Monday, December 12, 2011

Should you Choose a 15 Year Fixed Rate Mortgage in Oklahoma

If you have been looking into buying a home or refinancing your current Mortgage in Oklahoma, you may have heard the term “15-year Mortgage” thrown around. While most Home Loans in Oklahoma are paid back over the course of 30 years, for those with the financial ability and budgeting skills, a 15-year fixed rate mortgage may be a much better option in the long run.

A 15-year loan is just what it sounds like: a home loan that must be repaid back within a 15 year period. It has a interest rate that is fixed throughout the course of the loan. Because it has to be repaid twice as fast as a 30-year mortgage, the monthly payments will be greater on a 15-year loan.

While this may sound too expensive for you to afford, you should realize that because the loan is shorter, you will be able to obtain a lower interest rate on the 15-year mortgage than you would on a 30-year mortgage in Oklahoma. This means you will pay less interest over the life of the loan since the term is shorter and because of the lower rate. This lower rate may help offset the higher monthly mortgage cost, but in most cases even with the rate decrees the monthly payment on the 15 years is higher.

For example, let’s compare the difference in payments and interest between a 30-year $100,000 fixed rate loan at 4.5% and a 15-year $100,000 fixed rate loan at 3.875%. For the 30-year loan, your monthly payment would be $506.94. You would pay $733.44 a month with a 15-year loan. In terms of interest over the course of the loan, with the 30-year loan you would end up paying $82,404, whereas you would only pay $32,192 in interest with a 15-year loan. That is a savings of $50,212!

Plus you would own your home free and clear at the end of those 15 years. Can you imagine the freedom? What would it be like to have no more monthly mortgage payments? For some, the savings benefit is definitely worth the higher monthly payment.

Consider another benefit: With a fifteen-year Oklahoma mortgage loan you will be building the home equity much quicker than you would with a 30-year loan. This is because your initial payments go mostly to interest, but because the interest on a 15-year loan is so much lower and the payments you are making are greater, more of your money goes toward paying down the principal balance thus increasing your equity. If you decide to sell the house before your fifteen years are up, you will have more equity to put towards your next purchase.

Perhaps you might think that you could do just as well by taking out a 30-year mortgage and making an additional $225 payment to principle each month. This is an option to consider for borrowers that don’t want to be obligated to make a higher payment each month. While this option won’t give you the ability to pay off the loan in exactly 15 years it will get you close, in most cases the home would be paid off in 17 to18 years if you followed the extra payment schedule for the life of the loan. But doing it this will not get you a lower interest rate, and the savings won’t be as significant over the life of the loan.

If you think this Oklahoma mortgage program sounds like a good fit for your needs, talk with a mortgage professional to discuss your options. For as much as you would save, it is definitely worth exploring!

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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

What?s a Reasonable Down Payment On A Home Purchase ?

According to a recent New York Times article from 06-29-2011 pretty much everyone agrees it’s a good idea for home buyers to put some of their own money down when borrowing to buy a house. Having a stake in the property, the thinking goes, encourages homeowners to keep making payments on the mortgage.
But how much of a down payment is reasonable? Ten percent? Twenty? Five?

That question is part of a debate in Congress and among a cluster of federal regulatory agencies as they try to craft new rules for mortgage lenders following the housing debacle.

As part of the financial reforms mandated last year by the Dodd-Frank law, the agencies, including the Federal Reserve, the Federal Deposit Insurance Commission, the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Federal Housing Finance Agency, among others, must set criteria for what constitutes a reasonably safe, plain-vanilla mortgage.

Lenders issuing such mortgages — what are to be called “qualified residential mortgages” — will be able to sell them to investors and avoid retaining any of the risk associated with a default of the loan on their own books. Loans that don’t meet the new standards won’t be considered qualified and will be considered riskier so the lender will have to retain 5 percent ownership. The goal is to encourage banks to thoroughly vet a borrower’s ability to repay the loan. In other words, the banks must have “skin in the game” for loans that don’t meet the standards by setting aside extra capital for possible defaults.

The agencies proposed requiring qualified mortgages to have a down payment of 20 percent, but that idea provoked a firestorm of opposition from an unusual alliance of banks, real estate agents and consumer housing advocates. The Center for Responsible Lending, which has been vociferous in urging financial reforms to protect borrowers, argued that 20 percent down, or even 10 percent down, would price many homeowners out of the mortgage market. Many creditworthy borrowers would find it difficult to meet the down payment rule and would end up paying more for their loans because lenders would boost interest rates on their loans to cover their extra costs, the center argued.

