Howard County - Lowest Unemployment in the State of Maryland

I recently read an interesting article about Howard County's Unemployment Rate.

Our regional economy has performed very well over the past few years especially compared to other areas of the country. It's always important to note that the news we hear in the general media is just that - general. It does not always reflect the local or regional picture. Howard County’s unemployment rate has just been announced as the lowest in the state. It also notes that Maryland's unemployment rate is one of the lowest in the country. More reasons to consider real estate investment in this area!

Howard County’s unemployment rate dropped to 5.1% in October, representing the lowest figure in Maryland. The county’s previous unemployment rate, documented in September by the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing & Regulation, was 5.4%

“It is very encouraging to see our unemployment rate consistently drop from month to month — evidence of our focus on fostering economic development opportunities through innovation and entrepreneurship,” said County Executive Ken Ulman. “While 5.1% is still unacceptable to us and to those looking for work, I assure you that job creation is a top priority of this administration and we will continue to focus on creating and retaining good jobs in Howard County.”

The unemployment rate in Maryland also dropped in October, from 7.4% to 7.2%, putting the state below the national average and among the lowest in the country.

How to Buy a Home by Age 25

Here is an interesting video about a goal that can actually be accomplished with some hard work and dedication.


PS - Did you know that there are grants available that would give you as much as $32,000 to buy your first home? Contact us for more info on grant programs available in Maryland!

Good News! Consumer Debt is Dropping!

Isn't it about time we received some good news? Watch THIS VIDEO to get all the details.

The drop in consumer debt is small, but at least it's going in the right direction.


The JD Power Seal of Approval

J.D. Power and Associates is a global marketing firm that conducts surveys to determine customer satisfaction and product quality.

RE/MAX is pleased to be the recipient of a recent JD Power award.

I have been with RE/MAX since 1987, because I believe in the brand.

I guess J. D. Power has just found out what I have known for years....RE/MAX is a great company!

You can read all about it HERE.

Laminate and Vinyl Flooring

In the last couple of years we have seen a dramatic increase in flooring products which look and perform just like ceramic and hardwood, but at a fraction of the cost. Early laminate floors looked too much like panelling on the floor - yuck! Quality has certainly increased and some of these new products even defy the kneel and tap test to determine whether it's real or not. There are actually applications for vinyl tile which includes applying cement grout for that ultimate look and feel. Anyway, here is a great video which shows how to install some of these products. Autumn and winter are great DIY times so take a look.

How to Lay Tile Over an Existing Vinyl Floor

A great video for the DIY crowd. It's simple, easy and very inexpensive. This would work for peel and stick tiles as well. I'll highlight some of these new products later.

Obama Announces New Home Assistance Initiative

President Obama announced a new initiative (Click Here) to help underwater homeowners refinance and take advantage of low interest rates. This is certainly one step in the right direction to help with the housing recovery.

Great News About VA Loans

The Department of Veteran Affairs (VA Loans) has announced a reduction in the funding fee they charge on new loans.
Beginning November 18, 2011, the fees will change from 2.15% to 1.40% for first time use and from 3.30% to 2.80% for subsequent use.
This is GREAT NEWS and please pass along to any potential buyer you know that might be VA eligible.

Debit Card Fees Are Coming - How to Avoid Them

By this time just about everyone has heard of Bank of America's plan to charge their debit card holders a monthly fee of $5.00. OUCH!! Just when we have become accustomed to the convenience of using these cards, someone wants to pick our pockets. Here we are in the Great Recession, so who got that bright idea? Actually it is a response by the banks to make up for income lost by the downturn and tightening of government regulations on what they can charge elsewhere. Either way, it ranks (pun intended) right up there with fees airlines charge for bags, carry on bags and sitting in an aisle seat! However, I digress. This article explains the problem and offers some suggestions on how to avoid debit card fees. The strategies can be summed up as follows:
1) Pay with Cash – Remember when it was king? Those days are coming back.

2) Pay with Credit Cards - Rewards have been increasing.

3) Switch Banks - My wife says vote with your feet and walk if needed.

More Homeowners Shorten Mortgage Terms

How Low are Mortgage Rates?
I was asked this question recently and with some humor replied, “I don’t know. They’re so low I can’t find them!”
One of the bright spots in our economic downturn has been the dramatic reduction of interest rates. We are now seeing mortgage rates at 60 year lows. As an example, a recent 30 year fixed was coming in at 3.875%. If you switch that to a 10 year adjustable rate mortgage it drops to 3.25% and a 3 year ARM comes in at 2.75%.
This article discusses one of the changes in American mortgage philosophy – pay it off quicker. We enjoy the ability to deduct mortgage interest on our personal income taxes. A nice benefit which in the past has encouraged many homeowners to let their debt linger longer. That idea is changing. Paying off quicker is now in vogue. Refinancing to lower interest rates and using the savings to shorten up the payback period is one way of getting rid of debt sooner. In fact savings of over $100,000 can possibly be realized by employing this strategy. Investigating the ideas contained in this article may change your thinking. Something to consider…………

Loan Rates Historic Low!

