For Sale By Owners

If you ask anyone who has ever tried to sell their home themselves they’ll tell you that from the moment the “For Sale by Owner” sign goes up, the phone begins to ring. Unfortunately, many of those calls will not he from prospective buyers, but rather from real estate agents looking to obtain your listing. Obviously the idea of not having to pay a commis­sion to a real estate agent is attractive to any home seller. But because of all the issues involved in the process, selling a home on one’s own can be challenging, as many home sellers will attest to.

The key is to be properly prepared. If you are not, your home could remain on the market longer than you expect because you are not attracting and getting offers from qualified buyers. This can be a point where many homeowners become frustrated and consider giving up their dream of selling their home themselves. However, there are sellers who accom­plish selling their own homes, very well. You can be one of them.

This industry report has been especially prepared to assist home sellers, such as yourself, understand the elements involved so you, on your own, can sell your home quickly and for the most amount of profit. To help you prepare, here are 10 inside tips that you should be aware of before you make the decision as to whether or not this is the right approach for you.

10 Inside Tips for Selling Your Home Yourself

1. Price it Right…Correctly setting your asking price is critical. Setting your price too high can he as costly as setting it too low. Home prices are determined by fluctuations in the marketplace not by your emo­tional attachment or by what you feel your home is worth. In order to establish a real­istic price for your home, objectively com­pare the price, features and condition of all similar homes in both your neighborhood and other similar ones which have sold in recent months. In addition, check comparable listings currently for sale. if you are asking more then your competitors, you most likely help them sell first.  It is also important for you to be familiar with the terms of each poten­tial sale. Terms are often as important as price in today’s market. Carefully budget your selling costs and prepare a net proceeds sheet to calculate your best estimate of what you will take away from your home sale. Prospective buyers may also request this kind of analysis of buying costs.

2. Prepare Your Home for Sale…First impression is crucial. Make sure your home makes a positive statement by carefully inspecting all details and viewing it through the objective eyes of a buyer. Don’t gloss over needed repairs and fix-ups, as your prospective buyers won’t. Your job is to ensure that your home stands out favorably from the competition.

3. Prepare Yourself With All Necessary Legal Documentation…Not surprisingly, there are many important legal contracts and documents, which you must assemble, complete and understand. A partial checklist of forms that you will require for prospective buyers and for legal documentation is as follows: Seller Disclosure, Purchase Contract, Mortgage Payoff, Loan Application, Earnest Money Receipt, Deposit Receipt, Property Profile Fact Sheet, Buyer’s Cost Sheet, Closing & Settlement, Personal Property, Exclusion List, Property Survey/Plot Plan, Sellers Statement of Representation, Lead Base Paint Disclosure and Mold Disclosure Form.

4 Market Your Home Effectively… Beyond the sign you will put on your lawn, you should find effective ways to spread the word about your home. Local buyers can be reached through the newspaper, but this is only a small part of the market you are after. Actually less then 4% of all homes sell through the newspaper.  Be sure you include the many buyers who could already be working with a Realtor®. To locate them, target as many top agents as pos­sible in your market to see if the criteria of their buyers match that of your homes. Because out-of town and international buyers are also an important target and have a major impact in Florida, you should create a strategy to reach these people as well. Above all, you should be very service minded and make it easy for pre-qualified buyers to view your home. Ensure there is always someone avail­able to answer the phone, pick up messages promptly, and be ready to give qualified prospects a tour of your home as soon as possible.

 5. Remain Objective During a Showing of Your Home…Keep emotion out of the sale of your home, and the best way to do this during a showing is to remain physi­cally in the background. If a prospective buyer says something negative about your home, it is better to counter-balance this point of view by illustrating the positives rather than becoming defensive.

6. Pre-Qualify Your Prospects…Don’t waste your Time entertaining buyers who could never afford your home. Research their finan­cial steadiness with respect to job security, salary, debts, liabilities and credit standing before you show your house. A financialy stable buyer will not mind answering these questions. A time-waster will.

