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Zillow, great source but buyer beware

zillowWant to know how much your home is worth? One popular way is to go to Zillow.com and get a zestimate. A zestimate is Zillow’s estimate of what your home may be worth. But how reliable is that zestimate?

A Zillow estimate can get you in the general ball park, but be prepared for the estimate to off by as much as 10 or 15 percent in some cases. The only way to get a true accurate value of your home is to have a quality Realtor look into the property.

If you were looking to sell a 2001 Dodge pickup truck and you found two that had sold in your neighborhood in the last 6 months, the first sold five months ago for $10,000 and the second sold three months ago for $6,000 what does that mean to the value of your pickup? It depends, maybe nothing at all. Just because one sold for $4,000 less three months later does not automatically mean that yours is worth $6,000 or less and just because prices were dropping quickly three months ago does not mean the still are. There are to many factors to consider like mileage, condition and features.

There is a lot to compare when doing a quality CMA (comparative market analysis). A Realtor can do their homework and make sure they are comparing Mac apples to Mac apples or Sunkist oranges to Sunkist oranges. A Realtor will also have more recent information than Zillow has access to. Another problem that Zillow can make is it goes off public records. If a public record is wrong, and yes it does happen, Zillow has no idea while a Realtor has a much better chance of telling you that is the situation.

Does that mean you can never use Zillow for a good rough estimate of what your home is worth? No, but if you are thinking about selling your home, and want to know it’ true value then talk to a Realtor who is willing to do a quality CMA and then you will know for sure you are getting what you are after.

Latest stimulus package and what it may mean to home buyers

im-just-a-bill-optWe can have a long debate about the latest stimulus package and whether it is a good thing of a bad thing. There are plenty of opinions on both sides and I will bite my tongue for now. There is one part of the bill that passed the United State Senate last night that I wanted to share with you as a potential home buyer.

You may have heard by now about the potential $15,000 tax credit for home buyers. The amendment will replace the current $7,500 tax credit for first time home buyers that is currently planned to expire in July of 2009. I have read the amendment two times, and being a former state representative you would think I could read a bill by now, but it is still somewhat confusing. Here is how I read it to be different from the current $7,500 tax credit.

  • The $7,500 tax credit is for first time buyers while the $15,000 is for any buyer who will use the house as a primary residence.
  • The $7,500 needs to be paid back, interest free, over 15 years while the $15,000 does not need to be paid back if you live in the home for 2 years.
  • The $15,000 is a maximum and based on 10% of your purchase prise. So if you purchase a home at $100,000 you will get a $10,000 credit.
  • The new amount will start on the day the bill is signed and be in effect for one year. It will not be retroactive.

Also likely to come some time before the stimulus package is finalized is an amendment that could greatly lower interest rates to as low as 4%.

*I am not an expert on this subject, this is my best understanding of the amendment from my reading of it. Also this has only passed the Senate and will need to pass the House and most likely a conference committee between the two chambers and could be changed at any one of those steps.

Is it time for me to buy a house in the Phoenix East Valley?

onsaleHave we hit bottom and is now the time for me to be buying a house in the Phoenix East Valley? I know there are several of you out there asking yourself these exact questions.

While it will be impossible for us to tell that we have hit bottom until several months after it has actually happened, the outlook is good for homes on the market under the $200,0000 price range. Homes that fall into this price range make up the majority of properties that are selling in todays market. We are also not seeing the rapid decline in price in these homes that we did in 2007 and 2008. Finally, you can purchase significantly more home than you could have within this price range for the last five years with prices falling over 33% from just a year ago.

When purchasing a property you need to remember that it is much more than an investment; it is a place to raise a family, make memories, spend your free time and yours to do with what you want. While we may not know if we have hit bottom, it is certainly a great time to buy. Interest rates are phenomenal, there are still great loan programs that allow you to get into a property for very little money down and again prices are better than they have been for years.

If you are one those people out there asking yourself these questions take a look at what is out there and I bet you will be surprised. In many cases you can now own for less than what you would pay in rent and not have to ask permission to paint the walls your favorite color. Home ownership is the American dream and today it can very easily be a reality!

7 simple appraisal tips to save you time and money

This week has been a little rough for us when dealing with appraisals. More than once this week, we had a home that didn’t appraise for what the borrower “thought it was worth” and as a result, we have had to restructure their loans.

In today’s market, often the entire loan will hinge on what the property appraises for, so I thought I would share a few simple things that you can do to be informed about the appraisal process.

1. Know What Your Home Is Worth
Have a good idea of what your home is worth before you even consider getting an appraisal. There are many tools that you can use to research the value of your home, and probably the most popular one is Zillow. While none of these tools should be relied on as the “absolute value”, they are good tools to use to give you a general idea of what your home is worth. The best way to get an understanding of what your home may be worth is to talk to a quality Realtor.