The group’s Web site has a chart showing the length of time it would take borrowers of different occupations to save enough for a 10 percent down payment. A public school teacher at the median salary of $33,530, for instance, would take 14 years to save enough cash to buy a $173,000 home.
Kathleen Day, spokeswoman for the center, said a borrower’s ability to repay a loan should be determined by thorough underwriting, that is, an assessment of risk through examining a borrower’s credit history, income and debt, by the lender.
“We’re not advocating for zero percent down,” says Kathleen Day, spokeswoman for the center. “We think down payments are good. But we think the market should set them, based on the underwriting.”
(Loans insured by the Federal Housing Agency, which can be obtained with small down payments, are exempt from the qualified mortgage mandates.)
Due to an outpouring of concern from the industry and consumer groups, as well as members of Congress, the regulatory agencies have extended the public comment period on the change to Aug. 1.

What do you think? Is it reasonable to set a minimum down payment for home loans?

If you would like to Apply for a mortgage in Oklahoma, Log on to our website at

Friday, May 20, 2011

The 5 Most Important Facts Most Home Buyers Don?t Know

For many things, people assume to know more than they actually do. This is especially dangerous in the home buying process. Recent Oklahoma Mortgage marketplace survey indicates that there are several aspects of the home buying process that continue to elude prospective home buyers. Here are some surprising results of our findings, along with five things most home buyers don’t know, but should:

1. FHA loans & 100% USDA Loans are available to all buyers

More than two in five (42 percent) prospective home buyers think that only first-time buyers qualify for an FHA & USDA loan, a mortgage insured by the Federal House Administration or by the United States Department of Agriculture. This is not the case. In fact, these loans are available to all buyers who meet eligibility requirements. Among the key attractions of FHA loan: a minimal or even no down payment in some cases, relaxed credit score requirements, low cost, and low interest rates. Key attractions of 100% USDA Loan zero down payment, relaxed credit score requirements, low cost, and low interest rates.

2. Mortgage rates vary daily

Fifty-five percent of prospective home buyers don’t realize that mortgage rates, which are determined by a slew of factors, can—and do—change daily (and sometimes more than once a day if certain economic reports are released). Just by monitoring rates, you could save yourself money. For example, a rate change of 0.125 percent to 0.25 percent could mean thousands of dollars in savings each year. To get the best rates, monitor them. The best indicator is the movement of the 10-year Treasury bond. And, don’t stop at the first rate you see—shop around.

3. Lender fees change and are negotiable

When you apply for a loan, the bottom line is that you’re going to have to pay lender fees. These fees—from origination fees to credit report fees to appraisal fees and more—can add up quickly. The good news, and what 34 percent of prospective home buyers don’t know, is that fees not only vary from one lender to the next, but that they’re negotiable. This is all the more reason to shop around for different mortgage rates from various lenders.

4. Interest rates on ARMs don’t always reset higher

While rates on adjustable rate mortgages (ARMs) do often increase after five years, they can also decrease. Prospective home buyers may not realize this because many people (57 percent) simply don’t know how adjustable rate mortgages work. The interest rate on an ARM is made up of two parts: the margin, which is a fixed percentage and the index, which goes both up and down with the general movement of interest rates. If you’re planning on living in a home only for a few years, an ARM could be a good loan option.

5. Pre-qualified doesn’t mean much, Loan-Approved Does!

Just because you have a “pre-qualification” for a home loan doesn’t mean you’ve secured financing, yet 37 percent of prospective home buyers believe it does. Most of the time when you’re “pre-qualified,” a lender has figured out approximately how much you can afford, but they haven’t run your credit or requested any sort of documentation to support/verify the information you provide. That is why it is so important to make sure your lender has fully approved your potential loan before you go out house hunting.

To Apply online and get a “FREE” Full-Mortgage Approval, Log on to
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Thursday, May 5, 2011

Oklahoma Mortgage Rate Declines To Its Lowest Since January

According to a Wall Street Journal article on 5-5-2011 the average rate on the 30-year mortgage matched its lowest level since mid-January this week, according to Freddie Mac's weekly survey released Thursday.

The mortgage averaged 4.71% for the week ending May 5, down from 4.78% last week and 5% a year ago, according to the survey.