7. Negotiate Effectively & Knowledgeably… There will he many details to resolve before a sale can be considered final: price, terms, inspections, possession date, buyer concerns and objections. Make sure you fully understand the contract you have drawn up so you can in turn explain details and ramifications to the buyer and make any amendments to the sale that are necessary. The contract you use should he thoroughly examined by your real estate attorney. Some real estate brokers may be willing to help you do this. While this is going on, manage the buyer’s interest in your home so that it doesn’t wane during negotiations.

8. Know Your Buyer…Your objective during negotiations is to control the pace and set the dura­tion. Try to determine what your buyer’s motivation is. Does he or she need to move quickly? Do they have enough money to pay your asking price? Knowing this information will give you the advantage in the negotiation because you will know up front, what you will need to do in order to get what you want.

9. Don’t Move Out Before You Sell…Studies have shown that it is more difficult to sell a home that is vacant. It looks forlorn, forgotten, simply not appealing. It could even cost you money. If you move, you’re also telling buyers that you have a new home and are motivated to sell fast which can, of course, give them an advantage at the nego­tiating table.

 10. Know Why You’re Selling and Keep it to Yourself…The flip side of “understanding your buyer” is to “understand yourself”. Your reasons for selling will affect everything from your list price to how much time and money you will invest in getting your home ready for sale. Your motivation will help you determine what is more important to you: the money you walk away with, the length of time your property is on the market, or both. Different goals will dictate different strategies. As someone who wants to sell without a real estate agent in an effort to save the commission it is likely that money is one of your primary considerations. Whatever your reasons, however, it is very important to keep them to yourself so as not to place yourself at a disadvantage at the negotiation table. When asked, simply say your housing needs have changed.

How to Assess Your Net Gain  To analyze whether or not you will end up ahead by choosing to sell on your own, consider the fact that most buyers do use a real estate agent because it doesn’t cost them anything for this ser­vice (i.e. the seller pays the agent’s fee). Be cautious, as buyers, investors and speculators who seek out For Sale by Owners are typically those in search of a bargain. The low-ball offers from these types of buyers will often net you much lower in the long run. Actually, statistically homes sold through a professional Realtor had higher nets to their sellers then sold by the owners. What you will have to judge for yourself is the following:

1. Be as prepared as possible with your marketing, negotiations, evaluations, showings and all legalities.

2. Consider what it will cost you to effec­tively market your home and assemble all necessary materials from the “for sale” sign to any contracts?

3. What price will a buyer offer you as a For Sale by Owner minus the costs identified in point 2 above. Is this net price higher than the once an experi­enced agent could net for you minus his/her commission?

For additional Information contact The Realty Team toll free at 1.800.654.4904.

It Pays to Support Responsible Homeownership

By: Dona DeZube

Helping others become homeowners protects your home’s value and builds stronger communities.

When people move from renting to owning a home, they’re more likely to vote, get involved in community groups, and care about their home’s appearance. The children of homeowners do 23% better in school, according to a 2001 study by Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies. And a steady flow of first-time homebuyers makes it easier to sell your own starter home when you’re ready to move up to a larger property.

Make housing affordable
One way to make more people homeowners is to make housing more affordable. All U.S. homeowners benefit from policies like the mortgage interest tax deduction. Many use government-backed mortgage insurance to lower loan costs. A variety of public and private programs offer low-cost loans and downpayment assistance to help Americans become homeowners. Help prospective homeowners save a downpayment by donating to sites like EARN, a non-profit that uses donations to match funds saved by low-wage earners.

Reduce foreclosures and preserve home value
Foreclosure matters because it hurts all homeowners. In 2009, foreclosures will cause property values to decline an average of $7,200 for about 70 million homeowners, resulting in a $502 billion loss in home equity, the Center for Responsible Lending estimates. Each foreclosure within 1/8th of a mile of your home lowers your property value about 0.744 percent, CRL says.

“One of the sad lessons of the [recent past] is that we aren’t alone,” says Nicolas P. Retsinas, director of the JCHS. “It’s clear that if the family next door loses their home to foreclosure, my home’s value will go down. Therefore, I have a vested interest in ensuring that people become homeowners and that homeownership is sustained over time.”

One effective tool against foreclosure is educating homeowners before they buy. The Joint Center found that loan delinquencies fell 13% with homeownership counseling. People who go through pre-purchase and post-purchase counseling and learn about mortgages, family budgeting, and home maintenance are less apt to face foreclosure, says Michael Berti, senior homeownership specialist at the Rural Ulster Preservation Company in Kingston, N.Y.

