If You’re a Veteran, You Owe It to Yourself to Consider Using a VA Loan

Real_Estate_Today_bylineAs I’ve mentioned before, I’m not a mortgage broker — frankly, I don’t think real estate agents should be in that business — but I know enough about VA loans to say that any veteran purchasing a home with a mortgage should ask their lender whether a VA loan might be right for them.

This is particularly true for veterans with a 10% or greater disability, because for them the VA funding fee is waived, making a VA loan an easy choice over a conventional, FHA or even a jumbo loan.

A VA jumbo loan is one that is in excess of the conforming limit, which varies by county (the limit in Jeffco, for example is $493,350). You may think that the VA loan limit is that amount, but that’s merely the limit for 100% financing. You can borrow much more than that amount — up to $1.5 million — as long as you put down at least 25% of the difference between the purchase price and the VA limit.

The following useful information about VA loans was gleaned from the VA’s website:

VA logoVA home loans are provided by private lenders, such as banks and mortgage companies. VA guarantees a portion of the loan, enabling your lender to provide you with more favorable terms, including:

  • No down payment as long as the sales price doesn’t exceed the appraised value.
  • No private mortgage insurance premium requirement.
  • VA rules limit the amount you can be charged for closing costs.
  • Closing costs may be paid by the seller.
  • The lender can’t charge you a penalty fee if you pay the loan off early.
  • VA may be able to provide you some assistance if you run into difficulty making payments.

You should also know that:

  • You don’t have to be a first-time homebuyer.
  • You can reuse the benefit.
  • VA-backed loans are assumable, as long as the person assuming the loan qualifies.

You must have satisfactory credit [Wells Fargo requires a credit score above 600], sufficient income, and a valid Certificate of Eligibility (COE) to be eligible for a VA-guaranteed home loan. The home must be for your own personal occupancy [not for a rental or investment property]. The eligibility requirements to obtain a COE are listed below for service members, veterans, spouses and other eligible beneficiaries.

VA home loans can be used to:

  • Buy a home or a condominium unit in a  VA-approved project
  • Build a home
  • Simultaneously purchase and improve a home
  • Improve a home by installing energy-related features or making energy efficient improvements
  • Buy a manufactured home on land
  • To refinance an existing VA-guaranteed or direct loan for the purpose of a lower interest rate
  •  To refinance an existing mortgage loan or other indebtedness secured by a lien of record on a residence owned and occupied by the veteran as a home.

Fortunately, a VA regional loan center — one of only nine in the country — is located in Lakewood, at 155 Van Gordon Street. They should be able to provide you with the required Certificate of Eligibility.

Eligibility (visit http://benefits.va.gov/homeloans for more information) varies by the type and length of your military service, whether you are disabled or a surviving spouse who has not remarried.

Come to our VA Homebuyer Workshop Tonight!

Whether a VA loan is right for you is not always easy to determine, so Golden Real Estate has partnered with Wells Fargo to host a VA Homebuyer Workshop this Thursday, November 30th, from 6 to 7 pm, at VFW Post 1, 841 Santa Fe Drive, Denver.  RSVP to Bernie Bernfeld at 303-273-6373, or call or text me at 303-525-1851.

Bernie specializes in VA loans for Wells Fargo and would be happy to answer your questions if you can’t attend the workshop.

 

iPhone’s Siri Can Make Your Driving Safer, As It Has Mine

As an active Realtor, you can imagine how many phone calls and text messages I receive, even while driving.  The iPhone’s “Siri” feature was designed to allow users access to phone, text and other functions – safely – even while driving.  (Yes, I know it’s illegal.)

SiriBy turning on “Hey Siri” in Settings, I’m able to leave my iPhone in my breast pocket or on my car’s console. Incoming phone calls are not a problem, because, with Bluetooth activated, I just press a button on my steering wheel to answer. For making calls, all I do (without taking my eyes off the road or hands off the wheel) is say, “Hey, Siri, call so-and-so” or “Hey, Siri, dial [number].” I don’t need to hold the phone near my mouth, as Siri can hear me and respond from across a room!

