The four seasons: Which season is best for homebuyers?
When is the best time to buy a house? For some, this can be a stressful issue, as no one wants to enter the market when it may be better to remain on the sidelines.There's no easy answer regarding when to begin a home search, because each season comes with its own set of strengths and weaknesses, much like the weather and its changing seasons.
Here are a few tips on what to be aware of when conducting a listing search in each season of the year so you have an idea of what to expect with each:
After months of cold weather and being cooped up inside, people are eager to get out and emerge from winter hibernation mode. This same principle applies to the housing market.
Spring is generally considered to be the official kickoff to the homebuying season. In short, it’s an excellent time to start looking because new listings tend to pick up in volume. Any seasoned real estate agent knows this is the time to suggest their clients start their home search in earnest and head to open houses and private showings.
The only caveat to this time of year is the need for speed: Many homes for sale don’t tend to last more than a week or so, especially in “hot” markets, so homebuyers are wise to act quickly.
According to HousingWire, summer is usually the most popular time of year for homebuyers. You can understand why, given most kids are done with school, vacation season is underway and foot traffic rises. This makes it an appealing time for sellers hoping to sell high, which could be problematic for buyers on a budget.
Having said that, Realtor.com explains home prices don't always heat up when the weather does. Because inventory usually swells, buyers have a greater variety of options to choose from, which may not be the case when temperatures eventually go the other direction.
Leaf peepers come out of the woodwork when late September and October roll around, but not so much when it comes to would-be buyers. With the dip in demand, October is considered the best month to buy on the cheap, with the typical homebuyer spending 2.6 percent less than market value, per RealtyTrac analysis.
"For buyers looking for a better deal, fall is a great time to make offers," Joanne Douglas, a Realtor based in New York City, explained to Realtor.com.
It's the time of year when Americans hunker down, grin and bear it with school back in session and work deadlines fast approaching. This part of the year tends to see a pullback in both buyers and listings.
However, as the Washington Post reports, buyers often have an advantage when properties go up for sale, because it may be an indication that the seller needs to offload their property quickly due to something unexpected that's come up. Eager to sell, owners may be more willing to entertain bids lower than the asking price.
Whether the weather you prefer is hot, cold or somewhere in between, keeping these factors in mind can help you gauge the market and get a sense of when the time is just right.
Using gift money to buy a home
While it’s generally known that home buyers may use “gift funds” toward the purchase of their home, there is also a great deal of confusing information out there that can start your head spinning when you try to figure out what is or isn’t allowed and what documentation will be needed so the gift may be used in the transaction.
The Big Question: Why is gift money a big deal?
Yes, let’s talk about why gift money is such a big deal. It actually goes back to our government’s efforts to prevent money laundering through real estate transactions. This is part of our country’s fight against illegal drugs, weapons and even terrorism. Mortgage companies are required to document the source of all money going into a real estate transaction, and that especially includes money coming from someone other than their borrower(s). There is a wealth of great information on the efforts being made here: https://www.fincen.gov/history-anti-money-laundering-laws
“How much of the money I put toward my home purchase can be gift money?“
It depends on the mortgage program you’re going to use. Some programs allow for the entire down payment to be in the form of a gift. Others may require at least 5 percent of the purchase price from your own funds unless the total down payment is 20 percent or more. This is a question to discuss with your loan officer. They’re going to be familiar with the requirements of each mortgage program and will be able to show you your options.
“My parents are willing to give me twenty thousand dollars to help me buy a house. Is that okay? What do we need to do?”
Shouldn’t be a problem if everything is above board and documented well. First, write your parents a big, heart-felt Thank You card. Next, educate yourself on what to expect.
In most situations, the gift donor or provider must be a family member, fiancé or domestic partner. Additionally, they must be able to supply evidence that they can give you the gift. What does that mean, “supply evidence?” This can be a copy of their bank statement, a cancelled gift check or a signed letter from their bank attesting to the availability of funds in their account. Sometimes more than one of these items may be required. It’s important that you understand this and communicate it with your gift donor when arranging the gift, because they will be expected to supply documentation in order for the gift to be used.