Support groups that help homeowners
One way to do your part to help other homeowners is by donating your time or money to some of the many non-profits that promote responsible homeownership.

Habitat for Humanity partners with new homeowners to build affordable housing. Habitat homes aren’t free. Homeowners work hundreds of hours, get homeownership counseling, and make mortgage payments.

The United Way supports many local programs that build affordable housing, help families build financial assets, and teach financial management skills. If you donate to United Way, you can direct your contribution to those causes.

HomeownershipSF, in San Francisco, tries to intervene where people facing foreclosure have the resources to catch up on their loan. If “the home can’t be saved, we try to get a first-time homebuyer we’ve worked with into the home as quickly as possible to stabilize the neighborhood,” says Interim Director Christi Baker.

Government programs support homeownership
Supporting federal state, and local programs that help create homeowners is another way you can expand responsible and affordable homeownership.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and the Federal Housing Authority provide mortgage loan insurance or guarantees that let people buy homes with only a small downpayment and borrow at lower interest rates.

Government-sponsored groups Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and government-run Ginnie Mae buy and securitize mortgage loans made by banks, freeing up money, so banks can keep lending.

Sites like Govtrack and RollCall help you stay on top of laws that affect homeowners.

HUD’s HOME program provides financial support to state and local housing authorities to build and renovate for-sale and rental housing for lower-income Americans.

In U.S. cities of all sizes, the HOPE VI program has funded plans to replace deteriorating public housing with new low-rise, mixed-income homes. These developments sell most homes at market rates, but designate a percentage for use by low-income homeowners.

How to get involved
You can support responsible homeownership in many ways. Retired construction contractors France and Bill Moriarity travel the country in their RV managing Habitat construction projects. “We like it because it’s a hand up, not a hand out,” France Moriarity says. Habitat volunteers don’t need construction skills and can sign up to work as little as one day at a time. Groups can volunteer together. Organizations like Rebuilding Together and NeighborWorks America sponsor once yearly volunteer events that help lower-income homeowners repair their homes.

In San Francisco, Gregg Lynn convinced 150 people from his professional network to donate a percentage of their income to EARN. Follow his lead by asking your professional network, trade association, or social group to contribute.

Dona DeZube has been writing about real estate for over two decades. She lives a suburban Baltimore 1970s rancher on a 3-acre lot shared with possums, raccoons, foxes, a herd of deer, and her blue-tick hound.

Chrisha Mitchell, Realtor at 708-966-9282

Invest a Tax Refund in Your Home $3,000 Projects

By: John Riha

Published: April 4, 2011

Four great, summary ways to invest your $3,000 tax refund in your house.

Boring? Hardly. Upgrading and maintaining your home preserves its value, giving you a nice return on your investment. Plus, you’ll enjoy the fruits of your labors every day.

With summer on the horizon, here are four outdoorsy ideas for spending your refund.

Add outdoor lighting

Show your house in its best light, even in the evening, with an outdoor lighting scheme. You’ll enhance your home’s architectural features and play up landscaping details, plus you’ll be adding safety and security to your property.

Here’s a quick price check on a professionally installed system:

7 LED outdoor lighting fixtures to illuminate 100 feet of walkway: $2,275.
A transformer to convert household current into low-voltage: $400.
Two motion-detector security lighting fixtures: $300.
Total: $2,975

Install a patio

A backyard patio is an inexpensive way to add some sweet living area to your home.

For a professionally installed brick or concrete paver patio that’s 12 by 16 feet–plenty of space for a table, chairs, and barbecue equipment—you’ll pay about $15 per square foot, or $3,000 total. Expect a payback of 30% to 60% on your investment (plus many hours of great outdoor living).

Other paving materials include limestone, slate, and granite. Concrete is a less expensive option that costs $6 to $12 per square foot, installed.

Upgrade your deck

Make your deck more livable with upgrades that add shade, increase privacy, and provide convenience.

