Real Estate Blog

Your Tax Refund and Stimulus Savings May Help You Achieve Homeownership This Year

If you’re planning to buy a home this year, saving for a down payment is one of the most important steps in the process. One of the best ways to jumpstart your savings is by starting with the help of your tax refund.

Using data from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), it’s estimated that Americans can expect an average refund of $2,925 when filing their taxes this year. The map below shows the average anticipated tax refund by state:

Thanks to programs from the Federal Housing Authority, Freddie Mac, and Fannie Mae, many first-time buyers can purchase a home with as little as 3% down. In addition, Veterans Affairs Loans allow many veterans to put 0% down. You may have heard the common myth that you need to put 20% down when you buy a home, but thankfully for most homebuyers, a 20% down payment isn’t actually required. It’s important to work with your real estate professional and your lender to understand all of your options.

How can your tax refund help?
If you’re a first-time buyer, your tax refund may cover more of a down payment than you realize.

If you take into account the median home sale price by state, the map below shows the percentage of a 3% down payment that’s covered by the average anticipated tax refund:

The darker the blue, the closer your tax refund gets you to homeownership when you qualify for one of the low down payment programs. Maybe this is the year to plan ahead and put your tax refund toward the down payment on a home.

Not enough money from your tax return?
A recent paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research found that, of the households that received a stimulus check last year, “One third report that they primarily saved the stimulus money.” If you had the opportunity to save your Economic Impact Payments, you may consider putting that money toward your down payment or closing costs as well. Your trusted real estate professional can also advise you on the down payment assistance programs available in your area.

Bottom Line
Saving for a down payment can seem like a daunting task, but it doesn’t have to be. This year, your tax refund and your stimulus savings could add up big when it comes to reaching your homeownership goals.

To Renovate or Not To Renovate Before You Sell

When thinking about selling, homeowners often feel they need to get their house ready with some remodeling to make it more appealing to buyers. However, with so many buyers competing for available homes right now, renovations may not be as vital as they would be in a more normal market. Here are two things to keep in mind if you’re thinking of selling this season:

  1. There aren’t enough homes for sale right now.
    A normal market has a 6-month supply of houses for sale, but today’s housing inventory sits far below that benchmark. According to the National Association of Realtors (NAR), there’s only a 1.9-month supply of homes available today. As a result, buyer competition is high and homes are only on the market for about 21 days, during which time many receive multiple offers from hopeful buyers.

In a competitive market that’s moving so quickly, it makes sense to sell your house when buyers are scooping homes up as fast as they’re being listed. Spending costly time and money on renovations before you sell might just mean you’ll miss your key window of opportunity. While certain repairs on your house may be important, your best move right now is to work with a real estate advisor to determine which improvements are truly necessary, and which ones are not likely to be deal-breakers for buyers.

Today, many buyers are more willing to take on home improvement projects themselves in order to get the home they’re after, even if it means putting in a little extra work. Home Advisor explains:

“When it comes to the number of home improvement projects completed, Gen Z homeowners are leading the pack, completing an average of 3.5 projects. Millennials closely follow Gen Z, taking on an average of 3.3 projects, followed by Gen X at 2.8 projects. Boomers completed an average of 2 projects, and the Silent Generation completed the fewest projects, on average, at 1.8 per household. Compared to 2019, millennials are spending 60% more on home improvement and doing on average 30% more projects.”

In this market, it may be wise to let future homeowners remodel the bathroom or the kitchen to make design decisions that are best for their specific taste and lifestyle. As a seller, your dollars and time might be better spent working on small cosmetic updates, like refreshing some paint and power washing the exterior. Instead of over-investing in your home with upgrades that the buyers may change anyway, work with a real estate professional to determine the key projects that will maximize your listing, without overdoing it.

