From the category archives:


Navigating the Alphabet Soup of Mortgage Lending

Mortgage Loan Programs








Many home buyers are overwhelmed by the alphabet soup they encounter when shopping for the right mortgage. Lenders throw out acronyms like FHA, conventional, VA and USDA, but most consumers don’t know the ins and outs of each loan type, or which one is best for them. Knowing about these home loan programs gets buyers better rates and lower payments!

It is not necessary however to know every detail of every loan type. You just need to know enough to choose the best long-term option for your situation. Here’s a short run-down below on each mortgage loan program to help you do just that. You can also find a ton of information on every question you may have regarding mortgage loans by following the link to this excellent resource. There is an amazing amount of mortgage information to absorb.

FHA Loans. These loans are named as such because the Federal Housing Administration oversees and backs them. This government backing allows lenders to issue loans at less stringent qualification standards.

For example, FHA loans only require 3.5% down, much less than the 5% to 20% down required for conventional loans. And, that entire amount can come for an eligible gift source, such as a family member or non-profit organization.

Also, lenders allow a lower minimum credit score to qualify, usually between 600 and 640. Borrowers with lower income qualify easier, since FHA allows borrowers to have a higher payment compared to their income.

As a trade-off for lenient guidelines, FHA loans do come with higher fees. Monthly mortgage insurance fees are $112 per month for every $100,000 borrowed, payable for the life of the loan. In addition, there’s an upfront fee of 1.75% of the loan amount.

The good news is that FHA loan rates are typically about one-half percent lower than are available for standard loans. This compensates for at least some of the extra fees. All told, FHA is a great program for many first time and repeat buyers.
Bottom Line:

FHA loans are great for home buyers with

• Dings on their credit report.
• Less money saved for a down payment.
• Higher home payment compared to income.

USDA Loans. This is a little-know loan program with big benefits. The USDA home loan is a zero-down loan program for buyers in rural and suburban areas. The loan is backed by the United States Department of Agriculture, whose goal it is to develop less urban areas by offering affordable mortgages.

The USDA loan helps buyers who are looking for homes in certain geographical areas. These loans are not farm loans or loans with big properties. The USDA loan is available to purchase just about any single-family home within certain geographical areas.

USDA-eligible areas are vast, encompassing about 97% of U.S. land mass and the 109 million people who live there. It’s worth checking USDA’s eligibility map to see if you can buy with a USDA home loan, even if you think your area is fairly suburban.

Upfront and monthly fees for USDA loans are lower than those of FHA loans. And USDA rates are comparable with FHA rates. Most borrowers end up with lower upfront and monthly costs by choosing USDA over FHA.

Bottom line:

USDA loans are a great choice because

• There’s no down payment required.
• Borrowers with a credit score of 620 and below can qualify.
• Most mortgage companies and banks across the country offer USDA loans.
• USDA loans require lower overall costs than FHA.

VA Loans. This mortgage takes the cake as far as benefits to the borrower. A VA home loan requires zero down and no monthly mortgage insurance. VA loan rates are extremely low. Many VA home buyers pay less each month for their own home than they did to rent.

All these benefits are provided by the Veterans Administration. The VA backs these loans which leads to lower risk for the lender, and lower cost for the borrower.

VA home loans are offered to those with current or former military service. Typically veterans must have served at least 90 days in the military, or up to two years, depending on their dates of service. For eligible veterans, the VA home loan yields a lower payment than any other low-down payment option.

Bottom line:

Borrowers with military experience enjoy

• Credit scores minimums down to 620
• No mortgage insurance
• Zero down payment
• Lower monthly payments compared to other low down payment loan options.

Conventional Loans. While no acronyms are required for conventional loans, they are worth including in this overview since they represent 60% of all loans. These loans are approved based on guidelines set by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Credit and income requirements are little tougher on conventional loans, but borrowers who qualify enjoy lower overall costs. There are no upfront fees and mortgage insurance costs are often hundreds of dollars per month lower than with FHA. No mortgage insurance is required at all with a 20% down payment.

Conventional loans are best for applicants with 660+ credit scores although those with 720 or higher will get the best rates. A conventional loan can be approved with a sub-660 credit score, but borrowers will receive a higher rate.

Bottom Line:

Conventional loans work best for home buyers

• With a medium-to-high credit score (660-740+).
• With at least 5% down.
• Who want to buy in an urban area
• Who want to avoid high FHA upfront and monthly fees.