Shade sails provide soft, diffuse shade for areas not covered by trees and building overhangs. They’re made of weatherproof materials that never need maintenance, and come in various shapes. Professional installation of a 12-foot triangular sail costs about $3,000, including the sail and support posts.
Cable railings are thin stainless steel cables stretched between posts. They open up views and add a contemporary feel. Expect to pay $70 per lineal foot for the railings plus pro installation.
Built-in planters add visual texture and help define separate areas of your deck. Integrate their construction with built-in benches to add seating. You’ll spend $150 to $250 per lineal foot for cedar or redwood planters and benches, including materials and installation.
Replace your air conditioning

Hoping the old unit holds on for another year? New central air conditioning units require 30% less electricity and lower energy bills by 30% more than AC units made just a few years ago. You also may qualify for a $300 energy tax credit. Prices for a new energy-efficient central air conditioner start around $3,000.

John Riha has written seven books on home improvement and hundreds of articles on home-related topics. He’s been a residential builder, the editorial director of the Black & Decker Home Improvement Library, and the executive editor of Better Homes and Gardens magazine. His 1972 suburban house has been an ongoing source of maintenance experience.

Click here to view Chicagoland homes!

Keep Your Home Purchase on Track

By: G. M. Filisko

Published: March 30, 2010

You’ve found your dream home. Make sure missteps don’t prevent a successful closing.

1. Be truthful on your mortgage application
You may think fudging your income a little or omitting debts when applying for a mortgage will go unnoticed. Not true. Lenders have become more diligent in verifying information on mortgage applications. If you fib, expect to be found out and denied the loan you need to fund your home purchase. Plus, intentionally lying on a mortgage application is a crime.

2. Hold off on big purchases
Lenders double-check buyers’ credit right before the closing to be sure their financial condition hasn’t weakened. If you’ve opened new credit cards, significantly increased the balance on existing cards, taken out new loans, or depleted your savings, your credit score may have dropped enough to make your lender change its mind on funding your home loan.

Although it’s tempting to purchase new furniture and other items for your new home, or even a new car, wait until after the closing.

3. Keep your job
The lender may refuse to fund your loan if you quit or change jobs before you close the purchase. The time to take either step is after a home closing, not before.

4. Meet contingencies
If your contract requires you to do something before the sale, do it. If you’re required to secure financing, promptly provide all the information the lender requires. If you must deposit additional funds into escrow, don’t stall. If you have 10 days to get a home inspection, call the inspector immediately.

5. Consider deadlines immovable
Get your funds together a week or so before the closing, so you don’t have to ask for a delay. If you’ll need to bring a certified check to closing, get it from the bank the day before, not the day of, your closing. Treat deadlines as sacrosanct.

More from HouseLogic
How maintenance adds to home values

Reducing closing stress

Other web resources
More on calculating closing costs

More on the closing process

Click for information on buying a home!
708-966-9787

How to Assess the Real Cost of a Fixer-Upper House

By: G. M. Filisko

Published: August 24, 2010

When you buy a fixer-upper house, you can save a ton of money, or get yourself in a financial fix.

1. Decide what you can do yourself
TV remodeling shows make home improvement work look like a snap. In the real world, attempting a difficult remodeling job that you don’t know how to do will take longer than you think and can lead to less-than-professional results that won’t increase the value of your fixer-upper house.

Do you really have the skills to do it? Some tasks, like stripping wallpaper and painting, are relatively easy. Others, like electrical work, can be dangerous when done by amateurs.
Do you really have the time and desire to do it? Can you take time off work to renovate your fixer-upper house? If not, will you be stressed out by living in a work zone for months while you complete projects on the weekends?
2. Price the cost of repairs and remodeling before you make an offer
Get your contractor into the house to do a walk-through, so he can give you a written cost estimate on the tasks he’s going to do.
If you’re doing the work yourself, price the supplies.
Either way, tack on 10% to 20% to cover unforeseen problems that often arise with a fixer-upper house.
3. Check permit costs
Ask local officials if the work you’re going to do requires a permit and how much that permit costs. Doing work without a permit may save money, but it’ll cause problems when you resell your home.
Decide if you want to get the permits yourself or have the contractor arrange for them. Getting permits can be time-consuming and frustrating. Inspectors may force you to do additional work, or change the way you want to do a project, before they give you the permit.
Factor the time and aggravation of permits into your plans.
4. Doublecheck pricing on structural work
If your fixer-upper home needs major structural work, hire a structural engineer for $500 to $700 to inspect the home before you put in an offer so you can be confident you’ve uncovered and conservatively budgeted for the full extent of the problems.

