Don’t Underestimate the Gift of Giving Gift Cards!

Gift cards have become the go-to choice for many stressed out gift givers. How can a gift card not be the perfect gift when the recipient can select something they really want or need? Let’s forgo the conversation about the joy of selecting something special for that special someone, the pleasure that comes from watching the glee upon opening your hard fought selection, the romantic notion that every year your gift recipient will recall that delightful and well thought out gift that YOU gave them.

We know that gift giving can be very challenging; some people appear to have everything already, or they may have very specific tastes, or you simply cannot come up with single, solitary idea of what to give them. Now, the gift card is looking pretty good.
But wait – before you get all your holiday shopping completed from the gift card rack at your local store, consider some of the awkwardness that may come with an ill-conceived gift card. There are a few guidelines when it comes to selecting gift cards:

• The business goes out of business! Out of luck with that particular gift, make sure you are purchasing from solid businesses.
• There is an inactivity fee and the card loses value
• The card has an expiration date (federal law requires that cards be valid for at least 5 years). Many retailers offer cards with no expiration date.

Believe it or not, there is some thought that goes into selecting gift cards.
Don’t give a gift card to membership stores such as BJ’s or Costco, if your recipient is not a member there. A gift card from Red Lobster may sound wonderful, except that the closest one is in Connecticut! When choosing for your client’s 8-year-old daughter, maybe that gift card from Home Depot isn’t the way to go. Take the time to really think about what interests and excites your gift recipients.Consider the experiences you love and think about sharing that with them. If you simply cannot match the gift card to the recipient, think about getting just a general money card. They are a one size fits all gift that they can use anywhere.

During these stressful holiday seasons, gift cards are the perfect vehicle at the intersection of good intentions and convenience.

Share Button

Get that chip off your shoulder!!!!

When shopping this year, consider this: In 2015, over 13 million consumers fell victim to credit card fraud at an amount of $15 billion. However, since the widespread adoption of the chip and pin cards known in the industry as EMV (Europay, MasterCard, and Visa)*; credit card fraud rates have dropped 54% in April 2016 compared to April 2015 due to chip technology**.

Next time you get frustrated because you keep trying to swipe your card, when you are supposed to insert it into the chip reader, remember that YOU are being protected by this new procedure. So instead of grumbling, tapping your foot or steaming in some other way over the minor delay caused by this new action, look up and make eye contact with the people around you. Say hello or happy holidays to the person standing in front of you serving you during this busy time. You can even use these few extra seconds to say thank you for protecting my credit in this small way!

Why is the chip card safer? The information stored on cards with just the stripe is finite. Once a hacker gets this information, they can copy your card’s information and begin using your card number. The chip is different because it creates a unique and random code for each transaction. So now if your card is copied, the information stolen is no longer valid.

What if you do have a chip and pin card but the store you are shopping at is still using the old reader, who is responsible? In this case, it is the merchant. Beginning in 2015, merchants were encouraged to upgrade to the EMV system on their POS (point of sale) terminals. As an incentive, processing fees are lowered for merchants who adopt the new system. For those who are dragging their feet, not only will they pay higher fees, they will also be responsible for any fraudulent activity on behalf of their customers. In the highly unlikely situation that your chip and pin card is compromised on an EMV compliant terminal, the card issuer is responsible for any fraudulent activity on your card.

You’ve got the right card; you only do business with merchants that use the right system, so now fraud is a thing of the past, right? Well, not so quickly. In the world of credit card fraud, it is always a race between the hackers and the security professionals. Typically, if these criminals are finding it difficult to get your credit card information, they will just find another way to get your hard-earned money. One of more prevalent schemes has been ATM fraud. There are a few methods used to copy your debit card, from card skimming and trapping to cash trapping. Most ATM fraud is accomplished by attaching some sort of physical device to the ATM that appears to be part of the actual machine. These devices can steal the data off your card (skimming), take the actual card itself (card trapping) or take the cash from your withdrawal (cash trapping). If you need cash, the best method is the old school one of going up to a teller and withdrawing the cash you need. However, if time is of the essences look for an ATM machine inside a bank.

There is no better time than the holidays to take a few minutes to get to know the people in your community and to ensure your financial security for the next year and beyond.

*Fraud statistics from Javelin Strategy & Research.
**Counterfeit card fraud statistic from NBC News.

