what can you do about it?

"The best thing a parent can do is teach (his or her) kids to be financially independent," says Bob Morrison, founder of Downing Street Wealth Management in Littleton, Colorado. "If you're into subsidizing their lifestyle, that's bad for both parties."

That doesn't mean you can't give your kids money. You can. But there's a world of difference between "once in a while," which is "more a gift," and paying for your child's apartment, insurance, cellphone, vacation or other expenses every month, Morrison says.

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Lower Rates Could Mean Fewer Home Sales

By Marcie Geffner -

Rising interest rates strike fear and dismay into the hearts of home buyers, sellers, and real estate professionals—and with good reason because when rates rise, home sales tend to decline.

It’s a common misperception that rising mortgage rates cause house prices to drop, but in fact, historical trends show a positive correlation only between rates and sales, not rates and prices.

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6 Ways To Wreck Your Financial Future

By Marcie Geffner -

Twenty-somethings can afford to make big mistakes in their finances since they have decades to recover and move forward to financial success.

Or at least that has been the conventional wisdom for many years.

But rather than destroy your financial future just because you can, why not avoid known mistakes from the outset? After all, someone older than you already took the risks, made the mistakes, and paid for it.

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Paying Rent On Time Probably Won't Help Credit Score

By Marcie Geffner -

Savvy consumers know paying their monthly bills on time is one of the best ways to boost their credit score.

But often, there’s one glaring exception: rent.

In most cases, paying rent for an apartment or house doesn’t affect your credit score.

That’s because most apartment owners, landlords, and management companies don’t report rent payments to the three major U.S. credit bureaus, which track consumers’ credit habits and collect the data that’s used to generate credit scores. The three bureaus are TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax.

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5 Smart Ways To Get a House Downpayment

By Marcie Geffner -

It’s a common misconception that buyers need to save up a lot of money to purchase a home. In fact, it’s possible to buy a home with a very modest sum for a down payment and closing costs.

The down payment is often the most daunting aspect of the process for first-time home buyers. Repeat buyers usually are less concerned about putting money down because they can use the equity they have in their current home to buy their next home.

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July 2, 2015

Understanding New Home Builder Closing Cost Incentives

By Marcie Geffner -

Closing costs are a mystery to many home buyers, who understandably might not know how much they’ll pay, why they’ll pay that amount and what it’s really for when they buy a home.

A 2015 survey by ClosingCorp, a real estate closing data company, found that more than one-third of people who planned to buy a home were either not very or not at all aware of closing costs.

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Demystifying loan qualification

By Marcie Geffner -

Lenders consider a number of factors to determine whether a borrower is qualified for a home mortgage.

These factors include:
- Assets
- Credit score
- Debt-to-income ratio
- Documentation

Assets include checking and savings accounts, investment accounts, retirement plans and other sources of funds borrowers can use to make a down payment and pay closing costs.

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Buying a Home: Ready, Set, Move

By Marcie Geffner -

Lots of people dream about buying a home at some time during their lives. Maybe they're newlyweds or just starting a family. Perhaps they just want to trade renting for a larger or nicer home that they can remodel and re-decorate any way they please.
Whatever the reason, prospective home buyers need to prepare themselves financially and emotionally for the process of finding, choosing and purchasing a home of their own.
Read more:

June 29, 2015

What happens to reverse mortgage after parent's death

By Marcie Geffner - Bankrate

As more seniors turn to reverse mortgages, their adult children might well be puzzled or concerned about what will happen to that debt when one or both of their parents eventually dies. At that time, questions about how to pay off the loan will need to be resolved -- and relatively quickly.

Nearly all reverse mortgages today are home equity conversion mortgages, or HECMs, which are insured by the Federal Housing Administration. HECMs are subject to certain rules that might not apply to non-HECMs.

The first thing adult children should know about HECMs is that these reverse mortgages technically become due and payable when the borrower dies.

Read on:

June 18, 2015

6 Ways People Destroy Their Credit

By Marcie Geffner -

Everyone wants good credit. Without it, you’ll pay higher interest rates and have a harder time getting credit cards, car loans, mortgages and other types of financing.

Despite the advantages of good credit, plenty of people do things—whether knowingly or not—that damage their credit rating.

Here are six ways to wreck your credit:

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June 16, 2015

Will Your Car Loan Outlast Your Car?

By Marcie Geffner - LendingTree

Some financial experts say long-term car loans are a bad deal. But the fact is that a longer term loan can help make a new car more affordable for you or enable you to purchase a nicer, more expensive car that you need.

How long is long?

In a CNBC video, financial guru Suze Orman says, “Any car loan greater than 36 months is a sign of financial irresponsibility.”

But many people have loans that are longer, in some cases a lot longer.

