Friday, January 19, 2007

Understand Your Credit Scores and Win the Game

I cannot over stress the importance of monitoring your credit scores annually to ensure that you pay the lowest rates on home mortgages, auto loans, credit card debts, and safeguard yourself against identity theft. In times past credit scores where used most often to develop your risk profile in consideration for a loan and to set interest rates. Today, property insurance carriers and life insurance carriers consider credit scores when setting premiums and this trend is evolving into a variety of industries.

A consumer’s credit history is archived by three service providers; Equifax, Experian, and Trans Union and their databases are often consolidated into a single report by third party credit agencies. The report is generally referred to as a credit report and it includes a credit score issued by each service provider. The scores range from 350-850 and are graded based on a set of criteria which includes payment history, account balances as compared to credit limits, amount of recently accumulated credit and inquires, among others factors.

The following generally outlines how a variety of traits within your profile may affect your credit scores and risk profile: Length of Credit History 15%, Payment History 35%, Credit Balances Owed 30%, and Recently Obtained Credit 10%. According to Colorado based Advantaged Credit of Colorado an example of a consumer’s favorable profile would include two installment loans, three revolving accounts with balances, balances on revolving debt below 30% of the high credit limit, no collections, no public records (judgments or liens), no foreclosures, no late payments.

My advice would be to obtain a copy of your credit report annually. This can be done by contacting each of the three credit service providers directly, or by accessing free online resources such as . Once you have obtained your report, review it carefully for discrepancies including inquires made against your credit files. Report inaccurate information directly to the associated credit service providers; keep in mind that the information retained by the three providers may vary and the data is often 30-60 days delayed, so some information such as account balances may not be accurate. The law provides consumer protection and false information must be removed by the reporting entity.

Bottom Line: To safeguard yourself against identity theft or credit fraud review your credit report annually, immediately report any discrepancy; ask your property and casualty insurance agent if you are eligible for premium discounts for high credit scores. It is also important to make lenders aware that you understand that interest rates are a reflection of risk and that your good credit should be rewarded with the appropriate interest rates. If you have legitimate credit problems, seek the advice of a qualified credit consultant and develop a strategy to restore your credit profile. Beware of anyone who promises that they can remove negative information from your report for a fee, legitimate information cannot be removed and you will be disappointed.

Resources: Here is the contact information for the three credit service providers: Equifax 1-800-685-1111, Experian 1-888-397-3742, and Trans Union 1-877-322-8228

Green is Becoming the Color of Real Estate

The environmentally conscious are gaining allies in residential construction from the efforts of Built Green Colorado; which is administered by the Home Builders Association of Metro Denver with the support of the Governor's Office of Energy Management and Conservation, Colorado Association of Home Builders and E-Star Colorado among others. The designation "Built Green" is issued to builders who chose from a list of more that 200 building features in 22 categories; including materials, resource conservation, energy efficiency and conservation of resources. Builders must obtain a minimum number of points accumulated by the inclusion of building features in order to register their project as a Built Green Community.

There are six primary benefits derived from the Built Green program: 1. Better Energy Efficiency. 2. Improved Durability and Reduced Maintenance. 3. Healthier Indoor Air. 4. Reduced Water Usage (this is critical in Douglas County). 5. Preservation of Natural Resources. 6. Pollution Reduction.

Special financing known as "Green Mortgages," are available to finance the purchase of a new Built Green home as well as to cover the cost of improvements to an existing home. As a result of energy savings the total housing cost resulting from these mortgage products are lower than the cost without special financing. Not all lenders offer Green Mortgages, so it is important to identify a lender familiar with these programs. I have estimated that a client utilizing our Green Mortgage product can achieve a savings of $45 per month on a $250,000 purchase price. The homebuyer could purchase an additional $7,500 in home value for the same payment by using the Green Mortgage program.

One example of a Built Green Community is the Highlands at Stonegate located at the southwest corner of C-470 and Jordan Road in Parker. The community is comprised of nearly 450 contemporary designed units containing a number of environmentally friendly features and building materials. Communities like the Highlands at Stonegate represent a tremendous value and appeal to buyers who recognize the benefits to the environment.

Those old enough to remember the environmental friendly homes of the 1970's will recall seven foot tall solar panels on roof tops and walls manufactured from old car tires; this in no way is representative of the Built Green home of today. The majority of features are not noticeable to the untrained eye; engineered lumber, low-e windows, fiber-cement siding, energy efficient appliances, and xeri-scaping all contribute to a beautiful and efficient alternative to traditional construction materials.

