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Tom's Blog

HUD Selects Lenders to Participate in New Pilot Program to Help Homeowners Pay for Home Energy Improvements

May 5, 2011 1:29 pm

RISMEDIA, May 5, 2011-Eighteen national, regional and local lenders will participate in a new two-year pilot program that will offer qualified borrowers living in certain parts of the country low-cost loans to make energy-saving improvements to their homes. Backed by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), these new PowerSaver loans will offer homeowners up to $25,000 to make energy-efficient improvements of their choice, including the installation of insulation, duct sealing, replacement doors and windows, HVAC systems, water heaters, solar panels, and geothermal systems.

U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Shaun Donovan and U.S. Department of Energy Secretary Steven Chu announced the participating lenders during a tour of a family-run company that offers home energy audits and upgrades in Long Island, New York.

"We believe the market is right for a low-cost financing option for families who want energy-saving technologies in their home," says Secretary Donovan. "PowerSaver hits on all cylinders by helping credit-worthy homeowners finance these upgrades, cut their energy bills and boost the local job market in the process. While FHA and these lenders are jumpstarting this pilot, we hope its success will lead to a growing private sector interest in making these types of loans."

Secretary Chu announces, "We are breaking down barriers and making energy efficiency more accessible and more affordable. It's the right thing to do for our environment, for our economy and for the pocketbooks of American families."

The remodeling industry cites surveys that point to a growing demand among homeowners interested in making their homes energy efficient. Yet options are still limited for financing home energy improvements, especially for the many homeowners who are unable to take out a home equity loan or access an affordable consumer loan. Initially, the PowerSaver pilot program is estimated to assist approximately 30,000 homeowners to finance energy-efficient upgrades, though higher market demand may increase this impact. According to HUD projections, more than 3,000 jobs will be created through this pilot program and the impact may be larger if market demand for the loan program increases over time.

Participating lenders are largely selected based on their commitment to work in partnership with established home energy retrofit programs provided by states, cities, utilities and home performance contractors. These markets include, but are not limited to, areas of the country participating in the Energy Department's Better Building Program.

PowerSaver loans will be backed by the FHA but require these lenders to have significant "skin in the game." FHA mortgage insurance will cover up to 90% of the loan amount in the event of default. Lenders will retain the remaining risk on each loan, incentivizing responsible underwriting and lending standards.

PowerSaver has been carefully designed to meet a need in the marketplace for borrowers who have the ability and motivation to take on modest additional debt to realize the savings over time from home energy improvements. PowerSaver loans are only available to borrowers with good credit, manageable debt and at least some equity in their home (maximum 100% combined loan-to-value).

HUD developed PowerSaver as part of the Recovery Through Retrofit initiative launched in May 2009 by Vice President Biden's Middle Class Task Force to develop federal actions that would expand green job opportunities in the United States and boost energy savings by improving home energy efficiency. The announcement is part of an interagency effort including 11 departments and agencies and six White House offices.

For more information about HUD and its programs visit www.hud.gov.

Tags: News

Nearly Half of Home Buyers Surveyed Don't Understand Essential Information about Mortgages

May 4, 2011 1:29 pm

RISMEDIA, May 4, 2011--As the housing market continues to slowly stabilize, home buyers appear ill-prepared to take out a mortgage, answering basic questions about mortgage information wrong nearly half (46%) of the time, according to a Zillow Mortgage Marketplace survey. In fact, 44% admitted they are not confident in their knowledge of mortgages or the mortgage process. Zillow Mortgage Marketplace, with Ipsos, surveyed prospective home buyers, asking them to gauge their own knowledge of mortgages, and asking basic questions about mortgage facts.

For example, more than half (57%) of prospective home buyers who were polled do not understand how adjustable rate mortgages (ARMs) work. When asked if interest rates on 5/1 ARMs always reset higher after five years, the majority of home buyers answered yes. In fact, the interest rate will adjust to the prevailing rate after five years, even if rates have declined. Currently, many borrowers whose ARMs have recently reset have lower interest rates than they did when they took out the loan.

Additionally, one-third (34%) of the respondents who are prospective home buyers do not understand that lender fees are negotiable and that they vary by lender. They believe lenders are required by law to charge the same fees for credit reports and appraisals, when in fact home buyers can save money by shopping for the lowest fees.

"Most people wouldn't jump out of a plane if they didn't know how to use a parachute, yet each year many buyers commit to the largest loan they will take out in their lifetimes without understanding essential information about mortgages," said Zillow Mortgage Marketplace Director, Erin Lantz. "By simply spending a few hours researching how a mortgage works, and by shopping around for the most competitive rates and fees, buyers can save a lot of money."