Get written estimates for repairs before you commit to buying a home with structural issues.

Don’t purchase a home that needs major structural work unless:

You’re getting it at a steep discount
You’re sure you’ve uncovered the extent of the problem
You know the problem can be fixed
You have a binding written estimate for the repairs
5. Check the cost of financing
Be sure you have enough money for a downpayment, closing costs, and repairs without draining your savings.

If you’re planning to fund the repairs with a home equity or home improvement loan:

Get yourself pre-approved for both loans before you make an offer.
Make the deal contingent on getting both the purchase money loan and the renovation money loan, so you’re not forced to close the sale when you have no loan to fix the house.
Consider the Federal Housing Administration’s Section 203(k) program, which is designed to help home owners who are purchasing or refinancing a home that needs rehabilitation. The program wraps the purchase/refinance and rehabilitation costs into a single mortgage. To qualify for the loan, the total value of the property must fall within the FHA mortgage limit for your area, as with other FHA loans. A streamlined 203(k) program provides an additional amount for rehabilitation, up to $35,000, on top of an existing mortgage. It’s a simpler process than obtaining the standard 203(k).
6. Calculate your fair purchase offer
Take the fair market value of the property (what it would be worth if it were in good condition and remodeled to current tastes) and subtract the upgrade and repair costs.

For example: Your target fixer-upper house has a 1960s kitchen, metallic wallpaper, shag carpet, and high levels of radon in the basement.

Your comparison house, in the same subdivision, sold last month for $200,000. That house had a newer kitchen, no wallpaper, was recently recarpeted, and has a radon mitigation system in its basement.

The cost to remodel the kitchen, remove the wallpaper, carpet the house, and put in a radon mitigation system is $40,000. Your bid for the house should be $160,000.

Ask your real estate agent if it’s a good idea to share your cost estimates with the sellers, to prove your offer is fair.

7. Include inspection contingencies in your offer
Don’t rely on your friends or your contractor to eyeball your fixer-upper house. Hire pros to do common inspections like:

Home inspection. This is key in a fixer-upper assessment. The home inspector will uncover hidden issues in need of replacement or repair. You may know you want to replace those 1970s kitchen cabinets, but the home inspector has a meter that will detect the water leak behind them.
Radon, mold, lead-based paint
Septic and well
Pest
Most home inspection contingencies let you go back to the sellers and ask them to do the repairs, or give you cash at closing to pay for the repairs. The seller can also opt to simply back out of the deal, as can you, if the inspection turns up something you don’t want to deal with.

If that happens, this isn’t the right fixer-upper house for you. Go back to the top of this list and start again.

More from HouseLogic
What you need to know about foundation repairs

Budgeting for a home remodel

Tips on hiring a contractor

Other web resources
This Old House remodeling cost estimates

Check the average return on different remodeling projects

G.M. Filisko is an attorney and award-winning writer whose parents bought and renovated a fixer-upper when she was a teen. A regular contributor to many national publications including Bankrate.com, REALTOR® Magazine, and the American Bar Association Journal, she specializes in real estate, business, personal finance, and legal topics.

Click here to view Chicagoland homes!
or call Chrisha at (708) 966-9787 for more information.

Cleaning House Secrets of a Truly Deep Clean

By: Jane Hoback

Published: January 14, 2011

Deep clean your house and you’ll brighten rooms and help maintain your home’s value.

De-bug the light fixtures
See that bug burial ground within your overhead fixtures? Turn off the lights and carefully remove fixture covers, dump out flies and wash with hot soapy water. While you’re up there, dust bulbs. Dry everything thoroughly before replacing the cover.

Vacuum heat vents and registers
Dirt and dust build up in heat vents and along register blades. Vents also are great receptacles for coins and missing buttons. Unscrew vent covers from walls or pluck them from floors, remove foreign objects, and vacuum inside the vent. Clean grates with a damp cloth and screw back tightly.

