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MHA Program Extension for Distressed Homeowners 0 Post a comment

The Making Homes Affordable Program has been extended up to December 31, 2016. This is good news for homeowners who may still be experiencing financial distress as a result of the housing bubble collapse or any homeowner struggling to meet their housing payments every month.

The MHA Program is designed to help deliver mortgage relief, either by helping homeowners avoid foreclosure andmanage mortgage payments. Apply on the website for free to see if you qualify or contact your lender today.

The MHA Program uses a variety of approaches to help owners manage debt and possibly avoid foreclosure. Note that homeowners must meet eligibility requirements to participate in the program and applications can be done online, for free.

Lowered Rates
Depending on your situation, you may be eligible for lower mortgage payments every month which can free up some breathing room for other expenses or help you accrue savings. You may be eligible for this if you are fully or partially employed.

The MHA provides several different programs, such as the Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP) to help manage mortgage payments or the Principal Reduction Alternative (PRA) if your home is worth less than what you are paying for it.

Special Guarantor Circumstances
The MHA Program has special programs for homes guaranteed or insured by federal agencies like the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) under the Section 502 Single Family Housing Guaranteed Loan Program,or Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). However, like with all programs borrowers must meet eligibility requirements to qualify for aid.

Foreclosure
If the situation has become too dire and too costly, the MHA Program may be able to help eligible borrowers sell their home in lieu of a foreclosure through the Home Affordable Foreclosure Alternatives (HAFA) Program. While selling an undervalued home may seem like surrender, in some cases it is the best option.

In many situations, this will prevent a foreclosure entry in a credit report and may help keep your credit line afloat for the transition period after sale. Additionally the HAFA Program provides a transitional allowance for affected individuals and families.

Special Individual Circumstances
If you are currently or facing unemployment and are worrying about how to keep up with payments, the MHA may be able to provide help through the Home Affordable Unemployed Program (UP) to help reduce or suspend mortgage payments during the period of unemployment.

Eligibility Requirements
All eligibility requirements are listed on the MHA home page for each program at www.makinghomeaffordable.gov, as well as the details of each program. To see if you qualify, visit the MHA website here or call 888-995-4673 or the hearing impaired hotline at 881-304-9709 TTY.

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New Mortgage-Relief Scam. Beware! 0 Post a comment

Avoiding foreclosure can be a nightmare, especially in the wake of 2008′s market meltdown. People are struggling to keep their homes or prevent further debt. The situation can feel hopeless, and plenty of scammers are offering the easy way out.

But don’t be tempted to give what remains of your savings away to charlatans promising to modify your mortgage for you or save your home from foreclosure.

According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), mortgage scams have bilked consumers of over $25 million in advance or legal fees. These scammers may be individuals or individuals representing legitimate-sounding companies, who promised to aid homeowners in preventing foreclosures. Many promised that they could renegotiate terms for borrowers, or do away with a mortgage completely. In all of the cases, the company promised to provide legal representation to the homeowner with no intention of fulfilling that promise. They also promised relief or to reduce the size of payments.

The CFPB has currently filed lawsuits against the following companies and individuals representing them:

  • Clausen & Cobb Management Company
  • The Siringoringo Law Firm
  • The Mortgage Law Group, LLP,
  • Consumer First Legal Group, LLC,
  • The Hoffman Law Group and affiliates (Nationwide Management Solutions, Legal Intake Solutions, File Intake Solutions, and BM Marketing Group).

