Mortgage woes? Tell it to them!

Well, now you have a place to complain, gripe, and deal with all your mortgage issues and woes.  Developed by the Obama administration, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is now open for business.  And they want to hear all about your mortgage problems.  This government agency has been mostly dealing with credit card complaints (talk to them about that, too) but now want to hear about mortgages.  

When you get to their page, you can easily submit your complaint, watch a YouTube video from their director, and connect with them via Facebook or Twitter.  According to this Chicago Tribune article, when they initially opened up to hear credit card complaints, they received over 5,000 and were able to resolve over 3,100!  They’re hoping to handle complaints through the end of this year.  

As I mentioned, the easiest way to contact them is via their Web site.  However, they’re also reachable via postal mail at P.O. Box 4503, Iowa City, IA 52244, fax 855-237-2392, or telephone 855-411-2372.  Please be aware that it is not a toll-free number.  But they did mention that they’re hoping for virtually no wait time to speak to a representative.

You can also create an account through the site and visit often to check the status.  You can also view correspondence between CFPB officials and members of Congress as well as recent press releases regarding the bureau.  

I’d love to hear if anyone has submitted a complaint through you and whether they were successful in resolving it or not.  I hope that this is another avenue the government has established to take care of those underwater and remove some of the excess inventory we’re seeing on the market.  Please post your story if you have one in the comments!

Your online activity could cost you a home deal

With the influx of people using social networks today, such as Facebook and Twitter, it’s very common to know all the going-on of your friends and family.  It’s great to find out where everyone is when, and share important news stories and photos.  However, when it comes to real estate, it’s best to be cautious with what you post.  Here’s why:

In a recent MSN article, a real estate agent mentioned how her client lost a house.  She was looking in a particular neighborhood and went online and posted something like “We found out dream house in XYZ neighborhood!”  Well, one of her friends saw the post and shared it with another friend who was looking in that same neighborhood at the one house for sale.  That person went and offered more money and ended up buying the home.

I’ve always told my clients never to give out information until a deal is closed, especially the price paid, because if something happens before you get to closing, now someone has information on what the seller was willing to take and could offer a better price.  This is also why real estate agents never share what a home goes under contract for until it sold.

You also have to be careful when posting pictures because other people may be able to recognize the home.  But not all social network activity surrounding buying or selling a house is bad.  Here is when it’s okay to post.

1. You’re the seller and want people to know your house is available.  The more people that know about it, the more potential buyers you’ll see.

2. Asking what people know about a certain town in terms of schools, activities, etc., especially if you’re new to the area

Otherwise, you can figuratively stick your foot in your mouth by posting something that other people shouldn’t know.  And for security reasons, never post that you’re going to be viewing open houses or out looking at houses because then people know you’re not at your home!

I’d love to hear more thoughts on this subject.  Please leave me a comment or visit me online.

 

Couponing coming to real estate

Couponing seems to be the biggest craze now.  Between shows like Extreme Couponing and all the new daily deal sites that pop up, like Groupon and Living Social, everybody is trying to get something for less.  I think these sites can offer some fantastic deals, so I was thrilled when I found out about a new site, HouseTipper.com.

HouseTipper works similar to Groupon sites where you would pay ahead of time to get a discount from a real estate brokerage.  Some deals might include a commission discount, gift cards at closing, or cash back.  According to this MSN article, “In real estate, the deals are often offered for three to seven days rather than for just one day because these are not usually impulse buys,” says Tigue Bonneval, co-founder of HouseTipper.com and a real-estate agent in Baton Rouge, La. “This gives customers time to see the deal, make an inquiry with the real-estate agent and decide if they want to make the purchase.”

Bonneval also says that HouseTipper will refund the cost of the coupon if the consumer doesn’t end up purchasing a house or doesn’t like the particular agent offering the deal.  So it’s really a win-win.  They’re also trying to increase their business, so if you refer someone to the site, you can get a $10 credit to use when the referral purchases their first coupon.

