Mortgage

Mortgage

Introduction

For the majority of homeowners, the purchase of their own represents their biggest investment and their largest loan. Selecting, qualifying, and obtaining the right type of mortgage is one of the most important parts of purchasing your home.

The purpose of this guide is to educate you on mortgage terminology, provide calculators so you can get a rough estimate on how much mortgage you can safely afford, and to allow to to pre-qualify for a mortgage so you can start shopping for a home.

  • Understanding Credit
    We all know that good credit is necessary to qualify but do you know your score and how can you improve your credit?
  • Interest Rates and Terminology
    Rates will vary depending on the day, your credit, and the type of loan you want.
  • Tax Considerations
    Purchasing a home and financing it can have a positive effect on your tax liability.
  • What You Can Afford
    Don’t let your eyes get too big for your wallet. Knowing your price ceiling before you start looking can save you from disappointment and financial trouble.
  • Pre-qualifying & Pre-approval
    Once you determine what you can afford, you need to see how much the banks are willing to lend to you.
  • Locking in a Mortgage Rate
    If the rate looks favorable but you haven’t found the perfect house yet, you can ask to have your rate locked. What does that mean?
  • Appraisals & Market Value
    So you know what you can afford and how much the bank is willing to loan out. Once you pick out a potential home, it is time to determine its value.
  • Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI)
    If you are first time home buyer without a significant down payment, chances are you will need to buy PMI.
  • Bankruptcy and Foreclosure
    Nobody wants to be in foreclosure or bankruptcy but it is important to knwo the facts and consequences.

Understanding Credit

Where do I get information on consumer credit laws?
For information on consumer credit laws, contact the National Foundation for Consumer Credit, 8701 Georgia Ave., Suite 507, Silver Springs, MD 20910; call (301) 589-5600.


How long do bankruptcies and foreclosures stay on a credit report?
Bankruptcies and foreclosures can remain on a credit report for seven to 10 years. Some lenders will consider an borrower earlier if they have reestablished good credit. The circumstances surrounding the bankruptcy can also influence a lender’s decision. For example, if you went through a bankruptcy because your employer had financial difficulties, a lender may be more sympathetic. If, however, you went through bankruptcy because you overextended personal credit lines and lived beyond your means, the lender probably will be less inclined to be flexible.


What do I do about bad credit?
Credit problems are the main reason would-be home buyers are denied a loan. The first step to clearing up your credit is to get a copy of your credit report to make sure that the negative credit information is indeed accurate. For a copy of your report, contact one of the three major credit reporting agencies: Experian at (800) 311-4769, Equifax at (800) 685-1111 and Trans Union at (312) 408-1077. The bureaus should provide instructions on how to read the report and how to dispute any inaccuracies it contains. If your credit report is correct, take care of any outstanding delinquent obligations first. Lenders usually won’t consider any borrower who has had a delinquent payment in the past year.


Where do I get a copy of my credit report?
For a copy of your own credit report, call one of the three main national credit reporting agencies: Equifax, (800) 685-1111; Experian, (800) 311-4769 or Trans Union, (312) 408-1077. The bureaus also should provide instructions on how to read their report and dispute any inaccuracies it contains.


How do I find out what my credit report says?
For a copy of your own credit report, call one of the three main national credit reporting agencies: Equifax, (800) 685-1111; Experian, (800) 311-4769 or Trans Union, (312) 408-1077.


Will bad credit prevent someone from getting a home?
There are numerous types of credit report problems (which may or may not be your fault) that would cause a lender to reject your application for a loan. Such problems include: missing a credit card payment, defaulting on a prior loan, filing for bankruptcy in the past seven years or not paying your taxes. Other black marks on a credit report include a judgment filed against you (perhaps for non-payment of spousal or child support) or any collection activity. If you feel that your credit report is wrong, experts say it’s best to take it up with the organization or company claiming you owe them money. But if you’ve been late paying your bills, regroup by paying in full and on time for six months to a year to prove to the lender that the late payments were an aberration. You can order a copy of your own credit report by calling the three major credit reporting agencies: Experian at (800) 311-4769, Equifax at (800) 685-1111 and Trans Union at (312) 408-1077.


What if there is a credit reporting mistake on my report?
There is no fast and easy way to repair damaged credit that took months or years to occur. The law allows negative information to appear on an individual’s credit record from seven to 10 years. Credit problems are the main reason would-be home buyers are denied a loan. The first step to clearing up your credit is to get a copy of your credit report to make sure that the negative credit information is indeed accurate. Some states now have mandatory timelines to respond to your inquiry or remove the blemish. For a copy of your report, contact one of the three major credit reporting agencies: Experian at (800) 311-4769, Equifax at (800) 685-1111 and Trans Union at (312) 408-1077. The bureaus should provide instructions on how to read the report and how to dispute any inaccuracies it contains. If your credit report is correct, take care of any outstanding delinquent obligations first. Lenders usually won’t consider any borrower who has had a delinquent payment in the past year.


What do I do if I get turned down for a loan?
Increasing numbers of loan applicants are finding ways to buy their own home despite past credit problems, a lack of a credit history or debt-to-income ratios that fall outside of traditionally acceptable ranges. Ask the lender for a full explanation, then appeal the decision in writing.


