Pressure is Building for Potential Home Buyers: Why Now May Be the Best Time to Buy  

Roughly 6.5 million homebuyers have taken advantage of ridiculously low interest rates since the beginning of 2021. Low interest rates have allowed them to become first-time homebuyers, to move up to their dream home or to downsize.

Many would-be home purchasers have watched this ‘boom’ from the sidelines and decided that now may not be the best time to buy. Bidding wars and the need to make split second buying decisions over the last few months have reduced their appetite for home buying. It might be time to reconsider that decision.

I asked Jaxzann Riggs about the wisdom of “waiting” to make a move, and the following is based on our conversation.

Rental rates fell in 2020, but nothing could be further from the truth in 2021. While accounts vary, some leasing agents (according to ApartmentList.com) report that rental rates could increase as much as 32.4% in the next 12 months and stats indicate that they are up a shocking 16.5% in the first eight months of 2021.

As rental prices spike, potential homeowners should do a little mortgage math.

A potential homeowner who is paying $2,600 per month for rent, would be able to own a home valued at around $475,000. With a 3% down payment of around $14,279, this renter could turn into a homeowner, allowing them to enjoy the associated tax benefits and the opportunity for appreciation on their new property

Housing inventory is increasing and with the threat posed by rising rental rates, and rising interest rates, there is no better time than today to explore home buying options.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, the Federal Reserve supported lending to households, consumers, and small businesses to stimulate the economy. The Federal Reserve recently signaled that it plans to begin reducing the support it has been providing to the U.S. economy. Long term fixed mortgage rates are driven by the overall economy and inflation, but they are directly influenced by Fed policy.

Once the Federal Reserve starts to slow the pace of bond purchases, mortgage rates will move up. Fed officials indicated that they would begin “tapering” the asset-buying activities that it began last year as early as November. After the announcement, mortgage rates did in fact, show a rising trend. For someone with a $500,000 home loan, a 4-basis point jump will cost them $115 more per month and $41,400.44 more over the life of the loan on a 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage.

Mortgage rates are hovering near 3% and demand remains strong but higher rates are clearly on the horizon. Remember our potential renter? As rates rise, a monthly rent of $2,600 would instead result in a $410,000 house (vs. $475,000), if interest rates move from 3% to 4.5%

Even more incentive to potential homeowners is housing inventory. The inventory of active listings on the market rose by a record monthly amount (according to Denver Metro Association of Realtors). Some potential homebuyers that I am working with report they are waiting for prices to cool off to make offers, but even if that does occur, they are unlikely to see lower monthly house payments because any potential savings in purchase price will be lost to rising interest rates.

Future home buyers are not the only ones affected by higher interest rates. For homeowners who have been procrastinating with their refinance application, now is the time to call a lender. Jaxzann Riggs and I are standing by to make the process as simple as possible.”

If you have lending questions, you can reach Jaxzann, who is the owner of The Mortgage Network, at (303) 990-2992.

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.

What Are Your Options When Approaching the End of Mortgage Forbearance?

As unemployment surged during the early months of the pandemic, many homeowners found themselves taking advantage of forbearance programs offered by their mortgage servicer. At the end of February, roughly 2.5 million homeowners in the U.S. were still in forbearance plans. I sat down with Jaxzann Riggs, owner of The Mortgage Network in Denver, to learn about what options are available for those who are approaching the deadline for exiting forbearance.

For homeowners who may still be experiencing financial difficulties, extending their forbearance plan may be a possibility. However, an extension will not happen automatically. If you are in a forbearance plan that is close to expiring, you should reach out to the company that services your mortgage to see if you are eligible to extend forbearance.

Whether you qualify for a forbearance extension depends largely on your loan type and when you originally entered forbearance. If your loan is backed by Fannie Mae (FNMA) or Freddie Mac (FHLMC), you must have entered into your forbearance plan by February 28, 2021. If your loan is backed by the FHA, you must have entered forbearance by June 30, 2020. Once forbearance ends, the best course of action depends largely on your personal circumstance and loan type.

