As the housing market continues slow and steady improvement, many who were waiting to post up “For Sale” signs are doing so. As more and more homeowners are asking themselves if “now is the time”, they are also wondering what home improvements return the most profit. There’s no doubt that most buyers prefer an updated home, but the return has to make sense for the homeowner. Although there is never guarantee, below are the projects that may be worth, or not worth, your time.
Biggest Bang for Your Buck: Replace over Remodel
By Melissa Carmelitano, Licensed Real Estate Salesperson Exit Realty AchieveAccording to Remodeling Magazine’s “Cost vs. Value Report”, it is “replacing” and not “remodeling” homeowners should focus on. Rather than adding a new bedroom or bathroom, things like replacing windows or your roof seem to be the best bet in 2015. In the Kitchen According to Popular Mechanics, the average cost of a complete kitchen remodel can be as high as $54,000. This high number is even more startling when you consider that the return on such a project fell from 2014-2015 by 8.4%. When it comes to the kitchen, replace rather than remodel. According to the National Kitchen and Bath Association, cabinets make up one-third to one-half of the average total kitchen-remodeling budget. Re-stain shabby cabinets and add new hardware to create a more updated look without incurring the huge cost. Replacing aging appliances can also help raise your home’s value. In the Bath Again, a large-scale remodel is not recommended here as the Remodeling Magazine “Cost vs. Value Report” puts a major bathroom remodel at a -5.9% since last year. Focus on replacing aging toilets and faucets to create a more updated impression. Replacing a bathtub can also become prohibitively expensive and can cost upwards of $2000 just for materials. If you bathtub is in bad shape, consider updating with a company that makes tub liners versus replacing it completely. You’ll save money and a tub liner install can be a quick as one day. In the Bedroom Much like with common areas, bedroom updates should focus on small replacements such as ceiling fans and carpets. Adding DIY closet organizers can also help improve your home’s value. Replacing over-sized furniture can also help rooms seem more open. Consider storing, selling or giving away old, outdated or oversized furniture and replacing it with low-cost smaller pieces from stores like Ikea can be so helpful to the sale of your home. In General Overall, most projects predicted to bring the most return are the bigger-ticket items. Homeowners can focus on projects like replacing old windows with stock energy efficient ones, roof replacements, adding a more stylish garage door and refinishing wood floors. The larger outside projects like roofs and windows are best handled by professionals. Always get at least three quotes before choosing someone to work with. It will not only help to ensure you’re getting the best price possible, but will also allow you time to pick someone you trust. Smaller projects, like staining cabinets, hardware, etc. and even re-finishing floors can be done without the help of professionals. One project that stands the test of time is simply some fresh paint. Light neutral colors will help give a lighter brighter and more updated impression. Team up with loved ones and friends to finish these smaller projects. The very best first step is to contact a trusted Real Estate Professional in your area. Once you have a good idea of your home’s value as is, the process of choosing which, if any, projects to tackle. A valuable Real Estate Professional can begin working with a client up to 12 months before actually putting their home on the market. Your RE Professional can help you get quotes and way the costs versus the return on your remodel investments. Happy updating! CONTENT DISCLAIMER
The summer housing market is in full swing! Many who were waiting to sell are now posting up “For Sale” signs. A popular marketing technique for both Realtors and those who choose to “For Sale By Owner” is the open house.
