Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Will the buyers be out during the holidays?

The folks at Realty Times think they just might be.

“As the year winds down, many homeowners fear that now could be a bad time to sell their home. While it’s true that the holidays can deter some folks from house hunting and making a major purchase—don’t give up.”
The recommendation to sellers:
“ If your house is on the market, step up the action plan to draw attention to it. Don’t let the holiday blues make you feel like there’s no hope. Homes are sold and bought this time of year. But the ones that get snatched up are the ones that are enticing to buyers.”
There are some things you can do to make your home more “showable”.
“A good rule of thumb, is to keep decor simple and subtle. If you celebrate Christmas, go ahead and put a tree up but don’t put one up in every room. Remember that buyers will be looking at your home and imagining their own holiday celebrations there. So, be sure to leave them room to envision their lives in the home.
“This goes for the outside too. Holiday lights can be placed outside very tastefully but ditch the huge inflatable characters that make it look like your yard is an amusement park. Instead, opt for a nice holiday wreath and some subtle seasonal decor. Keep in mind that curb appeal is what gets buyers in the door. If your home isn’t appealing from the outside, buyers won’t bother to stop for a look inside.”
What else can you do? Stash the gifts, they can clutter the living room. Add some fragrance to the air but don’t go overboard. Spruce up the mantle. No personal photos.
“Listing your home for sale during the holidays doesn’t have to make you blue; in fact it can truly brighten your spirits by putting some green in your bank account. Just be sure to focus on making your home a buyer’s dream this holiday season.”
Read the full article Fall May Bring Serious Buyers by Phoebe Chongchua.


For your next title order or
if you have questions about what you see here, contact
Stephen M. Flatow, Esq.
Stephen's Title Agency, LLC
165 Passaic Avenue, Suite 101
Fairfield, NJ 07004
Tel 973-227-4724 - Fax 973-556-1628
E-mail Stephenstitle AT comcast.net - www.stephenstitle.com

Monday, November 29, 2010

How much house can you afford?

Trying to calculate “how much house you can afford?” Here’s a link to calculator from the folks at Bankrate.com that will give you a little guidance. By entering your income and living expenses you are able to get a rough calculation as to how much you can spend monthly on your housing and how much you can afford to pay for that new home.


Remember, it’s a calculator, so it’s nothing more than one tool in the box when you take the first steps in buying a home.

Mortgage and house calculator

Good luck!
For your next title order or
if you have questions about what you see here, contact
Stephen M. Flatow, Esq.
Stephen's Title Agency, LLC
165 Passaic Avenue, Suite 101
Fairfield, NJ 07004
Tel 973-227-4724 - Fax 973-556-1628
E-mail Stephenstitle AT comcast.net - www.stephenstitle.com

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Digital electric meter causes headaches for homeowners

We live in the electronic age, that’s for sure. I know that my residential water company drives by my home and “reads” my water meter by radio as it passes by. I think the bills have been accurate. But,
“Sgt. John Robertson 2nd, an Army mechanic at Texas’s Fort Hood, is fuming about the so-called smart electric meter his local utility has installed on the side of his tidy, 1,800-square-foot home.”
“Like thousands of consumers with the new meters around the country, Sergeant Robertson suspects the device is not as smart as advertised.
“In his case, he says it is inaccurately measuring his family’s power use and driving up his bills — some months by as much as 50 percent, to as high as $320 — since it was installed in December. This, he said, is despite his efforts to cut back on energy use. “
But the system seems to plagued with errors.
“Over the last year, as utilities around the country have installed an estimated two million of the new digital meters, power companies have received plenty of complaints — and in some states have been hit by class-action lawsuits — most of them from consumers saying the smart meters are overstating their electrical usage.”
“Using digital technology and computer networking, smart meters can transmit real-time data that is supposed to enable utilities to conserve electricity and better allocate power during parts of the day when overall demand is high. Utilities can also then vary the price for power, by time of day or time of year, based on when it is being used; some are already offering this option to customers.”
In theory, consumers are supposed to be better able to adjust their electric use. Operative word being theory.
“But because of faulty technology in some cases, and more often through general shortcomings in consumer education and customer-service support by many utilities, smart meters are leaving many customers dumbfounded.”
So, the regulators are taking a closer look, and lawsuits have started. And there’s a lot of money at stake in operating savings for utility companies if the system works correctly.

Read the full report from the New York Times.


