Monday, 30 January 2012

Kitchens Sell a House

by Carla Hill

It's a tool used by house flippers all across the nation. Stagers know its power. Real estate agents push its importance. What is this not-so-well-kept secret of real estate? A kitchen can sell a house.

A kitchen is the heart of a home. This is true all across the globe. The old saying that the "stomach is the way to the heart" carries a lot of truth. Kitchens are where we spend much of our time and most of that is with our families. It's the room where we nourish our bodies and our spirits.

Kitchens are integral to entertaining and in today's age of open floor plans, they're a focal piece of many family rooms. It's because of this that kitchens play such an important role in the buying and selling process.
This one room is the showpiece of the house. You'll see it every day and your guests will see it during most visits. This means buyers want homes with up-to-date kitchens.

Kitchens, however, can be one of the most expensive rooms to renovate. These projects can also be the most labor and time intensive of all home renovations. It's not just a new layer of paint.

Instead you find a complicated array of flooring, tiling, cabinets, and counters. This means buyers may want a home with an up-to-date kitchen but they aren't willing to tackle this problem themselves. Most buyers want a kitchen that is ready to use the day they move in.

What do buyers look for in up-to-date kitchens? A lot of this depends on what price range your home is in.  

The main thing to remember as a seller is to not price yourself out of your market. If homes in your neighborhood are selling for $100,000 with tidy, but not luxury kitchens, then this is no time to upgrade to granite, travertine, and marble at the price tag of $40,000+. You simply won't find a buyer.

Scope out the competition. Use open houses in your area or MLS listings to find out what your competitions' kitchens look like.

Do area homes have new solid wood cabinets and granite counters in today's designer colors? You'll be wise to consider making the same move. Are they including new stainless steel appliances and add-ons like dishwashers, wine-coolers, and trash compactors?

Are you in a higher-end neighborhood? It's time to think high-end. Your older home may have a highly functional kitchen, but a buyer will take one look at your formica counters and white appliances and become lost in the stress of how much money and time it would take to remodel. If you don't want to put in the time yourself to make upgrades then you'll have to make concessions in the price.
Don't become overwhelmed, though. Sometimes a kitchen update can mean doing just a few minor changes. Change the paint color to a warm, neutral tone. Get rid of any clutter. Update your appliances, paint your cabinets, change the pulls, or get a high-end looking counter for a fraction of the cost (faux-granite or lower end granite). You might even save a bundle by doing much of the work yourself.

The bottom line is a kitchen can sell a home. Do a little research and find out what your kitchen needs to make it competitive with area listings.

Published: January 24, 2012

Friday, 27 January 2012

Obama Administration expands foreclosure relief program

Foreclosure relief expanded
For sale signs are posted on a foreclosed house in Glendale. The Obama Administration announced Friday an expansion of its foreclosure relief program. (Kevork Djansezian/
Getty Images)

Struggling homeowners are set to get more help from the federal government as the Obama Administration extends its key foreclosure prevention plan for a year.

The administration will also add the number of people eligible for the program to include investors and will increase incentives for large banks to modify more troubled mortgages.

Originally set to expire in December 2012, the administration’s Home Affordable Modification Program will be extended for another year, government officials said Friday. The expansion is part of a renewed push by the Obama Administration to right the housing market as it enters its fifth year of malaise.

“We are still coming back from the worst financial recession since the Great Depression, in which the abuses in the housing sector were the most prominent and have left the deepest legacy,” National Economic Council Director Gene Sperling told reporters in a conference call. “It requires an all-out, all-of-the-above strategy.”

Officials would not say how many new borrowers the administration hoped to reach through the program expansion. The initiative was unveiled in 2009, with the goal of helping as many as 4 million borrowers receive modifications; it has helped only about 900,000 receive new mortgages to date.

The administration said it would expand the program by including a secondary evaluation for borrowers who might have hefty second mortgages or medical bills weighing down finances. It would also expand the program to include so-called income properties, where the people living in the homes are paying rent.

The plan would also triple the incentives for mortgage servicers participating in the program to do principal write-downs. It will also extend those incentives to loans owned or insured by mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which have been reticent to reduce mortgage principal given that they have received enormous bailouts from the American taxpayer.

