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Home Appraisals for VA and FHA Loans

by Masha Halpern

New home buyers who have applied for and have been approved for a VA or FHA loan need to know the specific requirements the inspections for their new home. Buyers will now need  a VA/FHA appraisal AND a home inspection. Many homebuyers are confused by this but actually they are not really the same thing and we can help you understand the difference.

A VA/FHA appraiser will indeed inspect the property from top to bottom. But the appraiser is looking at the property’s condition only to determine the value and marketability of the home. The appraiser is not concerned with any kind of hidden defects in the structure of the home – he or she only needs to document any obvious problems that could impact the property’s value to the lender.

A home inspector conducts a very detailed examination of the property and may use specialized tools and reports to help test the operation of the structure as well as the mechanical elements of the home. Items included in a home inspector’s watch list include:

  • Foundation
  • Walls
  • Roof
  • HVAC
  • Electrical
  • Plumbing
  • Well or septic
  • Gutters

The federal government requires FHA or VA - approved appraisals whenever the buyer’s loan will be guaranteed by the Federal Housing Administration or Veterans Administration. While they do not take the place of a home inspection, VA and FHA appraisals also include a basic examination of safety and environmental issues – such as lead paint or asbestos in older homes.

The smart buyer will make sure that both the required government appraisal AND an objective home inspection are completed with full cooperation from the seller. The guidelines are there to protect you!


First Time Home Buyers – What Rates Should You Really Expect?

by Masha Halpern

Mortgage rates are at an all time low, but most first-time home buyers won’t be able to take advantage of the best rates advertised. Here’s why…

Loan History

Even if you are not currently carrying a large amount of outstanding debt, lenders look at loan history, especially large installment payments. They do this to see if you have shown responsibility in handling a large loan. On-time payments and prompt pay-off can be an indicator of how you will perform as a borrower in the future. Many first-time buyers have not established a strong payment history, which can make it difficult in getting that first mortgage without higher rates and fees.

Small Down Payment

First time homebuyers can be at a disadvantage as they do not have a cash profit from selling a previous home to offer as a substantial down payment. With lenders now tightening their restrictions and usually requiring 20% down this large sum of money can be difficult to obtain. Without the downpayment you will probably see a higher interest rate. Larger mortgages come with higher interest rates, and loans with small percentages down are seen as higher risk to the lender. Many lenders will charge a higher rate based on their assessment of the loan’s risk.

Negotiating Skills

First-time borrowers should make the time to shop around for mortgages. You should also do your homework and become familiar with mortgage terminology, different loan packages and options, FHA programs and creative ways to secure your loan. Many first-time buyers are unaware of the many options available to them and lack the experience to negotiate better terms.

Finally, make sure that your credit score is up where it should be (above 700) and that you have steady income from a reliable employer. Both of these criteria will make a significant difference in your interest rate.

In 2007, as a response to the subprime mortgage crisis, President George Bush initiated the creation of an alliance between lenders, investors, foreclosure counselors and the U.S. government (including FHA, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac) designed to help homeowners threatened by foreclosure. The formation of the HOPE NOW Alliance was one of the first steps the government took towards ‘foreclosure avoidance.’

HOPE NOW has helped more than a million homeowners find the resources, counseling or programs they needed to stay in their homes. Visit to see the resources available for distressed homeowners.

First of all, the site offers a simple online eligibility assessment, based on the six questions below:

  1. Is your home your primary residence?
  2. Is the amount you owe on your first mortgage equal to or less than $729,750?
  3. Are you having trouble paying your mortgage?
  4. Did you get your current mortgage before January 1, 2009?
  5. What is your monthly mortgage payment?
  6. What is your monthly gross income

Your answers are quickly analyzed and then you will be directed to a ‘Next Steps’ section for Home Affordable Loan Modification program or to other options for additional services. While the site can help you quickly determine your eligibility, your mortgage company is the only organization that tell you if you actually qualify.

Other resources for home owners through HOPE NOW include a toll free hotline (888-995-HOPE) to a free, 24X7 counseling service provided by Homeownership Preservation Foundation; a home owner ‘Options’ page that explains various programs like repayment plans, loan modification, partial claims and others by state; unemployment resources; other counseling and government resources and more. The site offers an extensive list of links and references to outside services.

HOPE NOW also sponsors events in different cities and offers a list of events and public outreach programs coming to your area. The site is helpful in not only providing a calendar of these events but in also explaining the documentation you should bring with you if you attend.

