Tuesday, December 15, 2009

How Do Credit Reporting Companies Determine My FICO Credit Score?

They have a formula by which they calculate the score of each individual. It’s designed to give them an objective (mostly) method to predict how likely it is that you’ll repay a new loan.

Often, a credit score is referred to as a “FICO” score. Where did this term come from?

From two men named Fair and Isaac! In the mid-1950s, they founded a company called Fair Isaac Corporation. Over the ensuing years, the name got shortened to “FICO.”

Fair, Isaac is a for-profit company, traded on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE: FI). Their exact formula for calculating credit scores is termed “proprietary;” that is, it’s secret.

Each of the major American credit reporting agencies (CRAs) has a relationship with Fair Isaac. The “Big Three” CRAs are: Experian, Equifax, and Transunion. You can find them easily on the Internet.

In a common-sense world, each CRA would have the same credit score for each person. So, why don’t they? Because they each have different formulas for determining your credit score! That means your score may vary from one CRA to the other!

Each CRA formula is based on experience with millions of consumers. With each credit rating company, the higher your score, the better your credit is rated.

Now, above, I said that the credit formulas are secret. And they are, but we can sketch the general elements of those formulas. So, for example, we know that FICO models analyze these items in your history:

* Past delinquencies
* Derogatory payment behavior
* Current debt level
* Length of credit history
* Types of credit
* Number of inquiries by lenders and others into credit history.

Although the models vary as I stated earlier, the general formula looks like this:

* 35 percent on a borrower's payment history.
* 30 percent on debt.
* 15 percent on how long the applicant has had credit.
* 10 percent on new credit
* Another 10 percent on types of credit.

What Is the Range of FICO Scores?

Keep in mind that the following ranges sometimes change or vary with a particular source.

In general, however, the higher the score, the better your credit rating is, as stated earlier.

At the top end of the range is the perfect score of 850. As you can guess, very few, very rich people achieve this kind of perfection (only 1% of the U.S. population)! They get the lowest and best interest rates and get their loans fast. And why not? From a lender’s point of view, they’re an extremely low risk!

Eleven percent (11%) of the American population has a score of 800. That means they’ll also get lower interest rates and have their loans closed within days (just not as fast as the “perfect people” above).

So, what’s the score of the average American? 720! The interest rate for these individuals will be higher than the two categories above, and it might take days or weeks to close the loan, depending on the market.

It’s when your FICO score gets below approximately the 620 mark that you’re going to have to work harder to get mortgage money from a lender.

Here’s why: With that score, they calculate that borrowers will default on that loan better than half the time! From their viewpoint, it doesn’t make very good business sense to lend money in such situations.

However if they do loan the money, it will carry a higher interest rate to cover the added risk. Of course, in this situations, lenders look very closely at a borrower’s financial history in order to determine whether or not there are any “red flags;” that is, missed payments, late payments, unpaid debts, bankruptcies, etc.

So, there you have it! Now you know how your credit score is calculated. I hope I’ve taken the mystery out of the whole process. If not, contact me today at 402.598.3965 or peg@maloney.com, and I’d be happy to answer your questions about credit and/or mortgages!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Why Use the Services of a Real Estate Agent?

"Why Should I Hire A Realtor?"

This question is often asked, especially by homeowners who consider selling their homes by themselves.

The fundamental first answer to this question is that an experienced Realtor is an expert at what he or she does. Through hard work and education, they’ve acquired a set of skills that make the process of home buying and selling a lot easier than it would be by doing it yourself. So, what are the skills in the set I’m talking about?

Well, for one thing, we have the skill of being the go-between. We’re the people who handle people and calls and separate the “wheat” (real buyers) from the “chaff” (non-buyers) without you ever having to deal with such situations. In Internet terms, we make sure you’re not “spammed” with worthless offers and target real deals for you.

We’re also the ones who save you a lot of time by making sure you’re looking at appropriate properties and neighborhoods right from the get-go.

And, speaking of neighborhoods, an experienced Realtor will know them inside-out or will know how to find the latest information on them.

That means he or she can get you into neighborhoods where the crime rate is low or non-existent, find you ones with great school systems, rising property values, etc.

