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Archive for April 2010

Renters Save Energy: GO GREEN!

Tuesday, April 20th, 2010

Tenants can save energy and money by making a few small changes, and can negotiate with their landlords for other improvements.

It turns out that many leases prevent tenants from making changes that could lead to substantial energy savings.

No permission needed
If saving money is your main concern, start by taking small, simple steps to cut your electricity bill, like replacing incandescent lights with compact fluorescent or halogen bulbs and unplugging electronics when they’re not in use, or plugging them into a power strip that you can easily turn off. Some power strips now come with remote controls to save you having to crawl back behind the desk.

Another energy saving suggestion is to look for Energy Star-certified products when shopping for home electronics. Products like TVs, DVD players, computers and cable boxes now come with Energy Star ratings.

Ask before you try
Closing up drafts with caulking or foam sealant, or putting plastic film over your windows to keep heat in may seem noninvasive. But in a standard lease, both would be prohibited because anything that you affix to the property is considered an improvement legally, or an alteration.

One solution: See if your landlord would be willing to share the cost with you. Caulk and foam sealant are eligible for federal tax credits, so you could offer to do the work and let your landlord take that credit.

Lower Your Property Taxes

Tuesday, April 20th, 2010

With property taxes rising dramatically, some owners are appealing their tax assessments and lowering their bills, while others simply relocate.

Dan Scagliozzi has paid higher property taxes each year since he purchased his home in West Orange, N.J., more than a decade ago. Last year, with the value of his house sliding, he decided to do something about it.

Using a new online property-tax service, he appealed his tax assessment. Scagliozzi, 52, says he reduced his assessment 11%, knocking his tax bill to $13,049 from $14,680.

“Overall, a very nice return on our $49.99 investment,” he said of the fee he paid an online tax-appeal service, It recently raised its price in New Jersey to $79.99. The service is also available in Arizona, California, Florida, Washington and Illinois.

There are other local and national services as well, including, with services available in many states starting at about $40 for a basic home valuation. But homeowners can do the work themselves and submit an appeal for the cost of their local filing fees.

Property owners are taking action across the country as tax bills continue rising, even as home values have tumbled. Nationally, median prices of existing homes fell 22.3% from 2006 to 2009, according to the National Association of Realtors. But local tax formulas and assessment cycles usually don’t reflect rapid price declines. Indeed, a recent survey by the National League of Cities found 25% of cities raised property tax rates in fiscal year 2009 to offset falling tax revenues.

Foreclosures Increase

Tuesday, April 20th, 2010

Despite efforts by the Obama administration to stanch nationwide housing woes, banks took back a quarter-million homes in the first quarter of 2010. But banks are keeping most of these properties off the market in an effort to improve home prices.

The foreclosure crisis hit a new peak in the first quarter, as banks took back the largest number of properties to date.

The number of homes entering REO status (short for “real estate owned” by a bank) climbed 35% to 257,944 — the highest quarterly total ever — from 190,543 in the first quarter of last year and 9% from the previous quarter, according to real-estate data firm RealtyTrac. The increase comes as lenders seized more property that couldn’t qualify under the Obama administration’s Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP).

“There have been delays throughout the system, and it has taken longer for properties to go from delinquency to default,” says Rick Sharga, senior vice president at RealtyTrac. Once rejected for HAMP, however, these properties are now moving to foreclosure at an accelerated pace, Sharga says.

More properties moving through pipeline
Foreclosure filings — from notices of default to bank repossessions — were reported on 932,234 homes in the first quarter of this year, a 16% increase from the same period last year and a 7% jump from the previous quarter, according to RealtyTrac.

And the pace accelerated near the end of the quarter, with foreclosure filings reported on 367,056 properties in March, an increase of 19% from the previous month and the highest monthly total since RealtyTrac began issuing its report in January 2005.

Foreclosure auctions were scheduled on 369,491 properties during the quarter, the highest quarterly total since RealtyTrac began compiling its report.

New Short Sale Rules

Tuesday, April 20th, 2010

The streamlined rules are intended to help borrowers avoid foreclosure.

Homeowners struggling to sell their homes in a short sale are getting some relief, thanks to the federal government’s Home Affordable Foreclosure Alternatives (HAFA) program.

HAFA establishes streamlined short-sale rules and provides incentives for borrowers and lenders to work together to avoid foreclosure. The rules — in effect between April 5, 2010, and Dec. 31, 2012 — also are intended to speed up the short-sale process.

Under HAFA, borrowers receive pre-approved short-sale terms from the lender before putting the home on the market.

Eligibility requirements
The HAFA guidelines apply to lenders that voluntarily participate in the Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP). The Department of Housing and Urban Development says more than 100 servicers have signed up to participate in HAMP, covering more than 89% of mortgage debt outstanding in the country.

To be eligible for HAFA, homeowners must first apply for a loan modification through HAMP. Owners who do not qualify for a loan modification or miss payments during the initial loan-modification period qualify for HAFA.

Other HAFA requirements include:

  • Property is principal residence.
  • Mortgage originated before Jan. 1, 2009.
  • Mortgage is owned or guaranteed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac.
  • Borrower is delinquent or default is foreseeable.
  • Homeowner demonstrates hardship.
  • Borrower’s total monthly housing payment exceeds 31% of gross income.
  • Unpaid principal does not exceed $729,750.

According to HAFA rules, lenders now must offer a short sale in writing to the borrower within 30 days if the borrower does not qualify for or complete a loan modification. Borrowers then must respond within 14 days to the lender’s short-sale agreement.

When a purchase offer is made, borrowers must submit the sales contract to the lender within three days, along with the buyers’ mortgage pre-approval and the status of negotiations with other lien holders on the seller’s property.

Finally, lenders must approve or deny the contract within 10 days.

Today’s Mortgage Rates

Friday, April 2nd, 2010

Wells Fargo posted Today’s Mortgage Rates

as of 04/02/2010 11:00 AM Eastern

Product Interest Rate APR
Conforming 1and FHA Loans
30-Year Fixed 5.250% 5.444%
30-Year Fixed FHA 5.250% 5.981%
15-Year Fixed 4.375% 4.700%
5-Year ARM 3.875% 3.564%
5-Year ARM FHA 3.750% 3.342%
Larger Loan Amounts in Eligible AreasConforming and FHA.1
30-Year Fixed 5.375% 5.516%
30-Year Fixed FHA 5.250% 5.924%
5-Year ARM 4.250% 3.652%
Jumbo1 Loans – Amounts that exceed conforming loan limits1
30-Year Fixed 5.500% 5.643%
5-Year ARM 4.750% 3.836%

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