30 year fixed FHA at 4.12%! Nothing else to be said. Now, who is going to take advantage of 40 year highs in home buying affordability?

Mortgage Rates Keep Falling – 30 YearFixed Near Record Low

Here are some interesting quotes from CNN Money. No wonder home buying affordability is at a 40 year high!

Just when it seemed mortgage rates weren't going to get any lower, they started testing new lows.
In the tumultuous days following Standard & Poor's debt downgrades, rates on 30-year fixed mortgages fell to 4.32%, down from 4.39% last week and closed in on a record low of 4.17%. Rates on 15-year fixed mortgages set a new record falling to 3.5%, down from 3.54%.

The savings for borrowers who lock in rock-bottom rates over the length of a mortgage loan can be sizable. For example, a $200,000, 30-year loan with a 4.32% rate generates a monthly payment of just $992, and total interest payments of $157,153. A 5% rate (ordinarily considered low), generates a $1,074 a month payment and $29,357 more in interest over 30 years.

Help – I Hate my Closet!

We are in and out of homes every day. We see lots of closets that are jammed full and bursting at the seams. Even homes that are large and spacious suffer from crowded closet disease. What to do? Here are some ideas I just came across.

Mortgage Rates Plunge!

Interest rates are the lowest they have been all year. It's a good time to jump off the fence and take advantage of historic lows. Who’s the next person you know that would like to cash in on the 40 year home affordability advantage?

"Yes, you can still sell your home in this market."

I came across this interesting article titled “Yes you can still sell your home in this market”.  You can read the full article here, but here are some of the highlights:
  • Be ready for a market that is still changing – what happened last year or last month may be different than today.
  • Use all the technology you can – it’s important! Go all out on-line.
  • Price well in the market – buyers are looking for great deals.
  • Stage like a Pro! You need to win the beauty contest.
  • Be flexible with buyers – and with buyer’s lenders.  If you don’t sell right away, don’t be in a rush to rent.

I Feel Good....

Startling differences in the health of residents living just a few miles apart are highlighted in a new health rankings report that assesses wellness in nearly all the nation's 3,000-plus counties.

Are you feeling good today? You must be living in Howard County. This latest MSNBC survey ranks Howard County as the healthiest in the state. Check it out to see where your county ranks. If you are feeling a little sluggish, get out and do your part to raise your county’s health quotient.

Squeaky Floors No More!

My experiment with the Squeak No More system to settle down squeaky floors is over. Here is my report – SUCCESS! This nifty little system (costs $29.00) worked like a charm. The trickiest part of the process is finding the floor joists under the carpet. I used a stud finder but it wasn’t always accurate. The special drill tool they provide to locate the stringers works well. Once you find one joist you pretty well have all the others since they should be 16 inches apart. I left the screw heads protruding above the carpet to give myself a reference guide and then when I had settled the floor down I removed the all the heads. They do break inside the subfloor as advertised. So, now my floors are silent and that is the sweet sound of success! Give it a try if you have a squeaky floor problem.

Time to Buy Again

"After four years of plunging home prices, the most attractive asset class in America is housing," proclaims Fortune magazine, one of the world's premier business publications, in its April cover story.

Adequate Insulation?

Yes, it’s spring – really – even though it hasn’t felt like it. Maryland is showing about 1” over normal rainfall and it seems much cooler when the sun doesn’t shine as much. The cold winter months are officially behind us but the hot summer days are just around the corner. Here is an interesting article about determining if you have adequate insulation in your attic. This is an easy and relatively cheap way to cut down on heating and cooling bills so take a quick look and see how you measure up.

How to Fix Squeaky Floors Under Carpeting – Also known as “Squeaky Floors Drive Me Crazy!”

Let’s face it; we’ve all dealt with squeaky flooring in our homes. In fact, you’re probably dealing with it right now! The condition is usually caused by wood rubbing on wood due to loose subflooring. This occurs as your home ages and the wood in the subfloor and joists dries out. When carpet is removed it’s fairly easy to get out a drill and shoot a few screws into the offending area. That usually settles things down. However, the remedy is more elusive once carpet is installed and access to the floor underneath is limited. Check out this link for information on a handy tool that will help you kill the squeaks. I am going to buy and test drive it. I’ll let you know how it works!

Housing – Is it time to buy?

