Real estate attorney Lauren Griffin said UCC liens ‘are a new kind of fraud that we haven’t seen before.’
NEW ORLEANS — David Bryan and his wife Annemarie Ellgaard both grew up in New Orleans, met at Tulane University and sent their daughter to their alma mater. A quarter century after moving away to Minneapolis, they bought their forever home Uptown and decided to retire back in the Crescent City.
But their dream was nearly derailed this spring, by something that looked like typical junk mail. Bryan almost threw away a letter from a California lender called GoodLeap, thinking it was solicitation for a home equity loan. It turned out to be a statement for a $45,000 loan taken out in his name, without his knowledge, to cover new doors and windows that he never ordered and were never installed.
“GoodLeap paid the construction company directly,” Bryan said. “They didn’t have any proof that the work was done or anything. They just took their word for it that the work was done, paid them directly the $45,000… If it didn’t happen to me, I’d sit back and think, boy, this is ingenious.”
WWL Louisiana has learned that GoodLeap accepted more than three dozen loan applications with New Orleans property owners’ real names and addresses, but automated signatures and fake Social Security and telephone numbers. Law enforcement sources confirm that GoodLeap paid loans for about 20 of those applications directly to Metairie contractor Deep South Renovations, based on automatic signatures from Deep South’s owner, Samantha McGee.
GoodLeap says it’s a victim of fraud and is working with the FBI field office in Sacramento, Calif. But property owners say GoodLeap failed to perform basic due diligence to confirm their personal information before releasing the money to Deep South and slapping a UCC lien on their properties – liens that prevented some of them from taking out legitimate loans or selling their houses.
“To protect consumers and GoodLeap itself, GoodLeap has an extensive due diligence and fraud prevention process,” said Jesse Comart, GoodLeap’s executive vice president for communications. “GoodLeap is also a victim of this fraud. And we certainly regret that these innocent consumers were also swept up in this fraud.”
Stealing Social Security numbers
Comart said GoodLeap was victimized by “a highly sophisticated group that appears to have the ability to create or obtain fraudulent (Social Security Numbers), and then associate the SSNs with innocent property owners.”
GoodLeap has canceled 20 UCC liens in New Orleans alone since August. Comart said the lender has canceled all loans it identified as fraudulent but declined to say how many were specifically associated with Deep South and how much McGee’s company received, citing the pending FBI investigation.
But it appears Deep South used more than one lender to collect bogus home-improvement loan proceeds. Quentella Livers found out Deep South collected $45,000 on a loan from GoodLeap to put solar panels on her house, using a fake application using her maiden name, Richard. Not only did she not get any solar panels, but she also discovered a second UCC lien for new floors and other home improvement work she didn’t get. She said she then found out another California lender, Dividend Solar Finance, had paid Deep South $54,000 for that bogus loan.
She managed to get GoodLeap to cancel its lien in August. Dividend just canceled its lien last week.
“It’s taken a lot out of me. It’s been a whirlwind,” she said.
Real estate fraud has been on the rise this year, with scammers using automated signatures to falsify deeds in attempts to sell properties out from under the rightful owners. But real estate attorney Lauren Griffin said UCC liens “are a new kind of fraud that we haven’t seen before.”
Griffin, a lawyer at New Orleans based Crescent Title, said she got a call this summer from a client about a GoodLeap lien that he didn’t even know about until another victim called to warn him.
“Fraudsters are trying anything they can right now,” she said.
Loans taken out in the victims’ names
The first warning came from a Gentilly property owner, who researched the Orleans Parish property records, then spoke to eight others who all said GoodLeap had placed UCC liens on their properties and paid Deep South Renovations $45,000 for work at their houses that was never done.
Livers said if it hadn’t been for the Gentilly man writing her a letter to warn her, she might not have known about the $45,000 GoodLeap loan or the $54,000 Dividend loan in her name.
“I figured that I couldn’t possibly be the only victim,” said the Gentilly man, who didn’t want to give his name because he filed a police report against McGee and said he’s concerned for his safety. “It’s really galling that somebody can get away with this so easily.”
Bryan, Livers and the Gentilly man say they have been interviewed by FBI agents about McGee. The FBI’s Sacramento field office said it could not confirm or deny an investigation. But the New Orleans Police Department confirmed its White Collar Crimes Unit is investigating.
Deep South appears to have walked away with close to a million dollars in bogus loans, even though its state contractor’s license has been revoked and its office in Metairie is a vacant storefront. McGee is also facing financial default in multiple court cases.
In one of them, a Jefferson Parish judge ordered McGee to pay Louisiana Pain Specialists more than $400,000 on a debt that’s been in default for more than two years. Court records show she failed to show up for a garnishment hearing last month and the judge issued an attachment for her arrest.
Also this summer, she was renting a townhouse in Metairie and entered a bond for deed agreement to purchase the home over time. The seller, Ronald Lopiparo, said she only paid half of the $100,000 down payment and hasn’t made any of the monthly purchase payments since. He issued a default notice last week and says he plans to evict her.
The U.S. Marshals Service confirmed agents went to the townhouse in tactical gear in April 2022. Brian Fair, a U.S. Marshals spokesman, said McGee was arrested for failing to show up in federal court on a separate matter.
Neighbors saw McGee pull up in her late-model Mercedes earlier this week and WWL Louisiana went to knock on her door shortly after she entered the house, but she wouldn’t answer the door. She hasn’t answered any phone calls or text messages over the last few weeks, either.
How to protect yourself
Griffin says property owners can do a few things to protect themselves against fraudulent UCC liens. They can freeze their credit. They can also sign up for notifications whenever a new document is filed in the land records. That service is available through the Jefferson and St. Tammany parish clerks offices, but not yet in Orleans or St. Bernard parishes.
Orleans Parish Chief Deputy Clerk Alexandria Irvin said Orleans is in the “testing stages of our Land Records courtesy real estate notification service with an anticipated launch date January 2024.” She said property owners will have to register an email address to receive the alerts.
Selling a house amid a divorce can make an already-complicated situation even more complex. The need to manage a real estate transaction while also managing your interpersonal conflict is stressful, but sometimes financially necessary. Every couple’s situation will be a little bit different, of course, but if you need to sell the marital house due to a divorce, here are answers to some common questions and other things to consider during this difficult process.
Should I sell the house before getting divorced?
You can sell a property before, after or during a divorce, and the best option may be different for each couple. A number of factors can impact the best timing, including housing market conditions, how amicable your split is and the financial needs of each spouse.
One thing that can be useful is to work with a real estate agent who has experience in divorce transactions. “The common denominator for a divorce sale is that the divorcing parties must mutually agree to sell the marital property,” says Lou Rodriguez, an agent with United Realty Consultants in South Florida and author of “Selling Your Home During Divorce: How Everyone Can Win.”
An additional consideration for the timeline of your home sale is the potential profit you stand to make. If the value of the property has gone up significantly since you purchased it, you may have to pay capital gains tax, and the amount is very different depending on whether your taxes are filed jointly or as single individuals. For single tax filing status, you must pay taxes on anything over $250,000 in capital gains. That number doubles to anything over $500,000 if you file jointly as a married couple.
If you sell before the divorce is finalized, be sure you have a plan for what will happen with the earnings. “You’ll want to be careful how you handle the proceeds of the sale so that those proceeds are divided fairly during the divorce process,” says Randi Dukes, an agent with Repeat Realty in Dallas–Fort Worth and a divorce real estate specialist who has earned the RCS-D (Real Estate Collaboration Specialist–Divorce) designation. “It’s often recommended that those proceeds go into a separate account that can be divided upon divorce, rather than mixing the proceeds into other joint accounts.”
What are the options?
When you are going through a divorce, there are several different ways you could decide to sell the family home. Here are some common options.
Sell the house outright
“Often, selling the house makes the most sense because it provides both parties with a lump sum of money to establish a new home and a fresh start,” says Dukes. Selling the property outright means the proceeds can be more easily divided between two people. It also gives both partners the opportunity to establish the next phase of their lives.
Sell it to your spouse
Sometimes it makes more sense for one partner to continue owning the house. This can happen when one partner will have primary custody of the children, for example, as it eliminates the need for the children to move out of their home and be uprooted.