Eric Schneiderman promises aggressive financial fraud probe
California describes $25-billion mortgage settlement as 'inadequate'
States are said to be considering a $25-billion settlement with big banks

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Turning foreclosures into rentals

@CNNMoney January 10, 2012: 11:36 AM ET foreclosures, rentals
The government wants to turn foreclosures into rentals.
NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- Federal officials hope to launch a pilot program in early 2012 to convert government-owned foreclosures into rental properties.

The program, which was cited by Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke last week as one way to address the housing crisis, would sell foreclosed homes now owned by Fannie Mae (FNMA, Fortune 500) and Freddie Mac (FMCC, Fortune 500) to investors in bulk. The properties would then be converted into rentals.

The initiative began back in August, when the Federal Housing Finance Agency, the Treasury Department and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development announced they were seeking suggestions on ways to dispose of repossessed homes now owned by Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and the Federal Housing Administration.

In addition to getting the properties off the government's books, officials are hoping putting the homes back into productive use will stabilize neighborhoods and housing values. Also, it is looking to expand the supply of rentals, which are increasingly in demand.

The agency is not releasing details on how the rental program would work, instead saying it is "proceeding prudently but with a sense of urgency to lay the groundwork for the development of good initial transactions in early 2012."

Administration officials said they are continuing to work with the agency to develop the program.

Housing, stocks, gold and oil: Hot or not in 2012?

Until now, most foreclosed homes have been sold individually because investors have demanded bigger discounts to buy large numbers of properties.

But federal officials are warily eyeing the expected surge in foreclosures as banks ramp up their action against delinquent homeowners. The process had been stalled since late 2010 when banks' shoddy paperwork practices came to light.

There are close to 2 million homes in the late stages of delinquency, according to Lender Processing Services. Since foreclosed properties often sell below market value, they can wreak havoc on home prices.

Converting these homes to rentals can both help the neighborhood and minimize losses to Fannie, Freddie and the FHA, which hold about 250,000 properties, Bernanke told lawmakers last week.

He urged lawmakers to ramp up their efforts to fix the housing market, placing particular emphasis on the problem of vacant homes on the market.

"Restoring the health of the housing market is a necessary part of a broader strategy for economic recovery," he said.

Bernanke's comments launched a full-court press by Federal Reserve officials last week to raise awareness of the continuing problems plaguing the housing market.

His proposals were quickly followed by Fed Governors Sarah Bloom Raskin, who spoke on ramping up enforcement of mortgage servicers, and Elizabeth Duke, who said Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac could do more to help heal the housing market.

Meanwhile, New York Fed President William Dudley gave a speech that touched on a wide range of housing policies -- including principal reduction and mortgage refinancing -- that he believes will boost the economy.
The Fed has already tried to boost real estate sales by pushing mortgage rates down to record lows through massive bond-buying programs.

But the renewed push for housing help indicates that the Fed, which has basically run out of monetary policy ammunition to revive the real estate market, is urging the federal government to ramp up its efforts.

"The Federal Reserve is signaling in even stronger terms the need for the government to do more to help housing," said Jaret Seiberg, a policy analyst with the Washington Research Group. To top of page

Monday, 16 January 2012

Foreclosure Starts Decline on West Coast

01/13/2012BY: KRISTA FRANKS Printer Friendly View

West coast states saw a decline in foreclosure starts in December, according to ForeclosureRadar. In fact four of the five states tracked by ForeclosureRadar’s monthly survey saw double-digit declines.
The exception was Oregon, where foreclosure starts rose by 5 percent.
Foreclosure sales in the West coast states were mixed but “down far less than we expected given lender announcements of holiday moratoriums,” ForeclosureRadar reported.
Foreclosure sales rose in California and Washington and fell in Oregon, Nevada, and Arizona.
Foreclosure timelines declined overall, which was “surprising,” according to California-based ForeclosureRadar.
The greatest drop in foreclosure timeline was seen in California, where the time to foreclose is now 250 days, a 16.9 percent drop from November.
After a 3.2 percent decline, Nevada’s 331 day foreclosure timeline was the greatest, while Washington’s 104-day timeline was the lowest. Washington also posted the lowest rate of change for the month – a 0.9 percent increase.
Arizona’s timeline also increased in December, rising to 145 days after a 2.1 percent increase.
With a 30.6 percent drop, California posted the greatest decline in foreclosure starts in December. Arizona followed with a 24.2 percent decline.
ForeclosureRadar reported a 45.8 percent rise in foreclosure cancellations in December, which it attributes to the closing of a trustee sale location in Norwalk.
Affecting foreclosures in Nevada, which declined 14 percent in December, is a new law requiring lenders to file an additional affidavit.
“Nevada’s new foreclosure rules appear on track to bring a near complete halt to foreclosures in that state.” stated Sean O’Toole, Founder and CEO of ForeclosureRadar.