Some states don’t allow real estate agents to give rebates, so you’ll need to do your research before you buy.  

I’d love to hear if you got a deal by using this site or what types of coupons you’ve discovered for your real estate needs.  Please leave me a comment with any info you can share!

 

How to read an MLS sheet

For those of you who are looking to buy a home, it’s most likely that your Realtor is providing you listings to view, either online or on paper, with information from the Multiple Listing Service (MLS).  On those listings, you’re able to see photos, address, bed and bath count, and numerous other information about the home.  But for those who haven’t done it before, it’s very common for Realtors to use abbreviations as well as the MLS is known to shorten information.  I thought this might be a good lesson in some of the more common uses on an MLS sheet.  I am going to use the information from the Multiple Listing Service of Northern Illinois, now known as MRED (Midwest Real Estate Data).  This is the MLS for the region where I work.

The first thing most buyers will look at is the bedroom and bathroom count, also abbreviated as BR and BA.  Here’s the trick.  Let’s say you see a home that lists its bathrooms as 2.1.  You wonder why there’s two bathrooms and a tenth of another one.  How it works is that the number before the decimal point is the amount of full baths.  The number after the decimal is the amount of half baths (those without a shower or bath and just a toilet and sink).  So that home would really have 2 1/2 baths.  If you do see a listing as 2.5, it means there’s 2 full baths and 5 half baths, or someone made a mistake entering it.

HOA refers to the homeowners dues, where it will list an amount.  If an amount is filled in, you’ll find out there’s a frequency, usually seen as A, M, V, meaning annual, monthly, voluntary (it’s not required).  MAI stands for “Monthly assessment includes.”  Now, if the frequency is A, it means “Annual assessment includes.”  And what would be in this field are items like parking, water, etc.  Whatever is included in the dues you pay to the homeowners association.

A new required field for this MLS is the source of square footage.  You’ll most likely see a letter after the square footage is shown.  That shows what the source is for that number, whether it’s estimated, from a survey, or from an appraiser.  You can ask your Realtor what that specific letter refers to.

Now I’ll give you a few abbreviations the Realtors use when writing remarks.  They often have to shorten the description to fit everything in they want to say.

FP=fireplace
HW=hardwood
SS=stainless steel
MBR=master bedroom
SIP=screened-in porch
WIC=walk-in closet
WIP=walk-in pantry

When someone refers to a garage as 2.5 or 3.5, that does mean it fits 2 1/2 or 3 1/2 cars, or has the space for 2 cars plus room on both sides.

If you have more specific questions about how to read an MLS sheet or are ready to begin your home search, please visit me online.

Great new way to search for your dream home

We all know the Internet is becoming the most popular way to search for homes.  You’re able to virtually look inside a home to determine if you want to see it in person.  I’m about to share a whole new way of searching for homes, customized just for you.

Coldwell Banker just unveiled their brand new search tool: BlueScape.  Most people search for homes by how many bedrooms they want, bathrooms, school district, amenities, etc.  While those features are important, BlueScape allows a more customized search.  This is how it works:

You start out on the BlueScape search site. You’re asked to rate images with a thumbs up or a thumbs down, based on what you like.  You’ll want to rate at least five images, but the more you do, the better the results.  Once you’ve done that, you click on “Get results.”  You can narrow your search by town and price range.  Then you can narrow it down further by choosing certain keywords, such as “garage,” “lake,” etc.  The tool will find homes for you based on the images you liked before.

Taking their cue from popular online music sites like Pandora, Coldwell Banker figured this search was a way to explore more of people’s emotions when looking for a home.  Chief Marketing Officer Michael Fischer said this in a statement: “Home buying is often driven by a gut feeling. We’ve widened the definition of real estate search to give consumers the chance to explore those intangibles.”

Another added feature to the search tool is similar properties.  Based on what consumers choose as ones they most prefer, the Web site will provide a “You may also like” feature that shows you similar homes to what you’ve already said are ones you prefer.  This is important because if you’re looking in a certain price range, say $300,000 to $350,000 and there’s a house out there with all your preferred amenities listed for $298,000, you would have never found it otherwise.