However, this option only works if the partner buying the home can make it work financially. “The spouse keeping the house needs to do their due diligence to make sure keeping it is a sound decision,” Dukes says. “A real estate agent can look at the title to see if there are any liens or second mortgages that one spouse may not know about, and the spouse can talk to a lender or financial advisor to see if they can actually afford to keep the house.”
If this is your plan, make sure you get all your legal ducks in a row. The partner selling the house will likely need to sign a quitclaim deed giving up their rights to the property and transferring them to the other partner — have a real estate attorney manage this process.
You could decide to hang on to the property and continue to own it together. Co-owning might allow you to rent out the property and both gain rental income, for example. Or, you could make the property work for both of you to live there with a renovation that divides it into two units. This can be a viable option for parents who both want to stay near the children.
Give it to your kids or family members
If you’d rather keep the home in the family than sell it, you could consider gifting the property to your adult children or another relative. This option eliminates the need to prepare the property for a sale and could be a way for both partners to put the property in the hands of someone they love. Again, be sure to have a real estate attorney handle the deal for you to ensure that ownership is properly transferred — and it’s a good idea to talk to a tax professional as well, to understand any tax or estate planning implications.
Community property states vs. equitable distribution states
There are two main legal approaches to how property is divided after a divorce. It all depends on whether you’re in a community property state or an equitable distribution state.
The majority of states fall into the category of equitable distribution, which means if one party earns or purchases certain assets, those assets are considered theirs individually. The assets don’t become shared property unless both parties agree to share them. “I live and work in Florida, an equitable distribution state, which simply means Florida courts will divide marital property in a manner which it considers fair, but not necessarily equal,” says Rodriguez.
Community property states, on the other hand, consider all assets acquired during a marriage to be jointly owned by both parties, and they are divided equally in the event of a divorce. Only nine of the 50 states are community property states, according to the IRS: Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin.
How to sell a house during a divorce
Selling a house can be stressful and time-intensive no matter what. Follow these steps if you decide to sell your house during your divorce proceedings.
1. Hire an experienced real estate agent and lawyer
Not every real estate agent or attorney knows how to navigate the conflict and tension that can come with selling a house during a divorce. It’s important to work with someone who has experience in sales like this, or even specializes in them.
“I would recommend that you work with someone who knows how to work in high-conflict situations and has experience in getting people moving in one direction to accomplish shared goals,” says Rodriguez. “Because whatever happens during the sale — accepting an offer, countering an offer, all the way to signing closing documents — requires that both parties agree each step of the way. It makes a difference having a transactionally experienced listing agent who has worked with other divorcing clients.”
2. Get a home estimate and agree on a sale price
It’s important that both parties come together on pricing. There are various ways to determine how much your home is worth, from online estimators to a thorough analysis of your local market prepared by a real estate agent. But a professional home appraisal, which will cost several hundred dollars, is probably the most accurate assessment of a home’s market value.
3. Sell the home and split up the net proceeds
Once you agree on the terms and price for selling the home, your agent will guide you through the home-selling process. This will involve preparing the home for the market, taking professional photos for the listing, listing and marketing the property, coordinating showings, reviewing offers and preparing all the closing paperwork. Once the sale is closed and complete, the proceeds will be shared as required by your state and established by your attorney.
Ready to sell? It’s important to find a local real estate agent both of you feel you can trust. “Look for someone with additional training in divorce real estate, and ask them about their experience,” says Dukes. This type of agent will be skilled in handling not only the home sale but also any interpersonal conflict that may arise.
The best time to sell a house will be different for different couples. “If both spouses agree, then selling your house before filing for divorce is an option — if you’re trying to take advantage of a strong seller’s market, this might be a good idea,” says Randi Dukes, a Dallas–Fort Worth Realtor who specializes in divorce real estate. However, selling the house after the divorce may be the right choice for other couples. Whichever timeline you choose, it’s important that both partners agree on the process.
In some cases, if both parties can’t come to an agreement on how to sell the property, yes, a court may intervene to force the sale. The laws will differ depending on your state and your specific circumstances, so be sure to consult both your divorce lawyer and a real estate attorney in your area.
Rent prices are on the rise, with the average cost increasing 18% between 2017 and 2022. But buying a home requires a hefty down payment and good credit. Renting to own your home can give you the best of both worlds, but there are some downsides.
If you’re thinking about signing a rent-to-own agreement, it’s important to weigh the pros/cons of rent-to-own home deals. Here’s what you need to know before you sign on the dotted line.
What are rent-to-own homes?
When you own a home, part of your monthly payments goes toward paying off the principal. If you stay in the home long enough, you’ll own it.
The same doesn’t apply to rentals. Your monthly rent solely covers your costs of living in that home, whether it’s a condo, apartment, townhouse, or single-family house.
A rent-to-own home lets you pay rent to live on the property, with the option to buy it when the lease runs out. In some cases, a portion of your rent goes toward the purchase price, but that isn’t always the case.
How does rent-to-own work?
A rent-to-own agreement is essentially a lease agreement with an option to buy. Rent-to-own contracts should be read thoroughly. Those options can vary from one contract to another.
When you sign a rent-to-own contract, you pay an upfront fee called an option fee. This is typically 1 to 5% of the home’s purchase price, and it’s non-refundable.
It’s important to note that a lease does not relieve you of the requirements to buy a house. You’ll still have to qualify for a mortgage and make a down payment. It’s merely a way to buy yourself some time and possibly put some of your rent toward the purchase price of a home.
Lease Option vs. Lease Purchase
Before you sign, pay close attention to the lease agreement you’re signing. There are two types, and one contractually obligates you to buy the property.
Lease Option Agreement
A lease option agreement is the best deal of the two for you, the buyer. You’re signing a lease option contract that merely gives you first rights to the house when the lease is up. If you change your mind, find a better deal, or can’t qualify for a mortgage, you can find somewhere else to live and move your belongings out.
Since the option fee is nonrefundable, it’s important to note that you will lose money if you choose not to buy. Calculate this loss when you’re deciding whether to buy.
Lease Purchase Agreement
Unlike a lease option agreement, lease purchase agreements obligate you to buy at the end of the lease. Since it’s a contract, that means you’re legally obligated to purchase the house.
This can be risky for a couple of reasons. Once you’re in the house, you may see issues you didn’t notice when you were first touring the house. Things could change with the neighborhood or your circumstances that you couldn’t know at the outset.
But the biggest issue with a lease purchase contract could simply be that you aren’t eligible for a mortgage to buy the house. Make sure you know, up front, what penalties or liabilities you’ll face if you can’t buy the house when your lease is up.
Even though both agreements operate differently on your end, they do obligate the seller to give you the option to buy when your lease expires. This puts you in a position to own a home at a predetermined future date, giving you the opportunity to start planning.
Length of a Rent-to-Own Agreement
Rent-to-own contracts start with a lease period that can be up to five years but is usually less than three. The thought is that the rental period will give a renter time to qualify for a mortgage. During this time, you’ll work on building your credit, if necessary, and saving for a down payment.
In some cases, a rent-to-own arrangement could have renewal terms. That means if you reach the end of the lease and want more time, you can extend the lease. With this option, though, the property owner could increase your monthly rent or the purchase price.
Preparing for Homebuying
During your lease term, you’ll make each monthly rent payment in exchange for remaining in the house. But it’s important during that time that you work toward purchasing the house when your time is up. Here are some things to do to boost your chances of landing a mortgage once your lease expires.
Boost Your Credit Score
Your rent-to-own deal requires that you qualify for a mortgage once the term is up. To do this, you will need to meet the minimum credit score requirements. You can get a free copy of your credit report each year at AnnualCreditReport.com, but there are also credit monitoring services that can help you stay on top of things.
Although requirements can vary from one lender to the next, Experian cites the following credit scores as necessary to land a mortgage:
FHA: If you qualify, a Federal Housing Association loan will accept credit scores as low as 500.
USDA loans: Those who meet the requirements can qualify with a score as low as 580.
Conventional loan: Generally 620 or higher, but some lenders require 660 at minimum.
VA loans: Eligible military community members and their families can obtain loans with scores as low as 620.
Jumbo loan: These loans cover houses at a higher price, so you’ll need a score of at least 700.
Save for a Down Payment
In addition to a good credit score, you’ll need to put some money down on your new home. Down payment requirements vary by loan type, but it’s recommended that you put at least 20% down. That means if you’re buying a $200,000 home, you’ll need at least $40,000 by closing.