Shopping for a mortgage can be overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. If you know just a little about the different home finance options you will relieve a lot of stress and make the best decision. Make sure when you are ready to buy a home you get pre-approved for a mortgage. It is important to understand there is a difference between getting pre-approved and pre-qualified for a mortgage. Any good real estate agent representing a homeowner will want to know a buyer has been pre-approved to protect their clients interests. Most pre-qualification letters do not verify a borrowers credit, employment or income. This is not the case with a pre-approval making the two documents night and day from one another.

And don’t think it’s the end of the world if you’re not quite qualified for your ideal loan option. The important thing is that you meet your goal of home ownership. Most buyers refinance into a better loan within a few years anyway. Get into your home, and the rest will fall in place at the right time. Hopefully you now have a better understanding of all the mortgage loan programs available when purchasing a home!

Tim LucasTim Lucas (NMLS 118763) is editor of He has been helping mortgage consumers purchase and refinance their homes for over 12 years. Visit Tim on Google+, Twitter, and Facebook.



How to be a military friendly real estate agentYou may have heard the term “military friendly” used in and around the real estate industry. But what does it really mean to be considered a military friendly real estate agent? While the definition may vary from user to user, the central idea remains the same. These agents want to support military home buyers.

Let’s take a look at what you can do to support our nation’s heroes in their home search by becoming a military friendly agent.

Identifying Military Home buyers

The first step to working with military home buyers is identifying who’s a veteran or current service member. Most of your military clients aren’t going to walk into your office in uniform. You need to be proactive and ask each and every one of your new clients “Did you serve?” By taking the pledge to ask you’re on your way to helping achieve the dream of home ownership.

Asking the question opens the door to identifying who’s eligible for the VA mortgage guaranty. If they answer yes, you have an opportunity to set yourself apart as an expert. Educate them on their benefits and connect them with an experienced VA mortgage lender. The VA home loan isn’t the answer for every veteran, but its significant benefits make it so powerful for so many.

Understanding Their Unique Needs

Military service members, veterans and their families often have a unique set of needs. It’s important for you to understand how their current service status may impact their VA loan application. Become familiar with different stages of service. Then listen to understand their needs and ask questions.

One service member may be looking for a home in a quiet neighborhood to limit sounds or situations that could trigger their post-traumatic stress disorder. Another service member may just be moving to the area due to a permanent change of station (PCS). They’ll need guidance on the community as a whole and recommendations for service providers.

Each and every buyer is unique. Spend the time to understand why certain home qualities are desired over others and you’ll be on the right track.

Promoting Use of VA Benefits

Once you identify your VA buyers by asking “Did you serve?” and educate them on their VA benefits take things a step further by promoting the use of their hard-earned benefits. With no down payment required and lower credit score requirements the VA mortgage guaranty opens the door to home ownership for many who don’t qualify for other types of financing.

When comparing a VA loan to conventional and FHA financing, a VA buyer can save a significant amount on their monthly payments. To understand how significant the savings can be, consider this: Veterans who obtained VA financing last year will save $19 Billion over the life of their loan due to the fact that VA buyers don’t pay mortgage insurance.

To promote the use of veteran’s VA benefits you simply need to do two things. The first we’ve already covered, and that’s to provide education on VA benefits to those who say yes, they’ve served.

The second way to promote the use of VA benefits is to educate yourself on VA loan facts. There are a number of myths and misconceptions about the VA loan. Through research and education you can understand the many benefits of the VA loan and make a huge difference for your clients.

This goes for sellers too. If you’re a seller’s agent and receive a VA offer, don’t suggest that your client automatically dismiss it. This isn’t your grandfather’s VA loan. VA offers are worth considering. The lending process is more streamlined and efficient. VA closing times are now comparable to that of conventional loans. Plus, your buyers will be a part of making the dream of home ownership come true for someone who’s served our country.

Like working with any other buyer you should explain the need and importance of getting pre-approved through a lender who does VA loans. Working with a lender that specializes in VA loans can be very helpful as they have systems and procedures down pat. If you are working with a buyer who has served our country the Veterans loan is the perfect mortgage vehicle!

Samantha Reeves is the Senior Mortgage and Home buying writer for Veterans United Home Loans, one of the nation’s leading financial services providers for service members and their families. A former mortgage loan originator, Samantha enjoys educating others about the VA mortgage process on the Veterans United Network of blogs and social media. Follow her on Facebook, on her blog, Tweet her @Samantha_VUHL or reach out on Google+.