Share Button

What’s going to happen?

The election is over and all are questioning what happens next. What will happen to our economy? How will our housing market be impacted? What about interest rates?

These are the questions that are keeping mortgage people hopping and phones buzzing.

Here’s the answer – no one knows.

What we do know is that change is constant. Change can be inspirational and create tremendous opportunity for those who can embrace change and take it on with confidence.

The real estate and mortgage markets have had periods of huge disruption through out the decades, and in the end houses will still sell, families will always move, sell their last house, move and buy the next one. Change is inevitable. People will still need to cash out to renovate or pay for college, consumers move up and down and refinance for all kinds of reasons.

No matter what happens, demographics tell us that millennials are rapidly approaching home buying age and the next 10 years are expected to be some of the greatest years for first time buyer activity that we have seen in decades.

Don’t worry about what’s going to happen or what direction our country or economy or industry is heading and start thinking about where opportunities are for you to grow your business. What challenges are you especially prepared to manage for the consumers you serve, what expertise do you possess which sets you apart from your competition?

Focus on what you can manage and control in your business practice. Optimism wins in sales (and in life) every day.

 

Share Button

Qualified? Premier Buyer? Final Approval? What’s the Difference?

Most of us now need to get a mortgage when buying a house and are generally familiar with the mortgage process. However, there are mortgage terms that are used and sometimes these terms are used interchangeably by other loan officers. While these terms may sound similar, they are in fact very different and the level of your qualification process is important to understand. The terms we are discussing are Pre-Qualified, Premier Buyer and Final Approval. Understanding these terms is vital to understanding where you stand in the loan approval process.

1. Pre-Qualified: If you are in the market to buy a new home, getting pre-qualified is the first step. This is a fairly simple procedure that can often be done online or over the phone with a mortgage professional. A pre-qualification will give you a ballpark figure on how much you are able to borrow and thus you know what you can afford. During the pre-qualification process, you will be asked basic questions about your income, debt and assets. This is also an opportunity for your mortgage professional to discuss the different loan options that may be available to you. Remember, a pre-qualification is only a snapshot of your borrowing power. Do not make any purchases based solely on a loan pre-qualification.

2. Premier Buyer: Once you are pre-qualified the next step is going through the approval process. This is a much more involved process. Typically, your lender will request several items from you including: a full mortgage application, tax returns, documentation of income and all bank and investment statements. The lender will also pull your credit history as well. Once you become a premier buyer, you will know the exact loan amount you are approved for as well as which interest rate you qualify for. The main advantage of being a premier buyer is that you are now in a position to make legitimate offers on properties you are interested in. A premier buyer is much more desirable since they are able to close quicker than those who are not premier buyers.

3. Final Approval: Final approval is the last step in the loan process and is often referred to as the Loan Commitment. This is both the final step and the most important one. During the final approval review, the lender will ensure a clean title and that there has been no change in the borrower’s financial or credit status since pre-approval. The final approval is also contingent upon a satisfactory appraisal of the property and establishing that there are no liens or legal actions being brought upon the property as well. The final approval is only issued when the lender is absolutely certain that it will adjudicate the loan. Therefore, it is important that the commitment date and the closing date are fairly close to each other.

An educated buyer will always have the advantage, so understanding the mortgage approval process will put you head and shoulders above the competition.

 

Share Button

Thinking About Our Veterans

What do you know about VA loans … start by asking your buyers, “Have you served?”

A Veteran can obtain a COE (Certificate of Eligibility) from the VA (Veterans Association) as long as they have a DD214 (discharge papers) and are a qualifying Veteran. Approved VA lenders can obtain the COE on behalf of the Veteran, if they have the proper information. It is important to note that the VA does not lend money; they only insure the loan, so the Veteran must apply with a VA approved lender. Every lender should ask EVERY borrower if they are a Veteran.