Meanwhile, the 15-year fixed-rate mortgage averaged 3.89% this week, the lowest since the beginning of the year. It averaged 3.97% last week and 4.36% a year ago.

Five-year Treasury-indexed hybrid adjustable-rate mortgages averaged 3.47% this week, down from 3.51% last week and 3.97% a year ago.

And 1-year Treasury-indexed ARMs averaged 3.14%, down from 3.15% last week and 4.07% a year ago.

To obtain the rates, the fixed-rate mortgages required payment of an average 0.7 point, while the five-year ARM required an average 0.6 point and the 1-year ARM required an average 0.5 point. A point is 1% of the mortgage amount, charged as prepaid interest.

"Weaker economic data reports reduced Treasury bond yields and allowed mortgage rates to drift lower for the third consecutive week," said Frank Nothaft, vice president and chief economist at Freddie Mac, in a news release. "For instance, real economic growth in the first quarter fell short of the market consensus forecast and represented the slowest pace since the second quarter of 2010. In addition, both the manufacturing and service sectors exhibited growth at a slower rate in April."

But reports on the housing market were a bit more uplifting, he added.

"The National Association of Realtors reported pending home sales rose in March for the second month in a row to the highest index reading since
November 2010," Mr. Nothaft said. "Also, the Federal Reserve reported credit standards among commercial banks for prime mortgages were unchanged on net in the second quarter of the year, following two quarters of tightening."

Take advantage of the low mortgage rates, Apply online for a "FREE" Pre-Approval before its to late.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Ultimate Spring 2011 Home Buyers' Guide

According to recent USnews article uncertainty remains in the market, but experts say purchasing a home is still a good long-term investment

Traditionally, spring is when prospective home buyers come out of hibernation and begin the hunt for their next residence. But with the economy still in flux, budget battles raging in Washington, and a housing market on shaky ground, many house hunters are wondering whether it's the right time to buy.

The wild card remains home prices, which are still down 31 percent from their pre-recession peak in July 2006, according to the S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Index. While some experts see another wave of foreclosures further depressing home values regionally, others say the worst of the housing slump is over. "I'm hopeful the spring will be better because the job market is improving," says Celia Chen, senior director at Moody's Analytics, who expects housing prices to bottom nationally by the third quarter.

Despite the uncertainty surrounding the housing market, experts say for Americans poised to plant roots, the market climate can't get much better. "Confidence is building, prices are down, interest rates are wonderful for a 30-year fixed rate mortgage. It's a good time to borrow money," says Dorcas Helfant-Browning, managing partner at Coldwell Banker Professional Realtors.

To help consumers sort through the pros and cons of buying this spring, U.S. News gathered house-hunting advice from the experts:
Get qualified and determine your budget. Interest rates on 30-year fixed-rate mortgages are at historic lows—about 4.69 percent, on average, nationally—but experts concede that qualifying for a mortgage this spring might be more challenging than it has been in the past. "The big constraint on [housing] demand this year is going to be the availability of mortgages," says Chen. "Lenders are still being very cautious."

Although there are signs that the credit markets may be loosening a bit, even some of the most credit-worthy consumers may still be unable to snag the best interest rates on mortgages. Consumers with lower credit scores could also face higher down payment requirements, says Keith Gumbinger, vice president of mortgage information website "You'll need good credit to get the best pricing," he says. "We're talking about a FICO 740 or above for the best possible pricing."
Would-be home buyers must jump through additional hoops, as lenders are demanding more financial documentation from applicants. "You need to be able to fully document your income and all your assets," Gumbinger says. "Your debt loads relative to your income need to be pretty low. You can't have the leverage you used to be allowed several years ago."
Despite these obstacles, qualifying for a mortgage is an essential step, says Diann Patton, Coldwell Banker Real Estate consumer specialist. "Too many people put the cart before the horse," Patton says. "It's so important to know exactly what you qualify for and have that pre-approval letter in hand before you even look at houses."
Knowing how much you can borrow to finance a home purchase is important, but it shouldn't be the only consideration when looking at your budget. "Look at what you qualify for and then what you really want to have as excess capital," says Helfant-Browning. "Provide yourself a savings plan, an entertainment fund, and give yourself a little cushion. Don't buy at the top of what you qualify for, but what's comfortable, so you can do all the other things in life you wish to do."