How do you clear up bad credit?
There is no fast and easy way to repair damaged credit that took months or years to occur. The law allows negative information to appear on an individual’s credit record from 7 to 10 years. Now, many states have specific timeframes if you challenge a credit blemish. The first step is to check your existing credit record. Anyone can obtain copies of their own credit report free of charge if they have been turned down for credit recently. For a fee, people can request copies of their own credit report from the three major credit reporting agencies: Experian at (800) 311-4769, Equifax at (800) 685-1111 and Trans Union at (312) 408-1077. The bureau also should provide instructions on how to read the report and how to dispute any inaccuracies it contains. If the credit report is correct, take care of any outstanding delinquent obligations first.

Resources:

* “Rebuild Your Credit: Law Form Kit,” Nolo Press, Berkeley, Calif.; 1993.


What exactly is bad credit?

There are numerous types of credit report problems that would cause a lender to reject your application for a loan. Such problems include: missing a credit card payment, defaulting on a prior loan, filing for bankruptcy in the past seven years or not paying your taxes. Other black marks on a credit report include a judgment filed against you (perhaps for non-payment of spousal or child support) or any collection activity. If you feel that your credit report is wrong, experts say it’s best to take it up with the organization or company claiming you owe them money. But if you’ve been late paying your bills, regroup by paying in full and on time for six months to a year to prove to the lender that the late payments were an aberration. You can order a copy of your own credit report by calling the three major credit reporting agencies: Experian at (800) 311-4769, Equifax at (800) 685-1111 and Trans Union at (312) 408-1077.

Interest Rates

How do you get a low-interest rate loan?
Price discounts and interest rate buydowns are common incentives offered by new-home builders trying to overcome slow sales. Buydowns are a financing technique used to reduce the monthly payment for the borrower during the initial years of the loan. Under some buydown plans, a residential developer, builder or the seller will make subsidy payments (in the form of points) to the lender that “buy down,” or lower, the effective interest rate paid by the home buyer. State agencies often offer lower rate loans. But to qualify, borrowers usually must be a first-time home buyer and meet income limits based on the median income level of their county.


Where can I get adjustable-rate loan info?
For adjustable-rate loan information, consult your local lender or the Consumer Handbook on Adjustable-Rate Mortgages, published by the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco. Write to the Public Information Department; P.O. Box 7702; San Francisco, CA 94120 or call (415) 974-2163.


Are interest rates negotiable?
Some lenders are willing to negotiate on both the loan rate and the number of points but this isn’t typical among established lenders who set their rates like large corporations set the prices on their goods. Nevertheless, it pays to shop around for loan rates and know the market before you go in to talk to a lender. You should always look at the combination of interest rate and points and get the best deal possible.The interest rate is much more open to negotiation on purchases that involve seller financing. These usually are based on market rates but some flexibility exists when negotiating such a deal. When shopping for rates, look for published rates in local newspapers or check the growing number of Internet sites that publish such information.


What are rates for FHA and VA loans?
There are no set interest rates for FHA and VA loans. The FHA stopped regulating rates in 1983 and the VA followed suit soon after. Shop around for the best rate.


How are the rates set for seller financing?
The interest rate on an owner-carried loan is negotiable. Ask your agent to check with a lender or mortgage broker to determine the current rate on institutional first (or second) loans. Seller financing typically costs less than conventional financing because sellers don’t charge loan fees (points). Interest rates on an owner-carried loan will also be influenced by current Treasury bill and certificate of deposit rates. Sellers usually aren’t willing to carry a loan for a lower return than they would earn if their money was invested elsewhere.


Where are interest rates headed?
At any one time, no one knows for sure where rates are headed. Beyond public policies put in place by the Federal Reserve Board, there are no laws that govern mortgage rates. Historically, usury laws were used to prevent lenders from charging sky-high interest rates when lending money. But in some states where there are usury laws, banks, thrifts and a number of other financial institutions are exempt from the law. Today, interest rates are governed solely by the financial markets and by Federal Reserve Board action, neither of which can be predicted with absolute certainty.


What is the value of a mortgage lock-in?
Locking in a mortgage rate with a lender is one way to ensure that same rate still will be available when you need it. Lock-ins make sense when borrowers expect rates to rise during the next 30 to 60 days, which is the usual length of time lock-ins are available. A lock-in given at the time of application is useful because it may take the lender several weeks or longer to prepare a loan application (though automated loan practices are cutting this time dramatically). However, some lenders require borrowers to pay lock-in fees to assure particular rates and terms. Be sure to check that the rates and points are guaranteed and that your lock-in period is long enough. If your lock-in expires, most lenders will offer the loan based on the prevailing interest rate and points. Lenders may have preprinted forms that set out the exact terms of the lock-in agreement. Others may only make an oral lock-in promise on the telephone or at the time of application.

Resources:
* “A Consumer’s Guide to Mortgage Lock-Ins,” published by the Federal Reserve Board and Office of Thrift Supervision, Washington, D.C.


