6 Things Your Mortgage Lender Wants You To Know About Getting a Home Loan During COVID-19

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Getting a mortgage, paying your mortgage, refinancing your mortgage: These are all major undertakings, but during a pandemic, all of it becomes more complicated. Sometimes a lot more complicated.

But make no mistake, home buyers are still taking out and paying down mortgages during the current global health crisis. There have, in fact, been some silver linings amid the economic uncertainty—hello, record-low interest rates—but also plenty of changes to keep up with. Mortgage lending looks much different now than at the start of the year.

Whether you’re applying for a new mortgage, struggling to pay your current mortgage, or curious about refinancing, here’s what mortgage lenders from around the country want you to know.

1. Rates have dropped, but getting a mortgage has gotten more complicated

First, the good news about mortgage interest rates: “Rates have been very low in recent weeks, and have come back down to their absolute lowest levels in a long time,” says Yuri Umanski, senior mortgage consultant at Premia Relocation Mortgage in Troy, MI.

That means this could be a great time to take out a mortgage and lock in a low rate. But getting a mortgage is more difficult during a pandemic.

“Across the industry, underwriting a mortgage has become an even more complex process,” says Steve Kaminski, head of U.S. residential lending at TD Bank. “Many of the third-party partners that lenders rely on—county offices, appraisal firms, and title companies—have closed or taken steps to mitigate their exposure to COVID-19.”

Even if you can file your mortgage application online, Kaminski says many steps in the process traditionally happen in person, like getting notarization, conducting a home appraisal, and signing closing documents.

As social distancing makes these steps more difficult, you might have to settle for a “drive-by appraisal” instead of a thorough, more traditional appraisal inside the home.

“And curbside closings with masks and gloves started to pop up all over the country,” Umanski adds.

2. Be ready to prove (many times) that you can pay a mortgage

If you’ve lost your job or been furloughed, you might not be able to buy your dream house (or any house) right now.

“Whether you are buying a home or refinancing your current mortgage, you must be employed and on the job,” says Tim Ross, CEO of Ross Mortgage Corp. in Troy, MI. “If someone has a loan in process and becomes unemployed, their mortgage closing would have to wait until they have returned to work and received their first paycheck.”

Lenders are also taking extra steps to verify each borrower’s employment status, which means more red tape before you can get a loan.

Normally, lenders run two or three employment verifications before approving a new loan or refinancing, but “I am now seeing employment verification needed seven to 10 times—sometimes even every three days,” says Tiffany Wolf, regional director and senior loan officer at Cabrillo Mortgage in Palm Springs, CA. “Today’s borrowers need to be patient and readily available with additional documents during this difficult and uncharted time in history.”

3. Your credit score might not make the cut anymore

Economic uncertainty means lenders are just as nervous as borrowers, and some lenders are raising their requirements for borrowers’ credit scores.

“Many lenders who were previously able to approve FHA loans with credit scores as low as 580 are now requiring at least a 620 score to qualify,” says Randall Yates, founder and CEO of The Lenders Network.

Even if you aren’t in the market for a new home today, now is a good time to work on improving your credit score if you plan to buy in the future.

“These changes are temporary, but I would expect them to stay in place until the entire country is opened back up and the unemployment numbers drop considerably,” Yates says.

4. Forbearance isn’t forgiveness—you’ll eventually need to pay up

The CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act requires loan servicers to provide forbearance (aka deferment) to homeowners with federally backed mortgages. That means if you’ve lost your job and are struggling to make your mortgage payments, you could go months without owing a payment. But forbearance isn’t a given, and it isn’t always all it’s cracked up to be.

“The CARES Act is not designed to create a freedom from the obligation, and the forbearance is not forgiveness,” Ross says. “Missed payments will have to be made up.”

You’ll still be on the hook for the payments you missed after your forbearance period ends, so if you can afford to keep paying your mortgage now, you should.

To determine if you’re eligible for forbearance, call your loan servicer—don’t just stop making payments.

If your deferment period is ending and you’re still unable to make payments, you can request delaying payments for additional months, says Mark O’ Donovan, CEO of Chase Home Lending at JPMorgan Chase.

After you resume making your payments, you may be able to defer your missed payments to the end of your mortgage, O’Donovan says. Check with your loan servicer to be sure.

5. Don’t be too fast to refinance

Current homeowners might be eager to refinance and score a lower interest rate. It’s not a bad idea, but it’s not the best move for everyone.

