Interestingly, ‘Seller Concessions’ Can Benefit Both Buyers & Sellers

If you’ve been following my “Real Estate Today” column, you know that homes are taking longer to sell, and in some areas sales prices have decreased slightly.

Jaxzann Riggs, owner of The Mortgage Network, has been serving Colorado borrowers for 37+ years and she has witnessed more market fluctuations than I have in my 20 years. I asked her what “old and new” marketing and financing strategies she suggests for both buyers and sellers in this dynamic market.

   Her response: “First, buyers need to understand their highest priorities. Is investing the smallest amount of cash their priority, or are they more interested in minimizing the monthly housing expense in the early years of the loan? If they expect to own the property for many years, having the lowest possible 30-year fixed rate may be the highest priority. Buyers who are fortunate enough to be paying cash for a home are normally looking for the lowest possible purchase price, in which case seller concessions won’t matter to them.”

Let’s analyze each goal and how a seller concession built into a purchase contract can help you.

Goal #1:  Lowest Cash to Close

If your income is good and you are not concerned about your monthly housing expense, but you don’t have much cash to work with, a popular seller concession is one that covers your closing costs. That way, you only need cash for the down payment.

Goal #2:  Lowest Payment in the Early Years of Your Mortgage

If your income is likely to increase in the near future, and you want to minimize your monthly housing expenses until your pay increases or you receive an expected bonus, a temporary interest rate buydown funded by a seller concession might make sense. The simplest explanation of this strategy is that the buydown subsidizes a reduced monthly mortgage for the first one or two years of the mortgage.

Goal #3:  Lowest Interest Rate for the Term of the Mortgage

If this is a property that you expect to own for many years, it makes sense to ask for a seller concession that is utilized to buy the interest rate down on your mortgage for its full term.

So, the next question is, what is a reasonable dollar amount for a borrower to request from the seller as a concession? Each borrower and seller circumstance will vary, so there is no set rule, although Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac underwriting guidelines limit the seller to a contribution of 6% of the sales price (or 3% if the borrower is making a minimum down payment).

Seller concessions may only be utilized to offset closing costs, reduce the interest rate on a temporary or permanent basis, or to prepay mortgage insurance on behalf of the borrower. Seller concessions may NOT be used to reduce the down payment made by the borrower.

It might surprise a prospective buyer to understand the different impacts that a seller concession versus a price reduction can have on the monthly cost of their mortgage. And it might surprise sellers to learn that offering a concession in the form of an interest rate buydown can increase the pool of prospective buyers.

I am happy to explore buyer and seller wants, needs, and goals. Structuring a seller concession so that both buyer and seller benefit is possible once all parties agree upon the anticipated appraised value of a property. Of course, this is best done with the assistance of an experienced Realtor like me who knows how to evaluate the market trends in a particular community.

    If you are buying or selling and have questions about the different possible concessions, call Jaxzann at 303-990-2992.

Changes Announced to 2nd Home & Jumbo Loans, Self-Employed Borrowers and Appraisal Fees  

I received a call this week from Jaxzann Riggs, owner of The Mortgage Network informing me of several changes occurring at FNMA and FHLMC that may “level” the playing field for some purchasers.

Roughly 17% of the homes sold in the last 12 months in the Denver metro area have been sold to investors, according to an article in the Denver Post. Demand for second homes has also skyrocketed, as newly remote workers seek more space and better surroundings. Until now, those purchasers were able to obtain loans with interest rates that were comparable to those being offered to purchasers who would be occupying their new home as their primary residence.

On Jan. 5th Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (FNMA and FHLMC) jointly announced new “loan-level price adjustments” (or LLPAs) for high-balance, investment and second home loans. An LLPA is a risk–based fee assessed to mortgage borrowers using a conventional mortgage. Loan pricing adjustments vary by borrower, based on loan traits such as loan-to-value (LTV), credit score, occupancy type, and the number of units in a home. Borrowers often pay LLPAs in the form of higher mortgage rates. Increasing the LLPAs on high-balance, investment and second homes makes interest rates less attractive for the buyers and allows FNMA and FHLMC to offer new programs to help first-time or lower-income homebuyers.