What is APR?
The Annual Percentage Rate (APR) is the relative cost of credit as determined in accordance with Regulation Z of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System for implementing the federal Truth-in-Lending Act, according to Charles O. Stapleton III, Thomas Moran and Martha R. Williams, authors of “Real Estate Principles,” 3rd Ed., Dearborn Financial Publishing, Chicago; 1994. The APR is the actual yearly interest rate paid by the borrower, figuring in the points charged to initiate the loan and other costs. The APR discloses the real cost of borrowing by adding on the points and by factoring in the assumption that the points will be paid off incrementally over the term of the loan. The APR is usually about 0.5 percent higher than the note rate.


How do you choose between fixed and adjustable rates?
There is risk involved in selecting an adjustable rate mortgage, or ARMs, because rates may go up. On the other hand, a fixed- rate loan offers good protection against rising interest rates but the borrower is stuck with the initial rate if interest rates drop.Statistics show that home buyers who have chosen ARMs since 1981 have saved thousands of dollars. For a period, the percentage of home buyers applying for ARMs rose substantially, then buyers and homeowners began flocking to fixed-rate loans. Whether to opt for a fixed or adjustable rate mortgage is a matter of personal choice. The first route offers stable payments; the second offers lower initial payments. Another consideration is the length of time a buyer plans to own the home. If you’re planning on moving within three or four years, an ARM makes sense even if rates do nothing but rise during that period of time.


What are the most popular ARM indices?
Among the most common indexes are the Cost of Funds (COFI), Treasury Securities (T-Bills), Certificates of Deposit (CDs), and Libor (London inter- bank offering rate). Most metropolitan newspapers publish current ARM index rates.


How do adjustable-rate loans change?
Adjustable-rate mortgages go up and down with interest rates, based on several esoteric money market indexes which cause the cost of funds for lenders to vary. Several popular indexes include Treasury Securities, Cost of Funds, Certificates of Deposit, and Libor (London inter-bank offering rate). Most big city newspapers publish ARM index rates. The interest rate and payment adjustments do not always coincide. There is usually a lag. There are a variety of consumer protections built into these loans. But consumers need to beware of advertising and other claims made by lenders.

Resources:
* For more information, consult the “Consumer Handbook on Adjustable-Rate Mortgages,” available from the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco Public Information Department, P.O. Box 7702, San Francisco, CA 92120; (415) 974-2163.


How do I monitor my ARM loan?
Consumer Loan Advocates publishes a book with form letters and worksheets to help people who want to check mortgage payments or adjustments on their own. It costs $19.95 plus $4 shipping and handling. For a copy, write or call Consumer Loan Advocates, 655 Rockland Road, Lake Bluff, IL 60044; (847) 615-0024.


How do you lock in an interest rate?
Locking in a mortgage rate with a lender is one way to ensure that same rate still will be available when you need it. Lock-ins make sense when borrowers expect rates to rise during the next 30 to 60 days, which is the usual length of time lock-ins are available. A lock-in given at the time of application is useful because it may take the lender several weeks or longer to prepare a loan application (though automated loan practices are cutting this time dramatically). However, some lenders require borrowers to pay lock-in fees to assure particular rates and terms. Be sure to check that the rates and points are guaranteed and that your lock-in period is long enough. If your lock-in expires, most lenders will offer the loan based on the prevailing interest rate and points. Lenders may have preprinted forms that set out the exact terms of the lock-in agreement. Others may only make an oral lock-in promise on the telephone or at the time of application.

Resources:

* “A Consumer’s Guide to Mortgage Lock-Ins,” published by the Federal Reserve Board and Office of Thrift Supervision, Washington, D.C.

Tax Considerations

Where do I get information on IRS publications?

The Internal Revenue Service publishes a number of real estate publications. They are listed by number:

  • 521 “Moving Expenses”
  • 523 “Selling Your Home”
  • 527 “Residential Rental Property”
  • 534 “Depreciation”
  • 541 “Tax Information on Partnerships”
  • 551 “Basis of Assets”
  • 555 “Federal Tax Information on Community Property”
  • 561 “Determining the Value of Donated Property”
  • 590 “Individual Retirement Arrangements”
  • 908 “Bankruptcy and Other Debt Cancellation”
  • 936 “Home Mortgage Interest Deduction”
  • Order by calling 1-800- TAX-FORM.

Are seller-paid points deductible?

As of Jan. 1, 1991, homeowners have been able to deduct points paid by the seller. This deduction previously was reserved only for points actually paid by the buyer.

When is the best time to buy?

Here are some frequently cited reasons for buying a house:

  • You need a tax break. The mortgage interest deduction can make home ownership very appealing.
  • You are not counting on price appreciation in the short term.
  • You can afford the monthly payments.
  • You plan to stay in the house long enough for the appreciation to cover your transaction costs. The costs of buying and selling a home include real estate commissions, lender fees and closing costs that can amount to more than 10 percent of the sales price.
  • You prefer to be an owner rather than a renter.
  • You can handle the maintenance expenses and headaches.
  • You are not greatly concerned by dips in home values.

What home-buying costs are deductible?