“Homeowners should consider how long they expect to reside in their home,” Kaminski says. “They should also account for closing costs such as appraisal and title insurance policy fees, which vary by lender and market.”

If you plan to stay in your house for only the next two years, for example, refinancing might not be worth it—hefty closing costs could offset the savings you would gain from a lower interest rate.

“It’s also important to remember that refinancing is essentially underwriting a brand-new mortgage, so lenders will conduct income verification and may require the similar documentation as the first time around,” Kaminski adds.

6. Now could be a good time to take out a home equity loan

Right now, homeowners can also score low rates on a home equity line of credit, or HELOC, to finance major home improvements like a new roof or addition.

“This may be a great time to take out a home equity line to consolidate debt,” Umanski says. “This process will help reduce the total obligations on a monthly basis and allow for the balance to be refinanced into a much lower rate.”

Just be careful not to overimprove your home at a time when the economy and the housing market are both in flux.

The post 6 Things Your Mortgage Lender Wants You To Know About Getting a Home Loan During COVID-19 appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights | realtor.com®.

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The Pros and Cons of Building vs. Buying as a First-time Homeowner

If you’re torn between buying or building a home, understanding what each option entails will help you make a more informed decision. Here are the pros and cons of each journey.

The post The Pros and Cons of Building vs. Buying as a First-time Homeowner appeared first on Homes.com.

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A Guide To Everything You Need To Know About Home Ownership Costs [Free Download]

Along with the excitement of purchasing a new home, comes the additional costs that you will be expected to pay as a homeowner. Apart from covering the mortgage of your home, you’ll have additional expenses – such as home insurance – that you will be expected to cover. If you’re looking to budget for a home purchase, it’s important that you consider these costs as they can add up to thousands of dollars each year.

To help you make educated decisions when budgeting, we’ve compiled a list of the major home ownership costs in one free, downloadable guide. Get the Home Ownership Costs to Consider guide here.

Home Insurance

Home insurance policies help protect against serious damage and destruction, like fires, leaks, floods, or break-ins. It also protects a homeowner from personal liability. Some banks may offer home insurance products, although you can typically purchase a home insurance policy through a home insurance agent or broker. 

Tip: You may get better rates if you use a broker or agent. It’s also important to keep in mind that policies typically renew on an annual basis.

Condo Fees

The cost of maintenance fees should be taken into account when you’re buying a condo. This recurring cost is in addition to your mortgage and impacts how much home you can afford. 

Your mandatory monthly fee will vary by your building and square footage. It typically covers:

  • Utilities (such as water and garbage collection)
  • Building insurance
  • Maintenance of common areas (such as the gym, pool, front desk, hallways, landscaping)
  • Building reserve fund (covers emergencies and long-term maintenance projects such as a new roof or elevators repairs)

What Are Status Certificates?

If you’re looking to purchase a condo, you’ll want to look into obtaining a status certificate so that you have as much information about the building and your unit as possible before buying. A status certificate provides valuable information about the condo corporation and its financial

situation. It includes details on the budget, legal issues, the reserve fund, maintenance fees, and any fee increases expected in the future. 

Tip: You’ll want to carefully review your status certificate with your lawyer before making a purchase.

Property Tax

Property taxes are paid annually by homeowners to their municipality. These taxes are ongoing and are separate from your mortgage. Your annual property tax can often be paid in installments.

Tip: It’s important to remember that this cost is not due at closing, but is a recurring cost.

How Are Property Taxes Calculated?

Your property tax rate will vary depending on the value of your property as assessed by your provincial assessment authority. This is then multiplied by a rate that falls between 0.5% to 2.5%.

How Do You Pay Property Taxes?

You can pay your property taxes either through your mortgage provider or directly to your municipality. 

Your Utility Bills

When you purchase a home, you’ll have to set up or transfer your utility bills to your new home. If you live in a condo, these costs may be included in your monthly maintenance fee. Your utility bill will include:

  • Hydro (electricity)
  • Heat
  • Water and Garbage
  • Internet, Phone, Cable

For the full details on the home buyer’s journey including examples, advice, pictures and sample calculations, download a copy of our free Home Ownership Costs to Consider Guide here.

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How Unemployment Can Affect Your Plans To Buy a Home—Now and Later

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The coronavirus pandemic has led to record-high unemployment rates not seen since the Great Depression. And this is particularly worrisome for would-be home buyers.