For your next title order or
if you have questions about what you see here, contact
Stephen M. Flatow, Esq.
Stephen's Title Agency, LLC
165 Passaic Avenue, Suite 101
Fairfield, NJ 07004
Tel 973-227-4724 - Fax 973-556-1628
E-mail Stephenstitle AT comcast.net - www.stephenstitle.com

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Buying a home? Mortgage Preapproval Is Harder to Get

The New York Times’ Lynnley Browning writes about the mortgage preapproval process and changes to it.

“When properly done, preapproval can speed up the purchase process by providing a rigorous assessment of the maximum amount a buyer can afford to borrow, based on a formal credit check and verification of income and assets. “
“But prevetting has become more difficult and confusing these days, for borrowers as well as lenders, as a result of lending rules that took effect in January.”
“The rules from the Department of Housing and Urban Development require lenders to issue a binding good-faith estimate of total closing costs within three days of submission of a formal loan application. The formal application is usually made when a preapproval is written.”
So, what’s the rub?
“Many lenders are reluctant to be locked into closing costs amid declining property values, and therefore fewer of them, especially the big banks, are providing preapproval letters for a certain loan amount on a property that often has yet to be formally appraised. The problem is particularly acute for buyers who have not yet decided which property they want.”
When a problem arises, banks begin to move very, very cautiously.
“By not issuing preapprovals — and all the banks are not doing it — the banks are erring on the side of caution because there’s less risk for them,” said Lou-Ann Smith, a co-owner of Hamilton Ladd Home Loans, a broker in Ridgefield, Conn.”
Many sellers and real estate agents, meanwhile, still expect mortgage preapprovals. And,
“Agents embrace preapprovals because they allow them “to show they have a real buyer who’s already started the process,” Mr. Mollica said. And at the peak of the housing market, lenders were more than happy to provide preapproval letters.”
Another stumbling block to the revitalization of the housing market? Maybe. Read the full report.

For your next title order or
if you have questions about what you see here, contact
Stephen M. Flatow, Esq.
Stephen's Title Agency, LLC
165 Passaic Avenue, Suite 101
Fairfield, NJ 07004
Tel 973-227-4724 - Fax 973-556-1628
E-mail Stephenstitle AT comcast.net - www.stephenstitle.com

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Need to co-sign a loan? Be careful

Realty Times’s Bob Hunt writes “Guarantors of Another's Debt Need to be Very Careful.” Loan guarantees are likely to be sought in an economy like this one.
“In this kind of environment it is not unusual that a creditor may want some third party to guarantee the debt of a borrower. Parents may be asked to guarantee a lease for one or more of their offspring. (And which would you prefer: that you guarantee their lease, or that they move back in?) In-laws may be asked to guaranty some debt taken on by newly-weds; and a person venturing into a new business may need to turn to friends and/or family to guarantee a loan for start-up costs.”
While guaranteeing a family member’s loan is a traditional way to help someone get started in life or business, it should not be taken lightly. “Loan guarantors need to fully understand the terms of their guarantee.”

A California case points out the pitfalls of co-signing or guaranteeing another’s obligation. In this case, the bank went after the guarantors while it did not pursue the borrowers.
The guarantors didn't think it was right or fair that they should be pursued while the original borrower and one of the guarantors stood by. However, the trial court ruled against them; and the appellate court sustained the trial court's decision.
“There are two issues here that other, perhaps more pedestrian, potential guarantors want to keep in mind. More accurately, there is one main issue, and two examples of it. The main issue is simply this: IF YOU ARE GOING TO GUARANTEE A LOAN, BE SURE YOU READ THE DETAILS OF THE GUARANTEE CAREFULLY.”
“The point is simple. If you are going to guarantee a loan – which may be a terrific thing to do for someone – be sure you read the terms of the agreement carefully. Have a trusted attorney review it. You could be glad you did.”
Read the full article from Realty Times.

For your next title order or
if you have questions about what you see here, contact
Stephen M. Flatow, Esq.
Stephen's Title Agency, LLC
165 Passaic Avenue, Suite 101
Fairfield, NJ 07004
Tel 973-227-4724 - Fax 973-556-1628
E-mail Stephenstitle AT comcast.net - www.stephenstitle.com

Taxpayers to lose mortgage interest deduction? Yes, if commission has its way.

The New York Times reports on a new commission report urging the elimination of the mortgage interest deduction from income taxes.