These Open House Safety Tips Aren’t Just for Realtors
By Melissa Carmelitano, Licensed Real Estate Salesperson Exit Realty AchieveAn open house is usually a widely advertised invitation to the public. While it’s certainly an important piece in the puzzle of selling your home, those choosing go it alone should keep these quick tips in mind to stay safe during the sales process. Many of these points can also be used to maximize successful showings! Alert your neighbors to your Open House. Once you’ve decided on a date and time, make your friends and neighbors aware and invite them to come for a tour! Creating a steady flow of people you know will help keep you out of harms way should something go wrong. Your neighbors will also be more likely to keep an eye on your house and therefore notice if anything seems out of place. Alerting your neighbors will help to create more interest in your home, as a crowded open house will draw attention. They may also feel a call to action and tell others about your property’s availability! Use the “Buddy System”. This is a great idea for Homeowners and Realtors alike. Invite a good friend or family member to greet the public with you. Pairing off will ensure that you are never alone with a stranger in your home. It can keep you safe; ensure that each tour group is accompanied through your house and even streamline your home tour process! Let there be LIGHT. “Light” and “Bright” are two of the greatest compliments you can receive during your transaction process. Opening all blinds, curtains and turning on all lights not only gives your home a lighter and brighter impression but may also help to deter those who mean you harm. Always ask for photo ID upon arrival. Many Realtors choose to require some form of photo ID of potential buyers upon entry. We use names, addresses and phone numbers to follow up with buyers to provide the seller with detailed feedback. We want to make sure the information we are recording is correct. This practice may serve an even greater purpose for keeping both Realtors and Homeowners safe. In the event anything negligent should happen during your open house, the powers that be will have a record of everyone in and out of your home. Furthermore, those wishing to cause you harm may be deterred by having to show photo ID. Create a sign-in sheet, insist upon it being filled out and always ask for photo ID. Never lead, always follow. I truly believe the vast majority of people are inherently good. Regardless of whether that belief is true or false, when showing your home, always keep potential buyers in front of you. Never be the first to walk up/down stairs or into a room. Use phrases like “the master bedroom is to your right” and direct your guests rather than leading them. Keeping your eyes on the tour group at all times will ensure the safety of you and your valuables. It may also help you to distinguish what rooms or features may be of particular interest to a tour group, thus raising the quality of your home showings! Keep a phone handy at all times. When showing your home to potential buyers, keep your cell phone with you. Should anything go wrong, you’ll have an opportunity to call for help. Create a code word or phrase. This is a practice many Realtors and offices use to stay safe. Think of a special word or phrase, and share it with a neighbor or loved one that is close by. In the event of an emergency you’ll be able to discretely alert those you trust. You don’t have to go it alone! The transaction process can be a maze but you don’t have to navigate it by yourself. Find a trusted Realtor to advise you. Realtors are well versed on how to safely and most successfully market your home! CONTENT DISCLAIMER
The basic principles of reverse mortgage, technically named Home Equity Conversion Mortgage (HECM – pronounced “heck-um”) are actually pretty simple. It’s a home equity loan that lends between 50%-60% of property value (highest value capped at $625,500), on qualified property types, to age-qualified borrowers and provides flexibility to the borrower to pay down the balance as any regular mortgage, OR defer payment and allow the interest to accrue over time.
Reverse Mortgage Rules are Changing: Two Case Studies
By Alice Tseng
The mortgage balance, with however much accrued interest will at some future point in time be settled by the sale of the (theoretically) appreciated property, by the homeowners themselves or their heirs / estates. This flexibility has been coupled with easy income / credit qualification and provided countless homeowners powerful leverage of their homes as their central retirement strategy.
Now the rules are changing, again. This HUD-regulated, FHA-insured program goes through reform every so often in effort to whittle out problematic loan profiles that may do long-term and broad-based harm and threaten the health and longevity of the program. This recent round of reform has been in the works for months, talked about for years really. The change had been slated for March 2nd. So much of the underwriting and support infrastructure had to be updated that HUD made the decision to push back the effective date to April 27th.
The key focus of the reform is “financial assessment”, and its key objective is to make sure homeowners can continue to afford property taxes and home insurance, which are essentially the “ground rules” for getting a HECM, in addition to living in the property as primary residence.
The main considerations in Financial Assessment reform can be summed up in two ideas: 1) Willingness – how the homeowners have demonstrated fiscal management as played back in their credit history and 2) Capacity – how much income / cash-flow the homeowners have at their disposal to afford the required property expenses comfortably. The income is judged against household size and a geographic scale for cost of living.