  1. Focus on getting a good return on your investment.
    When planning any bigger projects to tackle, you and your real estate agent will want to discuss the potential return on your investment and if those projects are worth the cost. Some homes do need a kitchen or bathroom renovation, roof repairs, or other major work, but definitely not all of them. You might be surprised by how well your house could fair in today’s sellers’ market. Hanley Wood states:

“The 2020 Cost vs. Value report shows a predictable increase in costs for all 22 remodeling projects but a consistent dip in the perceived value of those projects at the time of home sale, as estimated by real-estate professionals in more than 100 metro areas across the U.S. This results in a slight downturn on the return on investment for nearly all projects relative to the trends we saw in last year’s report.”

Ideally, homeowners getting ready to move should try to avoid over-investing in big renovations if they won’t make that money back when they sell their house. According to the 2020 State of Home Spending report from Home Advisor:

“The average household spending on home services rose to $13,138, an increase over last year’s survey results, where homeowners who did projects spent $9,081 on average in 2019.”

Before you renovate, contact a local real estate professional to see if it’s the best course of action. You may find out that putting your house on the market as-is will help you sell quickly, and it may result in the best return on your investment. Every home is different, but a conversation with your agent is mission-critical to make sure you make the right moves when selling this season.

Bottom Line
We’re in a strong sellers’ market, and that means you have the leverage to sell your house on your terms. Let’s connect today to determine if renovating is really the best way to spend your time and money before you sell.

How to Make a Winning Offer on a Home in a Competitive Market

Today’s homebuyers are faced with a strong sellers’ market, which means there are a lot of active buyers competing for a relatively low number of available homes. As a result, it’s essential to understand how to make a confident and competitive offer on your dream home. Here are five tips for success in this critical stage of the home buying process:

Listen to Your Real Estate Advisor
An article from Freddie Mac gives direction on making an offer on a home. From the start, it emphasizes how trusted professionals can help you stay focused on the most important things, especially at times when this process can get emotional for buyers:

“Remember to let your homebuying team guide you on your journey, not your emotions. Their support and expertise will keep you from compromising on your must-haves and future financial stability.”

A real estate professional should be the expert guide you lean on for advice when you’re ready to make an offer.Understand Your Finances
Having a complete understanding of your budget and how much house you can afford is essential. The best way to know this is to get pre-approved for a loan early in the homebuying process. Only 44% of today’s prospective homebuyers are planning to apply for pre-approval, so be sure to take this step so you stand out from the crowd. Doing so make it clear to sellers you’re a serious and qualified buyer, and it can give you a competitive edge in a bidding war.

Be Prepared to Move Quickly
According to the latest Realtors Confidence Index from the National Association of Realtors (NAR), the average property sold today receives 3.7 offers and is on the market for just 21 days. These are both results of today’s competitive market, showing how important it is to stay agile and alert in your search. As soon as you find the right home for your needs, be prepared to submit an offer as quickly as possible.

Make a Fair Offer
It’s only natural to want the best deal you can get on a home. However, Freddie Mac also warns that submitting an offer that’s too low can lead sellers to doubt how serious you are as a buyer. Don’t make an offer that will be tossed out as soon as it’s received. The expertise your agent brings to this part of the process will help you stay competitive:

“Your agent will work with you to make an informed offer based on the market value of the home, the condition of the home and recent home sale prices in the area.”

Stay Flexible in Negotiations
After submitting an offer, the seller may accept it, reject it, or counter it with their own changes. In a competitive market, it’s important to stay nimble throughout the negotiation process. You can strengthen your position with an offer that includes flexible move-in dates, a higher price, or minimal contingencies (conditions you set that the seller must meet for the purchase to be finalized). Freddie Mac explains that there are, however, certain contingencies you don’t want to forego:

“Resist the temptation to waive the inspection contingency, especially in a hot market or if the home is being sold ‘as-is’, which means the seller won’t pay for repairs. Without an inspection contingency, you could be stuck with a contract on a house you can’t afford to fix.”

Bottom Line
Today’s competitive market makes it more important than ever to make a strong offer on a home. Let’s connect to make sure you rise to the top along the way.

How Upset Should You Be about 3% Mortgage Rates?

Last Thursday, Freddie Mac announced that their 30-year fixed mortgage rate was over 3% (3.02%) for the first time since last July. That news dominated real estate headlines that day and the next. Articles talked about the “negative impact” it may have on the housing market.