Additional Survey Findings:

  • Nearly half (45%) of polled prospective home buyers believe they should always buy mortgage discount points when obtaining a mortgage. However, because mortgage discount points are simply prepaid interest, the decision should depend on how long you intend to own the home. In some cases, you may not plan to remain in the house for long enough to break even after buying points.
  • More than half (55%) of prospective home buyers in the study do not understand that mortgage rates vary throughout the day. In reality, mortgage rates can change rapidly, similar to how stock prices can change throughout the day. To get the optimum rate, it is important to monitor rates and shop around.
  • More than one-third (37%) of prospective home buyers who were polled believe that pre-qualifying for a loan means they have secured financing. In fact, "pre-qualification" is used to describe the earliest step in the process when a lender approximates how much you can afford, but does not run your credit or request any sort of documentation to verify the information you provide. Although there is not a reliable industry standard definition of pre-qualification, it is not until a lender has approved your loan application without conditions that you can rest assured that the lender has committed to financing your loan.
  • More than two in five (42%) of the polled prospective home buyers do not understand that Federal Housing Administration (FHA) loans are available to all buyers. Instead, they believe only first-time buyers qualify. FHA loans can cost less for many buyers, including repeat buyers with low to average credit scores and with down payments of less than 20%.

An online version of the Zillow Mortgage Marketplace survey, the "Mortgage IQ Quiz," is available at www.zillow.com/mortgage/quiz/ and contains the correct answers and detailed explanations to each question. Following the quiz, participants are given a score and resources to learn more about mortgages and the mortgage process.

Tags: News

Majority of Homeowners Want Federal Tax Credit

May 4, 2011 1:29 pm

RISMEDIA, May 4, 2011-- A majority of homeowners surveyed say they want Congress to leave the federal tax credit for homeowners alone, and institute other tax advantages to re-stimulate the U.S. housing market, according to a HousingPredictor.com opinion poll.

Slightly more than half (53%) of respondents said they want the tax credit for homeowners on their federal taxes to stay in place. The credit has been debated in Congress as a way of increasing federal taxes to help resolve the U.S. budget crisis and has been regarded as sacrosanct until the budget deficit, driven by Wall Street and mortgage banking excesses, ran into trillions of dollars.

The tax credit allows homeowners to write-off mortgage interest and state taxes paid as an itemized deduction on their personal federal income taxes. A large group of real estate and lending industry organizations, including the National Association of REALTORS , has lobbied for its retention.

For more information, visit http://www.housingpredictor.com/.

Tags: News

HUD Making Nearly $65 Million Available to Tribal Communities Seeking to Improve Housing and Spur Economic Development

May 4, 2011 1:29 pm

RISMEDIA, May 4, 2011--The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced a competition for nearly $65 million to confront housing, infrastructure and employment challenges faced by tribal communities nationwide. The funds are intended for communities seeking to improve or create housing and economic development opportunities for low- to moderate-income families. The competitive grants are provided through HUD's Indian Community Development Block Grant (ICDBG) Program to support a wide variety of community development and affordable housing activities.

"These grants go to the very heart of the development needs in our nation's tribal communities," said HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan. "The communities that compete for these grants demonstrate enormous creativity and hard work in leveraging the funds to build better housing, create more jobs, and improve neighborhoods from the ground up. These types of projects are at the backbone of our nation's recovery."

The application deadline for this year's ICDBG grants is June 15, 2011. The ICDBG program was established in 1974 to help Indian tribes and Alaska Native villages to meet their community development needs. Federally recognized Indian tribes, bands, groups or nations (including Alaska Indian, Aleutes and Eskimos) or Alaska Native villages compete for this funding.

Communities can use the funding to develop viable communities, including rehabilitating housing or building new housing or to buy land to support new housing construction. The funding can also be used to build infrastructure such as roads, water and sewer facilities, to create suitable living environments. To spur economic development, recipients use the grants to establish a wide variety of commercial, industrial and agricultural projects. Recipients have used the funding to build community and health centers, or to start businesses to support the community, such as shopping centers, manufacturing plants, restaurants or convenience stores/gas stations.

For more information, visit www.hud.gov.

Tags: News

How to Catch Roof Leaks Early and Avoid Costly Repairs

May 3, 2011 1:29 pm

By Keith Loria

RISMEDIA, May 3, 2011--A leaky roof is one of the most common challenges faced by homeowners. And for someone with their house on the market, there's nothing quite so frustrating than to all of a sudden have water dripping from a ceiling or window. When the roof leaks, a variety of problems can follow, from infestations of mold and mildew to damaged foundations.