Read on:

June 15, 2015

How Your Tax Return Affects Your Mortgage

By Marcie Geffner - LendingTree

When you apply for a mortgage to buy a home or refinance an existing home loan, one of the most important documents you’ll have to give your lender is your federal income tax return.

Typically, you’ll have to provide a copy of your Form 1040, whether it’s the short Form 1040-EZ, medium Form 1040-A or long Form 1040, along with all the pages and schedules.

You’ll also have to sign a Form 4506-T, which allows the lender to get a copy of your tax return directly from the IRS. This allows the lender to make sure you didn’t dummy up a fake tax return and try to use it to commit mortgage fraud.

The lender will scrutinize your tax return, looking for information about your income and expenses and any irregularities that suggest you could be hiding material facts about your personal finances.

Read on:

June 3, 2015

How To Get a Home Loan with Student Loans

By Marcie Geffner - Bankrate

It's no secret that student loans can make buying a home a challenge. But what exactly is the problem and how can buyers overcome it?

The problem is that student loans can be included in the buyer's debt-to-income ratio, or DTI.

This ratio is one factor lenders use to decide whether a buyer can afford a mortgage payment.

Generally, mortgage lenders prefer a debt-to-income ratio of 36 percent or less. In some situations, lenders will approve mortgages with higher debt-to-income ratios.

Read more:

May 28, 2015

Down Payment or Diamond?

By Marcie Geffner -

Getting married and buying a home are major milestones in anyone's lifetime. But should you spend big for a diamond ring, wedding and honeymoon? Or should you put your cash toward a down payment to buy a house?

The answer depends on your means, lifestyle and personal goals. But there's no question that a house is more likely to be a better investment than a diamond ring, wedding or honeymoon.

Read on:

May 25, 2015

Buying a home with no credit isn't easy

By Marcie Geffner -

Some financial gurus say consumers should live 100 percent debt-free. No credit cards. No car loans. No debt of any kind for any reason.

That might seem like smart advice until the question of buying a home comes up. Then, the debt-free life can become problematic.

In 2014, only 5 percent of first-time home buyers purchased a home without a mortgage, according to a survey by the National Association of Realtors.

Some first-timers receive their home as a gift, so those results suggest that even less than 5 percent managed to save up enough cash to buy a home outright. That's not nobody, but it's a small slice of the total population of first-time buyers.

Read on:

May 20, 2015

What builders want from realty brokers

By Marcie Geffner -

Good relationships between home builders and brokers create valuable business opportunities for both sides: builders benefit from access to potential buyers, while brokers benefit from access to more for-sale homes.

These relationships don’t happen by accident. Rather, builders and brokers make the effort to connect and talk about what they have to offer each other.

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Homeowner associations consider pot-smoking rules

By Marcie Geffner -

More than 20 U.S. states allow certain people to grow, sell, possess or use marijuana to varying degrees and for various purposes, although federal law still classifies weed as an illegal drug.

Given that contradiction, what rules apply to people who live in condominiums or communities governed by a homeowners association?

The answer isn't, shall we say, cut and dried.

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Alternatives to payday loans

By Marcie Geffner -

If you're facing an emergency or are simply short of money, a payday loan – also called a cash advance, check advance or deferred-deposit loan – may seem like the answer. But while these loans can seem helpful on the surface, they’re ugly on the inside.

Read on:

8 Places To Park Cash

By Marcie Geffner -

It might sound impossible, but every now and then, a large sum of cash could suddenly drop into your life. Perhaps you sold your home, received a gift or inheritance, or were paid a bonus by your boss.

Whatever the source of your windfall, you'll have to figure out where to stash your cash while you decide how to make the best use of it.

But where?

Your choice should give you a high degree of safety and liquidity and minimize the investment expense, says Kent Grealish, a fee-only investment planner at Grealish Investment Counseling in San Bruno, California.

Read on:

April 15, 2015

Saving, investing tips for 20-somethings

By Marcie Geffner -

Entry-level jobs and piles of student loan debt can make saving and investing a struggle for many young adults. But it's still smart to start early in life -- even in a small way -- to develop the habits of saving and investing wisely.

Saving is simple, says Kent Grealish, an hourly rate investment planner with Grealish Investment Counseling in San Bruno, California.

Of course, simple doesn't mean easy.

"It's not rocket science, but it is really difficult once you're working and have been spending your paycheck to save, because you spend whatever comes in," Grealish says.

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Buying a home in your 20s? Totally do-able

By Marcie Geffner -

Buying a home in your 20s might seem like a long shot, but in fact, many 20-somethings can -- and do -- make the leap into homeownership.

Millennials, defined by the National Association of Realtors (NAR) as homebuyers up to age 34, made up the largest group of recent homebuyers at 32 percent, according to a recent NAR survey.

