Want to Refinance Your Mortgage But You’re Being Turned Down?

Can HARP help you refinance your mortgage?

Especially with the current record-low interest rates, many homeowners would like to refinance their mortgage.

Are you having difficulties? The federal program HARP might be able to help you. Here’s how it works.

Is your mortgage rate above today’s rates?

Is your house worth less than your current mortgage amount?

Are you unable to refinance into a lower-rate mortgage or convert your adjustable-rate mortgage to a fixed-rate mortgage?

Then the federal Home Affordable Refinance Program (HARP) is an option you should explore.

HARP is one of two components of the federal Making Home Affordable Program for struggling homeowners. Its counterpart, the Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP), offers loan modifications if you’re behind on your payments or need help exiting gracefully if you can no longer afford your home.

HARP, on the other hand, helps you refinance your home with a brand new mortgage.

What Are the Benefits of HARP?

Your savings from refinancing using HARP could be substantial. The White House says the typical homeowner using HARP could reduce their mortgage payments by about $2,500 a year. Like any refinance transaction, HARP loans come with fees, so you’ll have to weigh the costs and benefits for your specific situation.

The good news is that HARP’s fees are less than the fees for typical refinances. For instance, you won’t have to pay for a full appraisal if the lender can get a reliable automated appraisal for your home. And Fannie and Freddie will waive for borrowers some fees they usually charge lenders (which lenders would normally pass on to you).

What Are the Qualifications?

Your mortgage must be owned or guaranteed by Freddie Mac or Fannie Mae.
Your current lender had to sell your mortgage to Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac before June 1, 2009. Check with your lender to make sure that happened.
This must be your first HARP refinance. You only get one Home Affordable refinance, so if you’ve used the program before, you can’t use it again (although there’s a loophole for those with a Fannie Mae loan refinanced between March and May of 2009).
You need the right balance between what you owe and your home’s value. The minimum is that you owe 80% of your home’s value (for example, owing $80,000 on your $100,000 home). If you owe less than 80%, you can’t use HARP. If you owe up to 105% (say your home is worth $100,000 and you owe $105,000), you can refinance into an adjustable-rate mortgage. If you owe above 105%, you have to go with a fixed-rate mortgage. There’s no cap on how much you can owe above what your home is worth.
If you’ve paid your mortgage late even once during the past six months, you can’t use HARP, but if you had a late payment between 7 and 12 months ago, you’re fine.
If you can meet those criteria, you have until Dec. 31, 2015, to apply for a HARP refinance through either your current lender or a new lender.

Should You Apply?

HARP makes sense if you owe more than your house is worth, which is preventing you from refinancing, according to Bob Walters, chief economist at Quicken Loans. You’ll still pay full-market rates for a HARP refinance, not a discounted rate or payment that you might get with a loan modification.

As a rule of thumb, for fixed-rate mortgages, you’ll want your new rate to be at least a half-point better than your old one.

Lowering your interest can pay off immediately. Let’s say you took out a 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage at 6.5% for $176,800 at a monthly payment of $1,117.50 five years ago.

Today, you’d still owe $168,065. If you refinance that balance into a new 30-year loan at 4.5%, your monthly payment would drop to $851.56, saving you about $266 a month. Or, you could refinance into a 15-year fixed-rate loan, pay about $168 a month more, and pay your loan off about 10 years earlier.

HARP might also make sense if you can convert an adjustable-rate mortgage to a fixed-rate mortgage. Even if an ARM’s monthly payment is low now, it’ll go up if rates rise.

When applying for HARP, you need paperwork just like any other mortgage application:

  • Pay stubs
  • Tax returns
  • Mortgage statements
  • Account balances
  • Debt totals (for credit cards, student loans, car loans, and such)
  • Details about any second mortgages or home equity lines of credit

Pay attention to the fees associated with the refinancing, which the lender must disclose up front, and ask if those costs can be rolled into the new loan if you’re strapped for cash.

Tips to Make the Process Go Smoothly

To keep the process moving, ask your lender for a list of the documents it will need. Give yourself two weeks to collect everything.

If possible, submit the entire packet together via certified mail. Sending in documents piecemeal could result in lost paperwork and your loan application falling to the bottom of the pile, says Nicole Hall, editor of LendingTree.com. Keep detailed records of any phone calls you make, and dates you mail or fax correspondences.

There are companies that will offer to take care of the paperwork for a fee, but you don’t need to pay. You can access free help through a housing counselor approved by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Counselors will help you understand the Making Home Affordable program and aid in gathering the documents needed for your loan servicer.