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Housing looms as strong voting issue in presidential election

Although fixing the sagging economy is the biggest concern for potential voters, four national surveys undertaken by real estate organizations indicate that housing is also a major issue.

At no time in memory has housing been a major issue in a presidential election. Some years, the topic garners hardly more than a passing mention in the planks of either political party.

Right now, housing is not a front-and-center issue for President Obama or any of the Republican presidential hopefuls. But no fewer than four recent national surveys indicate that the issue is a top-of-mind topic among potential voters.

Granted, all four were undertaken by real estate organizations —, HouseLogic, Yahoo Real Estate and Trulia. But the unanimity of their findings underscores just how worried current and future owners are about their homes.

"We were very surprised just how passionate people are" about housing issues, said Julia Reynolds of Move Inc., which operates, the official website of the National Assn. of Realtors.

In the survey, housing was a particularly strong voting issue for "millennials," also known as the Internet Generation. Millennials were born after 1982, meaning that the oldest will be of prime home-buying age when November rolls around.

On a nearly 3-1 basis, these young voters told the pollsters that what the candidates had to say about housing will be either very or somewhat important to their voting decisions.

In the poll by HouseLogic, a consumer website also operated by the politically powerful Realtors group, housing came in a distant second to jobs as the issue that will have the greatest effect on respondents' votes in November. But housing ranked way above national security, healthcare, energy or the environment.

Just over half the participants in the Yahoo study want Uncle Sam to do more to help owners who are at risk of losing their homes. A little more than 1 in 4 said the federal government has gone as far as it should to help struggling owners. The rest had no opinion on the matter.

Like the HouseLogic survey, the Trulia poll found that fixing the sagging economy comes first in the minds of voters. But nearly 3 out of 4 respondents agreed that government policies and programs should encourage homeownership.

Asked about specific policies, respondents who identified themselves as Democrats or Republicans had a strong, bipartisan predilection toward helping people remain in their homes. Specifically, 78% think it should be easier for underwater borrowers to refinance, and 67% want policymakers to encourage lenders to reduce borrowers' mortgage balances in an effort to save their homes.

In the survey, 82% consider housing to be crucial to the national economic recovery. And they say helping homeowners avoid foreclosure should be a top priority during the next president's first 100 days in office.

At the same time, though, views vary widely about what the government's piece of the housing pie should be. About 20% want an increased role, 31% want it to remain the same, and 42% said its function should be curtailed.

Although millennials want government to prioritize housing and support its recovery, the survey showed that only 25% of that key demographic — and the next generation of home buyers — think an increased government presence is the answer.

With 10 months to go before ballots are cast, anything can happen to sway voters. But right now a majority on both sides of the aisle think housing could be President Obama's Achilles' heel come Nov. 6, according to the Trulia study.

Of those polled, 57% of Democrats and 73% of Republicans think that housing will hurt Obama's chances for reelection.
Distributed by Universal Uclick for United Feature Syndicate.

Friday, 6 January 2012

Aaroe Architectural 2012!

Aaroe Architectural’s Next Lecture: January 16th

You are invited to join Aaroe Architectural  for the January 16th 2012 presentation in our continuing educational series. Social raconteur & author Steven Price guides us through “Over the Top,” his dynamic new book profiling Trousdale Estates.  Known as a haven of “Mid Century Modern excess,” Architectural Digest called living there “the ultimate trophy of the nouveau riche good life.”  Often lampooned for its vulgar excess in films such as “The Party” and “Valley of The Dolls,” Trousdale Estates weaves A-list architecture (Cliff May, Paul Williams, Wallace Neff, Harold Levitt, Richard Dorman, A. Quincy Jones, Howard Baken, Marmol-Radziner & more) with celebrity stardust and scandal (think Frank Sinatra, Groucho Marx, Richard Nixon, Elvis Presley, Simon Cowell & Jennifer Aniston) like no other neighborhood in Los Angeles. Sit back and transport yourself to the 1950s & ‘60s and view the hottest homes at the coolest premier in 2012: Aaroe Architectural!

