Why Use A Buyer’s Agent? Because You’ll Get A Better Deal

July 25, 2009

Another piece on buyer’s agents from Greg Swann:house

Are home-buyers best served by the vigilant efforts of an experienced buyer’s agent? Consider a transaction we have in play right now.

The buyers are a young couple, about to be married. They have about $10,000 in cash. With a conventional loan, they could put 20% down on a dismal starter home. Or, with Private Mortgage Insurance, they could put 10% down on a nicer home.

But with an FHA loan, $10,000 is 3.5% down on a $285,000 home. We can argue the wisdom of making so small a down payment, but the FHA loan program is the path to homeownership for millions of Americans. And $285,000 is too much house for our buyers. They found a nice lender-owned two-story home in the suburbs selling for $169,000. The down payment on that home would be $5,915. But the closing costs would probably run to another $5,000 — which comes to more money than they have.

They qualify for the $8,000 first-time home-buyer tax credit, but they won’t get that until they file their tax return. They also qualify for a state-funded grant program that will contribute up to 22% of the purchase price — but which can’t be used for the down payment or the closing costs.

Here’s the deal we put together. We offered $175,000, $6,000 over list price. In exchange, we asked the seller to contribute 4% of the full purchase price [$7,000 — FHA allows up to 6%] to defray the buyer’s closing costs. The down payment will be $6,125, leaving the buyers $3,875 in cash to pay for the endless expenses of moving into a new home.

And there will be about $2,000 left over after the closing costs are paid. This will be used to buy down the interest rate. The buyers will end up with just over 25% equity in the property for a cash outlay of $6,125 — all at a very low monthly payment. And they’ll still have their $8,000 tax credit to look forward to.

This is the kind of outcome a skilled buyer’s agent can achieve.

Right again, Greg. There are so many ways a knowledgeable agent can help you get a better deal, that is right for you, even when you pay full price or more.

Kim Hannemann, Samson PropertiesSamsonPropTag
Real Estate Consultant/Realtor
Cell: 703-861-9234 • Fax: 703-896-5055
Email: KimTheAgent@gmail.com
It’s Good To Have A Friend In The Business®

If you would like to discuss real estate questions, sell or buy a home in Northern Virginia – including Alexandria, Annandale, Arlington, Burke, Centreville, Chantilly, Clifton, Fairfax, Fairfax Station, Falls Church, Kingstowne, Lorton, McLean, Reston, Springfield, or Vienna – contact Kim today.

4.5% Listings with First-Class Service — Cash Back to My Buyers!

If You Can Search The MLS, Why Do You Need An Agent?

July 24, 2009

homesalepriceFrom agent Greg Swann in the Arizona Republic:

Here’s an intriguing question: Given that it’s so easy to search for homes on the internet, why do you need a buyer’s agent?

Face it, if you use the MLS search tool on my web site, you’re seeing exactly the same listings I see. And you know better than I ever could what you like and what you don’t like.

By now, the home search process is at best a partnership between the agent and the buyer. In some cases the buyer and I will work together to perfect our search criteria. But many buyers simply search the available inventory on their own, emailing me the MLS numbers of the homes they want to see.

So why do those buyers need a buyer’s agent?

Realtors hoarded the MLS data for so long that even they came to believe it was the source of their value to buyers. But this is very far from the truth.

You don’t need me to search for listings, although I’m happy to do that. And you don’t need me to open lock-boxes. You need a buyer’s agent to guide you through what is in fact an arcane and perilous process — potentially a financial disaster. You might not need me to find your next home, but you need me to make sure that you get it — or that you pass on it, if that is what is truly in your best interests.

A skilled buyer’s agent will write the kind of purchase contract that will prove surprising to you at every turn, with every term and condition tailored to achieve your best advantage. Your agent will supervise the inspection process and negotiate the optimal solution to the repair issues. Your agent will be prepared for every pitfall in the escrow process.

If you bought and sold houses every day, you could do all these things yourself. It’s because you don’t — and because the seller and the listing agent are looking to take advantage of your naivete at every turn — that you need a skilled buyer’s agent as your steadfast champion in the home-buying process.