Other recent changes by FNMA and FHLMC help self-employed borrowers.  They have rescinded rules imposed in June 2020 requiring self-employed borrowers to supply a year-to-date P&L as well as their most recent 2 or 3 months of bank statements. This reduction in paperwork should make it much easier for self-employed borrowers to obtain financing.

Another benefit may be found in the potential for lower appraisal fees. With the current red hot housing market, demand for appraisers is outstripping the supply, pushing up fees and extending appraisal completion times. Enter technology. Fannie Mae will allow desktop appraisals for certain loans submitted after March 19. This technology may help alleviate the appraiser shortage in the long term and lower appraisal costs in the current market. Jaxzann reminded me that she pays for her clients’ appraisals so they can be ordered immediately upon acceptance of a purchaser’s offer. With the ability to obtain desktop appraisals, Jaxzann expects that loan approvals can consistently be obtained in two weeks.

Though median home prices have shot up in the last two years (by 25%, according to HUD), what hasn’t changed is that people still need their homes to serve as an anchor for their life.

If you are in the market for a jumbo loan, things have gotten easier. A jumbo loan is a mortgage that exceeds the conforming loan limit set by the federal government. Jumbo loans — meant to finance expensive properties — cannot be purchased or securitized by FNMA and FHLMC. Loan amounts above $684,250 are considered “jumbo” and often have higher standards for approval. 

While people typically assume you need 10% down for a jumbo loan, there are currently products that allow as little as 3.5% down. This can free up some of your savings for being more competitive in this market, using funds for escalation causes, appraisal gaps, updates if the house isn’t in dream home condition.

Yes, today’s market can make buying a home stressful, but working with an experienced professional like Jaxzann Riggs will allow you to navigate its challenges. Call her at 303-990-2992 with your lending questions.

It’s Suddenly Much Easier to Qualify for a Refinance of Your Home Mortgage

Refinancing has been all the buzz this year. Many homeowners have taken advantage of record-low rates to refinance their homes. Unfortunately, lower-income borrowers, especially those who lost income streams due to Covid-19, were unable to refinance because of income requirements. According to the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), over two million families could not refinance in 2020 when they might have benefited from it. As of June 5, 2021, this is no longer the case. Lower-income homeowners may now potentially save hundreds of dollars per month on their mortgage under a government initiative called “RefiNow.”

I spoke with Jaxzann Riggs of The Mortgage Network to learn about this program.

We have all heard the term “refinancing,” but you may not know why someone might consider refinancing. Homeowners choose to refinance their mortgage for different reasons. Refinancing your home could allow you to secure a lower interest rate, which lowers monthly payments, to shorten the duration of your mortgage, to switch to a fixed-rate mortgage, or to access equity.

While refinancing may sound ideal for your situation, the process and guidelines post-COVID have been quite strict and restrictive. One important factor in qualifying for refinancing is your debt-to-income (DTI) ratio. Your DTI is the percentage of your gross monthly income that you pay each month towards your debt and other obligations, including mortgage, minimum credit card payments, car loans, and student loans. Traditional loans require DTI to be under a certain threshold to refinance — typically under a maximum of 44%. Many people, especially service industry workers and small business owners, lost their jobs and sources of income during the pandemic, and the regulation regarding DTI was an obstacle to refinancing. RefiNow may be able to change that.