Think local, not national. Don't let national headlines about plummeting home values or foreclosure trends spook you, says Patton. "Real estate is not global, it's local," she says. "I could sit and talk to people from Wisconsin or New York or Manhattan, [and] their market could be 180 degrees different from my own market."
Over the next year, experts say the trajectory of home prices will vary widely from region to region, state to state, and even city to city. For example, home values in Minneapolis are expected to increase 21 percent by 2018, while prices in Austin, Texas, are projected to rise only 8 percent, according to Moody's
Prospective home buyers should pay extra attention to the local economy and job market when thinking about purchasing a home. "You need to look at the long-term economic prospects for your area. Not even just the housing market—what does job growth look like projected out? What does the population growth look like?" says Tara-Nicholle Nelson, a consumer educator for

In general, markets with a diverse and varied economy are more likely to see the job and population growth that fuels home-value appreciation over the long term. "Places where you see big companies moving and creating a lot of jobs, that's where you want to be. It maximizes the resale prospects for your home," she adds.
Do your homework. With so many resources available for house hunters, it's easy to get overwhelmed by an avalanche of information. Start by using online research tools such as Zillow,, and Trulia to get a broad sense of your market. Consider hiring a real estate agent with expert knowledge of the local community, but don't be afraid to get your hands dirty.
"People should get more assertive about the DIY research and preparation they want to do," Nelson says. "We're seeing regular home buyers with spreadsheets. It's not that they're not looking to their professionals for advice, they just want to make sure they feel comfortable with it on their own."
After looking at the big picture, drill down to more specific metrics by neighborhood, such as how long a home has been on the market, list-price to sell-price ratios of comparable properties, and the percentage of listings in a given market with price reductions.
Although it's advantageous to have a good feel for your housing market, the decision should correlate more with your personal goals than any national trends or local statistics. "You have to make your real estate decisions and decide on your strategy based on your personal life and family vision more than anything that's going on in the market," Nelson says.
Plan to stay put. During the housing boom, homeowners were virtually guaranteed to make money or at least break even on their homes, regardless of how long they owned the property. But the luxury of rapid price appreciation is another casualty of the financial crisis and housing market collapse. These days, would-be home buyers should avoid purchasing a home unless they plan to stick around for at least five years.

"People need to buy today because they're buying the family home," says Helfant-Browning. "This is not buying an investment you're going to live in for a year and flip. People need to be in five, seven, or eight years to break even."
That length of time could be even longer in particularly hard-hit markets, Nelson says. "It used to be you could count on whenever you bought [a home], you'd be able to turn it around at, or more than, what you paid for it," she says. "Now, the more hard-hit your market has been by the real estate recession, the longer you should be comfortable staying put. The most powerful thing you can do to avoid locking in losses on your home is to plan to stay in it a long time."

Home prices are expected to appreciate slower than they have in the past, so the direction of your career—and the location you think you'll ultimately end up—are important factors in deciding whether to buy. "We've seen a lot of people struggling with mobility concerns around careers right now," Nelson says. "You really want to know what your career path and trajectory is going to look like for the next five, seven, 10 years, and if you're feeling like you need to be able to move around the country for work, then buying now is not the right idea."

While the housing market might look gloomy 10,000 feet up, experts say the financial advantages of home ownership still remain. "If you're going to pay to live in something every month, why not own it?" Helfant-Browning says. "By getting a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage, 10 years from now when the rents in the community are usually going to be substantially higher, the only thing that will change for you is your home owner's insurance and your real estate tax."

For more information regarding a Oklahoma Mortgage or to Apply online for “Free” Pre-Approval
Log on to our website
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5 Ways to Save When Mortgage Shopping

According to a recent Zillow article.