Simply put, VA loans are probably the best loans available. Here are some bullet points as to why:
• 100% financing with NO monthly mortgage insurance (HUGE savings)
• Interest rates are often lower than on a conventional loan.
• Often times lenders will waive origination fees (attorneys and title companies often discount fees for Veteran’s as well)
• Higher debt to income ratio flexibility.
• On a purchase the VA allows the seller to pay up to 4% of the purchase price towards the Veteran’s closing costs.
• VA loans are assumable so if rates are higher and another Veteran is interested in assuming the mortgage they can do so at the lower rate.
• The VA does have a funding fee that is added to the loan amount. This fee varies based on first time or subsequent usage of the VA loan but is waived if the Veteran has 10% VA disability or more.
• The VA offers what is called an IRRRL (Interest Rate Reduction Refinance Loan). If rates go down the Veteran can refinance to lower the current rate with low cost, low documentation and often times no appraisal required.
• The VA will also allow for additional money for energy improvements to a home.

In honor of Veteran’s Day let’s remember to ‘ASK’ and help our Veterans become successful homeowners!

Written by Justin Bitler, Senior Mortgage Consultant, NMLS# 153699.

 

 

Share Button

The Final Key to Credit Success!

We provided the top practices to keep your credit in tip top shape.  However there are a few secrets to managing your credit profile that are very important.Never let your credit card balance go over 30% of the credit limit.  

If you have a $1000 limit for example, always keep the balance below $300. It is especially important to ensure you are at or below the 30% mark 90 days before applying for any new credit. This will maximize your credit score.

One of the most important credit tips.

The credit card balance that is reported to the credit bureaus each month is the balance at the end of the billing cycle (even if you pay it in full each month). So if you have that card with a $1000 limit and you used $800 that month it looks like you used 80% of the available balance, even have already paid it in full.  In order to avoid this pay the bill early so that when the statement comes out your balance is between $0 and $300 on that card with a $1000 limit. Keep an eye on when the closing date is on the bill and pay early to boost your profile!

Credit matters with everything we do from renting apartments, to obtaining car insurance to getting a good cell phone deal, it can even impact our employment opportunities. Today maintaining a strong credit profile will make all of your economic choices less expensive. It is never too late to start to build or improve your credit profile.

Call us today to learn how we can support you in navigating the maze of credit reporting.

Amy Tierce of Newton is regional vice president for Wintrust Mortgage, a mortgage company with branches in MetroWest. She can be reached by phone: 617-308-4870, by email: atierce@wintrustmortgage.com, and online: www.amyrates.com – NMLS #15695.

Share Button

Give Your Credit its Due!

It is no secret that a good credit history is something we all strive to maintain and is especially important when applying for a mortgage. There are practices, which you want to make sure you are doing, and mistakes to avoid. Following these simple tips will help ensure that your credit stays in tiptop shape.

1. Pay all of your bills by their due dates. Your payment history is a major factor the credit agencies look at when calculating your score. Any late payments will have to be explained satisfactorily when applying for your loan.

2. Make sure your credit is protected. It is vital to practice good credit security. This means all of your credit cards are signed, you review your accounts regularly for any fraudulent activity and you shred all of you credit card statements before disposing of them.

3. Make sure you review your credit report at least once a year. There are many free websites that you can use. You want to ensure there is no fraudulent activity or other errors in reporting. You will want to check your report again a few months prior to applying for a mortgage so you are aware of any issues you may need to rectify.

4. Mind your alerts! All credit cards have automatic alerts that tell you when a purchase has been made and when payments are due, these are great tools to help you maintain great credit. You can also set up automatic payments as well.

5. Make history. You need credit history to create a credit report, so if you don’t have a credit card, get one but make sure you make timely payments on it. In fact get more than one, use them and pay them and you will build a credit profile.

6. Thin your accounts. If you have a lot of creditors on you report that have been dormant for a while you can close the accounts, however leave the older accounts open. Credit agencies look at longevity as a positive factor.

7. Do not open multiple accounts at the same time. Every time you apply for credit it will cost you points on your report. If you are ready to apply for a mortgage or currently in the approval process, you definitely do not want to apply for any new credit!

8. Call your lenders! Ask your creditors if they will raise your credit limits and if they will lower your interest rates. A higher credit limit will improve your score and a lower interest rate will help you pay off debt more quickly.

9. Beware of balance transfers. While a balance transfer may seem like a perfectly reasonable way to manage your credit, do not do it. It is better for your credit score to have a few small balances spread among a few accounts than to have one large balance on one account.

10. Have a plan! Have a plan that will pay your debt down quickly. If you are able to pay off your balances each month you should. If not, at least try paying more than the minimum or make more than one payment per month. When prioritizing accounts pay off the ones with the higher interest rates.