"A leaky roof is more than just a nuisance. A roof leak mean that water is invading your home or business," said Paul Bange, a roofing company owner. "Long before you notice that telltale spot on the wall or ceiling, water can cause rotting, mold and permanent damage."

Many times a roof leak can be repaired, with low expenses and minimal time commitment, so it's important to get to the problem early and bring in experts to discover the source of the leak.

"A minor leak can become a major problem in no time at all," said Jacob Liggett, managing partner of an exterior contracting company in Nashville, Tenn. "To the surprise of many property owners, many leaks can exist for years before any damages become obvious to the untrained eye. These leaks are usually slow at first, and if they continue to go undetected, they can cause harmful growth of mold, structural damage and, in some severe cases, a complete roof collapse."

Liggett said that common areas for roof leaks include skylights, wall step flashings, valleys or low spots in the roof, missing shingles and plumbing vent flashings.

The first sign of a roof leak is often wet ceiling tiles. Finding the source of the leak can be found simply by tracing the leak backwards to its source on the roof, keeping in mind that the source of the leak may be some distance away from where it is dripping into the home.

"If the leak is running along the wall, it may be necessary to remove the top tiling to get to the source of the leak," Bange said. "Some leaks may originate further up on the roof, making the source somewhat difficult to find. If the source of the leak turns out to be as simple as a missing block of shingles due to a recent windstorm, the solution may be as simple as replacing those missing shingles."

More complex problems may be more expensive but still necessary for getting your home in selling shape.

Nearly 99% of all roof leaks occur at transitions or penetration points, which are places where the roof meets a wall or an adjacent roof, and where equipment such as air conditioning units, vents, railings, drains, and even satellite stands are secured.

Often, a clogged gutter or downspout can cause the roof to start leaking, so it's necessary to clean out all gutters and downspouts on a regular basis to keep the roof looking like new.

Remember, most states require the seller to disclose all known issues, including roof leaks, so you don't want to hide it and hope to get away with it. Besides, the buyer's house inspector will see the signs of an undisclosed roof leak and this could leave one liable for repair costs or cause the house sale to fall through altogether.

Tags: News

Get FloodSmart: Protect Now with Flood Insurance

May 3, 2011 1:29 pm

RISMEDIA, May 3, 2011--One month from the beginning of the 2011 Atlantic hurricane season (June 1), Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) officials are urging U.S. residents to prepare their homes and businesses for the heightened flood risks associated with hurricanes and tropical storms. Flood insurance is essential to help protect against the devastating effects of flooding, and the time to act is now; there is typically a 30-day wait before a policy takes effect.

Past hurricane seasons have shown how the consequences of seasonal flooding can be devastating; eight of the top 10 most expensive federally declared disasters were caused by hurricanes. But many residents across the U.S. still lack adequate insurance protection against flood damage, causing them to absorb significant financial losses on their own or seek limited funding from other sources to rebuild or repair after a storm.

"The spring months have already brought significant flood events to many states in the U.S. As we respond to these events, we must also look forward to summer and hurricane-related weather patterns that will heighten flood risks for many," said Ed Connor, assistant administrator for FEMA's Federal Insurance and Mitigation Administration. "We encourage all residents to have a preparedness plan that includes flood insurance as a critical financial safety net to safeguard against flood losses as hurricane season approaches. Because most homeowners insurance does not cover flood damage, the time to get properly protected is now."

FEMA also stresses that flood risks associated with hurricane season extend beyond the Gulf and Southeastern coasts. The largest amounts of rainfall from hurricanes are often produced by slow moving storms that stall out miles from a shoreline. As these storms move inland, high winds and torrential rains increase the likelihood of flooding.

"Some residents who live further from the coast may think that they are immune to flood damage from hurricanes and seasonal storms. The fact is, floodwaters do not stop at coastlines or floodplain boundaries; everyone is at risk. It is important to insure your property no matter where you live," said Connor.

Flood insurance is available through more than 85 insurance companies in nearly 21,000 participating communities nationwide. Everyone - renters, business owners, and homeowners - can purchase flood insurance. Flood insurance is affordable, with an average flood insurance policy costing around $600 a year; in moderate- to low- risk areas, homeowners can purchase low-cost Preferred Risk Policies (PRPs) starting at just $129 a year.

For more information, visit www.FloodSmart.gov.