Take note that many of these firms are legal firms or affiliated with legal management, which gives them a legitimate air. Avoid these scammers by taking the following steps:

  1. Contact your lender directly to ask if they work with firm or the individual.
  2. Ask for identification before signing anything. Beware that many scammers are prepared for this instance. Take it a step further and contact the American Bar Association or local lawyer associations for referrals or character references.
  3. Warning signs include demanding payment upfront before any action is taken. This means you hand over money even before an agreement with your lender is reached. Take note that federal law does not allow law firms to request payment from borrowers asking for help with foreclosure or payment relief.
  4. Hard selling or subtle bullying is also a warning sign because they want you to agree before you start thinking about it. In many cases, this is money they promise to pay to collection agencies to keep people off the homeowner’s back. Never give money upfront.
  5. Do your research and contact the Better Business Bureau or the CFPB before entering into an agreement with a law firm or an individual representing a refinancing company to refinance/modify your mortgage.
  6. Watch out for unbelievable guarantees. Guaranteeing a modification to terms before negotiations happen is also a big red flag. In order to get any modifications or stall of foreclosure, your bank/mortgage company must agree to the deferment or change in writing. Keep a lookout for scammers who pretend to speak to “someone from your bank without naming names”.
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Prices for Homes Increasing at a Slower Pace 0 Post a comment

If you’re surprised at the sudden increase in your home’s value, don’t be. The housing market seems to be recovering well, although not at the same pace as employment.

Home prices are increasing at slower rates and this is actually good news, according to the leading measure of US residential real estate prices S&P Case-Shiller Home Price Indices. S&P Case-Shiller, a subsidiary of S&P Dow Jones Indices, tracks real estate values nationally and in top 20 cities and regions across the country. These major areas include Seattle, California, Florida, Nevada and other metropolitan hotspots. However, these higher prices have also trickled down to other regions with lower pricing regions.

House prices increased in almost all regions studied, except in Tampa, Florida and Charlotte, North Carolina where they remained fairly stable.

This is indicative of a general recovery in the real industry and housing markets, albeit a slower one that expected.Despite a 9.4% increase in May 2014 compared to 10.4% in April 2014, housing experts consider this good news for homeowners and the real estate market in general.

The report indicates that housing prices across the United States are returning to the 2004 rates. The slower, steadier rates are indicative of a stabilizing market and constant prices. Median prices for homes have increased to an average of $223,300 in 2014.

While increasing prices may make potential buyers shake their heads, this is a step towards market normalization in pricing. The increases were keenly felt in lower-income homes, as opposed to luxury or expensive homes that traditionally sell for premium rates in prime markets.

However, higher prices may also result in a decline in housing sales that may reach up to 5.8 million in 2014 as buyers begin to hesitate. However, previously owned and refinanced home sales will still remain strong.

For homeowners, this is an optimum time to sell or refinance mortgages, especially coupled with lowered 30-year mortgage rates and friendlier adjusted mortgage rates. Mortgage rates are also expected to continue to decrease up to middle of 2015.

A more optimistic labor market will also contribute to a healthier real estate industry. 2014 is considered a transitional year for the recovering real estate industry and housing market, which is expected to continue to recover. However, this study did not include renters or other housing options which many Americans have considered or are considering as part of downsizing their portfolios.

In other news, this may mean that 2015 may be an ideal time to start looking to sell, purchase or refinance an existing mortgage.

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Latest Survey on Mortgage Rates 0 Post a comment

This August, average 30-year mortgage rates dropped to 4.10% in the US. This is the lowest mortgage rates have fallen in 52 weeks. By contrast, 15 year mortgage rates rose to from 3.23% to 3.25%, remaining well within average rates for the year.

Adjustable rate mortgages increased slightly in the same time period. Average rates for five-year ARM rose to 2.97% from 2.95% in the same period, and one year ARM rates rose from 2.38% to 2.39%.

Overall, 30-year fixed mortgage rates slowly dropped across the United States from 2013 to 2014. However, on average rates were higher than in August 2012. ARM rates remained fairly stable within the 2.9% range.

For homebuyers across the US, this is lukewarm news.Despite low costs, market sales for new homes slowed by 2.4% in July on the back of careful credit practices, slow wages and a still-recovering job market. Many potential homeowners are also still opting to rent, or downsizing homes to cut costs.

