The biggest issue with buying a home today in Seattle

Yesterday I met for coffee with one of my clients who is hoping to buy a home in a Seattle area neighborhood for around $600,000. They have already taken one of the most important steps in the home buying process by getting preapproved for a mortgage.

The preapproval process required they complete a loan application and provide me with documentation that supports the information provided on the loan application (such as W2s, paystubs and bank statements). After having a complete application, I am able to run their credit reports and run the scenario through automated underwriting, which provides us with an approval and conditions to that approval.

Here’s a bit from our conversation with a few of their questions.

Is it challenging to qualify for a home in Seattle?

It’s really not that hard to qualify. Presently our underwriting guidelines will allow:

  • a low-mid credit score of 640 for FHA
  • a minimum down payment of 3.5%, which can be gifted by a family member. NOTE: FHA Jumbo’s will soon have a minimum down payment of 5%. In the greater Seattle area, FHA Jumbo’s are loan amounts from $417,001 to $567,500
  • VA home buyers can have a low-mid credit score of 620 with zero down payment up to $500,000. A $600,000 sales price would have a down payment of $25,000 with a VA Jumbo.
  • Home buyers need a two year employment history (sometimes your college education may count as an employment history)
  • Income must be documented and consistent. NOTE: if your self-employed, paid commission or hourly (vs. salary), you will need a two year history and income will be averaged.  NOTE: If you are planning on using your 2012 income, you may want to consider filing your income taxes as soon as possible.
  • Down payment and funds for closing must be documented with complete asset account statements. 

What are the biggest “hiccups” in a transaction?

  • borrowers need to continue providing paystubs and bank statements. Do not toss or shred anything that has to do with your assets or income.
  • large deposits (typically this is anything over $1000) must be documented…so if your Great Aunt Nelly is giving a wad a cash or a check for a birthday present at the time you’re getting ready to buy a home, keep documentation or proof of where the cash came from.
  • if you are planning on using 2012 income for qualifying, you need to file your 2012 tax returns as soon as possible. Lenders re-verify income (beyond W2s or 1040 – tax returns) with tax transcripts from the IRS via Form 4506. As we near “tax season” it takes the IRS longer to process and provide this information.
  • days prior to closing, employment is re-verified. If there are changes to employment or the employer is difficult to reach, this may cause a delay.
  • a “soft” credit pull is done prior to closing as well to make sure no new debts have been acquired by the buyer. If there are new debts, the buyer will need to be re-approved factoring in the debt payments.
  • If the credit report is getting ready to expire prior to closing, a new credit report will be obtained. This may have additional impacts to the transaction if there are changes to debts or credit scores. 

What is the BIGGEST issue with buying a home today in Seattle?  INVENTORY!  

This probably comes to no surprise to Seattle area home buyers in the $300,000 – $700,000 price range hoping to find a non-distressed home to make an offer on. 

If you have been considering selling your home, NOW could be an excellent time to consult with a real estate agent…and I’m happy to recommend one to you! 

As always, if you’re looking to buy a home or refinance your mortgage on a home located anywhere in Washington state, please contact me. I have been originating mortgages at Mortgage Master Service Corporation since April 2000 and I’m happy to help you!

A Strategy for Seattle Home Buyers: I Love Your Home Letters

The Wall Street Journal writes about a strategy home buyers in hot housing markets are using to get their offers accepted in hotter housing markets. From WSJ:

“In an echo of the last housing boom, ardent pitch letters from eager home buyers are popping up again in hot U.S. real-estate markets like Silicon Valley, Seattle, San Diego, suburban Chicago and Washington, D.C., housing economists and real-estate brokers say.

The heartfelt missives, often accompanied by personal photos, aim to create an emotional bond that can give their writers an edge—especially in situations where multiple bidders are vying for the same house. And the reappearance of buyer pitches, also known as love letters, offers further evidence that the housing market is rebounding after a five-year slump.”

I have written letters to underwriters before on behalf of my borrowers and have gone so far as to include a photo of my client which has helped with loan approvals. A letter from the buyer to “pitch” their story to the seller is something I haven’t heard of before.

What is probably more important than “a pitch letter” to the seller is your preapproval letter from a respected mortgage professional. A preapproval letter will assure the seller that you are approved for a mortgage specific to your offer and that the transaction should successfully close. A well written preapproval letter addresses the borrowers down payment, credit, income and employment have been verified. 

In a multiple offer situation (sometimes referred to as a “bidding war”) it’s not unusual for the seller’s real estate agent to call the mortgage originator who has written the preapproval letter to do a “sniff test”.  

While a letter from a potential home buyer expressing how perfect the home is for their family may give a buyer an edge over other offers, please don’t forget your mortgage preapproval letter.

If you are considering buying a home in Seattle or anywhere in Washington state, where I am licensed, please contact me. I would love to help you with your mortgage!

Are First Time Home Buyers Missing Out?