This article (click here) raises an interesting question. Has the market bottomed and now provided a great buying opportunity or are we headed to dreaded housing double dip? I’ve heard talk about a double dip since we posted some very ugly February home resale (click here) numbers. Since this question is answered at the national level, the response is somewhat varied. Our regional economy is very strong and may provide a clue to the answer. The future direction of interest rates also factors into the trend.

Recent Industry Update

Here is a recent industry update. We are showings signs of recovery and most indicators are positive. As in any recovery it’s not a straight line acceleration and we’ll have some ups and downs but the market seems to be gathering itself and moving in a good direction. Who is the next person you know that would like to take advantage of low interest rates and excellent prices?

January Home Sales

New release of homes sales info (link) for the month of January. We are seeing an increased activity building in front of anticipated rises in interest rates and the cost of FHA loans.

Home Improvements...worth it?

I found this site recently which purports to show the dollar return on home projects. It makes for interesting reading. Is it reality reporting? What do you think?

Shop Maryland Energy

Here’s a great opportunity (it comes once a year) to purchase energy star products and not pay Maryland sales tax. If you were on the fence about purchasing………..

Shop Maryland Energy

Maryland's Tax Free Weekend for Certain Energy Star ProductsMarylanders will get a break from the state's 6 percent sales tax on qualifying Energy Star products from February 19-21, 2011. During Shop Maryland Energy weekend, the following Energy Star products are tax free:
  • Air conditioners
  • Clothes washers and dryers
  • Furnaces
  • Heat pumps
  • Boilers
  • Solar water heaters (tax-exempt at all times now)
  • Standard size refrigerators
  • Dehumidifiers
  • Programmable thermostats
  • Compact fluorescent light bulbs

Shop Maryland Energy weekend will occur in perpetuity (or until legislative amendment) from the Saturday immediately preceding the third Monday in February until the third Monday of February. Additionally, a tax free week on clothing and footwear priced $100 or less will occur every year during the second week of August.

Foreclosures sell at 27% Discount!

Have you ever wondered how much less a foreclosed home will sell for over a non foreclosure sale? Here is an interesting article (Click Here) out of MIT which indicates that foreclosures will sell at a 27% discount over regular sales. Since foreclosed homes make up a significant portion of our current market this, information can serve as a helpful guide when considering how much to offer on one of these distressed properties.

How’s the Housing Market?

This is a question I am frequently asked and here is the statistical answer for 2010.

Howard County:

New Listings (inventory) is up 9% from 5,033 to 5,486. Last year we had more homes for sale on the market so it’s no surprise housing prices didn’t really increase in 2010.

Closed Sales down 1.7% - This number is a reflection of a sluggish economy but still surprising considering record setting low interest rates were a tremendous incentive for homebuyers.

Median Sales Price was up 5.9% .Median is one type of average, found by arranging values in order and then selecting the one in the middle. This is a reflection of an increase in sales in specific price categories. For example the median price can rise if more homes in the $400-$500k range sold in 2010 than in 2009. It is definitely not indicating a rise in overall home values.

Average Days on Market is down 22% from 99 in 2009 to 77. This number indicates an increase in buyer confidence. When homes are priced well and in good condition they can quickly go under contract as buyers move decisively.

Other counties are listed under Market Statistics 2010 Summary. Check out your county to see exactly how you fared.

I lost my home in the housing downturn. How quickly can I buy again?

I am frequently asked this question. Here are current guidelines that help give a good picture of what you might expect. Since millions of homeowners have been negatively impacted by this crisis it’s possible that lender requirements may be modified in the future to reflect the anomaly. There is safety in numbers and since so many have needlessly suffered due to this catastrophic event; guidelines might be relaxed to help victims of the housing crisis regain home ownership more quickly. It would be a good idea to check with me annually to see what changes may occur that could help former homeowners.

Short Sale

A Short Sale is an option of a homeowner selling a home for less than the balance on their current mortgages and the mortgagee agrees to a reduced payoff. The bank’s decision to allow a Short Sale is typically in lieu of the foreclosure process which can result in heft fees for the bank. This process and agreement does not necessarily release the homeowner from the obligation to pay the remaining balance of the loan known as the DEFICIENCY.
  • FHA requires 36 months in most situations. If CERTAIN GUIDELINES are met that follow Mortgagee Letter 09-52… the homeowner could qualify for an immediate purchase. Did you catch that… RIGHT AWAY. This is an important guideline change that is often misunderstood.
  • Fannie Mae guidelines right now require a 72 month seasoning for FULL ELIGIBILITY. After 24 months… a borrower could qualify with at least 20% down and after 48 months the maximum LTV is 90%. Their “extenuating circumstances” rule may allow someone to only have to put 10% down in as little as 2 yrs.
  • Freddie Mac is sticking to their 48 month seasoning… or 24 months if their ”extenuating circumstances” guidelines can be proven/met.
  • VA guidelines that we’ve seen have looked very similar to FHA’s above; 36 months OR if after 12 months and fitting the similar new guidelines of ML 09-52.
  • USDA generally requires 36 months OR with the right underwriter’s “waiver” and approval.

