Moving Day Checklist

Moving home can be very exciting, but also very stressful at the same time. If you are methodical and organized you can make the transition much more easily and save time too.


Once you have completed closing, you can decide on a moving date. In this interim period, begin throwing away all that junk from the attic, shed and garage you haven’t seen for years. Go through your possessions and use the opportunity to discard or sell the items you never use. Clean cupboards and pack systematically as you sort.

Decide if you are going to undertake the move yourself with a rental truck and friends or use professional movers. Obtain quotes and book the truck or moving firm. Make sure the moving company is licensed and what level of insurance is available and who is going to be responsible for the packing, especially if you have any precious or valuable items.

Seal boxes as you pack, and then label them on the outside with marker pen. You can use a simple number system with each number corresponding to a number on a room plan which you can give to the movers on the day. Alternatively a more sophisticated plan is to construct a spreadsheet with a list of individual items, or types of items, to correspond to different numbers or symbols.

Make arrangements with the post office to have your mail forwarded to the new address.

Compile a list of all the people you will have to contact when you move house. In order that you can do this soon after moving without actually having to hunt out the paperwork, the list should include provider policy numbers and telephone numbers, so you can just check off the list as you speak or write to car insurers, banks, credit card companies etc.

Make arrangements for your children and pets to be looked after on the day- you won’t have time to give them any attention at all.

Find all the hidden keys to your home and outbuildings and give these to your real estate agent just before you move- you won’t have time on the day.

On the day

  • Pack some items in your car so you don’t have to wait for them or wonder where they are.
  • Keep aside coffee, soft drinks and snacks so you can motivate the movers. If this is safe you can access it at the other end as soon as you get there.
  • If you pack a box of cleaning materials, you can clean up each room as the movers empty it and you will be ready to use it in the new house.
  • Also keep aside a few plates, knives and forks so you can eat your first carryout later on in your new house.
  • Have your bedding with you too so you can at least make up the beds.
  • Pack towels, personal toiletries and a change of clothes.

When you arrive

  • Take meter readings when you leave and also read the meters at the new house.
  • When you first arrive, quickly check everything works, then open the windows to air the property because a great deal of dust will be generated when you start unpacking.
  • Ideally you would clean the house thoroughly before moving in, but if this is not possible, do not unpack everything until you can clean the cupboards etc.


  • Change the locks as soon as possible because you don’t know if anyone still has access to the keys.
  • Organize new telephone and broadband services if you have not been able to do so in advance. In the meantime find out where free WiFi services are available.
  • Speak to neighbours and find out where the best GP and dentists are and register the family.
  • Find out where the local tip is and continue to declutter as you unpack.

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Posted by Gordon - October 8, 2012 at 8:49 AM

Categories: 1st Time Home Buyer, Home Buyers, Moving   Tags:

Best Refinance Options for Low Rates and Huge Savings

If you are a homeowner and haven’t refinanced your mortgage within the past 12 to 18 months, you are likely paying far more interest on your loan than you need to be paying.  Over the past year and a half, home loan interest rates have dropped significantly and are much lower than the options that were offered last year.  In addition to new low rates, the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) has introduced new mortgage refinance initiatives that are helping homeowners more easily refinance and save money very quickly.


The refinance program that works best for you and the amount of money that you can save on your mortgage depends on the type of mortgage that you currently have.  There are several different kinds of mortgages, and each one has specific refinance programs that it will qualify for.  Not all mortgages will qualify for all types of refinance programs.  Here we will discuss the two most popular kinds of loans and the refinance options that work for each one.


FHA and First-Time Homeowner Loans


If you are a first-time homeowner, meaning that the home you currently own is the first one you have ever purchased, you likely have an FHA loan.  These loans are great options for first-time buyers as they have low interest rates, low down payment requirements, and low or no upfront closing fees.  In addition, they do not require that the buyer purchase additional private mortgage insurance (PMI).


If you have an FHA loan, your mortgage is guaranteed by the government, and you can only refinance with FHA or government programs.  Luckily, the FHA has recently released the new FHA streamline Refinance program, which allows homeowners with an FHA loan to refinance quickly and affordably.  The new FHA refinance program requires no credit check, no employment verification, and no home appraisal.  The purpose of the streamline program is to refine the refinance process, making it happen quickly and very affordably.  The fees associated with this program have been reduced or eliminated, and can help homeowners save money within 30 days of applying.  If you have an FHA mortgage, the FHA streamline refinance is likely your best bet for lowering your interest rate and saving money.


VA Loans


If you are or have been a member of the United States Armed Forces, you likely used your veteran benefits to purchase your home with a VA loan.  If you qualify, VA loans are easily the best home buying option available.  They carry the lowest rates, best closing fees, and most convenient terms out of any mortgage available.  Only US veterans and members of the Armed Forces qualify for these loans, however, so if you have not served there is no way you can get a VA loan.


Similar to the FHA options, the those with VA loans can also apply for a VA streamline refinance and save money quickly with little or no money paid upfront on fees or application processing.  The streamline program requires little verification and does not require a home appraisal.  VA mortgage rates are the lowest available out of any mortgage option, and the refinance options are quick and affordable.  Current rates are extremely low and can potentially save you thousands on your mortgage depending on your current interest rate.