By the same token, an experienced agent will steer you away from neighborhoods where the trends are downward; that is, rising crime, falling property values, and so forth.

And what about the prices of homes? Well, some people believe that we select them for our clients. Not true! We have no way of setting prices. They’re set by the market!

However, we can guide you toward properties that fit your individual needs and are comfortably within your price range. Frankly, it’s not in our best interests to put you into a home beyond your means or that’s not right for you. When that happens, we lose clients and money!

So, we’ll do our best to work within your price range and, based on current information (market supply, demand, etc.), we’ll come up with the best negotiation strategy possible.
Current information can include cost-per-square-foot of homes, ratios of list-to-sold prices, knowledge of the buyer/seller, etc. All this information is gathered by the agent and used to formulate solid offers.

Another important skill experienced Realtors possess is objectivity. We have the ability to stay out of the emotional process that often occurs with the buying and selling of a home. Instead, we present your case in the best light possible, all the while holding your information confidential from any competing interests.

One Realtor skill that’s often not apparent is our ability to network with other service providers (housing inspectors, title companies, etc.).

Professionally, we can’t recommend one specific vendor over another. However, we do keep lists of vendors with excellent reputations as well provide references for the vendors. This service allows you to choose the best provides for your particular situation.

Now, here’s one Realtor skill that everyone truly appreciates – the ability to handle tons of paperwork! Today, purchase agreements can run 10+ pages, and that doesn’t even include all the state and federal disclosure statements that are required in the current market! Heck, a real estate file can end up being 2-3 inches thick with paperwork these days!

And it’s not only the heavy paperwork handled by Realtors; it’s also the attention to detail within that paperwork. It’s their job (or a lawyer’s, depending on the state) to make sure all the information is correct because if it isn’t, it can end up costing the client hundreds of dollars.

So, as you can see, there are many reasons why it’s wise to use an experienced Realtor for the purchase or sale of a home! To find out about the services I haven’t mentioned in this article, contact me today at 402.598.3965 or peg@maloney.com.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Before Buying a Home, Talk to the Neighbors To Determine If the "Neighborhood Value" Is There!

"Neighborhood value" is the atmosphere of a particular area - the look and feel of the homes and yards and so forth. But, more importantly, it's the "vibe" you receive from the neighbors. Let's be honest: You can buy the finest home on the planet, but obnoxious neighbors can spoil the whole living experience for you.

Or, it could be the opposite - the neighbors aren't obnoxious; the current owners are. They may have had disputes with their neighbors and created an unhappy climate.

Depending on the nature of the disputes, the neighbors may be glad to see you, or they may be so negative toward the current owners that their attitude may spill over onto you, even though you had nothing to do with the situation! If that's true, then you may want to look at homes in a different area.

But there's also another important reason for you to talk with neighbors; good neighbors can alert you to problems you may not be aware of; for example, basement flooding, termites, leaky roofs, etc.

When that happens, you can either look at a different house or negotiate with the seller to lower the price of the property!

The Best Way to Evaluate a Neighborhood and Its Value

The best way to evaluate a particular neighborhood is write up a checklist of desirable aspects before you ever enter that neighborhood!

Below, I provide you with typical features (in alphabetical order) to check out. However, you should add as much detail as possible to that list since everyone has different needs and wants.

• Association fees (if applicable)
• Closeness to parks and recreation for the kids
• Crime rate
• Length of commute to work
• Noisy pets (barking dogs, etc.)
• Property taxes.
• Proximity to busy streets or main thoroughfares.
• Proximity to mall, shops, restaurants, etc.
• Reputation of school district
• Sidewalks and running trails throughout the neighborhood.
• Type of families in the neighborhood, etc.

The list above has all the "objective" features of a neighborhood; that is, you can measure them, for the most part, by facts and figures.

Assuming a neighborhood meets these objective criteria, then it's time to analyze the "subjective" features by visiting the area.  Drive through the neighborhood to get an initial look. Do this at different times and on several different days to get a real feel for the area.