There are lower down payment options, but if you choose those, your mortgage payments will include something called private mortgage insurance. This will increase your monthly payment by $30 to $70 per $100,000 borrowed.
If you can’t save up 20%, you may qualify for an FHA loan, which requires as little as 3.5% down. Both VA and USDA loans have zero down payment options, and there are programs offering down payment assistance to those who qualify.
The best part about rent-to-own properties, though, is that some come with rent credits. With a rent credit, a percentage of your rent will go toward your required down payment. Calculate in advance how much you’ll have in that escrow account at the end of your lease to make sure you save enough to supplement it.
What are the pros of rent-to-own?
Rent-to-own homes can be a great option, especially during a tight housing market. If there’s a house you want to buy, but you can’t make a down payment or your credit isn’t where it should be, it could be a great workaround. Here are some of the biggest benefits of rent-to-own agreements.
Rent May Go Toward Purchase Price
Depending on the terms of the rental agreement, renting to own could help you work toward paying for the home. Instead of the full amount of your rent being pocketed by a landlord, a percentage of your rent could go toward the eventual purchase price. Before signing, pay attention to rent credits and try to negotiate the best deal possible.
The Purchase Price Is Locked In
When a landlord agrees to a lease option, the home’s purchase price is written into the contract. That price will typically be higher than what the market says it’s currently worth. This means if the U.S. housing market sees an unexpected increase, you’ll be buying the home for less than its value. Even if the market dips, once you purchase the house and remain there for a few years, you may be able to sell it at a profit.
You’ll Buy Extra Time
For many renters, the rent-to-own period provides time to qualify for a mortgage. If you’ve researched all the options and found you’re close but not quite there yet, a rental period could be just what you need.
Before you choose this option, though, take a look at your circumstances. If substantial existing debt and poor credit mean you won’t qualify, you may need more than the few years you’ll get with a rent-to-own agreement.
No Moving Necessary
Let’s face it. Moving can be a pain. You have to pack everything up, line up a moving truck and get help moving, and unpack your items once you’re in the new location.
With a rent-to-own agreement in place, you skip the hassle of moving. You’ve already been in that home, making monthly rent payments, for at least a couple of years. You’ll simply go through the closing process and switch from rent payments to mortgage payments.
What are the cons of rent-to-own?
If you can get a mortgage, that’s always going to be a better option than renting or leasing to own. But there are some instances where renting without the buy option could be better for you. Here are some things to consider.
Rent-to-Own Home Maintenance
Before you sign any lease agreement, it’s important to read the fine print. One thing to note, specific to own agreements, is who will be responsible for maintenance during the rent-to-own period. If you rent without the promise of eventual ownership, your landlord will take care of those costs. In some cases, rent-to-own agreements require the renter to handle all repairs.
But there’s an upside to handling repairs on your own. To your landlord, the property is technically yours. That means you likely will give it more TLC. Still, it’s well worth it to pay for a home inspection before you agree to a rent-to-own agreement. This will identify any serious issues that will need to be addressed before you buy.
One distinguishing feature of a rent-to-own property is the option fee. This is usually between 1 and 5% of the purchase price and is non-refundable. That means if you don’t ultimately qualify for a mortgage, you’ll lose that money.
Home Values Could Drop
Property values aren’t guaranteed. Your landlord estimates the value of the property, but if you’re in a rising market, you might get that home at a steal. While that’s good news for you, the reverse can happen. If housing prices drop substantially during that time frame, you could find yourself buying a property for more than it’s worth.
Contract Breaches Can Be Costly
Rental agreements are a legal obligation. If you don’t pay your rent, your landlord can evict you and keep your security deposit. But rent-to-own contracts bring an additional level of risk. Missed payments mean you could be evicted and lose all the money you’ve put in. That includes the upfront fee and any rent credit you’ve earned.
All that money will also be lost if you can’t qualify for a mortgage when your rental time is up. These agreements can give you some breathing room. However, if your low credit scores, income, lack of a down payment, or employment situation make you ineligible for a mortgage, you could be searching for another rental while losing everything you’ve paid on the lease-to-own home.
Steps to Buy a Rent-to-Own Home
Once you’ve decided renting to own is the route you want to take, you may wonder what to do next. The following steps can help you ensure you get the best deal in a rent-to-own agreement.
1. Find a Home
This is more challenging than it might sound, especially if you’re looking in a competitive real estate market. Rent-to-own homes are extremely rare, so you may have to find a home for sale and try to negotiate this type of setup.
Typically, homeowners become renters when they can’t sell their homes. This means your rent-to-own contract might be on a home that’s in a less desirable or convenient area of town. For someone whose home has been on the market for a while, being able to collect rent money with the promise of a sale in a few years can be a huge relief.
For best results, find a real estate agent who can help you track down a home and negotiate with the seller. The National Association of REALTORS® maintains a directory of real estate agents, but you can also ask for a referral or find real estate agents nearby who have brokered these types of deals recently.
2. Research the Home
Even if it’s tough to find a lease-to-own home in your area, don’t snatch up the first one you find. Crunch the numbers to make sure the rent and purchase price make financial sense for you. Look at the sale history of the home to verify that the owner’s estimated purchase price is somewhat within what the median home price will likely be when your lease expires.
3. Research the Seller
The seller needs to be looked into as well. This is even more important with rent-to-own agreements since this person will be your landlord for the entire lease period. If you see any red flags during your interactions with the seller, move on.
4. Choose the Right Terms
Before you make a real estate purchase, you would have a closing attorney review the documents. The same goes for a rent-to-own agreement. Run all the paperwork past a real estate attorney to make sure there’s nothing in the contract that will hurt you in the long run.
Your real estate agent should be able to negotiate the best terms for you, including how each rent credit will help you build equity and what happens at the end of the lease.
5. Get a Property Inspection
Any time you make a home purchase, it’s essential to know what you’re buying. The same is true for rent-to-own properties. A home inspector can check things out and make sure you aren’t purchasing a home with serious issues.
6. Start Preparing to Buy
Once you start making rent payments, it’s time to start preparing for your eventual home purchase. Chances are, you’ll have to make a sizable down payment on a home loan, so plan to have that ready. Also, keep an eye on your score with all three credit bureaus and make sure you’ll qualify.
A rent-to-own contract can be a good deal for both the buyer and the seller. It can give you time to save money and improve your credit score. A real estate lawyer should take a look at your contracts and make sure your best interests are protected.
Rent-to-own homes present a unique option for potential homeowners. This approach offers the opportunity to enter the homeownership arena at a slower pace, allowing individuals to build credit, save for a down payment, and experience living in the home before making a final purchase decision.
However, the rent-to-own path isn’t free from drawbacks. Potential buyers should be wary of unfavorable terms, higher monthly payments, and the risk of losing money if they decide not to buy. Ultimately, like all significant decisions in life, choosing a rent-to-own option requires careful consideration and thorough research.
Frequently Asked Questions
Where can I find rent-to-own houses?
Rent-to-own houses can be found through specialized websites dedicated to these types of listings, local real estate agents familiar with the concept, or sometimes through classified advertisements in local newspapers or online platforms.
Can I find rent-to-own homes on Zillow?
Yes, Zillow does list rent-to-own homes. When searching for properties, you can filter the search results to show only rent-to-own options. However, availability may vary based on the region and market conditions.
How long is the typical rent-to-own contract?
The typical lease term ranges from one to five years, but terms can vary based on the agreement between the homeowner and tenant.
Do I have to buy the house at the end of the lease?
No, the decision to buy is optional. However, if you decide not to purchase, you may lose any upfront fees or additional monthly amounts set aside for the potential purchase.
Can the seller change the purchase price once set?
Generally, the purchase price is fixed in the initial agreement. However, some contracts may have clauses allowing price adjustments based on market conditions.
What happens if the property value decreases during the lease period?
If the home’s value decreases and you’ve agreed on a set purchase price, you could end up paying more than the current market value. It’s crucial to negotiate terms that protect your interests.
Who is responsible for repairs and maintenance?
The agreement should clearly outline these responsibilities. In most cases, the tenant bears the responsibility for maintenance and repairs during the lease term.
What’s the benefit of a rent-to-own agreement for sellers?
Sellers can generate rental income while waiting to sell, often at a premium. It also widens the pool of potential buyers, especially those who need time to improve their credit or save for a down payment.