Speaker:  Steven Price
Where:  Pacific Design Center, Silver Screen Theater
Date:  Monday, January 16th
Time:  Doors open at 10:45. Presentation begins at 11:00, ends at 12:30.
Parking:  Mention John Aaroe Group and get a discounted rate of $10!

Space is limited.
Please email: by January 4th to reserve your seat.

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

from Marc and Angel Hack Life

30 Things to Start Doing for Yourself

30 Things to Start Doing for Yourself
Remember today, for it is the beginning.
Today marks the start of a brave new future.
Our previous article, 30 Things to Stop Doing to Yourself, was well received by most of our readers, but several of you suggested that we follow it up with a list of things to start doing.  In one reader’s words, “I would love to see you revisit each of these 30 principles, but instead of presenting us with a ‘to-don’t’ list, present us with a ‘to-do’ list that we all can start working on today, together.”  Some folks, such as readers Danny Head and Satori Agape, actually took it one step further and emailed us their own revised ‘to-do’ versions of the list.
So I sat down last night with our original article and the two reader’s revisions as a guide, and a couple hours later finalized a new list of 30 things; which ended up being, I think, a perfect complement to the original.
Here it is, a positive ‘to-do’ list for the upcoming year – 30 things to start doing for yourself:
  1. Start spending time with the right people. – These are the people you enjoy, who love and appreciate you, and who encourage you to improve in healthy and exciting ways.  They are the ones who make you feel more alive, and not only embrace who you are now, but also embrace and embody who you want to be, unconditionally.
  2. Start facing your problems head on. – It isn’t your problems that define you, but how you react to them and recover from them.  Problems will not disappear unless you take action.  Do what you can, when you can, and acknowledge what you’ve done.  It’s all about taking baby steps in the right direction, inch by inch.  These inches count, they add up to yards and miles in the long run.
  3. Start being honest with yourself about everything. – Be honest about what’s right, as well as what needs to be changed.  Be honest about what you want to achieve and who you want to become.  Be honest with every aspect of your life, always.  Because you are the one person you can forever count on.  Search your soul, for the truth, so that you truly know who you are.  Once you do, you’ll have a better understanding of where you are now and how you got here, and you’ll be better equipped to identify where you want to go and how to get there.  Read The Road Less Traveled.
  4. Start making your own happiness a priority. – Your needs matter.  If you don’t value yourself, look out for yourself, and stick up for yourself, you’re sabotaging yourself.  Remember, it IS possible to take care of your own needs while simultaneously caring for those around you.  And once your needs are met, you will likely be far more capable of helping those who need you most.
  5. Start being yourself, genuinely and proudly. – Trying to be anyone else is a waste of the person you are.  Be yourself.  Embrace that individual inside you that has ideas, strengths and beauty like no one else.  Be the person you know yourself to be – the best version of you – on your terms.  Above all, be true to YOU, and if you cannot put your heart in it, take yourself out of it.
  6. Start noticing and living in the present. – Right now is a miracle.  Right now is the only moment guaranteed to you.  Right now is life.  So stop thinking about how great things will be in the future.  Stop dwelling on what did or didn’t happen in the past.  Learn to be in the ‘here and now’ and experience life as it’s happening.  Appreciate the world for the beauty that it holds, right now.
  7. Start valuing the lessons your mistakes teach you. – Mistakes are okay; they’re the stepping stones of progress.  If you’re not failing from time to time, you’re not trying hard enough and you’re not learning.  Take risks, stumble, fall, and then get up and try again.  Appreciate that you are pushing yourself, learning, growing and improving.  Significant achievements are almost invariably realized at the end of a long road of failures.  One of the ‘mistakes’ you fear might just be the link to your greatest achievement yet.
  8. Start being more polite to yourself. – If you had a friend who spoke to you in the same way that you sometimes speak to yourself, how long would you allow that person to be your friend?  The way you treat yourself sets the standard for others.  You must love who you are or no one else will.