As consumers become more conscious about greenhouse gas emissions and the effect of global warming on our environment, many industries including the automobile industry and public utilities are seeking ways to satisfy the demands of the public for responsible management of our natural resources. Built Green Colorado has taken a key leadership role within the new homebuilder community in Colorado and residential communities throughout the state are seeing green.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Prepare Yourself To Obtain The Mortgage That Is Best For You

As we welcome a new year filled with endless possibilities to achieve your financial goals and chart a course for long term financial health; one of the most important pillars to consider when laying your foundation is the role that real estate will play in accomplishing your objectives. If you are a homeowner, the task of managing your equity includes an occasional review of the structure of your mortgage to ensure that your loan addresses present needs and maximizes your opportunity to grow the equity in your home. If you are in the market for a new home mortgage, there are practical considerations to take into account when considering who you should trust as an advisor and ultimately which loan program is right for you. Here is a practical guide to ensure that you make smart financial decisions.

Understand Your Time Horizon

The term of the loan product you chose should be directly tied to the length of time you intend to own the property. For example, one of my clients was working as a resident at CU Medical Center and there was little doubt that he would be relocating upon graduation from the program. The young couple came to me prepared to sign a 30 year mortgage as this is what their parents had recommended. The time horizon for my clients was a maximum of three years and a three year ARM was a more appropriate choice for them resulting in a significantly reduced interest rate and substantial interest savings. Simply stated, if you are planning to move in the next three to five years a thirty-year fixed mortgage would likely not provide you with the lowest possible costs.

Understand Your Risk Tolerance

Everyone has a tolerance for risk and your ability to live with your mortgage and sleep well at night requires that you understand where you are on the risk scale. I have clients that are willing to trade the volatility of adjustable rates for the periodic advantage of a lower initial rate, the idea of a thirty-year mortgage is completely foreign to someone with this profile. By contrast, I have clients who would be best served having an adjustable rate mortgage, but could not bare the uncertainty of knowing what their payment will be for the next 30 years regardless of their true intention to remain in the property.

Understand Your Credit Profile

Credit profile is comprised of two important factors, credit scores as reported by Trans Union, Equifax and Experian, and your capacity to repay the debt. Credit scores range from 360–850 and take into account a number of factors including payment history, account balances, age of accounts and inquiries. Generally speaking higher credit scores result in lower interest rates and better terms. Borrowers should strive to maintain credit scores of 620 or higher. Capacity is a measure of your ability to repay the debt as determined by your verifiable or stated debt to income ratio, typically not to exceed thirty-six percent of your gross income. This is a guideline and other factors such as high credit scores may allow you to stretch to fifty percent. To determine your debt to income ratio take your total monthly payments on your mortgages and consumer debt such as credit cards, car loans, etc. and divide the total into your gross monthly income.

Understand How Technology Can Work For You

The internet has changed the way we receive and process information becoming a useful tool for researching a home mortgage. Consumers should be very careful when using the internet as more than a research tool when acquiring a mortgage; surveys indicate low satisfaction rates among consumers who obtain a mortgage over the internet. The most effective strategy combines the information gathering utility of the internet with the personal consultation of a competent mortgage professional. The most advanced mortgage lenders utilize their websites as a resource tool for their clients and provide personalized service to ensure client satisfaction.

Another significant change has been the development of automated underwriting tools which allows lenders to weigh a borrower’s total risk profile against program guidelines making it easier for a larger range of applicants to qualify for a mortgage.

Understand That Interest Rate Is a Function of Risk

The interest rate a lender charges a borrower is directly related to the risk associated in making a loan to that specific borrower. It is not reasonable to expect a lender to provide a borrower with poor credit scores the same interest rate as someone with an excellent payment history. Be realistic about your qualifications and if you believe you are not receiving the rate you deserve ask your lender to provide you with a complete explanation of how your interest rate has been determined. In addition to explaining your credit profile, your lender should also explain the adjustments made to the final interest rate.

Understand Your Options Concerning Interest Rates and Loan Fees

A borrower who is shopping for the best mortgage rate can easily be seduced by low rate offers that are accompanied by low Annual Percentage Rates known as APR. Federal Law requires that APR be disclosed in addition to the actual interest rate when pricing a mortgage. Although disclosure of APR is intended to provide the borrower with enough information to make an informed decision; the reality is that APR may not be the best way to compare options when shopping for a mortgage and can mislead a borrower resulting in costly errors.

Consider buying down the interest rate by paying points (equal to a percent of the loan amount) and explore a no costs loan, whereby the total costs of the loan are factored into the interest rate. In order to determine if either choice is right for you, know your time horizon and be clear about your objectives. A competent mortgage professional can walk you through the evaluation process and provide you with a written comparison of loan programs and pricing structures.

Understand Potential Pitfalls and Protect Yourself

Prime loan programs also known as “A Paper” loans typically do not include a pre-payment penalty, by contrast the majority of sub-prime mortgage programs have associated prepayment penalties. In the event that the mortgage balance is dramatically reduced or paid in full prior to the end of the prepayment phase, a significant penalty can be charged to the borrower. A typical prepayment penalty is equal to six months interest on 80% of the principal balance for a period of one to five years. A prepayment penalty could in effect lock a borrower in to a loan program eliminating the option of refinancing in the near future.