Sales for previously owned homes were more optimistic and have risen since the start of the year. According to the National Association of Realtors, sales of previously owned homes reached over 5.56 million by the middle of the year, a 2.4% increase across the US. Pending home sales also increased by 3.3% in July across all regions.

Despite the increase, this does not reflect the 5.5% increase at the same time last year. The growth may be compounded by modest increase in home prices across the US, especially for homes priced above $200,000.

Last year’s rates averaged 4.41% in September, and rose to 4.58% in December 2013. 15-year fixed mortgage rates averaged 3.56% over the same period. According to the Associated Press, the Federal Reserve’s monthly bond purchases have decreased in an effort to keep long-term borrowing rates low for homeowners moving forward.

For military members, a new agreement with bank to assist active-duty military members may also take advantage of low borrowing rates and a 6% mortgage rate cap under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act. Banks in this partnership include Wells Fargo and Bank of America.

30-year mortgage rates are expected to continue to drop through the remaining quarters, and hit 3.92% by December 2014. In contrast, 15-year mortgage rates are expected to remain stable until January 2015, with little to no change.

Rate calculations and averages did not take fees and points into consideration. However, for 30-year rates fees and points were at 0.5, while 15-year rates were at 0.6 points. Commercial mortgages were also not included in this report.

Calculations based on fixed rate mortgage rates
Sources: Freddie Mac, HSH.com, Associated Press

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Smart Things to Know About Real Estate Investment Trusts 0 Post a comment

They Operate as a Corporation
Real estate investment trusts (REITs) are a form of mutual funds and were first created in the 1960s. REITS are often corporations complete with a board of directors, stockholders and shares. They earn income, pay taxes and pay dividends to shareholders.

They usually own and operate property and create income from sales, rent or mortgages. REITs, like traditional stocks and bonds and other income-generating investments, are usually meant to produce passive income for shareholders and investors.

REITs Allow Earned Income
Investors and shareholders who invest in REITs earn income from what would traditionally be considered an expense. Homeowners spend plenty of money on homes either through rent or mortgage, insurance payments and taxes. Through REITs, individuals can earn additional income through a diverse investment portfolio.

REITS Rise and Fall with the Market
Real estate used to be seen as a safe investment, with a good chance of continuing income and great opportunities for growth for both the company and the investor. However, the housing bubble of 2008 changed that view. As with any investment, it pays to be cautious and research before buying in.

REITs Own Income-Producing Real Estate
REITs usually manage or own commercial or income-producing real estate properties. REITs often have a diverse portfolio to show that includes commercial properties for rent, apartment complexes or condominiums, hotels, hospitals and more. REITs create income through a variety of ways, which include collecting rent, leasing out properties through long-term contracts or property mortgage. Because they answer to shareholders and must pay dividends, REITs must produce profit for their stockholders.

REITs Exist All Over the World
The REIT structure is not just found in the United States, but all over North America, Europe and Asia. However, REITs may differ in structure and type throughout the world, depending on the country’s investment laws and practices. However, REIT end goals are often the same in every country. Through REITs, global real estate investment is also possible.

REITS Fall Under Two Categories
REITs fall under two categories: equity REITS and mortgage REITs. Equity REITs often own and manage properties under their own portfolio, unlike mortgage REITs which may develop or lend money primarily to property owners. Equity REITs fall under traditional real estate land ownership.

They primarily attend to renting and developing real estate property, which also includes improvements, tenant services and more. Knowing the differences can help you decide where to invest. Mortgage REITs operate more like traditional hedge funds and often engage in the same tactics.

REIT Capital Allows for Better Property Improvements
REITs provide secure investments and a larger capital base for general improvements to residential and commercial properties. These include repairs and renovation, maintenance, landscaping, tree pruning and full service care for garden and pool areas. REIT capital also provides a buffer for rent. Well-managed REITs usually post rent rates below market value and consistently maintain their portfolio. If you’re thinking of investment, you may want to take the time to visit sites that your chosen REIT company is known to manage.

