Appraisal delays gumming up home sales

Appraisal delays gumming up home sales

Kenneth R. Harney on Sep 16, 2016

WASHINGTON – There’s trouble brewing in appraiserville – and it’s beginning to cost some unsuspecting home buyers money. If you’re planning to buy in the coming months, be aware.

The problem is part work overload, part resentment over fees. In many markets, diminishing numbers of experienced appraisers are available – or willing – to handle requests for their work on tight timetables and at fees that are sometimes lower than they earned a decade or more ago.

The net result- The system is getting gummed up. Scheduled home sale settlements are being delayed because banks and appraisal management companies can’t find appraisers who’ll do valuations on timetables needed for closing dates in realty contracts. A recent survey of agents by the National Association of Realtors found that appraisal problems were connected with 27 percent of delayed home sale closings, up from 16 percent earlier this year.

In some cases, panicked lenders and management companies are offering appraisers fat bonuses and “rush fees” just to complete valuations to meet deadlines. The extra charges can range anywhere from $200 to $1,000 or more, turning $500 appraisals into $1,200 or $1,500 expenses that typically get paid by home buyers.

Take this example provided to me by a mortgage broker in the Seattle area. Matt Culp, owner of Bainbridge Lending Group LLC, says clients who urgently needed to close on a newly built house – and to move out of their rented dwelling – were squeezed into paying $2,000 for an appraisal that normally would cost $625.

An appraisal management company had said that the quickest the valuation could be delivered was Oct. 6, weeks after their hoped-for closing date. Waiting that long, however, would have cost the borrowers their favorable rate lock and forced them to pay another month’s rent. But when Culp inquired about a rush fee, the appraiser agreed to a $2,000 total fee – $1,375 more than the earlier quote. For the extra money, the appraiser would put Culp’s clients at the top of the to-do list. The buyers agreed. The extra $1,375, charged to the borrowers’ credit card in advance of any work performed, was “extortion,” Culp told me. But it was less expensive than the alternatives.

Here’s another example, this time from the perspective of an appraisal management company. Brian C. Coester, CEO of Coester Valuation Management Services in Rockville, Maryland, said a lender in Nashville recently was willing to pay appraisers $1,100 for work that normally would have cost less than half of that, but still had difficulty finding takers. Coester’s firm, like other management companies, helps lenders link up with appraisers around the country. For its services, it takes a piece of the appraisal fee.

Appraisers have complained for several years that management companies are themselves a big part of the problem because they pay low fees to the appraiser and pocket 25 percent to 30 percent or more of what home buyers are charged. Plus they have unreasonable expectations about how quickly appraisers can churn out reports. Management company executives like Coester deny they underpay appraisers and instead suggest that there is an underlying “shortage” of appraisers caused in part by the aging of members of the profession, tougher qualifications and regulations, and by fewer new recruits coming in to replace them.

The Appraisal Institute, the profession’s largest trade group, confirms that there are fewer appraisers active today than in previous years – the ranks are down by 22 percent since 2007 to a total of 76,800 as of last December 31. But J. Scott Robinson, president of the group, told me one of the key reasons for the dwindling numbers is that management companies and lenders aren’t paying adequate fees to retain experienced appraisers or attract newcomers.

Jonathan Miller, a prominent New York-based appraiser, wrote in a recent blog that “there is no shortage of appraisers. There is a shortage of appraisers willing to work for half the market rate” – which is what he believes many appraisers get when they work for management companies as opposed to directly dealing with banks.

Whatever the causes – whether there is a true “shortage” or simply fewer appraisers willing to work for low net compensation – appraisal delays, combined with requests for “rush fees,” are realities in the marketplace. When setting contract deadlines for your closing, ask your real estate agent about conditions in your area. The more realistic the settlement date, the lower the likelihood you’ll be charged extra to get the work done.

Buyers are willing to pay extra for ‘smart homes’

Buyers are willing to pay extra for ‘smart homes’

Kenneth R. Harney, August 24,2016

Could “smart home” technology – features such as network-connected thermostats, security devices, appliances and lighting – help you sell your home faster and for more?

Probably so, according to recent consumer polling data plus anecdotal reports from appraisers and realty agents. The key, though, is that the smart products need to be installed before you list your house, because most buyers in 2016 don’t want to have to install them on their own. They want things pretty much turnkey.

The latest in an ongoing series of research projects by Coldwell Banker Real Estate found that 71 percent of buyers out of a sample of 1,250 American adults want a “move-in ready” house, and that 57 percent of those buyers looking at older houses would consider them updated – and more appealing as move-in ready – if they have smart home features already in place. Fifty-four percent say that if they had to choose between identical houses, one with smart home tech, the other without, they’d buy the smart home. Sixty-one percent of millennials would favor smart tech homes, as would 59 percent of parents with children living in the house.

