A Guide to VA Loans

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VA loans provide a path toward homeownership for active service and veteran personnel and their families. The following serves as a guide to understanding what they are, who they are available to, and what types of loans are available to them.

VA loans can be confusing, so talk with your Windermere agent as you prepare to discuss your options with your lender. “Even people in the military have misconceptions about (VA loans),” said Windermere agent and Veteran Gervon Simon in a recent episode of our “Ask An Agent” series.

 

What are VA Loans?

The VA loan program was established by the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to help active service members, veterans, and surviving spouses become homeowners. VA loans are backed by the federal government yet provided by private lenders such as banks and mortgage companies. VA loans can be used to buy, build, or improve a home, or to refinance a current home loan.

 

How do VA Loans work?

VA loans have appealing characteristics for homeowners including lower-than-average mortgage rates, zero down payment on the purchase price, no-prepayment penalties, limited closing costs, and no Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI). They are typically easier to qualify for than standard home loans. With VA-backed loans, they guarantee a portion of the loan from a private lender. This means less risk for the lender, often resulting in more favorable terms for the homeowner. You do not have to be a first-time homebuyer to receive a VA loan. VA loan limits vary by county, so be sure to work with your Windermere agent to determine the limit in your area.

 

Which loans are available?

 

Purchase Loan

  • VA-backed purchase loans may be used to buy a single-family home, condo, manufactured home, or land. They also may be used to make energy-efficient changes to your home. Additionally, you can use a purchase loan to build a new home.
  • They offer no down payment, as long as the home’s sales price does not exceed its appraised value.
  • There is no need for PMI or mortgage insurance premiums (MIP).

 

Native American Direct Loan (NADL)

  • For Veterans who are either Native American or have a Native American spouse, the NADL can help to buy, build, or improve a home on federal trust land.
  • Beyond basic requirements of eligibility and credit standards, to be considered for the loan your tribal government must have an agreement—or Memorandum of Understanding (MOU)—with the VA. For more information on MOUs, visit this page: MOU Info

 

Interest Rate Reduction Refinance Loan (IRRRL)

  • The IRRRL is a refinancing tool for those with VA-backed home loans that are looking to reduce their monthly mortgage payments.
  • The IRRRL replaces a current loan, giving homeowners the ability to stabilize their repayment plans.
  • A VA funding fee may be required. Loan interest and closing fees will be charged by your lender but including these costs in your IRRRL will help you avoid paying the costs upfront.

 

Cash-out refinance loan:

  • The cash-out refinance loan allows homeowners to take cash out of their home equity or refinance a non-VA loan into a VA-backed loan.
  • In addition to your Certificate of Eligibility (COE), you’ll need to provide additional federal income tax information to your lender.
  • A home appraisal will be ordered by your lender. Similar to an IRRRL, a VA funding fee may be charged at closing. Follow their closing process and pay all closing costs.

Posted on November 19, 2020 at 11:47 pm
Carlene Sandstrom | Posted in Buyers | Tagged

House vs. Townhouse vs. Condo

Image sources: House, Townhouse, Condo: Canva — Question marks: Shutterstock

Deciding between a house, townhouse, and condominium can be a difficult process. Knowing how their characteristics align with your life and goals as a homeowner will help guide you to the right choice.