It’s Easy to Invest
Browse the stock exchange for a list of publicly traded REIT companies. Individuals can purchase shares through a securities dealer as stocks or debt security. Alternatively, a financial planner can assist you with a prospective company.

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Merging Digital Technology and Digital Design 0 Post a comment

Imagine this. As you enter the door after a long, frustrating day at work, instantly you are soothed by sky blue walls. The lights dim and your favorite album plays, trickling from speakers ensconced in the walls. Imagine that your bedroom windows slowly turn transparent as the sun rises, subtly shifting to allow the light in to wake you up. Imagine a home attuned to your moods and your needs.

Humankind has always designed spaces to cater to them. It seems to be an innate need, to possess and to customize. But what if you were given little more than a blank slate?

In many homes electronics and showcasing electronics has become a fundamental aspect of home d├ęcor and design. Nowadays, big-screen and LED TV want you to do more than watch television. They actively encourage families to interact with the screen or allow you to run the rest of the home from a convenient location. But these days, tech designers are going beyond the single screen. Imagine a floor to surface TV, with smart windows that not only filter out light but easily convert to a viewing screen.

Now that’s futuristic. Samsung’s translucent OLED screen can potentially do just that, because it doesn’t need structural support to convey sharp, realistic imagery. This opens up endless possibilities for interiors, especially in crowded cities where panoramic views are limited. Interactive walls also open up more than just the potential for entertainment. Imagine the work that can be done. Imagine future 3D immersion tech, right in your bedroom.

The potential is there. Architects and interior designers already take smart phones and tablets into consideration, designing docking stations and other accessories that complement the smart phone lifestyle. People know exactly how to integrate technology into their lives — it’s simply a matter of catching up.

Ubiquitous, high-speed internet access opens up the possibilities even more. In high-tech cities like Seoul, Korea commuters can turn their air conditioning on while still on the train, and come home to a comfortably cool living room.

Next-level accessories like Google Glass have shown the wealth of possibilities on a virtual plane and you can bet that integrating interior design and human comfort is just a step away. Interactive, online interiors also bring up a lot of possible questions for quality of life. For example, why not design a space designed solely to care for an infirm or bedridden patient with all of the technology? Or a space that caters specifically to a person with sight disabilities? Interior design has always come up with ingenious solutions for persons with special needs. For the future, your home may change as you age to accommodate new arrivals such as children.

Smart homes may just be a few years away. The revolution is already beginning, in small and significant ways.

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Building Your Home for the Future 0 Post a comment

Futuristic homes are now far beyond what people used to imagine. Think of the House of Tomorrow in that old Disney cartoon. Intelligent robot servants may still be a thing of the future now, but these days we have materials straight out of science fiction to play with. Solar paneling, intelligent glass and sustainable materials are just the tip of the iceberg.

When it comes to building your home of the future, here are a few things to consider:

Get a Green Architect to Help You Out
You may be tempted to DIY, but this can result in costly mistakes. A good architect can help you create an affordable plan to build the home you want, the way you want it. This can help you avoid rookie mistakes with load-bearing walls or insulation errors that can cost you thousands of dollars later on.

Plan Your Energy Sources
As electricity bills climb and climate change gets more and more out of control, consider your energy sources. Wiring your home well can help you save cash. Will you install solar paneling? Collect rainwater? Articulating these plans can help you build a home that is not only beautiful, but sustainable.

Disaster Proofing
In many countries, disaster proofing homes against natural, unavoidable disasters is a primary concern. Climate change and its effects not only threaten the safety of your home, but also stand to make you homeless if you are struck by disaster in the future. For example, in Southeast Asia many homes use flood-proof material like concrete, fiberglass and concrete planking to prevent rot and mold from forming after a long rainy season. Otherwise they use sustainable, easily replaceable building materials like bamboo or cork.

