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The Tea On Refinancing, Managing Your Mortgage & Buying Your First Home During A Pandemic

COVID-19 has put a few strains on us, so is now a good time to buy a home?

Finance

Ladies, it is homebuying season! Well...is it? Currently, housing prices are stagnant and have even increased in some cases, considering we're all sitting in the face of a potential economic shutdown in the midst of a global pandemic. And on the upswing, interest rates are near all-time lows—with potential to go even lower.

But unfortunately, employment, which has been a roller coaster since March, remains a big question mark. And according to researchers, with thousands of housing inventory being withdrawn from the market during the shutdown, prices may soar, lowering affordability.

So, should you buy a home during the COVID-19 pandemic? Should you refinance? What's the best advice for the times? To help answer a few of our biggest questions, I decided to link with a few frontline real estate agents to get the best brewed tea for the market. This is what I found out.

Karissa McRae, Serving Georgia and Maryland—Atlanta/Baltimore Areas

Courtesy of Karissa McRae

Industry Specialty: First-Time Home Buyers

Contact: info@karissamcrae.com

Instagram: @karissarealtor

Homebuying Hack:

"Your earnest money, closing date, and the due diligence period, are all pertinent in securing a deal of excellence. While there are several other factors that contribute to a successful accepted contract, these are components buyers should consider during negotiations."

I appreciate my clients greatly, which is why I ensure that I'm on top of trends, news, updates, etc. to be able to provide them with the best advising possible. The more I've become seasoned in the industry, the more I've learned that knowledge of this game. This industry has a lot of to do with managing application of knowledge when appropriate. On the surface of things, selling a house appears to be as simple as selling a product. However, I am not in the business of just selling a home. I am in the business of navigating, assisting and driving results. The more knowledge you have to drive those results, the better chances you have of closing the deal.

Ask your realtor thousands of questions, and make sure that they are providing insight as well.

During this COVID-19 crisis, there are many advantages and disadvantages of purchasing a home. For one, there are lower interest rates. Also, when sourcing income, stimulus checks can be used toward the purchase of a home. Disadvantages? Uncertainty. We're not sure how long interest rates will remain what they currently reflect and the manner in which many homes can be shown. Some homes require virtual showings only until the home is under contract. This may be a disadvantage if the buyer is eager to view the home physically within a specific period of time.

My top three pandemic real estate tips:

  • If you love it, put an offer in. While you want to ensure you are completely comfortable and love the home, you also want to ensure you are getting your offer in within a timely manner.
  • Ensure your offers are strong. Making sure you have a strong offer can mean the difference between the seller selecting yours vs. another buyer. A strong offer can include, but isn’t limited to, the closing date, sellers concessions, financing type, etc. You should consult with a licensed Realtor regarding which.
  • Ensure you are protected with contingencies. There are contingencies that can be written in the contract to protect you due to unexpected losses during this pandemic. Consult with a licensed Realtor regarding contingencies such as an appraisal, financing and COVID-19 contingency during this time.

For my current homeowners, the question remains: should you refinance? Yes. It's a great time to refinance now due to lower interest rates. However, a common misconception is that refinancing does not cost. Refinancing can cost about 2%-6% of the loan amount. Either way, now is your time. So, go for it!

Leann Henri, Serving Michigan—Detroit, Southeastern Region

Industry Specialty: First-Time Home Buyers, Selling and Relocating, Millennial Buyers and Sellers

Contact: leann@wearedobi.com

Instagram: @leann_henri

Home Buying Hack:

"Find a down payment assistance program—there are so many available! Some of them are even grants that you don't have to pay back. If you don't have to use your own money to buy a home, why would you?"

It's no secret we're in a pretty substantial housing shortage in the US. Couple that with a global pandemic and you've got a recipe that spells complete and utter frustration for eager buyers to find homes. A major disadvantage is the competition between buyers for existing homes currently listed on the market. I submitted an offer on a home last week and the agent told me they have 22 other offers! EX-CUSE ME?!

Not to mention, some of these agents are reckless in advising buyers to waive inspections, put in outrageous appraisal guarantees, and submitting offers thousands upon thousands of dollars over asking. Many people can't compete with that, and honestly I would never advise my clients to do such a thing. The right home will come along and I always tell them, "What's for you will not pass you by." On the cloud-covered bright side (I say "cloud-covered" because these low rates are largely fueled by the pandemic), there are still fears of new coronavirus outbreaks affecting the economy, meaning rates will probably stay low for quite some time to incentivize buyers and sellers to make a move.

And that's always a good thing.

If you are looking to refinance, absolutely do so! Rates are at record lows right now. Money is so cheap, it's basically free. Why pay "them" more money to borrow their money than what you have to? Oftentimes people sign a mortgage and don't look at the details again until they're planning to sell, which is terrible! Usually a person's financial status when they first bought their home, changes over time. You could qualify for many more perks, the key is to just ask. Even if you refinance and only save an additional $150/month on your mortgage - that's $150 extra dollars a month to go towards another bill, savings, investments, or put it right back on your principal mortgage balance to pay down your loan faster and save in interest over time.

The goal is to pay them back as quickly and efficiently as possible so you can start building wealth. Of course, I always strongly suggest consulting with a qualified mortgage lender about the pros and cons of refinancing for your particular situation.

