The Home Column

Home is where the heart is, right? I bought a home in 2005, about six months before the peak of the housing market boom, and chronicled the entire home buying journey. Since then, I’ve kept up to date on all things related to housing, mortgages, and taxes in this column.


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 The Home 
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7 Essential Tips for Buying Your First Home

Buying a House in the USA“This is most likely the largest financial investment you’ve ever made,” Chicago real estate attorney John R. O’Brien says.

When you buy a home, you are making a huge commitment. On top of that, buying a home is a complex transaction, requiring titles, insurance, escrow, and there are usually a number of players involved. As a first-time home buyer, things can become overwhelming.

If you are planning to buy a new home here are 7 essential tips to ease the process:

(click here to continue reading…)

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HARP Refinance with Quicken Loans: My Experience

Not too long ago, I was on the Credit Sesame site. A little pop-up window appeared, asking me if I wanted to refinance my loan.

I’ve been wanting to refinance my home for a couple of years now. I’d asked my bank about it, but they were unwilling to go below 4% with my self-employed income. I knew that I qualified for HARP under the expanded eligibility guidelines, but my bank didn’t seem to be interested in this loan.

I put it on the back burner until I received that pop-up message from Credit Sesame. On a whim, I went ahead and clicked “yes.” Within three minutes — I kid you not — a representative from Quicken Loans was calling. I let the call go to voicemail because I was, to tell the truth, a little unnerved by how fast the lead went out.

After a week of once-daily messages from Quicken, I decided to go for it. I called and explained my situation.The loan officer told me that I qualified for HARP, and that we could start on the paperwork immediately. He assured me that my income situation wouldn’t be a problem, since I have several years of tax returns to show my income is fairly steady. It also helped that we had yet to miss a mortgage payment in five years — and we have good credit.

This was February 6.

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Should You Be Taking Advantage of HARP?

home redToward the beginning of February, I began the process of refinancing my home with the help of Home Affordable Refinance Program (HARP). This is a government program that recently expanded its eligibility requirements. However, many people aren’t aware of the fact that they might qualify for this program, which is fairly helpful — if you can get through some of the nightmarish paperwork.

Another reason that others might be reluctant to take advantage of HARP is that they don’t realize that this is a legitimate program. It sounds suspicious at first, and some of the less than truthful advertising surrounding HARP has also turned off some homeowners. But, if you still have a mortgage rate above 5%, HARP, if you qualify, can be a really good thing.

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5 Alternatives to Foreclosure

ForeclosureFor many homeowners, foreclosure is still a very real threat. When you have a financial setback, it can be difficult to keep up with your mortgage payments.

If you want to avoid foreclosure on your home, here are 5 alternatives:

1. Mortgage Modification

If you have started missing payments, you might be eligible for a Home Affordable Modification. A mortgage modification is an agreement between you and the lender to change the terms of your loan so that it is more affordable. A mortgage modification can help you avoid foreclosure, and you might even be able to to stay in your home.

(For those who aren’t in danger of foreclosure, and haven’t missed payments, but who are having trouble refinancing, HARP might be able to help with that. I’m going through a refinance through HARP right now.)

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How to Get Money for a Mortgage Down Payment

Lakeland New Homes Among the Most Affordable in NationEven after the recent real estate market crash, there is a fascination with homeownership. Many still see buying a home as a rite of passage — and a sign of adulthood.

Whether you decide to wait on buying a home, or whether you decide that now is the time to take the plunge, you will need to save up for a down payment. For the most part, lenders are still skittish about 0% down home loans. At the very least, you will likely need 3.5% down for a FHA loan.

So, as you try to drum up the money for a down payment, where can you turn? Greg Cook, a representative of Platinum Home Mortgage, has 30 years in the business, and he has some ideas of where you can turn for help with that down payment.

(click here to continue reading…)

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5 Reasons to Avoid Refinancing Your Home

refinanceMy husband and I are in the process of deciding whether or not to refinance our home. We’d like to take advantage of record low interest rates, but there are thorny issues that tend to get in the way.

While refinancing is generally thought of as a good thing, especially if you refinance to a fixed rate, or to a much lower rate, it’s not for everyone. In some cases, it just doesn’t make sense. Here are 5 reasons that you might want to think twice about refinancing your home:

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How to Be a Profitable Landlord

Landlord and Tenant LawAbout eight years ago, if you were a Bargaineering reader, you were treated to a series of posts in which I talked about the home buying process. Until that point, it was one of the biggest financial decisions of our life and it looks like we’re going to take the next step.

We’ve been looking at homes on and off for fun the last few months, going to open houses for homes we liked, and just being casual. This past weekend, we started looking at them more seriously with our realtor friend (Christina Elliott at her firm Cornerstone Real Estate) and I was wondering what we could do with the home we’re in now.

One of the options is to keep this house and rent it out. So, I turned to my friend Josh, who happens to run BiggerPockets, easily one of the largest real estate investment sites out there. We talked about it briefly on the phone but I thought it would be so much better if he wrote a guest post about it. So here it is!

(click here to continue reading…)

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How to Avoid Purchasing Your Own Haunted House

HauntedDid you grow up in a neighborhood where there was a “haunted” house? You know, the house that everyone knew about that usually had an overgrown yard and broken windows? The house that sat empty for years except for the teenagers that frequented it for weekend parties or the younger kids who dared one another to go into the house at night?

This type of house was a hot ticket around Halloween, and kids scared one another with stories about what happened in the house and whose spirit haunted the house. You know the house I am talking about.

As a home buyer, you may hope that all houses with sordid histories are so easy to identify, but the problem is that they often look as nice or nicer than the other houses in the neighborhood.

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