“By proposing to curtail the tax deduction for mortgage interest, the president’s deficit commission is sounding an alarm.”
“The home mortgage deduction is one of the most widely used and expensive tax subsidies. More than 35 million Americans claim it, and the federal government estimates it will cost the Treasury $131 billion in forgone revenue in 2012. Its size, popularity and link to the emotionally charged American notion of homeownership has made it so politically sacrosanct that there are serious doubts whether Congress will even entertain the idea.”
So why raise it as an issue? “[T]o jar the public into recognizing the magnitude of the nation’s budget deficit and some of the drastic steps that might be needed to close it.”

But the mortgage interest deduction is a great benefit to middle-income homeowners. Won’t this dump more of the deficit reduction responsibility on this group? The answer is yes.
“The proposal, part of a draft by co-chairmen Alan K. Simpson and Erskine B. Bowles, suggested that the tax code could be streamlined, and income tax rates drastically lowered, by eliminating the $1.1 trillion in annual tax expenditure entitlements — subsidies and breaks given to targeted businesses and individuals. The commission chairmen also offered the option of capping the deduction at $500,000 on mortgages, rather than the current limit of $1 million.”
Once again, the specter of class-warfare is brought to the fore as
“The prospect brought an angry outcry. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi blasted the commission’s suggestions, saying it would force middle-class homeowners to subsidize tax breaks for the wealthy.”
“The mortgage interest deduction is one of the pillars of our national housing policy,” said Michael D. Berman, chairman of the Mortgage Bankers Association. “Limiting its use will have negative repercussions for consumers and home values up and down the housing chain.”
“But tax policy experts say that for all its popularity, the value of the deduction in public policy is debatable. It was intended to encourage homeownership, but housing economists point out that countries like Canada and Australia, which do not allow mortgage interest deductions, have homeownership rates similar to those of the United States.”
That may be true, but we are not in Canada or Australia.

Read the full article and see how the proposal may impact us all.

For your next title order or
if you have questions about what you see here, contact
Stephen M. Flatow, Esq.
Stephen's Title Agency, LLC
165 Passaic Avenue, Suite 101
Fairfield, NJ 07004
Tel 973-227-4724 - Fax 973-556-1628
E-mail Stephenstitle AT comcast.net - www.stephenstitle.com

Monday, November 15, 2010

FDIC closes three banks – total to date is 146

Reuters reports that FDIC regulators closed three banks in the United States on Friday, November 12, 2010. This brings the number of closures in 2010 to 146.

“The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp has said it expects bank closures to peak this year after 140 closures in 2009. The bulk of this year's closures have been smaller institutions, each with less than a billion dollars in assets.”
“FDIC Chairman Sheila Bair said recently that while the number of failures will exceed last year's tally, the total assets of this year's failures will likely be lower.”
The weak link in the American banking world appears to be community banks as “their recovery has lagged behind that of larger institutions and the broader economy.” These banks are susceptible to the problems in the commercial real estate market because they have “higher concentrations” in these loans than bigger banks.

Read the full Reuters report.

For your next title order or
if you have questions about what you see here, contact
Stephen M. Flatow, Esq.
Stephen's Title Agency, LLC
165 Passaic Avenue, Suite 101
Fairfield, NJ 07004
Tel 973-227-4724 - Fax 973-556-1628
E-mail Stephenstitle AT comcast.net - www.stephenstitle.com

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Tip for home sellers - don't let your emotions get in the way

Carla Hill, writing in Realty time says, Sellers: Don't let emotions rule.
It can be easy for the selling experience to become clouded by emotion. A homeowner may have years of memories stored within the walls of a home. They look at a room, and instead of resale potential, they see a baby's first steps and early Christmas mornings. When the time comes to sell, however, the time has also come to sever emotional ties with a house.
Emotions can cloud your reasoning. And they can misguide you during a very expensive and important business transaction. Sellers sometimes overvalue their homes, adding in sentimental value on top of property value. They refuse offers that, while reasonable, don't add up to the value of their memories. Or they turn down a potential buyer, because they don't garden and won't "leave the rose bushes," or aren't the "type" of person they'd like living in their home.
For a smooth transition, hire an experienced real estate agent. Once you've turned yourself over to their guidance, you can then turn your focus onto the new phase of your life. And agent can help you establish a fair, and unbiased, asking price. They find the sellers. They show the house. And they help you sign on the dotted line. The middle man is extremely beneficial in separating from your emotions.
Your emotions may surface as soon as you list the house for sale, since many agents will suggest you remove many of your personal items from the house for staging. This is neither a personal attack on your decorating nor your memories. Staging is a wonderful way for homeowners to see the house as their future home, instead of seeing your house and your home.
Don't fret over lost memories; take pictures of your home and make a scrapbook. Channel your emotions into the joy of moving. And have fun imagining the new memories you'll make in your new place. This is not a time for mourning, instead it's a time for celebrating!

