Appraisals baffle consumers

St Paul, MN: The appraisal process often baffles consumers.  May people feel that their home is worth more than true fair market value, so the appraised value doesn’t always make sense to them.

The bulk of your homes value is based on finished square footage.

It is important to know that the appraiser is completely independent from lenders, buyers, sellers, and real estate agents, and that the guidelines to which they adhere are dictated by the Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice (USPAP) and Fannie Mae.

In most states, the mortgage lenders must also disclose the purpose of the appraisal, as each transaction carries its own set of rules. In essence, these important guidelines help appraisers put a fair market value on homes based on comparable sales in the same area, and the home must be bracketed in size and value.

For example, there is no set dollar figure associated with a great view, pool, spa, bathroom upgrades, etc. If a homeowner installs a custom pool that cost them $30,000, but the local marketplace supports the value of a pool at $15,000, then that item will be bracketed as [$15,000] on the appraisal. Upgrades can usually be expressed at a higher percentage of their value in newer homes because the only way to obtain those upgrades was to put more money into the cost of building the home. On the other hand, the upgrading or remodeling of an older home is rarely reflected in full in the final appraisal. This is because typically 25-40% of the project involves demolition and the fixing of issues that aren’t uncovered until the project has already begun, such as plumbing or wiring that may need updating.

Ultimately, the value of the upgrades must be supported by comparable examples within the same marketplace. These comparisons must be drawn from current market activity. The general rule is ‘same or similar, sold within the last six month, within a one mile radius’ of your home. This is a safeguard to prevent appraisers from attaching too high a value to the home in question, and opening up the appraisal for review. This guideline further states that appraisers can only base their opinion on the value of home sales that have actually closed.

Maintenance items don’t increase value. That new roof you just added doesn’t really add any value.  It was maintenance. If your home previously didn’t have a roof, and now you added a roof – that would add value!

Don’t confuse curb appeal with maintenance. Following the same roof theory. A brand new roof sure makes a potential buyer feel better about your home – but how much more would a buyer pay? Not much.

Mortgage lenders and Loan Officers must follow  the guidelines in the Home Valuation Code of Conduct, which among other things prohibits a lender picking the actual lender (must be randomly assigned),  from having any contact with, or influence on how the appraiser values a home.

Wondering what your home is worth? Thinking of selling your home, or refinancing to a lower interest rate? Only an actual appraisal from a licensed appraiser will give you a true number, but here is a online tool that can help give you an idea of what your home is worth.


Lowest Interest Rate or Lowest Closing Cost – Which is better?

Lowest Interest Rate or Lowest Closing Costs – Plus No Lender Fee, or No Closing Costs Advertising


A common mistake shoppers make is to simply ask: “What’s your rate?” or “What are your closing costs?” Both logical questions to ask, but they do not give the response most borrowers need to make a proper decision. Borrowers must understand both rates and fees.  Interest Rates are only half the answer to getting the best mortgage deal. It is possible end up with the lowest rate, or with low or no closing costs, but not necessarily the best deal.

Remember that nothing is ever free. Lenders simply use “reverse points” whenever they claim to offer any sort of low closing costs, or no fee mortgage.

 Simply put, the lowest rate & the lowest fees do not go hand-in-hand. NO LENDER can offer both together. I can give you rock bottom rates, but it will cost you in fees. I can give you the lowest fees, but it will cost you in interest rate. Most lenders quote their best rate in combination with covering all third party fees (appraisal, credit report, title company, state taxes, county recording fees, etc) with 1% origination. See the example below.

Here is an example of Rate vs. Costs on a $150,000 – 30 year fixed loan

Here is an example of Rate vs. Costs on a $200,000 – 30 year fixed loan

Lower Rate Standard Quote

Low Cost

Total NO Cost











Discount Points





Closing Costs $5042 $5042 $3042  $0.00

Closing Costs with Points





Monthly P & I Payment





10 Years of Interest





20 Years of Interest





30 Years of Interest






The combination of rate & fees can be very confusing. One lender is screaming “No closing costs.” A second lender may quote you just $000 in fees, while another lender is offering an amazing rate.

So are closing costs and fees bad? Well if you ask everyone’s brother who has a real estate license and knows everything about mortgages, then the answer you will most likely hear is yes.  I am here to tell you everyone’s brother is probably wrong.

Good enough answer?  I didn’t think so…

Begin by asking yourself “How long am I going to be in this property?” This is the single most important question to determine which option is best for you. Now look at the chart above. It becomes very obvious based on how long you are going to be in the home if Best Rate or Lowest Cost‘ makes the most sense for you and your family.

Congratulations, you are now smarter than everyone’s brother, mother and sister with a real estate license.