However, we should realize two things:

  1. The bump-up in rate should not have surprised anyone. Many had already projected that rates would rise slightly as we proceeded through the year.
  2. Freddie Mac’s comments about the rate increase were not alarming:

“The rise in mortgage rates over the next couple of months is likely to be more muted in comparison to the last few weeks, and we expect a strong spring sales season.”

A “muted” rise in rates will not sink the real estate market, and most experts agree that it will be “a strong spring sales season.”

What does this mean for you?
Obviously, any buyer would rather mortgage rates not rise at all, as any upward movement increases their monthly mortgage payment. However, let’s put a 3.02% rate into perspective. Here are the Freddie Mac annual mortgage rates for the last five years:

2016: 3.65%
2017: 3.99%
2018: 4.54%
2019: 3.94%
2020: 3.11%

Though 3.02% is not as great as the sub-3% rates we saw over the previous seven weeks, it’s still very close to the all-time low (2.66% in December 2020).

And, if we expand our look at mortgage rates to consider the last 50 years, we can see that today’s rate is truly outstanding. Here are the rates over the last five decades:

1970s: 8.86%
1980s: 12.7%
1990s: 8.12%
2000s: 6.29%
2010s: 4.09%

Being upset that you missed the “best mortgage rate ever” is understandable. However, don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. Buying now still makes more sense than waiting, especially if rates continue to bump up this year.

Bottom Line
It’s true that you may not get the same rate you would have five weeks ago. However, you will get a better rate than what was possible at almost any other point in history. Let’s connect today so you can lock in a great rate while they stay this low.

3 Reasons We’re Definitely Not in a Housing Bubble

Home values appreciated by about ten percent in 2020, and they’re forecast to appreciate by about five percent this year. This has some voicing concern that we may be in another housing bubble like the one we experienced a little over a decade ago. Here are three reasons why this market is totally different:

1. This time, housing supply is extremely limited.
The price of any market item is determined by supply and demand. If supply is high and demand is low, prices normally decrease. If supply is low and demand is high, prices naturally increase.

In real estate, supply and demand are measured in “months’ supply of inventory,” which is based on the number of current homes for sale compared to the number of buyers in the market. The normal months’ supply of inventory for the market is about 6 months. Anything above that defines a buyers’ market, indicating prices will soften. Anything below that defines a sellers’ market in which prices normally appreciate.

Between 2006 and 2008, the months’ supply of inventory increased from just over 5 months to 11 months. The months’ supply was over 7 months in twenty-seven of those thirty-six months, yet home values continued to rise.

Months’ inventory has been under 5 months for the last 3 years, under 4 for thirteen of the last fourteen months, under 3 for the last six months, and currently stands at 1.9 months – a historic low.

Remember, if supply is low and demand is high, prices naturally increase.

2. This time, the housing demand is real.
During the housing boom in the mid-2000s, there was what Robert Schiller, a fellow at the Yale School of Management’s International Center for Finance, called “irrational exuberance.” The definition of the term is, “unfounded market optimism that lacks a real foundation of fundamental valuation, but instead rests on psychological factors.” Without considering historic market trends, people got caught up in the frenzy and bought houses based on an unrealistic belief that housing values would continue to escalate.

The mortgage industry fed into this craziness by making mortgage money available to just about anyone, as shown in the Mortgage Credit Availability Index (MCAI) published by the Mortgage Bankers Association. The higher the index, the easier it is to get a mortgage; the lower the index, the more difficult it is to obtain one. Prior to the housing boom, the index stood just below 400. In 2006, the index hit an all-time high of over 868. Again, just about anyone could get a mortgage. Today, the index stands at 122.5, which is well below even the pre-boom level.

In the current real estate market, demand is real, not fabricated. Millennials, the largest generation in the country, have come of age to marry and have children, which are two major drivers for homeownership. The health crisis is also challenging every household to redefine the meaning of “home” and to re-evaluate whether their current home meets that new definition. This desire to own, coupled with historically low mortgage rates, makes purchasing a home today a strong, sound financial decision. Therefore, today’s demand is very real.