Greg’s post is right on the money. Personally, I like to help my clients search for homes, but that’s largely because as an agent I have access to information that can tell me, for instance, whether or not the property is already under contract even though it’s still listed as “Active” in the search they are using. I’m also looking for certain things that clients – no matter how savvy they may be – will not notice or understand. Still, it’s what comes after finding the property that is going to make a bigger difference to my clients, and makes my involvement crucial for them.

Kim Hannemann,  Samson PropertiesSamsonPropTag
Real Estate Consultant/Realtor
Cell: 703-861-9234 • Fax: 703-896-5055
Email: KimTheAgent@gmail.com
It’s Good To Have A Friend In The Business®

If you would like to discuss real estate questions, sell or buy a home in Northern Virginia – including Alexandria, Annandale, Arlington, Burke, Centreville, Chantilly, Clifton, Fairfax, Fairfax Station, Falls Church, Kingstowne, Lorton, McLean, Reston, Springfield, or Vienna – contact Kim today.

4.5% Listings with First-Class Service — Cash Back to My Buyers!

New Appraisal Rules – A Problem, or A Solution?

May 18, 2009

appraisalSaturday’s Washington Post Real Estate section featured an article by Ken Harney entitled, “New Appraisal Rules Come With Costs,” in which he posits the following scenarios:

  • The real estate appraisal that used to cost you $325 now costs $450, even though the appraiser doing the work is getting only $175 or $200.
  • Your appraisal-related charges may now be subject to add-on feessuch as $50 to $100 extra in “no show” penalties if you get stuck in traffic and miss your appointment with the appraiser, or an extra $50 to $150 if the property is worth more than $500,000.
  • Your mortgage loan officer requires you to pay for the appraisal upfront with a credit or debit card, rather than including the fee with the usual lender origination costs at settlement. Your card may be charged more than the anticipated cost of the appraisalleaving debit-card holders in a potential overdraft situation.
  • The person conducting your appraisal may be new to the fieldwilling to work for a cut rateand may not be as familiar with local value trends and pricing adjustments as an appraiser with more experience.
  • If your mortgage application is denied by one lender, you could be forced to pay for a second full appraisal because the new lender may not accept the first one.

The “new appraisal rules,” which go by the name Home Valuation Code of Conduct, were imposed May 1 by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and are intended to improve the accuracy of appraisals by eliminating pressure on appraisers from loan officers. The code pushes most large lenders to use third-party “appraisal management companies” that contract with networks of independent appraisers around the country who thus are not in direct contact with retail loan officers or mortgage brokers. The Code came about as a result of an agreement made between the Federal Housing Finance Agency and the New York State Attorney General. The intent of the agreement was made to enhance the independence of appraisers. The most relevant part of the code seems to be the following:

The lender or any third party specifically authorized by the lender (including, but not limited to, appraisal companies, appraisal management companies, and correspondent lenders) shall be responsible for selecting, retaining, and providing for payment of all compensation to the appraiser. The lender will not accept any appraisal report completed by an appraiser selected, retained, or compensated in any manner by any other third party (including mortgage brokers and real estate agents)

It used to be that a mortgage professional – whether working for a specific lender or as a broker – might have a “stable” of appraisers he or she could call on to provide services. Most of them just wanted a reliably thorough and competent job. However, and this is the reason for the new rules, some only wanted appraisers who were willing to find the right “comps” to hit a specific valuation necessary for the loan to go through. Under pressure to produce that number or perish, many appraisers buckled.

But are the new rules helpful or harmful to the more ethical mortgage lenders and brokers out there? Are they seeing big increases in appraisal costs? How about appraisal quality, now that they can’t choose one of their go-to guys? I asked several of the mortgage professionals I work with every day in Northern Virginia to give me their impressions about whether they find the scenarios suggested in Harney’s article to be happening here:.

We’ve actually been working under these rules for many years . . . All appraisals have been ordered through a 3rd party management company, and while we did have some communication with the appraiser (although not encouraged), we cannot any longer . . .