Any points you or the seller pay to purchase your home loan are deductible for that year. Property taxes and interest are deductible every year. But while other home-buying costs (closing costs in particular) are not immediately tax-deductible, they can be figured into the adjusted cost basis of your home when you go to sell (any significant home improvements also can be calculated into your basis). These fees would include title insurance, loan-application fee, credit report, appraisal fee, service fee, settlement or closing fees, bank attorney’s fee, attorney’s fee, document preparation fee and recording fees. Points paid when you refinance an existing mortgage must be deducted ratably over the life of the new loan.

What is the Mortgage Credit Certificate program?

The Mortgage Credit Certificate program allows first-time home buyers to take advantage of a special federal income tax credit. This program allows buyers credit in qualifying for the tax advantage they’ll receive after they purchase the home. The amount of the credit is tied to a local formula that every city with an MCC program must follow. A MCC credit, which can total $2,000 or more, reduces the borrower’s federal tax liability by an amount tied to how much one pays in annual mortgage interest. Both the borrower’s income and the purchase price of the home must fall within established guidelines. To see if your community has an MCC program, call your local housing or redevelopment agency. You also may inquire with your real estate broker or the local association of Realtors.

What are the rules for mortgage credit certificates?

To qualify for a mortgage credit certificate, both your income and the purchase price of the home must fall within established city guidelines. These guidelines vary by city but generally only permit people who earn an average income or slightly higher than average income. A limited number of cities have authorized the MCC program. Contact your municipal housing department for more information.

Should I buy a vacation home?

Today a vacation home can be purchased for investment purposes as well as enjoyment. And yes, there are tax benefits. Some people buy a vacation home with the idea of turning it into a permanent retirement home down the road, which puts them ahead on their payments. Another benefit is that the interest and property taxes are tax deductible, which helps to offset the cost of paying for a second home. A vacation home also can be depreciated if you live in it fewer than 14 days a year, or 10 percent of the rented days – whichever is greater.

Resources:
* “Real Estate Investing From A to Z,” William Pivar, Probus Publishing, Chicago; 1993.
* “The Ultimate Language of Real Estate,” John Reilly, Dearborn Financial

How do I save on taxes?

Here are some ways to save money on taxes:

  • Mortgage interest on loans up to $1 million is completely deductible for the year in which you pay it to buy, build or improve your principal residence plus a second home.
  • Points, or loan origination fees, also are deductible no matter who pays them, the buyer or the seller.
  • Most homeowners, except the wealthy and those living in high-priced markets, no longer need to worry about capital gains taxes. The exemption has been raised to $500,000 for married couples and $250,000 for single owners. It can be taken every two years. Homeowners should always keep all receipts of permanent home improvements and of mortgage closing costs. If you do have to pay capital gains taxes, these costs can be added to your adjusted cost basis. Consult your tax adviser for more information.

Resources:
* “Tax Information for First-Time Homeowners,” IRS Publication 530, and “Selling Your Home,” IRS Publication 523. Call (800) TAX-FORM to order.

Are taxes on second homes deductible?

Mortgage interest and property taxes are deductible on a second home if you itemize. Check with your accountant or tax adviser for specifics.

Are points deductible?

If you are a buyer, and you or the seller pays points, they are deductible for the year in which they are paid only. You also can deduct any points you pay when you refinance your home, but you must do so ratably over the life of the loan. Consult your tax or financial advisor.

How do you choose between buying and renting?

Home ownership offers tax benefits as well as the freedom to make decisions about your home. An advantage of renting is not worrying about maintenance and other financial obligations associated with owning property. There also are a number of economic considerations. Unlike renters, home owners who secure a fixed-rate loan can lock in their monthly housing costs and make prudent investment plans knowing these expenses will not increase substantially. Home ownership is a highly leveraged investment that can yield substantial profit on a nominal front-end investment. However, such returns depend on home-price appreciation.

“For some people, owning a home is a great feeling,” writes Mitchell A. Levy in his book, “Home Ownership: The American Myth,” Myth Breakers Press, Cupertino, Calif.; 1993. “It does, however, have a price. Besides the maintenance headache, the amount of after-tax money paid to the lender is usually greater than the amount of money otherwise paid in rent,” Levy concludes. As for evaluating the risk associated with home ownership, David T. Schumacher and Erik Page Bucy write in their book “The Buy & Hold Real Estate Strategy,” John Wiley & Sons, New York; 1992, that “good property located in growth areas should be regarded as an investment as opposed to a speculation or gamble.” The authors recommend that prospective buyers spend a few months investigating a community. Many people make the mistake of buying in the wrong area. “Just because certain properties are high-priced doesn’t necessarily mean they have some inherent advantage,” the authors write. “One property may cost more than another today, but will it still be worth more down the line?”

Are there tax credits for first-time home buyers?