Don’t qualify for HARP? Then maybe its sister program, HAMP, is for you.

By: Donna Fuscaldo


Need help? Give me, Lucy Garber a call at (310) 293-4866.  I can refer you to some great mortgage brokers I’ve worked with over the years.

5 Ways You Didn’t Know You Could Save for a Down Payment

How can I come up with the down payment to buy a house?

 

One of the biggest misconceptions of home buying? The 20% down payment. Here’s how to buy with a lot less down.

Buying your first home conjures up all kinds of warm and fuzzy emotions: pride, joy, contentment. But before you get to the good stuff, you’ve got to cobble together a down payment, a daunting sum if you follow the textbook advice to squirrel away 20% of a home’s cost.

Here are five creative ways to build your down-payment nest egg faster than you may have ever imagined.

1. Crowdsource Your Dream Home

You may have heard of people using sites like Kickstarter to fund creative projects like short films and concert tours. Well, who says you can’t crowdsource your first home? Forget the traditional registry, the fine china, and the 16-speed blender. Use sites like Feather the Nest and Hatch My House to raise your down payment. Hatch My House says it’s helped Americans raise more than $2 million for down payments.

2. Ask the Seller to Help (Really!)

When sellers want to a get a deal done quickly, they might be willing to assist buyers with the closing costs. Fewer closing costs = more money you can apply toward your deposit.

“They’re called seller concessions,” says Ray Rodriguez, regional mortgage sales manager for the New York metro area at TD Bank. Talk with your real estate agent. She might help you negotiate for something like 2% of the overall sales price in concessions to help with the closing costs.

There are limits on concessions depending on the type of mortgage you get. For FHA mortgages, the cap is 6% of the sale price. For Fannie Mae-guaranteed loans, the caps vary between 3% and 9%, depending on the ratio between how much you put down and the amount you finance. Individual banks have varying caps on concessions.

No matter where they net out, concessions must be part of the purchase contract.

3. Look into Government Options

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, or HUD, offers a number of homeownership programs, including assistance with down payment and closing costs. These are typically available for people who meet particular income or location requirements. HUD has a list of links by state that direct you to the appropriate page for information about your state.

HUD offers help based on profession as well. If you’re a law enforcement officer, firefighter, teacher, or EMT, you may be eligible under its Good Neighbor Next Door Sales Program for a 50% discount on a house’s HUD-appraised value in “revitalization areas.” Those areas are designated by Congress for homeownership opportunities. And if you qualify for an FHA-insured mortgage under this program, the down payment is only $100; you can even finance the closing costs.

For veterans, the VA will guarantee part of a home loan through commercial lenders. Often, there’s no down payment or private mortgage insurance required, and the program helps borrowers secure a competitive interest rate.

Some cities also offer homeownership help. “The city of Hartford has the HouseHartford Program that gives down payment assistance and closing cost assistance,” says Matthew Carbray, a certified financial planner with Ridgeline Financial Partners and Carbray Staunton Financial Planners in Avon, Conn. The program partners with lenders, real estate attorneys, and homebuyer counseling agencies and has helped 1,200 low-income families.

4. Check with Your Employer

Employer Assisted Housing (EAH) programs help connect low- to moderate-income workers with down payment assistance through their employer. In Pennsylvania, if you work for a participating EAH employer, you can apply for a loan of up to $8,000 for down payment and closing cost assistance. The loan is interest-free and borrowers have 10 years to pay it back.

Washington University in St. Louis offers forgivable loans to qualified employees who want to purchase housing in specific city neighborhoods. University employees receive the lesser of 5% of the purchase price or $6,000 toward down payment or closing costs.

Ask the human resources or benefits personnel at your employer if the company is part of an EAH program.

5. Take Advantage of Special Lender Programs

Finally, many lenders offer programs to help people buy a home with a small down payment. “I would say that the biggest misconception [of homebuying] is that you need 20% for the down payment of a house,” says Rodriguez. “There are a lot of programs out there that need a total of 3% or 3.5% down.”

FHA mortgages, for example, can require as little as 3.5%. But bear in mind that there are both upfront and monthly mortgage insurance payments. “The mortgage insurance could add another $300 to your monthly mortgage payment,” Rodriguez says.

Some lender programs go even further. TD Bank, for example, offers a 3% down payment with no mortgage insurance program, and other banks may have similar offerings. “Check with your regional bank,” Rodriguez says. “Maybe they have their own first-time buyer program.”

Not so daunting after all, is it? There’s actually a lot of help available to many first-time buyers who want to achieve their homeownership dreams. All you need to do is a little research — and start peeking at those home listings!