  9. Start enjoying the things you already have. – The problem with many of us is that we think we’ll be happy when we reach a certain level in life – a level we see others operating at – your boss with her corner office, that friend of a friend who owns a mansion on the beach, etc.  Unfortunately, it takes awhile before you get there, and when you get there you’ll likely have a new destination in mind.  You’ll end up spending your whole life working toward something new without ever stopping to enjoy the things you have now.  So take a quiet moment every morning when you first awake to appreciate where you are and what you already have.
  10. Start creating your own happiness. – If you are waiting for someone else to make you happy, you’re missing out.  Smile because you can.  Choose happiness.  Be the change you want to see in the world.  Be happy with who you are now, and let your positivity inspire your journey into tomorrow.  Happiness is often found when and where you decide to seek it.  If you look for happiness within the opportunities you have, you will eventually find it.  But if you constantly look for something else, unfortunately, you’ll find that too.  Read Stumbling on Happiness.
  11. Start giving your ideas and dreams a chance. – In life, it’s rarely about getting a chance; it’s about taking a chance.  You’ll never be 100% sure it will work, but you can always be 100% sure doing nothing won’t work.  Most of the time you just have to go for it!  And no matter how it turns out, it always ends up just the way it should be.  Either you succeed or you learn something.  Win-Win.
  12. Start believing that you’re ready for the next step. – You are ready!  Think about it.  You have everything you need right now to take the next small, realistic step forward.  So embrace the opportunities that come your way, and accept the challenges – they’re gifts that will help you to grow.
  13. Start entering new relationships for the right reasons. – Enter new relationships with dependable, honest people who reflect the person you are and the person you want to be.  Choose friends you are proud to know, people you admire, who show you love and respect – people who reciprocate your kindness and commitment.  And pay attention to what people do, because a person’s actions are much more important than their words or how others represent them.
  14. Start giving new people you meet a chance. – It sounds harsh, but you cannot keep every friend you’ve ever made.  People and priorities change.  As some relationships fade others will grow.  Appreciate the possibility of new relationships as you naturally let go of old ones that no longer work.  Trust your judgment.  Embrace new relationships, knowing that you are entering into unfamiliar territory.  Be ready to learn, be ready for a challenge, and be ready to meet someone that might just change your life forever.
  15. Start competing against an earlier version of yourself. – Be inspired by others, appreciate others, learn from others, but know that competing against them is a waste of time.  You are in competition with one person and one person only – yourself.  You are competing to be the best you can be.  Aim to break your own personal records.
  16. Start cheering for other people’s victories. – Start noticing what you like about others and tell them.  Having an appreciation for how amazing the people around you are leads to good places – productive, fulfilling, peaceful places.  So be happy for those who are making progress.  Cheer for their victories.  Be thankful for their blessings, openly.  What goes around comes around, and sooner or later the people you’re cheering for will start cheering for you.
  17. Start looking for the silver lining in tough situations. – When things are hard, and you feel down, take a few deep breaths and look for the silver lining – the small glimmers of hope.  Remind yourself that you can and will grow stronger from these hard times.  And remain conscious of your blessings and victories – all the things in your life that are right.  Focus on what you have, not on what you haven’t.
  18. Start forgiving yourself and others. – We’ve all been hurt by our own decisions and by others.  And while the pain of these experiences is normal, sometimes it lingers for too long.  We relive the pain over and over and have a hard time letting go.  Forgiveness is the remedy.  It doesn’t mean you’re erasing the past, or forgetting what happened.  It means you’re letting go of the resentment and pain, and instead choosing to learn from the incident and move on with your life.
  19. Start helping those around you. – Care about people.  Guide them if you know a better way.  The more you help others, the more they will want to help you.  Love and kindness begets love and kindness.  And so on and so forth.
  20. Start listening to your own inner voice. – If it helps, discuss your ideas with those closest to you, but give yourself enough room to follow your own intuition.  Be true to yourself.  Say what you need to say.  Do what you know in your heart is right.
  21. Start being attentive to your stress level and take short breaks.– Slow down.  Breathe.  Give yourself permission to pause, regroup and move forward with clarity and purpose.  When you’re at your busiest, a brief recess can rejuvenate your mind and increase your productivity.  These short breaks will help you regain your sanity and reflect on your recent actions so you can be sure they’re in line with your goals.