Many city and county governments offer Mortgage Credit Certificate programs, which allow first-time home buyers to take advantage of a special federal income tax write-off, which makes qualifying for a mortgage loan easier. Requirements vary from program to program. People wanting to apply should contact their local housing or community development office. Here is a list of four general requirements to keep in mind:

  • Some credit may be claimed only on your owner- occupied principal residence.
  • There are maximum income limits, which vary by locality and family size.
  • You must be a first-time home buyer, which means you must not have had any kind of ownership interest in a principal residence during the past three years. This restriction may be waived, however, if you are buying property within certain target areas.
  • Allocations must be available. A local MCC program may have to decline new applications when it runs out of funds.

Explain the home mortgage deduction …

The mortgage interest deduction entitles you to completely deduct the interest on your home loan for the year in which you paid it. Mortgage interest is not a dollar-for-dollar tax cut; it reduces taxable income. You must itemize deductions in order to do this, which means your total deductions must exceed the IRS’s standard deduction. Another point to remember is that the amount of interest on your loan goes down each year you pay on your mortgage (all standard home-loan formulas pay off interest first before significantly paying into principal). That’s why paying extra on your principal every year can help you pay off your loan early.

How are fees and assessments figured in a homeowners association?

Homeowners association fees are considered personal living expenses and are not tax-deductible. If, however, an association has a special assessment to make one or more capital improvements, condo owners may be able to add the expense to their cost basis. Cost basis is a term for the money an owner spends for permanent improvements throughout their time in the home and is used to reduce eventual capital gains taxes when the property is sold. For example, if the association puts a new roof on a building, the expense could be considered part of a condo owner’s cost basis only if they lived directly underneath it. Overall improvements to common areas, such as the installation of a swimming pool, need to be considered on a case-by-case basis but most can be included in the cost basis of any owner who can show their home directly benefits from the work.

To find out more about how the IRS views condo association fees, look to IRS Publication 17, “Your Federal Income Tax,” which includes a section on condos. Order a free copy by calling (800) TAX-FORM.

How do I reach the IRS?

To reach the Internal Revenue Service, call (800) TAX-1040.

What You Can Afford

How much does my real estate agent need to know?
Real estate agents would say that the more you tell them, the better they can negotiate on your behalf. However, the degree of trust you have with an agent may depend upon their legal obligation. Agents working for buyers have three possible choices: They can represent the buyer exclusively, called single agency, or represent the seller exclusively, called sub- agency, or represent both the buyer and seller in a dual-agency situation. Some states require agents to disclose all possible agency relationships before they enter into a residential real estate transaction. Here is a summary of the three basic types:

  • In a traditional relationship, real estate agents and brokers have a fiduciary relationship to the seller. Be aware that the seller pays the commission of both brokers, not just the one who lists and shows the property, but also to the sub- broker, who brings the ready, willing and able buyer to the table.
  • Dual agency exists if two agents working for the same broker represent the buyer and seller in a transaction. A potential conflict of interest is created if the listing agent has advance knowledge of another buyer’s offer. Therefore, the law states that a dual agent shall not disclose to the buyer that the seller will accept less than the list price, or disclose to the seller that the buyer will pay more than the offer price, without express written permission.
  • A buyer also can hire his or her own agent who will represent the buyer’s interests exclusively. A buyer’s agent usually must be paid out of the buyer’s own pocket but the buyer can trust them with financial information, knowing it will not be transmitted to the other broker and ultimately to the seller.

How much will I spend on maintenance expenses?
Experts generally agree that you can plan on annually spend 1 percent of the purchase price of your house on repairing gutters, caulking windows, sealing your driveway and the myriad other maintenance chores that come with the privilege of homeownership. Newer homes will cost less to maintain than older homes. It also depends on how well the house has been maintained over the years.

What is the standard debt-to-income ratio?
A standard ratio used by lenders limits the mortgage payment to 28 percent of the borrower’s gross income and the mortgage payment, combined with all other debts, to 36 percent of the total. The fact that some loan applicants are accustomed to spending 40 percent of their monthly income on rent — and still promptly make the payment each time — has prompted some lenders to broaden their acceptable mortgage payment amount when considered as a percentage of the applicant’s income. Other real estate experts tell borrowers facing rejection to compensate for negative factors by saving up a larger down payment. Mortgage loans requiring little or no outside documentation often can be obtained with down payments of 25 percent or more of the purchase price.

  1. Gross income
  2. The amount of cash you have available for the down payment, closing costs and cash reserves required by the lender
  3. Your outstanding debts
  4. Your credit history
  5. The type of mortgage you select
  6. Current interest rates
Another number lenders use to evaluate how much you can afford is the housing expense-to-income ratio. It is determined by calculating your projected monthly housing expense, which consists of the principal and interest payment on your new home loan, property taxes and hazard insurance (or PITI as it is known). If you have to pay monthly homeowners association dues and/or private mortgage insurance, this also will be added to your PITI. This ratio should fall between 28 to 33 percent, although some lenders will go higher under certain circumstances. Your total debt-to-income ratio should be in the 34 to 38 percent range.

When is the best time to buy?
Here are some frequently cited reasons for buying a house:

  • You need a tax break. The mortgage interest deduction can make home ownership very appealing.
  • You are not counting on price appreciation in the short term.
  • You can afford the monthly payments.
  • You plan to stay in the house long enough for the appreciation to cover your transaction costs. The costs of buying and selling a home include real estate commissions, lender fees and closing costs that can amount to more than 10 percent of the sales price.
  • You prefer to be an owner rather than a renter.
  • You can handle the maintenance expenses and headaches.
  • You are not greatly concerned by dips in home values.

