Private mortgage insurance is necessary for buyers who don’t have or choose not to put 20% or more down payment when they purchase a home.  It is required for high loan-to-value mortgages and it provides an opportunity for many people to get into a home who otherwise would not be able.  image.ashx

The problem is that it is expensive and a homeowner’s goal should be to eliminate it as soon as possible to lower their monthly payment and avoid putting good money down the drain.

FHA loans made after 6/1/13 that have 90% or higher loan-to-value at time of purchase have mortgage insurance premium for the life of the loan.   FHA loans made prior to 6/1/13, can have the MIP removed after five years and if the unpaid balance is 78% or less than the original loan-to-value.

VA loans do not require mortgage insurance.

Conventional loans, in most cases, with higher than 80% loan-to-value require mortgage insurance.  The cost of that insurance varies but with a $250,000 mortgage, it could easily be between $100 and $200 a month.

Your monthly mortgage statement should itemize what your monthly fee is for the mortgage insurance.   Unlike interest that is deductible, most homeowners are not able to deduct mortgage insurance premiums.

If you plan to remain in the home or to stay there for a considerable number of years, the solution may be to refinance the home.   If the home has increased since it was purchased, the loan-to-value at its new appraised value may not require PMI.  You might even be fortunate enough to obtain a lower rate than you currently have.

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Many years ago, Las Vegas hotels would entice customers with inexpensive rooms, meals and entertainment so they would gamble.  It may have worked initially but if you’ve been to Las Vegas recently, the bargains are gone.  Hotels expect each division to be a profit center on its own.  As a consumer, I might not like the changes but as an investor, I’d have to be pleased with increased profitability.  image.ashx

Years ago, real estate investors used to accept negative cash flow buoyed by tax incentives in hopes of making a big payday due to appreciation when they sold it.   Today’s investors are focusing on tangible, current results like cash flow and equity build-up.

Cash flow is the amount of money you have left over after collecting the rent and paying the expenses.  Since rents have gone up considerably due to supply and demand in the last few years and mortgage rates are at near record lows, income is up and expenses are down, making the cash flows attractive.

If the cash flow is sufficient, you could have a good investment even if the value of the property never increased.  Cash on Cash doesn’t consider appreciation and measures the cash flow before tax advantages by the initial investment.  A rental with $3,170 CFBT divided by an initial investment of $29,000 would generate a 10.93% Cash on Cash rate of return.

Low down payments on investor properties are also a thing of the past.  Non-owner occupied mortgage money is available but the investor should expect to put down 25-30%. An advantage of having a smaller mortgage is a lower payment.

Most mortgages are amortized loans with both principal and interest due with each payment.  The forced savings of the principal contribution builds equity in the property and can be considered a part of the rate of return.

A $100,000 mortgage at 4.5% for 30 years would have $1,613.29 applied to principal in the first year.  Divide that by the same $29,000 initial investment and the amortization would generate another 6%.

Without factoring in appreciation or tax advantages, this rental example generates much more than most alternative investments.  There certainly are many different aspects that affect the risk and return on rental investments.  If you haven’t scrutinized single-family rental opportunities in a while, you should look again.

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A dirty air filter decreases the effectiveness of your HVAC system because it inhibits airflow and allows dirt, dust, pollen and other materials to blow through the system. image.ashx

The challenge is how often it should be changed to keep the system working efficiently and extend the equipment life.   Too often and you’re wasting money and not often enough and your increasing the operating and maintenance costs.

Fiberglass panel filters are inexpensive and easy to find but they’re not very efficient and they allow most dust to pass through.  They were popular years ago but there are much better products available currently.

Pleated air filters are available in MERV ratings from 5 to 12. As these filters collect dirt and other particles, they become less efficient to the point of impacting air flow.  Allergy sufferers can benefit from this type of filter.  These should be changed every two to three months based on local conditions.

HEPA filters stand for High Efficiency Particulate Arrestance. They are very efficient and more expensive than previously described filters.  Since they are very efficient, they require changing more frequently; possibly, every month.

Electrostatic air filters are permanent and washable. They generally cost more initially but the savings will be based on how long they last.  This type does not add to landfill issues or produce ozone.

Improperly maintained filters will lower the quality of the air in the home, have a negative impact on air flow, cause it to use more electricity and eventually require maintenance to the systems.

In an attempt to easily compare filters, a rating system was created called MERV, an acronym for Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value.  The rating from 1 to 16 indicates the efficiency of a filter based on standards set by ASHRAE.  Higher ratings indicate a greater percentage of particles are being captured in the filter.