By: Erik Sherman | Houselogic


With over 25 years of experience helping folks just like you to buy and sell homes in the Los Angeles South Bay, please give me, Lucy Garber, a call at (310) 293-4866.  Once I understand your specific circumstances, I’ll can suggest some ideas that may help you get into your first home.

How to Keep Your House Cool Without AC

Keep your Torrance house cool without AC

Want summer comfort but hate the AC (or just don’t have it)? Follow these tips on how to keep your house cool without frosty air conditioning.

You don’t have to switch on the air conditioner to get a big chill this summer. These tips will help you keep your Torrance house cool without AC, which will save energy (and avoid AC wars with your family).

Block that Sun!

When sunlight enters your house, it turns into heat. You’ll keep your house cooler if you reduce solar heat gain by keeping sunlight out.

  • Close the drapes: Line them with light-colored fabric that reflects the sun, and close them during the hottest part of the day. Let them pillow onto the floor to block air movement.
  • Add awnings: Install them on south- and west-facing windows to reduce solar heat gain by up to 77%, says the U.S. Department of Energy. Make your own by tacking up sheets outside your windows and draping the ends over a railing or lawn chair.
  • Install shutters: Interior and exterior shutters not only reduce heat gain and loss, but they also add security and protect against bad weather. Interior shutters with adjustable slats let you control how much sun you let in.
  • Apply high-reflectivity window film: Install energy-saving window films on east- and west-facing windows, which will keep you cool in summer, but let in warming sun in the winter. Mirror-like films are more effective than colored transparent films.

Open Those Windows

Be sure to open windows when the outside temperature is lower than the inside. Cool air helps lower the temps of everything — walls, floors, furniture — that will absorb heat as temps rise, helping inside air say cooler longer.

To create cross-ventilation, open windows on opposite sides of the house. Good ventilation helps reduce VOCs and prevents mold.

Fire Up Fans

  • Portable fans: At night, place fans in open windows to move cool air. In the day, put fans where you feel their cooling breezes (moving air evaporates perspiration and lowers your body temperature). To get extra cool, place glasses or bowls of ice water in front of fans, which will chill the moving air.
  • Ceiling fans: For maximum cooling effect, make sure ceiling fans spin in the direction that pushes air down, rather than sucks it up. Be sure to turn off fans when you’re not in the room, because fan motors give off heat, too.
  • Whole house fans: A whole-house fan ($1,000 to $1,600, including install) exhausts hot inside air out through roof vents. Make sure your windows are open when you run a whole-house fan.

Power Down Appliances

You’ll save money and reduce heat output by turning off appliances you’re not using, particularly your computer and television. Powering down multiple appliances is easier if you connect them to the same power strip.

Don’t use heat- and steam-generating appliances — ranges, ovens, washers, dryers — during the hottest part of the day. In fact, take advantage of the heat by drying clothes outside on a line.

Plant Trees and Vines

These green house-coolers shade your home’s exterior and keep sunlight out of windows. Plant them by west-facing walls, where the sun is strongest.

Deciduous trees, which leaf out in spring and drop leaves in fall, are best because they provide shade in summer, then let in sun when temperatures drop in autumn. Select trees that are native to your area, which have a better chance of surviving. When planting, determine the height, canopy width, and root spread of the mature tree and plant accordingly.

Climbing vines, such as ivy and Virginia creeper, also are good outside insulators. To prevent vine rootlets or tendrils from compromising your siding, grow them on trellises or wires about 6 inches away from the house.

Want more tips for staying cool this summer? Substitute CFL and LED bulbs for hotter incandescent lights.

Also, try insulating your garage door to prevent heat buildup.

Source: Houselogic, by Lisa Kaplan Gordon

Open House Timeline: Countdown to a Successful Sale

get fluffy white towels to create a spa-like feeling

An inviting open house can put your home on buyers’ short lists.

Get ready for your open house — stress-free — by starting early and breaking down your to-do list into manageable chunks. Use this timeline of 35 tips and your house will stand out from the competition on open house day.

Four weeks before the open house

  • Ask your parents to babysit the kids the weekend of the open house. Then book a reservation for your pet with the dog sitter or at the kennel. Having everyone out of the house on the day of will help you keep your home tidy and smelling fresh. Plus, no dogs and no kids equal more time for last-minute prep.
  • Line up a contractor to take care of maintenance issues your real estate agent has asked you to fix, like leaking faucets, sagging gutters, or dings in the walls.
  • De-clutter every room (even if you already de-cluttered once before). Don’t hide your stuff in the closet—buyers will open doors to size up closet space. Store your off-season clothes, sports equipment, and toys somewhere else.
  • Book carpet cleaners for a few days before the open house and a house cleaning service for the day before. Otherwise, make sure to leave time to do these things yourself a couple of days before.