Who are millennial homebuyers?
The median age of millennial buyers was 29 years. While that's at the top of the 20-something bracket, the median definition means half the buyers were younger and half older.

Read on:

Should you buy a leftover listing?

By Marcie Geffner

Every homebuyer has a dream house: the one that offers the perfect combination of location, size, condition and price.

These days, it's entirely likely that dream house exists, but it isn't on the market because the supply of for-sale homes in many areas is smaller than normal.

Sit on the fence or jump off?
So should you wait for the home you really want? Or should you buy a home that's not quite right, but might be good enough and is actually for sale at a price you can afford?

The answer isn't obvious.

Home improvement with FHA Title 1 loan

By Marcie Geffner -
If you want to make upgrades to your home, a Federal Housing Administration Title 1 Home and Property Improvement Loan could be your best option.
Title 1 loans can be used to repair, improve or remodel single-family houses and multifamily properties anywhere in the United States. You don’t need to have an FHA mortgage.
Title 1 loans feature fixed, market-level interest rates and long-term repayment options, making them one of the most affordable financing options available. You don’t need a ton of equity in your home to qualify.

March 13, 2015

How to finance a new construction condo

By Marcie Geffner -

Condominiums can be an excellent housing choice for people who want to buy an affordable home with less individual responsibility for maintenance, repairs and landscaping.

Buyers who have their heart set on a newly built condo need to be aware of a few necessary to get a mortgage to buy it.

The mortgage qualifications for the borrower — down payment, credit score and so on — are “almost identical between a condominium and single-family house,” says Jason Will, vice president, national condominium manager for Wells Fargo Mortgage.

What’s different is that not only the borrower, but also the condominium project itself must receive certain approvals before the lender can approve the borrower’s loan.

Read more:

March 12, 2015

Is Obamacare affordable?

By Marcie Geffner - Bankrate

The Affordable Care Act, or ACA, has made health insurance accessible for millions of formerly uninsured people. But are Obamacare health plans as affordable as the law's name implies?

For some people, no. My experience could be a case study.

My pre-ACA individual health insurance policy had a $317 monthly premium and $5,200 annual deductible. It provided me with protection against catastrophic medical bills, reasonable negotiated rates for services and access to a wide selection of doctors.

In 2014, my policy was canceled because it didn't comply with the health care law, and my insurer moved me into a new "bronze" plan. Obamacare plans come in four metallic tiers; bronze is the lowest tier and pays just 60 percent of covered medical expenses.

The Affordable Care Act offers subsidies to help with the costs, but my income level makes me ineligible for those.

My new plan came with a $344 premium, $4,500 deductible and $6,300 out-of-pocket maximum. In January 2015, my premium jumped to $382, for a two-year increase of $65 per month, or $780 per year.

I had to wonder: In what way is a more-than-20-percent spike in premiums "affordable"?

Read more:

March 5, 2015

7 Hot Things We Found at the 2015 International Builders’ Show

By Marcie Geffner -

LAS VEGAS--With more than 1,300 exhibitors, the annual International Builders’ Show (IBS), held jointly here with the Kitchen & Bath Industry Show, is not just a place, but rather the place to find out what’s new in home decor and design trends. Here’s a rundown of some of this year’s hottest things at this year’s show.

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Homeownership: An American Tradition

By Marcie Geffner - LendingTree

Mother's Day. Apple pie. Baseball. Homeownership.

All good, right?

Indeed. Because those things are both traditional and much-beloved in the United States—and elsewhere in the world as well.

Among them, homeownership best speaks to the American ideals of pride, freedom, family and community. It's even an important part of what many people consider to be the American Dream.

Owning a home is valued so highly in part because homeowners can get a lot of benefits.

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Financial slackers missed mortgage opportunities in 2014

By Marcie Geffner -

Are you a financial slacker? If so, you're not alone.

A recent survey of 1,906 U.S. adults found that 40 percent of respondents hadn't refinanced or prepaid a mortgage, saved more for retirement, paid off credit-card debt or tried to boost a credit score in 2014, and 30 percent had no intention of taking those actions in 2015.

What's more, only about 39 percent of the survey respondents said they'd taken even one action, even with so many on the list from which to choose.

Read more:

February 9, 2015

At IBS, Boomers Are Buying, Multifamily Still Booming

By Marcie Geffner - Urban Land

At this year’s International Builders Show (IBS) in Las Vegas, the most important trend is that the market for new-construction single-family homes in the United States is recovering, but it is still far from fully recovered. That is according to Paul Emrath, Washington, D.C.–based National Association of Home Builders (NAHB)’s vice president of survey and housing policy research, who spoke during a press briefing.

