What to do, what to do…

March 27, 2020

Many of you already know that I am a Realtor®, in addition to doing some sales work for a local paper and a bunch of volunteer work. The Michigan Governor’s stay home executive order has had a dramatic impact on that aspect of my life.

We all know that we are supposed to stay home, wash our hands a lot and practice social distancing. We can do that. The real estate market has been effectively shut down by the Governor’s stay home order. Realtors are not considered to be essential components of the infrastructure under this order and, thus, are not allowed to show homes during the shutdown or to visit homes in order to list them. It’s disappointing, but a logical precaution to take.

 What if you are a would-be home seller or buyer? What else could you be doing, while you wait out the government mandated self-quarantine?

If you want to sell your home, use the time to work on the little things that can increase its value or allow it to sell faster, once the government releases the market from this shutdown. There are lots of advice articles (some in posts to this blog) on the things that home owners should do to get their homes ready for market. Most of the time homeowners just don’t have (or take) the time to do therm. The result is a house that is really not ready for visitors or which leaves a bad first impression because of those little things. You have the time now that you are confined to your home to get those things done. Walk through your house with an eye to identifying all of those little things that you know are there, but which you have trained yourself to ignore. Things to look for and make note of include:

  • Declutter each room – what can you take out of the room to make it look bigger and cleaner?
  • Cleanliness – what needs dusting, cleaning , vacuuming, or wiping – just do it
  • Small repairs – replace those missing or worn/dirty plug covers or light switch covers
  • Larger repairs – fix those tape and nail pops in the drywall, especially those along the ceilings
  • Paint touchups – either touch up or repaint areas of wear or areas that you just repaired
  • Replace missing handles/pulls on kitchen and bath cabinets and drawers and any doors
  • Wash windows and, if you can,  replace any cracked glass and repair windows with broken seals
  • Clean or re-grout  bathroom tubs and showers and replace worn out fixtures as needed
  • Trim exterior hedges and bushes, especially around the front door
  • Fill and smooth any basement floor or wall cracks in unfinished basements

There are many more things that you might start to notice that you need to do, once you start working your way down that list. The whole point of the exercise it to deal with the things that might distract a buyer later or cause them to back off from making an offer.

Either buyers will make lists, in writing or mentally, when they go through your house of all of the things that they see that need to be done to make the house “perfect” for them. If they make an offer, they will use that list in two ways – as a negotiating tool to get those repairs made prior to closing or as justification for reducing their offer price (sometimes both). You have the time right now, while you are on lockdown to shorten that list. Anything that you can do to take items off their list will help your home sell faster and for more money.

If you are a would-be buyer, this is a frustrating time. Due to the stay at home order, homes may not be visited; so, what are you to do?

Some Realtors are experimenting with so-call “virtual showings”. These are usually video based and offer the “visitor “a virtual walkthrough of the home, sometimes accompanied by audio remarks by the seller to explain what you are seeing. At a minimum there are usually lots of pictures available that have been posted by the listing agent. It is important that you use the right real estate web site to get access to the most pictures. Some sites restrict the number of pictures that can be posted. I recommend using the Realtor.com site, which taps into the local Multi-list Services (MLS) and usually provides access to all of the pictures that are on the MLS.

The reason for doing virtual visits or going through the web-site pictures is to give yourself practice on what to look for and to help you refine what it is that you are really looking for in a new home. Make note s as you view the virtual tour or pictures of features that you liked and did not like. If you are a buying couple discuss each home you look at that way, so that you begin to understand each other’s point of view. Discuss the features on which one or both of you are willing to compromise and which are “show stoppers” for one or both of you. This will help you narrow your search when you actually can start to make visits.

Learn and practice what to look for when you walk through a real house. You have to train yourself to ignore some things, like the current  paint colors or furnishings that are there now, and start looking instead for things that might indicate problems that will need to be resolved:

  • Scan the wall-ceiling lines to look for any signs of water intrusion
  • Also look for ghosting on the exterior walls and ceiling that indicate possible insulation issues – just google ceiling ghosting to see what this is
  • Look closely at the windows for cracks or cloudy glass that indicates an issue with the seals
  • Look for evidence of leaking fixtures under the sinks and around tubs and toilets
  • Look for obvious signs that maintenance has been delayed or ignored (those missing switch plates or cabinet pulls are a telltale sign)
  • Look past clutter, but take lack of cleanliness into consideration, which is another sign of of a homeowner who hasn’t maintained things well.
  • Check the age and condition of the furnace and water heater and look for signs that they have been maintained – both have limited lifespans and the owner may be trying to pass off the need to replace them to you.
  • Check with the FEMA database to see if the property is in a FEMA flood zone You may be required to buy expensive flood insurance if it is.

Revisit your financial criteria and plans. Do some research on the cost to make common repairs or to renovate areas of a house.  There are many reports available on line of repair cost estimates and renovation costs. Ask your mortgage person about programs that they may offer to help with renovation costs, if you end up making a bid  on a house that needs renovations. Also as your mortgage person about programs that might be available in certain areas to allow for low, or no, down payment mortgages, which can save that money for the renovations that you see are needed. Arm yourself with all of this knowledge and practice by applying it to the homes that you visit virtually or through MLS pictures.