Three weeks before the open house

  • Buy fluffy white towels to create a spa-like feel in the bathrooms.
  • Buy a front door mat to give a good first impression.
  • Designate a shoebox for each bathroom to stow away personal items the day of the open house.

Two weeks before the open house

  • Clean the light fixtures, ceiling fans, light switches, and around door knobs. A spic-and-span house makes buyers feel like they can move right in.
  • Power-wash the house, deck, sidewalk, and driveway.

One week before the open house

  • Make sure potential buyers can get up close and personal with your furnace, air-conditioning unit, and appliances. They’ll want to read any maintenance and manufacturer’s stickers to see how old everything is.
  • Clean the inside of appliances and de-clutter kitchen cabinets and drawers and the pantry. Buyers will open cabinet doors and drawers. If yours are stuffed to the gills, buyers will think your kitchen lacks enough storage space.
  • Put out the new door mat to break it in. It’ll look nice, but not too obviously new for the open house.

Week of the open house

  • Buy ready-made cookie dough and disposable aluminum cookie sheets so you don’t have to take time for clean up after baking (you can recycle the pans after use). Nothing says “home” like the smell of freshly baked cookies.
  • Buy a bag of apples or lemons to display in a pretty bowl.
  • Let your real estate agent know if you’re running low on sales brochures explaining the features of your house.
  • Clean the windows to let in the most light possible.
  • Mow the lawn two days before the open house. Mowing the morning of the open house can peeve house hunters with allergies.

Day before the open house

  • Make sure your real estate agent puts up plenty of open-house signs pointing in the right direction and located where drivers will see them. If she can’t get to it on the Friday before a Sunday open house, offer to do it yourself.
  • Put away yard clutter like hoses, toys, or pet water bowls.
  • Lay fresh logs in the fireplace.

Day of the open house

  • Put checkbooks, kids’ piggybanks, jewelry, prescription drugs, bank statements, and other valuables in the trunk of your car, at a neighbor’s house, or in your safe. It’s rare, but thefts do happen at open houses.
  • Set the dining room table for a special-occasion dinner. In the backyard, uncover the barbeque and set the patio table for a picnic to show buyers how elegantly and simply they can entertain once they move in.
  • Check any play equipment for spider webs or insect invasions. A kid screaming about spiders won’t endear buyers to your home.
  • Clean the fingerprints off the storm door. First impressions count.
  • Put up Post-It notes around the house to highlight great features like tilt-in windows or a recently updated appliance.
  • Remove shampoo, soap, toothbrushes, and other personal items from the bathtub, shower, and sinks in all the bathrooms. Store them in a shoebox under the sink. Removing personal items makes it easier for buyers to see themselves living in your house.
  • Stow away all kitchen countertop appliances.

bake cookies, put out apples and lemons on counter, and brew a pot of coffee

One hour before the open house

  • Bake the ready-to-bake cookies you bought earlier this week. Put them on a nice platter for your open house guests to eat with a note that says: “Help yourself!”
    Hang the new towels in the bathrooms.
  • Put your bowl of apples or lemons on the kitchen table or bar counter.
  • Pick up and put away any throw rugs, like the bath mats. They’re a trip hazard.

15 minutes before the open house

  • Open all the curtains and blinds and turn on the lights in the house. Buyers like bright homes.
  • Light fireplace logs (if it’s winter).
  • Didn’t get those cookies baked? Brew a pot of coffee to make the house smell inviting.

During the open house

Get out of the house and let the REALTOR® sell it! Potential buyers will be uncomfortable discussing your home if you’re loitering during the open house. Take advantage of your child- and pet-free hours by treating yourself to something you enjoy — a few extra hours at the gym, a trip to the bookstore, or a manicure.

By Dona DeZube. Visit HouseLogic.com for more articles like this. Reprinted from HouseLogic.com with permission of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®.

Are you putting your house up for sale?
Please give me a call – with my years of experience, I have a wealth of knowledge to help you get your house sold!  Lucy Garber – (310) 293-4866.

5 Easy DIY Weekend Projects for Under $300

Whether you are planning to put your house on the market and are trying to improve its curb appeal, OR if you just want to enjoy your home a bit more, here are some great do-it-yourself ideas you can do over the weekend for under $300!