Borrowers with a FNMA or FHLMC loan can opt to pay the “past-due” amount in a lump sum and have their loan reinstated if they are in a financial position to do so. For those who have loans through Fannie and Freddie but are not able to pay off their forbearance amount immediately, there are several options. If you can afford a few hundred dollars on top of your typically monthly payment amount, you should speak with your servicer about entering a repayment plan for a specified time frame.

For borrowers who have found themselves in a different financial position than they were prior to the pandemic, putting several hundred additional dollars a month towards a mortgage may not be possible. In that case, you may be able to enter payment deferral, in which you resume your typical monthly payments and the past due amount is added on to the end of the loan. You can also talk to your loan servicer about a loan modification, in which the servicer agrees to lower the interest rate, forgive a portion of the principal, or otherwise adjust the loan. Note, however, that a loan modification will negatively impact your credit history.

Borrowers with an FHA loan have several options, the most straightforward being to simply resume monthly payments. The FHA considers the past due forbearance amount as an interest free second loan, meaning that the payments are essentially deferred until the end of your loan term. If you are not in a position to resume your full monthly payments, you should speak with your servicer about a loan modification in which your interest rate will be lowered and loan term extended.

For those with a VA loan, a repayment plan or loan modification may be the best course of action. Although the VA does allow deferment as an option, it does not require that its loan servicers provide it.  For borrowers with a nonconforming loan (jumbo) there are no specific guidelines regarding forbearance. Some loan servicers may have chosen to offer forbearance, but they are not held to the same guidelines as other loan types.

Navigating your options as forbearance comes to an end can be tricky, but you do not have to face it alone. You may find it helpful to speak with a housing counselor before calling your loan servicer. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, or HUD, offers a list of approved counselors by state on their website.

And for any mortgage scenarios you may have, as always, I recommend calling Jaxzann Riggs of The Mortgage Network at 303-990-2992.

Here Are Some Strategies for Assembling Your Down Payment Funds

Last week I wrote about how  first-time home buyers can buy a home with as little as $1,000 out of pocket, but the rest of us may be challenged to come up with down payment money when we buy a home.

Many buyers assume that lenders require a 20% down payment, but that’s not necessarily true. There are loans available from many lenders with as little as 3% down payment. FHA requires 3.5%down, and qualified veterans can get a 0% down VA loan. On conventional loans the interest rate charged will probably be higher, but with rates for conventional loans so low, what’s an additional quarter percentage point or so anyway?

And don’t assume that every loan with less than 20% down payment requires mortgage insurance, which can be expensive. Often mortgage insurance is waived in exchange for a slightly higher interest rate.

So, first determine how much money you will need for your down payment, and shop around with different lenders, since this requirement can vary greatly. Generally, I recommend mortgage brokers instead of banks, because banks only sell their own loan products, but mortgage brokers can sell multiple products from multiple lenders, including special products for first responders, teachers, medical personnel, and others.

Once you know the amount you need to raise, how can you raise it when you don’t have that much cash in the bank?

Start your quest by asking advice from your loan officer. A good loan officer, like Jaxzann Riggs of The Mortgage Network, will be able to make suggestions once she (or he) has a full picture of your financial situation and assets.

Strategies I’ve seen employed include the following.

1) If you own a home currently and have substantial equity in it, you can borrow against that equity with a Home Equity Line of Credit or HELOC. Credit unions are good at issuing these loans to its members, but if you’re planning on selling, you need to apply for a HELOC before you put your home on the market. Since these loans have little or no closing costs and you don’t pay interest until you actually draw on that line of credit, there’s no reason not to have a HELOC in place right now and certainly ahead of needing the money. It’s like having money in the bank — literally.

2) If you have a high-balance IRA or other retirement fund, you may be able to withdraw money from it without penalty if you return that money within a couple months, so this is a good strategy if you need the money from selling your current home but don’t want to make an offer on your replacement home that is contingent on selling your current home. A loan against your 401K carries no penalty, I’m told.

3) If you own stocks and bonds but don’t want to sell them, consider using them as collateral for a loan.