Minneapolis, MN: One of the biggest difficulties many first-time home buyers face is a lack of down payment, and the necessary money to pay closing costs. Most “zero down payment programs” disappeared with the mortgage market meltdown that started in 2007, so in most parts of the country, the only true no money down programs are just the VA home loan for Veterans or the USDA Rural Development Loan.

Guaranteed by the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture), this program might make you think that you have to buy farmland or live “in the country” to qualify, but this is often not the case. In fact, you might be surprised to see just how many neighborhoods actually do qualify as rural development areas. For this program, the term “rural” really applies to those areas with a lower population, or fewer homes, not necessarily those areas or farmland far outside of the city. To see what areas qualify for the USDA Loan, click here for the property eligibility map.

There are several benefits of the USDA loan program besides no money down. The program has very low private mortgage insurance costs compared to other loans, and the seller is allowed to pay all of your closing costs and pre-paid items up to 6.00% of the total sales price of the property. While this is great news for first-time home buyers, it’s important to note that you don’t have to be a first-timer to qualify for a USDA loan.

Other than the location of the property you’re seeking to buy, there is one other important aspect to the USDA loan.  It has income guidelines. Click here to see if your family incomes qualifies for the USDA loan. Luckily, however, these numbers have recently increased to allow more potential buyers to take advantage of this special program.

For the USDA program, a great rule of thumb is no major metropolitan areas, and any town with less than 20,000 population.


Tips for successful refinancing


Minneapolis, MN:  As homeowners rush to take advantage of the new HARP program and some of the lowest mortgage rates in history, it’s easy for them to get lost in the refinance stampede. That’s why it has never been so crucial for borrowers to understand the refinance game, and how to make the most of their application.

First, understand most lenders are overwhelmed with the high volume of refinance applications they have received since mortgage rates recently tumbled. Loans that went from application to closing in 30-days, are now running at least 45 days, and for most banks, upwards of 90-days. Online applications that were looked at within hours, now may take a few days before the lender calls you back.

Your mortgage lender choice is more important than most people realize. Generally speaking we suggest you deal with a local lender.  There is nothing some out-state lender advertising super low mortgage rates and with a fancy web site can offer that you can’t get down the street. Choosing your current lender very often is not the cheapest and easiest deal. Rather, just the opposite, as they know so many of their current clients call them without shopping.

To speed up the process, borrowers should begin to assemble the standard loan paperwork as soon as they decide to apply for a loan. The minimum documentation for a mortgage loan everyone will need is; their two most recent pay stubs, or last two years tax returns if self-employed.  Their last two years W2’s, photo ID, and their last two banks statements.

Once you lock a great interest rate, get the documents to the lender within a day. One missing document, or any delay by the borrower in providing s requested documents by the lender could easily add significant delay or problems with your refinance. As a borrower, you need to make sure once you lock an interest rates, you drop everything and respond to any lender request. Loan processing is first-in, first-out. Sign your paperwork within a day, and let the appraiser in your home as soon as humanly possible. Underwriting won’t even begin until they had your signatures and the appraisal in hand.

Borrowers should also ask their lenders upfront for a time frame on when they should expect to close on the refinance loan and lock their rate accordingly. Once the initial signatures and documents have been submitted, there will be a waiting period when there’s not much the loan officer and the borrower can do. Even during that time, borrowers should not be afraid to check on the progress of their refinance. Checking in once or twice a week is pretty reasonable to make sure your refinance application is on track. Underwriters may ask for additional documentation once they get to your file, so it’s important to stay in touch with your loan officer and be diligent.


Are mortgage rates going up?


Minneapolis, MN: Mortgage interest rates jumped up last week, putting a scare in those sitting on the fence, thinking about refinancing, yet waiting form rates to drop a bit lower. Lucky for them, Minnesota mortgage interest rates moved back down slowly to about where they have been holding for some time.

The big question is how long can mortgage rates remain this low? 

Mortgage rates have been stuck at these amazingly low levels for the past five months. According to Freddie Mac weekly survey of mortgage rates, last week was the first time that interest rates on a standard 30-year fixed-rate mortgage rose above 4 percent, only to slip back below this week.
It’s very clear that mortgage rates can’t stay this low forever. It was big news when 30-year rates fell below the 5 percent mark in March 2009 – a level unimaginable just a few years before. Now we’re a full percent lower than that. When you consider that rates rarely fell below 7 percent prior to 2001, and often ranged much higher, it’s clear that rates will eventually move back toward more historical norms. When I bought my first house in 1981 – I paid 16% for an FHA 30-year fixed mortgage.
The question is, when will that happen – and what will trigger it?  So, is it smart to keep holding out for lower refinance rates? Probably not…  Is it wise to not buy a house today?  Probably not, especially with these interest rates and zero down programs like the VA loan program, and the USDA Rural Development Program.