If you were among the 23.1 million Americans who were laid off or furloughed, you might be worried about your financial future. And if you were hoping to buy a house—either now or in the next few years—you might also wonder how your current jobless status might affect those plans.

While the situation might seem dire, unemployment does not mean that home-buying plans have to be put on hold for long. Here’s how to navigate a period of unemployment so that it doesn’t derail your hopes to buy a home.

Can you buy a home if you’re unemployed?

For starters: If you lose your job while in the midst of home shopping or after you’ve even made an offer, you might have to put the purchase on hold.

The reason: Given your reduced income, the odds of lenders loaning you money for a property purchase are slim, unless your spouse or partner has a sizable income that can carry the mortgage alone.

And even if you’re getting unemployment checks every week, that money is considered temporary income, so it can’t be used to qualify for a mortgage, says Jackie Boies, senior director of housing and bankruptcy services at Money Management International, a nonprofit providing financial education and counseling.

In short, “unemployment could have an effect on your ability to purchase a home in the short term,” Boies says.

But the good news is that once you find a new job, you can likely resume home shopping without trouble, Boies adds. “Unemployment shouldn’t have a long-term effect on being able to buy a home.”

How long after unemployment can you buy a home?

But even once you do find a new job, that doesn’t mean you can easily buy a house just yet. That’s because lenders like to see a steady history of employment before loaning someone money.

“Regular employment must be reestablished as stable, reliable, and dependable,” says Karma Herzfeld, mortgage loan originator at Motto Mortgage Alliance in Little Rock, AR.

So how long is enough? Lenders typically require borrowers to have six months of employment at their current job, and two years of continuous employment. Breaks in employment older than two years shouldn’t affect getting a mortgage.

How unemployment affects your credit score

While unemployment doesn’t jeopardize future home-buying hopes per se, financial experts warn that what can put those plans at risk is how you handle your finances while jobless. Unemployment, after all, can stress your budget in ways that can damage your credit history and credit score.

Lenders check your credit score to assess how well you’ve managed past debts. Scores between 650 and 700 range from fair to good; scores below 650 are considered subpar, which could limit which lenders are willing to loan you money for a house. (You can check your score for free on sites like Credit Karma.)

Credit scores can be damaged in a variety of ways during unemployment. For one, if you get behind on paying bills, this will put some blemishes on your credit history and drag your score down.

Unemployment can also lower your credit score by negatively affecting your debt-to-income ratio, a calculation used by mortgage lenders to compare how much you make against how much you owe.

If you’re unemployed, you may face a double whammy as your income is lower and you’re charging more to your credit cards, thus increasing your debt. Both moves can negatively affect your debt-to-income ratio, which may make lenders leery of loaning you money.

“Any factor that affects income or debt may affect the debt-to-income ratio,” Herzfeld explains.

In sum, hopeful home buyers should be careful not to take on too much debt, even while unemployed. You need to preserve cash as best you can.

“I recommend, if on unemployment, [you] cut back on all discretionary spending and make every effort to keep bills current so that the credit score may not get negatively impacted,” Herzfeld says.

Debt-to-income ratio will likely rebalance once you return to work, as long as you haven’t racked up too much debt during the period of unemployment, Boies says.

How to handle your finances while unemployed

“My recommendation is to always try as best as you can to pay at least the minimum required payment on all monthly debt obligations, otherwise credit may be negatively affected,” Herzfeld says.

Boies suggests reaching out to landlords, credit card companies, utilities, auto lenders, and others to find out what options you have, such as payment plans, deferments, or forbearance. You might also be able to reduce some bills, such as insurance, by reviewing your policy.

“Don’t think that if you can’t pay that bill, you just can’t do anything about it,” Boies says. “You need to reach out to see what options they have available to you.”

How to bounce back from unemployment

If your credit score is negatively affected while you’re unemployed, it’s not the end of the world—but it will take time to repair.

Six months to a year or more of positive credit rebuilding could get you on track to buy a home, Herzfeld says.

“The sooner past-due debts can be remedied, the sooner the score may begin to improve,” she says.

The post How Unemployment Can Affect Your Plans To Buy a Home—Now and Later appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights | realtor.com®.

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How to Save Money For Your First Home

While saving for your first home can seem overwhelming, there are plenty of tips and helpful hints to help you succeed. Our first-time buyer’s guide has everything you need to get started!

The post How to Save Money For Your First Home appeared first on Homes.com.