What differentiates houses, townhouses, and condominiums? 
House: 
  • Detached houses offer the most freedom and privacy of the three housing options. They provide the opportunity to personalize your home as desired, without rules from a governing body like HOA. Houses don’t share walls like townhouses or condos, and typically offer larger outdoor spaces as well.
  • Situated on their own lots, owning a house leaves the responsibility of maintaining and improving the structure and accompanying land to the homeowner. Between a down payment, closing costs, and other homeowner fees, the upfront costs of owning a house can be significantly higher than a townhouse or a condominium.
Townhouse: 
  • A townhouse is typically a narrow, multileveled structure connected to others in a row or block, typically with a small parcel of property in front of or behind the home. Somewhere between a house and condo, townhouses may be the best of both of worlds for some homeowners.
  • Like a house, townhouse owners are responsible for exterior (roof and siding) maintenance and repair. Most townhouses tend to have a small footprint and modern upgrades, with lower HOA fees than condos due to a lesser focus on shared amenities.
Condominium:
  • Condominiums are divided, individually owned units of a larger structure. Due to their smaller size and because they come with no land, condos are typically less expensive than a townhouse or a house. However, HOA fees combined with a monthly mortgage payment can increase the cost of condominium living, depending on the amenities offered in a building. Unique to condo ownership, the exterior of the units is considered a common area with ownership shared among the condo owners in the building.
  • As a condo owner, you are only responsible for the inside of your unit. With this decreased maintenance comes less exclusivity and privacy. Condo owners live in close proximity and typically share amenities like gym and pool access, laundry, and other facilities.
How does your home align with your life?
House: 
  • For homeowners looking at their property as an investment in their financial future, houses are a strong choice. Houses allow homeowners to plan long-term with the knowledge that their home will build equity over time.
  • If you are planning on putting down roots and starting a family, houses provide the best opportunity to grow into your future and are better suited to handle significant life changes.
Townhouse: 
  • For people looking for more space than a condo but are not quite ready to make the jump to a single-family home, townhouses are the perfect fit. They present a great steppingstone for first time home buyers or buyers who simply don’t want the responsibility of taking care of a larger, standalone home and yard.
  • Townhouses are often located in residential neighborhoods. They are fitting for those looking to graduate from rented dwellings in city centers or metropolitan areas yet maintain greater ownership flexibility than a single-family house.
Condominium:
  • Condominiums appeal strongly to homeowners looking for a low-maintenance residence, with access to shared amenities amongst a community. Condos are usually found in denser areas closer to downtown centers, shopping, and entertainment.
  • They are a better fit for buyers seeking metropolitan surroundings than a detached home, which is typically found in a more suburban or rural environment. Given their proximity to city/town centers and mass transit, condos present the opportunity of a shorter commute for those who work in downtown areas.

After all the research, do what feels right. Whether it’s a house, townhouse, or a condo, reach out to me anytime. I can help find the best option for you and your future.


Posted on November 11, 2020 at 9:31 pm
Carlene Sandstrom | Posted in Buyers | Tagged

Local Market Update – November 2020

The number of people who can work remotely may be changing the way we view our homes, but one trend has not changed. The local housing market in October remained unseasonably hot. And that doesn’t show signs of changing any time soon.

October saw continued low inventory and record-level sales, with the number of sales exceeding that of 2019 year-to-date.

While new listings are on the rise, they are being snapped up quickly and many homes are selling in a matter of days. In King County there were 38% fewer single-family homes on the market as compared to a year ago. Snohomish County had 59% fewer listings.  A four-month supply of homes for sale is considered a balanced market, but King and Snohomish counties currently have less than one month of supply.

With supply unable to keep up with demand, home prices are escalating at double-digit rates. The median single-family home price in King County rose 14% over a year ago to $745,000. Prices in Snohomish County jumped 17% year-over-year to a record high of $579,972. About half the homes that closed in October sold for over the asking price as compared to about a quarter of the homes the same time last year.

The real estate market here is uncommonly resilient. Growing employment in major tech industries and an enviable quality of life have made our region one of the fastest growing areas in the country. With interest rates remaining at record lows, we may well skip the traditional slowing in the winter market altogether.

The charts below provide a brief overview of market activity. If you are interested in more information, every Monday Windermere Chief Economist Matthew Gardner provides an update regarding the impact of COVID-19 on the US economy and housing market. You can get Matthew’s latest update here.


Posted on November 11, 2020 at 9:27 pm
Carlene Sandstrom | Posted in Regional Market Updates | Tagged , , , ,

The Gardner Report – Third Quarter 2020

The following analysis of the Western Washington real estate market is provided by Windermere Real Estate Chief Economist Matthew Gardner. We hope that this information may assist you with making better-informed real estate decisions. For further information about the housing market in your area, please reach out anytime.