Start Saving Money Immediately


If you have either of these kinds of mortgages and haven’t yet refinanced your property, or have refinanced but it has been a while since you did, you may be able to save a significant amount of money on your mortgage with the right refinance.  Take some time to speak with a few different lenders and learn about their refinance options and see what rates they are currently offering.  It is important to shop around as different lenders charge different fees up front and offer slightly different mortgage rates.  Be sure you are getting the best deal and start saving today!



Jessica Markam is an associate at and writes about current mortgage industry news including refinances, new home loans, and other lending options.

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Posted by Gordon - July 31, 2012 at 9:20 PM

Categories: Home Buyers, Home Owner, Home Sellers, Mortgages, Refinance   Tags: , , , ,

Great News for Michigan Home Buyers

Great News for Home Buyers in Michigan.  Check out the recent changes in the law regarding the Principle Residence Exemption (formerly called the Homestead Exemption).  This law change will definately help buyers save money on property taxes and will help reduce cash required for closing because they will not have to build up as much in their escrow account to cover the higher tax rate any more.


The Michigan Association of REALTORS® is pleased to report the following recent major RPAC legislative accomplishments.

Principal Residence Exemption – On May 1st Governor Snyder signed legislation providing homebuyers a fair process when it comes to their property taxes.   Senate Bill 349 creates two Principal Residence Exemption (PRE) filing dates; one on June 1st, and the other on November 1st.  Additionally, this legislation allows bank-owned properties to retain their PRE so that buyers can qualify at the lower rate of taxation.  This is particularly important since foreclosures have flooded the market in recent years.


Statewide Taxation Reform - The legislature recently passed historic legislation containing much needed structural tax reforms, along with the elimination of the Michigan Business Tax (MBT) and its burdensome 22% surcharge. The passage of this legislation creates a positive business environment in this state to attract and retain jobs. In passing these tax reforms, Michigan will see increased economic growth and job creation. Our industry fully supports providing a structure to make Michigan a more competitive state for attracting and retaining jobs. With tax reforms in place, Michigan will once again be “open for business”. Prohibition of Private Transfer FeesPublic Act 34 and 35 of 2011  providing a pre-emptive strike on practices that have sprung up in other states where a private party collects a fee every time a property is sold in a development is now law. These fees are an excessive restraint on the transferability of property and also prey upon homebuyers. Non-Recourse Loan LegislationPublic Act 67 of 2012  sponsored by Senator Arlan Meekhof (R-Olive Township), creates the “Nonrecourse Mortgage Loan Act” to do the following:

  • Prohibit a post closing solvency covenant from being used as a non-recourse carve-out or as a basis for any claim against a borrower, guarantor, or other surety on a nonrecourse loan.
  • Specify that a noncompliant provision in loan documents would be invalid.
  • Specify that the Act would not prohibit a loan secured by a mortgage from being fully recourse to the borrower or guarantor, if the loan documents did not contain nonrecourse provisions.
  • Include statements of legislative recognition and intent.

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Posted by Gordon - July 24, 2012 at 3:37 PM

Categories: 1st Time Home Buyer, Cost Savings, Home Buyers, Home Owner, Home Sellers, Taxes   Tags: , , ,

Ten Tips Every Home Buyer Should Know and Understand

When people buy a home most tend to do some bit of research before actually getting serious about the process. However, there is quite a bit more in terms of buying tips home purchasers should be aware of but frequently are not. There were ten critical tips that were shared, by Dottie Herman and Eric Tyson, on the June 2nd broadcast of “Eye on Real Estate” radio show.  Herman, the CEO and President of Prudential Douglas Elliman, and Tyson and real estate mogul and best-selling author, discussed real estate topics for listeners near and far.


These tips include:


1.      Affordability – Buyers should before even beginning discussion what they can truly afford in a house and what they cannot. This rule is critical to avoid getting locked into a house that will end up costing too much and will eventually end up in a foreclosure down the road. The bank, mortgage broker, and real estate agents won’t always watch out for this. Many times the fees and initial interest pay off any loss risk they might have before the loan is sold off to another lender.


2.      Map Out Personal Circumstance – The same way a homebuyer determine affordability ahead of time, he should also understand every aspect of his personal circumstances. This includes all other liabilities, income, demands, expectations and future financial plans. All have an influence on buying a home.


3.      Comfort Level – Buying a home also needs to be as stress free as possible. A home buyer will not be in the right frame of mind to buy the right home for his needs if he’s worried about holding onto a job, expecting a child in a month or two, trying to close a major deal, or deal with a divorce. Life has many moments of stress and moments of calm. Buying a home should happen during periods of as much calm as possible.


4.      Avoid Salespeople – It never fails. A party goes into buy a home and gets hammered with ten to twenty different sales pitches before the home purchase is done. This can include insurance policies, pest contracts, warranties, alarm systems and even landscaping. Every opportunity to leverage another sale is attempted by home sellers and their affiliates.


5.      Hire a Good Financial Planner – This seems like an odd tip. Why does someone need a stock picker to a home purchase? It’s not quite that sort of situation. A financial planner provides a valuable service in looking a one’s financial activities from an outside perspective. A planner can point out where advantages or disadvantages exist, which can thousands of dollars in differences from taxes to real estate investment.