4) Relatives or friends can gift you with money, but speak to your loan officer about documentation requirements. As you may know, anyone can give up to $15,000 per year to anyone else without paying gift tax.

5) Another option is a bridge loan. This option carries a higher interest rate, but it could be your answer.  Ask your loan officer.

6) Get creative! If you’re engaged, how about a bridal registry for down payment funds? A GoFundMe campaign might work for you, too. If you have no loan on your car and it’s worth a lot, credit unions will lend you money against it. (I did that once.) You may own jewelry or other valuables to which you are not so terribly attached that you might be willing to sell them. (Rita and I have done that, too.)

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.

Experts Are Predicting a Surge in Foreclosures, But I See the Situation Differently

With the continued high unemployment rate and the expiration of Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), many homeowners are hurting, so it makes sense that we may have a foreclosure crisis in our future.

CoreLogic reported recently that back in June (when the Feds were still sending $600/week in PUA to Americans) the share of mortgages with payments 90 to 119 days late had already risen to 2.3%, “the highest level in 21 years.” A rate that high could result in a foreclosure crisis, the report said. Not only could millions of families potentially lose their home, but that would also create downward pressure on home prices.

But I see the situation differently, and after consulting with Jaxzann Riggs of The Mortgage Network, here’s why I don’t expect that flood of foreclosures.

First of all, foreclosure should only happen when a seller owes more on their home than it is worth. That’s because sellers lose all their accumulated equity in a foreclosure, and most people have accumulated a lot of equity thanks for the sellers’ market we have been experiencing.

Secondly, federally mandated forbearance is in effect, which is unlike the forbearance which delinquent borrowers may have enjoyed in the past. Under the current plan, lenders add extra payments at the end of the loan instead of requiring any kind of catch-up payments. This mandate could be extended, too.

The only people likely to face foreclosure will be those who recently took out 100% VA loans or 96.5% FHA loans or conventional loans with only 3% down payment, and for whom there is hardly any equity to lose in a foreclosure action.

Being on forbearance doesn’t affect one’s credit rating even though you are not making payments (again, part of the federal mandate), but once you resume payments, you need to make a minimum of three on-time payments to qualify for a Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac loan, which will restrict your ability to sell your home and purchase a replacement home. Some lenders require six months post-forbearance loan payments.

That, too, will slow down any surge in what are known as “distressed listings.”

The Licensing, Regulation and Ethics Requirements for Mortgage Loan Officers

By JIM SMITH, Realtor

In a recent column, I described the legal and ethical obligations that come with working in real estate, particularly as a Realtor. The mortgage lending industry has a similar obligation to protect consumers from unethical and fraudulent practices. Both industries are regulated by the Colorado Division of Real Estate, but the mortgage industry is subject to additional regulation on the federal level.

I spoke with one of my preferred mortgage brokers, Jaxzann Riggsowner of The Mortgage Network, to learn more about the subject. Here’s what I learned.

There are four main sources of mortgage financing for home buyers — credit unions, banks, mortgage companies and mortgage brokers. While there are many differences between each, the most significant is the additional training and regulation that mortgage  brokers must go through. Whereas “loan officers” or “loan originators” working at a bank or credit union are not required to be licensed, all mortgage brokers must be licensed at both a national and state level.

Registration and licensing (which are different) is completed through the Nationwide Mortgage Licensing System (NMLS), created in January 2008 in response to the housing market crisis occurring at the time. The Secure and Fair Enforcement for Mortgage Licensing (SAFE) Act, enacted in June 2008, further mandated licensing by prohibiting individuals from originating loans without obtaining and maintaining their status as a licensed mortgage loan originator (MLO) through the NMLS, unless employed by a depository bank or institution such as Wells Fargo, Chase, Bank of America, to name just a few. All individuals originating mortgage loans must register with NMLS and obtain a unique identifier (NMLS number, which allows monitoring of performance), but not all “loan officers” must be licensed. While mortgage brokers must be licensed, loan originators working for banks are not required to complete the additional licensing and testing that mortgage brokers must go through. 