How do property taxes work in a rent-to-own agreement?
In a rent-to-own scenario, the property taxes are typically the responsibility of the homeowner, as they still retain ownership of the property during the rental period. However, the specific arrangement can vary based on the terms of the agreement.
Some contracts may stipulate that the tenant pays the property taxes directly or reimburses the homeowner. It’s crucial for both parties to clearly understand and agree upon who will cover the property tax obligation before entering into a rent-to-own contract.
If I don’t buy, do I get a refund for the extra money paid?
Typically, the extra money paid above regular rent, often referred to as “rent premium,” is forfeited if you decide not to buy.
Is the rent in a rent-to-own agreement higher than usual?
Often, yes. A portion of the monthly rent may be used for the potential down payment or purchase price, making it higher than the average rent for similar properties.
What’s the difference between rent-to-own and mortgage?
Rent-to-own is an agreement where a tenant rents a property with the option to buy it at the end of the lease. No bank is involved initially, and the tenant isn’t obligated to buy. A mortgage, on the other hand, is a loan specifically for purchasing a property. The buyer borrows money from a bank or lender and agrees to pay it back with interest over a predetermined period.
Does rent-to-own hurt your credit?
A rent-to-own agreement, in itself, doesn’t usually affect your credit. However, if the homeowner reports late payments to credit bureaus, it could hurt your credit score. On the positive side, consistently paying on time and eventually securing a mortgage can benefit your credit.
What is another name for rent-to-own?
Rent-to-own agreements can go by various names, including:
Lease to purchase
Each of these terms represents the concept of renting a property with the potential option to buy it after a set period.
One interesting aspect of the home loan process is the sheer number of individuals you’ll work with along the way.
You don’t just speak to a salesperson and call it a day. Lots of people are involved in what is a very complex transaction.
Aside from salespeople, there are loan underwriters, processors, appraisers, escrow officers, real estate attorneys, and more.
Let’s discuss the roles these people hold to help you better understand what it takes to get a mortgage.
Remember, you’re asking to borrow a large sum of money, so it’s going to take time and energy (and lots of people) to get to the finish line.
The Sales Rep/Loan Officer/Mortgage Broker
The first step in the home loan process typically involves a sales person, which can be a banker at your local branch or credit union, a loan officer, or a mortgage broker.
If we’re talking about a purchase, this may come before/during your home search or after you’ve found your property with the assistance of a real estate agent.
If it’s a mortgage refinance, you’d simply jump right to this step to rework the details of your existing home loan if you wanted a rate and term refinance or a cash out refi.
You might be referred to an individual/company, or you might do your own discovery to find a suitable partner. Either way, always look beyond the referral you were given.
Your real estate agent might know a great lender, but you your own research as well.
It’s important to gather multiple quotes from different companies to ensure you get the best deal.
Now, this individual will be your main point of contact during the loan process, and perhaps most importantly, will provide you with pricing.
Bankers and loan officers work at the retail level, while mortgage brokers offer wholesale rates from their lender partners.
You can read more about the differences (banks vs. brokers) but either way they’ll likely be the person you speak with most.
Aside from providing pricing, these individuals can help get you pre-qualified or pre-approved for a mortgage, discuss different loan scenarios, and guide you on loan choice.
If you have mortgage questions, they should be able to provide answers and give you guidance.
They may make certain recommendations, such as down payment amount, loan type, or provide an opinion about paying discount points or when to lock your rate.
This individual will be with you from start to finish, but doesn’t work alone. They’ve got an entire team to help you close your loan in a timely fashion.
FYI, you may also come across a “mortgage planner,” which is an individual who may assist a busy senior loan officer.
They can communicate loan status, provide follow-up, collect conditions, and perform other tasks if the LO is unavailable or simply needs a hand.
The Loan Processor
Once you’ve spoken to a sales representative (or LO/broker) and have decided to move forward, you’ll be in put in touch with a loan processor.
The main goal of the processor is to put together a clean loan file that can be submitted to the underwriting department.
This means collecting key documents, ensuring there are no red flags, double-checking everything, and making any necessary corrections.
The processor may also reach out after the loan is approved to collect additional documents to satisfy any outstanding conditions.
They will also provide updates to the loan officer or broker, who will then keep you in the loop about where you’re at in the process.
The processor essentially acts as a liaison between the underwriter and sales rep/LO/broker.
This ensures things move along smoothly and any hiccups can be resolved quickly without delay.
The Loan Underwriter
The loan underwriter probably holds the most important role in the home loan process.
They decide if the mortgage is approved, declined, or potentially suspended pending further explanation.
It’s for this reason that the loan processor only sends the loan package to the underwriter once everything has been thoroughly checked.
You only get one chance to make a first impression, so it’s imperative to get it right. Otherwise you could face delays or simply get flat out denied.
Aside from approving the loan, the underwriter will also provide a list of conditions needed to close the loan.
Most mortgage approvals are conditional, meaning you might need to furnish additional information or documentation to obtain your final approval.
Once these documents are provided, whether it’s another bank statement or letter of explanation, the underwriter will clear the outstanding conditions and move the loan to the funding department.
The Home Appraiser
While your loan is being reviewed by the underwriter, an appraisal will be ordered to determine the value of the underlying property.
Remember, aside from determining your ability to repay the loan, the bank also needs to ensure the collateral for the loan is valued properly.
This individual will visit the property to assess its condition, take photographs, and determine recent sales comparisons.
They will formulate a valuation based on the property details, such as number of bedrooms and bathrooms, square footage, amenities, location, lot size, condition, and so on.
The value they come up with, known as the appraised value, is used as the basis for the loan-to-value ratio.
Generally, the goal is for the appraiser to support the purchase price of the property or the value declared for a refinance.
If the value is lower, the details of the loan may need to be reworked, such as a higher down payment.
For certain types of loans, such as FHA loans and VA loans, the home appraiser will also ensure that certain Minimum Property Requirements (MPRs) are met.
This ensures the property is safe for the occupants, that there are adequate living conditions, and no major hazards, such as lead paint or termites.
The Home Inspector
If we’re discussing a home purchase, you’ll want to get an inspection done. And you’ll want to do it ASAP while any contingencies are still in place.
While a home inspection typically isn’t required, they’re generally a good idea.
Aside from finding out what’s potentially wrong with the property, you can ask for credits from the seller if the inspector finds any significant issues.
As the name suggests, a home inspector will come out to the property and assess the condition of the structure itself, the foundation, the interior, the roof, the electrical, HVAC, and more.
Some may also inspect the pool and spa, if one exists, though you could be charged extra.
They’ll make notes as they survey the property and issue a formal report afterwards. This can be used to negotiate with the seller if anything material comes up.
The Notary Public
Once it’s time to sign your loan documents, you’ll need to make an appointment with a notary public.
This individual serves “as an impartial witness” when signing important documents, such as those related to a home purchase or mortgage loan.
Your settlement agent should organize a time to meet with this individual to conduct your signing.
The notary may come to your home or meet you somewhere else to review and sign documents.
The main job of the notary is to verify the identity of the signer and ensure they are willing to sign the documents “without duress or intimidation.”
This requires you to furnish identification, such as a driver’s license, during the signing appointment.
The Escrow Officer
Another very important individual in the transaction is the escrow officer, a third-party who facilitates the loan closing and collects/disburses funds to the appropriate parties.
Some of their key roles include preparing final statements for the buyer, such as cash required to close, and determining costs such as property taxes, insurance, prepaid interest, and loan payoffs.
The escrow officer will send you a settlement statement that lists all the fees and closing costs associated with your loan, along with any lender credits and loan payoffs and funds required.
They will also liaise with a title company and forward necessary documents for loan recording.
Importantly, they’ll provide wiring instructions to all parties, including the buyer, so you know where to send funds (cash to close).
If you have questions about things like prepaid items, mortgage impounds, and loan payoffs, they can be particularly helpful.
The Title Agent
To ensure the property is free of any liens, encumbrances, or defects, a title insurance policy is usually required in order to take out a mortgage.
A title agent is the individual who conducts a title search, orders a preliminary title report, and eventually issues title insurance on the subject property. This makes them a licensed insurance agent
They are also in charge of recording the deed and loan documents with the county once the loan has funded.