When I hear my text message alert, I say, “Hey, Siri, read text message.” The iPhone reads the message and asks if I want to reply. If I say “yes,” it takes my dictation, reads it back to me and asks if I’m ready to send it.  I can also say, “Hey, Siri, send a text message to so-and-so.” and the iPhone replies, “What would you like to say to so-and-so?”, takes my dictation, reads it back to me and asks if I’m ready to send it. If I reply “no,” the message is saved for editing and sending later.  All this without taking my eyes off the road or my hands off the steering wheel!  Try it, you’ll like it and be safer.

My bicycle has a phone holder on its handle bars, which allows me to use these same features while bicycling, too.

 

Here’s an End-of-Year Special for New Clients of Golden Real Estate

As regular readers of my column already know, Golden Real Estate has two moving trucks available for free to buyers and sellers. We’ve also made it available to other agents’ sellers as an enticement to accept our buyers’ offers on their listings.

This past weekend, I was trying to think what a real estate firm like ours could offer as a “Black Friday Special,” and I came up with the following deal for new clients.

For the month of December, we’re not only going to provide free use of our moving truck to buyers and sellers, we’re going to provide the labor, moving boxes, packing materials and gas for the truck. The only limitation is that your move be IMG_1256within the Denver metro area — and that we earn a commission!

Our free moving trucks have been so popular that last year we purchased a second one. In addition to providing them for clients, we make them available to local non-profits, including several churches which participate in Family Promise of Metro Denver’s program that provides temporary shelter to homeless families.

We figure our trucks save our clients and our non-profit friends thousands of dollars per year, versus the cost of the typical moving van rental.

We look forward to serving you, too!

 

Winter’s a Good Time to Sell a Home, But It Can Be a Good Time for Buyers, Too

By JIM SMITH, Realtor®

I’ve written in the past about how winter can be a great time of year to sell a home, as there’s often less competition for buyers’ attention due to lower inventory.  Also, buyers who may have failed to secure a home earlier in the year are still out there, and still getting auto emails with new listings (yours?) that match their search criteria.

But let’s look at winter from the buyer’s perspective for a moment. Here are some reasons that buyers might want to include house hunting in their holiday shopping plans.

First of all, it’s likely you’ll be competing with fewer other buyers, particularly in the weeks leading up to Christmas. This could make it easier to land the home you fall in love with.

Second, homeowners who put their home on the market during December may be a bit more motivated to sell for reasons that may or may not be disclosed.

For example, there could be a job relocation, or they may have tax considerations making them want to consummate the sale before year’s end. Check the days on market for each listing. If the home was listed in the summer or early fall, the seller may be in a position to settle for less now that it’s December.

You, as a buyer, may have tax considerations of  your own. Some of your mortgage closing costs are tax deductible, so you may want to close in December to get those deductions a year earlier.

On the other hand, if you close on a home in January from an elderly seller who has a senior property tax exemption, that tax exemption applies to you, too, for the entire 2018 tax year. (That benefit is based on who owned the house on Jan. 1st.) Weigh this against other tax considerations before deciding whether to close on that house in December versus January.

 

How Can Applying Feng Shui Principles Improve Your Home?

feng shui logoPerhaps you’ve heard of the ancient Chinese art of Feng Shui (pronounced Fung Shway). As explained at www.dummies.com, “It enhances your environment according to principles of harmony and energy flow. Whether you’re aware of it or not, your environment — and your relationship with it — are constantly affecting you. Consequently, your best bet for a healthy, happy, and successful life is to make your environment work for you through the practice of Feng Shui.”

I have only a passing familiarity with it, and find that some of its principles are, dare I say, a little “woo-woo,” but other principles make eminent sense and I believe that I have benefited from applying them.

For example, it is believed that open drains, including open toilet seats, allow energy (or “chi”) to be drained from your home, so Rita and I are diligent about keeping the lids down on our home’s (and office’s) toilets. Besides, it looks better, don’t you think? I advise sellers to do the same while their home is on the market.

Clutter is a big no-no. I remember when I owned an office building on Capitol Hill in the early 1990s, it had a side yard that was filled with debris and trash. I paid little attention to clearing it out since it wasn’t visible to passers-by, but a Feng Shui consultant urged me to clean it out, and when I did, I was noticeably more successful in attracting tenants.