To create a system to remind you when to change your filters, set a reminder on your electronic calendar to recur for whatever frequency you determine is best for you.   Be sure to keep a supply of filters on hand to be ready to change them out when the time comes.

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How old is your bedroom furniture and what did you pay for it?  Don’t know?  That’s okay, let’s try an easier question.  When did you buy the TV in your family room and is it a plasma, LCD or a LED?  image.ashx

Whether you are the victim of a burglary, a fire or a tornado, most people are comforted they have insurance to cover the losses.  However, unless you’ve filed a claim, you may not be familiar with the procedures.

The adjustor will want to know the date and how the loss occurred.  Assuming you have contents coverage, the claim for personal belongings is separate from damage to the home.

You’ll be asked to provide proof of purchase, like receipts or cancelled checks, or a current inventory.  If they’re not available, you can reconstruct an inventory from memory.  The challenge is trying to remember things you may not have used for years and may not miss for years more.

Relying on memory can be a very expensive alternative.  A prudent homeowner will create a home inventory with pictures or videos while all of their belongings are in the home and they can see them.

Download a home inventory to make your project a little easier.

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In an attempt to compare homes, one of the common denominators has been price per square foot.  It seems like a fairly, straight forward method but there are differences in the way homes are measured. image.ashx

The first assumption that has to be made is that the comparable homes are similar in size, location, condition and amenities.  Obviously, a variance in any of these things affects the price per square foot which will not give you a fair comparison.

The second critical area is that the square footage is correct.  The three most common sources for the square footage are from the builder or original plans, an appraisal or the tax assessor.  The problem is that none of sources are infallible and errors can always be made.

Still another issue that causes confusion is what is included in measuring square footage.  It is commonly accepted to measure the outside of the dwelling but then, do you include porches and patios?  Do you give any value for the garage, storage or other areas that are not covered by air-conditioning?

Then, there’s the subject of basements.  Many local areas don’t include anything below the grade in the square footage calculation but almost everyone agrees that the finish of the basement area could add significant value to the property.

Accurate square footage matters because it is used to value homes that both buyers and sellers base their decisions upon.

Let’s say that an appraiser measures a home with 2,800 square feet and values it at $275,000 making the price per square foot to be $98.21.  If the assessor reports there are 2,650 square feet in the dwelling and the owner believes based on the builder, there is 2,975 square feet, you can see the challenge.

If the property sold for the $275,000, based on the assessor’s measurements, it sold for $103.77 per square foot and by the owner’s measurements, it sold for $92.44 per square foot. Depending on which price per square foot was used for a comparable, valuing another property with similar square footage could have a $30,000 difference.

The solution to the dilemma is to dig a little deeper into where the numbers come from and not to take the square footage at “face value”.  It is important to recognize that there are differences in the way square footage is handled.

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The Veterans Administration guarantees home loans for eligible veterans.  It is considered an attractive loan because the veteran can purchase the home with no down payment up to specific loan limits and no mortgage insurance. This makes the monthly payment considerably lower. image.ashx

Let’s assume a buyer wants to purchase a $200,000 home and can get a 4.5% interest mortgage for 30 years.

A FHA loan would require a $7,000 down payment plus $3,377.50 in up-front MIP which can be rolled into the mortgage. The monthly mortgage insurance premium would be $221 per month for a total payment of $1,215.94.

The VA loan doesn’t require a down payment. There is a 2% VA funding fee that can be rolled into the mortgage which would make the principal and interest payment on $204,400 much less at $1,035.66.

The revised loan limits for 2014 are published by VA and can change each year especially based on high-cost areas. However, a lender can allow a home purchase in excess of these amounts with a 25% down payment on the amount above the limit.

If a purchaser wants to buy a $600,000 home in an area where the VA limit is $417,000, the lender could require a $45,750 down payment and make a $554,250 mortgage. In this example, the purchaser is able to get in for less than 10% down payment and no mortgage insurance.

Veterans with the available funds for a down payment should compare all loan products to consider which will provide the lowest cost of housing. A skilled real estate professional and a trusted mortgage advisor can be valuable resources.

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More money has been lost to indecision than was ever lost to making the wrong decision.  The economy and the housing market have caused some people to take a “wait and see” position that could cost them in lost opportunities as well as almost certain higher costs in the future.  image.ashx

To illustrate what the opportunity cost might be, let’s compare what the value of the down payment two years from now would be if it was invested in a certificate of deposit, the stock market or used to purchase a home today.