6.      Hire Top-Notch Real Estate Representation – Did you know buyers can have real estate agents as well as sellers? It’s true, and those agents get paid by the sale, not out-of-pocket, just like the seller’s agent. Having a good agent, mortgage analyst and home insurance company can make the difference in avoiding home-buying problems or being buried in them.


7.      Buy and Refinance? Hold On – Most refinancing costs $5,000 to $10,000 by the time a deal is done. So a homebuyer needs to ask himself, will the change in loan interest recover enough in two years to not only offset that cost but create a cost avoidance of the same amount? If the answer is no, then refinancing should be delayed until a better opportunity comes along.


8.      Look for Automation – An electronic, schedule mortgage payment keeps a homeowner on track with his home loan. Without that deadline automatically charging an account, a homeowner could be tempted to delay a payment one month a few days when times are tight. That becomes the start of problems.


9.      Still Save and Save Some More – A home purchase may seem to suck up any available money, either in a down payment or related expenses like moving, furniture, accessories and even room paint. However, putting back an emergency fund in one’s savings account as quickly as possible is critical.


10.    Mortgage Insurance – Skip It – Agents will push mortgage insurance as a necessary part of the home buying process as a safety net for a home loan. However, it’s not necessary. Instead, a good life insurance policy will truly help provide a financial safety net for a family if income is lost and a mortgage is in jeopardy.


There are also a few after-the-fact issues homeowners should be aware of as well, according to Dottie Herman and Eric Tyson. First, don’t take increases in property tax assessments lying down. Many county assessors change tax rates from behind a desk, never truly evaluating the value of a property versus its actual market worth. When an assessment goes up, an owner should fight it if it seems extreme. Holding onto purchase documents is a smart idea as well; it allows for a true documentation of what a home gained in value when sold later on. Finally, buyers need to purchase the home they truly want within their means. Buying something less will result in immediate dissatisfaction soon after. And given all the money involved in a typical purchase that would be a huge waste.

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Posted by Gordon - June 19, 2012 at 9:27 AM

Categories: 1st Time Home Buyer, Cost Savings, Home Buyers, Mortgages, Moving   Tags: , , ,

Simple Steps That Lower Your Moving Costs

You just bought a new house and want to make sure you get the most professional efficient cost effective relocation.  You can follow these simple steps to ensure this happens. 

First, educate yourself on what kind of move you have and how you are being charged for the process.  Different types of moves have different types of charges.

  • Local Move:  You are moving within a local area less than 60 miles.  These estimates are based on an hourly rate, depending on how many workers are needed and how much time it will take to pack, load and deliver your possessions.  This is called a time and material estimate. 
  • Out of State Move:  Your move is out of the state, estimates will be based on the distance of the move and the weight of your goods.  To provide you with an accurate estimate, your sales consultant will need about an hour of your time to walk through your home. He or she is viewing  and quantifying everything that will be relocated on your move. 

Other factors can influence the price of your move, including what optional services you select for your relocation.

  • Packing:  Are you going to pack all the loose items in boxes for transport? Or is this a service you would like the professionals to handle?
  • Specialty Items:  Do you have unique, heavy or delicate pieces, such as automobiles, pianos, large exercise equipment, or large appliances that may need special servicing and attention?

On a local move time is of the essence.  The faster the move gets done, the more money you will save.  The key is to have everything as ready as possible when your moving crew arrives.  Have all boxes taped, labeled and ready to go.  You don’t want to end up paying $100 or more an hour for movers to tape boxes.  You want your professional crew doing the things that make them the professionals; prepping and wrapping the important items, and handling your precious items with care. 

Labeling boxes is also very important.  I recommend labeling the boxes with a room location and a brief description of what is in the box.  This will save time at destination when items are going into the new home.  This avoids the headaches of opening the boxes to see the contents then deciding where it goes.  You will be too busy showing the movers where you would like the bigger pieces set and placed. 

Additionally, if you have everything prepped and ready there are a couple other time saving tips that can save you time and money.  You can disassemble tables, beds and anything else that needs to be disassembled to get out of the house.  You can also make items more easily assessable by eliminating stair carries and long walks.  Bringing some items from basement to main floor or garage will knock tons of time off your final bill.  If manual labor isn’t your thing and you don’t want to take the risk of getting injured you always have the option to just sit back and point and let the experts take care of everything, as they are on your clock and would be happy to assist you with anything.


Finally, if you are moving over 60 miles within the state or out of state your estimate will be based on distance and weight.  You really can’t control the distance of your relocation but you can control the final weight of your shipment.  Moving provides a great opportunity to sort and eliminate items and household goods no longer needed.  You can focus on eliminating heavy items in order to save costs on your move.  For example excess books, weight equipment, tools, and large appliances can sneak up on you very quickly towards the final weight of your move.  I am not saying to get rid of items you use on a daily basis and are necessities, but a good example would be if you have 20 boxes of old college texts books at 50 pounds a box totaling 1,000 pounds. This is 1,000 pounds of weight you may not want to pay to have moved.  Make sure you get things as organized as much as possible before the estimator arrives.  This will allow the consultant to quote the move as close as possible to the actual final shipping weight. 