For borrowers with credit blemishes or income shortages, the new rules require a set-aside of their credit limit to be established, to cover the property expenses. That is a good solution for borrowers that have enough equity in their homes to submit to the set-aside and still be able to take money out to use, whether in lump-sum or over time. But if they had enough equity then they were probably fiscally responsible and probably wouldn’t have problematic credit, which is what touches off the set-aside requirement. So that’s an odd paradox. It’s the homeowners that are over-stretched, that “need” the HECM most that could be adversely affected. In some cases, where the HECM may have been their only salvation before this round of reform, that salvation will no longer to be available to them.
There is considerable leeway that has been written into these new reforms. Keep in mind, reverse mortgage law was written to help senior homeowners, some 25 years ago. The idea of this reform is to keep the program viable for the many, and call out the few who have lived in an over-extended manner and are simply staring down yet another financial slippery slope by getting a HECM… dragging everyone else down with them if and when they default, as the mortgage insurance pool would likely be tapped to resolve the default. But through the lens of many loan officers who have helped homeowners “clear the decks” and get a fresh start using HECMs, there will be well-deserving borrowers who will be unfortunately snared by these new rules.
Let’s take a look at two actual HECM case files to better understand how some borrower profiles may be affected… names have been changed for obvious privacy reasons.
Robert and Nancy are both in their mid-60’s, with two college-aged children. Robert still works part-time in computer sales and Nancy is also still working part-time as a teacher. They have always been careful savers and conservative spenders – always making financial choices mindful of upcoming college expenses and retirement. In the core of their strategy, they planned that once the kids were grown, their comfortable house in a very nice Nassau County town would be sold to afford a more appropriately (down) -sized home and create the retirement savings they need. Of course, in this plan, they hoped to get the highest sales price possible. Their neighborhood is very desirable and the properties in the area had sold very well.
There was one problem, their house hadn’t been updated for years and needed a lot of work to get top selling price. Robert and Nancy felt confident that every dollar put into renovation would get them twice the return. So they decided to pull money out with a home equity loan through their local bank. The meeting with the bank did not go well. Forget that closing costs felt like a big hit, the loan officer reviewed their income on part-time schedules and flat out said “no”. They asked another bank, and another. Same answer.
Robert and Nancy turned to HECM as their solution. They learned that it is the same equity loan they were looking for, with comparable market rates, but with repayment flexibility. They were afforded more credit line than they were seeking in the regular home equity, because HECM loan limits are scaled using the property value and borrowers’ age, not repayment ability. And they can opt to wait for the sale of their house to pay back the loan whereas a regular home equity would have required some interest payment on a monthly basis. The one downside, as with most cases with HECMs, was that the closing costs were higher, but they were rolled into the loan itself, so that did make it easier to swallow. They were approved smoothly and closed within four short weeks.
How would Robert and Nancy fare under the new financial assessment rules? They would have passed with flying colors, with no need for set-asides. In the Willingness part of the equation, they were a “pass”, since their credit rating was strong and the house was free and clear so there wasn’t a big monthly payment to fall behind on. And their combined income, although part-time, was more than enough to “pass” the prescribed income threshold to afford property expenses.
Tom and Cindy own one of the nicer houses in their Nassau County neighborhood. Both of their kids are grown and have moved away, but they are still helping with the younger one’s student loans and car payments. With the kids on their own, finances should have gotten easier, and they should be contemplating retirement. But that was not the case. Tom had comfortably counted on overtime from work in a para-governmental job, for years. He and Cindy acquired a comfortable lifestyle with the comfortable overtime. But in the last two years, the overtime dwindled, to almost none. Their son had trouble holding on to steady work after graduation and while the student loans could be deferred, the car payments had to be paid to keep the car.
Even after scrimping and skipping, Cindy decided she needed to work to get them out of the hole. But by the time she found something, all of their consumer balances had fallen into collection status and the only regular payment they were making good on was the house mortgage. Tom and Cindy contemplated selling the house and moving out farther where things would be more affordable. They couldn’t bear the thought of moving, but even at top dollar for the house, they would be hard-pressed to find something they liked after settling their consumer debts. It was exasperating, and scary.