You might hear the words title and escrow used interchangeably, but title has to do with property ownership/lien history, while escrow is about the calculation, collection, and disbursement of funds.
However, they may perform other settlement tasks beyond just title depending on the state where they’re located.
The Loan Closer/Funder
If you’ve made it this far, it means the loan is almost funded. But there’s still work to be done.
The loan closer/funder has to review the file to ensure everything is accurate and complete, and if not, address and fix any errors or outstanding issues.
They must ensure all prior to funding (PTF) conditions are satisfied and work with the settlement agent to prepare funding figures and timing of disbursement.
This includes the review of signed closing documents and items like hazard insurance and the preliminary title report.
And if everything looks good, request the wire instructions from escrow after a thorough review.
The Real Estate Attorney
Note that in certain states, a real estate attorney could be required to prepare certain documents and/or to conduct the loan closing.
This individual may order and certify a title report, review loan documents, and advise you if necessary.
Beyond that, they can ensure the interests of all parties are protected, and handle any legal issues or disputes that may come up.
One last thing. You may find that there is some overlap with a title company and escrow company, as the former can also provide escrow and notary services as well.
So depending on where you live, you could have one company or individual handle several tasks.
As you can see, there are quite a few people involved in the funding of a home loan, which explains why they take a month or longer to close.
Once you know more about each person’s role, it should be easier to navigate the home loan process and make better sense of it all.
And perhaps adjust your expectations that there isn’t a same-day mortgage and likely won’t be for the foreseeable future.
This article is reprinted by permission from NerdWallet.
Mortgage rates have risen to their highest levels in more than 20 years, making it harder to afford a home. And yet, out of necessity or desire, hundreds of thousands of people buy homes every month.
With the 30-year fixed rate topping 7%, NerdWallet asked real estate agents and mortgage loan officers for advice on how home buyers can stretch their homebuying dollars in this time of high interest rates. Here are nine tactics that they suggested.
1. Ask the seller to reduce the mortgage rate
Temporary mortgage rate buydowns have become commonplace since rates surged in early 2022. With a temporary rate buydown, the seller pays a portion of the buyer’s interest payments upfront. This reduces the house payments for the first one, two or three years of ownership.
“This is a common strategy for new-home builders, but it can also be used in the purchase of resale homes,” said John Bianchi, executive vice president for loanDepot. (All sources in this story commented via email.) “Negotiating a temporary buydown with the seller can help soften the blow of high interest rates, reducing your monthly payment for one to three years.”
In one typical setup, the seller’s payment effectively cuts the buyer’s interest rate by 2 percentage points in the first year, and by 1 percentage point in the second year. After that, the buyer pays the full interest rate. This is known as a 2-1 buydown.
Another option is to reduce the mortgage rate permanently, using discount points. One discount point equals 1% of the loan amount; each point typically reduces the interest rate by around 0.25 percentage point.
“Home buyers have an opportunity to get a seller to pay for these methods to lower their interest rate,” said Chuck Vander Stelt, a real estate agent in Valparaiso, Indiana. “Some home buyers should seriously consider offering a more generous price to the seller in exchange for a large closing cost concession and then use those funds to buy down the interest rate as much as possible.”
Also see: Avoiding the 30-year mortgage loan trap can save you hundreds of thousands of dollars
2. Use part of your down payment to pay down debt
When you apply for a mortgage, the lender considers your total debt payments for the house, car, student loans and credit cards. Sometimes it makes sense to divert some of your intended down payment money to cut the higher-rate debt first, said David Kuiper, vice president and senior mortgage banker for Dart Bank in western Michigan.
“While the mortgage payment will be slightly higher, the total debt/payments is lower, making the proposed purchase more affordable,” Kuiper said.
3. Use home buyer assistance programs
State and local governments sponsor an abundance of programs to make homes affordable for home buyers, especially first-timers. Some programs offer down payment assistance and help with closing costs. Others offer favorable interest rates or tax credits.
Details differ from state to state. Some programs are targeted to certain counties, cities or neighborhoods. Others are intended for specific groups of people, such as teachers, first responders or renters who live in public housing. Some programs have income limits.
Don’t miss: We bought a falling-down 100-year-old home. We tried to renovate, but things took a turn for the worse.
4. Ask the seller to finance the purchase
You can give the seller an IOU for part of the home’s value and make monthly payments directly to the seller at an interest rate that’s lower than you could get from a bank. This arrangement is called “seller financing” and has its roots in the early 1980s, when mortgage rates zoomed as high as 18%.
You might wonder why a seller would agree to such a deal. “They will often do this in order to get the price they want,” said Janie Coffey, who leads the Coffey Team with eXp Realty in St. Augustine, Florida. The seller gets full price while you get a break on the interest rate.
Seller financing usually has an end date: Within three, five or 10 years, the buyer must get a mortgage from a lender to pay off the amount owed to the seller. Coffey explained that the type of seller open to this arrangement often has paid off the mortgage “and is OK to wait for their big payoff.”
Seller financing is complex. Use an experienced real estate attorney to draw up the contract.
Related: How the U.S. housing market got stuck in the ’80s
5. Don’t wait for a rate you like better
“If the right house comes along and the payment is affordable (even if you don’t like the interest rate), you should buy the house,” Kuiper said.
You often hear that you should buy now and refinance someday, after interest rates fall. That’s not Kuiper’s point. His point was this: If mortgage rates fall, more buyers will rush into the market. They’ll make competitive offers and drive home prices higher, “essentially wiping out any advantage of the lower interest rate.”
6. Don’t get distracted by things you don’t need
Some sellers want flexibility about the closing date, would prefer the buyer to make repairs, and are scared of accepting an offer from a buyer who ends up failing to qualify for the mortgage.
Vander Stelt advises staying focused on price with these hassle-avoidant sellers, while being flexible on the rest of the offer on the house. “Do this by offering the best terms you can, including buying the home as-is, a closing date and possession that works best for the seller, and illustrating how strong of a candidate you are to get your mortgage approved,” he said.
You can demonstrate that you’re a strong mortgage candidate by showing a preapproval letter and by sharing financial information, such as account balances that prove you have the cash for the down payment.
7. Buy a house that needs work
Buying a fixer-upper is an old-fashioned, time-tested way to save money. “If you can be patient, it’s worth buying a home that needs work and slowly fixing it up over time or taking a renovation loan to acquire the home and do the work upfront,” said Brian Koss, regional sales director for Movement Mortgage, in Danvers, Massachusetts.
Read: Should you buy a fixer? These are the 5 cheapest states to make home renovations.
8. Build a house or buy a brand-new one
“Building a new home can provide more certainty around how long you will have to wait to move in, it can provide more cost certainty, and it can save you money in the short and long term by avoiding costly remodels, appliance repairs and unexpected repairs of older parts of the home,” said Jeffrey Ruben, president of WSFS Mortgage in the Greater Philadelphia area.
Buying a new home in a development has some of the same advantages. And today’s buyers have good reason to shop for new construction because there’s a shortage of existing homes for resale.
Read: U.S. construction spending rose in June, marking seventh straight monthly increase
9. Rent out part of the house
Coffey suggested using an old strategy with a trendy name — house hacking — “buying a property like a duplex, where you live in one unit and rent out the other,” she said.
If you buy a duplex, triplex or quadplex, and you live in one unit, you can include the expected rental income for the others when qualifying for a loan. In some cases, you can qualify for a mortgage using expected rental income from an accessory dwelling unit, such as a basement apartment or a tiny house in the backyard.
Also see: Homeowners locked into ultralow mortgage rates consider short-term rentals, but cities are cracking down
If you buy a home today, you’re stuck with high mortgage rates for the time being. But by employing some creativity, you might find a way to afford homeownership.
When you’re about to make an offer on a home, your real estate agent will ask how much “earnest money” you’d like to put down. Earnest money is a type of security deposit, also known as a “good faith” deposit, made to the seller of a home. It represents your intent to buy the property by showing the seller you’re serious about purchasing the property. In most cases, earnest money can also act as a deposit on the property you’re looking to buy.
This Redfin article gives an overview of what earnest money is, why you need it, and how much you may need, and how to protect the money once you deposit it.
What is earnest money in real estate transactions?
Earnest money is the money you pay after a home seller has accepted your offer on a house and before closing on the home. Earnest money assures the seller that you as the buyer are acting in good faith, and it provides them with some compensation in case you back out of the deal without a valid, contractual reason.