REGIONAL ECONOMIC OVERVIEW

Employment numbers in Western Washington continue to improve following the massive decline caused by COVID-19. For perspective, the area shed more than 373,000 jobs between February and April. However, the recovery has been fairly robust: almost 210,000 of those jobs have returned. Unemployment levels remain elevated; the current rate is 8.2%. That said, it is down from 16.6% in April. The rate, of course, varies across Western Washington counties, with a current low of 7.2% in King County and a high of 11.2% in Grays Harbor County. The economy is healing, but the pace of improvement has slowed somewhat, which is to be expected. That said, I anticipate that jobs will continue to return as long as we do not see another spike in new infections.

HOME SALES

  • Sales continued to improve following the COVID-19-related drop in the first quarter of the year. There were 25,477 transactions in the quarter, an increase of 11.6% from the same period in 2019, and 45.9% higher than in the second quarter of this year.
  • Listing activity remains woefully inadequate, with total available inventory 41.7% lower than a year ago, but 1.6% higher than in the second quarter of this year.
  • Sales rose in all but two counties, though the declines were minimal. The greatest increase in sales was in San Juan County, which leads one to wonder if buyers are actively looking in more isolated markets given ongoing COVID-19-related concerns.
  • Pending sales—a good gauge of future closings—rose 29% compared to the second quarter of the year, suggesting that fourth quarter closings will be positive.

HOME PRICES

  • Home-price growth in Western Washington rose a remarkable 17.1% compared to a year ago. The average sale price was $611,793.
  • When compared to the same period a year ago, price growth was strongest in Mason, Island, and San Juan counties. Only one county saw prices rise by less than ten percent.
  • It was even more impressive to see the region’s home prices up by a very significant 9.4% compared to the second quarter of 2020. It is clear that low mortgage rates, combined with limited inventory, are pushing prices up.
  • As long as mortgage rates stay low, and there isn’t an excessive spike in supply (which is highly unlikely), prices will continue to rise at above-average rates. That said, if this continues for too long, we will start to face affordability issues in many markets.

DAYS ON MARKET

  • The average number of days it took to sell a home in the third quarter of this year dropped two days compared to a year ago.
  • Snohomish County was the tightest market in Western Washington, with homes taking an average of only 16 days to sell. All but two counties—Lewis and San Juan—saw the length of time it took to sell a home rise compared to the same period a year ago.
  • Across the region, it took an average of 36 days to sell a home in the quarter. It is also worth noting that it took an average of 4 fewer days to sell a home than in the second quarter of this year.
  • The takeaway here is that significant increases in demand, in concert with remarkably low levels of inventory, continue to drive market time lower.

CONCLUSIONS

This speedometer reflects the state of the region’s real estate market using housing inventory, price gains, home sales, interest rates, and larger economic factors.

High demand, favorable interest rates, and low supply clearly point to a seller’s market in Western Washington. As such, I am moving the needle even more in favor of sellers.

As I suggested earlier in this report, although the market is remarkably buoyant, I am starting to see affordability issues increase in many areas—not just in the central Puget Sound region—and this is concerning. Perhaps the winter will act to cool the market, but something is telling me we shouldn’t count on it.

As Chief Economist for Windermere Real Estate, Matthew Gardner is responsible for analyzing and interpreting economic data and its impact on the real estate market on both a local and national level. Matthew has over 30 years of professional experience both in the U.S. and U.K.

In addition to his day-to-day responsibilities, Matthew sits on the Washington State Governors Council of Economic Advisors; chairs the Board of Trustees at the Washington Center for Real Estate Research at the University of Washington; and is an Advisory Board Member at the Runstad Center for Real Estate Studies at the University of Washington where he also lectures in real estate economics.


Posted on October 30, 2020 at 8:31 pm
Carlene Sandstrom | Posted in Matthew Gardner Report | Tagged , , , ,

The Remote Worker’s Home Buying Process

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The pandemic’s influences on home life are far-ranging, prompting buyers to look at home ownership through a new lens. Remote work has created a paradigm shift in the wants and needs of homebuyers. Here’s what the remote worker should keep in mind when looking to buy.