Where do I get information on housing market stats?
A real estate agent is a good source for finding out the status of the local housing market. So is your statewide association of Realtors, most of which are continuously compiling such statistics from local real estate boards. For overall housing statistics, U.S. Housing Markets regularly publishes quarterly reports on home building and home buying. Your local builders association probably gets this report. If not, the housing research firm is located in Canton, Mich.; call (800) 755-6269 for information; the firm also maintains an Internet site. Finally, check with the U.S. Bureau of the Census in Washington, D.C.; (301) 763-2422. The census bureau also maintains a site on the Internet. The Chicago Title company also has published a pamphlet, “Who’s Buying Homes in America.” Write Chicago Title and Trust Family of Title Insurers, 171 North Clark St., Chicago, IL 60601-3294.

What is Fannie Mae’s low-down program?
Fannie Mae is expanding the availability of low-down-payment loans in an effort to help more people nationwide qualify for a mortgage. Two new programs will help potential buyers overcome two of the most common obstacles to home ownership, low savings and a modest income. To address many first-time buyers’ struggles to save the down payment, Fannie Mae developed Fannie 97. The program provides 97 percent financing on a fixed-rate mortgage with either a 25- or 30-year loan term through Fannie Mae’s Community Home Buyers Program. Fannie Mae’s new Start-Up Mortgage will assist buyers with a 5 percent down payment who are at any income level. Yet applicants do not need as much income to qualify and less cash for closing than with traditional mortgages. Borrowers will receive a 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage with a first-year monthly payment that is lower than the standard fixed-rate loan. Freddie Mac, Fannie Mae’s counterpart, also offers low-down-payment loan programs.

How long do bankruptcies and foreclosures stay on a credit report?
Bankruptcies and foreclosures can remain on a credit report for seven to 10 years. Some lenders will consider an borrower earlier if they have reestablished good credit. The circumstances surrounding the bankruptcy can also influence a lender’s decision. For example, if you went through a bankruptcy because your employer had financial difficulties, a lender may be more sympathetic. If, however, you went through bankruptcy because you overextended personal credit lines and lived beyond your means, the lender probably will be less inclined to be flexible.

How do you determine the value of a troubled property?
Buyers considering a foreclosure property should obtain as much information as possible from the lender, including the range of bids expected. It also is important to examine the property. If you are unable to get into a foreclosure property, check with surrounding neighbors about the property’s condition. It also is possible to do your own cost comparison through researching comparable properties recorded at local county recorder’s and assessor’s offices, or through Internet sites specializing in property records.

How much will I spend on maintenance expenses?
Experts generally agree that you can plan on annually spend 1 percent of the purchase price of your house on repairing gutters, caulking windows, sealing your driveway and the myriad other maintenance chores that come with the privilege of homeownership. Newer homes will cost less to maintain than older homes. It also depends on how well the house has been maintained over the years.

What is the standard debt-to-income ratio?
A standard ratio used by lenders limits the mortgage payment to 28 percent of the borrower’s gross income and the mortgage payment, combined with all other debts, to 36 percent of the total. The fact that some loan applicants are accustomed to spending 40 percent of their monthly income on rent — and still promptly make the payment each time — has prompted some lenders to broaden their acceptable mortgage payment amount when considered as a percentage of the applicant’s income. Other real estate experts tell borrowers facing rejection to compensate for negative factors by saving up a larger down payment. Mortgage loans requiring little or no outside documentation often can be obtained with down payments of 25 percent or more of the purchase price.

What can I afford?

Know what you can afford is the first rule of home buying, and that depends on how much income and how much debt you have. In general, lenders don’t want borrowers to spend more than 28 percent of their gross income per month on a mortgage payment or more than 36 percent on debts. It pays to check with several lenders before you start searching for a home. Most will be happy to roughly calculate what you can afford and pre-qualify you for a loan. The price you can afford to pay for a home will depend on six factors:

Pre-Qualifying and Pre-Approval

How do you qualify as a first-time buyer?
In general, lenders define a first-time home buyer as someone who has not owned any real estate — whether a personal residence, vacation home or investment property — during the past three years. Lenders verify an applicant’s status by examining their income tax returns, checking to see that the individual did not take any deductions for mortgage interest or property taxes.

What is the first step when looking for a home loan?
Most experts recommend that you should get pre-qualified for a loan first. By being pre-qualified, you will know exactly how much house you can afford. Almost all mortgage lenders now pre-qualify and pre-approve customers, and many of them can even do it on the Internet. You also can do your own affordability calculations; most recent consumer books on home buying include steps to doing so, as do various real estate Internet sites.