Once the seller’s agent is able to confirm that your earnest money has been deposited into an escrow account, the buyer and seller will enter into a purchase agreement and the seller’s agent will mark the listing as a pending sale — in effect taking the property off the market. At this stage, various inspections, appraisals, and possibly other contingencies you had in the offer contract move forward to finalize the sale.
Who keeps earnest money if the deal falls through?
If the buyer backs out, the earnest money is paid to the seller. If the deal falls through due to something coming up on the home inspection that would be prohibitively expensive (like a cracked foundation) or any other contingency listed in the contract, the buyer gets their earnest money back.
How much earnest money do you need to offer?
The buyer and seller can negotiate the earnest money deposit amount, but it typically ranges from 1% to 3% of the sale price, depending on the market. However, if you’re buying a home in a seller’s market (when there are more buyers than homes for sale), or bidding on a highly competitive home, the earnest money deposit might range between 5% and 10% of a property’s sale price.
Be sure to talk to your real estate agent about how much earnest money you should offer in the housing market you’re competing in.
Do you need to pay earnest money?
In the strictest technical terms, the answer is no – earnest money is not a requirement when you make an offer on a house. However, your offer likely won’t receive the seller’s serious consideration without putting a good faith deposit down of some kind. Earnest money can act as added insurance for both parties in the transaction.
How is earnest money paid and where does it go?
In most cases, your earnest money deposit is paid to the escrow or title company, which holds it in an escrow account until the transaction closes. If you work with a real estate attorney, the deposit may be put into escrow there. You can pay this deposit with a personal check, a cashier’s check from the bank, a money order, or wired funds, depending on the terms of your contract.
What does the good faith deposit count toward?
Once the sale of the home has been completed, the earnest money you paid can be applied toward your closing costs or down payment. Alternatively, you can receive your earnest money back after closing. Because the sale went through the home sellers do not get to keep the earnest money deposit.
When does a seller keep the earnest money deposit?
If you fail to meet your offer’s contractual obligations, your earnest money could now belong to the seller. Examples include:
After the due diligence period is over (usually a couple of weeks), you learn that the home sits in a flight path or near a refinery and you decide to walk.
You back out for any reason not listed as a contingency in the contract.
You cannot close on time, without a relevant contingency, and the contract has a “time is of the essence” term.
If you face any of these issues but still want to purchase the house, don’t give up. Have your agent get with the seller’s real estate agent. If you are upfront about the situation, the seller may extend the timeframe.
Is earnest money refundable?
As a buyer, you can reclaim your earnest money for a couple of reasons:
If the seller doesn’t fulfill their side of the purchase contract. For example, if the home inspection found faulty windows and the seller agreed to replace them – but did not follow through by the contract deadline. That breach of contract allows a buyer to back out of the purchase and receive a refund of their earnest money.
If you have a contingency in place, and you have a reason related to that contingency to cancel the contract. There are a number of contingencies you can put into the contract and, if not met, you can walk away from the deal with your good faith deposit in hand.
Other examples of when your earnest money would commonly be refunded:
The title company finds a lien against the property.
Your lender denies you the loan, but you have a financing contingency in your offer.
If your offer is contingent on selling your current home, but you are unable to do so after a given period of time.
If you have an appraisal contingency, and the home appraises at a lower rate but the seller won’t reduce the price of the home.
Having a contingency may also allow you to negotiate the terms of your contract. For example, you may be able to ask the seller to perform repairs or give a credit at escrow to cover the agreed-upon repair costs. Typically, a buyer and seller can negotiate a resolution so the sale can be completed.
What if a buyer can’t afford a good faith deposit?
Most sellers will not consider an offer without earnest money. Keep in mind, however, that it may be possible to negotiate a work-around. If you can’t afford an upfront earnest money deposit, let the real estate agent and seller know right away. If your purchase method and financing look solid otherwise, maybe the seller will agree to move forward with the sale. If you are serious about the purchase, you may be able to ask a family member or friend to assist with a gift or loan of funds for the good faith deposit.
A word of caution: Before taking a gift, institutional loan, or getting a cash advance on a credit card for your earnest money, be sure to consult with your mortgage lender. Any new gift, bank loan or cash advance that leads to high credit card balances during your transaction timeline could be detrimental to your mortgage loan approval. This deposit is meant to secure the property, not put it at risk of losing it.
Earnest money in action: Common scenarios
Let’s look at an example scenario of how earnest money may play out. Evan and Mia have listed their homes for sale in Washington, DC. Amelia is in the market for a new home and is interested in both properties and can’t make up her mind. In the event that both sellers require an earnest money deposit, three potential scenarios can unfold.
Scenario 1: The forfeited deposit
Because Amelia can’t decide which house to buy, she puts a good faith deposit down on both properties, prompting Evan and Mia to take their homes off the market.
Later, Amelia decides to buy Mia’s house. Now, Evan needs to relist their home for sale all over again. Luckily, Amelia’s earnest money is Evan’s to keep because Amelia backed out, which offers some compensation for time and money lost while the home was off market.
Scenario 2: The early closing payment
After giving it some thought, Amelia decides to make a single deposit on Mia’s home and everything runs smoothly. On closing day, Amelia gets the keys and the deposit is put towards their downpayment.
Scenario 3: The failed contingency
Amelia makes a single deposit to Mia. However, during the home inspection, Amelia discovers the electrical wiring is not up to code and will be very expensive to update. Luckily, Amelia has a home inspection contingency in the purchase agreement and decides not to buy and gets the deposit back from Mia.
How to protect your earnest money deposit
Take the following steps to protect your earnest money against fraud or unjustifiable forfeiture:
Document Everything. A home is one of the largest purchases many of us will make. Make sure the contract clearly defines what amounts to cancel the sale and who ends up with the earnest money. Include any amendments to details like buyer responsibilities and timelines.
Use an escrow account. Instead of working directly with the real estate seller or broker, use a reputable third-party, such as an escrow company, legal firm, or title company. Ensure the funds are securely held within an escrow account and obtain a receipt.
Understand the contingencies. Familiarize yourself with the contingencies included in the contract, and double-check the contingencies that protect your interests are included. Do not sign a home purchase agreement that doesn’t have the clauses that protect you.
Fulfill obligations. Real estate purchase agreements typically establish deadlines to safeguard sellers. Honor these deadlines and be sure to promptly address inquiries, submit necessary documents, and meet inspection, appraisal, and closing timelines.
Earnest money is an integral part of most real estate transactions. Before signing a Purchase and Sale Agreement to buy a home, carefully review all contingencies, understand how much money you’ll need to pay, and know-how to successfully recover your earnest money if you need to back out of the sale.
Before becoming a Realtor, Brett Rosenthal worked as a real estate attorney. Today, he joins us to talk about his transition to real estate sales and the strategies that helped him find fast success in his new career. Brett shares ways to get more, better leads and covers the art of building rapport when in front of potential clients. This podcast also features market predictions and advice for new real estate agents.
Listen to today’s show and learn:
About Brett Rosenthal [1:03]
Brett’s transition from real estate law to real estate sales [2:05]
How a legal background may help your real estate business [3:14]
Why Brett never turns down a deal [4:13]
Brett’s first year in real estate [5:12]
Why real estate agents shouldn’t only talk about real estate [6:17]
What it’s like starting a real estate team [9:17]
Alternative ways to win new business [10:30]
A trap that too many Realtors fall into [12:37]
Stats from Zillow on who consumers choose as their Realtor [14:38]
Brett’s follow-up plan [15:48]
Why Brett loves Follow Up Boss [17:11]
How Brett’s real estate sales have grown over time [24:01]
Crucial tasks for generating new business [25:25]
A realization that helped Caleb ramp up his repeat and referral business [27:33]
Strategies for getting more client reviews [29:25]
What’s worked best for Brett on social media [32:38]
The future of the Philadelphia real estate market [37:16]
A value proposition for investors [39:33]
Caleb’s real estate predictions [40:47]
Brett’s advice for new real estate agents [42:12]
Tips on getting your articles picked up by real estate websites [44:54]
Where to find and follow Brett Rosenthal [48:24]
As an experienced real estate professional, Brett is a member of the top unit producing, award-winning Revolve Philly Group at COMPASS. Their offices are located in Center City Philadelphia and they also work out of Manayunk, Chestnut Hill, Ardmore, and Blue Bell. Brett cover all areas of the City of Philadelphia and the surrounding suburbs, including the Main Line, Bucks County, Delaware and Montgomery County.