Location

The location, location, location cliché has taken on new meaning for homebuyers who work from home. Because remote work gives us the opportunity to work from anywhere, home searches are expanding. Work commute times typically play a significant role in the home buying process; however, many buyers now have the option to view homes further away from their places of work.

Those who previously dreamed of the quiet life, but didn’t want the commute that came with it, are now able to make a move toward a more suburban environment. If you prefer to be away from the hustle and bustle of a downtown area but don’t want to feel isolated, search for properties in the suburbs with active town centers.

The proper space

When COVID-19 began sending workers home in the early months of 2020, homeowners worldwide discovered their varied level of preparedness for remote work. Some had spacious home offices and were able to make the transition easily. Others had to create makeshift workspaces out of living rooms or bedrooms. What we have learned is that a dedicated workspace is paramount to productive remote work, its importance emphasized by the unknown timeline of a return to working in-person in many parts of the country.

Before you buy: 
  • When searching for homes, understand that a home office situated in an open floor plan is more prone to distraction.
  • Look for features such as an additional bedroom, finished basement, or bonus room that offer ample space to create your remote work environment.
  • Having a designated space you can associate solely with work will not only drive your focus but helps to balance your home and work life. It allows you to wrap up the workday, leave your home office, and easily transition back into the goings on of your household.

 

After you buy: 
  • Light it up: You’ll want plenty of light in your home office to stay fresh throughout the work week. If you are next to a window, let in as much natural light as possible. Add in desk and floor lamps to brighten your space.
  • Work comfortably: While working at home, it’s easy to sit in one place for hours on end. Shop for comfortable desk chairs that provide proper lumbar support. Explore alternatives to desk chairs like yoga balls and standing desks.
  • Personalize: Adding personal touches will help to make your home office feel comfortable. Inspirational quotes, your favorite artwork, and pictures of loved ones are all types of décor that will keep you inspired in your remote work.

 

For all these considerations and more, talk with with me about how your remote work is shifting where you’re looking for a home and what you’re looking for when it’s time to move there.


Posted on October 22, 2020 at 10:29 pm
Carlene Sandstrom | Posted in Homeowners | Tagged , , , ,

LOCAL MARKET UPDATE – OCTOBER 2020


Posted on October 14, 2020 at 10:34 pm
Carlene Sandstrom | Posted in Regional Market Updates | Tagged , , , ,

10 Steps to Selling Your Home

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Navigating everything involved with selling your home can seem intimidating. Breaking the process down step by step will keep you organized and ready to work towards a successful home sale.

1. Choose an agent

A lot goes into choosing the right agent. If you’re unsure where to start, get referrals from trusted friends, family, and neighbors. Although the ultimate goal is the sale, think about your compatibility outside of the transaction. Their ability to connect with you on a human level through the ups and downs of a home sale is just as important as their expertise and knowledge of the market.
2. Set a timeline 
Depending on your local housing market conditions, your timeline for selling your home may vary. However, a timeline is valuable in that it will keep you organized throughout the selling process and allows you to adjust if circumstances change. Your agent will work with you to build the ideal timeline.
3. What is your home worth? 
The key to selling quickly is correctly pricing your home from the first day it hits the market. In particular, overpricing can lead to serious complications in the selling process. Your agent can provide you with a Comparative Market Analysis (CMA) to better determine the best price of your home. CMAs provide information on comparable home sales in your area, both pending and sold, within the past six months.
4. Repair & upgrade
Now it’s time to get to work on the house! This is the perfect time to tackle any and all outstanding projects or repairs. Create a list separating which repairs can be done yourself and which need professional attention. This is the time to consider a pre-sale home inspection to identify structural and mechanical problems before your home is on the market.
5. Make the best first impression
Making an impactful first impression goes a long way in the minds of buyers, so roll up your sleeves and prepare to check off that to-do-list. Start by cleaning up the garden and lawn, clearing out gutters, and adding color to your flower beds. Apply a fresh coat of paint anywhere you spot peeling or cracked paint. A great way to make an impact is by staging your home, with the goal of making each room feel as spacious and welcoming as possible.
6. Show your home 
Your local pandemic-era regulations will dictate the ability for agents to conduct in-person showings and open houses. Discuss virtual home tour options with your agent and other ways to generate maximum buyer interest. For in-person showings, it’s best that you leave the premises so the buyer can freely ask their agent questions and visualize the home as their own.
7. Offers & negotiation 
If you are in a seller’s market—defined by low inventory and high buyer competition—it is likely that you will receive offers at – or above – asking price. You can respond to an offer by a) accepting the offer, b) making a counteroffer, or c) rejecting the offer. Counteroffers should always be made in writing and provide a short window of time for the potential buyer to respond. If you are selling in a buyer’s market, you may have to be more open to negotiation. Discuss negotiation strategies with your agent to work toward a satisfying final price.
8. Prepare for closing costs
There are costs throughout the selling process, and as the close date approaches, that remains true. Be sure to budget for your real estate agent’s commission, and other common seller’s costs like title insurance, recording fees, and government transfer tax, among others.
9. Home inspection
Buyer offers are usually contingent upon a professional home inspection. Ask your agent for a home inspection checklist, so you know what the inspector is looking for ahead of time. They typically inspect the home’s foundation, structure, roof, plumbing and electrical systems, floors, windows, doors, and more for signs of damage and weathering.
10. Closing time
Congratulations! Your home is sold, but there are still some final steps before the deal is done. This is the time to ask the buyer to release any contingencies, sign the title, and close escrow before handing over the keys. Consult your real estate agent for any questions about legal documentation and settlement costs.