If you are in danger of foreclosure or are having trouble with your mortgage payments HOPE NOW can help you to learn more about the many programs and counseling services ready in place for distressed home owners.



Lowest Rates in Decades – Should You Refinance?

by Masha Halpern

Over the last few weeks, we have seen the lowest 30 year fixed mortgage rates in history – 4.5% or lower, with 15 year fixed at 3.9%. Before you jump at the temptation to refinance, take a step back and look at all the facts.

The lowest of the low rates are reserved for premium borrowers – those with strong credit and a low debt-to-income ratio. You may not qualify for the lowest available rate – be sure to discuss that with your lender before starting the refinance process.

Refinancing incurs significant costs, including application fees, appraisals, credit reports, inspections, insurance, title insurance, surveys, points and other fees specific to the lender. There may also be hidden costs, like prepayment penalties, that can wipe out the monthly savings gained.

Do you intend to stay in this home long enough to reap the rewards of the savings?  For example, if you are only saving $100 a month and you intend to sell your current home in 18 months, you probably won’t realize the actual savings after costs.

What about points? Lower points produce a higher interest rate. Again, it probably depends on how low you plan to stay in your current home. Balancing points vs. rates should be considered with how long you are giving yourself to recoup costs.

 The best plan of action is to shop around for current refinance packages from your lender and other lenders. Many may choose to offer special deals or no-cost packages, especially if you have not refinanced previously. Your put a lot of time and effort into purchasing your home – take the same care with your mortgage plan.




Summer Energy Saving Tips For Your Home

by Masha Halpern

The dog days of summer are here and the hot temperatures have homeowners running the air conditioner day and night to try to make it more comfortable. It's easy to forget about being energy conservation during these warm summer months but here are some simple tips you can do to get back on track with an energy efficient plan and still enjoy the summer!

Energy Saving Tips For Outside

  • Replace air-conditioner filters regularly. Dirty filters restrict airflow and can cause the system to run longer, increasing energy use. Replace filters monthly for maximum benefit.
  • Longer days mean we don't need out outdoor lighting as much. Adjust your outdoor lighting timers accordingly and you'll save money and extend bulb life.
    Try solar-powered outdoor lighting or garden lighting as an alternative. They are energy-efficient, inexpensive, safe and very easy to install.
  • Consider switching to electric lawn mowers as well as trimmers. By not using the traditional gas models, you can help to save money, reduce pollution and they are also much quieter!
  • If you have an outdoor pool, reduce the operating time of your pool filter and automatic cleaning sweep to four to five hours, and only during off-peak time.

Energy Saving Tips For Inside

  • There is really no need to have your gas fireplace's pilot light during the summer. Save energy, and money, by turning out the fireplace's pilot light until the fall. It is always a good idea to refer to the operating manual for your furnace to learn how to do this properly or  consult a technician. 
  • Keep blinds and draperies closed on hot days to keep the inside temperature cooler and comfortable. 
  • Make sure your attic has the proper insulation that will protect your home from excessive heat penetration in summer and cold penetration in winter. 
  • Ceiling fans are a inexpensive way to create gentle breezes throughout your home to help keep the temperature down.

These are a few summer tips to keep your family comfortable in your homes, during this hot summer as well as a few energy saving and environmental alternatives.



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Contact Information

Photo of Masha Halpern - Boutique Real Estate Real Estate
Masha Halpern - Boutique Real Estate
Keller Williams Realty
101 Cosgrove Avenue, Suite 200
Chapel Hill NC 27514
Direct 919-951-1780
Toll Free 877-478-4669
Fax: 919-928-9030

Masha Halpern of Keller Williams Realty provides real estate services in the Chapel Hill, Carrboro and Durham, North Carolina area including real estate services for buyer, sellers and those relocating to the surrounding areas of Apex, Bahama,Cary, Efland, Hillsborough, Holly Springs, Mebane, Raleigh, and Wake Forest. Search for homes in Chapel Hill, Carrboro, Durham or the surrounding communities.  Request a market analysis for your North Carolina property.  I list and sell residential real estate, investment property, vacant land, lots for sale in Chapel Hill, Carrboro and Durham, North Carolina area.

Chapel Hill, Carrboro and Durham, North Carolina real estate and homes for sale in North Carolina - Masha Halpern & The Smart Move Team