The Gift Letter
Your mortgage originator will usually have a form that the gift donor can complete and sign, or a simple letter from your gift donor may be requested. Whether it is a form or a letter, these items usually need to be included:
- The donor’s name(s), address and relationship to you
- The donor’s account information (the account(s) where the gift money is being held)
- The property being purchased
- The dollar amount of the gift
- The date or approximate date of the transfer with a statement that the funds are a gift with no expectation of repayment
Properly documenting the transfer of gift funds is vital. Your mortgage loan team will give you the guidance you need to handle the transaction properly. When they do, try to follow their instructions to the letter. It may seem like a lot of silly details but see each one through. There’s no replacement for getting it right the first time.
Here is a typical example of what that guidance may look like:
- The donor should give the gift in the form of a check or wire
- If by check, make a copy of the check before depositing it into the account that will be used for verification of funds to close
- Keep the transaction simple - DO NOT combine this deposit with any other incidental deposits
- Provide a copy of the deposit slip or confirmation and either an online update or the next account statement as evidence that the deposit “cleared” (meaning the funds are fully available in the account now)
Handled correctly, gift funds can be a big help toward achieving homeownership. Handled incorrectly, there is the potential for gift funds to be ineligible, and you’re now researching other ways to afford the home you want to buy.
If you’re thinking of using gift funds to help buy your home, follow the guidance above. Talk with your gift donor about the documentation that may be needed from them so they aren’t uncomfortable or cause delays when it’s requested. Make sure the gift letter includes all the information needed by your mortgage company. Manage the transfer of the gift money exactly as instructed and provide documentation promptly. If any further documentation is required get it quickly. And ask your mortgage loan team any questions that come up! They’re going to want to help get this right so you can walk away from settlement with keys in your hand saying:
“that was a lot easier than I expected it would be!”
The cost of living has turned the typical family household construct on its head.
According to a recent survey from the Pew Research Center, approximately 15 percent of millennials age 25 and 35 years still live with their parents. Compare that to the 10 percent of 25- to 35-year-old Generation Xers who were living with their parents in 2000 or the 8 percent of 25- to 35-year-old baby boomers who did the same in 1981.
So it may come as a bit of a surprise that, contrary to what the polls suggest, millennials represent the largest group of individuals who are in the market to buy a house.
Millennials run the real estate market
That's according to a recent survey from the National Association of Realtors. In its Home Buyer and Seller Generational Trends study, the NAR found that 36 percent of residential real estate transactions during the past year involved 18- to 35-year-old men and women. This includes all housing types - townhouses, co-ops and condominiums - and not just single-family residences. That's up from 34 percent over the corresponding period in 2017. These figures are well ahead of Generation X buyers, who made up 26 percent of all home purchases in the past year.
What drives millennial homebuying?
Why are millennials accounting for a larger slice of the homebuyer pie? It's partly due to their spending capabilities. The typical millennial household makes around $88,200 per year, up from $82,000 in the 2017 version of the NAR's Generational Trends analysis.
For about 1 millennial homebuyer in 5, these purchases represent their introduction to homeownership. In other words, buying a home means leaving the nest for the first time.
Millennials are loath to move as a rule, but are also living with their folks for longer periods than their older contemporaries. In fact, 91 percent of the 25- to 35-year-old respondents in the aforementioned Pew Research poll who are currently living with their parents had lived at home for at least 12 months. The same was true for 86 percent of the same demographic of Generation Xers in the 2000s.
Everyone's situation is different, but if nothing else, the numbers suggest more millennials are proving their fiscal mettle and learning that the American dream is still alive.
Most renters want to own a home
Just about everyone who's been in the market for a home has addressed the age-old question of whether it's better to rent or buy. A family's circumstances often tell the tale of which is the better bet, but generally speaking, buying beats renting, especially from a dollars-and-cents perspective.