A massive survey of nearly 22,000 home shoppers by John Burns Real Estate Consulting earlier this year found that not only do prospective buyers rank smart technology high when they evaluate housing options, but they’re prepared to pay thousands of dollars for it. Sixty-five percent said they’d be willing to spend more for smart home technology packages, and well over half would pay extra for interior and exterior security cameras, network connected appliances, smart doorbells that send owners text alerts enabling them to check front-door security cameras, smart air filtration vents and a variety of other high-tech items.

Appraisers also are acknowledging the value of smart home technology and making what they call “adjustments” when they compare tech-enabled homes with similar, but tech-deficient, houses in the area. “Absolutely,” said Richmond, Va., appraiser Pat Turner in an interview. “Smart home technology can definitely add to market value. If you have the data showing that houses with smart technology sell for more, then you’ve got to” acknowledge that fact in some way in the appraisal report, he said.

For example, if local homebuilders show him that a house without significant smart technology sells for $200,000 but an otherwise similar higher tech house sells for $206,000, he has market data that allows him to make dollar adjustments (up or down) on other, comparable houses he appraises.

Danny Hertzberg, a Coldwell Banker agent in Miami, says from his perspective “a majority” of active buyers in the market not only prefer smart home technology “but they’re expecting it and asking for it.”

A few years ago, interest in home technology was confined primarily to the upscale, more expensive segments of the market, said Hertzberg. “Now it’s at every price point, whether in the center city or in the suburbs,” new construction and renovations alike. Even in houses built in the 1920s and 1930s, sellers are incorporating smart home packages into their renovations to appeal to today’s buyers. “It helps you stand out,” Hertzberg said. It gives you an edge over competing properties and it usually cuts the time needed to sell, he said.

But here’s an issue that’s beginning to bubble up- Now that the term “smart home” has become a hot marketing buzzword, is it subject to the same sort of overuse and hyperbole as the term “green”? Precisely what constitutes a “smart home” anyway? If you’ve got a Nest thermostat and some security gizmos, is that enough to make you “smart?”

No way. This past spring, CNET, the online consumer technology news site, partnered with Coldwell Banker to develop an industry standard- A true smart home should be equipped with “network-connected products (via Wi-Fi, Bluetooth or similar protocols) for controlling, automating and optimizing functions such as temperature, lighting, security, safety or entertainment, either remotely by a phone, tablet, computer or a separate system within the home itself.”

The baseline requirements- It’s got to have a smart security feature that either controls access or monitors the property or a smart temperature feature. Plus it should have at least two additional features from this list- smart refrigerators/washers/dryers; smart TVs and streaming services; smart HVAC system, fans or vents; smart outdoor plant sensors and watering systems; smart fire/carbon monoxide detectors and night lights; smart security locks, alarm systems or cameras; smart thermostats.

Now you know. gital-chicagotribune&taboola_utm_medium=bytaboola&taboola_utm_content=ab_thu mbs-1r_2-rows-4×1-ratio-9×5:below-article-thumbs:>

A new homeowner ‘marriage penalty’ in the tax code?

A new homeowner ‘marriage penalty’ in the tax code?

Kenneth R. Harney on Aug 19, 2016

WASHINGTON Does the federal tax code now favor unmarried partners when it comes to deducting mortgage interest on jointly owned houses with super-sized mortgages? Can certain co-owners save big money on taxes by staying single, rather than getting married?

In the wake of a little-publicized move by the IRS earlier this month, the answer appears to be yes for potentially significant numbers of co-owners of houses with jumbo loans.

Under Section 163 of the Internal Revenue Code, taxpayers can write off interest paid on up to $1 million of what the law calls acquisition indebtedness and on up to $100,000 of home equity indebtedness. You can deduct mortgage interest on both your primary home and a second home up to a combined limit of $1.1 million of debt. If youre married but filing your taxes separately from your spouse, the law limits the mortgage amounts you can deduct interest against to half of that -$500,000 in acquisition indebtedness and $50,000 in home equity indebtedness.

But what if youre single, living together with a partner and sharing the mortgage costs? Should you qualify to write off interest paid on up to $1.1 million of mortgage debt apiece, for a total of up to $2.2 million? Could you get a splashier tax benefit if youre unmarried but co-paying on a high-balance mortgage or mortgages?

In the past, the IRS has said no, when you jointly own one or more residences and youre not married, the maximum mortgage amount on which you can write off interest is the statutory limit of $1.1 million. When Congress set the $1.1 million ceiling back in the late 1980s, there was no mention of double-dip benefits for unmarried co-owners.