Polish hardware
To deep clean brass door hinges, handles, and cabinet knobs, thoroughly wipe with a damp microfiber cloth, then polish with Wright’s or Weiman brass cleaner ($4). Dish soap shines up glass or stainless steel knobs. Use a Q-tip to detail the ornamental filigree on knobs and handles.

Replace grungy switch plates
Any amateur can wipe a few fingerprints off cover plates that hide light switches, electric outlets, phone jacks, and cable outlets. But only deep cleaners happily remove plates to vacuum and swipe the gunk behind. (OK, we’re a little OCD when it comes to dirt!) Make sure cover plates are straight when you replace them. And pitch plates that are beyond the help of even deep cleaning. New ones cost less than $2 each.

Neaten weather stripping
Peeling, drooping weather stripping on doors and windows makes rooms look old. If the strip still has some life, nail or glue it back. If it’s hopeless, cut out and replace sections, or just pull the whole thing off and start new. A 10-ft. roll of foam weather stripping costs $8; 16-ft. vinyl costs about $15.

Replace stove drip pans
Some drip pans are beyond the scrub brush. Replacing them costs about $3 each and instantly freshens your stove.

Jane Hoback is a veteran business writer who has written for the Rocky Mountain News, Natural Foods Merchandiser magazine, and ColoradoBIZ Magazine.

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Should You Move or Remodel?

By: Dona DeZube

Published: August 24, 2010

When your house no longer suits you, you can move or remodel. Find out which big change is the right investment of your housing dollars.

Just about everything else—remodeling costs, the hassle of living in a construction zone, or the ability to live happily without one more bathroom–is a personal preference. After all, your home isn’t just your largest investment; it’s also the place where your family lives.

1. Will remodeling make your home better than everyone else’s?
To make the right move-or-remodel decision, you have to know:

Your home’s value. Easy. Just ask a REALTOR® to estimate it and tell you how it compares with the value of the other homes in your immediate neighborhood. Ask her what she thinks your house will be worth after the improvements, too.
Your neighbors’ home value. Hit some open houses. Seeing the inside of area homes will inspire you; help you make good choices about finishes, room sizes, and how much to spend; and, admit it, entertain you.
Your remodeling costs. Once you’ve got your renovation vision, get a quote from a home improvement contractor or, if you’re remodeling it yourself, tally the costs of the items on your supplies shopping list.
Then add the remodeling costs to the value of your home. If the number you get is more than 10% above the average value of homes in your neighborhood, you’re over-improving and probably won’t be able to sell for what you put into the remodel.

Here’s why: No one wants to buy the most expensive home on the block (your home) if they can spend the same money to get a similar home on a block of higher-priced homes. Would you pay $200,000 to live on a block where all the other homes are valued at $100,000? We hope not.

Make home improvements that are typical for the neighborhood. Don’t put granite countertops in a trailer, and don’t put laminate countertops in a Trump Tower condo. Your tour of open houses gives you a chance to verify that your planned remodel isn’t an over- or under-improvement for the neighborhood.

2. Do you love where you live?
Want to keep your kids in the same school district, but can’t find or afford a bigger, better house? Love the neighbors? Have an easy commute to work? Stay put. If you’ve soured on the traffic, the neighborhood’s crime rate, or the nosy neighbors, move on.

3. Do you have room to expand?
If your remodeling plans include increasing the overall size of your home, the size of your lot may be the deciding factor in whether to move or remodel. If you live in a 1,500 sq. ft. ranch on a 3,000 sq. ft. lot, you might be able to add a second story to turn it into a 3,000 sq. ft. two-story, but you’re not likely to add 1,500 sq. ft. at ground level. And if you have a septic tank and well, the location of those will limit how and where you add onto your home (or cost you a bundle to move).

4. Can you afford to move?
Consider these moving costs: sale costs for your existing home, shipping your household goods, buying window treatments and possibly furniture for the new house, costs to fix up your existing home before sale, higher utility costs (if your next house is bigger), insurance cost differences, and property taxes.

More from HouseLogic
Q&A: Author Sarah Susanka Talks Budget-Smart Remodeling

Should You Move or Improve?

Other web resources
Find your local remodelers

Average project cost

Dona DeZube, HouseLogic’s news editor, moved across the same street twice when she remodeled two houses in Columbia, Maryland, before she moved to a house in Clarksville, Maryland. She remodeled that house and then moved back to the same street in Columbia. She despises moving, but her husband loves remodeling.