  22. Start noticing the beauty of small moments. – Instead of waiting for the big things to happen – marriage, kids, big promotion, winning the lottery – find happiness in the small things that happen every day.  Little things like having a quiet cup of coffee in the early morning, or the delicious taste and smell of a homemade meal, or the pleasure of sharing something you enjoy with someone else, or holding hands with your partner.  Noticing these small pleasures on a daily basis makes a big difference in the quality of your life.
  23. Start accepting things when they are less than perfect. – Remember, ‘perfect’ is the enemy of ‘good.’  One of the biggest challenges for people who want to improve themselves and improve the world is learning to accept things as they are.  Sometimes it’s better to accept and appreciate the world as it is, and people as they are, rather than to trying to make everything and everyone conform to an impossible ideal.  No, you shouldn’t accept a life of mediocrity, but learn to love and value things when they are less than perfect.
  24. Start working toward your goals every single day. – Remember, the journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.  Whatever it is you dream about, start taking small, logical steps every day to make it happen.  Get out there and DO something!  The harder you work the luckier you will become.  While many of us decide at some point during the course of our lives that we want to answer our calling, only an astute few of us actually work on it.  By ‘working on it,’ I mean consistently devoting oneself to the end result.  Read The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.
  25. Start being more open about how you feel. – If you’re hurting, give yourself the necessary space and time to hurt, but be open about it.  Talk to those closest to you.  Tell them the truth about how you feel.  Let them listen.  The simple act of getting things off your chest and into the open is your first step toward feeling good again.
  26. Start taking full accountability for your own life. – Own your choices and mistakes, and be willing to take the necessary steps to improve upon them.  Either you take accountability for your life or someone else will.  And when they do, you’ll become a slave to their ideas and dreams instead of a pioneer of your own.  You are the only one who can directly control the outcome of your life.  And no, it won’t always be easy.  Every person has a stack of obstacles in front of them.  But you must take accountability for your situation and overcome these obstacles.  Choosing not to is choosing a lifetime of mere existence.
  27. Start actively nurturing your most important relationships. – Bring real, honest joy into your life and the lives of those you love by simply telling them how much they mean to you on a regular basis.  You can’t be everything to everyone, but you can be everything to a few people.  Decide who these people are in your life and treat them like royalty.  Remember, you don’t need a certain number of friends, just a number of friends you can be certain of.
  28. Start concentrating on the things you can control. – You can’t change everything, but you can always change something.  Wasting your time, talent and emotional energy on things that are beyond your control is a recipe for frustration, misery and stagnation.  Invest your energy in the things you can control, and act on them now.
  29. Start focusing on the possibility of positive outcomes. – The mind must believe it CAN do something before it is capable of actually doing it.  The way to overcome negative thoughts and destructive emotions is to develop opposing, positive emotions that are stronger and more powerful.  Listen to your self-talk and replace negative thoughts with positive ones.  Regardless of how a situation seems, focus on what you DO WANT to happen, and then take the next positive step forward.  No, you can’t control everything that happens to you, but you can control how you react to things.  Everyone’s life has positive and negative aspects – whether or not you’re happy and successful in the long run depends greatly on which aspects you focus on.  Read The How of Happiness.
  30. Start noticing how wealthy you are right now. – Henry David Thoreau once said, “Wealth is the ability to fully experience life.”  Even when times are tough, it’s always important to keep things in perspective.  You didn’t go to sleep hungry last night.  You didn’t go to sleep outside.  You had a choice of what clothes to wear this morning.  You hardly broke a sweat today.  You didn’t spend a minute in fear.  You have access to clean drinking water.  You have access to medical care.  You have access to the Internet.  You can read.  Some might say you are incredibly wealthy, so remember to be grateful for all the things you do have.
Marc and Angel RSS Feed