A 3.5% down payment on a $175,000 home is $6,125.00.  If it was invested in a CD that would earn 2%, a person would have $6,372 in two years.  The earnings would be taxed as ordinary income tax rates.  It wouldn’t earn much but it would be safe and secure.

The same amount would grow to $7,013 in the stock market if you picked the right stock or fund and it yielded 7%. The earnings would be taxed at the long term capital gains rate.  The return could be greater but so is the risk involved.

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If this person were to purchase a home today that appreciated 2% in value over the next two years, the equity in the home would grow to $18,769 due to value going up and the unpaid balance going down.

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The first home purchase can be the culmination of years of planning and consideration. Buyers typically look for 12 weeks and use a variety information sources for research before purchasing. However, many renters are not near as thorough in their study. image.ashx

Like any other commitment a person makes, careful consideration and understanding is required. There are things that every renter should know before they rent a home or apartment.

  1. A lease is a binding, legal document.
  2. Understand the lease before signing and ask questions.
  3. Get the complete agreement in writing instead of verbal statements.
  4. Tenants have rights too and they vary depending on the state and city.
  5. Tenants need renter’s insurance for their personal belongings and liability.
  6. The landlord is responsible for a habitable and safe environment and should typically pay for repairs due to normal wear and tear.
  7. Do a walk-through of the property before signing a lease.
  8. Don’t withhold the rent to settle a disagreement with landlord.
  9. The landlord must return your deposit or tell you why it is being held in a reasonable time.
  10. It may cost you considerably less to own the home than to rent.

With the exceptionally low mortgage rates available, the house payment including taxes and insurance can easily be less than the market rent of a home. By the time you factor in appreciation, forced savings due to amortization, leverage and tax savings, the actual cost of housing could be close to half of the rent even if a reasonable repair allowance is factored. Check out your net cost of housing.

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Freddie Mac chief economist, Frank Nothaft, says that affordability, stability and flexibility are the three reasons homebuyers overwhelmingly choose a 30 year term.  However, for those who can afford a higher payment, there are three additional reasons to choose a 15 year term: save interest, build equity and retire the debt sooner.  image.ashx

First-time buyers have a higher tendency to use a minimum down payment and are very concerned with affordable payments.  It is understandable that the majority of these buyers select 30 year, fixed-rate mortgages.

Consider a $200,000 mortgage at 30 year and 15 year terms with recent mortgage rates at 4.2% and 3.31% respectively. The payment is $433.15 less on the 30 year term but the interest rate being charged is higher.  The total interest paid by the borrower if each of the loans was retired would be almost three times more for the 30 year term.

Another interesting thing about the 15 years mortgage is that more of the payment is going to principal than interest from the very first payment.  It would take over 13 years on the 30 year mortgage for the principal to exceed the interest allocation.

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Some people might suggest getting a 30 year loan and making the payments as if they were on a 15 year loan.  That would certainly accelerate amortization and save interest. The real challenge is the discipline to actually make the payments on a consistent basis if you don’t have to.  Many experts cite that one of the benefits of homeownership is a forced savings that occurs due to the amortization that is not necessarily done by renters.

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It’s disappointing, frustrating and sometimes, discouraging when you lose a home you want to buy.  image.ashx

One of the hardest lessons for today’s buyers is that writing an offer doesn’t mean that you’ll get the home or even a counter-offer.  The low inventory affecting many of the housing markets requires a different strategy to give you the best chance to get the home you want.

  1. Make your best offer initially; you may not get a chance to accept a counter.
  2. Submit a written pre-approval letter from the lender.
  3. Increase earnest money above what is considered normal.
  4. Make a larger down payment.
  5. Eliminate unnecessary contingencies.
  6. Don’t ask for personal property not included in the listing agreement.
  7. Pay your own customary closing costs.
  8. Shorten the inspection period.
  9. Buy the home “as is” subject to inspections which still allows you to get your earnest money back if the inspections are unacceptable but doesn’t require the seller to make repairs.
  10. Write the seller a hand-written, personal letter telling them why you want their home; include a picture of your family.
  11. Offer to use the seller’s or listing agent’s preferred title company.
  12. If you can pay cash, do so and arrange financing after closing.  Be prepared to show proof of available funds.
  13. Schedule the closing as soon as possible but let the seller know you can be flexible.
  14. Once you decide on a home, act with expedience.
  15. Ask your real estate professional if they have any other suggestions.

Think of making an offer like applying for a job. You want to make your best impression and show why you are the best choice.  You won’t always know that there are multiple offers.  Approach the process like the competition is doing their best to get the home.

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