RefiNow, Fannie Mae’s new refinance option, makes it easier for homeowners earning at or below 80% of their area median income (AMI) to refinance at a lower interest rate to reduce their monthly payment. This new program is designed to lower the barriers that keep low-income borrowers from refinancing, which have historically resulted in those borrowers refinancing at a slower pace than higher-income borrowers. With RefiNow, you are allowed to have a DTI of up to 65% (instead of 44%) and you will be given an appraisal credit of up to $500. The new program does not just benefit homeowners, it helps lenders because it improves the probability that homeowners who may have been struggling to make their current payments will be able to make future payments, resulting in fewer pandemic related foreclosures. Don’t despair if your loan is owned by Freddie Mac (FHLMC). Freddie is slated to offer a similar loan program in the next few weeks.

To qualify for RefiNow, you must have:

> A Fannie Mae-backed mortgage secured by a one-unit, principal residence. Unsure? Go to https://www.KnowYourOptions.com/loanlookup

> A current income at or below 80% of the Area Median Income (AMI) This varies by census tract, but your lender can look this up for you.

> Not have missed a mortgage payment in the past six months, and no more than one missed mortgage payment in the past 12 months.

> A debt-to-income ratio of 65% or less, and a minimum 620 FICO score (minimum 660 FICO score for manufactured homes).

> A reduction of at least $50 per month on the new loan and you may not access any of your equity.

If you are not sure if a RefiNow loan is right for you, reach out to Jaxzann Riggs at (303) 990-2992 with any questions and to discuss your best options.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly About Mortgage Loan Forbearance

A record number of homeowners entered into a forbearance plan for their mortgage over the past year amidst the Covid-19 pandemic. Forbearance — an option that allows borrowers to pause payments on their mortgage for a limited amount of time due to an unforeseen hardship — served as a veritable lifeline for many people who found themselves unexpectedly out of work and unable to pay their mortgage as COVID restrictions tightened.

As more time passes, however, it is apparent that issues stemming from forbearance are starting to surface. While this is not an immediate cause for panic if your own mortgage has been in forbearance, being aware of issues that others are facing will help to keep you prepared for any trouble that arises.

For that reason, I had a Zoom meeting this week with Jaxzann Riggs, owner of The Mortgage Network in Denver, to learn more about complications that forbearance may bring about.

When the CARES Act was initially passed back in March 2020, it included a provision for mortgage forbearance, making it relatively easy for millions of borrowers with government backed mortgages to enter into such a program. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the two largest servicers of government backed loans, subsequently issued an extensive list of guidelines for lenders in response to Covid-specific forbearance.

One of the most crucial guidelines involved credit score reporting. An account in for-bearance must continue to be reported as current, provided it was current prior to the forbearance plan. Due to the vast number of people who entered into forbearance in such a short time period, it is especially important to monitor your credit score — but that is not necessarily the end of the story.

Some borrowers who were previously in forbearance that are now applying for new loans are discovering that their issue does not lie with the credit reporting bureaus themselves but with the underwriting on their new loan. Underwriters, who are primarily responsible for qualifying a borrower for a loan from a specific lender, have a significant amount of discretion when it comes to approving an application. The consequence of this is that borrowers who would otherwise be well qualified to purchase — with high credit scores, steady employment, and a significant down payment — may find themselves struggling to obtain the loan they are seeking if they previously had a loan in forbearance. Although Fannie’s and Freddie’s guidelines include specifics for underwriting, the sometimes unfortunate reality is that these guidelines can be interpreted differently by different underwriters.

If you had a loan in forbearance sometime this past year and are now considering a new purchase or refinance, you should not immediately despair. Maintaining meticulous records that indicate when you initially applied for forbearance and being able to produce all communications with your current lender to the new lender are essential. If you have entered the repayment phase of the loan it is critical that the repayment agreement is followed exactly as written.

Because forbearance was originally intended to help those that had a loss of income or employment due to COVID, underwriters are scrutinizing employment history and the likelihood of it continuing for all borrowers. Borrowers that did not have any change in employment status during the pandemic but who entered into a forbearance agreement should be prepared to outline for the new lender their motivations for entering forbearance and to additionally explain how they will be able to avoid forbearance in the future. This is a bit ironic, in that lenders strongly encouraged many to utilize the options afforded them under the CARES Act. If you have questions about how forbearance may impact your future lending, I recommend, as always, that you consult Jaxzann Riggs of The Mortgage Network. You can reach her anytime on her cell phone, 303-990-2992.