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Home Buyer’s Guide: How to Purchase a Property, From Start to Finish [Free Download]

Purchasing a home is both exciting and a major milestone in your life, so you’ll want to be prepared for what to expect to avoid a stressful process. Having an in-depth look at the buyer’s journey can help you make informed and confident decisions.

From finding a real estate agent, negotiating offers to getting your keys on closing day, we’ve outlined all the steps of a home buyer’s journey in our free Buyer’s Guide, which you can download here.

The Buyer’s Guide will cover the buyer’s timeline from meeting an agent to preparing for closing day. We’ve outlined the 8 steps in a home buyer’s journey below.

1. Working With An Agent

Every city is filled with thousands of agents, but not all are equal. We believe it is important to choose an agent that you feel confident with. Before you commit to working with an agent, make sure you have a good understanding of the knowledge and experience they offer. It’s important that you ask your questions before making the decision to work with them.

2. Financing Your Purchase

Before you set a budget and start looking for a home, you’ll have to understand what costs to expect when purchasing a home. Here are some of the major costs involved:

  • Deposits
  • Down payments
  • Mortgage insurance
  • Closing costs

You’ll also want to calculate a rough estimate of the down payment that you will be expected to pay. Depending on the price of your home, your minimum down payment can range from 5% to 20%. If you’re interested in learning more about how to finance your home, you can get our free Financing Your Purchase guide here.

3. Searching For A Home

An important part of searching for a home is understanding how the home will fit with your needs and your lifestyle. You’ll want to consider home ownership as well as different types of properties and features. 

Types of Home Ownership

  • Freehold Ownership
    • You purchase the home and directly own the lot of land it sits on
  • Condominium Ownership
    • For condos, you own specific parts of one building: titled ownership of your unit, along with shared ownership in the condo corporation that owns the common spaces and amenities
  • Co-Op Ownership
    • You own an exact portion of the building as a whole and also have exclusive use of your unit

Types of Properties

  • Detached houses
  • Semi-detached houses
  • Attached houses
  • Condos and apartments
  • Multi-unit

Tip: Depending on your budget and desired location, you may need to be flexible to find a home that meets your needs. By being willing to trade some features for others, you’ll have more options to choose from.

4. Negotiating An Offer

When you are making an offer to purchase a home, the purchase agreement should include the essential components listed below. Your agent can help put together an offer that is compelling, while safeguarding your interests and puts you in a competitive position to secure your new home.

You’ll also have the opportunity to choose the conditions that you’ll want in your offer. Some of these may include a home inspection or a status certificate review.

5. Financial Due Diligence

Whenever you make an offer on a house, you need to provide a deposit to secure the offer. The deposit is in the form of a certified cheque, bank draft, or wire transfer; it’s held in trust by the selling brokerage and is applied towards your down payment if your offer is successful.

There are two types of deposits:

  • Upon acceptance
    • The deposit is provided within 24 hours of the seller choosing your offer
  • Herewith
    • The deposit is provided when the offer is made

6. Property Due Diligence

To firm up a deal or educate yourself more on the state of the property, you’ll likely want to have a home inspection if you’re purchasing a house. If you’re purchasing a condo, then your lawyer will review the building’s status certificate.

Home Inspection

A home inspector will assess elements of the home such as the walls, windows, plumbing, heating and roof to judge the condition of the home. This process is non-invasive and is essential to help provide buyers with a good idea of the home’s current condition and the confidence of putting in an offer. 

Tip: The home inspector will provide a summary of suggested work along with a minimum budget estimate for the repairs needed. 

Status Certificates

If you’re purchasing a condominium, you’ll need to obtain a status certificate from the condo board or management for your lawyer’s review. This document will include valuable information about the condo’s budget, legal issues, reserve fund, maintenance fees and future fees increases – and the lawyer can help identify potential red flags

7. Preparing For Closing

Before the big day, you’ll want to keep a checklist of what to do ahead of time. Some of these include:

  • Review your contract
  • Complete a final walkthrough of the home
  • Purchase home insurance
  • Meet with your lawyer
  • Know how much cash you’ll need
  • Secure cash required for closing

8. Closing Day

Closing Day is when you’ll finally get the keys to your new home! In addition to bringing the cash required for closing, you’ll have to sign a few more documents which will include:

  • Mortgage loan
  • Title transfer
  • Statement of adjustments
  • Tax certificates

For the full details on the home buyer’s journey including examples, advice, pictures and sample calculations, download a copy of our free Buyer’s Guide here.

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