They looked into the HECM option. Like others before them, Tom and Cindy had their hesitations about this “too good to be true” mortgage - they heard good and bad things and couldn’t really make heads or tails of it. But after getting all the facts, they understood that it was their one true opportunity to stay in their current home, while getting out of monthly mortgage payments as long as they needed so they can focus on paying off their other debts and turn themselves around for the better. The plan was to clear the consumer debt and as soon as they possibly could, which was looking to be about two years, and resume mortgage payments. Luckily, their existing mortgage balance was almost exactly at the HECM loan limit their age availed them, so it would be a wash, a direct transfer of mortgages, no additional cash out. But the repayment flexibility that was their saving grace. They closed on their HECM, and immediately started channeling that monthly payment toward settling up with the hounding collectors.
With the new financial assessment reforms, however, Tom and Cindy may have a much harder time getting approved for their HECM, as of April 27th. Their credit report would demonstrate poor Willingness with all the bad credit card debts. They would be able to submit a letter of explanation and request consideration of extenuating circumstances anchored in the dwindling of overtime and play on the fact that they never let their mortgage payment fall behind, but it would be anyone’s guess how subjectivity might play into an underwriting decision to grant approval on this “extenuating” circumstance versus say, someone who fell behind because of an illness. On the Capacity side of the equation, Tom and Cindy would likely pass just fine given Tom’s income and Cindy boosting it with her new job. But the underwriting recourse for borrowers that don’t pass either side of the assessment is Set-Aside, and in Tom and Cindy’s case, they needed every dollar in their loan limit to pay off the existing mortgage and any amount of set-aside may kill this option for them.
These homeowners from different walks of life are equally deserving borrowers that HECMs were originally designed to help. The new financial assessment is well meaning but could hurt most those who need it the most. Time will tell if the “leeway” will serve as the judgment call mechanism for good underwriting decisions to improve the program from defaulting loans.CONTENT DISCLAIMER
As an estate planning and elder law attorney, I strive to find solutions to my clients’ needs and goals. When it comes to elder law issues, my clients typically rely on me for more than traditional legal advice.
The Holistic Approach to Estate Planning
By Wendy K. Goidel, Esq, Founding + Managing Member, Estate Planning & Elder Law Center, A Division of Goidel Law Group PLLC
I have always tried to help my clients navigate the complexities of the aging process. This includes myriad issues relating to health, disability, caregiving, finances, family relationships, estate planning, quality of life and end-of-life decision making. All of these issues relating to life care planning are much more complicated than merely discussing the legal options regarding asset protection and obtaining eligibility for government benefits.
Supplementing my experience as an attorney, I have joined forces with a dedicated, compassionate licensed clinical social worker with a wealth of experience in life care planning. Together, we have developed and implemented an exciting and innovative holistic, concierge approach to planning. This new approach to the coordination of care with legal solutions and strategies is unparalleled in the practice of estate planning and elder law. To fully appreciate the value of this approach, it must be compared to traditional estate planning.
Traditionally, the avoidance or minimization of estate taxes was the biggest factor motivating people to engage in estate planning. However, the rising federal and New York State estate tax thresholds have eliminated the need for such planning for 99% of the population. As many people equate estate planning with tax planning, they understandably overlook other more compelling reasons to plan which include providing the legal framework necessary to protect loved ones and spare them the anxiety and frustrations that can come from pre-death guardianship and post-death probate court proceedings.
Traditional estate planning involves the preparation of wills and/or trusts, powers of attorney, health care proxies and living wills. Though traditional estate planning includes advance directives for end-of-life planning, it fails to address your daily living preferences and quality of life if you have a chronic or terminal illness. It does not provide education, training, advocacy and monitoring to ensure that your agents are supported and that you do not suffer from gaps in your care. And if a care crisis hits, the planning becomes reactive, causing undue stress and anxiety for you, your loved ones and your agents.