Did you know that borrowers spend twice as much time researching a car purchase than they do a home loan, even though the average home costs five times more than the average car? It’s true. In a survey commissioned last year by Zillow and Harris Interactive, it was learned that the typical borrower only spends five hours researching their home loan, while car shoppers spend 10 hours.
As a result, borrowers can lose thousands of dollars in mortgage costs due to lack of preparation. To avoid losing out on your hard-earned dollars, here are a few tips to help you take control of the mortgage shopping process:
1. Get your finances in order. Before you even start mortgage shopping, assess your finances. Determine what you can afford. As a rule of thumb, the total cost of your mortgage payment — including any taxes and insurance—should not exceed 30 percent of your take-home pay. You’ll also want to get a good ballpark estimate of your credit score. Your credit score impacts your interest rate as well as your eligibility to get a loan. Currently, one-third of Americans cannot get a home loan because their credit score is below 620.
2. Pick the mortgage type right for you. There two main types of mortgages: Adjustable-rate mortgages (ARM) and fixed-rate mortgages. Adjustable-rate mortgages have fixed rates for a short period (usually 3, 5 or 7 years) and then readjust. These loans are generally considered riskier because the interest rate and payments can increase when the loan adjusts. However, if you are only planning on living in your house for a shorter period, these loans may make sense for you, especially because you’re likely to obtain lower rates.
A fixed-rate mortgage is just that—the rate is fixed. Many people like this type of loan because the interest rate stays constant throughout the period of the loan. With both fixed and adjustable-rate loans you can select various repayment periods. The most common term is 30 years, but if you can afford the higher monthly payments of a 20- or 15-year term loan, you will save money with the lower rate and quicker payoff period. The most important factors in selecting your loan type is the length of time you plan on staying in your home and your risk tolerance.
3. Take advantage of your 30-day window. There is no such thing as too many loan quotes. Borrowers may shy away from getting multiple loan quotes, fearing their credit will be impacted when multiple parties check their credit within a short period of time. However, you have 30 consecutive days in which multiple pulls of your credit score, or “rate shopping,” won’t affect your credit. With that in mind, take advantage of the 30-day window and get as many loan quotes as possible to get the best rates and terms. Note that in order to compare quotes apples-to-apples, it is important to get quotes from lenders around the same time as rates can change daily. It is always wise to double-check the rate you get from a single broker or bank to make sure you really are getting a good rate and that you find a lender that you trust.
4. Compare quotes. Getting loan quotes from multiple sources and comparing those quotes to choose the best loan seems time-consuming. But it doesn’t have to be. Much like what does for travel, there are many websites that allow you to enter your loan request information once and get loan multiple quotes back from multiple lenders, all on one screen.
5. Check the reputation of lenders and brokers. Whether you have already received loan quotes or are researching lenders to contact, do your homework by checking their background. Have they been in the business a long time? If found online, are they accessible? Do they have any third-party reviews and ratings? Reviews and ratings can be an invaluable resource because you can get unbiased feedback from people who have worked directly with the lender.
Remember that shopping for a mortgage could save you thousands of dollars—and who wouldn’t want to do that?
For more information regarding a Oklahoma Mortgage or to Apply online for “Free” Pre-Approval
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What It Takes to Get a Home Loan

According to recent Kiplinger article Lenders loosen their grip, but your credit history will decide whether you get a mortgage, car loan or credit card.

When the financial crisis hit, many banks became tightfisted, and plenty of potential borrowers walked away empty-handed. But financial institutions have emerged from the recession stronger and ready to lend. "Credit is available. No question about it," says James Chessen, chief economist for the American Bankers Association. "Banks are being careful because the economy is still weak, but I don't know a bank out there that's not anxious to make a loan."

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Keep in mind that from mortgages to car loans, your credit history and score matter more than they did prior to the crunch. Rates are at rock-bottom levels for borrowers with top-tier credit -- generally credit scores above 720. Before you shop rates, get your credit reports at and check for errors. And buy your credit score from Equifax for $7.95 (or get a free score that's similar to the ones that lenders use from or other sites like That way you can see where you stand before you apply for a loan.

Mortgages: Stricter Rules

Mortgage lenders want to make loans now, and they may even bid against one another for your business. But lending standards remain tight, and you must be prepared to produce a mound of paperwork to document your income and assets.

Rates are as low as they were in the 1950s, so going through the motions could pay off. In mid September, the average interest rate for a 30-year, fixed-rate conforming loan -- a mortgage of $417,000 or less -- was 4.5%, according to HSH Associates, a mortgage-tracking firm. The initial rate for a 5/1 adjustable-rate mortgage (a fixed rate for five years, followed by annual adjustments) was 3.6%.

Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and the Federal Housing Administration continue to dominate the mortgage market, setting the standards for the loans that lenders make and sell to investors. So lenders strive to dot every i and cross every t when they qualify you.

If you're buying or refinancing the mortgage on your primary home, you'll need a minimum down payment of 5% to 10% for a conforming loan or 10% to 15% for a conforming jumbo loan (125% of a metro area's median home price, up to $729,750). With 20% or more down, you avoid private mortgage insurance, which typically costs 0.5% to 1.5% of your loan amount per year.