By using this down time in your home search to better educate yourself on these and other topics, you will be a more well informed buyer and will find the new home that you desire much faster. It is especially useful to hash out with your partner what it is that you are both really looking for in a new home. You can also develop a practice of looking at listings with a more discerning eye, which will save you time by eliminating those listing s that you would probably eliminate anyway of you visited them.

So, you see that there is plenty to do for both buyers and sellers during this stay at home time. Your Realtor will be happier, too, because you will not be wasting your time or his/hers visiting hoems that just won’t fit for you.


What the new TILA-RESPA rules mean for the buyers or sellers

July 26, 2015

Every now and then I post something here that concerns my real estate business. This is one of those posts and it concerns the upcoming changes to the mortgage process and the closing process that will have impact on all buyers and sellers. In any profession, there are usually lots of acronyms used by the practitioners of that profession both as a form of shorthand for long, unwieldy terms and sometimes as a way to sound more important and knowledgeable in front of “lay people”. The upcoming TILA-RESPA changes are an example of that and an example of how changes usually cause concerns whether they are warranted or not.

man under papersWhen any major changes occur within industries that impact their current systems there is always a bit of “the sky is falling” reaction to them. The changes to the disclosure and closing documentation requirements for real estate transactions are no different. You have likely already seem newspaper stories about the coming TILA-RESPA changes. You may hear your Realtor® talking about it, but it primarily impacts the mortgage lenders and the title companies. Your Realtor should be able to explain things to you as well, but the primary source for information about how this might impact you should be your mortgage agent.

Here’s the gist of these rule and documentation changes.  The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) was created under the Frank-Dodd legislation that was aimed at cleaning up the financial industry mess after the housing industry collapse that brought on the Great Recession. One of the actions that the CFPB took on was to clear up the confusion caused in real estate transactions by the differences in the Good Faith Estimate that the buyer got from their mortgage rep at the front end of a real estate transaction and the closing documents, including the Buyers’ and Sellers’ Closing Statements and the HUD-1 document, that the buyers and sellers got at the closing table.

Buyers often noticed differences in what they expected their costs to be and the actual costs at closing. In addition, sad looking manthe mortgage industry fell into a practice of not getting the closing information to the buyers in a timely fashion before closing (many times buyers saw the closing docs for the first time at closing). It was sometimes very difficult for the buyer to even determine how much he should bring to closing, since he did not have the final documents.  There was a need identified to standardize the information that was presented to the buyer at the front end and what they eventually see at the closing table, as well as controlling the changes that might be allowed between those two times. There was also a need to get the final closing information to the buyer well in advance of the closing date, so that they could react to any changes and know how much to bring to closing.

Based upon those needs the CFPB produced the new, consolidated TILA-RESPA documents. TILA stands for Truth in Lending Act, which was the original law that set up the requirement for the Good Faith Estimate at the front end of the deal. RESPA stands for Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act, which defines the rules and documentation requirement for the closing of the sale. The CFPB decided to create new rules and documents for both ends of the sale and initially stated that they would impose those rules in August of 2015. The new document that the lender will give you at the front end is called the Loan Estimate. The new closing document packet is called the Closing Disclosure and clearly presents all of the information that used to be on the Closing Statements and the HUD-1. Best of all the Loan Estimate and the Closing Disclosure use all of the same terms and data fields (although the Closing Disclosure has some data fields concerning the cost of the sale and tax rebates on it that the loan officer would not have known at the front end) and they look very much the same. It is possible to lay them side by side and see what, if anything changed from the front to the back ends of the sale.

Based upon an outcry of the real estate industry that they didn’t want to try to implement these new things during the height o the busy real estate season, the implementation was delayed until Oct 3, 2015. All mortgage loan officers are being trained, as are all title company people and most Realtors. Your first line of questioning should probably be your mortgage rep; however,  the CFPB has also created a new Home Loan Toolkit for buyers, so that they have a clear reference guide to the new documents and the new process.  In the Toolkit are examples of the new documents as well as helpful forms to help you choose the right mortgage product and to compare mortgages if you choose to shop at more than one mortgage company.

changesOne of the other areas to pay attention to in the Toolkit and with your lender is the changes that are allowed between the initial Loan Estimate and the final Closing Disclosure. Those changes can and do occur because of changes in things like rates or closing dates or other factors; however, they are limited by the new TILA-RESPA rules and can cause the whole process to be re-set to zero if they are too large. Another new rule concerns the timing requirements on the lenders and title companies to get the Closing Disclosure documents to you. The new rules require that you have them in-hand three days prior to closing. That not only gives you time to get the necessary funds ready, but also to review and challenge any changes that you see that you don’t understand of maybe don’t agree with your lender about. Keep in mind, however, that any changes that may be made during that three day period may reset the clock and push back the closing. There are exceptions which define acceptable last minute changes, but they are few and relatively minor, compared to some of the “closing table surprises” that used to take place under the old system.

So, the sky is not falling. From the perspective of the buyer or seller, these rules and document changes are a good thing and hopefully will make life easier. The mortgage and title company people will adapt, even while grumbling about all of the extra work and time involved (it will likely add about a week to the process). I recommend that you go download the CFPB Toolkit if you will be in the market for a house this fall. Read through it so that you will be an informed consumer who knows what his/her rights are and what to expect in the process.