Click here to view Chicagoland homes!

How FICO Credit Scores Work

By:

Published: October 14, 2010

Buying a house, refinancing it, getting a loan, getting a job—they’re all dependent on your FICO credit score. It pays to learn how it’s calculated.

How are FICO credit scores computed?

FICO uses five broad categories to calculate credit scores, and each category is weighted accordingly:

Payment History 35%
Amounts owed 30%
Length of credit history 15%
New credit 10%
Types of credit in use (is it a “healthy” mix?) 10%

Why are there three FICO credit scores?

There are three main bureaus that collect data on your credit history: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. FICO takes data from each credit bureau and runs it through its system. This leads to three different FICO credit scores because:

  • Each agency may have information one or both of the others don’t have. For example, a collection agency may have reported a bad debt to only one of them.
  • Errors that occur just in one agency’s data may affect that agency’s results, but not the results from the other two.

And to make it even more complex, many lenders augment their credit decisions by adding particular criteria they want to consider.

Also, although FICO is the best-known credit score, there are many others. Some lenders generate their own credit scores using data from the same three credit bureaus. Experian, in fact, has developed its own scoring system separate from FICO.

However, FICO remains the most common; when big lenders refer to your credit scores, they’re usually referring to the FICO scores.

Why can a credit check by itself reduce a FICO credit score?

FICO’s research shows that more credit shopping, resulting in more inquiries, correlates with a higher risk of future default. However, multiple queries in a short period for one purpose—such as when you’re shopping for a HELOC—would count as only one inquiry.

The FICO score ignores any mortgage, student loan, or auto loan inquiries made within the previous 30 days. The system limits itself to inquiries made in the 11 months before that, and reduces similar inquires within any 45-day window to a single inquiry. For example, if you approach five banks over two weeks on a HELOC, it will only count as one inquiry.

The inquiry formulas can get rather complex; the FICO site has more details.

How long does major negative information stay on my credit report?

Generally, the impact of adverse information on a FICO score lessens over time.

Foreclosures 7 years, with rebound beginning in as little as 2 years.
Deeds in lieuand short sales 7 years—they usually appear on credit reports as foreclosures.
Late payments 7 years. It doesn’t matter what the late payments are for. Recent late payments hit your credit score harder than older ones, and the amount and frequency of the late payments are also factors.
Bankruptcies 7 years (10 years for “full discharge of debt”—i.e., if you’re absolved of your full debt, the bankruptcy stays on your credit report for 10 years). Because they often involve more than one account, bankruptcies generally have a greater negative impact on your credit score compared with a foreclosure, short sale, or deed in lieu.

How does loan modification affect my FICO credit score?

Until November 2009, if you were in a loan modification program, your credit report likely notes that you have made only a partial payment. This significantly lowered your FICO score.

However, in modifications made since November 2009, the credit reporting system was changed to reduce the credit score hit. But as of October 2010 FICO hadn’t completely bought into this system and may at some point decide that everyone in a loan modification program, whether under new or old rules, deserves a significantly lower score.

For now, your best bet is to obtain your free credit reports, as noted later in this article, and see how your particular situation was reported and handled.

Do reductions in credit card or HELOC limits affect my credit score?

The impact will be unique for each consumer. The FICO formula considers many aspects of your balances and behaviors, including whether you have a high percentage of available credit at the time the report was pulled.

For example, if you have high debt and use a substantial proportion of your available credit, you’re at a greater risk. Opening a new credit card to increase available credit, after another card was reduced, may backfire and reduce your credit score.

Do lenders have to tell me if they’re basing a quote on my bad credit score?

New regulations taking effect in 2011 require lenders to tell you if they’re giving you a particularly high interest rate or other less favorable loan term than other borrowers who qualify for the best deals. In the past, the lenders may not have told you that you were getting an especially high rate—you were penalized without knowing it.

Starting in January, you’ll be forewarned.

Then if your credit score is lower than you expected, you can investigate it—maybe it’s just an outdated report or a simple mix-up. At least you’ll know the deal before signing on the dotted line.

