Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Tips on Buying & Financing Your First Home

For many younger Americans, the dream of owning their first home is alive and well. But for others, it's still an elusive dream.

Only five years ago, it was relatively easy to finance a home, but the Great Recession and the mortgage market's meltdown have made it difficult for many people to qualify for home loans. The shifting state of home values and prices has complicated matters. In some markets, values have plunged by more than 40 percent. While that has created once-in-a-lifetime opportunities for younger people to enter the real estate market, others have taken a more cautious approach, waiting to see if prices will continue to fall.

Whether you're ready now or will be down the road, buying your first home takes preparation. Here are some tips from, the nation's leading website for free legal information, on how to get started.

Save aggressively for your down payment. Many first-time homebuyers seek a mortgage insured by the Federal Housing Association, which insures loans made by lenders for qualifying homebuyers. The program allows buyers to put down as little as 3.5 percent of a home's cost. However, if the home you want to buy doesn't qualify for the program, you'll need to obtain a conventional loan, which will require you to put down anywhere from 10 to 20 percent of the purchase price as a down payment to qualify for a mortgage.

Get your finances in order. Lenders are now taking a closer look at debt-to-income ratio (percentage of monthly income that goes toward debt payments) and housing-to-income ratio (percentage of monthly income that goes toward housing payments). In general, responsible lenders follow the 28/36 percent rule - no more than 28 percent of your monthly income should go to housing costs, and no more than 36 percent of your monthly income should go to debt (including auto loans, credit cards and other loans).

Clean up your credit report. Your credit score is critical to a mortgage application. The higher your score, the more likely you can qualify for a mortgage and obtain favorable terms (a lower down payment and lower monthly payments). By law, you can request one free credit report per year through one of the three major credit bureaus, Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. You should request your report to review your score and correct any mistakes well before you apply for a mortgage.

Don't apply for credit. Keep in mind that a mortgage lender is determining your ability to pay back a mortgage up until the minute you sign the mortgage papers. In general, it's not a good idea to take on more debt such as an auto loan or a new credit card within a year of buying a home.

First-year expenses. First-time homebuyers can be so focused on trying to put together a down payment that they sometimes forget about the expenses that go into setting up a household. You should consider putting away an additional $5,000 to $10,000 for expenses such as a lawnmower, furniture and basic decorating, and for potential repairs involving your furnace, air conditioning, water heater and other appliances.

Shop around. It's important to shop around to get the best home possible for your dollar. And likewise, it's critical to shop around for a mortgage too. Get at least three to four proposals from different mortgage lenders before deciding on the best offer.

Don't expect your dream home. Many first-time homebuyers purchase what's called a "starter" home or a "fixer-upper." While these are often relatively small and need some repairs, they're also an opportunity to enter the real estate market and build sweat equity. To spot a starter home, look for one that needs some love and attention in a neighborhood with houses that are well maintained or being remodeled.

Hire an attorney. If you purchase a home directly from the seller without the assistance of a real estate agent, an experienced real estate attorney can help you write up a purchase agreement, according to Some sellers may be interested in this option, because it can save them thousands of dollars in commission fees. A real estate attorney also can counsel you on dealing with legal problems that can arise during the process of buying a home, such as during the title search.

Home inspection. Even if you've come across the deal of a lifetime, never buy a house without a home inspection. An inspection will alert you to potential problems that may not be obvious to a person buying his or her first home. It also may be useful if you need to sue the seller for concealing problems with the home.

To learn more about how to buy your first home, visit

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Kids Becoming Home Owners?

I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess that when you were fourteen, you weren’t thinking about buying your first home. Well, believe it or not, there’s a young girl in Florida who has taken advantage of this incredible buyer’s market. 

14-Year Old Becomes Homeowner and Landlord

“Instead of using her $6,000 savings to buy an iPad, Willow Tufano bought herself a distressed property. And now she’s renting it out. Willow got help from her mother, who doubled her investment. Together, the two spent $12,000 to buy a 3-bedroom Florida short sale that, in better times, was valued at $100K. Now they are partners, since Florida requires a homeowner to be at least 18 years of age, but Willow plans to buy her mother out as soon as she can so she can own the home outright when she reaches the legal age.”

Admittedly, it’s a pretty incredible story, and certainly not the norm. But right now I’m seeing a lot of market activity which suggests that, despite what you read in the media, we may see see an uptick in sales and pricing on the North Shore. I think fear has been holding back a lot of people from seeing clear investment opportunities, and well, sometimes it takes the wisdom of a child to help us see the way!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

March 2012 Home Prices Up 2.5% over 2011

March 2012 existing home prices were up 2.5% over the same period in 2011. The number of homes sold was also up 5.2% over last year, but down from February 2012.

 We have recently been seeing inventory levels of real estate for sale in Massachusetts lower than they have been in a long time, which can make it a little more difficult for home buyers to find exactly what they are looking for. When they do find it, chances are there are several other buyers looking for the same property. This creates competition, hence we are seeing slightly higher home prices. We are seeing more bidding wars going on and more properties being sold over asking price. Mind you, these are the properties that are priced correctly for the market in the first place.