STAY TUNED TO NEXT WEEK’S POST FOR THE MOST IMPORTANT CREDIT STRATEGY TO ENGAGE IN TO KEEP YOUR SCORES AT THEIR HIGHEST!

Amy Tierce of Newton is regional vice president for Wintrust Mortgage, a mortgage company with branches in MetroWest. She can be reached by phone: 617-308-4870, by email: atierce@wintrustmortgage.com, and online: www.amyrates.com – NMLS #15695.

Share Button

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

This is a frustrating market for buyers. Many move up buyers wonder if they should stay put and renovate or expand their current home versus moving. Below are 10 points to consider when thinking about a renovation provided by Bruce Irving, Renovation Specialist. Bruce was formerly the producer of public televisions “This Old House” and today has a construction consulting practice as well as a successful real estate sales practice.

Ten Things to Get Straight before You Renovate

1. Live there. Unless the home you’ve just purchased is a total wreck, live in it for a good period of time before shaking it up with a renovation. Learn its flow, where the groceries land, where the laundry wants to go, how the sun hits it, where the choke points are, which way the rain slants, even get a sense of its soul–all of which will inform your choices when you make your plans to change things.

2. Accept this truth: almost every job costs more and takes longer than you think. After you (and your advisors) have done your very best to estimate the cost, add 20%. If you don’t have the funds, cut the job back. Ditto on the time: add 25%. If it’s a big job, add slightly less–say 20%–if you can vacate the house for the bulk of the project. If you happen to beat these projections, then your surprises are happy ones.

3. Good professional help is worth the money–that means design as well as construction. You are about to spend more than you ever thought possible—it might as well be for a correctly designed thing.

4. Use your professionals wisely and efficiently: Many architects charge by the hour (which is a good way to work with one), so bring a lot of thinking and pictures (of likes and dislikes) to your first meeting. If he or she doesn’t ask you a lot of questions about your needs, desires, and the way you live, find someone else. Listening skills and curiosity are crucial in an architect and builder. With contractors, be willing to pay for (and wait for) a good one. Skip the low bidder and probably the one who is available right away.

5. Choose your teammates wisely. Be it a designer or a general contractor, ask to contact their last three clients. These people will have experienced the person at his or her current level of achievement and staffing. Also ask the architect for two GCs s/he has worked with; ask the GC for two architects. These people have seen the person as only a professional can. Visit a couple of candidates’ jobsites to check out cleanliness, organization, and vibe.

6. Take your design to the schematic stage (as opposed to finished “biddable” plans) and then get a contractor or two to look at it. This way you can find out if your project is in the right budget ballpark before falling in love with a plan–and paying for a complete set of bid drawings. It’s also a good way to meet potential contractors, get their input, and not misuse their time.

7. Lay it out for real. Lots of people have great difficulty truly understanding blueprints. They say they get it, but quite often they don’t. Whenever possible, mark out the proposed change on the floor, the wall, the yard, and walk through it. The experience may surprise you. Ask lots of questions. There’s no such thing as a dumb one, and besides, it’s your money you’re spending. You should know why and on what.

8. Water kills houses. If you’re faced with a choice of working on the outside or the inside, start on the outside. No point in putting in a new floor if the roof is getting set to leak. Gutters, grading, foundation plantings, flat roofs—make sure the water is going where it should: away from the building.

9. Synthetics are good. Especially when it comes to the exterior, low-maintenance is the name of the game, and cement clapboarding (HardiePlank), expanded polyurethane moldings (Fypon), and cellular PVC trim (Azek) outlast today’s wood and hold paint better. Each has its own quirks, so make sure your contractor is familiar with them or willing to learn about them. New treatment processes have made real wood exceptionally rot-resistant as well—Centurion is a pine trim that comes with a 50-year warranty against decay.

10. Psychology counts. I was describing my business to someone in a restaurant when the woman at the next table leaned over. She was a psychologist and she said that in her experience, renovations were right up there with moving and loss of a job as stressors on couples. The issues, she said, were power, control, and money. One way to see what your issues will be is to take on a small project together–paint a room, put up a mailbox. Your styles will soon be apparent, and you can work on figuring out a division of labor that might accommodate them–on that job and larger ones in the future.