Single-family housing starts rose 92 percent from the trough in 2009 through November 2014, Emrath explained. That increase “sounds huge,” he said, but only without the context that housing starts dropped 80 percent from the peak in 2005 to that 2009 trough.

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January 17, 2015

How U.S. mortgage rates are determined

By Marcie Geffner -

Homeowners and home buyers are naturally interested in mortgage interest rates because the rate they pay for their home loan is one factor that determines their monthly housing payments and the total cost of owning their home over time.

While each lender, borrower, and loan type will have different individual rates, here’s what affects interest rates on a national level:

Federal Funds Rate
The Federal Reserve (the Fed), a semi-autonomous arm of the federal government, sets a special interest rate known as the federal funds rate, often called the “fed funds rate” for short.

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Dealing with post-holiday financial blues

By Marcie Geffner -

The gifts have been given, eggnog drunk, carols sung and tree taken out or disassembled. The guests, including the out-of-town relatives, have gone home.

Welcome to January.

It's a difficult month for many as the credit card hangover causes a raging financial headache. If that is where you find yourself, here is a five-part plan to dig yourself out and avoid it next year:

Pay it off. Make an honest and complete list of all your credit card balances and interest rates and start applying every penny you can to paying off the amounts you owe. If you need to make some sacrifices, go ahead and do that now. Otherwise, you could be suffering through the post-holiday blues for many months.

Read on:

How to say no when family or friends ask to borrow money

By Marcie Geffner -

Saying no to a friend or family member who asks for a loan can be stressful and awkward.

Yet sometimes no is the best answer, and the one you should give. The question then is how to say it without damaging your relationship with that person or others who might be involved in the situation.

Here's how:

Listen first. If you say no too quickly, your friend or family member might feel ignored, hurt, discounted or insulted. Before you give your response, hear the person out so you understand the nature of the problem and the person feels respected and cared for.

Read on:

Understanding Home Equity Credit

By Marcie Geffner - LendingTree

Home equity loans aren't difficult to understand, but homeowners should make sure they know what home equity is, how to calculate home equity, and how home equity credit works before they apply for this type of loan.

What is home equity?
Home equity refers to a homeowner's ownership interest in his or her home, often stated as a percentage of the home's value or a dollar amount.

How is home equity calculated?
To calculate home equity, start with the home's current value and then subtract the total outstanding balance of all loans secured by the home. Home equity is calculated using the estimated current market value, not the price the homeowner paid to buy the home, and the current loan balances, not the original amounts borrowed.

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Understanding Closing Costs

By Marcie Geffner -

Closing costs are fees, points and other charges that home buyers, home sellers and homeowners pay when they purchase or sell a home or refinance a mortgage.

Examples of general costs include:

  • Escrow, attorney or settlement company charges
  • Owner's title search and title insurance
  • Document or title recording fees
  • Realty brokerage commissions, typically paid by sellers
  • Termite and other inspection charges

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Mortgage Down Payment Can Be Smaller Than You Think

By Marcie Geffner -

Home buyers often think they need a mortgage down payment that's at least 20 percent of the home's purchase price. But in fact, it's possible to buy a home with a down payment that's quite a bit smaller or even with no money down at all.
Both conventional and government loans allow smaller down payments for people who don't have 20 percent or don't want to make a down payment that large.

January 7, 2015

Solving the rent-or-buy dilemma

By Marcie Geffner -

Whether to rent or buy a home is an easy decision for many people. But for those who have the means and motivation to do either, the choice can be difficult to make.

Buying offers freedom from rising rents, a mortgage interest tax deduction and the possibility of building equity in a home over time.

Renting offers flexibility and no home maintenance or repair costs or obligations.
For people who aren't in a financial position to buy, renting is the only option. And some people who are able to buy still aren't sure this major commitment is the right choice for them.

When rents are high and prices are low
Affordability is a key factor that can tip the scales to the buy side, says Wendy English, sales manager for Century 21 Commonwealth in Medfield, Massachusetts. Rapidly rising rents in many cities, combined with attractive home prices and low mortgage interest rates, make owning a home seem more affordable than renting.

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Choosing a Color Scheme for Your New Home

By Marcie Geffner -

White? Green? Brown? Shocking pink?

Whatever the choice, colors have an impact. That’s why most new home buyers enjoy selecting the colors that will define the look of their new home.

For those who have the means to build a completely custom house, the sky’s the limit with respect to color choices. For those who purchase a resale home, whatever the former owner liked is what the next buyer will get.

Between those two is the newly built house, which offers buyers a limited number of pre-determined colors for paint, trim, front door, roof tiles, cabinets, countertops and more. The options are many, though not enough to overwhelm most buyers’ ability to decide.

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