It is my hope these small tips will help you understand what is needed to have your most cost effective relocation.  If you have any additional question, or would like a free in home estimate, please e-mail me at or call me at (734) 740-2072 to schedule an appointment.  I look forward to the opportunity to add you or your client to our growing list of satisfied customers. 


Chris Sabolik

Regional Manager

Morse Moving/agent for ALLIED van lines

Visit our website at

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Posted by Gordon - February 16, 2012 at 7:55 AM

Categories: 1st Time Home Buyer, Cost Savings, Home Buyers, Home Sellers, Moving   Tags: , , , ,

10 Common Errors Home Owners Make When Filing Taxes

Article From
By: G. M. Filisko
Published: January 05, 2012
Don’t rouse the IRS or pay more taxes than necessary — know the score on each home tax deduction and credit.

As you calculate your tax returns, consider each home tax deduction and credit you are – and are not – entitled to. Running afoul of any of these 10 home-related tax mistakes – which tax pros say are especially common – can cost you money or draw the IRS to your doorstep.

Sin #1: Deducting the wrong year for property taxes

You take a tax deduction for property taxes ( in the year you (or the holder of your escrow account) actually paid them. Some taxing authorities work a year behind – that is, you’re not billed for 2011 property taxes until 2012. But that’s irrelevant to the feds.

Enter on your federal forms whatever amount you actually paid in 2011, no matter what the date is on your tax bill. Dave Hampton, CPA, tax manager at the Cincinnati accounting firm of Burke & Schindler, has seen home owners confuse payments for different years and claim the incorrect amount.

Sin #2: Confusing escrow amount for actual taxes paid

If your lender escrows funds to pay your property taxes, don’t just deduct the amount escrowed, says Bob Meighan, CPA and vice president at TurboTax in San Diego. The regular amount you pay into your escrow account each month to cover property taxes is probably a little more or a little less than your property tax bill. Your lender will adjust the amount every year or so to realign the two.

For example, your tax bill might be $1,200, but your lender may have collected $1,100 or $1,300 in escrow over the year. Deduct only $1,200. Your lender will send you an official statement listing the actual taxes paid. Use that. Don’t just add up 12 months of escrow property tax payments.

Sin #3: Deducting points paid to refinance

Deduct points you paid your lender to secure your mortgage ( in full for the year you bought your home. However, when you refinance, says Meighan, you must deduct points over the life of your new loan. If you paid $2,000 in points to refinance into a 15-year mortgage, your tax deduction is $133 per year.

Sin #4: Failing to deduct private mortgage insurance

Lenders require home buyers with a down payment of less than 20% to purchase private mortgage insurance (PMI). Avoid the common mistake of forgetting to deduct your PMI payments ( However, note the deduction begins to phase out once your adjusted gross income reaches $100,000 and disappears entirely when your AGI surpasses $109,000. Also, unless Congress acts to extend the PMI deduction again, 2011 is the last tax year for which you can take this deduction.

Sin #5: Misjudging the home office tax deduction (

This deduction may not be as good as it seems. It’s complicated, often doesn’t amount to much of a deduction, has to be recaptured if you turn a profit when you sell your home, and can pique the IRS’s interest in your return. Hampton’s advice: Claim it only if it’s worth those drawbacks. If so, here’s what to know about what you can write off (

Sin #6: Missing the first-time home buyer tax credit

While the original home buyer tax credit deadline passed in April 2010 (and isn’t available in 2012), military families and some government workers on assignment outside the U.S. were given an extension until April 30, 2011 (,,id=215594,00.html), to get a home under contract and take advantage of up to $8,000 in tax credits for first-time buyers and $6,500 in credits for repeat buyers.

It applies to any individual (and, if married, the individual’s spouse) who serves on qualified official extended duty service outside of the United States for at least 90 days during the period beginning after Dec. 31, 2008, and ending before May 1, 2010.

Sin #7: Failing to track home-related expenses

If the IRS comes a-knockin’, don’t be scrambling to compile your records. Many people forget to track home office and home maintenance and repair expenses, says Meighan. File away documents as you go. For example, save each manufacturer’s certification statement for energy tax credits, insurance company statements for PMI, and lender or government statements to confirm property taxes paid.

Sin #8: Forgetting to keep track of capital gains

If you sold your main home last year, don’t forget to pay capital gains taxes on any profit. However, you can exclude $250,000 (or $500,000 if you’re a married couple) of any profits from taxes. So if you bought a home for $100,000 and sold it for $400,000, your capital gains are $300,000. If you’re single, you owe taxes on $50,000 of gains. However, there are minimum time limits for holding property to take advantage of the exclusions, and other details. Consult IRS Publication 523 (

 Sin #9: Filing incorrectly for energy tax credits

If you made any eligible improvement (, fill out Form 5695 ( Part I, which covers the 30%/$1,500 credit for such items as insulation and windows, is fairly straightforward. But Part II, which covers the 30%/no-limit items such as geothermal heat pumps, can be incredibly complex and involves crosschecking with half a dozen other IRS forms. Read the instructions carefully.