For your next title order or
if you have questions about what you see here, contact
Stephen M. Flatow, Esq.
Stephen's Title Agency, LLC
165 Passaic Avenue, Suite 101
Fairfield, NJ 07004
Tel 973-227-4724 - Fax 973-556-1628
E-mail Stephenstitle AT comcast.net - www.stephenstitle.com

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Refinance costs - how often can they be deducted?

Here's an interesting question from a Kiplinger's reader:
Although I refinanced my mortgage less than two years ago, interest rates are so low that I plan to refinance again. What costs can I deduct when I refinance for a second time?
Folks who refinance and refinance, again, are called serial refinancers. We saw the phenomenon grow during the days of sub-prime lending. But with interest rates now so low, it may make sense to refinance sooner rather than later.

To answer the question,

Serial refinancers get an additional tax break on top of the usual mortgage-interest and property-tax deduction. You can deduct the points you pay to get a mortgage in the year you buy a home -- even if the seller paid the points for you (a point is equal to 1% of the loan). You can also deduct points paid to refinance a mortgage, but normally that deduction must be spread out over the life of the loan. So if you paid two points ($5,000 in this example) on a $250,000, 30-year mortgage, you can deduct just $166.67 per year for 30 years.
The income tax consequences for making a mistake are not light. So caution is in order.

Read the full article, Get a Tax Break for Refinancing Again



For your next title order or
if you have questions about what you see here, contact
Stephen M. Flatow, Esq.
Stephen's Title Agency, LLC
165 Passaic Avenue, Suite 101
Fairfield, NJ 07004
Tel 973-227-4724 - Fax 973-556-1628
E-mail Stephenstitle AT comcast.net - www.stephenstitle.com

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Seller’s can help themselves with digital decorating.

Have an empty house or apartment to sell. Well, apparently nothing comes across the Internet than posted photos of one. Real estate brokers have resorted to “virtually” staging to make vacant apartments and homes more inviting.


From Vivian S. Toy, writing the New York Times,
“ANY broker will tell you that selling an empty apartment is much harder than selling a beautifully furnished one.
“But staging a home with rented furniture can cost thousands of dollars, and that’s money that most sellers aren’t willing to pay. So brokers at Halstead Property and Brown Harris Stevens are using a service that furnishes rooms virtually with the d├ęcor of the broker’s choice, adding color and life to photographs of otherwise bland and blank boxes.”
Wow, what will they think of next in this economy? I hope it’s not virtual buyers.

Read the full story, Furnished With Pixels.

For your next title order or
if you have questions about what you see here, contact
Stephen M. Flatow, Esq.
Stephen's Title Agency, LLC
165 Passaic Avenue, Suite 101
Fairfield, NJ 07004
Tel 973-227-4724 - Fax 973-556-1628
E-mail Stephenstitle AT comcast.net - www.stephenstitle.com

Monday, November 1, 2010

Avoid probate yes, but taxes no. Living trusts work for some.

Every so often, we in the title industry get to see that someone has bought a book that attempts to teach the reader how to avoid probate. The idea behind these books is that the person who follows the plan will not only not have to have an estate administration but can avoid estate taxes, too.


So we were pleased to see that Karin Price Mueller writing for the Biz Brain in The Star-Ledger, answered the following question:
“What are the benefits to having a living trust fund compared to a regular will?”
“Living trusts, also called revocable trusts or revocable living trusts, are sometimes touted as an absolute essential.”
“While the person who set up the living trust is still alive, there are advantages for those who will help manage that person’s affairs if they’re unable to.”
But living trusts are not fool proof and must be done with the assistance of an attorney. Rely on a do-it-yourself book and you’ll get burned.

Read the full article here.

For your next title order or
if you have questions about what you see here, contact
Stephen M. Flatow, Esq.
Stephen's Title Agency, LLC
165 Passaic Avenue, Suite 101
Fairfield, NJ 07004
Tel 973-227-4724 - Fax 973-556-1628
E-mail Stephenstitle AT comcast.net - www.stephenstitle.com