A foreclosure is the legal process by which a mortgagee (typically a bank) obtains a court ordered termination of the home-owners “equitable right of redemption”.
  • FHA requires a 36 months seasoning
  • Fannie Mae and/or Freddie Mac require 84 months (SEVEN YEARS) from the completion of the Foreclosure for the Date of the credit pull for the new loan. The old “between 5 and 7 year rule” was changed effective October of 2010. Now there is a 3 yr “extenuating circumstance” rule (90% LTV for a primary residence) with Fannie Mae and its at only 2 yrs with Freddie Mac.
  • VA follows their guidelines for a Chapter 7 BK with the request that the complete facts / circumstances of the Foreclosure be submitted AND if the Foreclosure was on a VA loan note that “full entitlement” will not be available for the new loan.
  • USDA generally requires 36 months OR if after 12 months, reestablished credit and an underwriter “waiver”. This is completely up to the discretion of the u/w… do you have a good one?

The two most common types of bankruptcy (BK) are the Chapter 7 (liquidation) and the Chapter 13 (reorganization).
  • FHA will need a Chapter 7 BK to be dismissed 36 months. Someone who is IN a Chapter 13 and is in the process of REPAYING their debts can qualify for a FHA loan after 12 months of proof of repayment, no “lates” on anything on their credit report AND “permission from the court”.
  • Conventional Financing with the Federal National Mortgage Association (FNMA/Fannie Mae) after a Chapter 7 is allowed after 48 months from the discharge/dismissal date. A two-year waiting period is allowed if certain ”extenuating circumstances” can be documented. The time is extended to 60 months if there is more than one BK within the last 7 yrs.
  • Conventional Financing with the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation (FHLMC/Freddie Mac) will generally require a borrower to have waited 84 months unless either “extenuating circumstances” can be met ( then its 24 months) OR when ”extenuating circumstances” can’t be met and then what Freddie calls “Financial mismanagement” is assumed and then the timeframe is reduced to 48 months and a list of requirements must be met including a 680 score and a perfect rental history.
  • The US Department of Veterans Affairs will allow an eligible Veteran to qualify for a VA loan TYPICALLY two years after discharge date of a Chapter 7 BK. There are guidelines that the VA spells out for a Veteran to qualify between 1 and 2 yrs after discharge date according to Chapter 4 of the VA Lender Handbook: if both of the following are met
    • borrower and/or co-borrower have reestablished satisfactory credit, and 
    • the bankruptcy was caused by circumstances beyond your and/or your spouses control (such as unemployment, medical bills, etc.)
Another situation for a determining that an applicant is a satisfactory credit risk is in situations where the BK was caused by failure of a business of a self-employed applicant and:
  • the applicant obtained a permanent position after the business failed,
  • there is no derogatory credit information prior to self-employment,
  • there is no derogatory credit information subsequent to the bankruptcy, and
  • failure of the business was not due to the applicant’s misconduct.
For Chapter 13 BK’s the 2 situations outlined that may conclude a VA lender to extend credit are:
  • Satisfactorily making at least 12 months of payments and “permission from the court”
  • Finishing all payments satisfactorily
  • The USDA (US Department of Agriculture) has a Rural Development program that generally will require a discharge date of 36 months.

Mortgages in 2011

January is the time of year we all like to make our predictions for the coming 12 months. I’ll contribute to the process by starting with mortgages. Here is an article (Link) that tackles what to expect when arraigning a home mortgage in 2011 In my opinion it’s a pretty balanced prediction. Interest rates will slowly rise and as rates rise refinance activity will slow and purchase mortgages will form a larger part of the market and finally, the process will become more complex. I believe we are through the roller coaster period we’ve experienced over the last few years. More stability will occur as we slowly come out of recession.

It’s important to remember that rates are still near historic lows which in my opinion is the silver lining in this recession.

Top Home Buying Selling Predictions for 2011

This is an interesting article (link) which outlines some interesting ideas about what we might expect in 2011. On balance it is well researched and I believe provides a pretty accurate perspective. Since it is a national article it’s always important to temper the information based on our regional experience. That typically means the data needs to be adjusted more to the positive side since our economy has proven to be more resilient than most.

Happy New Year!

Why Some Houses Sit While Other Houses Sell

Click below to view a short video:

Tax Laws

Since tax laws seem to constantly be in a state of change, it can be hard to keep up on tax saving deadlines. Here is one (link) that those older then 70 ½ should be aware of. It is designed to provide relief for retirees whose accounts where whacked by the collapse of financial markets. The minimum withdrawal requirements was re-instated for 2010 and many are unaware of it.