Sin #10: Claiming too much for the mortgage interest tax deduction

You can deduct mortgage interest ( only up to $1 million of mortgage debt, says Meighan. If you have $1.2 million in mortgage debt, for example, deduct only the mortgage interest attributable to the first $1 million.

This article provides general information about tax laws and consequences, but shouldn’t be relied upon by readers as tax or legal advice applicable to particular transactions or circumstances. Consult a tax professional for such advice; tax laws may vary by jurisdiction.

Visit for more articles like this. Reprinted from HouseLogic with permission of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®
Copyright 2012.  All rights reserved.


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Posted by Gordon - February 11, 2012 at 4:22 PM

Categories: 1st Time Home Buyer, Energy Savings, Home Buyers, Home Owner, Mortgages, Refinance, Short Sales, Taxes   Tags: , , ,

Energy Efficiency: Pick Upgrades that (Actually) Drive Down Costs

Energy Efficiency: Pick Upgrades that (Actually) Drive Down Costs
By: Lisa Kaplan Gordon
Published: November 3, 2011

A new study says home owners won’t see their utility bills drop until they’ve conducted four or more energy upgrades. Here are projects that will give you the greatest bang for your energy buck.

I’ve long suspected that saving energy is like saving calories: Small measures add up, until a Thanksgiving pecan pie — or a dazzling holiday light display — wrecks a year’s worth of small though consistent efforts.

Evidently I’m right, according to a new study claiming that doing a couple of small, energy-saving measures actually increase utility bills. And that a home owner must perform at least four energy upgrades before their utility bill drops.

The 450-page study, conducted by the eco-curious Shelton Group, found that energy-efficient home owners think they should replace water heaters and install a higher-efficiency HVAC system, though they actually replace windows and add insulation.

We think they’re half right: Adding insulation, especially in the attic, is a low-cost way to reduce utility bills. But replacing windows requires a huge upfront cost, which you probably won’t live long enough to earn back.

To see net-net savings — in your lifetime — select upgrades that reduce energy consumption by 5% and require modest initial investments. We suggest:
Seal and insulate ductwork through unfinished and unheated areas, such as the attic, garage, and crawl spaces.
Install a programmable thermostat so you don’t overheat your house when you’re away or asleep.
Seal air leaks around windows, doors, attic access, and recessed lights.

How many energy-efficient improvements did you make last year? Did you see a drop or increase in your utility bills?

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Posted by Gordon - January 24, 2012 at 2:53 PM

Categories: Energy Savings, Home Buyers, Home Owner, Home Sellers, New Construction, Safety, Security, Uncategorized   Tags: , , ,

2012 The Year of New Construction

The market has definitely changed

After the last five or six years of very little to no new construction homes 2012 is set to be the year that new construction starts up again.  Since there were virtually no new homes built over the last few years there is some pent up demand for new homes.  Most of the homes on the market have been distressed in some way either foreclosed or short sale with deferred maintenance.  In the areas that I work (about a 25 mile radius around Canton) whenever a home priced properly and in good shape hits the market there are instantly many showings and in many cases multiple offers.  There is definitely demand for homes in move in condition. 

There are a couple of savvy local builders that have continued to build homes the last few years because they have adapted their business plan to the market conditions.  The entry level new construction homes priced from $160k to $250k up have been moving very quickly.  The homes that I have walked through have been very well built but typically don’t have a lot of the details that homes were built with five or six years ago.

There are many advantages for buyers to look toward new construction rather than existing homes.  The obvious is that there is a builder warranty and everything is new.  So with a new home you don’t have to be worried about replacing a roof or furnace.  New construction homes are also a clean slate so a buyer can move in and not have to worry about removing traces of a previous owner.  Another huge issue that has been prevalent in existing home sales is the appraisal.  Appraisals are typically not in issue with new homes.

Builders that have been on the sidelines for the last five years are testing the market and building one or two homes to get back into the marketplace.  I firmly believe that this trend will continue and will ramp up significantly as we get closer to the summer months.  Communities like Canton, Northville, Novi and Commerce are already seeing a lot of builder activity.

If you are interested in seeing new home constructions that are currently available check out the New Construction tab at  This site will give you links to available new construction homes available in various communities.  When you are ready to start shopping for a new construction home be sure to have a Realtor with the Accredited Buyers Representative (ABR) professional designation working for you.  The ABR will help you look at the purchase objectively and help with details such as site selection, options/upgrade selection, new construction financing and negotiating with the builder.

So let’s see if 2012 really shapes up to be the year of New Construction.  I welcome you to leave your thoughts and comments on this subject.  Have you been looking at homes?  I would love to hear your thoughts on this article and also on the market conditions for new construction in Michigan.

Gordon Johnson

Realtor, ABR, SRES

Coldwell Banker Preferred, Realtors

44644 Ann Arbor Road

Plymouth, MI 48170

(734) 658-3662


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Posted by Gordon - January 3, 2012 at 4:49 PM

Categories: 1st Time Home Buyer, Appraisal, Home Buyers, New Construction   Tags: , , , ,

Curb Appeal

You only get one chance to make a first impression

Creating good curb appeal has never been more important than in the current real estate market.  Buyers have many choices since there are many homes on the market and sellers are competing with bargain foreclosures and bank owned properties.  Here are a few tips to help you spruce up the curb appeal of your house and make it stand out from the competition.