These issues are resolved and avoided through proactive Concierge Care Planning™. Although the estate planning we provide has always been comprehensive, any form of estate planning is inadequate for families facing or anticipating chronic or long-term health or care issues. Those families require a proactive coordinated approach which seamlessly integrates care needs with legal planning. On the care side, our families have a dedicated care coordinator as their personal advocate, supporting them as they navigate the aging process, manage a disability or cope with a chronic illness. This enables families to maximize the independence of loved ones, and when necessary, ease the transition to supportive care services while minimizing stress and frustration. On the legal side, we partner with family members and other professionals to engage in estate and long-term care planning designed to protect clients, their loved ones and their hard-earned assets. Many customized options and strategies are available making our model more affordable, adaptable, accessible and absolutely unique.CONTENT DISCLAIMER
Changes are coming to the Home Equity Conversion Mortgage (HECM). The changes will effect eligibility and how much of a mortgage the homeowner can qualify for.
Change is Inevitable
By Renée Richter, President of Cetterpoint Funding Corp.
Before March 2, 2015, the borrower did not have to provide any financials. After March 2nd, the borrower will have to show the willingness and capacity to honor their fiduciary obligations. This will include their real estate taxes and homeowners insurance. The new requirements require much more financial accountability.
The lender will conduct a financial assessment of the borrower and depending on the results, the lender may require a certain amount of the mortgage proceeds to be held in reserve “Life Expectancy Set Aside” (LESA).
The lender must determine if the borrower has demonstrated the willingness to timely meet his or her financial obligations. This is done by analyzing the borrowers’ credit history, liabilities, and debts. A borrowers’ mortgage history/installment payments for the last 12 months is vital. If a borrower has derogatory credit of more than TWO 30-day late payments in the previous 24 months, it will likely lead to a Life Expectancy Set Aside (LESA).
If a borrower can document extenuating circumstances to explain derogatory credit, then Willingness of the Borrower will be accepted and a LESA may not be required.
iExtenuating circumstances beyond the borrowers’ control may include, but are not limited to:
- Loss of income due to the death or divorce of a spouse that directly resulted in late payment of obligations;
- Loss of income due to the borrowers’ or spouse’s unemployment, reduced work hours or furloughs, or emergency medical treatment or hospitalization that directly resulted in late payments of obligations;
- Increase in financial obligations due to emergency medical treatment or hospitalization for the borrower or spouse, emergency property repairs not covered by homeowners or flood insurance, divorce, or other causes that directly resulted in late payments of obligations.
The borrowers’ capacity of the residual income which in reality is the cash flow of the household. Monthly Income – Monthly Expenses = Residual Income.
The monthly income of borrower’s will need to be documented by financial instruments such as tax returns, bank statements, asset documentation and social security award letters just to name a few.
All information gathered will be put on a financial assessment worksheet and analyzed to determine the capacity of the borrower.
Compensating factors may be considered such as a borrowers’ entitlement to receive social security or pension within the next 12 months. An increase in monthly income from HECM proceeds. These are just a few examples of compensating factors, which could also demonstrate capacity.
Life Expectancy Set-Aside (LESA)
In cases where, the lender has determined that the borrower has not demonstrated the willingness and capacity to meet his or her financial obligations, the Life Expectancy Set-Aside maybe be fully funded or there may be cases where they are partially funded.
Through the Fully Funded Life Expectancy Set-Aside the lender will use HECM proceeds to pay property taxes and insurance premiums on behalf of the borrower. The borrower remains responsible for all other property charges. On a partially funded LESA, the lender will send two semi-annually payments from the LESA to the borrower to pay property taxes and HOI themselves.
Changes to the HECM are inevitable, however there are always options available. A borrower could choose to downsize and use a HECM for purchase with lower monthly obligations. A borrower could strategically plan to improve their financial situation and thus qualify for the HECM. The borrower should consult with a professional to generate an individual financial plan designed with their best interests at heart.i HECM FINANCIAL ASSESSMENT AND PROPERTY CHARGE GUIDE – 4.1 Extenuating Circumstances CONTENT DISCLAIMER
A reverse mortgage enables homeowners 62 and older to convert part of the equity in their homes into cash without having to sell the home, give up title, or take on a new monthly mortgage payment. The homeowner continues to pay insurance and taxes, live in and maintain the home.