Remember, if supply is low and demand is high, prices naturally increase.

3. This time, households have plenty of equity.
Again, during the housing boom, it wasn’t just purchasers who got caught up in the frenzy. Existing homeowners started using their homes like ATM machines. There was a wave of cash-out refinances, which enabled homeowners to leverage the equity in their homes. From 2005 through 2007, Americans pulled out $824 billion dollars in equity. That left many homeowners with little or no equity in their homes at a critical time. As prices began to drop, some homeowners found themselves in a negative equity situation where the mortgage was higher than the value of their home. Many defaulted on their payments, which led to an avalanche of foreclosures.

Today, the banks and the American people have shown they learned a valuable lesson from the housing crisis a little over a decade ago. Cash-out refinance volume over the last three years was less than a third of what it was compared to the 3 years leading up to the crash.

This conservative approach has created levels of equity never seen before. According to Census Bureau data, over 38% of owner-occupied housing units are owned ‘free and clear’ (without any mortgage). Also, ATTOM Data Solutions just released their fourth quarter 2020 U.S. Home Equity Report, which revealed:

“17.8 million residential properties in the United States were considered equity-rich, meaning that the combined estimated amount of loans secured by those properties was 50 percent or less of their estimated market value…The count of equity-rich properties in the fourth quarter of 2020 represented 30.2 percent, or about one in three, of the 59 million mortgaged homes in the United States.”

If we combine the 38% of homes that are owned free and clear with the 18.7% of all homes that have at least 50% equity (30.2% of the remaining 62% with a mortgage), we realize that 56.7% of all homes in this country have a minimum of 50% equity. That’s significantly better than the equity situation in 2008.

Bottom Line
This time, housing supply is at a historic low. Demand is real and rightly motivated. Even if there were to be a drop in prices, homeowners have enough equity to be able to weather a dip in home values. This is nothing like 2008. In fact, it’s the exact opposite.

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Will Low Mortgage Rates Continue through 2021?

With mortgage interest rates hitting record lows so many times recently, some are wondering if we’ll see low rates continue throughout 2021, or if they’ll start to rise. Recently, Freddie Mac released their quarterly forecast, noting:

“The average 30-year fixed-rate mortgage hit a record low over a dozen times in 2020 and the low interest rate environment is projected to continue through this year. We expect interest rates to average below 3% through the end of 2021. While this is a modest rise from 2020 averages, the recent vote by the Federal Reserve to keep interest rates anchored near zero should keep rates low.”

As shown in the graph below, Freddie Mac is projecting low rates going forward with a modest rise that’s expected to continue through 2022.

Freddie Mac isn’t the only authority forecasting low rates with a slight rise. Fannie Mae, The Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA), and the National Association of Realtors (NAR) also anticipate low rates with a small increase as 2021 continues on.

Here’s the quarterly breakdown of their projections and how they’re expected to play out over the next year:

It’s important to note that, while a small change in interest rates can have a substantial impact on monthly mortgage payments, these rates are still incredibly low compared to where they were just a couple of years ago.

What does this mean for buyers?
Low mortgage rates are creating an outstanding opportunity for current homebuyers to get more for their money while staying within their budget. As the economy gets stronger and we recover from the challenges of 2020, it’s natural for rates to potentially rise in response to a healthier economy. Mark Fleming, Chief Economist at First American, reminds us:

“Rising interest rates reduce house-buying power and affordability, but are often a sign of a strong economy, which increases home buyer demand. By any historic standard, today’s mortgage rates remain historically low and will continue to boost house-buying power and keep purchase demand robust.”

With low rates fueling activity among hopeful buyers, there are a lot of people who are highly motivated and looking for homes to purchase right now. In this environment, it can be challenging to find a home to buy, so a local real estate agent will be key to your success if you’re thinking of buying too. Working with a trusted real estate professional to navigate the process while rates are in your favor might be the best move you can make.

Bottom Line
If you’re ready to buy a home, it may be wise to make your move before mortgage rates begin to rise. Let’s connect to discuss how today’s low rates can create more opportunities for you this year.

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