2. Comparable Market Sales
Find out what the comparable market sales of homes in your neighborhood were. You also can find these online – one of the simplest ways for people who live in Arizona is to look at the AZCentral’s recent home sales tool for this. These comparable market sales are also called “comps” and will have a *significant* impact on the value that your home will appraise for.

3. Use a Local Appraiser
Try to use a local appraiser when at all possible. There are some national appraisal companies who really just “outsource” the work to someone local – and rather than start with the national company, start by finding a local appraiser first. They will have a much better knowledge of the immediate area and understand the things that drive the value of your home up or down.

4. You Paid For It – It Is Yours
Usually you will pay for the appraisal at the time that the appraiser comes to the home. Since you paid for it, it is yours — make sure that your loan officer sends you a copy.

5. Sometimes You Need 2 Appraisals
Because of tightening guidelines, sometimes 2 appraisals from 2 different appraisers is required. Get ready for the appraisal bill to be closer to $700 – $800 rather than $300 – $400 if your home is worth more than $1million or you are trying to get cash out of your home with a loan to value of 85% or higher.

6. If You Are Getting An FHA Loan, Make Sure Your Appraiser Is FHA Approved
If you are getting an FHA loan, make sure that your appraiser is FHA approved and is doing an “FHA appraisal”. You may be surprised how many times someone needs an FHA appraisal and doesn’t find out that the appraiser they want to use is not FHA approved until late in the process.

7. Appraisal Rules Are Changing
Know that soon, the appraisal rules will be changing – lenders will require that they order the appraisal, not the broker or borrower. This means that you will have much less “control” over the appraisal process – but by understanding the key components of what goes into an appraisal, you can still be an informed buyer.

No matter how you say it – the appraisal process is more difficult than it was 2 years ago. It is more difficult to know what your house is worth, it is more difficult to find a “good” appraiser to work with and it is more difficult to get an appraisal through underwriting without having the underwriter cut your value.

Will following these 7 simple steps guarantee that the appraisal process will go smooth? No. But it sure will help!

What you need to talk to your lawyer about when considering a short sale

shortsalesShort sale, it may be the most used word in real estate in 2009, but some times a real estate agent may not be enough and you may need to talk with a lawyer. A short sale is just one of the tools you can use when you are struggling with a mortgage.

I found an article over at RISMedia that talks about some things homeowners need to do so they are not taken advantage of during a short sale. It was good enough that I thought I should share it with you. You can read the whole article here.

Here is the articles list of the top 10 questions to talk over with your attorney when you are considering a short sale:

1. What is a better or more likely outcome for me and why?
– A short sale or a repayment plan?
– A short sale or a forbearance plan?
– A short sale or a loan modification?
– In the case of an FHA loan, a short sale or a partial claim?
– A short sale or a short sale/assumption agreement?
– A short sale or a deed-in-lieu of foreclosure?
– A short sale or a bankruptcy?
2. How do I know if my property and I may be considered for a short sale?
3. How would I initiate the short sale process?
4. Which process has a more adverse effect on my credit rating: short sale, foreclosure, bankruptcy, or deed-in-lieu of foreclosure?
5. What types of hardships would a lender generally consider favorable toward my appeal for short sale consideration?
6. On average, how long does a short sale process take?
7. What are the tax implications of a short sale?
8. If a lender agrees to the short sale option on my property, can the bank still proceed with a foreclosure?
9. Is there a real estate commission paid in a short sale? If so, who pays it?
10. When is a bankruptcy preferable to a short sale or to a foreclosure?

Relocating to Gilbert, not just for the dogs

cosmoparkIf you are a dog owner and lover one of the first things you may think of when you think of Gilbert may be Cosmo Dog Park, which was rated to top Dog Park in the United States. But Gilbert is not just for the dogs. Many people are relocating to Gilbert and for good reason.

Gilbert continues to grow quickly rising nearly six percent last year. But it is not just the population that is rising, it is the income of the Gilbert working families.

When you think of Scottsdale many will immediately think of mansions, luxury and ritzy. But according to a recent report that was covered by the East Valley Tribune, the “Ritzy” Scottsdale does not have the best paid population.

According to 2009 town statistics Gilbert had a median household income of $84,967 despite fewer residents holding college degrees. Chandler was the next closest with $69,615 and Scottsdale came in at $67,288.

Gilbert, with its quality schools and parks of living, continues to be one of the fastest growing communities in the Valley. Of course with Gilbert’s Cosmo Dog Park, which was rated the top dog park.