Why Is FHA Financing So Popular?


Mike DunskyI am excited to have Michael Dunsky from Guaranteed Rate Mortgage who will be covering some of the terrific benefits to FHA financing when you are purchasing a condominium. Michael has been one of my preferred loan officers for years and always does an exceptional job with his clients. Check out Mike’s terrific article on why you may want to consider buying a condominium using FHA financing.

Let’s say that you want to buy a home but are not looking forward to shoveling snow or taking care of the yard. Or, perhaps you are looking to buy in an area where single family homes are too high for your budget. A great alternative is a condominium. Condominiums typically sell for less than single family homes and offer home ownership opportunities without having to worry about general maintenance and upkeep.

FHA Financing buying a condoThere are plenty of home loan options available to those purchasing a condominium but one particular type of home loan, FHA (Federal Housing Administration), offers the least restrictive qualifying criteria. FHA loans are government insured loans designed to help more people qualify and achieve the American Dream of owning their own home.

FHA allows for low to moderate income buyers to buy a property who may not meet conventional loan guidelines or may have been denied for conventional financing. In recent years FHA loans have become very popular given the absence of those more “flexible” loan options that have gone by the wayside in the mortgage meltdown a few years ago. FHA financing basically opens doors to folks who might not otherwise qualify for financing.

Many condominiums buyers are first time buyers and most first time buyers share similar characteristics that FHA appeals to. Usually, first time buyers don’t have a sizable down payment, there is often higher debt for student loans and simply not having much time in the workforce to save much, as well, their credit scores may not be that high due to length of time having active credit. FHA loans seem to have modeled their guidelines to these specific traits.

Qualifying for FHA Financing

Qualify for FHA LoanFHA allows for the following:

• Only 3.5% down payment instead of the traditional 5% down payment required on conventional loans

• 100% of the down payment can be a gift, compared to a conventional mortgage that requires borrowers to verify they have at least 5% of the purchase price from their own funds

• Lower minimum credit score than conventional loans. Most lenders allow for a minimum score of 640 for a FHA loan while conventional loans can require significantly higher scores depending on the amount of down payment. Some lenders will allow for scores lower than 640 under certain circumstances

• More flexible with the amount of debt a person is carrying compared to that of a conventional loan.

The other aspect of buying a condominium with FHA financing is making sure that the condominium project meets FHA’s requirements. This would be one of the questions to ask before buying a condo. There are specific guidelines in place to ensure that the condominium meets FHA’s criteria for a project to ensure it’s long-term viability. In keeping up with the times, FHA recently updated their criteria for certifying a condominium project as there were certain guidelines in place that were outdated for our current economic climate.

Why use FHA FinancingFor instance, if you are looking at purchasing a condominium unit in a city then it would not be uncommon for the building to have some commercial space (retail stores or possibly professional offices). It was not that long ago that FHA only allowed for 25% of the condominium project to be allocated for commercial space. The revised criteria now allows for exceptions up to 35% commercial space which will free up more projects to become FHA certified and, therefore, open the door for more home buyers.

Another guideline FHA addresses, and has recently amended, is to allow for greater flexibility for one or more investors who can now own up to 50% of the entire project. Previously, this was limited to just 10%.

The owner occupancy ratio should always be looked at when contemplating buying a condominium. The owner occupancy ratio is a simple formula, the number of units lived in by their owners divided by the total number of units in the project. FHA will certify a project as long as the percentage of owners renting their individual units does not exceed 50% of the entire project.

A condominium project is run just like any household or business. There are costs associated with running the project and there are fees that the unit owners pay in order to cover these expenses (commonly referred to as condominium dues or homeowner association fees- HOA fees).

One area that is closely evaluated is the condominium project’s budget. In order to add further protection to a condominium project and to ensure that there are sufficient funds available for general maintenance and upkeep of the building, grounds, and common areas, FHA requires that each condominium project have a line item for reserves in their budget of no less than 10% for additional maintenance and repairs.

Condominium BudgetOne aspect of managing the finances of a condominium project is to ensure that no one runs away with the money. What’s to stop a trustee, the homeowner’s association, or independent management company responsible for all of the condominium project’s finances from mishandling or stealing the money from the budget?