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac allow a minimum credit score of 620 if you have at least 25% equity in the property or a score of 660 with equity of less than 25%; you'll get the best rate if your score exceeds 720. The FHA will soon require a minimum credit score of 580 to qualify with a down payment of 3.5%, but FHA lenders often impose a higher minimum score of 670.

In addition to your credit, lenders will also scrutinize your ability to pay, starting with your ratio of debt to income. Monthly housing expenses (principal, interest, taxes, hazard insurance, private mortgage insurance and association fees) shouldn't account for more than 28% of gross monthly income. Total debt shouldn't exceed 36% of gross income, but in some cases lenders stretch the maximum to 45%.

Chris Bennett, a loan officer with HomeServices Lending, in Charlotte, N.C., says that he surprises borrowers "all the time" with preapproval of their loan when they aren't expecting it. Even people with lower credit scores may qualify if they have stable employment, a history of paying rent and credit lines on time, and money in the bank or in a retirement account.

However, Bennett also counsels some borrowers to delay their home purchase long enough to improve their credit score, eliminate debt, get a raise and save more money. They might earn a better interest rate, improving their buying power. Plus, he says, "it's not good to lay out every bit of cash you have if you won't have money for a rainy day."

Prove it. At a minimum, you must supply your pay stubs for the past 30 days and W-2 forms for the past two years. Lenders will want to see bank, retirement-account and investment statements for the past 60 days. Bennett says three types of borrowers will face additional requirements:

If you're self-employed or if 25% or more of your income is from commissions or bonuses, you must provide two years of tax returns. Lenders will average your income over the past two years to figure your debt-to-income ratio. If you have pursued opportunities to reduce your taxable income, you may not have sufficient income to qualify even though you may have a lot of money in the bank. Community banks, credit unions and other lenders that typically keep their loans on their own books are the best bet for borrowers with low incomes and high assets, says Bennett.

If you want to rent out your home and buy a new one, you must provide a signed lease for a minimum of 12 months. You can use only 75% of rental income to help qualify for the mortgage, and you must have at least 30% equity in your former home.

If you and your spouse are relocating for work and your spouse doesn't have a job yet, you must qualify for the loan based on one income unless your spouse has a signed agreement with an employer to begin work within 45 days of closing the loan.

Even if you qualify, you can throw a monkey wrench into the final loan approval if you take on new debt that could affect your credit score or your debt-to-income ratio. Some lenders pull another credit report just before closing. Another possible sticking point is the appraisal. Overly generous appraisals helped to fuel the housing bubble. Now, miserly ones may thwart your closing, says Guy Cecala, publisher of the newsletter Inside Mortgage Finance. Lenders will estimate the value of your home conservatively, and appraisers are generally following suit, especially if the local market is in flux.

Home Equity: Lower Limits

Several years ago, home values were rising so rapidly that you could build a pile of equity practically before the ink was dry on your settlement papers -- and then borrow against it to pay for everything from home repairs to college tuition. But as prices have tumbled, lenders have tightened their criteria for approving fixed-rate home-equity loans and variable-rate lines of credit.

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Now in most cities you'll be able to borrow no more than 80% of the appraised value, less the mortgage. In some cities you may get away with 90%, says Keith Gumbinger, of HSH Associates. But in areas where prices have plummeted, such as parts of Florida, Nevada and California, the loan-to-value ratio goes as low as 60%.

You'll need a credit score of at least 720, as opposed to the 650 to 680 you could get away with a few years ago. And as with first mortgages, you'll have to document income and assets. Interest rates depend on the amount you borrow and your location. Recent rates averaged about 5.3% on home-equity lines of credit and 7.4% on loans, according to HSH.

Car Loans: Better Rates

When you need to borrow money to buy a new set of wheels, credit isn't the major stumbling block anymore. Loan approvals are up from last year in every credit category, according to CNW Research. "Most people have good enough credit to qualify," says Greg McBride, of "The down payment is what's problematic for people without a lot of savings." Lenders are looking for 10% down on a new car and 20% for used cars.

The average rate from the manufacturers' finance companies was 4.5% in August, versus 6.9% in January 2009. Automakers and their finance companies, desperate to prop up sales, are aggressively promoting low-rate loans on new cars for top-tier borrowers. Expect to see 0% offers on 2010 models as dealers clear their lots for the 2011s. And even though the new model year is still fresh, rates as low as 1.9% and 2.9% for 60 months recently made up a sizable number of offers.