View from the Street – Make sure the grass is cut and bushes are trimmed and all of the kid’s toys are put away and not laying around the yard.  It would also be a good idea to put some of the lawn gnomes in storage.  It is best to have a crisp look and minimal lawn ornaments

Sidewalks & Driveway – Make sure that the sidewalks and driveway are clean and there are no weeds growing in the cracks.  A container of Roundup can help with this, simply spray the grass or weeds that are growing in the cracks and it will be dead and gone in just a few days.  The nice thing about using Roundup in the crack is that it will help prevent more weeds from growing.  Usually two applications will address the issue for the entire summer.

Lawn – The grass should be kept cut and if there are weeds popping up you can always spot spray them with weed killer.  The grass around the walks and drive should be neatly edged, so it isn’t growing over the cement.

Porch – A couple of chairs on the porch and maybe a small table so there is a place to set your iced tea.  Just make sure there is enough room to move around on the porch.

Front Door – the door should be clean and if the paint is faded or chipped it would be well worth the effort to give the door (and trim) a fresh coat of paint.  As potential buyers are standing in front of the door waiting for their agent to unlock it they will look around and if they see evidence of a lack of maintenance they will automatically assume that the rest of the house is not properly cared for either.

Windows – The windows should be clean, again to show that the home is well cared for and it will also allow plenty of light in.

Gutters & Roof – If there is debris (sticks, leaves, weeds) visible in the gutters or on the roof when you are standing in the yard be sure to clean them out.  Take a look out any second floor windows and if you can see in any gutters or on the roof you will want to make sure that these areas are kept clean.

Bonus Tips – Exterior Photos

Since the initial impression buyers have often comes from the main exterior photo on the listing in the MLS there are some dos and don’ts for the photo.

Don’t Do
Leave the garage door open Make sure the yard is orderly
Take a photo with the pet in the yard Remove all cars from the driveway
Shoot the photo through traffic Get the entire front of the house in the photo
Take a photo with the trash at the curb Get a couple of shots up close to the entry
Get the neighbor’s kids in the photo Pick the most inviting photo for the MLS


I hope these tip help you when preparing to sell your house.  These tips come from observations of thousands of homes that I have shown and seen in the MLS.  Most of these tips will cost nothing to implement and could make a huge impact in the number of showings your house draws.  As I’m sure you already know the more showings the more potential for offers.  I wish you the best of luck in your endeavor to sell your house.  If you are in the Metro Detroit area I would be more than happy to help you get your house sold for the highest price the market will bear.

Check out our other posts on preparing a home for sale and selling; Kitchen Staging, Good Smelling Equals MORE Selling, and 3 Ways Sellers Unwittingly Kill Deals

Gordon Johnson

Realtor, ABR, SRES

Coldwell Banker Preferred, Realtors

44644 Ann Arbor Road

Plymouth, MI 48170

(734) 658-3662

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Posted by Gordon - November 29, 2011 at 10:00 AM

Categories: Curb Appeal, Home Sellers, Staging   Tags: , ,

HARP Details and FAQ’s

The government announced changes to its HARP program November 15, 2011. This post is accurate and up-to-date

If you’re underwater on your conforming, conventional mortgage, you may be eligible to refinance without paying down principal and without having to pay mortgage insurance.

Here are the details of the government’s new 2011 HARP refinance program.

What Is HARP?

HARP was started in April 2009. It goes by several names. The government calls it HARP, as in Home Affordable Refinance Program.

The program is also known as the Making Home Affordable plan, the Obama Refi plan, DU Refi +, and Relief Refinance.

In order to be eligible for the HARP refinance program:

  1. Your loan must be backed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac.
  2. Your current mortgage must have a securitization date prior to June 1, 2009

If you meet these two criteria, you may be HARP-eligible. If your mortgage is FHA, USDA or a jumbo mortgage, you are not HARP-eligible.

HARP: Questions and Answers

Do these question-and-answers account for the “new” HARP mortgage program?

Yes, everything you are reading is accurate as of today, November 21, 2011. This post includes the latest changes as rolled out by the Federal Home Finance Agency on October 24, 2011, and as confirmed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac on November 15, 2011.

Is “HARP” the same thing as the government’s “Making Home Affordable” program?

Yes, the names HARP and Making Home Affordable are interchangeable.

How do I know if Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac has my mortgage?

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have “lookup” forms on their respective websites. Your loan must appear on one of these two sites to be eligible for HARP.

If my mortgage is held by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, am I instantly-eligible for the Home Affordable Refinance Program?

No. There is a series of criteria. Having your mortgage held by Fannie or Freddie is just a pre-qualifier.

My mortgage is held by Fannie/Freddie. Now what do I do?

Find a recent mortgage statement and write “Fannie Mae” or “Freddie Mac” on it — whichever group backs your home loan — so you don’t forget. Give that information to your lender when you apply for your HARP refinance.

What if neither Fannie Mae nor Freddie Mac has a record of my mortgage?