Do you live in a disaster-prone area? Plan accordingly for when the worst happens. This can mean anything from a working, comfortable tornado shelter to fire-proof storage for your important items and materials.

Resilience and Sustainability
Building for the future means building well. Look for materials that stand the test of time and are safe to use. Current trends are going back to the use of natural materials, reclaimed wood and fast-growing fibers like bamboo. But it’s not just about materials.

When building from the ground up, consider an efficient HVAC system as a necessity; look for ways to use natural insulation and the best windows you can afford.

Self-Sufficiency
Many of the world’s top architects emphasize sustainability and self-sufficiency as top design considerations for new home builders. Besides using the wealth of new sustainable materials, think of building your home for self-sufficiency. This means the ability to survive off-the-grid. In America, there is a growing home garden and aquaponic movement that tells people to add to their bounty by growing their own food. Is this something you can consider for your garden or home? If so, what would you like to add and how would you like to accomplish it?

Like the future, building a home means building endless possibilities. Unleashing your creativity and knowing what you want can mean living comfortably in your dream home for years to come.

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Inside New Construction 0 Post a comment

Brand-new homes may look new, smell new and feel new but hide rot and shoddy workmanship underneath. Buyers who purchase previously owned, or even foreclosed homes know what to look for: cracked foundations, leaking roofs, bad plumbing that magically bursts in the middle of the night or when you’re away (never when you’re home). The recovering real estate industry may be building new, but they are building bad.

Do your homework
Before purchasing a home, even if it’s brand new, it makes sense to get someone to conduct an inspection of the plumbing, sewage, electric, gas and other necessary lines. A licensed inspector is always the best bet, because they know exactly what to look out for.

Take a few days to take a look at the foundation, the garden and the walls. Shoddy construction shows through. See new cracks or suspiciously broken tiles, especially near corners or doorways? These indicate either inferior materials or unskilled labor.

Check your contract
Good contractors don’t get it right every time, but they do offer aftercare. If you know the contractor or the seller, try to see if you can agree to a list of discoverable defects. Contracts like these usually entail a set period of time for discovery after the move-in date and an allotment of time for the contractor to fix it any agreed upon errors. Another way to prevent minor annoyances is to ask for a detailed list of manufacturer’s used for parts and fixtures installed in the home. This way you can hunt down an easy replacement in case something breaks.

Obtain a guarantee from your real estate agent or the contractor in the event the construction is over a year old. Warranties, escrows and other guarantees can also help protect your finances if things go bad. Express warranties often last up to a year, and in many cases that’s suitable for minor and major repairs. It also helps to declare any major renovations (such as a new bathroom, sewer line, etc) to the county and follow procedure to make sure you always have a legal fallback when a builder blames your DIY urges for the faulty insulation and the black mold slowly taking over the ceiling.

Know your rights
Shoddy construction may not show up until a few years later, much to your chagrin. Contractors may also knowingly mask errors with artificial molding, cladding or by sheer luck. In many states, the statute of limitation stretches up to ten years for filing suit, but in some states it can be as short as five-years. As a homeowner, you have a right to purchase a sound home that you can safely dwell and live in. State laws often call on a warranty that includes reasonable workmanship and fitness for habitation. Failing to meet these standards can be grounds for litigation.

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Living in a Micro Apartment 0 Post a comment

Can you imagine in an apartment barely as big as a closet? Well, some people are.

In cities like Seattle, people are opting to downsize when it comes to apartment spaces. These tiny pads are typically smaller than an average living room, ranging in size from 100 to 300 square feet. Ideal for single people, couples and anyone looking to downsize, micro apartments are a trend that seem to be taking root.

Do you think you have what it takes to live in a tiny pad?

Micro apartments may sound like a new term, but this type of housing has been around since World War II. Tenants who rented rooms out typically had kitchenette and sleeping areas, but shared a bathroom. Modern micro apartments boast the typical amenities found in larger apartments in different urban centers around the world, with the notable exception of everything being just a tad bit smaller. Popular in Britain and Japan, micro apartments are catching on past the Windy City.