I hope you’ll be able to check out this great new search tool, and the first of any real estate company.  As always, if you need more details on a home or need to get inside to see one, please call me at 800-858-7917 or visit me online.

Coldwell Banker’s plan to extend the tax credit

As an agent of Coldwell Banker, I wanted to talk about what my company is doing to continue to stimulate the housing market.  With the tax credit expiring last week, starting on Saturday, they announced a Buyer Bonus Sales Event.  Since many agents had buyers who would have missed out on the credit if it had really expired when it was supposed to in November, Coldwell Banker decided to do something about it since it did expire on Friday.

Sellers participating in this event will offer a credit of 3% (up to $8,000) for buyers at closing.  The contract has to be signed prior to July 31, 2010, but right now there is no set deadline on a closing.

Jim Gillespie, the president and CEO of Coldwell Banker Real Estate LLC said, “Without restrictions such as household income caps, the Coldwell Banker Buyer Bonus Sales Event allows for greater participation for all homebuyers.  And our sellers have a unique opportunity to allow their home to stand out from the competition in their marketplace.”  So no one is limited by this event.  Anyone (first time buyers or repeat buyers) can take advantage of this bonus.

To find a home participating, you can go to the Coldwell Banker Web site and check the box labeled Buyer Bonus Properties in your search criteria.  As you drive around neighborhoods you’re looking at, you can also see those that have a special rider on their yard signs.  Feel free to call your local office to find out if the property you’re interested in is participating.

Sellers planning to sell their home and want to participate, be sure to let your agent know.  You’ll get the benefit of national television advertising, promotion on the Web site, as well as social media outlets such as Facebook and Twitter.

This is a great chance to get some money back if you were unable to participate in the government’s program.  If you’re interested in selling or buying, please be sure to visit me online.

Appealing to the younger generation

So who’s leading the pack now in purchasing their first home?  It’s Generation Y.  Born to baby boomers, this generation is about 75 million people born between 1982 and 1995.  A lot are graduating college and looking for their first place.  Many are getting married and buying their first home with their spouse.  Either way, they’re the next generation sellers are going to want to appeal to.

First of all, you need to know that so many of these people are using technology to find their home.  They’re not the ones who are going to take out the Sunday paper and search for Open Houses.  They’ll be on Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and dozens of other online sites doing their searches.  They can even use Zillow from their mobile phones or use their phones to take pictures of a building they might be interested in to send to their Realtor.  They grew up using technology and there’s no reason to change that now.  So if you are selling your home, make sure your agent shows you the Internet marketing he’s capable of.  Your home should appear on Web sites and social networking sites to appeal to these buyers.

And don’t just assume because they’re young they automatically look in the urban areas.  While that’s true for some, many want to have a close commute to work in the suburbs.  In the Chicago area, many suburbs have a “downtown” area modeled like the city itself.  Suburbs such as Palatine, Arlington Heights, Schaumburg, Highland Park, and Grayslake are a few examples. 

A lot of the Generation Yers go for low-maintenance living, like a condo or a townhome, where they don’t have to worry about shoveling snow or mowing the lawn.  However, some would like a single family home with a garage to park their cars and space to start a family.  They’re looking for newer materials in homes, nothing dated.  Forget the Formica counters – they want Corian and granite.  Helen Velas, a Naperville interior designer also adds, “They want the most bang for their buck because they can afford only a small space. They like flex floor plans. Maybe a home office can double as a dining room, exercise room or guest room. Gen Y is not into museum rooms that are never used, like living rooms.”

Of course, I’m not telling you that you should model your home to sell to someone in this generation.  These are just a few tips to keep in mind based on your location.  If you’re selling a condo in a downtown area and you have a formal living room, maybe you would want to stage it to act as a fitness room or office.  Think outside the box. 

More information on what this generation is looking for can be found here. I’m ready to help you buy or sell your home. Please visit me online.