This is actually a good thing that is happening. Too many times appraisers have been bullied by agents, mortgage lenders and borrowers for not having the same opinion. This will take that opportunity away. This does NOT mean that you can’t call the appraiser, still meet them at the home, etc . . . this is so that lenders cannot contact the appraisers directly – even for a status, as this is seen as undue pressure. These appraisers are professionally trained, educated and have to uphold ethical standards just like all of us; yet no one challenges our decisions like these people.

[The fees and time requirements] are the same, for now. I bet the appraisal costs will go up, and they should. The appraisers can’t live on a “cut” and they have been required to do so many more compliance checks etc . . [Turnaround times] are longer due to volume.

This won’t change the quality . . . if anything the quality will improve because the lenders and agents are now separated from any undue influence.

Jennifer Duplessis, Prosperity Mortgage

Interesting article and I am happy to say we have not had the issues mentioned. [Local] appraisers have only added $25.00 to their fees due to some additional addendums that required extra research. Appraisal fees have ranged from $350 to $375 and now are $375.00 to $400.00 for under $1 million sale price, and they have always charged more for above $1 million – that is not new. Yes, loan officers are no longer allowed to directly pick the appraiser – it is an automated random selection of a pool of known appraisers in our local area.

I think the worst [problem] is the extreme pressure the appraisers are [receiving from the lenders] to include the foreclosures and short sales when determining values. During the recession In the early 90’s foreclosures and short sales were considered distress sales and discarded as [comparable to a] homeowner selling their property. In my opinion, this change in [guideline] has escalated the erosion of home prices. They should have allowed for an adjustment upward on the distress sale, but they did not, they are requiring the appraisers to use them thus providing for lower and lower values – how unfair to the normal seller is that?

Shirley Jones, First Savings Mortgage

I haven't experienced any true horror stories yet, but the new system will definitely change things. I think the appraisers will feel empowered to bring in property values at whatever they feel the value is, regardless of what it may mean for the transaction. The old system had a conflict of interest where (I believe) appraisers didn't want to ruin too many deals with a low appraisals since they were hurting their referral sources (potentially their future income) by bringing in the low appraisal. This new system will potentially change that, which ultimately will be a good thing, but could be painful. I think that will be the biggest change. I believe we will see more low appraisals (meaning appraisal comes in below contract price).

In the past we could choose appraisers and go with ones that we felt were "good appraisers." We now have less of a say. It also adds a layer to the process which usually means more time. I do agree with what the article said about the costs of the appraisals being higher. Mortgage brokers definitely kept costs down with the old system. Appraisals have gone up by about $100 over the past year I believe. I haven't noticed a big difference in the quality of appraisal, but it is still early in the process.

Overall I don't love the new system but the old system definitely had it's flaws also. I'm not sure I would want to go back to the old system even if we could.

Kevin Haddon, Wells Fargo Home Mortgage

So on balance, it seems, in the Northern Virginia area the new rules are seen in an overall positive light by people who I believe to be in a position to know. Yes, costs my have increased slightly, and there may be a somewhat longer turnaround – especially as the system gets established – but I think the horror story scenarios drawn by critics are not reflected in the actuality. I do agree with Shirley's view about separating the distress sales from the normal sales – it's unreasonable, but it's not a part of the new rules, just a lender-imposed requirement. Appraisers should be able to reflect adjustments for condition, given the lousy condition of most foreclosures, but it's unlikely to fill the gaps.

Kim Hannemann, Real Estate Consultant/Realtor®, Samson Realty
Cell: 703-861-9234 • Fax: 703-896-5055 • Email: KimTheAgent@gmail.com

It's Good To Have A Friend In The Business®

If you would like to discuss real estate questions, sell or buy a home in Northern Virginia - including Alexandria, Annandale, Arlington, Burke, Centreville, Chantilly, Clifton, Fairfax, Fairfax Station, Falls Church, Kingstowne, Lorton, McLean, Reston, Springfield, or Vienna - contact Kim today.

4 - 4.5% Listings with First-Class Service -- Cash Back to My Buyers!

The Fed’s Buying – How About You?

March 22, 2009

Info from this week’s Mortgage Market Guide:


Last week, the Fed used their regularly scheduled meeting to make a blockbuster announcement.