BONUS: Spend good money on things you touch every day–door hardware, doors, faucets, appliances, kitchen cabinets. The tactile experience sends a daily reminder to you and your guests about the solidity and quality of your home.

EXTRA BONUS: Think long and hard before you replace your windows. If they’re original to the house and are in half-decent shape, they can and should be resuscitated. In combination with a storm window, a properly functioning old window comes very close to equaling the energy efficiency of a modern thermal-pane unit–and will outlast it. Anyone claiming that you will earn your money back in energy savings by installing replacement windows is either misinformed or looking for your money himself.

Share Button

Over communicate with your clients to avoid frustration!

Sitting at the airport waiting on a once cancelled and now extremely delayed flight; the frustration among the travelers is palpable. They are pacing, and huffing and speaking angrily into their phones trying to find an alternative. This has been going on for over an hour and will continue until we are comfortably in our seats and racing down the runway for takeoff.

It would be easy to alleviate some of the shared frustration and anxiety, if they would just communicate! I crave an announcement that would say, “We are terribly sorry for this situation, we promise to provide you with active updates every 15 minutes until you are on the plane.” That would be great, much better than the electronic sign which says that we are boarding now.

This is a situation that will last for a matter of hours. Imagine living through this unknown for days or weeks. That can be today’s mortgage and real estate buying process. A complicated process full of unexpected events and requirements, many that come up during the process adding stress and anxiety.

All we can do to make the experience more welcoming is to communicate from the beginning and throughout until the loan has closed and the buyer is soaring. Communicate consistently and at pre-determined intervals; reach out immediately if there are any concerns or new requirements. Deliver the news immediately and communicate even when there is nothing to say but “we are on track and there is no news.” It’s not much, but it is exactly what consumers crave, honest and frank communication about their specific transaction.

We cannot remove the pitfalls and hurdles in the mortgage process. All we can do is keep our borrowers, agents and sellers informed throughout with accurate details as to the timeline for the transaction. In the end, we all want to know what is going on in real time. Whether it is with our delayed flight or our mortgage application, keeping us informed will keep the relationship and the transaction on track and get us to take off with less stress.

Share Button

Who really wants to move in 30 Days?

Think about it. Four weekends total to pack and arrange all that is required to make a move. It’s hard, taxing, stressful and painful. Unless there is a reason that one has to move in 30 days, most people would prefer to have more time for this massive undertaking.

It is hard for mortgage lenders to close loans in 30 days too, painful, stressful and full of anxiety… mostly because so much of the process is out of the control of the lender. Among the greatest stressors in the mortgage industry today is the appraisal process. Today, much of New England expects a three-week period, or more, from the time the appraisal is ordered until the lender receives it. Once received, the appraisal has to go through an approval process, either with an underwriter or the lender’s appraisal review department. It is almost guaranteed that the report will need some type of correction. Appraisers are moving fast and can be overworked. They’re only human, they can make mistakes. However, today’s exacting mortgage process requires that all documents be absolutely perfect, to market specifications, prior to closing.

Getting corrections on an appraisal report can take several days. Appraisers are on the road daily and often spend their evenings at the computer, completing reports, or revising and correcting old ones. It can take time to connect with them to discuss the necessary changes to the report and to get the corrected report back.
The appraisal industry seems to be in crisis. Today there are fewer and fewer appraisers in the industry to meet the demands of this aggressive market. In the State of North Dakota alone, there are only 17 licensed appraisers. Thus in many areas of our country, appraisers are demanding $1000 to $2000 for a report, not including rush fees.

Think about this: in MA it takes at least 21 days to obtain an appraisal report, 2-5 days for approval, or revisions and final approval, then the loan needs to be clear to close prior to the closing date to meet the requirements of TRID regulations.
This situation makes 30-day closings near impossible, unless the stars align for all parties. The process might be easier for everyone if contracts were written with an, “On-or-Before,” closing date of 40 days out. This way, when there is a one-to-two-day minor delay in a closing, the need for extensions and back-and-forth goes away. The buyer and seller remain protected by the mortgage contingency and deposit check.

The knowledge that all are prepared to extend the closing date by a few days, due to unforeseen minor delays from third parties, helps all of those affected by the home buying process to sleep a little easier.

Share Button