For those interested in a COVID-19's buyer market, here are my immediate tips:

  • Analyze your finances. If you can't afford it, don't force it.
  • Stay encouraged. It's a jungle with low inventory and high competition.
  • Don't pick a random Realtor. Interview as many as you need to find one that you trust and that truly has your best interest at heart.

Since the start of the pandemic, what I've always believed about real estate has been cemented. Good morals, staying ahead of the curve, and real authentic interactions will always win. My business has grown so much during this pandemic and every time I ask a client why they chose me, the answers are always along the same lines: they felt well-informed from the very beginning, my social media or my YouTube channel made them feel like they could relate to me, and I actually ANSWERED THE PHONE! People let chasing a dollar get in the way of really truly caring for your neighbor and I believe that will separate the successes from the one-hit wonders.

Claudia Garcia, Serving Illinois—Chicagoland

Courtesy of Claudia Garcia

Industry Specialty: First-Time Home Buyers, Buyers, Sellers, and Leasing

Contact: cgarcia@propertyconsultants.com

Instagram: @claudiasellschicago

Homeowner Hack:

"Make biweekly mortgage payments to pay off your mortgage quicker. You're basically breaking down your monthly mortgage in half every two weeks, (there are 26 biweekly periods in a year) which has the equivalence of making one extra monthly mortgage payment every year."

Ladies, buying a home is definitely one of the biggest financial decisions you will ever make! COVID-19 may have put some strains on us, but what better time than now to begin preparing ourselves? A lot of individuals assume that they can't purchase a home considering the times, but they haven't taken the initiative to actually see if that's the case; there actually isn't a better time than now to purchase.

While some mortgage companies may have tightened up their requirements, interest rates have been dropping. And people whom are already homeowners that are locked in at higher rates have—and should have—been looking into refinancing that the low interest rates institutions are offering (rates have recently dropped below 3%).

Agents are noticing that many people believed that the market was going to crash, but this totally hasn't been the case at all (thus far). Yes, new home listings decreased in late March, at peak hysteria of COVID-19, but listings have started to pick up in late June, early July. Just know that we are in a buyer's market right now: there are more buyers looking to purchase homes than homes listed on the market, which in turn, has created a multiple-offer scenario for certain properties/sellers (and creates disadvantages for some buyers).

My top homebuying tips are:

  • Talk to a loan officer first. People automatically think or assume they are not qualified to purchase a home, for whatever reason, but they have never actually talked to a loan officer to see what exactly it is that they need to prepare themselves for purchasing a home.
  • Save every dollar that you can right now. Why else wouldn't you be saving during quarantine? Create a budget, cut costs, and spend less, so that you're prepared for closing time, as well as just establishing rainy day funds.
  • Educate yourself as much as you can about the homebuying process. And then find and work with an experienced and trustworthy realtor.

Real estate is a continuous changing market, and a never-ending learning career. I've even taken advantage of this time to learn and educate myself even more in the field by enrolling in different certifications and designations so that I can provide the best experience I can for my clients.

And for all my homeowners, I hope you're researching the best options for your possible purchasing/selling journey as well. It's a great time to do so, so why not?

Marly Walters, Serving Florida—Southern Region

Courtesy of Marly Waters

Industry Specialty: First-Time Home Buyers, Buyers, Sellers, and Leasing

Contact: marlywalters@themarlygroup.com

Instagram: @marlyrealestate

Homebuying Hack:

"During the inspection period, you can ask the seller to make additional repairs, or ask for a seller credit at closing to make repairs after closing. In Florida, the high majority of offers use the approved AS IS with the right to inspect standard contract. So, even though you are purchasing the property as is, you can use the inspection as a second chance to negotiate the sales price or credits."

I had a client once that got very sick only a year after I helped him purchase his dream home. Even though I offer many listing services that other agents don't offer, typically getting the home cleaned and show-ready, meeting with multiple contractors for repair bids, and arranging storage and movers, are the responsibility of the seller. However, he did not have any local family and I knew he was not going to be physically able to handle any of these tasks so I made sure that I personally took them on. I was able to sell the home over list price and net him enough so that he still had funds to downsize and purchase a new property. For me, that's what being a realtor is all about.

As we've already mentioned, the biggest advantage in our industry during the pandemic is that interest rates are at historic lows.

So, the same home you could not afford a year ago, you might be approved to purchase today because a lower interest rate increases your monthly affordability amount. This also means that in a lot of markets, it's a hot seller's season. There's a home inventory shortage, meaning that for the smaller number of available homes, there is more competition, increasing the likelihood of you running into a multiple-offer situation, and ultimately driving up sales prices.

My three tips are these:

  • Look for homes that have been on the market for 60+ days if you are looking for a deal.
  • Be comfortable with going virtual (virtual property tours, electronically signing documents, etc.).
  • Work with an experienced buyer's agent that will know how to negotiate well on your behalf and can save you from the pitfalls of a transaction.

I used to think that you had to have your hands in a lot of different lead generation pots in order to be successful in this business. However, as I grow in the business, I now understand that focusing on a few things, doing them very well, and putting the attention on building long-term relationships with clients is more important than building a big volume of leads.

When you are laser-focused on your strengths and your clients, the success will come.

Feature image courtesy of Leann Henri

ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.

Reparations

We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
Sign up

Featured image by Shutterstock

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