If neither Fannie nor Freddie has record of your mortgage, your loan is HARP-ineligible. However, you may still be eligible for a “regular” refinance to lower rates. Please contact a licensed mortgage professional to see your options. Or, if your mortgage is insured by the FHA, use the FHA Streamline Refinance program. The FHA Streamline Refinance helps underwater homeowners, too.

Does HARP work the same with Fannie Mae as with Freddie Mac?

Yes, for the most part, the HARP mortgage program is the same with Fannie Mae as with Freddie Mac. There are some small differences, but they affect just a tiny, tiny portion of the general population. For everyone else, the guidelines work the same.

Am I eligible for the Home Affordable Refinance Program if I’m behind on my mortgage?

No. You must be current on your mortgage to refinance via HARP.

Will the Home Affordable Refinance Program help me avoid foreclosure?

No. The Home Affordable Refinance Program is not designed to delay, or stop, foreclosures. It’s meant to give homeowners who are current on their mortgages, and who have lost home equity, a chance to refinance at today’s low mortgage rates.

What are the minimum requirements to be HARP-eligible?

First, your home loan must be paid on-time for the prior 6 months, and at least 11 of the most recent 12 months. Second, your mortgage must have been sold to Fannie or Freddie prior to June 1, 2009. And, third, you may not have used the HARP mortgage program before — only one HARP refinance per mortgage is allowed.

If I refinanced with HARP a few years ago, can I use it again for HARP II?

No. You can only use the HARP mortgage program one time per home.

Is there a loan-to-value restriction for HARP?

No. All homes — regardless of how far underwater they are — are eligible for the HARP program.

I am really far underwater on my mortgage. Can I use HARP?

Yes, you can. There is no loan-to-value restriction under the HARP mortgage program so long as your new mortgage is a fixed rate loan with a term of 30 years or fewer. If you use an adjustable-rate mortgage, your loan-to-value is capped at 105%.

Maybe I wasn’t clear. I am really, really far underwater on my mortgage. Are you sure I can use HARP?

Yes, I am sure. The new HARP mortgage program specifically has no loan-to-value restriction so that homeowners can take advantage of it. You can have 300% loan-to-value, and still be HARP-eligible. HARP is now unlimited LTV for fixed rate loans with 30-year terms or less.

If I refinance with HARP using an ARM, do I still get “unlimited LTV”?

No, if you use an ARM for HARP, you are limited to 105% loan-to-value. Only fixed rate loans get the unlimited LTV treatment.

Will my home require an appraisal with the HARP mortgage program?

Sort of. Although your home’s value doesn’t matter for the HARP mortgage program, lenders will run what’s called an “automated valuation model” (AVM) on your home. If the value meets reliability standards, no physical appraisal will be required. However, your lender may choose to commission a physical appraisal anyway — just to make sure your home is “standing”.

Is HARP the same thing as an FHA Streamline Refinance?

No, the HARP mortgage program is administered through Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. FHA Streamline Refinances are performed through the FHA. The programs have similarities, however.

Does Ginnie Mae participate in the HARP Refinance program?

No, Ginnie Mae does not participate in the HARP Refinance program. Ginnie Mae is associated with FHA mortgages — not conventional ones. HARP II is for conventional mortgages only.

Do I have to HARP refinance with my current mortgage lender?

No, you can do a HARP refinance with any participating mortgage lender.

So, I can use any mortgage lender for my HARP Refinance?

Yes. With the Home Affordable Refinance Program, you can refinance with any participating HARP lender.

My current bank says that they’re the only ones who can do my HARP Refinance. Is that true?

No, that’s not true. Or, at least it shouldn’t be. There are very few instances in which a HARP applicant will be precluded from shopping for the best rate. It’s doubtful that your situation is one of them.

My current mortgage is with [YOUR BANK HERE] and I don’t like them. Can I work with another bank?

Yes, with HARP, you can work with any participating lender in the country.

I put down 20% when I bought my home. My home is now underwater. If I refinance with HARP, will I have to pay mortgage insurance now?

No, you won’t need to pay mortgage insurance. If your current loan doesn’t require PMI, your new loan won’t require it, either.

I pay PMI now. Will my PMI payments go up with a new HARP refinance?

No, your private mortgage insurance payments will not increase. However, the “transfer” of your mortgage insurance policy may require an extra step. Remind your lender that you’re paying PMI to help the refinance process move more smoothly.

My current mortgage has Lender-Paid Mortgage Insurance (LPMI). Can I refinance via HARP?

No. If your mortgage has lender-paid mortgage insurance (LPMI), you are HARP-ineligible.

How do I know if my mortgage has Lender-Paid Mortgage Insurance (LPMI)?

To find out if your mortgage has lender-paid mortgage insurance (LPMI), locate your loan paperwork from closing. There should be a clear disclosure that states that your mortgage features LPMI, and the terms should be clearly labeled for you.

I don’t see an LPMI disclosure in my closing package but I think that I have it. How do I know if my mortgage has LPMI?

If there is no LPMI disclosure, first check if your first mortgage’s loan-to-value exceeded 80% at the time of closing. If it did, look to see if you are paying monthly mortgage insurance. If you are not paying monthly PMI, you’re likely carrying LPMI (and are HARP-ineligible).