Low rates aren't limited to new-car buyers. After welcoming their first child, Andrea Hewitt and her husband, Josh, decided "it was time to grow up." They traded in the 2004 Honda Accord coupe Andrea had bought when she was single for a more family-friendly 2008 Nissan Altima sedan. The dealer offered a loan at 5% for five years, which the Hewitts bargained down to 4.29%. If they had purchased the extended warranty, the dealer would have knocked the rate down to 0.9%. The trade-in took care of a chunk of the loan balance, and the Hewitts put down another $1,500 to keep their payments low. While the best financing deal is often at the dealer, make sure you have a backup plan in case you don't qualify for the lowest rates. At big banks, good credit will get you rates below 4% for five years on new cars and about 4% to 5% for used cars. Some credit unions are beating even those rates. If you don't belong to a credit union, you can probably find one for which you're eligible at

Credit Cards: High Scores

Despite fewer credit-card delinquencies, most large issuers have not relaxed their standards; they continue to require higher credit scores and offer lower credit limits than before the recession. If you have fair or poor credit, you'll have a tough time qualifying. Even if you have a credit score of 740 or 750, you would be approved for a credit card but might not qualify for the lowest rate, says Bill Hardekopf, of

If you have excellent credit, whether or not you qualify for the lowest rate, your mailbox has probably been peppered with credit-card solicitations. Mintel, a market-research firm, expects issuers to send out three to four billion offers this year, compared with two billion a year ago, most of which will be for rewards cards. A lot of rewards cards have attractive perks, but now you're more likely to be charged an annual fee (often waived for the first year). Teaser rates as low as 0% are also making a comeback, although balance-transfer fees at many banks have risen to 5%.

To qualify for the best offers, pay on time, even if it's just the minimum. You could receive a reminder -- and a spike in your interest rate -- if your payment arrives even one day after the due date. If your card issuer lowers your credit limit, you may receive a separate notice or see it announced in your monthly statement. Many issuers no longer charge over-limit fees, but with others, exceeding your limit can cost up to $29 in fees and will probably mean an increase in your interest rate.

Hold your balances below 30% of your total credit limit. If your charges creep above that ratio, it's a red flag that lowers your credit score and could prompt the issuer to raise your rate (you must receive 45 days' notice). It's better not to close accounts because you increase the ratio of your outstanding balance to your available credit, which can hurt your credit score. Issuers can no longer charge inactivity fees, but if you are being charged an annual fee for a card you no longer use, it's worth it to close the account and take a small hit on your credit score.

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9 Items Homebuyers Desire in 2011

According to Yahoo Finance Article Today's homebuyers want it all.

Some items on the shopping list: a home in great condition with rooms that can do double duty. Areas that mingle indoor and outdoor living -- patios, porches, decks and outdoor rooms -- are always a plus. And so are those features that offer a little luxury, like garden tubs, first-rate appliances and high-dollar countertops.

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They're also going back to basics: searching for solid, well-maintained properties that will give them their money's worth.

"I think this year they're buying properties that are in good mechanical condition that have inherent value," says Ron Phipps, president of the National Association of Realtors.

But more than anything, buyers want to drive a hard bargain.

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They want "great deals," says Patricia Szot, president of the MetroTex Association of Realtors. "And no matter where a seller prices their property, they're looking to negotiate."

Here are nine items popular with buyers this year:

Homes in Good Condition

Buyers demand homes that are well maintained, Phipps says. "There's not a lot of flexibility in that." The attitude is: "I'd rather spend the money getting into the house" and not have to spend more money later, he says. Buyers don't want an unknown expense hanging over their heads.

Pat Vredevoogd Combs agrees. "I'm not working with too many people who want a fixer-upper," says Combs, past president of the National Association of Realtors and vice president of Coldwell Banker AJS Schmidt in Grand Rapids, Mich.

One big reason: With most transactions, "buyers have limited amounts of cash," Phipps says. "Even if they want to do a fixer-upper, they don't have the money to do it."

"Buyers have enough money to buy," he says. "They don't have enough money to buy and improve. And the lenders make it really difficult."

Rock-Bottom Bargains

Buyers "are more focused on negotiating, drawing limits in their mind and focusing on the strategy," says Justin Knoll, president of the Denver Board of Realtors.