FHA directly addresses this by requiring Fidelity Bond Insurance, also known as “Employee Dishonesty” or a “Crime Policy” is put in place for all condominium projects with 20 units or more. This is yet another protection for the unit owners to help sustain the viability of a project. The last thing you want as a unit owner or potential buyer of a condominium is to find out is that there are insufficient funds in the budget to keep the property looking fresh and clean along with upkeep and general maintenance.

In hard economic times some unit owners may fall behind on their HOA dues/fees and if a significant numbers of owners fall behind paying their HOA dues then this can materially impact the finances and viability of the entire condominium project (not to mention all of the unit owners that may, in fact, have to cover those costs at some point).

Part of FHA’s criteria for certifying a project requires that no more than 15% of all unit owners can be over 60 days delinquent on their condominium dues. This is one area that should be looked at closely prior to any purchase of a condominium. There are many more guidelines that FHA has in place for the sole purpose of good lending practices but these are the most pertinent in today’s lending environment.

Although the process for FHA certification of a project can seem a little excessive, I fully believe that any soon-to-be buyer of a condominium will appreciate that FHA has their best interest at heart. In fact there are many communities that are not approved for FHA financing. You may want to think twice about whether it makes sense to purchase in an area where a significant amount of buyers are not going to be able to purchase. Having an FHA approved condominium is certainly very important!

If you are considering buying a condo and want to work with someone that is very knowledgeable about mortgage financing, has great service skills and competitive rates, I would give Mike a call!

Additional Resources For FHA Condominium Financing:

Buying a condominium using FHA financing is very common place. Let Michael Dunsky be the one to help you with your financing. Michael can be reached at Guaranteed Rate, Inc which is located at 38 Pond Street, Suite 208  Franklin, MA 02038

Phone 508.528.1800


Real Estate Title Insurance Explained

Real Estate Title InsuranceWhen purchasing a home one of the things that buyer’s will be asked is whether or not they want Real Estate title insurance. Often times I find that home buyer’s lament over this decision because of the expense involved. Real Estate title insurance is certainly not cheap!

While title insurance is a one time expense, it can be disturbing for a buyer tight on cash to have to come up with such a large unexpected expenditure. Real Estate title insurance can easily run into thousands of dollars in a home purchase. Unlike other insurance policies there is no monthly premiums with title insurance. It is a one time expense covering the owner until the property is sold.

One of the questions I get asked a lot by my clients is “should I purchase title insurance’?

Let me first explain what title insurance is and what it covers. Real Estate title insurance is a type of insurance that covers financial loss from defects in title to real property and from the invalidity of mortgage liens.

A title policy is put in place to protect an owner’s or lender’s financial interest in a property against loss due to title defects, liens or other matters. The insurance will defend against a lawsuit attacking the title as it is insured, or reimburse the insured for the monetary loss incurred, up to the dollar amount of insurance provided for in the policy.

In my experience all major lenders require title insurance to protect their interest in the mortgage secured by real estate. This is called a lenders insurance policy.  An owner’s insurance policy is not required but in my opinion is a highly valuable insurance that is risky not to have.

There is an opportunity for a buyer to get a substantial discount when they purchases both a lenders and owner’s policy at the same time. This is called a simultaneous issuance. For an enhanced policy, it runs about $4.00 per thousand based on purchase price + $175.00 in Massachusetts. This is a one time premium paid at closing which lasts the lifetime of the property ownership.

The Real Estate Title Search

Prior to a buyer taking title to a property or completing the “closing”, the lender through which the borrower is getting the mortgage will have a title search done on the Real Estate.

The purpose of the title search is to find any defects in the title. There could be any number of defects including liens, unpaid Real Estate taxes, judgments, unpaid condo fees, or others.

If title defects are found the buyer’s or lender’s lawyer will inform the buyer of such defects and then work towards getting them removed so that a clean and marketable title is given to the buyer.

Title insurance becomes of great value when something is discovered in the future that was not found when the initial title search was done.

A Title search starts with the most recent deed searching the grantees name (the person who holds title) back in time until the deed from which the grantee acquired the property is found.

That grantors name is then searched back in time in the grantees book to find when the grantor acquired the title as grantee. The typical title examination goes back fifty years but title insurance would cover beyond the fifty year search.

Anyone who has not purchased title insurance could surely tell you what a nightmare it can become without it!