Even today, when a dearth of supply and a glut of demand has caused asking values to increase, most renters still want to own a home, so says a recently released poll. According to new findings from the National Association of Realtors, approximately 75 percent of "non-owners" say they have every intention of buying a house at some point in the future.
The homeownership rate has gone up and down over the years and is still below the all-time high of 69 percent in 2004, according to data compiled by Trading Economics. Currently, about 64 percent of Americans own a home, based on the most recent quarterly figures available from the U.S. Census Bureau.
Cost, limited supply leaving some renters in limbo
If around three-quarters of the country seeks to purchase a house and apply for a mortgage, why isn't the homeownership rate higher? It's largely because of the economics of it. On average, for the whole year, just over half of respondents in the NAR survey said they couldn't afford to buy a home, slightly lower than the 56 percent who indicated as much during the fourth quarter of 2017 alone.
Driving the price increases are the relatively few options would-be buyers have to choose from, noted NAR chief Lawrence Yun.
"A tug-of-war continues to take place in many markets throughout the country, where consistently solid job creation is fueling demand, but the lack of supply is creating affordability constraints that are ultimately pulling aspiring buyers further away from owning," Yun said.
How problematic of an issue dry real estate markets are is a function of where you happen to be looking, as some regions have more properties in listings than others. From a national perspective, however, choices are slim. In January, total housing inventory actually increased to 1.52 million, based on existing-home sales numbers from the NAR. But even with an increase of 4 percent from this past December, inventory is still down 9.5 percent from January of last year.
"These extremely frustrating conditions continue to be most apparent at the lower end of the market," Yun said, "which is why the overall share of first-time buyers remains well below where it should be given the strength of the job market and economy."
Renters feeling the pinch
But the rental situation isn't much more accommodating. To the contrary, 51 percent of the participants in the NAR survey said they anticipate paying more for rent in 2018 than they did in 2017.
As it stands, the average worker today has to earn more than $21 per hour to afford a two-bedroom apartment, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition. Given that renters currently make an average of $16.38 per hour, this means that many renters are spending more than 30 percent of their income on rent. Because of these affordability pressures, it's time for developers to kick things into high gear.
Speaking of affordability, many renters or would-be buyers operate under the belief that they can't afford a down payment, under the assumption that they have to put down 20 percent of the property's value up front. Based on a separate poll conducted by the National Association of Realtors, 37 percent of millennials believe a 20 percent down payment is required. Not only is this inaccurate, but it's also far above what the average actually is (5 percent).
Regardless of what the supply situation looks like, renters are looking to buy, primarily because they're running out of room. In a Realtor.com poll, nearly 93 percent of respondents said they wanted at least two bathrooms in their future home.
With the inventory situation showing some improvement, prospective buyers should be able to get exactly what they're looking for in the not-too-distant future.
How to best approach the mortgage process when self-employed
The benefits of self-employment are undeniable. If they weren't, then there wouldn't be approximately 41 million Americans who work for themselves, according to estimates from MBO Partners.
Being your own boss is extremely freeing, as you're able to set your own timetable, pursue your passion or simply do something you're particularly good at. But as with any job, there are some challenges to being self-employed. One of them can be applying for a mortgage. It's not that the process itself is any more difficult than it is for those who work for a business, but there is a certain level of due diligence that self-employed applicants must reach in order to check all the boxes.
Here are a few smart ways to approach the process and simplify it:
1. Prep your paperwork
Paperwork is the name of the game in mortgage approval. An accountant can provide tips for obtaining the proper documentation, such as tax forms, profit and losses, etc.
2. Contact a mortgage professional
Rely on the expertise of a real estate or mortgage professional rather than going about it on your own. They understand exactly what it takes to be approved for a home loan and can offer sound advice.
3. Maintain a clean credit profile
A high credit score speaks well to your fiscal responsibility, which will go a long way toward improving the likelihood of authorization.