Brett has received numerous awards and recognition for his sales performance. He was recently ranked in Homesnap’s Top 5 Percent Realtors. Brett was awarded as a Top Real Estate Producer by Philadelphia Magazine. He is a member of the Pennsylvania and Montgomery County Association of Realtors®. Prior to real estate, Brett worked as a sales executive and manager for a business technology company and was an Attorney where he worked in Real Estate Law for a large NYC Law Firm. He received his real estate license in 2015 and focus on providing home buyers and sellers with professional, responsive and attentive real estate services. Brett understands the importance of listening to his clients to find them exactly what they want in a home. Skilled in effectively marketing all ranges of residential and commercial real estate, Brett offers assistance with single family homes, condos, multifamily properties and investment properties. He practices patience, clear communication, and skilled negotiation to work with his clients and adapt to their wants and needs.
Brett’s flexibility, listening skills and hard work ethic contribute to his success. He has had over 215 transactions over the last two years and can sell a home in all markets. Brett’s passion in Real Estate is also helping others succeed in the industry and am constantly looking to hire new agents for their team and help them have instant success. Active in his community, Brett coaches a youth ice hockey team and reside in Philadelphia. As a leader of the busy Revolve Philly Group, Brett has helped many Realtors without any experience at all start successful Real Estate careers and help tons of home buyers and sellers in the Philadelphia area with their home needs. Contact Brett, he would love to work with you!
Related Links and Resources:
Thank You Rockstars!
It might go without saying, but I’m going to say it anyway: We really value listeners like you. We’re constantly working to improve the show, so why not leave us a review? If you love the content and can’t stand the thought of missing the nuggets our Rockstar guests share every week, please subscribe; it’ll get you instant access to our latest episodes and is the best way to support your favorite real estate podcast. Have questions? Suggestions? Want to say hi? Shoot me a message via Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, or Email. -Aaron Amuchastegui
There are many incremental tasks to complete as you prepare to sell your home, but a successful transaction starts with looking at the big picture. Before you take a single interior photo or begin painting your trim, it’s crucial you take a moment and assess your situation properly. Are you emotionally ready to sell your home? Will you use a real estate agent? Is it a good time for you to sell? Let’s examine the factors that go into answering these questions.
Am I Ready to Sell My Home?
Whether you are sad to leave behind a family home full of memories, or can’t wait to get out and into your new upgrade, selling a home can often be an emotionally charged process. There are many considerations to take into account before you decide to sell, which should be done as dispassionately as possible.
Once you’re confident you truly want to sell, it’s still important to not be overly swayed by the attachment to your home during the selling process. Homeowners should try to contain their emotions as much as possible and treat the process like any other business transaction in order to ensure a smooth and timely sale.
An important way to minimize your feelings as a factor in preparing to sell a home is by trying to see things from a prospective buyer’s point of view:
What types of buyers are likely to be interested in your home and neighborhood (e.g., large families with children, single professionals or retired couples)?
How can I make my home more desirable to them?
What are their long term goals and concerns?
Aligning your property with the needs of your prospective buyers can help you sell it quickly and for a great price. But remember that other people don’t have the same attachment to your home as you do, so a fair market price may be lower than your own perception of its value.
Timing is another factor to consider in order to sell your home successfully and for the most return. If possible, it can be beneficial to list your home during the most popular times of the year for the average homebuyer. Spring and summer are typically the best times to list, but the optimal selling season ultimately depends on your specific housing market. For example, communities popular with retirees in warm states like Florida or Arizona may see more action in the winter. A real estate agent can help you determine your area’s prime selling period, or you can do the research yourself. The same goes for conducting the sales process itself.
Real Estate Agents vs. For Sale by Owner: Which Is Better?
If you have a timing plan and are ready to get your home on the market, one of the first decisions you need to make is whether to go it alone, or use a real estate agent. Both methods have their own pros and cons — Let’s examine each option.
Using a Real Estate Agent to Sell Your Home
Real estate agents take a commission, which can typically be 5 to 6 percent of the sale price of your home. And for the average seller who does not make a living in the real estate industry, the choice to use an agent in exchange for this commission can not only save precious time, but also increase the amount received for the home, making the investment well worth it in many scenarios.
The right agent will help you with everything from setting the most advantageous selling price, marketing your home (including photography, videos and staging the property to look its best), arranging showings and open houses, negotiating with interested buyers, to helping you choose the right escrow company and getting the transaction closed without any snags. They are also ideally there for you as an ally and asset if any issues or questions arise during the selling process. They understand all of the required paperwork and typically have contacts and other resources that can help you solve nearly any possible problem. They can also strategically provide a buffer between you and potential buyers, and will have the experience and knowledge to ensure that you only invest your time engaging well-qualified buyers.
If you want help locating the perfect agent to sell your home, you can be matched with one in your area through Pennymac Home Connect, a nationwide network of top-producing real estate agents. You may even be able to earn $350 to $9,500 back at closing if you buy or sell a home with an agent you met through the network.*
For Sale by Owner
Real estate agents can be extremely helpful but it is also possible to sell your home on your own, a process commonly known as “for sale by owner.” In order to sell your home yourself, you will need to:
Do your own research in order to come up with a suitable selling price.
Manage all of the marketing, including getting your home on the Multiple Listing Service (MLS).
Show the house and interact with prospective buyers on your own.
Negotiate the sale with the homebuyers and/or the buyer’s real estate agent.
Ensure you have the proper documentation and that you adhere to all of the relevant laws and regulations.
If you are not going to use a real estate agent, it’s still wise to consider hiring some help in the form of a real estate attorney to make sure that the transaction goes smoothly, including setting up a real estate escrow account.
A Checklist for Selling Your Home
Now that you have determined which method you want to use to sell your home, it’s time to get to work. A smooth, successful home sale can be influenced by many factors, some large and some small. Fortunately, you can do many improvements yourself, with time and sweat being your biggest investments. Here are some moves you’ll want to consider in order to get ready to sell your home.
Interior Updates and Curb Appeal Improvements
For interior improvements, consider painting walls in contemporary, neutral colors and upgrading the lighting, even with small investments like additional lamps or upgraded light bulbs.
To boost your home’s “curb appeal” — the first impression and level of attraction prospective buyers feel for your home from the street before they step inside of it — consider making some inexpensive improvements to your home’s exterior and yard such as pressure washing, painting trim, and landscaping additions and touch-ups. Such simple beautification efforts can help improve your chances of attracting the right buyer.
Clean and Stage Your Home
You’ll want to thoroughly clean your home. A muddy hallway, messy garage or dusty bedroom will only reduce its appeal. Keep rooms as orderly and as uncluttered as possible for all showing appointments. Use a storage unit to temporarily house extra or unsightly items if necessary — that old recliner may be quite comfy, but it could be a ratty eyesore as well. Your real estate agent will likely have a professional home stager you can hire to make your home look its most appealing to buyers. And you can always ask a stylish friend to help you with organizing or decor. In either case, a second set of eyes is always helpful.
Provide Numerous High-Quality Photos
The right photos can make or break your listing. Most agents work with professional photographers, or you can hire one on your own. Ask a friend or neighbor for objective input when selecting pictures and don’t be afraid to speak up if you don’t like the photos used in your listing.
Set a Realistic Price
Setting a price for the home you are selling involves getting input from numerous sources. Start by checking area comps, or comparable sales, and get price suggestions from a couple of real estate agents. Consider all of these numbers, and add in the factors that make your home unique — in both positive and negative ways. Don’t use a property tax assessment since that figure is typically much lower than the current market price.
Still not sure how to price your home? Appraisals will determine how much money a lender will lend, so you should get a professional appraisal before listing your home. Appraisals are not inexpensive, but in certain markets and situations they could save you a lot of time, and that easily translates into saved money.
Create a Plan to Accommodate Showings
It’s a bad idea to conduct ad hoc showings. For all intents and purposes, you’re putting on a sales presentation so you should always put your best foot forward. Having a plan means adequately preparing for your customers (i.e. the potential buyers), while also minimizing the chances something could go wrong during the showing. Some important points to consider when scheduling a showing:
How much time does your work schedule and family/personal life allow for?