Tolerating Communal Spaces
To live in a micro apartment, you have to know how to share. Micro apartments often rely on communal spaces, like patios and gardens to create space. This means that you may be bumping into your neighbors more often than you think. This can mean that you have someone to share your rooftop garden with, or it can mean a nightmare neighbor who tends to leave their beer bottles scattered all over your communal wicker chairs.

In some micro apartments, even the kitchen units are shared. While this may elicit gasps of horror from those used to dorm-style living, for others it may be a blessing in disguise.

Ability to Live in a Small Space
Micro apartments are made for the successful single, couples or anyone looking to downsize from larger properties. The ability to live in a small space will definitely be offset by your rent bill. Micro apartments typically cost 50% less than their larger counterparts. They are also often located near city centers, restaurants and open areas like parks or recreation centers.

To compensate for the lack of space, micro apartments often feature furniture with double functionality. An example is a futon or fold-away bed or a table that doubles as an ironing board. These small tweaks turn an apartment into a multifunctional dream. Furniture makers are already buying into the trend with compact furniture, multifunctional utensils and downsized items.

In an economy where wealth is often represented by size, micro apartments can feel like the antithesis of the American Dream. But for many, scaling down can be a way to save up and scale up. For the practical, the micro apartment is the perfect living solution: an affordable, compact space without the frills.

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Real Estate Apps: Do You Need One? 0 Post a comment

Apps have changed the world and how the world lives. For many smartphone users, apps have gone beyond fun little games like Angry Birds that you play while waiting at the doctor’s office. They have become fundamental aspects of daily life. Apps are software programs specifically designed to interact with phones. In many cases they are extremely user-friendly and tailored to fit a user’s needs.

There are apps for tracking calories, fitness, purchases, finance, even pets. To the 90% of Americans use their mobile on a daily basis, an app is simply an extension of their phone.

It’s no surprise that when they want to look for a new home they automatically start looking through their mobiles. Luckily, there’s an app for that. Many potential buyers now go through the internet first before even contacting an agent, and apps are an ideal way to showcase home listings.

FREE APPS
Free apps like Lovely and Homesnap for iPhone and Android and use different ways of listing homes that help buyers to find what they want. For many people, a dream home goes beyond the two to three bedroom A-frame with a white picket fence. Nowadays homeowners are extremely flexible but also have specific needs. Furthermore, these apps are also used for people looking to rent for transient stays.

Top apps go beyond just listing homes and prices, but give a good rundown of the surrounding neighborhood, amenities, schools, even if the area is pet-friendly or not. For the potential buyer, this is also an ideal way to tap in with what other people think of the area. For example, Trulia coordinates with review site Yelp.com to so consumers can read ratings of nearby restaurants. For a buyer concerned about quality of life and the quality of the neighborhood, this can be a selling point.

Apps like Zillow take it one step further by incorporating mortgage calculators to help you decide if you can actually afford the home. For real estate agents, this can mean that homeowners come in savvy and willing to talk pricing even before you make an offer.

CUSTOMIZING APPS
Should your real estate company invest in a custom made app? It’s a case to case basis. Building a user-friendly and working app means an in-depth study of what your consumers want. It also means hiring developers to actually create the app for you, as well as provide aftercare and customer service for future troubleshooting and updates. It’s not simply a matter of uploading data into a template. The idea of an app is a customized piece of software that showcases the best your company can offer. It’s an investment that you may want to consider, but an expensive one.

The two major systems — Apple’s IOS and Google’s Play Store — both charge developers fees to include apps in their listings. Apple also has a strict set of guidelines that you must follow, or the app will get yanked from the list. In many cases, a mobile-friendly website is the better idea unless you have a huge network, thousands of listings and a developer budget firmly set aside.

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