What’s the biggest mortgage I can get with a HARP refinance?

HARP refinances are limited to your area’s conforming loan limits. In most cities, the conforming loan limit is $417,000. However, there are some cities in which conforming loan limits are as high at $625,500.

Can I do a cash-out refinances with HARP?

No, the HARP mortgage program doesn’t allow cash out refinance. Only rate-and-term refinances are allowable.

Can I refinance a second/vacation home with HARP?

Yes, you can refinance a second/vacation property with HARP, even if the home was once your primary residence. The loan must meet typical program eligibility standards.

Can I refinance an investment/rental property with HARP?

Yes, you can refinance an investment/rental property with HARP, even if the home was once your primary residence. You can refinance a home on which you’re an “accidental landlord” via HARP. The loan must meet typical program eligibility standards.

I rent out my old home. Is it HARP-eligible even though it’s an investment property now?

Yes, you can use the HARP Refinance program for your former residence — even if there’s a renter there now.

These things I’m reading here… Why, when I call my bank, do they tell me it’s not true?

It’s possible that the call center representative to whom you’re speaking is neither knowledgeable about HARP, nor the actual mortgage underwriting process. This post is researched and cross-referenced against Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac guidelines, and publicly-available reports from the FHFA.

Are condominiums eligible for HARP refinancing?

Yes, condominiums can be financed on the HARP refinance program. Warrantability standards still apply.

Can I consolidate mortgages with a HARP refinance?

No, you cannot consolidate multiple mortgages with the HARP refinance program. It’s for first liens only. All subordinate/junior liens must be resubordinated to the new first mortgage.

Can I “roll up” my closing costs with a HARP refinance?

Yes, mortgage balances can be increased to cover closing costs in addition to other monies due at closing such as escrow reserves, accrued daily interest, and a small amount of cash.  In no cases may loan sizes exceed the local conforming loan limits, however.

I am unemployed and without income. Am I HARP-eligible?

Yes, you do not need to be employed to use the HARP mortgage program. HARP applicants do not need to be “requalified” unless their new principal + interest payment increases by more than 20%. If the new payment increases by less than 20%, or falls, there is no requalification necessary.

My original mortgage was a stated income loan. Will my income be verified with a HARP refinance?

No, your income will not be verified via the HARP refinance program unless your new principal + interest payment increases by more than 20 percent. If you’re new principal + interest payment increases by less than 20%, or falls, there is no income verification necessary.

I am now divorced. I want to remove my ex-spouse from the mortgage. Can I do that with HARP?

Yes. With HARP, a borrower on the mortgage can be removed via a HARP refinance so long as that person is also removed from the deed; and has no ownership interest in the home.

What are the HARP program’s mortgage rates?

Mortgage rates for the HARP mortgage program are the same as for a “traditional” refinance. There is no “premium” for using the HARP program.

Do HARP refinances use Loan-Level Pricing Adjustments (LLPAs)?

Yes, HARP mortgages use loan-level pricing adjustments, but LLPAs are dramatically reduced on a HARP refinance and, in some cases, waived entirely. For example, there are no LLPAs for fixed-rare HARP refinances with terms of 20 years or fewer. For all other loans, loan-level pricing adjustments are capped at 0.75 points.

Does a HARP Refinances require LLPAs for a 15-year fixed rate mortgage?

No, there are no LLPAs for 15-year fixed rate mortgage via the HARP Refinance program.

Is there a minimum credit score to use the HARP program?

No, there is no minimum credit score requirement with the HARP mortgage program, per se. However, you must qualify for the mortgage based on traditional underwriting standards.

Do I have to refinance my mortgage with my current lender?

In most cases, no. You can do a HARP refinance with any lender you want.

What does the term “DU Refit Plus” mean?

“DU Refi Plus” is the brand name Fannie Mae assigned to its particular flavor of the HARP mortgage program. “DU” stands for Desktop Underwriter. It’s a software program that simulates mortgage underwriting. “Refi Plus” is a gimmicky-sounding term that could have been anything. The name has been trademarked, however.

What does the term “Relief Refinance” mean?

“Relief Refinance” is the Freddie Mac equivalent of DU Refi+.

For how long should I lock my mortgage rate via the HARP Program

Lock for 45 days, at minimum. This is because the HARP mortgage program, while streamlined for simplicity, still has some grey areas that can lead to delay. It’s better to have a rate lock that lasts too long than not long enough.

When does the HARP program end?

If you are HARP-eligible, you must close on your mortgage prior to January 1, 2014 –days from now.

Lastly, don’t forget! The Home Affordable Refinance Program is not meant to save a home from foreclosure. It’s meant to give underwater homeowners a chance to refinance without paying PMI. If you need foreclosure help, call your current loan servicer immediately.

About the Author

Kyle Drake (NMLS #395575) is an active loan officer with Summit Funding. Email Kyle at or call 734-634-9450.

1 comment - What do you think?
Posted by Gordon - November 23, 2011 at 2:34 PM

Categories: Appraisal, Home Owner, Mortgages, Refinance   Tags: , , , ,

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