Top Ten Reverse Mortgage Myths
By Layla Corrochano
The reverse mortgage is aptly named because the payment stream is "reversed." Instead of making monthly payments to a lender, as with a regular mortgage, a lender makes payments to you. Below are common myths that are important for you to be aware of as you investigate the benefits of our product.
Myth 1: I cannot get a reverse mortgage if I have an existing mortgage.
Fact: False. If your house isn't paid off, the proceeds you receive from the reverse mortgage must first be used to pay off any existing mortgage. This is the most common reason most homeowners 62 years and older take out a reverse mortgage.
Myth 2: If I take out a reverse mortgage the lender will own my home.
Fact: False. Homeowners still retain title and ownership to their homes during the life of the loan, and can choose to sell the home at any time. As long as the borrower continues to live in and maintain the home and property taxes and homeowners insurance are paid, the loan cannot be called due.
Myth 3: There are restrictions on how reverse mortgage proceeds may be used.
Fact: False. There are no restrictions. The cash proceeds from the reverse mortgage can be used for virtually any purpose and borrowers should be cautious of lenders attempting to cross sell other products. Many seniors have used reverse mortgages to pay off debt, help their kids, make ends meet or to have a financial reserve.
Myth 4: Only low-income seniors get reverse mortgages.
Fact: False. Although some seniors may have a greater need than others for the monthly proceeds or lump sum funds reverse mortgages offer, most simply prefer to be free of monthly mortgage payments. Without monthly mortgage payments, may homeowners find they can maintain their existing quality of life and build their savings to help with future expenses. A growing number of people who have no immediate need are taking out these loans so they have a financial cushion for future expenses.
Myth 5: If I outlive my life expectancy, the lender will evict me.
Fact: False. Reverse mortgage lenders put no time limit on how long the borrower(s) can stay in their homes. Since homeowners still own the property, lenders cannot evict them as long as the borrower continues to live in and maintain the home, and property taxes and homeowners insurance are paid.
Myth 6: A reverse mortgage will affect my government benefits.
Fact. A reverse mortgage generally doe not affect regular Social Security or Medicare benefits. However, if you are on Medicaid, any reverse mortgage proceeds that you receive would count as an asset and could impact Medicaid eligibility. To be sure, we recommend that potential borrowers consult their federal benefits administrators or financial advisors.
Myth 7: There are no objective advisors available to seniors trying to decide if a reverse mortgage suits their needs.
Fact: False. Borrowers are required to work with independent, third-party counselors approved by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) in their local communities. This educational session helps them make the right decision for their unique situations.
Myth 8: My children will be responsible for the payment of the loan.
Fact. If the borrower or their estate wants to retain the property, the balance must be paid in full. However, as long as the borrower or their estate sells the property to pay off the debt, there is no recourse if the HECM loan balance exceeds the home's value at maturity. Any equity remaining in the property after the reverse mortgage is retired belongs to the borrower or their estate.
Myth 9: Reverse mortgage lenders take advantage of seniors.
Fact. Seniors who have been victims of reverse mortgage lending schemes are extreme exceptions and typically victims of unsavory lenders. As a consumer, you should only work with reputable lenders. Protect yourself by conducting as much research as possible by consulting government agencies, your financial advisors and NRMLA, the National Reverse Mortgage Lender's Association.
Myth 10: I've heard I won't qualify for a reverse mortgage because of my limited income.
Fact: False. Most traditional mortgages require income qualifications and monthly mortgage payment; however, the HECM (Home Equity Conversion Mortgage) reverse mortgage generally does not use income as a factor and it pays you. Many seniors who don't qualify for traditional financing are eligible for a reverse mortgage.CONTENT DISCLAIMER
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