One principle that makes sense to me, but that I tend not to practice, is that of keeping my desk clear of clutter. I know I feel better when I have cleared my desk. I remember being told during a tour of RE/MAX International’s executive offices that co-founder Gail Liniger had a strict rule that every desk must be cleared before leaving work each night. It’s easy to imagine the psychological effect of that practice, and it sounds as if Gail’s rule might be rooted in Feng Shui principles.

When It Comes to Real Estate Statistics, We Should Think “Median,” not “Average”

By JIM SMITH, Realtor®

Excuse me for getting a little nerdy here, but it’s important to know the difference between “median” and “average” when studying the real estate market, and here’s why.

Let’s say an area has five home sales: one at $300,000, a second at $325,000, a third at $330,000, a fourth at $400,000 and a fifth at $1.2 million.  The average sale price would be $511,000, a huge increase over the previous year when all the sales were under $400,000. The median sale price would be $330,000, because half the sales were under that price and half were over.

Now let’s look at “Days on Market.” Let’s say those five homes took 1, 2, 5, 7, and 150 days to go under contract. The average days on market would have been 33, while the median would have been only 5 days. Which is more useful?

These two hypothetical scenarios are precisely what we’re seeing in the real estate market. Luxury homes are selling much more quickly than they have in years past,  inflating the average sales price, whereas the median sales price by definition discards both the lowest and highest data points, providing a more accurate picture of what’s happening in the market.

Average_vs_median_DOM    At right is a chart comparing 2017 average days on market to median days on market.   Homes that take a long time to sell — particularly in the current market — are almost invariably overpriced.  The amount of time these homes languish on the market artificially increases the average days on market.  The median days on market is a much better reflection of the market.

Despite this, we continue to hear statisticians and market analysts tell us the changes in the average sale price or the average days on market instead of giving us the more meaningful median statistics.

It’s Thanksgiving, and I’m Thankful for Many Things and Many People

Real_Estate_Today_bylineThanksgiving is my favorite holiday – a non-denominational opportunity to reflect on the past year and our current situation.

I subscribe to the teaching that what we dwell on affects what we draw to ourselves. For example, if we think we might fail at a task, we are more likely to fail, but if we think we’ll succeed, we’re more likely to succeed. Some people refer to this as the “law of attraction.”

That’s why I like Thanksgiving, because it causes me to dwell on what I’m thankful for – not my regrets, not my failures, not what went wrong, but what went right and the good people in my life.

Well, I have a lot to be thankful for!

First of all, I’m thankful to be married to Rita, who always thinks positively and now shares her positive energy with me and the broker associates at Golden Real Estate as our office manager.  Her positive orientation is evident in our house, where she has such phrases as “How Does It Get Any Better Than This?” and “What Else is Possible?” printed on our family room wall.  How did I get so lucky as to attract this woman into my life?  I’m forever grateful for that!

Rita and I have no children together, but we have three “adopted daughters” — three women who consider us “Mama Ri” and “Papa Jim.”  Thank you, Kristin in Kansas City, Ashley in Centennial, and Benedikte in Seattle, for honoring us with your love.

Secondly, I’m thankful for our great broker associates at Golden Real Estate.  In order of seniority, they are:

JimSwansonJim Swanson, who worked beside me at Coldwell Banker and RE/Max Alliance before joining Golden Real Estate when Rita and I founded it in 2007.  He’s our native Goldenite, living ½ mile from our office.

 

web_smallCarrie Lovingier lived in Golden when she joined us as Carrie Ackley soon after our founding. She married a high school sweetheart, Brady, and lives with him and his sons in Evergreen now – she’s our foothills anchor.

 

Cropped 2016 pictureKristi Brunel is from Wisconsin but met her soul mate, Kenny, on the ski slopes of Colorado, marrying into that legendary “old Golden” family. Kristi and I met through Leadership Golden, and I was honored that she wanted to begin her real estate career with us.  As an owner, along with Kenny and her father-in-law, of numerous rentals, she’s a resource to me and her clients as an expert in buying investment properties.

Leo Swoyer came to us as a new Realtor after a long career as a licensed Leo_Face_Shot_with_Glasses_-_04-17-2016_1668_1_25appraiser specializing in mountain properties. His expertise in valuing properties and his knowledge of mountain properties has benefited us on many occasions.