Assuming you like what you see, you should also get out and walk the neighborhood. You may well see things you missed from the car. As I suggested earlier, talk to the neighbors to get their opinions of the neighborhood and the property you're considering.

I'd recommend you select a time when they're likely to be outside walking or in their yards (gardening, watering, mowing, etc.). That way, you don't have to knock on their doors and interrupt their personal time.

Since buying a home is such an important decision, you can see that it's vitally important to check both the objective and subjective features of a neighborhood. And, since it's my business to know every one of those aspects, I encourage you to contact me so I can fill you in on the "neighborhood value" of an area you're interested in! Contact me at 402.598.3965 or peg@maloney.com.

Monday, November 2, 2009

“D.O.M." Your Way to a Better Value When Buying a Home!

The term “D.O.M” refers to the number of days a house is listed for sale on the market; thus, “DOM” or “Days on Market.”

A rule of thumb for D.O.M. is that a home which has been listed for more than 90 days is an excessive amount of time. However, this depends heavily on the state of the market at any particular time!

Generally speaking, the longer a home is on the market, the more willing a seller is to negotiate. And that means you might be able to get a good deal!

However, notice that I said “generally speaking.” I put in that disclaimer because there are several reasons a home might be on the market for a long time.

One is that it might simply be overpriced. If that’s the case, then you’re in an excellent position to negotiate since the sellers may be anxious to sell the home.

A second reason may be someone has already put an offer on the property, but their financing, credit rating, etc. hasn’t met the requirements of the deal. In short, there was something wrong with the buyers, and nothing wrong with the home. Again, there may be an opportunity for you in this situation.

A third reason is that someone made a simple mistake in the Multiple Listing Service (MLS)! Perhaps the home got listed in the wrong ZIP code or the wrong neighborhood, or the price was simply wrong and listed too high. Now, normally, MLS is very accurate, but, as always, it’s dependent on humans entering information into the system, so mistakes happen!

Fourth, the house may have stayed on the market for so long because the owners simply refuse to negotiate! A real estate agent can help you identify these individuals for you so you don’t waste time and energy on a sale that will never happen.

Finally, a home may stay on the market for a long time because there is something wrong with it either structurally or cosmetically or both!

Depending on the situation, this can also be an opportunity for you as a buyer! You can use it as a bargaining tool; that is, either the home seller fixes the defects or lowers the price to account for the cost of repairing those defects.

However, you should always, always get a home inspection done on such houses! (Or on any house you’re considering, for that matter!). It prevents you from buying a “money pit,” in which you have to throw a small fortune in order to get defects repaired.

Here’s the short and long of it: DOM can sometimes get you a great value in a home; however, you need the expertise and guidance of an experienced real estate agent to pinpoint such values! I can provide you with that expertise. Contact me at (402) 598-3965 or email peg@maloney.com.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

What Are the Types of 1031 Tax Deferred Exchanges to SAVE TAXES?

There are (3) three types of 1031 tax deferred exchanges that can take place:

1.) Straight exchanges—two parties trade properties of equal or approximate value. This is the simplest exchange.

2.) Multi-party exchanges—this involves three or more parties buying, selling, or exchanging properties. Don't attempt these exchanges without the aid of a tax professional; they tend to be very complex.

3.) Delayed exchanges—this exchange allows the sale of the relinquished property and the buying of the replacement property to occur at different times as long as stringent rules are followed. This is the exchange most often used.

What's the Advantage of the 1031 in Terms of Taxes?

As the law's title indicates, the capital gains tax is deferred, but not eliminated. However deferral is a great way to leverage small real estate holdings into larger ones! Since you can postpone gains, you're able to use a tax-deferred exchange strategy to transfer equity to a larger property, all without paying taxes!

Another advantage is that there’s no limit on exchanges. This means you can make as many exchanges as you want! So, over the course of your lifetime, you can keep growing income and appreciation by adding new properties without having to pay the capital gains tax!

If you specialize in buying and renovating properties and want to keep reinvesting your profits into larger properties, then this strategy is especially attractive.  

Note: If you don’t keep reinvesting, you risk being classified as a real estate dealer by the IRS and will not be able to participate in exchanges.

What Are the Basic 1031 Qualification Rules?