What can I afford?
Know what you can afford is the first rule of home buying, and that depends on how much income and how much debt you have. In general, lenders don’t want borrowers to spend more than 28 percent of their gross income per month on a mortgage payment or more than 36 percent on debts. It pays to check with several lenders before you start searching for a home. Most will be happy to roughly calculate what you can afford and pre-qualify you for a loan. The price you can afford to pay for a home will depend on six factors:

  1. Gross income
  2. The amount of cash you have available for the down payment, closing costs and cash reserves required by the lender
  3. Your outstanding debts
  4. Your credit history
  5. The type of mortgage you select
  6. Current interest rates
Another number lenders use to evaluate how much you can afford is the housing expense-to-income ratio. It is determined by calculating your projected monthly housing expense, which consists of the principal and interest payment on your new home loan, property taxes and hazard insurance (or PITI as it is known). If you have to pay monthly homeowners association dues and/or private mortgage insurance, this also will be added to your PITI. This ratio should fall between 28 to 33 percent, although some lenders will go higher under certain circumstances. Your total debt-to-income ratio should be in the 34 to 38 percent range.

What do I do if I get turned down for a loan?
Increasing numbers of loan applicants are finding ways to buy their own home despite past credit problems, a lack of a credit history or debt-to-income ratios that fall outside of traditionally acceptable ranges. Ask the lender for a full explanation, then appeal the decision in writing.

Locking in Mortgage Rates

How do you lock in an interest rate?
Locking in mortgage rates with a lender is one way to ensure that same rate still will be available when you need it. Lock-ins make sense when borrowers expect rates to rise during the next 30 to 60 days, which is the usual length of time lock-ins are available. A lock-in given at the time of application is useful because it may take the lender several weeks or longer to prepare a loan application (though automated loan practices are cutting this time dramatically). However, some lenders require borrowers to pay lock-in fees to assure particular rates and terms. Be sure to check that the rates and points are guaranteed and that your lock-in period is long enough. If your lock-in expires, most lenders will offer the loan based on the prevailing interest rate and points. Lenders may have preprinted forms that set out the exact terms of the lock-in agreement. Others may only make an oral lock-in promise on the telephone or at the time of application.

Resources:
* “A Consumer’s Guide to Mortgage Lock-Ins,” published by the Federal Reserve Board and Office of Thrift Supervision, Washington, D.C.

Where do I get information on lock-ins?
For information on lock-in mortgage rates, check out this brochure:
* “Consumers Guide to Mortgage Lock-Ins” from the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, Public Information Department, P.O. Box 7702, San Francisco, CA 94120; or call (415) 974-2163 to order.

Do you advise a lock-in on a home loan?
Locking in a mortgage rate with a lender is one way to ensure that same rate still will be available when you need it. Lock-ins make sense when borrowers expect rates to rise during the next 30 to 60 days, which is the usual length of time lock-ins are available. A lock-in given at the time of application is useful because it may take the lender several weeks or longer to prepare a loan application (though automated loan practices are cutting this time dramatically). However, some lenders require borrowers to pay lock-in fees to assure particular rates and terms. Be sure to check that the rates and points are guaranteed and that your lock-in period is long enough. If your lock-in expires, most lenders will offer the loan based on the prevailing interest rate and points. Lenders may have preprinted forms that set out the exact terms of the lock-in agreement. Others may only make an oral lock-in promise on the telephone or at the time of application.

Resources:
* “A Consumer’s Guide to Mortgage Lock-Ins,” published by the Federal Reserve Board and Office of Thrift Supervision, Washington, D.C.

What is the value of a mortgage lock-in?
Locking in a mortgage rate with a lender is one way to ensure that same rate still will be available when you need it. Lock-ins make sense when borrowers expect rates to rise during the next 30 to 60 days, which is the usual length of time lock-ins are available. A lock-in given at the time of application is useful because it may take the lender several weeks or longer to prepare a loan application (though automated loan practices are cutting this time dramatically). However, some lenders require borrowers to pay lock-in fees to assure particular rates and terms. Be sure to check that the rates and points are guaranteed and that your lock-in period is long enough. If your lock-in expires, most lenders will offer the loan based on the prevailing interest rate and points. Lenders may have preprinted forms that set out the exact terms of the lock-in agreement. Others may only make an oral lock-in promise on the telephone or at the time of application.

Resources:
* “A Consumer’s Guide to Mortgage Lock-Ins,” published by the Federal Reserve Board and Office of Thrift Supervision, Washington, D.C.

Property Appraisal and Market Value

How is a home’s value determined?
You have several ways to determine the value of a home. A property appraisal is a professional estimate of a property’s market value, based on recent sales of comparable properties, location, square footage and construction quality. This service varies in cost depending on the price of the home. On average, an appraisal costs about $300 for a $250,000 house. A comparative market analysis is an informal estimate of market value performed by a real estate agent based on similar sales and property attributes. Most agents offer free analyses in the hopes of winning your business. You also can get a comparable sales report for a fee from private companies that specialize in real estate data or find comparable sales information available on various real estate Internet sites.

Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI)

What does PMI cost?
PMI costs vary from one mortgage insurance firm to another, but premiums usually run about 0.50 percent of the loan amount for the first year of the loan. Most PMI premiums are a bit lower for subsequent years. The first year’s mortgage insurance premium is usually paid in advance at the closing.