Over the course of 2009, the Fed will purchase an additional $750 billion of mortgage-backed securities, as well as $300 billion in long-term Treasuries, primarily to help shore up the housing market and keep home loan rates low. On the announcement, bonds exploded higher, leaving bond prices within whiskers of the best levels ever.

How does this really impact home loan rates?

While the Fed’s actions may keep mortgage rates from moving higher, they may not cause them to move dramatically lower. The Fed’s actions create demand for mortgage-backed securities, which should help keep the ceiling on home loan rates from moving much higher in the foreseeable future. That’s good news for homebuyers who are seeing the bargains out there and understand that now is the time to act.

But – and this is very important – what actually happens to mortgage rates depends on which bond coupons the Fed purchases. If they purchase higher rate coupons – as they have done so far this year – their continued purchasing will likely keep a lid on rates, but not necessarily push them significantly lower. Additionally, due to many understaffed lenders and investors currently working at maximum capacity, we could once again see that improvements in pricing may not all be passed through to borrowers.

usamcashAnother factor that could impact whether mortgage rates see significant improvement are concerns of future inflation brought on by all the recent aggressive moves by the Fed. While we know there is little inflation at the present time, chatter about future inflation could have a negative impact on home loan rates, or at least stifle any improvements.

Although the media is already spinning it differently, this is not a time to stay on the fence, hoping and waiting for lower rates. Home loan rates remain within inches of all-time historic lows, but may not necessarily move significantly lower, so waiting could be a risky move.

Also, an update on Mark-to-Market – the accounting rule which has had a devastating impact on the financial markets: The Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) agreed that it will propose to allow companies to use more “leeway” in applying the accounting rules they use to value their assets, and planned a final vote for April 2. If this rule change is approved, it could result in better first-quarter financial statements for companies that have been affected by this rule. Stocks have been moving higher lately in the hopes that Mark-to-Market will be fixed, and a resolution could help stocks further improve.

Kim Hannemann, Real Estate Consultant/Realtor®, Samson Realty
Cell: 703-861-9234 • Fax: 703-896-5055 • Email: KimTheAgent@gmail.com

It’s Good To Have A Friend In The Business®

If you would like to discuss real estate questions, sell or buy a home in Northern Virginia – including Alexandria, Annandale, Arlington, Burke, Centreville, Chantilly, Clifton, Fairfax, Fairfax Station, Falls Church, Kingstowne, Lorton, McLean, Reston, Springfield, or Vienna – contact Kim today.

4 – 4.5% Listings with First-Class Service — Cash Back to My Buyers!

Tips for First-Time Northern Virginia Buyers

March 20, 2009

pricedownReductions in Northern Virginia home prices, and unprecedented low interest rates for mortgages, have combined to offer tremendous opportunities for renters to become homeowners. The prospect of making the change may be exciting, but also overwhelming.

Here are a few common mistakes to avoid:

hud-logoNot understanding the home buying process. Educate yourself. Find a homebuyer seminar that you can attend, or research online. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has an entire section devoted to first-time homebuyers, information on mortgage programs, downloadable tools such as a “wish list” and home-shopping checklist, tips on selecting a real estate professional, and so on. Another good source is a solid lender such as Wells Fargo or  Prosperity Mortgage whose websites offer consumers a variety of tools and resources on purchasing a home.

housequestionNot asking questions. There are many intricacies to the home buying process, and even though you can gain a basic knowledge on your own, you will still have questions. Be sure to tell your real estate professional that you are new to the process. Choose an agent (like me!) who is willing to spend time with you and walk you through the entire process. A good agent will expect you to have questions at each step – from house-hunting, to making an offer, to the closing (such as, “What the heck is a closing?”). This is one of the largest financial transactions of your life, so you want to have a clear understanding of what’s going on at all times.

Looking outside your price range. Before beginning your home search, get pre-approved by a mortgage professional – preferably one you know or one recommended by your agent – to get an idea of how much you may be able to borrow. Use this information as a starting point in determining your price range. Then take into consideration other factors that will affect your monthly budget once you are a homeowner, such as property taxes, homeowners insurance, utilities, and maintenance. Don’t go out looking at homes before you have a firm idea of your range.

Buying on impulse. Don’t feel pressured into making an offer on the first home you see. Buyers, especially first-timers, may be impressed by the first two or three homes they view. Look at a good selection, then narrow the prospects to a select few and return for a closer look. When you decide to make an offer, work with your agent to get all of your questions answered first. But don’t wait too long to make an offer. The longer you wait, the greater the chance other prospective buyers may place offers, making it harder for you to negotiate a good deal.

storkNot planning ahead. Think about personal changes you are planning in the next five years. For instance, are you starting a family, and if so, is the home large enough and will it continue to be? If you think you’ll be relocating in a few years, you’ll probably want to pay closer attention to potential appreciation and resale value. If two incomes are needed to qualify for financing or to make your payments, do your plans include the ability to sustain those incomes?

Failure to consider location. Don’t just focus on the house. Examine the community. Does it suit your lifestyle? Is the area safe, well-maintained, close to work, stores and schools? Find out about zoning and whether new construction is planned on vacant land in the immediate area. Also consider the potential market for resale in the future. Your agent can also help with that.

    Above all, remember knowledge is key. No question is silly. Your agent and your mortgage professional are invaluable assets throughout the process, and they want you to succeed. Making smart home buying decisions will make the home-buying process less scary and your first home purchase a rewarding experience.

    Why Is The Buyer’s Agent Paid By The Seller?

    March 5, 2009

    housequestionIt’s a strange arrangement. Here I am, the agent for the buyer, receiving my compensation from a party who not only is not my client, but whose interests are (one would think) directly opposed to those of my client – the seller. They want the highest possible price, my client wants the lowest. They don’t want to spend money on repairs, my client wants the repairs made. The list goes on. The two sides are in agreement on one thing only – they want the transaction to happen. Yet it it almost universal for the seller to pay the buyer’s agent. Huh?

    This seemingly oddball arrangement exists for a couple of reasons. First, the historical background: until the mid-1990s, real estate brokers and agents operated under subagency agreements, whereby brokers listed property, and offered cooperative commissions to other brokers bringing in buyers for the listed property. Under subagency, these cooperating brokers and agents were legally bound to represent the seller.

    conmanDespite this fact, most buyers thought “their” agent represented them, and acted accordingly, often to their detriment. By sharing how much they were willing to pay, when they had to buy, or how much they loved the home, they unwittingly provided the seller with useful negotiating information. Eventually the Federal Trade Commission put pressure on the states to have real estate agents disclose to consumers exactly whom they represent. Most states eventually adopted disclosure laws, and the industry adapted by creating buyer agency arrangements (similar to sellers’ listing agreements). But the existing commission arrangement remains in place – the seller still pays. Why?

    no_moneytranspThe reason that sellers still pay the commission is because the main obstacle to buyers being able to buy is a lack of cash – cash for the down payment, cash for closing costs, cash for the move, cash for furnishings, and the list goes on. It takes a long time to save that money. Some people find it difficult; others find it impossible. Add the buyer’s agent commission, and the seller will have fewer buyers available.

    The seller is receiving cash from the sale. If they pay the commission, more potential buyers are able to afford this property. The more potential buyers, the higher the likely sales price. The higher sales price provides the incentive for the sellers to pay the buyer’s agent in addition to paying their own.

    There are “exclusive buyer agents” who accept their payment only from their buyer client and refuse the seller’s offer. They argue that the only way for a buyer to be certain to avoid any conflict of interest is to avoid firms that both list and sell homes, and to compensate their own agent. In practice, I have never been tempted to change my buyer representation perspective regardless of the offered compensation. I disclose to my buyer clients the compensation offered on every property, and have on occasion used higher compensation levels to assist my clients in the purchase.

    Kim Hannemann, Real Estate Consultant/Realtor®, Samson Realty
    Cell: 703-861-9234 • Fax: 703-896-5055 • Email: KimTheAgent@gmail.com

    It’s Good To Have A Friend In The Business®

    If you would like to discuss real estate questions, sell or buy a home in Northern Virginia – including Alexandria, Annandale, Arlington, Burke, Centreville, Chantilly, Clifton, Fairfax, Fairfax Station, Falls Church, Kingstowne, Lorton, McLean, Reston, Springfield, or Vienna – contact Kim today.

    4 – 4.5% Listings with First-Class Service — Cash Back to My Buyers!

    Looking for A Mortgage Lender?

    February 14, 2009

    You’re thinking about buying a home, but you can’t pay all cash. Gee, join the least-exclusive club we know! Now you have to get a loan secured by whatever home you want to buy, a loan we call a mortgage.


    You Lose!

    “Oh, I’ll just click on one of those ubiquitous pop-up Internet ads, and lenders will come begging for my business!”  Please, please, don’t! Whether it’s the one where lenders advertise their “best rates,” or the one where you ask for four lender quotes (and get hundreds of them calling you day and night), they won’t be any good at this point. What you need to know first is what loans are available to you, and how much house you can afford based upon those loans. You want someone who will tell you what’s going on in the loan market right now.

    You are not ready to sign up for any loan yet. Instead, you are trying to find a loan officer who will be there when you are ready. Will they guide you through the process, and explain how they get from A to B? Taking your income as a starting point, they would subtract from that your current monthly obligations, to arrive at a reasonable monthly budget for housing, using current interest rates, tax and insurance costs. As for what kind of mortgages, they should start with a fully amortized 30-year fixed-rate mortgage with no more than one point of combined origination and/or discount fees. (A “point” is 1 percent of the mortgage amount.) They should then discuss alternative loan types, such as the 5/1 adjustable (see below), but the main purpose here is to ensure you will not be getting in over your head.

    You might like the numbers the first lender gives you, but don’t stop looking. You want to have this same discussion with at least three different loan officers. You need to confirm that what you’re hearing is the truth, both in terms of what you can afford and the likelihood that the loan terms are valid. You see, loan officers in general have an incentive to tell you what you want to hear, and despite the existence of a “Good Faith Estimate” and/or “Truth in Lending” documents, they don’t have to deliver what they promise unless and until they provide a loan quote guarantee or “lock.”

    What kinds of loans are out there that are worth considering? In the current interest rate environment, where rates are historically low, forget negative amortization (where you pay less interest than the actual loan rate, and the underpaid interest is then added to the loan balance). And forget “teaser” loans, where the first couple of years is at an artificially low rate, like 1.25%. Both of these are sure recipes for disaster – they were the cause of many of the foreclosures we are going through right now.

    All the rest have their advantages and disadvantages. The fixed rate loan is almost always at a higher rate. In effect, it’s 30 years of insurance against rate changes. Yet most people either move or refinance in 5 years or less, so why would they pay for a 30-year guarantee? The 5/1 (or 3/1, 7/1, or 10/1) ARM – where the rate is fixed for the first several years and adjusts annually after that – is usually a lower rate.

    And why spend money “buying down” your interest rate by paying discount points, if you’re not likely to keep it long enough to recover the money? You might cut your monthly interest charge, but it takes 6-8 years to break even.


    Once you have believable info on how much you can afford, then you can start looking at properties. Stay in touch with the lenders you believe would be most reliable. You’ll notice I said “lenders” – keep reading.

    You might want to strongly consider having a backup loan. When you’ve decided who your first choice lender will be, ask the next best lender if they will be your backup. They might, if they don’t think the first lender can deliver. If they’re right, you’ll be signing their paperwork at the end. You will need to do everything necessary so that both loans are ready to go. The backup loan is useless to you if it’s not ready to go at the same time as the main one. You may have to pay for an extra appraisal, but it’s $300 or so well spent.


    If you decide not to have a backup loan, you will have to sign whatever papers your one lender gives you, whether they deliver on their promises or not – you won’t have a choice unless you decide to renege on your purchase contract, which can be extremely expensive, as you can imagine.

    Having said all that, I have only been involved in one settlement where the buyer had a backup loan waiting in case the first one fell through (it didn’t). Most of my buyer clients have used mortgage officers I knew would deliver. I have seen a couple of situations where the settlement (my sellers) was delayed because the buyers’ lender was incompetent or untruthful, and it’s not a pleasant place to be for anyone.

    UPDATE: Here is a great post about What To Look For In A Mortgage Lender