But in 2012, an unmarried couple in California who jointly owned two expensive houses with big mortgages (one in Beverly Hills, a second in Rancho Mirage) challenged the IRSs interpretation in U.S. Tax Court. They argued that each unmarried partner should be entitled to the full $1.1 million in debt allowed for interest deductions. The combined amount of debt on their two homes exceeded $2.2 million.

The Tax Court disagreed. The partners then appealed that decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which reversed the Tax Court, ruling that the limit should be on a per-taxpayer basis meaning up to $1.1 million per unmarried co-owner.

That raised the question- How will the IRS handle this issue? Will it restrict it in some way or allow it to take effect nationwide? Now the agency has come out with its answer- We are going to acquiesce in the appellate courts decision, the IRS said. Were going to allow qualified unmarried co-owners to go beyond the $1.1 million mortgage cap all the way up to a ceiling of $2.2 million.

How big a deal is this? Obviously its limited to a relatively elite economic group people who have mortgage debt in excess of $1.1 million. And its limited to co-owners or buyers of expensive homes who choose not to be married but to share the mortgage expenses.

No one knows how many taxpayers across the country fit these descriptions, but some tax experts say its a much larger number than you might guess. Susan Berson, a tax attorney in Kansas City, Missouri, says single professionals with super-jumbo mortgages – doctors, lawyers, business executives, investors, recently divorced individuals and others – should carefully review whether remaining unmarried brings financial benefits of potentially claiming the deductions subject to the increased limit.

Plus, Berson told me in an interview, she is advising clients

to look back at their recent annual tax filings. Some may be able to request refunds.

Anson H. Asbury, a tax attorney in Atlanta, says professionals in high-cost markets such as Washington D.C., New York, Los Angles, San Francisco, San Diego and pricey neighborhoods elsewhere around the country are likely to be the biggest beneficiaries of the revised IRS policy.

Ed Zollars, a CPA in Phoenix, says in some of these markets its almost trivial to be over the $1.1 million mortgage debt limit. In San Francisco and New York it will be easy for single professionals living together and sharing costs to double their mortgage interest deductions under the new policy, saving tens of thousands of dollars a year.

Where it works, he said in an interview, it works a lot.

That may be so, but isnt this still another marriage penalty in the federal tax code? Sure looks like it.

Pregnant women could face hurdle in getting home loans

Pregnant women could face hurdle in getting home loans

Kenneth R. Harney on Aug 12, 2016

WASHINGTON- When youre on maternity leave with full pay from your employer you probably dont expect a mortgage lender to reject your loan application because your income doesnt count since you havent yet returned to your job.

Yet thats what a woman in Philadelphia says she experienced when she and her husband sought financing to complete renovations on a house in the city. And shes hardly alone. According to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the agency that handles federal fair housing complaints, there have been in excess of 200 cases alleging maternity-related discrimination against women seeking home mortgages in the past six years.

Some of the lenders in past cases that have gone to settlement involve companies prominent in banking and mortgages, including Wells Fargo Home Mortgage, Bank of America, PNC Mortgage and MGIC, the mortgage insurer. In all agreements, the accused companies denied wrongdoing.

Under the Fair Housing Act, enacted in 1968, it is unlawful to discriminate in real estate transactions, including mortgage lending, on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, disability or familial status. That means lenders cannot deny or delay a loan simply because an applicant is on maternity leave but is otherwise qualified.

In the Philadelphia womans case, which resulted in a conciliation agreement July 29 with Citizens Bank, N.A. and Citizens Bank of Pennsylvania, the problem was that her pay stubs contained the wording short term disability, she told me. That troubled an underwriter at the bank, who suspected that she might not be planning to return to her job full time, she said. This was despite the fact that she and her employer were both willing to provide a letter specifying her date of return to work to allay any concerns. Without her income being counted in the application, the bank concluded that she and her husband would not be able to qualify for the financing they requested. The woman, whose name was redacted from the agreement, requested that she not be identified when I interviewed her.

Im getting full pay on maternity leave, she said she explained to the loan officer. This is not 1950 and you shouldnt be penalizing me! Citizens, which is the 13th largest retail bank in the country, according to its website, denied discriminating against the woman but agreed to make payments totaling $115,000 – $40,000 to her and $75,000 to an unnamed fair housing advocacy group. The bank also agreed to conduct fair lending compliance sessions with its staff and to adopt a parental leave policy.

In a statement, Citizens said we follow fair lending practices and are committed to ensuring equal access and consideration for all customers plus providing ongoing training for colleagues. The bank ultimately came through with the financing requested by the woman and her husband, but only after she had returned to her job, she said. By then, she had filed a complaint with HUD.

Shanna L. Smith, president and CEO of the National Fair Housing Alliance, says there needs to be much better training for [lenders] about how to deal with interrupted income for loan closings when a woman is pregnant and [on] paid maternity leave. In one case brought by Smiths group and now pending at HUD, a loan originator in Arkansas told an applicant that even though she was on paid maternity leave, she would have to be back at work for the loan to close,” according to Smith.