Refinancing Gets Even More Attractive--from Wall St Journal

Refinancing Gets Even More Attractive

Homeowners who have resisted the urge to refinance their mortgages until now could be rewarded for their willpower. Mortgage rates have fallen to new lows—and banks are rolling out incentives to win business.
Economic uncertainty in Europe and slow growth in the U.S. are prompting investors to pile into ultrasafe U.S. Treasurys. That, in turn, is pushing down mortgage rates, which are tied to Treasurys.
The average interest rate on a 30-year mortgage fell to 4.05% for the week ended Dec. 23, the lowest in 60 years, according to HSH Associates, a mortgage-data firm. And rates on jumbo mortgages—private loans that in most parts of the country are larger than $417,000—also have hit new lows, averaging 4.61%.
Associated Press
Despite the incentives, many would-be applicants remain sidelined because they can't meet the long list of qualifications.
"It's hard to argue rates will get much lower than they are today," says Stuart Gabriel, director of the Ziman Center for Real Estate at the University of California, Los Angeles.
That's good news for homeowners. A person who refinanced a $400,000 30-year mortgage in February would pay an interest rate of 5.04% on average, according to HSH Associates, and fork over $2,157 a month; at the current rate of 4.05%, he'd save $236 per month, or $2,830 per year.
What's more, demand for refinancing is declining, since many homeowners already took advantage of lower mortgage rates. Applications for refinancing are 17% below this year's peak in September, according to the latest data from the Mortgage Bankers Association.
That and other factors have prompted some lenders to offer incentives to win new business—particularly regional and community banks, which are focusing more on jumbo mortgages, says Stu Feldstein, president at SMR Research, which tracks the mortgage market.
The discounts can be sizable. Regional bank Valley National Bank charges homeowners in New Jersey and eastern Pennsylvania a flat fee of $499 for closing costs on mortgages as large as $1 million. Since average closing costs on a refinance run about 2% of the total loan amount, a person with an $800,000 mortgage could save about $15,500.
A spokesman for the bank says it is aggressively marketing the discount in part to bring in more customers.
While many lenders don't refinance mortgages that are larger than about $2 million, Union Bank—which has branches in California, Oregon and Washington—refinances up to $4 million at no extra cost. (Many banks that refinance multimillion-dollar mortgages tack up to an extra quarter of a percentage point on the interest rate.)
Since November, Union Bank has also allowed borrowers to roll the costs of a refinance, like the appraisal fee and loan processing fee, into the mortgage. And borrowers whose original mortgage is from Union Bank don't have to provide all of the income documentation that other customers do in order to refinance.
In part, the bank's goal is to develop relationships with high-net-worth clients, says Stuart Bernstein, national production manager of residential lending at Union Bank.
Despite the incentives, many would-be applicants remain sidelined because they can't meet the long list of qualifications.
The home-equity requirement is one of the toughest hurdles, says Mr. Feldstein. Homeowners with at least 10% home equity make the cut, but people with less have a tougher time.
Borrowers with 10% to 19% equity in their home usually have to buy private mortgage insurance, whose cost varies based on many factors, including their credit score. A borrower with 15% equity and a FICO credit score above 720 could pay 0.44% of the total loan amount, says Keith Gumbinger, vice president at HSH Associates. On an $800,000 loan that would be $3,520 a year—eating into the potential savings of a refinance.
In December, the federal government rolled out a revamped version of the Home Affordable Refinance Program with relaxed home-equity requirements, to allow more borrowers to refinance. To qualify, the current mortgage must be owned or guaranteed by Freddie Mac or Fannie Mae, and borrowers need to be mostly current on payments.
[refi1230]Getty Images
For regular refinancing, applicants need a FICO credit score of at least 740 to get the best rates, says Mr. Gumbinger. And they must provide copious documentation, including at least two years' worth of tax returns and proof of income as well as recent statements for assets such as retirement and brokerage accounts.
After clearing those hurdles, you might wait about 60 days for refinancing to be completed, says Mr. Gumbinger—longer than the typical 45 days. While some lenders are offering 60-day rate locks for free, others charge a quarter of a percentage point of the total loan amount for the service. On an $800,000 mortgage, that's $2,000.
Or you could opt to take your chances with a free 45-day lock and hope rates don't spike between day 46 and the date your loan closes. With the euro zone still in economic crisis and global investors rushing to the safety of U.S. Treasurys, housing-market analysts say it could be at least six months before rates rise significantly.
Write to AnnaMaria Andriotis at