With the number of home buyers out there, if you are selling your home and you do not receive an offer on your property within 30 days, then it is overpriced. In fact in most cases, if you do not receive an offer on your home within 2 weeks, chances are that your home is not priced correctly. Today's home buyers are very knowledgeable about where property prices should be. On the average, they will take 45-60 days doing research online before they even go out to look at their first home. If your property is not priced right, you lose that buyer, who will most likely buy something else before you adjust your price to the correct market value.

Most people don't realize that pricing is part of real estate marketing. In fact, it is the most important part. If you do not price your home correctly I don't care how much promotion & advertising you do - it is not going to sell. Look at any other product for sale. Pricing is critical to it's success. Of course pricing a home, especially in this market,  is a lot more difficult than setting a price for most products because every property is different. That's why I say that determining the value of a home, either through an appraisal or a market analysis, is 75% science and 25% art. A lot depends on the knowledge of the individual performing the valuation, and the market conditions.

Jim Armstrong

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Question: Bank Owned Homes on

Question: I see homes on that appear to be for sale, but I can't find any information on the properties. They say the information is provided by RealyTrac, but I can't find any more info on their web site unless I pay for it. Where can I get the full information and address?

Answer: The properties that say "Provided by: RealtyTrac" are ALL pre-foreclosure or bank owned. They are not for sale or on the market - yet. If you want the full information on the property you will have to pay for membership with These listings are really just a form of advertising by RealtyTrac to get people to pay their for their service. If it is bank owned property you are looking for, then it is just a matter of time before it appears on the MLS (it might be several months). ALL bank owned properties are eventually listed on the MLS.

Trulia, Zillow and similar real estate listing sites are notoriously inaccurate and do not have timely information on them. I recommend to all my clients that they not use them because of that. It will just make them frustrated (like you).


Thursday, April 12, 2012

Massachusetts Pending Home Sales Continued Positive Trend in March for 11th Straight Month

First month since June 2011 to go over 4,000 homes mark

WALTHAM, Mass. – April 10, 2012 – The Massachusetts Association of REALTORS® (MAR) reported today that the number of single-family homes put under agreement in March went up again for the 11th straight month compared to the same time in 2011. Condominium pending sales were also up from the same time last year. Pending figures are a leading indicator of actual housing sales in Massachusetts for the following 2-3 months.

“Activity in the market place continues to build as reflected in the number of homes that went under agreement in March,” said 2012 MAR President Trisha McCarthy, broker at Keller Williams Realty in Newburyport. “We are taking important steps towards market recovery with each successive month of increased pending sales.”

The number of single-family homes put under agreement in March was up 38.8 percent compared to the same time last year (*3,256 homes in 2011 to 4,519 homes in 2012). This is the 11th straight month of year-over-year increases and the first month since June 2011 to go over the 4,000 homes under agreement mark. This month also had the most pending sales in March since MAR has been tracking the data. On a month-to-month basis, single-family homes put under agreement went up 34.2 percent from 3,368 homes in February.

The number of condos put under agreement in March was up 30.4 percent compared to March 2011 (*1,422 units in 2011 to 1,854 units in 2012). On a month-to-month basis, condos put under agreement were up 45.2 percent from 1,277 units in February.

About Pending Sales:
The tracking of signed purchase and sales agreements (also called “pending sales”) provide reliable information about where the real estate market is heading in coming months.

A pending sale or a sale “under agreement” is when the buyer and seller agree on the terms of the sale of a home and have a signed purchase and sale agreement, but have yet to close and be recorded as such. MAR is the only organization which compiles this statewide information from Multiple Listing Services each month.

Monday, April 09, 2012

Question: About A Listing Contract

Question: We are in a contract listing with an agent to short sell our property. There was an offer made and the listing agent did not even tell us about it. They rejected the offer and claimed they made a counter offer, but no counter offer was provided. There was nothing on the offer that they said they rejected it for except it was $2,000 less than the list price. What are our options? Can we cancel this and go with another broker (they have a fee for taking our listing off)? Would we still be able to work with the person that made the offer if we are relisted with someone else (90 days limit within contract unless we sign an exclusive listing with another broker)? Thank you.
State: GA
Category: Foreclosure / Short Sell
City: Alpharetta
Zip: 30005

Answer:  You would have to check with an attorney or another Realtor who is familiar with Georgia laws, but in Massachusetts all offers must be presented to the Seller in a timely manner. Unless it is stated in your listing contract, your agent has no legal authority to make counter offers without your input. This alone could be enough to claim a breach of contract and allow you to cancel your listing contract with your current agent. You should not have to pay any fee to do so. Typically, after cancelling your current contract you can sign a new exclusive contract with a different agent and the 90 day requirement to pay a fee to the old listing agent would not apply if buyer purchased your home that had seen it before

My Disclaimer: The above information is not to be construed as legal advice, but is merely my opinion. Please consult with with an attorney to verify any and all of the information I have given you.

Good luck.

Jim Armstrong

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