Before applying for a license, potential mortgage brokers must complete twenty hours of pre-licensing education, which consists of training on Federal laws and regulations, ethics, and general mortgage origination basics. Many states, including Colorado, require additional state-specific training.

After a prospective MLO has completed his or her pre-licensing education and passed the SAFE test with a score of 75% or higher, they are required to submit their credit report and their fingerprints for a criminal background check.  Only then can applicants apply for a license.  Once the individual has obtained their federal license, he or she is required to take additional classes to obtain their Colorado license, and there are annual continuing education requirements on both the state and federal level.

Another great benefit to working with mortgage brokers is that they must legally disclose all fees upfront, including how much they will be compensated for their services. By contrast, banks are not held to this same standard. Banks are not required to disclose how their loan officers are compensated.

The most important “take away” from this discussion is that it benefits the consumer to shop for a mortgage. In addition to the loan costs, ask your potential lender about their education, experience and licensing status. When working with buyers, I always recommend working with a mortgage broker for the reasons mentioned above. I recommend calling Jaxzann at 303-990-2992.

Real Estate Buyers & Sellers Have Become Prime Targets of Cyber Criminals

A couple weeks ago, Jaxzann Riggs (right) of The Mortgage Network was the guest speaker at our weekly office meeting, educating us on the important subject of cyber security.  Here are some of the things we learned from her.

As we move into an increasingly digital age, cyber crime is rapidly becoming a major part of fraud. In fact, the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Internet Crime Complaint Center estimates that there was an 11-fold increase in real estate email phishing scams between 2015 and 2017. Moreover, 2018 saw a 166% increase in the amount of money lost to real estate wire fraud compared to 2017.  As these crimes become more and more prevalent, what can you do to ensure that you do not become a victim?

Cyber crime can take many different forms, but one of the most common is something referred to as EAC, or “email account compromise.” The FBI estimated that this type of fraud accounted for $1.2 billion in losses in 2018—just under half of all reported losses for 2018. In real estate transactions, this typically occurs as wire fraud. There are many different variations of this scam, but the basic idea is the same: just before closing, a borrower receives an email with instructions from what appears to be their title agent/lender/Realtor, informing them that their closing funds should be wired to a different account. The information about their property is correct; the name on the email signature is identical to the person the borrower had previously been communicating with. The borrower, having no reason not to believe the request, sends the money to the new account. In reality, however, a criminal has hacked or spoofed the email address—meaning that the funds meant to be sent to the title company for closing have now wound up in the fraudster’s account. Although there are occasionally “success” stories of money being recovered, oftentimes, the money is gone for good.

If you are going to be involved in a real estate transaction, an easy step you can take to protect yourself is to create a physical list of phone numbers for those involved in your transaction: this can include lenders, Realtors, title agents and more. If you receive a change in wiring instructions, you should always call the sender to verify that the instructions are real. If the instructions came via email, do not refer to the phone number listed in the email signature or reply to the email— if it is a fraudulent email address, your reply will divert back to the criminal, and it will almost certainly contain a fraudulent phone number that does the same. Because phone numbers can easily be spoofed to appear as a different number, do not immediately assume a phone call you receive with a change in wiring instructions is legitimate, either: before wiring anything to a different location, you should always call back the number on your list to verify that the instructions are real. Although this may seem tedious and repetitive, as the old adage goes, it is always better to be safe than sorry.

Unfortunately, even when taking steps to protect yourself, wire fraud does happen. If you realize that you have fallen victim to a wiring fraud scheme, the first thing to do is immediately contact your bank and ask them to attempt a wire recall. Criminals will often have the funds transferred into a bank account in the U.S. before transferring them to a foreign account. If the money has not left the United States, there is a much higher chance your bank can stop the transfer and that the money can be recovered. Be sure to contact your local FBI and Attorney General in addition to filing a report with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.ic3.gov.

Though wire fraud is scary, the best thing you can do is stay aware and prepared. By working with a trusted professional and taking precautions, you can minimize your risk. Are you looking for more tips on staying safe in our digital world?  Give Jaxzann Riggs a call at 303-320-3400.