Beware of loan program with extremely low initial interest rates, not everyone will win the lottery and the day will come when the interest on the fully indexed rate will come due. Loan programs tied to monthly adjustable indexes and programs that allow a monthly payment less than the interest due will cause negative amortization, which results in an increasing loan balance and loss of equity.

The Bottom Line

By understanding your unique qualifications, doing your homework and seeking the advice of a qualified mortgage lender, you can successfully navigate the waters and obtain the loan that is best for you.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Mortgage Underwriting Guidelines Will Tighten in 2007

Colorado was identified as the number one State in the Country for foreclosures; however, the foreclosure problem exists in most major markets across the Country and the Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight is suggesting immediate action. The agency has issued a directive to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to tighten underwriting practices for several nontraditional mortgages. Both Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac operate under a unique public/private partnership as a quasi-governmental agencies.

The agencies are to follow the guidelines issued in October by federal bank regulators covering higher risk mortgages which allowed for deferred interest or principal payments such as MTA loans and other non-traditional mortgages.

Bottom Line: As mortgage lenders and secondary market makers feel the pinch from increased foreclosures, most lenders will either tighten guideline or in some cases no longer offer certain types of mortgage programs. This change placing added importance for consumers to seek the advice of a qualified mortgage consultant.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Real Estate Community Regulate Thyself

In 2006, the Rocky Mountain News has published an occasional series on Colorado’s foreclosure crisis. Chapters have shined an unfavorable spotlight on every aspect of the real estate industry; builders, Realtors, mortgage lenders and title companies. The common thread in every case is the lack of professionalism by the service providers who received commissions and fees establishing a fiduciary responsibility to the consumer. It is clear that in the great majority of foreclosure cases chronicled, the desire to close the transaction outweighed the concern for the best interest of the buyer and the real estate community as a whole.

It is time for the collective real estate industry to practice self regulation or suffer under the weight of bureaucratic efforts to stem the tide of fraud which has resulted in our status as the number one state for foreclosures throughout much of 2006. The new mortgage broker licensing law will only result in the most egregious of offenders; those convicted of a felony within the past five years to be removed from the industry. There are loop holes in the legislation and as the law is remiss by not requiring education or experience standards, no guaranty exist that the registered mortgage broker is competent to work in the mortgage industry.

The Colorado Mortgage Lenders Association (CMLA) has been a leader in self regulation among mortgage professionals. Mortgage bankers and brokers who carry the CML (Certified Mortgage Lender) credential have demonstrated through education and documented industry experience that they are qualified to consult consumers and originate mortgage loans. Mortgage originators that carry the CML designation also have agreed to a code of ethics. There are several steps that the mortgage industry can take to eliminate incompetent and unethical mortgage originators from the industry such as setting higher standards in hiring practices, completing independent background checks, requiring membership in an organization such as the CMLA, which provides a place for consumers to turn to file a complaint and force accountability.

The real estate industry has done a far better job of self regulation through licensing, enforcement, and the promotion of the Realtor designation in association with various Boards of Realtor. Real estate agents who carry the Realtor designation agree to adhere to a code of ethics and consumers must understand that not all real estate agents are Realtors. The industry could still do more to protect the public and managing brokers should bare more of the responsibility when hiring agents to their firms. In addition to the established consumer safeguards, agents should police themselves by reporting unethical practices when dealing with unethical agents.

Real estate appraisers often are subjected to tremendous pressure to “make the deal work,” when appraising a property under contract or as part of a refinance transaction. During my tenure as Chairman of the Colorado Real Estate Appraiser’s Board, I oversaw the discipline of many practitioners who were victim to the threat from mortgage lenders and real estate agents who pressured them to achieve a predetermined value for a subject property. Inflated appraisals are among the primary factors resulting in foreclosures in Colorado. As with the real estate industry the legislative structure and professional associations exist to address the most egregious offenders, the industry could benefit from more aggressive reporting of poor appraisal practices from real estate agents and mortgage lenders.

Title companies and closing agents are on the front lines in witnessing the pressure placed upon the consumer when deceptive practices come to light at the closing table. When a borrower learns that the interest rate and closing cost promised are not being delivered the closing agent is left to manage the closing and protect the borrower. Unfortunately this does not always happen as many do not feel it is their role to advocate for the consumer. I believe if a title company or closing agent recognizes a pattern of unethical practices from a real estate agent or mortgage lender; they should act to protect the consumer and title insurer by reporting those involved to the Colorado Real Estate Commission and the employing brokers.

The Bottom Line: New legislation aimed at regulation is only as effective as the enforcement, which in Colorado is limited by budgetary restrictions. If we act as an industry to raise the bar of professional practice and ethical behavior; we can accomplish the goal of cleaning up our industry in a responsible manner and elevate our professions in the eyes of those we seek to serve.


Colorado Mortgage Lenders Association -
Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies -