Crystal's Blog Corner

Looking to Buy a Home This Year? Credit Score Changes Could Make It More Challenging.


First-time homebuyers are often surprised to learn they can qualify for a mortgage, especially if they don’t have great credit. But, changes to the way FICO measures credit scores are set to make it more difficult for many people to qualify. If you’re looking to buy a home this year, or anytime thereafter, here’s what you need to know.

What is the new scoring system?

“Fair Isaac Corp., commonly known as FICO®, has built a new suite of scoring models that will be available from all three credit reporting agencies (Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax) to lenders by the end of 2020,” said Experian. “The new models will treat late payments and debt more severely, but will also now consider historical information about your credit card balances and payment amounts. Your FICO® Score will likely change as a result.”

Just how could this impact borrowers? Consumers with high FICO scores who continue to manage their finances well may actually see an increase in their scores. “This change will create greater separation in the 600s,” said Forbes. “If you are in the lower 600s and struggling to make payments on time, there is a chance your score can go down further. If you are in the high 600s and making payments on time and trending toward lower debt levels, your score could actually increase.”

Joanne Gaskin, vice president of scores and analytics at FICO, told NPR that, “About 40 million Americans are likely to see their credit scores drop by 20 points or more, and an equal number should go up by as much.”

What’s NOT changing

The five main factors that FICO has long used in its scoring models will remain. They are payment history, dollar amount owed, age of credit history, credit mix, and new credit accounts. However, the new FICO scoring system “expands into new territory, with the goal of giving lenders a more precise assessment of your credit risk,” said Experian. “It considers your trended data.”

What is trended data?

Trended data offers a closer look at your financial picture over the last 24 months, specifically focusing on how you have managed your existing accounts. Trended data has not typically been shown to lenders for the purpose of qualifying home buyers…until now. 

How will this change impact your score

“Those with scores below 600 who continue to miss payments or have blemishes on their credit will see even larger declines in their scores,” said REALTOR Magazine. “FICO…will soon start more harshly penalizing the scores of consumers who have rising debt levels or who fall behind on loan payments. The company will also flag certain consumers who sign up for personal loans, which is a growing area of debt.”

With these new changes, it’s more important than ever to be diligent about protecting your credit. Would-be homebuyers will want to:

Pay your bills on time—This has always been important but is even more critical now. Late payments have always been a red flag for lenders, but they may be even more harshly penalized once the new program is in place. “Delinquencies will hurt scores more” now, said Experian. “The impact of late payments is more pronounced than with prior FICO® Score versions. This means consumers who miss payments are likely to experience a more severe drop in their credit scores” under this new model. 

Pay down credit card balances—According to FICO, borrowers should “keep revolving debt below 30% of their available credit so that they don’t see a larger impact on their credit score,” said REALTOR. 

Get current—“Pull your credit reports and make sure that nothing has fallen through the cracks like a small medical bill,” said Forbes. “Catching up on those payments may show a positive trend.”

Avoid personal loans—"The scores will weigh personal loans more heavily, the Wall Street Journal reported, in order to penalize borrowers who consolidate debt with personal loans and then go on to rack up more debt,” said MarketWatch.

Don’t cancel your credit cards. Closing accounts can actually hurt your score. “When it comes to credit cards, it can help to hold on to older accounts for a long time,” said NPR. “Doing that gives consumers more established credit history.”


Real Estate to LOVE?


LOVE—the ubiquitous word in February—represents a good place for buyers and sellers to start when clarifying their real estate goals for 2020.

“What do I want to LOVE about the real estate in my near future?” is a great starting question for buyers and sellers.

1. The answer is not merely the shopping list of decor and amenity “must-haves” that buyers crave nor the list of repeat “must-haves” that sellers want to reproduce in their next home.
2. The answer should go beyond the trite “I love it” expression applied liberally, and often with little thought, to everything from mid-century-modern decor to a stainless steel or marble finish. This over-used phrase is so much part of everyday speech that it has lost its deeper, discerning meaning.
3. The answer—to be genuinely valuable in your real estate search—should include deep feelings about how you want to feel while living in your new home and how this emotional state will enhance valued aspects of your life. The answer lies, not in physical features, but in lifestyle benefits.

Scientist Louis Pasteur reaches out with a clear view of possible 21st-Century... that "Chance favors the prepared mind" can be a rock-solid guide for confident real estate decision making:

Be prepared to act when “luck” strikes:

You’ll find “luck” appears more often and it is easier to act on when you are prepared with relevant, practical knowledge. That is, the more you understand about real estate, the more likely you’ll have “good luck” in achieving true Love with your next home. That preparation includes learning about the type of housing, amenities, and location that will fall within your budget, as well as discovering how real estate transactions work.

Use a highly-competent, locally-knowledgeable real estate professional—“the matchmaker” to help you act in your own best interest regarding every detail of the search, decision making, and the resulting transaction.

Or, plunge in and tackle the research yourself. Either way, understanding what you are buying and how the related financial and legal processes can work in your favor will turn your love affair with your home into a long-term relationship, not a disillusioned break-up.

Be ready to respond quickly when opportunity knocks:

This is not encouragement to act in haste or to jump in before you understand what the property or the transaction involves. “Respond quickly” means having the confidence not to second-guess yourself after each decision. Buying real estate involves a lot of time-pressured decisions, so getting out of your own way by ending second-guessing is an important, solid step forward.

Clarify exactly what lifestyle changes you want to achieve—that Love, the deep connection you want with your new home, separate from the trappings of “must-haves.” Understand your objectives, your financial strength, and your limitations. Then, you’ve armed yourself with specific, practical, undeniably-powerful criteria for confident decision making.

Be decisive when fortune calls:

Once you’ve learned how to quickly and thoroughly research essential elements of a property or have engaged with a real estate professional who can help you achieve this, you’re on solid ground. You’ll be confident you understand what you are getting into—good, bad, and indifferent—before you act. This represents a productive mix of practical knowledge like window placement and interior traffic flow and acknowledgment of long-term benefits that matter to you and those you’ll share the home with.

We are what we think, what we believe. That's "the box" that can limit our view of what the future might hold. A committed professional can expand your horizon of possibilities. This confidence may lead you to consider a different style of home or interior decor because the location or size of the property offers you a stand-out investment opportunity that will transport you to that Love reality.

Because each piece of real estate is unique, separating your deep buying intentions from your must-have shopping list will enable you to fully evaluate the potential of a property that may vary from the usual cookie-cutter offering.

Is your buying vision based on trending Instagram photos and videos or current superficial “Keeping up with the Jones” demands? Or, are you guided by Love—how you feel about “home” as a place to belong, share experiences, and gain the courage to face the outside world?

The apparent simplicity of using your Love of what the new home will contribute to your life does not mean that identifying emotional connections is necessarily easy for everyone. The level of personal commitment involved in applying the Love criteria to hopes and dreams may require efforts like discussions with family members or some soul searching. Are you prepared to make personal investments like these in your future?

Doing nothing is a decision, too, perhaps not the best one, but a decision to be lived with none the less. Concentrate buying decisions on features like stainless-steel appliances, kitchen islands, and master bedroom ensuites and the result may not be the long-term Love many want and expect when buying a home.


How to Save Money on Closing Costs


When it comes to buying your first home, are there two words that are more unpleasant and unwelcome than “down payment?” How about “closing costs?” That’s because first-time buyers are often surprised by this expense, or at least confused about how much they will need to pay. 

Additionally, buyers may not understand that some of the fees under the closing costs umbrella are not set in stone. Yes, there are ways to save money on closing costs. We’re breaking down the potential savings. 

What are closing costs?

First, it’s important to understand the role closing costs play in your mortgage—especially because we’re not talking about a measly amount. Closing costs can range from 2–6% of the total cost of your loan. So, on a $250,000 loan, that’s $5,000–$15,000. Having to come up with that amount of money after scrimping and saving for a down payment can be a crushing blow.

“The term ‘closing costs’ includes a variety of expenses above the purchase price of your property, such as fees for an attorney, a title search, title insurance, taxes, lender costs, and some upfront housing expenses such as homeowners insurance,” said U.S. News & World Report

Shop around

There are a number of items on a loan estimate that can vary in cost depending on the lender. It behooves you to reach out to more than one to find the best option. And remember this: You may think the winner is the one who is offering the lowest rate, but that’s not always the case. It could be that some of the fees are higher with another lender, making the loan less attractive.

Compare your loan estimates

Lenders are required to provide you with an itemized loan estimate within three business days from the date you apply for a mortgage. So now it’s time to compare and contrast your estimates. 

“The Loan Estimate lets you comparison shop between companies’ total costs and also dig into specific fees once you’ve chosen a lender,” said NerdWallet. “You need the legally binding Loan Estimate to compare costs, not the ‘closing costs worksheet’ or a ‘fee itemization’ that some lenders offer,” Erik Martin, president of Total Mortgage, a national mortgage company based in Milford, Connecticut, told them.

Know what you can negotiate

Page 2 of the loan estimate has a section called “services you can shop for,” said Bankrate. It includes the pest inspection, survey, and “title fees, like title search, insurance binder, and settlement agent. These are services you can find on your own or use what the lender provides. If you shop around, you might be able to find something cheaper.”

And then there are the lender fees. “Lender fees are fees charged by banks and other financial institutions for processing and funding a loan,” said LendingTree. “They can include application fees, attorney fees, recording fees, underwriting fees and more.” While you may not be able to eliminate these fees, you may be able to negotiate with the lender to lower them. 

Close late in the month

Can you control the date of your closing? This is something to discuss with your lender because there are potential savings for a late-in-the-month closing. “Prepaid interest is one of the fees that come into play when buying or refinancing a home,” said HSH. “Closing toward the end of the month can save on prepaid interest. For example, if you close on July 11, you'll have to pay for 20 days of interest. On a $200,000 loan with a 4.5% mortgage rate, that's almost $500. By closing on July 30, you'll only pay interest for July 30 and 31. Using the same loan amount and interest rate, two days of interest is only $49.”

Ask for the seller to pay your closing costs

There is no requirement that states that the buyer has to be the one who pays the closing costs. It may be possible, depending on the type of market you’re in, to get the seller to pay at least part of the costs. 

Some loans also allow you to roll part or all of the closing costs into your mortgage, which will raise your monthly payment some but save you from having to come out of pocket. 

Other things to look out for

Certain types of loans will have separate costs involved like an upfront mortgage insurance premium of 1.75% for FHA loans or a VA funding fee as high as 3.6%. These are not negotiable fees, but they may help you determine which loan is right for you and how much of a down payment you want to come up with. Remember that, for FHA and most conventional loans, you will also pay a monthly mortgage insurance premium. 

All told, you can “save hundreds of dollars, even thousands, by understanding how you to save on closing costs,” said HSH. “That money could be better spent going into your home, as opposed to on your home loan.”


Best Strategic Loan Advice for Buyers - Strategic Advice gives you an edge in negotiations


Getting fully credit approved for a mortgage is the optimal way to buy a home, and can actually give you a strategic edge in negotiating.

Many buyers confuse pre-qualification with pre-approval and use the terms interchangeably, but they are far from the same. For a listing agent and seller, it makes a big difference in which type of loan letter a buyer submits with their offer.

A home loan is more involved than getting a credit card or car loan because mortgages are highly regulated and require paperwork, documentation, and credit analysis.

3 Obvious Reasons To Get Pre-Qualified for a Loan

  1. Verify no credit issues or credit report mistakes
  2. Confirm what price home you can qualify to buy
  3. Gather documents needed for a loan application

Additionally, it makes sense to do this step to avoid wasting everyone’s time – your time, the sellers’ time who have to prepare for showings, and your agent’s time showing you homes you may not qualify to buy.

Beyond these obvious reasons, at Path & Post, we recommend getting fully credit approved before looking at homes. Completing this step will ensure you don’t miss a deadline for a home in a multiple offer situation, and it will give you an edge in negotiations so the seller values your offer as more serious.

3 levels of Pre-Qualification

  • GOOD: Basic Pre-Qualification
  • BETTER: Actual Pre-Approval
  • BEST: Full Credit Approval

More detail on starting the loan process…

GOOD: Pre-Qualified

Getting pre-qualified involves supplying a bank or lender with your overall financial picture, including your debt, income, and assets. The lender reviews everything and gives you an estimate of how much you can expect to borrow. Pre-qualification can be done over the phone or online, and there’s usually no cost involved. It’s quick, usually taking just 24 hours to get a pre-qualification letter.

Keep in mind that loan pre-qualification does not include an analysis of your credit report or an in-depth look at your ability to purchase a home. It’s based solely on the information you hand over to the lender, so it is only as good as the information you provide.

BETTER: Preapproved

Getting preapproved is the next step, and it’s more involved but ensures you are on the right path to buying.

You complete a mortgage application online or in person. You supply the lender with the necessary documentation to review your financial background and credit rating. The lender can preapprove you for a mortgage up to a specified amount and give you a preapproval letter to submit with an offer.

You’ll also have a better idea of the interest rate you’ll be charged on the loan at this point. Interest rates are based on your creditworthiness, property used as security for the loan, type of loan, amount being borrowed, and many other factors.

Some lenders will go ahead and send your loan through the Fannie Mae automated underwriting system which means that as long as the lender has the accurate information to match up to what was input then the underwriter will approve the loan.

The pre-approval process can take longer depending on the type of income, W-2 or 1099. Self-employed borrowers will have a 2-year analysis of their full business and personal tax returns done by the lender.

BEST: Credit Approved

This is when your lender gets all of the documents that your loan will require and submits your file to underwriting, which is the department that makes the final loan decision. This can be done prior to finding a home and going under contract. The underwriter will be reviewing your income, assets and credit report and give you a thumbs up on being fully credit approved, while you search for the right home.

Once you go under contract, the lender will send out final loan disclosure documents for you to sign and order an appraisal. Once the appraisal is completed, the lender will submit the file back to underwriting to get final approval.


What We Can Learn About Selling Unsellable Homes From New HGTV Program


HGTV sure knows how to tap into the zeitgeist. Already home to several of our national obsessions, their newly announced show, Unsellable Homes, sounds like a winner. 

“In HGTV's Unsellable Houses, sisters Lyndsay Lamb and Leslie Davis—who are among the top-selling real estate agents in the Pacific Northwest—help struggling homeowners sell their seemingly unsellable homes in record time,” said HGTV. “Lyndsay, an expert in home renovation, design and staging, and Leslie, an expert in budget and negotiations, are so confident they can sell any home that they’re willing to invest their own money to make the sale.”

HGTV is presenting eight new series in 2020, Unsellable Homes will be the first to premiere during the first week of February. According to House Beautiful, the twin sisters “will be challenged to sell 10 homes in the Seattle area that have been deemed unsellable by marketplace standards. The sisters, confident in their ability to sell even the most unwanted properties, will be investing their own money to make the necessary renovations. Their end goal each episode will be to sell the home at a higher price, allowing them to break even, and the family to profit.”

The homes Lamb and Davis will be showcasing on the program have been for sale for as long as 120 days—far beyond the 30 days it typically takes to sell a home in hot Seattle. In line with the launch of this intriguing new show, we’re presenting a few top tips for getting your own unsellable home sold.

Get smart about the listing price

Your home isn’t worth what you think it is or even what you’ve put into it. It’s worth what people will pay for it. And if they’re not paying for it, it’s overpriced.

Make sure you’re not the problem

“It’s tough to hear that you may be the reason your home isn’t selling, but it is the easiest problem to fix,” said Dave Ramsey. “Be honest and ask yourself if you’re doing anything that could potentially drive buyers away. Are you: At home during showings; Stretching the truth about your home’s features; Restricting the times that buyers can view your home?”

Stage it to sell

“According to Davis, one of the top reasons a home doesn't sell quickly in a booming market like Seattle is because ‘[these homes] are not presented right when put out for buyers to see,” said House Beautiful. “This encompasses everything from the pictures included in the listing, to how the home is staged.”

Concentrate on curb appeal

Don’t underestimate the impact curb appeal can make. If you spend all your time and effort, not to mention money, on the inside and neglect things like an unkempt front yard and a ratty front door, potential buyers may not even get out of the car. For a few hundred dollars, you can layer in some fresh mulch, plant a few seasonal flowers, paint your door, and lay down a welcome mat, giving your home a whole new look.

Take professional pictures

For one reason or another, sellers sometimes insist on taking their own listing photos. This doesn’t typically pay off. Just how important are those photos? According to the Center for REALTOR® Development (CRD), “Homes with high-quality photography sell 32 percent faster; Homes with more photos sell faster, too. A home with one photo spends an average 70 days on the market, but a home with 20 photos spends 32 days on the market; For homes in the $200,000 to $1 million range, those that include high-quality photography in their listings sell for $3,000-$11,000 more.”

Tend to the smell

You might not be able to detect a smell in your home because you’re used to it. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t there. 

“Several agents cited bad odors as a common reason a home won't sell,” said Business Insider. “Three agents said that odors from cats, in particular, are bad news. Residual scents from smoking can also pose a problem, said Jose Laya, who sells homes in Miami for between $800,000 and $2 million.”

Taking steps to remove cat litter boxes (or at least keep them really clean) and a good cleaning of the carpet and soft surfaces like drapes and couches are good places to start. Investing in some Febreze and air fresheners can help cover up any lingering smells. And, if all else fails, embrace the trick real estate agents have been using for years: Bake some cookies before a showing. That way you’re creating a sense memory for all the RIGHT reasons. 

Listen to your agent

Really, this is a repeat of everything above. If you’re working with an experienced, knowledgeable agent (And if you’re not, you should be!) and he or she tells you to lower your price, it’s because you need to lower your price. If he or she recommends you declutter your house, give it a good scrubbing, or air it out, it’s because you need to declutter your house, give it a good scrubbing, or air it out. Maybe all three.

SOURCE: Jaymi Naciri

Could Your Garage Get Your Home Sold?


You’ve made updates to your kitchen. Made sure your bathrooms look fresh and clean. Decluttered EVERYTHING. Even dropped your price. But your house still isn’t selling. Could your garage make the difference?

It just might. 

“When prospective buyers visit your for-sale home, they’re going to inspect every room in the house—even the garage,” said Sara Reese of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Beach Properties of Florida on RISMedia. “It’s not exactly a glamorous space, but if your garage is a mess, it’s going to send a bad signal and turn off visitors. Therefore, it’s helpful to spend a little time in your garage and make it look its best.”

Here are a few tips to get your garage in great shape.

Replacing your garage door

If your garage door works perfectly fine, replacing it may not be a high priority. But consider it curb appeal. Garage doors are large items, and they take up a lot of eye space. Especially if your garage faces the street, a dented, chipped, or dingy door could be stealing focus from the rest of your otherwise-put-together house. 

“Remodeling Magazine found in its 2019 Cost vs. Value study that an upscale garage door replacement can actually net you a return of 97.5%,” said HomeLight. “A new garage door will run you between $300 to $1,500, depending upon the size and style, while installation typically costs between $500 and $800.”

If the garage makes a loud or creaky sound when it opens, spending a few hundred dollars to replace the garage door opener is a no-brainer.

Finishing out the garage

Finishing out your garage isn’t recommended if you’re looking for the best return on investment (ROI). While this type of upgrade may appeal to a niche buyer, most aren’t going to pay extra for it, and you likely won’t recoup your costs. 

Just adding epoxy to the floor can cost between $1,400 and $3,000. You could do it yourself for about $100, but the process can be tricky and the results may reflect your novice status. 

If you don’t want to go to the trouble and expense of epoxying the floors, make sure you get them nice and clean. “If your garage floors are cracked and covered in oil stains from cars gone by, it’s a good idea to give the floor a good pressure washing and repair those cracks (depending on how big or noticeable they are),” said Nexx. According to Homewise, power washing the garage floor will cost around $200. 

Adding storage

After giving the garage a good cleaning, this is the No. 1 must-do to get the space in good shape. According to Kiplinger, 85% of buyers said they want garage storage. 

You can easily spend thousands on dedicated garage storage systems that make the space look pristine, but creating spaces to neatly stash your stuff doesn’t have to be costly. A few large metal shelving units placed side by side will only cost you a few hundred dollars. These freestanding units are popular with buyers because the doors hide messes. And, when you put a few of them together, you can turn the top into a work surface.

Adding a garage

If you don’t have a garage and you’re in an area where most homes do, adding one might be on your mind. Your real estate agent should be able to advise you on whether or not this is a smart move, especially given the expense and expected ROI. “At a national level, home sellers can expect to recover close to 64.8% of their initial garage addition costs,” said Clever. “Let’s say that you invest $27,000 in adding a garage to your home, you may recover about $17,496 when you sell your home.”

Doing a garage conversion

Perhaps you’re thinking of converting your garage to living space. It is less expensive than adding on; According to, a garage renovation “comes in at $11,000 on average.”

While conversion isn’t necessarily a recommended strategy if you’re looking to get your home sold right away because of the expense and the time involved, there are some instances where this might be a good move. 

“Nearly 30% of shoppers rate a garage as one of the most important home features, just ahead of an updated kitchen and open floor plan. But “a ‘well-done’ garage conversion to living space can give you up to an 80% ROI.” 

The decision of whether to go this route largely hinges on that expense, but also on the specific area in which your home is located. It’s best to talk with your real estate agent before dropping the hammer on your garage conversion. It could be that homes without a garage in your area just don’t sell. Or, perhaps there is a growing trend toward multi-generational living locally that could inform your renovation and make your home especially desirable. 


Buying a Home With Bad Credit: Can You Do It? Should You?


Only people with the very best credit will qualify to buy a home. Wait—that’s old-school thinking. Today, plenty of people buy homes with scores that are not in the good range (700 or up).

But, poor credit is still one of the top reasons people fail to buy a home—or even try—because they simply assume they won’t qualify. Knowing the ins and out of credit requirements, and a few tricks for improving your credit, could possibly mean the difference between staying in a rental and owning a home of your own. 

What score is required?

This varies depending on the lender and the type of loan, but 580 is today’s magic number. That’s the minimum credit score that is typically required for an FHA loan, although scores can go as low as 500 with a higher down payment. 

How does your score affect your mortgage rate?

In general, the lower the score, the higher the rate. “A low credit score can make it less likely that you would qualify for the most affordable rates and could even lead to rejection of your mortgage application,” Bruce McClary, spokesman for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, told BankRate. “It’s still possible to be approved with a low credit score, but you may have to add a co-signer or reduce the overall amount you plan to borrow.”

Are there easy ways to raise your credit?

The first thing you want to do once you see your credit report is check for errors. A collection account that was paid off long ago or that’s not even yours could be dragging your score down. “You might have errors on your credit report. If so, they could potentially hurt your credit score,” said Norton LifeLock. “You can get a free copy credit of your credit report every 12 months from each credit reporting company. How? Go to You want to make sure your information is accurate and up to date.” 

Experian Boost is a newer service that allows you to raise your FICO score by getting “credit” for making timely phone and utility payments. According to Experian, the average user raised their score by 13 points, which could be enough to get you over the hump.

Should you spend some time working on your credit before you buy a home?

This is a personal choice. If you can get your score up quickly over a couple of months and the difference will help you qualify, then yes. Your lender should be able to review your credit report and tell you where to concentrate for the biggest and quickest improvement. Then again, if raising your score a few points won’t make a big difference in your rate and you’re ready to roll, you might not have much incentive to wait. 

Keep in mind that the savings over time with a lower rate can be huge. “Even a half-point in interest can make a big difference in your monthly mortgage payment and how much you pay over the life of the loan,” said BankRate. “For example, the difference between a 3.5 percent rate and a 4 percent rate on a $200,000 mortgage is $56 per month. That’s a difference of $20,427 over a 30-year mortgage term.”

What is the best loan for low credit scores?

The aforementioned FHA loan is often the choice of buyers with low credit scores and/or minimal down payment funds. Their criteria is among the most lenient, but you will pay for that leniency. 

“You may be able to qualify for an FHA loan with a minimum credit score of 580 and a 3.5% down payment,” said Business Insider. “However, not all lenders will approve you, as some have higher credit score requirements. Taking out an FHA loan does mean that you'll need to pay mortgage insurance, also known as a mortgage insurance premium, throughout the lifetime of your mortgage. Currently, the mortgage insurance premium on an FHA loan is 1.75% upfront, then 0.7 to 0.85% annually.” 


Real Estate Market Predictions for 2020


If it’s the beginning of a new year, it must be time for the soothsayers to come out. When it comes to predictions for the real estate market, well, there are a lot of them. We’ve taken the temperature of the experts to get a feel for what we can expect in 2020. 

Grain of salt warning: There was widespread agreement in 2018 about rising mortgage rates in 2019, that, initially proved true. But, ultimately rates went down—and stayed there. Experts can make educated guesses based on a wide range of economic factors, but with an impeachment hearing in the Senate pending and what is likely going to be a bonkers presidential election, anything could happen. That being said, there are some predictions we feel pretty good about—and some you’ll definitely want to pay attention to if you’re planning to buy or sell a home in the new year.

Mortgage rates will stay low.

In fact, some experts think they’ll drop even further. “According to Odeta Kushi, deputy chief economist at title insurance and settlement services provider First American, there’s ‘emerging consensus that rates will remain low next year—likely somewhere between 3.7% and 3.9%,” said Forbes. “Forecasts from Freddie Mac and the Mortgage Bankers Association back this up, both predicting 2020 rates within this range. Fannie Mae actually predicts rates will clock in even lower, vacillating between 3.5% and 3.6% throughout the year.” 

Added MarketWatch: “The vast majority of housing economists project that mortgage rates will remain below 4% in 2020.”

Single-family home starts will rise.

According to Fannie Mae’s Economic and Strategic Research Group, new home starts will jump from a 1% increase in 2019 to 10% in 2020, and top 1 million new homes the following year. This represents a boost from earlier forecasts. 

“Strong reads on the economy have researchers at mortgage giant Fannie Mae revising their 2020 housing forecast much higher,” said CNBC. Fannie Mae’s Economic and Strategic Research Group predicts builders will expand production more than previously expected, due to a strong labor market and robust consumer spending. Low mortgage rates will also help.”

Millennials will continue to buy homes.

High prices and limited inventory continue to be a barrier to homeownership for many, but millennials have made their mark on the market after many years on the sidelines. In September 2019, millennials accounted for 46% of all mortgage originations—a 43% rise from a year ago. This group is expected to dominate the market again next year. expects millennials to make more than 50% of all home purchases in 2020.

Those millennials will be heading for the suburbs.

“As home prices skyrocket, cash-strapped Millennials are looking toward more affordable places to put down roots—namely smaller, suburban towns on the outskirts of major metros,” said Forbes. “The trend has led to an uptick in ‘Hipsturbia’ communities—live-work-play neighborhoods that blend the safety and affordability of the suburbs with the transit, walkability and 24-hour amenities of big cities. The Urban Land Institute recently named Histurbia as one of its top real estate trends to watch in 2020.”

Millennials and baby boomers will both buy new. 

Millennials and baby boomers alike are pushing new home sales, and the trend is expected to continue. Beyond the desire for something brand new and low-maintenance, a lack of inventory in the resale market is also a factor. “The shortage of existing homes for sale has pushed more potential buyers to the new-build market,” said CNBC. “Mortgage applications to purchase a newly built home were up 27% annually in November, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association. Homebuilder sentiment jumped to the highest level in 20 years in December, according to the National Association of Home Builders.”

Prices will keep on rising.

Home prices will continue heading up, but here the experts disagree about how much. predicts a 0.8% nationwide rise—and a decline in some neighborhoods, including Chicago, Dallas, Las Vegas, Miami, and San Francisco. CoreLogic sees home prices rising by 5.6% by next September—eclipsing this year’s 3.5% rise. 

Inventory will be tight.

Of course, this is nothing new. But data shows that today’s homeowners are staying in their homes longer—five years longer than in 2010, when the average was eight years. This is largely due to Baby Boomers opting to remain in their existing home instead of downsizing, thus creating a logjam in the market. Experts expect the housing shortage to last beyond 2020 unless new home construction can up its pace well beyond what is forecasted.


Trend Alert: Jewel-Box Homes


The saying goes, “Everything’s bigger in Texas.” But that’s not necessarily true at Cimarron Hills. This private golf and country club community in the Hill Country north of Austin is known for its expansive homes and lots, plus its 18-hole Jack Nicklaus Signature Golf Course. But, one builder, Texas-based Sitterle Homes, is “testing smaller luxury homes in the range of 2,034 to 2,564 square feet,” said REALTOR Magazine. “Sitterle Homes has sold about 40 such garden homes in the town's Cimarron Hills…over the last five years. Prices range from $460,000 to $825,000.

It’s part of a growing trend toward smaller, highly amenitized residences dubbed “jewel-box homes.” It’s not an entirely new trend—The Seattle Times was talking about jewel-box homes a decade ago, noting that buyers were gladly trading excessive or unnecessary square footage for “better details in smaller spaces.” 

But it is a change from the “larger is better” mentality we’re all so familiar with. “Style, sophistication, and luxurious amenities aren’t reserved for just the largest homes,” said Family Home Plans. “Many of today’s homebuyers who are moving down from grand-sized luxury residences are choosing to build ‘Jewel Box’ homes—smaller, sophisticated homes that showcase the accouterments of much larger designs. Exquisite detailing, quality materials, and architectural artistry make these compact homes undeniably impressive in spite of their size.”

Today’s jewel-box homes have become a “hot trend in the luxury sector,” said REALTOR Magazine. They report that “The number of new luxury homes of 3,000 square feet or less has jumped nearly 20% since 2013. That has corresponded to a decrease in large, high-priced homes, according to data from Home Innovation Research Labs, a subsidiary of the National Association of Home Builders.”

On Sitterle’s website, you can click on different upscale features right on the floorplan, adding things like a gourmet kitchen, which builds in amenities like a 36-inch cooktop with chimney hood and a double oven; a built-in china cabinet; a spa bath; an outdoor fireplace; and an outdoor kitchen, which reconfigures the bath/shower. This goes beyond what is typically offered in options and upgrades by builders in today’s new-home communities. 

“Empty-nesters want to downsize, but they want luxury homes, not starter homes—luxury kitchens, marble surfaces, all the latest and greatest,” Tim Costello, CEO of Builder Homesite, told The Wall Street Journal.


3 Renovations That Will Help Get Your Home Sold


When it’s time to sell your house, you want to do it as quickly as possible and for the most money, right? Of course, you do. Nobody wants their house to sit on the market and they certainly don’t want to leave money on the table.

You might not want to think about making renovations to your house because you’re spending money on a place you’re no longer going to live, which means you won’t even be able to enjoy the renovations! But here’s why you should re-think that: Smart renovations can actually help get your home sold quickly and for a higher sales price. Here are three to concentrate on.

Quartz countertops 

Quartz became the preferred choice in countertops several years ago and Elle Decor may have dealt granite the final death knell by putting it on their design trends that are “out” list for 2020. “Granite countertops are a thing of the past, Lonni Paul of Lonni Paul Design told them. “Quartz is a great alternative to granite or marble because of its durability and ease of maintenance. The new styles of quartz often mimic marble so well that for some it's hard to distinguish one from the other.”

Putting a couple of thousand dollars into your countertops to get rid of granite or, even worse, laminate, can be a great investment that gets your home noticed. You may not recoup 100% of your dollars, but it may be well worth it to get your home sold without dropping your price.

“If the countertops look dated, are stained or are in poor general condition, they can be a deterrent to selling your home,” said Countertop Guides. “Anytime a potential buyer walking through your home sees an expensive item that needs to be fixed or replaced, they make a mental note of it. If those negative marks add up too high, your home won’t be considered a good choice for them. If your countertops are ugly or in bad shape, you might not get all your money back in resale value, but they may make your home more acceptable to more buyers, and that is worth a lot.”

The master shower

A cave-like shower or one with chipped or dingy tile or a corroded door isn’t going to attract buyers. In fact, the idea that buyers will have to remodel this critical element could be such a turnoff that they might just turn around and leave. 

Cabinets can be repainted and lighting easily swapped out, but the shower is a bigger undertaking and one that can cost big dollars, depending on what you’re looking to do. Knowing you likely won’t make all your money back could also give you pause, but, your shiny new shower could get your home sold. 

“Quite simply, bathroom remodels won’t necessarily recoup at resale everything you spent to update it, but they are one of the higher return projects you can do,” said HomeLight. “Anecdotally, a brand new bathroom also helps inspire offers on your house, and small, inexpensive updates to this space could help you fetch 2-3% more for your house."


Bright red walls, dirty white walls, deep purple walls. What do they have in common? They could all cost you a sale.

“Painting your home before putting it up for sale can be critical to selling it faster and for a better price, says Dan DiClerico, a smart home expert for HomeAdvisor, a home improvement platform, in New York City,” according to USA Today. “While it varies a lot, we estimate that fresh paint adds 1% to 3% to a home’s final sale price,” he says. “On a $300,000 home, that means you could be getting $3,000 to as much as $9,000 more.”

You don’t have to paint every inch of the place, inside and out. Experts recommend focusing on “high-traffic and first-impression areas such as the kitchen, the bathrooms and the foyer.”

As for color—talk to your real estate agent to get recommendations. While most experts suggest neutral colors to appeal to the largest possible buyer pool, there may be specific areas that could benefit from something richer, darker, or more dramatic.


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