Posted on October 8, 2020 at 8:03 pm
Carlene Sandstrom | Posted in Sellers | Tagged , , , ,

Buying a Fixer-Upper

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For some home buyers, a fixer-upper is their idea of a dream home. Preparing for the process comes down to creating a plan, knowing what to look for, and understanding what financing options are available.

 

Create a plan 

Fixer-uppers require a future-oriented mindset. Knowing the magnitude of the project you and your household are willing to take on will help dictate your budget and expectations as time goes on. Understand that in addition to the down payment and closing fees, the costs inherent in a fixer-upper purchase have the potential to go over-budget easily. Familiarize yourself with permitting in your area to understand how to navigate any legal roadblocks in the renovation process.

 

What to look for 

Location: Whether you are purchasing a fixer-upper with plans to sell it, rent it out, or live in it, consider its location before purchasing. If you’re planning on selling or renting, location is one of the most important factors to making a return on your investment. And if you’re planning to live in your fixer-upper, keep in mind that location will be a large part of your experience in the home.

Scope of renovation: If you are looking for a smaller scale renovation, look for fixer-uppers that require cosmetic projects like new interior and exterior paint, fresh carpeting and flooring, appliance upgrades, and basic landscaping maintenance. More expensive and involved projects include reroofing, replacing plumbing and sewer lines, replacing HVAC systems, and full-scale room remodels.

Inspections: Beyond a standard home inspection, which covers components of the home like its plumbing and foundation, consider specialized inspections for pests, roof certifications, and engineering reports. This will help differentiate between the property’s minor flaws and critical problems, further informing your decision when it comes time to prepare an offer.

 

Financing options

Renovation loans allow buyers to finance the home and the improvements to the home together. Extra consultations, inspections, and appraisals are often required in the loan process, but they help guide the work—and thereby, added value—of your fixer-upper. Talk with your lender about which option is best for you.

 

  • FHA 203(k): The Federal Housing Administration’s (FHA) 203(k) loans can be used for most projects in the process of fixing up a home. In comparison to conventional mortgages, they accept lower incomes and credit scores.
  • VA renovation loan: With this loan, the cost of the improvement projects is combined into the loan amount for the home purchase. Contractors employed in any renovations must be VA-approved, and a construction fee may be charged by the lender.
  • HomeStyle Loan – Fannie Mae: The HomeStyle Renovation Loan can be used by home buyers purchasing a fixer-upper, or by homeowners refinancing their homes to cover the improvements. Funds are distributed directly to contractors via a separate escrow account. This loan also allows for luxury projects, such as pools and landscaping.
  • CHOICERenovation Loan – Freddie Mac: This renovation mortgage is guaranteed by Freddie Mac, allowing projects that bolster a home’s ability to withstand natural disasters.
If you’re interested in buying a fixer upper, talk to me anytime. I can help you to understand the process and discuss what makes the most sense for you.