Most of the cost of these DIY weekend projects is in the materials. The labor — that’s you — is free. All you need now are the hours. But, hey, you’ve got two full days — plenty of time to be a superhero weekend warrior and grab some R&R.

Project #1: Add a Garden Arbor Entry

The setup: Install an eye-catching portal to your garden with a freestanding arbor. It’ll look great at the end of a garden path or framing a grassy area between planting beds.

Specs and cost: Garden arbors can be priced up to thousands of dollars, but you can find nice-looking kits in redwood, cedar, and vinyl at your local home improvement or garden center for $200 to $300. Typical sizes are about 7 feet high and 3 to 4 feet wide. You’ll have to assemble the kit yourself.

Tools: Screwdriver; cordless drill/driver; hammer; tape measure. Kits come pre-cut and pre-drilled for easy assembly, and usually include screws. If fasteners aren’t included, check the materials list before you leave the store.

Time: 3 to 5 hours

Project #2: Install a Window Awning

The setup: Summer is super, but too much sunlight from south- and west-facing windows can heat up your interiors and make your AC work overtime. Beat that heat and save energy by using an awning to stop harsh sunlight before it enters your house.

Specs and cost: Residential awnings come in many sizes and colors. Some are plastic or aluminum, but most are made with weatherproof fabrics. They’re engineered for wind resistance, and some are retractable. A 4-foot-wide awning with a 2.5-foot projection is $150 to $250.

Tools: Cordless drill/driver; adjustable wrench; tape measure; level. You can install an awning on any siding surface, but you’ll need a hammer drill to drill holes in brick. To prevent leaks, fill any drilled holes with silicone sealant before you install screws and bolts.

Time: 3 to 4 hours

Project #3: Screen Off Your Air Conditioner from View

The setup: Air conditioning is great, but air conditioner condensers are ugly. Up your curb appeal quotient by hiding your AC condenser or heat pump unit with a simple screen.

Specs and costs: An AC screen is typically three-sided, about 40 inches high, and freestanding — you’ll want to be able to move it easily when it comes time to service your HVAC. For about $100, you can make a screen yourself using weather-resistant cedar or pressure-treated wood to build three frames, and filling each frame with plastic or pressure-treated lattice.

Or, buy pre-made fencing panels. A 38-inch-by-38-inch plastic fencing panel is about $50.

Tools: Hammer; saw; cordless drill/driver; measuring tape; galvanized wood screws.

Time: Build it yourself in four to six hours. Install pre-made fencing in one to two hours.

Project #4: Add Garage Storage

The setup: Shopping for garage storage solutions is definitely a kid-in-the-candy-store experience. There are so many cool shelves, hooks, and hangers available that you’ll need to prioritize your needs. Take stock of long-handled landscape tools, bikes, paint supplies, ladders, and odd ducks, such as that kayak. Measure your available space so you’ll have a rough idea of where everything goes.

Specs and cost: Set your under-$300 budget, grab a cart, and get shopping. Many storage systems are made to be hung on drywall, but hooks and heavy items should be fastened directly to studs. Use a stud finder ($20) to locate solid framing.

If your garage is unfinished, add strips of wood horizontally across studs so you’ll have something to fasten your storage goodies to. An 8-foot-long 2-by-4 is about $2.50.

Tools: Cordless drill/driver; hammer; level; measuring tape; screws and nails.

Time: This is a simple project, but not a fast one. Figure six to 10 hours to get everything where you want it, plus shopping. But, oh the fun in putting everything in its place!

If you want to do something really inexpensive, DIY a simple overhead bin system. All you need is plywood, plastic bins, some tools, and a weekend.

Project #5: Edging Your Garden

The setup: Edging is a great way to define your planting beds, corral garden mulch, and to separate your lawn from your garden or patio.

Specs and cost: Wood and metal edging looks like tiny fencing; they’re 4 to 6 inches high. Some include spikes that hold the edging in position; other types must be partially buried. Cost is $1 to $5 per foot.

Plastic edging can be molded and colored to mimic brick, wood, and stone. About $20 for 10 feet.

Concrete edging blocks are smooth, or textured to resemble stone. $15 to $25 for 10 feet.

Real stone edging is installed flush with the surrounding grade in a shallow trench on a bed of sand, so digging is required. Stone is sold by the ton and prices vary by region. You’ll need about one-third of a ton of flagstone to make an 8-inch-wide edging 50 feet long, costing $150 to $200.

Tools: Shovel; wheelbarrow; tin snips (for cutting plastic edging); work gloves.

Time: Pre-made edging will take two to three hours for 50 feet; stone will take six to 10 hours.

By: John Riha for Houselogic