Do you have pets that you will need to remove from the home?
How much lead time will you need from your agent to ensure that it is in show-ready condition?
If you have small children, how will you manage their needs throughout each showing?
How will you deal with the unexpected, such as last minute viewing appointment changes, prospective buyers that show up early, or inclement weather concerns?
How to Sell Your Home Fast
No one wants to have their house sit on the market forever, but if your move is being influenced by a time-sensitive factor like a job change, a family situation, or financial issues, you may need to sell your house as quickly as possible. Here are our best tips for speeding up the home sale process.
Have your own home inspection: One part of the homebuying process that can drag on for a long time is addressing the findings of the buyer’s home inspection. Before you even list your home, you can hire an inspector yourself. Use their findings to create a to-do list, or factor the cost of repairing any issues into your sale price. This will allow you to start one step ahead of your potential buyers’ negotiations.
Accommodate (but also vet) potential buyers: Offer buyers whatever you can, whether it is showings on short notice or flexibility with their closing date. However, don’t act too much in haste to sell and don’t sign contracts with unqualified buyers. Spending time in limbo with a buyer whose offer might fall through can waste valuable time and miss connections with more qualified buyers.
Spread the word yourself: Ask for help from your friends, family, and other contacts. Share your listing on social media, carry flyers with you at all times and even consider hosting events like an open house party.
Consider offering incentives: Paying all or part of your buyers’ closing costs, a home warranty and flexibility with closing are all ways that you can attract potential buyers.
Consult with a lender: Knowing what financing options are available to potential buyers can help you market your home. For example, are there low down payment options available?
Ensuring a Successful Home Sale
Our final, and perhaps most important, tip for selling your home is to make sure that you prepare mentally and financially for the many possible offers and issues you may encounter. What if you don’t get the price that you want? If you are trying to sell your home fast, what if it sits on the market for a long time? If you can come up with contingency plans for these worst-case scenarios, you will be ready to handle anything that you encounter in the home selling process.
Being prepared is the key to success in the home sale process, from your first showing appointment to the closing of the deal. If you’d like additional insights into selling your current home or buying your next one, consult with a Pennymac Loan Expert today.
*Pennymac Home Connect is offered in partnership with HomeStory Real Estate Services, a licensed real estate broker. HomeStory Real Estate Services is not affiliated with PennyMac Loan Services, LLC, and PennyMac Loan Services, LLC is not responsible for the program provided by HomeStory Real Estate Services. Obtaining a mortgage from PennyMac Loan Services, LLC is optional and not required to participate in the program offered by HomeStory Real Estate Services. The borrower may arrange for financing with any lender.
Qualifying for the reward requires using a real estate agent that participates in HomeStory’s broker to broker agreement to complete the real estate buy and/or sell transaction. You retain the right to negotiate buyer and or seller representation agreements. Upon successful close of the transaction, the Real Estate Agent pays a referral fee to HomeStory Real Estate Services. All Agents have been independently vetted by HomeStory to meet performance expectations required to participate in the program. If you are currently working with a REALTOR®, please disregard this notice. It is not our intention to solicit the offerings of other REALTORS®. A reward is not available where prohibited by state law, including Alaska, Iowa, Louisiana and Missouri. A reduced agent commission may be available for sellers in lieu of the reward in Mississippi, New Jersey, Oklahoma, and Oregon and should be discussed with the agent upon enrollment. No reward will be available for buyers in Mississippi, Oklahoma, and Oregon. A commission credit may be available for buyers in lieu of the reward in New Jersey and must be discussed with the agent upon enrollment and included in a Buyer Agency Agreement with Rebate Provision. Rewards in Kansas and Tennessee are required to be delivered by gift card.
HomeStory will issue the reward using the payment option you select and will be sent to the client enrolled in the program within 45 days of HomeStory Real Estate Services receipt of settlement statements and any other documentation reasonably required to calculate the applicable reward amount. Real estate agent fees and commissions still apply. Short sale transactions do not qualify for the reward. Depending on state regulations highlighted above, reward amount is based on sale price of the home purchased and/or sold and cannot exceed $9,500 per buy or sell transaction. Employer-sponsored relocations may preclude participation in the reward program offering. PennyMac Loan Services, LLC is not responsible for the reward. The reward is valid for 18 months from the date of enrollment. After 18 months, you must re-enroll to be eligible for a reward. Offer subject to change or cancellation without notice.
PennyMac Loan Services, LLC ( Lender NMLS 35953 ) does not perform any activity that is or could be construed as unlicensed real estate activity, and PennyMac Loan Services, LLC is not licensed as a real estate broker. Agents of PennyMac Loan Services, LLC are not authorized to perform real estate activity.
PennyMac Loan Services, LLC loans subject to credit approval. Offer subject to change or cancellation without notice.
The trademarks, logos and names of other companies, products and services are the property of their respective owners.
You found a house that fits your budget and wish list, and now it’s time to make an offer.
But questions remain. Is the property really worth the asking price? Are there hidden structural problems? Will your home loan application win final approval? Steps during the mortgage process — including an appraisal, a home inspection and underwriting — will provide answers, but in the meantime, you can include contingencies in your offer.
Making a contingent offer on a home
A purchase contract is legally binding, and breaking one can be costly. Making a contingent offer protects your interests in case unexpected issues mean you no longer can or want to buy the home. A contingent offer includes “walk-away” clauses, or “contingencies,” that let you get out of the deal and retrieve your earnest money deposit if certain conditions aren’t met.
Think of a contingency as an “if-then” proposition. For example: If the appraised value of the property is lower than the purchase price, then I can ask for a lower price or get out of the contract.
When working with your agent to write the offer, you’ll have to decide which contingencies to include. Your real estate agent can explain your options and make recommendations.
Although real estate contingencies protect your interests, be aware that too many stipulations in the contract can reduce the likelihood of the seller accepting your offer, especially in a tight market.
Types of real estate contingencies
Here are some examples of contingencies that can be included in home purchase agreements.
A home inspection contingency lets you negotiate the sales price, ask for repairs or walk away from the sale based on the inspection results.
Your contract may stipulate that repairs must be made if problems are uncovered, but that can lead to closing delays while the fixes are scheduled and approved. You may prefer to renegotiate the sale price if significant improvements are needed.
Sales contracts may also be written with “a right to void.” This means the buyer won’t require repairs suggested by the home inspection report but can cancel the sale without penalty.
In hot markets, buyers may feel pressure to forgo home inspections to win bidding wars. But this is risky, and there are other ways to strengthen an offer, such as being flexible on the closing date. A seller, for instance, may want additional time to move out.
Unless you’re buying a home with cash, this contingency is necessary even if you’re preapproved for a mortgage. Preapproval is important, but it’s not an absolute guarantee. After a home is under contract, your loan still must go through a final stage of underwriting. If your financing falls through, a mortgage contingency gives you a legal out from the purchase contract.
When a home appraises for less than the offer amount, your financing may fall through, or you may have to put more money down to buy the property. A property appraisal contingency lets you back out if the appraisal comes in lower than a certain amount.
Home sale contingency
Under a home sale contingency, your offer is subject to the successful sale of your current house. The contingency is most often based on a specific time period — such as 30 or 60 days — after which the contract is forfeited. You’re off the hook for buying the home, and the seller can entertain other offers.
Including a home sale contingency in a seller’s market puts your offer at a serious disadvantage. With lots of buyers competing for a limited number of homes, sellers are likely to get and choose offers without this condition.
Other standard contingencies can include such things as a termite certification, a report showing clear title to the home and the definition of a reasonable time period to close the sale. But there may be additional conditions you want to include in an agreement.
Real estate contingency deadlines
Each contingency has an associated deadline. For example, a home inspection contingency would state a time frame for the inspection to take place and give the buyer a certain number of days to ask the seller to make repairs or lower the sales price.
Keep track of contingency deadlines so nothing sneaks up on you — and so you won’t miss an important date to enforce a condition the seller must meet. Having a calendar with all deadlines listed, perhaps even with pre-deadline notices a few days ahead, will help you stay on top of critical contingencies.
Throughout this process, you’ll want your agent to guide you; in more complicated cases, you may even want the advice of a real estate attorney. It’s easy to get tripped up by legal jargon, and sometimes what’s not in writing does the most damage.