Posted on September 29, 2020 at 6:36 pm
Carlene Sandstrom | Posted in Buyers | Tagged , , , ,

LOCAL MARKET UPDATE – SEPTEMBER 2020

August saw the lowest number of homes for sale in more than 20 years and the lowest mortgage rates on record. Sparse inventory and high demand pushed home prices to new highs.

  • With pending sales outpacing new listings, inventory continues to shrink. King and Snohomish counties each have about a two-week supply of available homes.  Four to six months of inventory is considered a balanced market, favoring neither buyers nor sellers.
  • The region saw the second consecutive month of record-setting price growth with home prices experiencing double-digit increases as compared to a year ago.
  • Fierce competition among buyers has made multiple offers the norm. In King County, 46% of home sold for more than the list price. Last August that number was 24%. In Snohomish County, 58% of homes sold above list price as compared to just 28% the prior year.

The charts below provide a brief overview of market activity. If you are interested in more information, every Monday Windermere Chief Economist Matthew Gardner provides an update regarding the impact of COVID-19 on the US economy and housing market. You can get Matthew’s latest update here.


Posted on September 17, 2020 at 1:36 am
Carlene Sandstrom | Posted in Regional Market Updates | Tagged , , , ,

Preparing for the School Year at Home

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For those whose children will be taking classes online or participating in remote learning this school year, keeping the following tips in mind will help create an at-home learning environment that prioritizes health and learning, while being able to adjust to this year’s unknowns.

A home cannot fully replace all that a formal school classroom has to offer. However, what it lacks in traditional classroom appeal it makes up for in comfort and familiarity. Prepping your home to take on this additional role will help set your child up for success during what will be a unique academic year for many.

 

Set the tone

One of the best ways to set your children up for success this school year is to get them excited. It is important to communicate that this school year, even with all its unknowns, is an exciting opportunity for new and creative ways to learn and grow. Helping your child understand the unique learning possibilities your home provides will get the school year off to an enthusiastic start.

 

Create a space 

Establishing a designated space for school at home is important for a child’s ability to focus and to associate a space with learning. How you create a classroom environment will depend on your home and your needs. If your child is most comfortable in their room, try incorporating their classroom setup there. Depending on your child’s age, it may help to have toys or familiar room objects nearby. However, if your child is distracted by their own room, it may be better to set up elsewhere to help them focus, such as a nook or office.

Allowing your child the freedom to make the space their own will help stimulate their imagination, which is vital to their learning and enjoyment of school.

Wherever the home classroom is, be sure that area has minimal distractions, maintains a strong internet connection, and is well-stocked with school supplies within reach at all times.

 

Back to school

To maintain a sense of normalcy, keep your family’s back-to-school traditions intact this year, such as picking out school supplies, back to school clothes shopping, and everyone’s favorite first day of school photo. These ceremonies of preparation for the school year will build excitement while bringing some familiarity to those final days of summer.

Establish a routine

Just as adults have discovered new routines to parallel the shift to remote work, children need a shift in their daily flow to mirror the change to remote learning. The rigor of their school schedule will determine how much flexibility you have in putting together a routine.

Stay active, incorporating movement breaks throughout the day to make up for the lack of physical activity. Plan out times away from their computer screens to differentiate between work and play time.  It’s recommended that children move at least 60 minutes a day, so prioritize exercise and movement, going outside when possible. This change of scenery is a helpful intermission for children. It gives their eyes a rest from their screens and returns them to their learning space feeling refreshed and revitalized.

 

Granted, your ability to facilitate your child/children’s preparedness and monitor their continued learning is based on various factors like your work schedule and what resources your school district is providing for at-home learning. No matter your household’s situation, taking these factors into consideration where possible will help set your student(s) up for success.


Posted on September 3, 2020 at 1:38 am
Carlene Sandstrom | Posted in Living | Tagged , , , ,