Tags: News

Housing Starts Rise 7.2% in March 2011

May 3, 2011 1:29 pm

RISMEDIA, May 3, 2011-Nationwide housing starts rose 7.2% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 549,000 units in March 2011 from an upwardly revised number in the previous month, the U.S. Commerce Department recently reported. This gain was represented in both the single- and multifamily sectors, and was mirrored by substantial improvements in building permit issuance for the same period.

"While the overall rate of new-home production remains quite low and is still being weighed down by significant uncertainties among both home builders and buyers, this latest report is encouraging," said Bob Nielsen, chairman of the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) and a home builder from Reno, Nev. "It means that some builders are cautiously beginning to re-stock their extremely thin inventories of new homes in anticipation of gradual improvement in consumer demand as the economy slowly inches toward recovery."

"The modest improvement in new-home production and permitting in March is in line with our forecasts for incremental gains through the spring buying season," said NAHB Chief Economist David Crowe. "While our builder members continue to experience a great number of challenges with regard to competition from foreclosed and short sale properties, low appraisal values and tight credit conditions, they have noted slight improvements in interest among qualified buyers, and they need to be ready to meet the demand as it materializes."

Gains in new-home production were seen across the board in March, with upward movement registered in both the single- and multifamily sectors as well as three out of four regions. On the single-family side, a 7.7% gain to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 422,000 units partially offset a big decline in the previous month. Multifamily starts also gained back a portion of the ground they lost earlier, with a 5.8% increase to 127,000 units.

Regionally, housing starts posted double-digit gains of 32.3% in the Midwest and 27.6% in the West, as well as a 5.4% gain in the Northeast.

Meanwhile, issuance of building permits, which can be an indicator of future building activity, rose by an impressive 11.2% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 594,000 units, more than offsetting the previous month's decline. Single-family permits rose 5.7% to 405,000 units, while multifamily permits rose 25.2% to 189,000 units.

For more information, visit www.nahb.org.

Tags: News

Tips for Working with Professional Landscapers

May 2, 2011 1:29 pm

RISMEDIA, May 2, 2011--If you're trying to sell your home this spring, working with a professional can boost your home's curb appeal and attract possible buyers to the door. As any landscaper would tell you, the condition of your lawn can have a big effect on the value of your home. If you plan on hiring some help, here are a few tips to help you get the biggest bang for your buck.

Talk to several landscapers before deciding to hire one. Scheduling consultations with multiple landscapers is important. Have them come survey your property and make recommendations on what needs to be done. Use them as consultants, helping you narrow down the work that needs to be done versus extra frills you would like to add to the process. For smaller tasks such as mowing, weeding, gardening or raking, you may want to consider hiring a local teenager or family member in order to save money.

Request estimates. Now that you know what it is you want to have done, request an estimate from at least three of the consultants you met with. Depending on the company, costs could range greatly and the differences could be thousands of dollars. According to the Consumers' Checkbook, a tree-removal job could cost anywhere from $1,935 to $6,300 and lawn care could range from $229 to $805. Finding out what each company will charge you for the job is crucial to staying in budget.

Don't be hasty on saying 'yes.' If your landscaper suggests an add-on of any sort, think it through before OK-ing it. Sometimes your company might recommend various fertilizers, treatment or sprayings, but make sure there is a good reason and necessity for it. The more your landscaper provides, the higher your bill will be.

Quite possibly the most important step: Don't pay until the job is finished. If possible, pay nothing until the job is fully completed. If the landscaper requires a payment, do so with a credit card. If the job isn't finished to your satisfaction, you can dispute the charge with your credit card company. By not paying up front, you also have more leverage in terms of ensuring that the job is completed the way you want it. Keep this in mind while you're hiring professional help.

Hiring a professional landscaper can improve your curb appeal by leaps and bounds. However, keep these tips in mind to make sure you get the most for your money.

Source: Chicago Tribune, Consumers' Checkbook

Tags: News

Spring Cleaning: Spruce Up Your Home Safely

May 2, 2011 1:29 pm

RISMEDIA, May 2, 2011--Winter is finally a distant memory and the fresh, clear air just might be giving you that burst of motivation to do the unthinkable: spring cleaning (with the windows open, no less). When the time comes, most of us can't wait to rid ourselves of things we do not need, give our home a good dusting, mow the lawn, clear the gutters and maybe even add a fresh coat of paint to the walls. Nothing seems more important than refreshing both our home and mind of dust and clutter.