Is PMI always required on low-down home loans?
A growing number of private lenders are loosening up their requirements for low-down-payment loans. But private mortgage insurance, or PMI, usually is required on loans with less than a 20 percent downpayment. The Homeowners Protection Act states PMI must be dropped on any loan originated after July 29, 1999 IF it has a 78 percent loan-to-value ratio.

What is PMI?
Private mortgage insurance, or PMI, insures the lender against a default. It is required when the borrower is making a cash down payment of less than 20 percent of the purchase price. PMI costs vary from one mortgage insurance firm to another, but premiums usually run about 0.50 percent of the loan amount for the first year of the loan. Most PMI premiums are a bit lower for subsequent years. The first year’s mortgage insurance premium is usually paid in advance at the close of escrow, and there is usually a separate PMI approval process.Lenders generally turn to a list of companies with whom they regularly work when lining up private mortgage insurance.
In most cases, PMI can be dropped after the loan to value ration drops below 80 percent. The Homeowners Protection Act requires PMI to be dropped when the loan-to- value ratio reaches 78 percent of the home’s original value AND the loan closed after July 29, 1999. For other loans, find out from your lender what procedure to follow to have PMI removed when your equity reaches 20 percent. For homeowners who have improved their properties and believe that their equity has increased as a result of these improvements, refinancing the property at a loan-to-value ratio of 80 percent or less is another possible way of eliminating PMI payments.

How do I drop PMI?
In some states, the loans have to be at least two years old, and the borrower cannot have made any late payments in the last year in order to drop private mortgage insurance. In addition, the loan-to-value ratio must be less than 75 percent. Some state disclosure laws require lenders to notify borrowers after the close of escrow whether the borrower has the right to cancel private mortgage insurance. Under the new federal law – The Homeowners Protection Act – lenders must drop PMI if the loan closed after July 29, 1999 AND the loan-to-value ratio reaches 78 percent of the home’s original value.

Foreclosure and Bankruptcy

Can I refinance after bankruptcy?
Refinancing may be prudent but could be difficult after a bankruptcy. If you’re considering bankruptcy, you may want to go to your current lender first and explain the situation. If you have been current on your payments, the lender may be accommodating and refinance your loan, easing your financial situation.

How long do bankruptcies and foreclosures stay on a credit report?
Bankruptcies and foreclosures can remain on a credit report for seven to 10 years. Some lenders will consider an borrower earlier if they have reestablished good credit. The circumstances surrounding the bankruptcy can also influence a lender’s decision. For example, if you went through a bankruptcy because your employer had financial difficulties, a lender may be more sympathetic. If, however, you went through bankruptcy because you overextended personal credit lines and lived beyond your means, the lender probably will be less inclined to be flexible.

What options are there after Chapter 11?
A previous bankruptcy can remain in a credit file for seven to 10 years. Depending on when the bankruptcy was discharged and what kind of credit a borrower has reestablished since then, it needn’t be an obstacle to obtaining loan approval. The longer ago the discharge occurred, the better off a loan applicant will be. Many lenders also will take into account the circumstances surrounding a bankruptcy. For example, they may look more favorably upon you as a borrower if your bankruptcy was due to financial reverses you suffered due to your employer’s own financial difficulties. On the other hand, if you declared bankruptcy because you overextended your personal credit lines and lived beyond your means, a lender probably won’t be as forgiving. If you are in the latter category, you may want to contact a mortgage broker who may qualify them for a “b” or “c ,” loan, which usually comes at a higher interest rate.

Resources:
* “Rebuild Your Credit: Law Form Kit,” Nolo Press, Berkeley, Calif.; 1993.

How do you clear up bad credit?
There is no fast and easy way to repair damaged credit that took months or years to occur. The law allows negative information to appear on an individual’s credit record from 7 to 10 years. Now, many states have specific timeframes if you challenge a credit blemish. The first step is to check your existing credit record. Anyone can obtain copies of their own credit report free of charge if they have been turned down for credit recently. For a fee, people can request copies of their own credit report from the three major credit reporting agencies: Experian at (800) 311-4769, Equifax at (800) 685-1111 and Trans Union at (312) 408-1077. The bureau also should provide instructions on how to read the report and how to dispute any inaccuracies it contains. If the credit report is correct, take care of any outstanding delinquent obligations first.

Resources: * “Rebuild Your Credit: Law Form Kit,” Nolo Press, Berkeley, Calif.; 1993.

How bad is a previous foreclosure on credit?
A property foreclosure is one of the most damaging events in a borrower’s credit history. In terms of the effect on credit history, a deed in lieu of foreclosure or a short sale is not as adverse an event as is a forced foreclosure.

What can I do if I have bad credit?
While some people have rebounded from a foreclosure to buy another home within several years, credit problems stemming from a foreclosure can continue much longer for others. Real estate experts say you should be candid with your lender in discussing these issues. If your bankruptcy resulted from losing your job due to your employer’s financial difficulties, a lender probably will look upon your situation more favorably than if your bankruptcy was caused by overextended credit cards.

Resources:
*”Rebuild Your Credit: Law Form Kit,” Nolo Press, Berkeley, Calif.; 1993.