Some of it is a point of pride, he says. "They want to tell their friends and family that they really got a smokin' deal."

They "want value," says Alice Walker, president of the Greater Nashville Association of Realtors. "They are very picky. They're just a lot more critical. They are not going to settle because they know they don't have to."

Her advice to sellers: Repair, update, clean and stage. "You have got to remove every obstacle possible for the buyers," Walker says.

The more-for-less approach even holds when buyers consider bank-owned properties, says Joan Pratt, real estate broker, Re/Max Professionals in Castle Pines, Colo. "They want the short sales and the foreclosures and they want them to look like they're owner-occupied," she says. "They don't want to paint. They don't want to put carpet in. They don't want to clean."

And they're surprised when they don't find it, Pratt says.

Outdoor Living Areas

"The thing that we've seen over the past couple of years is more outdoor living areas," says Laurie Knudsen, president of the Charlotte Regional Realtor Association. Some popular features: Screen porches, outdoor kitchens, two-way fireplaces.

"It's a selling point if a house already has it," she says. And "it's going to make it more competitive on the market."


Call it "Rock-bottom deals, part two."

Along with pricing, "it's all about incentives," says Mabel Guzman, president of the Chicago Association of Realtors. To pique buyer interest, sellers offer everything from gift cards for new furniture and paint to financial assistance at closing.

Szot agrees, and laments that it's made the road more difficult for sellers.

"Not only are (buyers) asking them to lower the price, but they are asking for a lot more," Szot says. "So negotiations are a lot more difficult now."

Practical Green Features

Call it "Yankee frugality," says Phipps. But what he sees on buyer shopping lists is a home that is easy on the planet because it's easy on the wallet.

Buyers are looking for things like triple-glazed windows, high-efficiency boilers and energy-efficient appliances. "The buyer of today wants to make sure that the ongoing operating costs of the house are as controlled and economical as possible," he says.

Another popular item: nontech green features. Buyers are looking at the sun exposure in relation to energy efficiency, he says. And that's something that will vary with the area and region, he says. "In some areas, you want larger overhangs to minimize the sun," Phipps says. "In my area (New England), lots of windows on the southern side to maximize the sun would be smart."

Open Kitchens

"The wall between the kitchen and the family room is evaporating," Phipps says.

"The kitchen is becoming part of the gathering space," he says. "And it's ironic -- it's the way it was 300 years ago. We've come full circle."

Repurposed Materials

Buyers like a material that looks or feels natural, even if it's not the genuine article, Phipps says. For example, "granite (for counters) is still popular, but it doesn't have to be granite," he says. "It can be stone, another natural material or something that looks like stone."

"We're seeing lots of different materials and lots of reusable materials, which is interesting," he says. "Also a lot of unusual uses of hardwood -- like pine flooring (reclaimed and) reused for counters," or terra cotta slabs -- beautifully glazed -- used for countertops, he says.

Smaller, Less-Formal Homes

Buyers are buying smaller homes, but they want to be able to use and reuse every inch of space, Phipps says. "They are being much more strategic and efficient with how they use it."

Formal spaces that might only be used three or four times per year are disappearing. "The slipcover rooms are gone," says Phipps.

That's "led to a repurposing of space," he says. Formal living rooms have been added to great rooms or converted into home offices or entertainment rooms.

"Three to five years ago, if they could get a loan that would get them into a McMansion with stone and tile and brick and more rooms than they needed, they would do it," says Jeff Wiren, president of the Portland Metropolitan Association of Realtors. "Now they're saying 'I don't know if I want to heat that place and clean it.' They're being much more realistic."

Touches of Luxury

Buyers like luxury. And sometimes the amenities that convey that feeling of living large are relatively simple or inexpensive.

One example: coffee bars in the master bedroom. "It's like a butler's pantry in your bedroom," Pratt says. "An area for your coffee pot and accoutrements and a little fridge."

The feature has been popular, especially in high-end homes, for about five years, she says.

Another luxury touch: high-dollar finishes in less-expensive homes, Knoll says. Granite counters and stainless steel appliances, marble tiles in the bathrooms and vessel or undermount sinks continue to impress, he says.

Buyers also like "a living space where you can have barstools and do some entertaining," he says.

Says Knoll, "There is a sex appeal about housing, and they do get excited about those kinds of things."

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