A recent survey shows that those buying their first home are making up a smaller percentage of home buyers. From US News:

The Campbell/Inside Mortgage Finance HousingPulse Tracking Survey, released last week, found that first-time home buyers were purchasing only 34.7 percent of the homes sold in October. That’s down from 37.1 percent in September, and is the lowest percentage ever recorded by the survey.

This decline surfaces as purchases of non-distressed homes—houses that are not in foreclosure—have increased dramatically in 2012. The report shows that the vast majority of the homes being sold are regular purchases—accounting for 64.7 percent of all houses sold in October, up from 55.7 percent in February. The increase is a sign of strength in the housing market, as fewer people are buying homes in foreclosure.

The article continues to speculate that part of the reason why first time home buyers are not participating as much as other buyers is partly due to tightening underwriting guidelines. If someone has been considering buying their first home, I highly recommend they get started with the pre-approval process early. 

Lenders want to avoid another mortgage meltdown and want to make sure that borrowers qualify for the new mortgage. That might sound like a silly or obvious comment, however during the “subprime era” many home buyers did not qualify for the mortgage. Ultimately, underwriting guidelines are intended to measure a borrowers capability to repay the mortgage and to not have the home become a “distressed property”. 

Underwriters are looking for a borrowers financial strengths and weaknesses when reviewing an application for a mortgage. In an article I wrote a few years ago, I compared this to a chair with each leg of a chair representing a financial quality that underwriters consider: credit, employment, income and assets.

First time home buyers don’t need to be discouraged, they do need to be prepared. Mortgage rates are extremely low making this a great opportunity to buy if one wants to.

I’ll share some tips on what first time home buyers can do in a follow-up post.

Stay tuned!

How can a preapproval change?

MortgageWhen someone becomes “preapproved” for a mortgage, it boils down to they qualify for a certain mortgage payment based on their income and debts (DTI aka debt to income ratio).  A home buyer qualifies for the loan amount of the new mortgage and their funds available for down payment and closing cost determine the sales price.

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Survey Says!

According to Fannie Mae’s Monthly National Housing Survey, many Americans believe that home prices are on the rise. If you are shopping for a home in the Seattle area, you probably know this to be true and may have experienced a bidding war or two.   

Housing_Survey
 

If you are considering taking advantage of today’s very low mortgage rates and home prices, it’s crucial that you get preapproved by a qualified local mortgage originator.

A preapproval means that you have provided your supporting income and asset documents to prove you have the ability to purchase the home. If you have not provided income and asset documents to your lender, you are most likely not “preapproved” and may only be “prequalified”.  

I’m happy to assist with the financing of your home located anywhere in Washington state.  It all starts with a review of your financial scenario – click here to start the application process.

More Listing Agents Performing “Sniff Test” on Mortgage Originators

IStock_000019730096XSmallI’m noticing that more listing agents are performing, what I like to call, “sniff test” to check out the lender who has prepared the preapproval letter. By the way, I think this is an excellent idea. This is especially true if the listing agent is reviewing multiple offers, which is happening more in the greater Seattle area with non-distressed homes that are desirable and priced right.

The sniff test is typically a phone call by the listing agent so they can get an idea about the mortgage originator. The listing agent should not ask personal information about the potential home buyer (such as credit scores or available funds). 

When a listing agent contacts me, I know they’re sizing up:


  • how quickly I returned their phone call or email
  • how experienced I am at closing my clients specific mortgage program (for example, Fannie Mae Homepath, Freddie Mac Homesteps or FHA transactions)
  • how long I’ve been in the mortgage industry (over 12 years at Mortgage Master Service Corporation)
  • how quickly we can close by
  • to learn more about our company (family owned and operated since 1976)

I’ve heard from many local real estate agents that they need to make sure the loan can actually close. Often times, a preapproval letter may not be worth more than the paper it’s written on if the mortgage originator has not done their homework with the actual preapproval.  NOTE: you are NOT preapproved unless you have provided your mortgage originator your income and asset documentation. 

I wrote about “investigating your preapproval letter” many years ago at Rain City Guide. The issue with preapproval letters then was probably that anybody and their brother was a mortgage originator back in 2007. Now there are far less mortgage originators however, if the mortgage originator works at a bank or credit union, they may still lack experience (they’re not required to be licensed). A licensed mortgage originator may be new to the industry as well. Some large internet mortgage companies have been hiring LO’s who can pass the national exam but still lack experience. There’s a big difference between being a good a passing exams and successfully closing loans.

While the number of mortgage originators is dramatically down, it’s still important to make sure your mortgage originator has the capability to see your transaction to closing. It may be a consideration to make sure your mortgage originator can pass a sniff test.

