Leverage in a Tight Market

photo by Rex Pe

TheStreet.com quoted me in Home Shoppers Seeking Leverage in a Tight Market. It opens,

Homebuyers have faced tight supply issues this year, and obtaining leverage in this market has been challenging.

The lower inventories pushed sales in July down by 3%, according to the National Association of Realtors, a Chicago-based trade organization. The decline has resulted in sales falling back to levels in March and April with an annualized pace of 5.39 million, bringing the sales pace down by 2% from July 2015. The level of inventory of homes for sale has declined by 6%.
As the faster summer buying pace has moved into the fall phase when there are fewer buyers, consumers have a greater advantage as homes are on the market longer. For both May and June, the listings stayed on Realtor.com a median of 65 days. By July, that figure rose to 68 days and August brings even more options and should end at 72 days. The reduction of inventory has occurred for 47 consecutive months, helping sellers, but restricting options for buyers.

For homebuyers who want to nab their dream house in the neighborhood they have been eyeing, they still have leverage, but here are some tips to improve the process.

Home Buying Tips

Before consumers start shopping, they should work on improving their finances and avoid making any large purchases such as a car. After finding out your FICO score, the goal is to find ways for it to rise above 700, which means you will qualify with more lenders and obtain a lower interest rate, saving you thousands of dollars, said Jonathan Smoke, chief economist for realtor.com, a Santa Clara, Calif.-based real estate company.

Determine how much you can carve out of your savings for a down payment, but still maintain six months of emergency funds, especially if you are buying an older home which may have unexpected repairs.

The average down payment in 2016 is 11% across the U.S., but it depends vastly on the market and loan you are seeking.

“If you are struggling to come up with a down payment necessary for your market or type of mortgage, research down payment assistance programs,” he said. “Get all of your financial records organized, including recent bank and financial statements, the last two years of income tax filings and pay statements.”

There are many opportunities available since mortgage rates remain near historic lows and are unlikely to see substantial moves soon.

“The buying opportunity is still substantial and now the annual cycle means you will face less competition on homes that are on the market,” Smoke said.

Sellers want to see serious buyers, so getting pre-approved from a lender is important.

“A pre-approval letter as part of an offer will communicate to the seller that you have the ability to close,” he said.

Sellers still have an advantage and even though there are fewer potential buyers with fall right around the corner, the existing inventory remains low, so getting a house under contract can still be problematic, Smoke said.

“Don’t expect sellers to feel desperate,” he said. “Sellers may still act like it is the spring. Listen to the advice of your realtor on the composition of the initial offer so that you are more likely to keep the conversation going rather than face complete rejection.”

While you continue to search for another home, maintain your savings and increase the amount of your down payment and keep paying down your credit cards and student loans. Consumers who will be receiving a bonus in December should include these funds it into their down payment. If the interest rates for your credit card rates are fairly low, consider bulking up your down payment since mortgage rates are very low, said Colby Sambrotto, president of USRealty.com, a New York-based online real estate broker. said. These measures will help increase your odds as you house hunt.

“Ask your lender to recalculate your loan preapproval to reflect your updated debt-to-income ratio and the greater amount you can put down,” he said. “That can reframe your search parameters.”

Down payment assistance is available through employer and community group programs. Some companies will offer loans if you remain employed there for a certain number of years, said Sambrotto. A good source for more information about various programs is Down Payment Resource.

“The loans are usually geared to encourage employees to buy around a certain area, usually within walking distance of the employer,” he said.

Location is Key

Transportation can emerge as a “hidden cost” if your commute includes costly tolls or you want quicker access to cultural and sporting events, schools for children, shopping districts and professional education opportunities.

“Narrow your search to neighborhoods that offer economical options for commuting and routine errands,” Sambrotto said. “Look for neighborhood groups on Facebook and ask to join the conversation so you can quiz current residents about the true cost of living in that area.”

While homeowners might prefer a standard standalone house, a two-family duplex might be a better option, said David Reiss, a law professor at Brooklyn Law School in New York. These homes have a clear advantage because they generate investment income along with various financing, tax and capital gains advantages which the traditional single-family house does not have.

“Think through your preferences and then take a fresh look at the market,” he said. “You might have that idealized picket-fenced house in mind, but a duplex will expand the number of houses you can look at. They also bring along all sorts of additional maintenance responsibilities with them, so they are not right for everyone.”

Risks and Rewards of Downsizing

photo by Lars Plougmann

The Deseret News quoted me in Why The Young and Old Are Embracing The Rewards of Downsizing. It reads, in part,

Not very long ago, living with less implied money problems or a lack of professional success.

No longer. From younger and middle-aged professionals to retirees, more people are embracing the rewards of “downsizing” — a term that can mean anything from ridding yourself of unnecessary possessions to opting for a less spacious home.

“Downsizing your home can make sense,” said artist and designer Pablo Solomon. “You can save on energy costs, insurance, taxes and upkeep.”

But don’t cart stuff out to the dumpster or plant the “for sale” sign in the front yard just yet. First, consider the varied ways that downsizing can streamline your life.

Home, sweet (downsized) home

One of the most ready targets for would-be downsizers is their home. Perhaps they’ve recently retired and want to retire extensive upkeep responsibilities as well. By contrast, younger people might embrace the greater simplicity that can come from a home that better matches their lifestyle.

But downsizing is not the remedy for other issues, Solomon said, that need a different — and sometimes less costly — approach: “Don’t downsize to be part of a trend or fad or to escape depression or make a ‘statement,’” he said.

Approach downsizing your home as you would any sort of housing decision. Consider space, amenities and any associated costs — only from a particularly budget-conscious perspective.

“Think about the long-term needs you will have for the next 20 to 30 years. Don’t select a place to live temporarily — the costs of moving are high and the cost of buying and selling homes is also high,” said Linda P. Jones, host of the “Be Wealthy & Smart” podcast. “Think before you make a decision and be sure about the move you are making so you won’t have to do it again.”

Another way to approach downsizing a home is what Jodi Holzband of the self-storage search website Sparefoot referred to as “rightsizing” — beginning with basic living requirements and, from there, thoughtfully adding on those features that are of genuine importance.

“Focus first on your needs — essential living items like your bed, clothing and toiletries,” she said. “Then focus on what you love or value — the touchstones of life such as pictures, memorabilia from home, vacation souvenirs, high school pennants and varsity jackets. Look to the space you have and limit what you take in this second category based on space.”

Lastly, don’t ignore possible tax consequences of moving into a smaller space. For instance, retirees who have owned a home for a long time may have acccumulated a great deal of equity. As David Reiss, a professor of law at Brooklyn Law School, noted, capital gains that exceed a certain amount (generally, $250,000 for one person, $500,000 for a married couple) are taxable. Check with a tax professional to gauge your situation.

Friday’s Tax Roundup