 

photoChuck Brown was an independent broker with Metro Brokers in Denver, but he lives on Lookout Mountain, so he was attracted to joining Golden Real Estate as a broker associate. He is our Denver specialist and continues to list many Denver homes and serve Denver buyers as well as here in Jeffco.

David's head shots 003David Dlugasch was broker/owner of his own real estate company in Crested Butte, but chose to join Golden Real Estate when he moved to Arvada to be closer to his daughter’s family in the Village of Five Parks. He says that reading my newspaper columns was a factor is deciding to join us. Thanks for the compliment, David!

Susan DixonI met Susan Dixon at the Colorado Environment Film Festival. Her commitment to sustainability drew her to leave her previous brokerage and join Golden Real Estate. She lives in Arvada.

 

Andrew LeskoAndrew Lesko transferred to Golden Real Estate so he could specialize in Golden area condos and townhomes. We were so impressed by his research on this topic and his creation of www.GoldenTownhomes.com that it was a no-brainer to welcome him into our fold!

 

NormKowitzNorm Kowitz serves with Kristi Brunel on the board of directors of the Christian Action Guild, and I met him when he represented a buyer for one of my listings. He, too, was attracted by this newspaper column and before long he became a great copy editor for me. Thanks, Norm, for joining us!

 

These broker associates provide a depth and breadth of expertise, but they all share a commitment to our values of integrity, service and sustainability, and I couldn’t be prouder to be associated with them.

Next, I am thankful for you, our readers, who turn to us every week for advice, which we are happy to provide, whether or not you hire us for the sale and/or purchase of real estate.  Thank you for your confidence in us.

Realtor pinNext, I’m thankful for the National Association of Realtors and our local association, the Denver Metro Association of Realtors. Not all licensed agents choose to join NAR and DMAR, but they all benefit from these organizations’ work to protect home ownership and our industry. I’m proud to say that Golden Real Estate is a Realtor brokerage, and all our agents are Realtors.

I’m also thankful for our local MLS and its CEO, Kirby Slunaker, who has shepherded the organization to a level of service and effectiveness which I couldn’t have imagined just five years ago. Our MLS has a great website, and now we are about to merge with the northern Colorado MLS, called IRES, to create an even stronger and better MLS. I’m proud to serve on the Rules & Regulations Committee of REcolorado.

Regular readers know of my commitment not just to sustainability but also to the adoption of electric vehicles.  I am so thankful that EVs are going mainstream and that multiple countries (France, China, Norway and the UK, among others) are speeding the end of internal combustion-powered automobiles. I predicted this revolution a couple years ago, but this year’s developments in that regard surprised even me.

Rotary Club of Golden LogoWe should all be thankful for the various service organizations which contribute so much to society— Rotary, Lions, Sertoma, Optimists, Kiwanis, and others. Rotary, for example, is singularly responsible for the eradication of polio. The Lions Clubs, inspired in 1925 by Helen Keller, have worked on projects to prevent blindness, restore eyesight and improve eye care for millions of people worldwide. The Optimists are all about serving youth. Here in Golden, they have a “bicycle recycle” program that has provided free or inexpensive bicycles to those who couldn’t afford them. Sertoma (short for “Service to Mankind”) is devoted to serving those at risk of hearing loss.

logo100Service clubs in America are in decline, although I’m pleased to report that both the Golden Rotary Club and Golden Lions Club are experiencing a surge in membership this year. (Rita and I are Rotarians, and I’m a Lion.) If voluntarism is in your heart, I urge you to check into one of these clubs in your community, all of which welcome you as their guest at one of their meetings.

I don’t have room to mention all of the organizations or people for whom I am thankful, but let me mention one more — our local chambers of commerce. Golden Real Estate is pleased to be a member of the West Chamber serving Jefferson County and the Golden Chamber of Commerce, on whose board of chamberlogodirectors I serve. These organizations play an important role is promoting a healthy business environment in the communities they serve. Legislators benefit from their advice and feedback regarding bills affecting business. All businesses should consider joining their local chamber and participate in their events.

8WWLogo copyLastly, on a personal note, Rita and I are eternally thankful to have connected with Body in Balance Wellness Center, where our health and fitness benefited from their “8 Weeks to Wellness” program — a real life changer!