Seattle Bidding Wars: What You Need to Know to Help “Win” Your Home

I’m noticing more “bidding wars” on new listings in the greater Seattle-Bellevue area. Because of the lack of non-distressed inventory and current low interest rates, multiple offers may occur driving the sales price higher than the original offered price. Sellers and listing agents may try to create an environment for a bidding war by slightly delaying the review of offers and by pricing the home either at or slighltly under what may considered “market value”.

Here are a few tips to remember should you find yourself in a possible “bidding war”.

Be prepared to provide a strong offer. Get preapproved early. This will help you know how much you qualify for and the seller will most likely require a strong preapproval letter that illustrates you are strongly qualified and that your loan will successfully close.

Determine your financial boundaries.  What is the most you want to pay for the home and for your monthly mortgage payment?  Bidding wars can be charged with emotion – keep your financial goals in mind. 

I often will provide several preapproval letters at staggered amounts for clients when they’re getting ready to make an offer. The letters might start at their preferred offer price and go up to the limit of their financial comfort zone is (of course they have to for that amount).

Work with a reputable lender. It is not unusual for listing agents to contact the mortgage originator to confirm the preapproval letter and to do a “sniff test” of your mortgage originator. If the listing agent is comparing two offers that are essentially the same, the mortgage originator may be a deciding factor.

Consider a shorter time period for closing. Depending on the seller’s situation, for example if the home is vacant, a shorter closing might help you win the bid. Contact your mortgage originator to see what time frame they can realistically close a transaction before writing an offer for a quick close.

Don’t forget the appraisal. Regardless of what you and five other bidders are willing to pay for a home, it still needs to appraise based on what other homes like have recently sold and closed for.  The seller does not have to accept a lower appraised value. Your lender will rely on the lower of the appraised value or sales price for your mortgage scenario.

Making a non-contingent offer.  Sometimes a real estate agent may suggest that you need to make an offer “non-contingent”. Consider how much earnest money you’re willing to lose if something happens where you elect not to proceed with your transaction (for example, if your appraisal comes in lower than the sales price and you’ve waived your financing contingency). NOTE: making an offer non-contingent on financing may be less risky depending on your personal scenario. 

Be prepared to do your home inspection prior to making an offer. It’s not unusal for greater Seattle area homes that are preparing a bidding war to request inspections be done prior to your offer. This will also help you make your offer “less contingent” it’s not subject to an inspection.

Being as prepared as possible may help give you an advantage over other offers. The sellers and listing agent wants to be assured that what ever transaction they select in a multiple offer situation has the best odds of successfully closing. 

I am happy to assist you with your preapproval and financing of your next home located anywhere in Washington state. I have been originating mortgages, including conventional, FHA and VA at family owned and operated Mortgage Master Service Corporation since April 2000. We are a well respected correspondent lender established in 1976 by the Porter family.  

Reader Question: Does Getting a Mortgage Preapproval Impact my Credit Score?

One of my Seattle subscribers wrote me to ask this great question:  

“I’m considering purchasing a home soon, but I’m concerned about getting preapproved too early.  If I get preapproved and don’t find a home until the preapproval expires and I need a new one, will the credit hit from the first approval damage the score of my second approval?”

Credit scoring is intended to reflect a persons credit habits. When a credit report is pulled by a mortgage originator, a persons score may go down a few points. The initial pull of your credit report will help determine if there’s anything that needs to be address to help improve your scenario before you find your next home. It’s not uncommon to find that your score may be lower than what you estimated, perhaps there’s a parking ticket, or or a payment was reported late that you’re not aware of. This is the time to find out.

Loan preapprovals generally last around 90 days (this may vary depending on how old your supporting documentation is that was provided to validate your preapproval). Your credit report may not need to be repulled until you have a bona fide offer if at all depending on when your transaction is scheduled for closing.  Sometimes a “second preapproval” can be updated with new paystubs or bank statements.

Credit scoring is accumulative. So if you’ve been shopping for a car or a big screen television, these inquiries compounded with one from your mortgage lender will have more of an impact than just the credit being pulled for a preapproval alone.  By the way, if you’re shopping for new credit before (or during) being preapproved for a new home, be ready to explain every one of your credit inquiries. 

Odds are, if you’re worried about your score dipping from being preapproved you really should proceed with having it pulled by a local, licensed mortgage originator now…just in case a little elbow grease can help pump up your scores. Something as simple as paying down a debt to be under 50 or 30 percent of the total credit line may make a difference for an improved mortgage rate or qualifying for certain mortgage program.

I tend to lean towards getting preapproved as soon as possible. At the very least, it’s an opportunity to develop a game plan to make sure you’re in the best position possible for qualifying for your next mortgage. In addition, I’m seeing more non-distressed home homes in the greater Seattle area that are having multiple offers or “bidding wars”. If you’re considering buying a home, you’re going to need to be prepared with a preapproval letter from a reputable lender. You never know when a home that you want to make an offer on may become available.

If you’re considering buying a home in Seattle, Redmond, Walla Walla or anywhere in Washington, I’m happy to help you with your mortgage preapproval.