Higher Loan Limits and Lower Rates Improve Affordability for Homebuyers

By JIM SMITH, Realtor

Both the Federal Housing Authority (FHA) and the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), which regulates Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, have been in the headlines in the past couple weeks with their respective announcements that they will be raising mortgage loan limits for 2021. I exchanged emails with Jaxzann Riggs, owner of The Mortgage Network in Denver, to learn more about loan limits and what their implications are for potential purchasers. Here’s what I learned from her.

Jaxzann Riggs

Although loan limits have been around for many years for both conventional loans (loans that conform to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac’s loan standards) and FHA loans, (loans insured against default by the Federal government) the Housing and Economic Recovery Act (HERA) of 2008 has largely shaped how we know them today. The 2008 act established a base loan limit of $417,000 for conventional loans and, due to the declining price trend in the real estate market at the time, also included a mandate that this baseline limit would not increase until prices rose to previous levels. In 2016, FHFA increased loan limits for the first time in ten years, and they have increased every year since. HERA also mandated that FHA set loan limits at 115% of area median house prices, with a floor and ceiling on both limits.

2021 will see conventional loan limits for single-unit properties increase from $510,400 to $548,250 as a baseline. High-cost areas (which always included places like Aspen and Boulder, but now also includes the metro area) have a maximum loan limit that is a multiple of the area’s median home value, up to 150% of the baseline. Denver, Jefferson, Adams, Arapahoe, Broomfield, and Douglas counties will all be seeing an increase from $575,000 to $596,850. Boulder county increases to $654,350. The increase in these limits means that more borrowers will be able to qualify for a conventional loan versus having to obtain a high-balance or jumbo loan, which typically come with higher interest rates.

It’s important to remember that purchase price does not necessarily correlate with loan limits. If a borrower plans, for example, to purchase a $750,000 property but puts a significant amount of money down, thus bringing their loan amount under the conforming limit, they can still qualify for a conventional loan.

The FHA has also increased loan limits for 2021, with a national conforming limit of $548,250. In the majority of the Denver metro area the loan limit has increased to $596,850, up from $575,000 in 2020. The FHA’s loan limit increases are tied closely to the FHFA’s conventional loan limit increases.

Although loan limits are most frequently mentioned in terms of single-family homes or one-unit properties, both conventional and FHA loans also impose limits on duplexes, triplexes and fourplexes. These increase at the same time and at the same frequency as single-unit loan limits. In the case of the FHA, which also insures Home Equity Conversion Mortgages —  also known as HECMs or Reverse mortgages — there will be a 2021 limit increase to $822,375. Unlike traditional loan limits, this increase applies across the board, regardless of what market the home is located in.

2021 is sure to be a year of changes, and mortgage loan limits are no exception. The increase in limits for both FHA and conventional loans matched with historically low rates and 3-3.5% down payment options just might be the ticket to purchasing your dream home.

Regardless of what loan type you are seeking, I recommend giving Jaxzann Riggs with The Mortgage Network a call today at (303) 990-2992.

‘Conforming’ Loan Limits Raised

Until recently, the conventional loan limit was $417,000. Anything above that was considered a “jumbo” loan, which had stricter credit requirements and higher interest rates.  But things have changed.

Last week, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the two government-sponsored entities that purchase the bulk of mortgage loans from lenders, raised that limit to $484,350 for much of the country.  In some regions with higher property values however, including metro Denver, the limit is now $561,200. This is good news for borrowers, as conventional loans allow a smaller down payment percentage versus that of Jumbo loans – as little as 3%.

Contact your mortgage broker to see if it makes sense for you to buy (or sell, for that matter) before mortgage rates rise further. If you don’t have a mortgage broker call us. We can put you in touch with several professionals we know and trust