But don’t wait until you apply for a loan to discover your credit is a mess. By law, you can get a free report from each agency once a year at Annualcreditreport.com. (And no, this isn’t the company advertising with the slacker band on TV.) This is the only site authorized by the Federal Trade Commission to provide free reports.

However, these reports don’t include your FICO scores. You can purchase TransUnion and Equifax FICO scores from MyFico.com for $15.95 each. (Experian continues to provide a FICO score to lenders but no longer sells its score on a retail basis.)  Some consumers will qualify for free FICO scores starting in mid-2011 or early 2012.

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7 Steps to Take Before You Buy a Home

By: G. M. Filisko

Published: February 10, 2010

By doing your homework before you buy, you’ll feel more content about your new home.

 

1. Decide how much home you can afford

Generally, you can afford a home priced 2 to 3 times your gross income. Remember to consider costs every homeowner must cover: property taxes, insurance, maintenance, utilities, and community association fees, if applicable, as well as costs specific to your family, such as day care if you plan to have children.

2. Develop your home wish list

Be honest about which features you must have and which you’d like to have. Handicap accessibility for an aging parent or special needs child is a must. Granite countertops and stainless steel appliances are in the bonus category. Come up with your top-five must-haves and top-five wants to help you focus your search and make a logical, rather than emotional, choice when home shopping.

3. Select where you want to live

Make a list of your top-five community priorities, such as commute time, schools, and recreational facilities. Ask your REALTOR® to help you identify three to four target neighborhoods based on your priorities.

4. Start saving

Have you saved enough money to qualify for a mortgage and cover your downpayment? Ideally, you should have 20% of the purchase price set aside for a downpayment, but some lenders allow as little as 5% down. A small downpayment preserves your savings for emergencies.

However, the lower your downpayment, the higher the loan amount you’ll need to qualify for, and if you still qualify, the higher your monthly payment. Your downpayment size can also influence your interest rate and the type of loan you can get.

Finally, if your downpayment is less than 20%, you’ll be required to purchase private mortgage insurance. Depending on the size of your loan, PMI can add hundreds to your monthly payment. Check with your state and local government for mortgage and downpayment assistance programs for first-time buyers.

5. Ask about all the costs before you sign

A downpayment is just one homebuying cost. Your REALTOR® can tell you what other costs buyers commonly pay in your area—including home inspections, attorneys’ fees, and transfer fees of 2% to 7% of the home price. Tally up the extras you’ll also want to buy after you move-in, such as window coverings and patio furniture for your new yard.

6. Get your credit in order

A credit report details your borrowing history, including any late payments and bad debts, and typically includes a credit score. Lenders lean heavily on your credit report and credit score in determining whether, how much, and at what interest rate to lend for a home. Most require a minimum credit score of 620 for a home mortgage.

You’re entitled to free copies of your credit reports annually from the major credit bureaus:EquifaxExperian, and TransUnion. Order and then pore over them to ensure the information is accurate, and try to correct any errors before you buy. If your credit score isn’t up to snuff, the easiest ways to improve it are to pay every bill on time and pay down high credit card debt.

7. Get prequalified

Meet with a lender to get a prequalification letter that says how much house you’re qualified to buy. Start gathering the paperwork your lender says it needs. Most want to see W-2 forms verifying your employment and income, copies of pay stubs, and two to four months of banking statements.

If you’re self-employed, you’ll need your current profit and loss statement, a current balance sheet, and personal and business income tax returns for the previous two years.

Consider your financing options. The longer the loan, the smaller your monthly payment. Fixed-rate mortgages offer payment certainty; an adjustable-rate mortgage offers a lower monthly payment. However, an adjustable-rate mortgage may adjust dramatically. Be sure to calculate your affordability at both the lowest and highest possible ARM rate.

More from HouseLogic

Learn how Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac mortgages can help you save on financing

Learn more about the costs of homeownership

Other web resources

Homebuyer counseling resources

Get a free credit report from each of the three credit reporting bureaus

G.M. Filisko is an attorney and award-winning writer who has thrice survived the homebuying process. A frequent contributor to many national publications including Bankrate.com, REALTOR® Magazine, and the American Bar Association Journal, she specializes in real estate, business, personal finance, and legal topics.

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