Curiously, interrupted income situations dont seem to be a problem for lenders when it is a factory or seasonal male worker, Smith said. But for a pregnant woman, the treatment too often is different underwriters dont seem to be able to calculate qualifying incomes properly. This is especially so, said Smith, when loan originators or underwriters have been with the bank a long time, and are still operating on rules from past decades that required women to return to work before a mortgage could go to closing.

Though discrimination like this is relatively uncommon given the large numbers of applications by pregnant women or those on maternity leave that are funded without a hitch it still occurs. If you or someone you know encounters it, contact HUDs fair lending office at 800-669-9777.

As the mortgage applicant in Philadelphia put it so well, this is no longer the 1950s. Federal law requires fair treatment of anyone on maternity or parental leave. Banks need to get it.

New programs open options for borrowers

New programs open options for borrowers

Kenneth R. Harney on Aug 5, 2016

WASHINGTON – Are you or someone you know needlessly missing in action this summer, leaving near historically low mortgage money at 3 1/2 percent to 3 3/4 percent on the table? You might be if you fit this profile-

- You’re currently renting though your real goal is to buy a home. But you assume you can’t qualify for a mortgage because today’s underwriting rules are so strict and inflexible.

- You don’t have a lot of extra cash in the bank and you seriously doubt that you could scrape enough money together to afford a down payment.

- Your credit scores aren’t great – just under 700 FICO – but that’s mainly because you’re young and don’t have a deep credit history.

Sound just a little familiar? Well, here’s some good news. Giant mortgage investor Fannie Mae last week revised and improved its low down payment mortgage plan known as HomeReady. Fannie’s competitor, Freddie Mac, has a similar program known as Home Possible Advantage. Either one could be key to your getting out of your rental apartment and buying a house or condo by early fall.

Check out the basics of Fannie’s program. Start with the 3 percent down payment. There’s no minimum cash contribution requirement out of your wallet as long as you’re buying a single family house to live in. You can supplement your cash on hand with gifts from relatives or other sources. You can also increase your effective income for mortgage qualification purposes by including so-called “boarder” or in-house rental payments. Say the row house you want to buy downtown currently has a long-term tenant in a basement unit who’d like to remain in the house. That rent could count toward your income.

Another flexibility- Say you’re part of an extended family and you expect to have other household members living in the house with you who earn incomes but don’t want to be on the mortgage note as a co-borrower. You can use their documented earnings to increase the maximum debt-to-income ratio (DTI) you’re allowed on your mortgage.

Take this hypothetical example. Say you’re single and earning a solid $72,000 a year and want to buy a house. However, your current monthly debt load of $2,820 makes you ineligible for most conventional mortgages because your DTI is 47 percent. But if a relative earning $2,000 a month moves in with you, HomeReady may greenlight your 47 percent DTI, even if the relative contributes nothing in rent.

As you might suspect, underwriting flexibility like this comes with some requirements. Since HomeReady and Home Possible Advantage are targeted at moderate-income buyers – first timers, minority purchasers, extended family groups and other “underserved” borrowers – not everybody can participate. In most locations around the country, your income cannot exceed the area median income. Both companies’ websites have “look-up” features that list the median for your area. In designated low income census tracts, there is no income limitation.

Also both programs require some form of homeownership credit education – either an online course or, under Fannie’s latest version, counseling sessions with any of a network of housing counselors around the country.

Where do you get more information or start an application? Hundreds of lenders and brokers are already participating in these programs – Fannie says it has a roster of more than 700 lenders – and they can help. Some of them are actively promoting the program, some just are simply offering it as an alternative to Federal Housing Administration (FHA) insured loans. Mat Ishbia, president and CEO of United Wholesale Mortgage, told me “we’re doing a lot” of HomeReady mortgages nationwide, including many millennial first-timers.

Laura Reichel, senior vice president of Ditech Financial, says shoppers are running the numbers on costs – comparing their monthly payments using a 3 percent down payment HomeReady loan featuring cancelable private mortgage insurance against a standard FHA 3.5 percent non-cancelable insurance – and they’re often opting for HomeReady.

But not all lenders are sold on Fannie’s and Freddie’s programs. Paul Skeens, president of Colonial Mortgage Group, says HomeReady is tilted to favor applicants with higher FICO scores. “Once an applicant has a credit score below 680,” he says, mortgage insurance and other fees combine to make the program virtually unusable and forces borrowers to go with an FHA loan.

Bottom line- Don’t assume you’re frozen out of the mortgage market. Check out the new generation of flexible, low down payment loans that are aimed at consumers like you – if you fit the profile.