However, statistics show that thousands of people injure themselves during their annual clean, whether it be using a step ladder, a lawn mower or moving furniture. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) urges people to take the proper safety precautions to reduce the number of spring cleaning-related accidents.

Statistics:

According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission:

  • In 2010, more than 35,500 people injured themselves using a stepladder.
  • Over 41,000 Americans injured themselves while gardening or using gardening equipment.
  • More than 127,000 were injured while operating a lawn mower.

AAOS Expert Advice:

"Spring cleaning can bring on many injuries for a variety of reasons. Specifically, people tend to do too much too soon," said orthopedic surgeon and AAOS spokesperson, Michael A. Flippin, MD. "Many common injuries including tendonitis, sprains, strains or breaks can be prevented with proper technique like bending at the knees when lifting instead of from the back, or securing and stabilizing a ladder before climbing. These are simple precautions that are overlooked too often."

AAOS Safety Tips:

  • Proper techniques for lifting, carrying and bending should be part of any spring cleaning project to avoid back injuries:

    • Separate your feet, shoulder-width apart, and keep your back upright. Bend at the knees while tightening the stomach muscles.
    • Lift with your leg muscles as you stand up; don't try to lift any object by yourself if it is too heavy or an awkward shape.

  • When gardening, avoid prolonged repetitive motions during activities such as digging, planting, trimming and pruning, and take frequent breaks.
  • Use a sturdy step stool instead of a counter or furniture, such as a chair or the couch, when dusting high hard to reach areas.
  • Ladders used for chores such as washing windows, painting, cleaning gutters and trimming trees should be placed on a firm, level surface. Never place a ladder on ground or flooring that is uneven, soft or wet.
  • Use care with extension cords; be sure they are properly grounded. To avoid tripping or falling, do not drape extension cords across spans of crossing walkways.
  • When working on a ladder, over-reaching or leaning too far to one side can make you lose your balance and fall. Your bellybutton should not go beyond the sides of the ladder. Never climb a ladder without a spotter.
  • When mowing the lawn, be sure to wear proper footwear and eyewear for protection.
  • Use a mower with a control that stops it from moving forward if the handle is released. Never pull backward or mow in reverse unless absolutely necessary carefully look for others behind you when you do.
  • Children should be at least 12-years-old before they operate any lawn mower, and at least 16-years-old for a ride-on mower.
  • Read product labels for proper use and wear protective clothing and gloves when using chemicals for gardening or cleaning. Store all chemicals at the appropriate temperature, which is usually indicated on the package. Make sure they are located in a place that is out of reach of both children and pets, and never place chemicals into unmarked containers or containers labeled for a different substance.
  • Take frequent breaks and replenish fluids to prevent dehydration and keep a cell phone within reach in case of accident or injury.

For more information, visit www.aaos.org/.

Tags: News

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to Align Guidelines for Servicing Delinquent Mortgages

May 2, 2011 1:29 pm

RISMEDIA, May 2, 2011--Federal Housing Finance Agency Acting Director Edward J. DeMarco has directed Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (the Enterprises) to align their guidelines for servicing delinquent mortgages they own or guarantee. The updated framework will establish uniform servicing requirements as well as monetary incentives for servicers that perform well and penalties for those that do not.

"FHFA's directive to align Enterprise policies for servicing delinquent mortgages should result in earlier servicer engagement to identify the best solution available for homeowners, given their individual circumstances," DeMarco said.

The updated guidelines also address the so-called "dual track" by requiring servicers to contact borrowers as soon as they become delinquent and focus solely on remediating that delinquency. The foreclosure process may not commence if the borrower and servicer are engaged in a good-faith effort to resolve the delinquency. The servicer must conduct a formal review of each case to ensure a borrower has been considered for foreclosure alternatives before the loan is referred for foreclosure. Even after foreclosure processing begins, financial incentives are provided to encourage servicers to continue to help borrowers pursue a foreclosure alternative.

Consistent with statements recently issued by federal and state regulators, this initiative is intended to deal with identified problems in mortgage servicing. The updated framework will streamline and expedite borrower outreach, align mortgage modification terms and requirements, and establish a consistent schedule of performance-based incentive payments and penalties. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will each issue detailed guidelines to their servicers in the second and third quarters of 2011.

"Once fully implemented by the servicing industry, the Enterprises' aligned policies should give homeowners a greater understanding of the process and faster resolution by requiring earlier contact, more frequent communication, and prompt decisions," said DeMarco. "Equally important, the newly aligned policies will minimize taxpayer losses by ensuring that Enterprise loans are serviced efficiently and fairly."

Tags: News




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