There are some basic rules that must be followed in order to qualify for a 1031 exchange. These include the following:

1.) The properties to be exchanged must be located in the United States. Note: You can exchange foreign property for foreign property and domestic for domestic. However, you can’t mix these exchanges together.

2.) You must trade only like-kind real estate.

3.) An exchange must be made that’s equal to or greater in both value and equity. Any cash or debt relief received above this amount is considered “boot” and is taxable.

4.) The like-kind property must be identified within 45 days of the closing on the initial property.

5.) All proceeds from the initial sale must be turned over to a "qualified intermediary" (also called a QI, facilitator, exchanger, etc.) who is the person or company playing the role of middleman.

6.) Any of the proceeds not under the control of the middleman are subject to taxation.
7.) The middleman holds the funds from the initial property in escrow until such time as the closing on the second property occurs.

8.) The middleman also assists the owner with the preparation of paperwork and other services to ensure the transaction progresses in a smooth manner.

9.) The closing on the second property must take place within 180 days following the close on the first property.

Wow, as you can tell, this is pretty complex subject and can't completely covered here! But if you're an investor or plan to be one, I hope I whetted your appetite for this subject. To learn more, contact me at peg@maloney.com or just call me on cell at 402.598.3965.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Why You Should Be a "Conformist" to Maximize Home Value!

Ever go into a neighborhood and notice one or two homes that stuck out like sore thumbs?

One might be whole a lot fancier than the houses surrounding it while the other might be a "dump" in comparison to neighboring properties.

This scenario illustrates the real estate principle of "conformity." The primary idea behind this principle is that a house is more likely to appreciate in value if age, size, condition and style are similar to, or conform to, other houses in the neighborhood.

But this principle also extends to buyers. By that I mean that if you make your property a lot "fancier" than others in your neighborhood, you end up limiting potential buyers.

Of course, the opposite is also true. Don't take care of your property, and you'll definitely have fewer buyers looking at it.

Conformity is closely related to two other principles - progression and regression.

In plain English, regression means that high-valued properties often tend to suffer when located close to lower-valued homes.

Progression, on the other, means that lower-valued homes will often see increased value when found amongst higher-valued properties.

This formal principle leads the informal maxim, "Buy the cheapest property on the block!” The higher value of the homes around it will, in turn, make it more valuable.

As A Buyer, How Can I Use the Principle of Conformity to My Advantage?
I've already mentioned one method - buy the least expensive house in the neighborhood! Once you do that, improve it, and you'll get most bang for the buck on your improvements.

Of course, look at such a property carefully first (often called "due diligence"). Spend the money on a real estate appraiser so you get an objective evaluation.

Of course, avoid any homes that need major fixes such as roofs, foundations, siding, plumbing, electrical work etc. The last thing you need is a "money pit" into which you keep throwing dollars and get little or nothing in return.

Be sure to seek out sound properties, ones needing only minor fixes such as painting, cleaning, landscaping, carpets, new appliances, etc.

If you're a buyer interested in real estate investment, purchase a home in a neighborhood that's just beginning a revitalization cycle. That way you can be sure values will appreciate.

You can also look for under-improved properties such as single family homes which can be converted to residential income or commercial use, especially if such properties lie in the "path of progress;" that is, areas experiencing good growth.

As A Seller, How Can I Use the Principle of Conformity to My Advantage?
As a seller, simply make sure that you maintain your home and lot in line with surrounding properties.

Of course, if you've already done that, then invest in low-cost improvements such as new paint inside and out, landscaping, a professional cleaning job, etc.

If they're in bad shape, you might also want to add new carpets and/or new appliances.

All these actions will improve the value of the home in the eyes of buyers.

If you're an experienced do-it-yourselfer, you may want to tackle some improvement projects since they can cost less than half of what professional contractors charge.

However, notice that I emphasized experienced! An amateurish job on, say, cabinets or roofs can actually reduce the value of your home. So, unless you're really, really good at it, leave major home remodeling projects to the professionals.

Want to learn more about buying a home at best value or selling it at maximum value? Then, call me at insert link right now or email me at insert link!