Common Reason For Title Insurance Claims

Example of some of the more common reasons for claims against a Real Estate title insurance policy are as follows:                                                                   Real Estate Fraud

  • False impersonation of the true owner of the property
  • Forgery of the deed, releases, or wills
  • Real Estate fraud
  • Missing or undisclosed heirs to the property
  • Any Instruments executed under invalid or expired power of attorney
  • Mistakes in recording legal documents
  • Deeds by someone of unsound mind
  • Deeds by a minor
  • Misinterpretations of wills
  • Deeds with misrepresentation of marital status
  • Liens for unpaid estate, income, inheritance,  or gift taxes

For an astute buyer who really thinks about the expense of title insurance the follow up question I get is why do I need it if the lender is going to have a policy anyways?

The easiest way to answer this question would be to ask is what would you do if one of the above title defects were discovered and the attorney who did the title search was no longer in business? While you could certainly sue the attorney for negligence if he was still around practicing; what if he was not? You would have a very large issue on your hands! To be clear an attorney would only be responsible for negligence not the issues outlined above. This is why it is important to have title insurance!

One other important note about Real Estate title insurance:

A federal law called the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA) allows the individual homeowner to choose a title insurance company when buying or refinancing residential property. Most of the time, homeowners do not make title insurance decisions for themselves.

They are typically handled by their lender’s or attorney’s choice; however, the homeowner does retain the right. RESPA makes it unlawful for any lender, attorney, or Real Estate agent to mandate that a certain title insurance company be used. Doing so is a violation of federal law and any person or business doing so can be heavily fined or lose their license.

Section 9 of RESPA denies a seller from mandating a home buyer to use a specific title insurance company, as a condition of the sale. Buyers may sue a seller who violates this provision for an amount equal to three times the cost of all charges related to the title insurance.

Some of the most prevalent title insurance companies are Fidelity National Financial, First American, Land America, Stewart and Old Republic.

In my mind having an owners insurance title policy is a no brainer and is certainly something you should consider unless you absolutely can not afford it! A title policy can be purchased in the future should you not have the funds available at closing time.


About the author: The above Real Estate information on Real Estate title insurance was provided by Bill Gassett, a Nationally recognized leader in his field. Bill can be reached via email at or by phone at 508-435-5356. Bill has helped people move in and out of many Metrowest towns for the last 25+ Years.

Thinking of selling your home? I have a passion for Real Estate and love to share my marketing expertise!

I service the following towns in Metrowest MA: Hopkinton, Milford, Southboro, Westboro, Ashland, Holliston, Medway, Franklin, Framingham, Grafton, Hopedale, Mendon, Upton, Northbridge, Shrewsbury, Northboro, Bellingham, Uxbridge, Millbury, Worcester, Sutton and Douglas.


Credit Scoring Impacts Short Sale vs Foreclosure

October 11, 2011

It is probably safe to assume that most consumers like to work with folks they know can be trusted. In Real Estate, like some other businesses there are those that can always be counted on for delivering great advice and others that only care about their own pocket book. I always tell people some of […]

24 comments Read the full article →

A Guide To Mortgage Equity Loan Options

September 19, 2011

When looking to take money out of an existing home or other Real Estate borrowers often have a decision to make on what is the best method to do so. There are basically three financing options that are available to home owners. These include a cash out re-finance, home equity loan or a home equity […]

1 comment Read the full article →

Increasing a Credit Score With Home Finance Tips

March 7, 2011

Credit scores can have a dramatic effect on a borrowers ability to get the best rates for many types of financing including a home mortgage and a car loan. If your credit score does not meet minimum standards you may not even have the ability to get a home mortgage period! There are a number […]

12 comments Read the full article →

Fannie Mae Mortgage Interest Rates & Costs Rising

January 30, 2011

Guest blogger Michael Dunsky from Guaranteed Rate is back again to take a look at the recent announcement by Fannie Mae that a borrowers costs and/or interest rate will be rising in the near future. Michael comes to the Massachusetts Real Estate blog on occasion because of his extensive knowledge on what is going on […]

3 comments Read the full article →

203K Rehabilitation Loan

December 13, 2010

Guest blogger Michael Dunsky from Guaranteed Rate Mortgage is back to take to help review a popular mortgage program known as the 203k rehabilitation loan. The landscape of the housing market all over the country has changed drastically over the last few years. Foreclosures and short sales have become the norm not the exception. Many […]

19 comments Read the full article →

Great Reasons to Refinance a Mortgage

October 26, 2010

Reducing your interest rate When interest rates are at record lows it creates an environment that is ripe for refinancing a home mortgage. There is no question that a mortgage on a home is usually one of the largest financial obligations that you will have in your life. It stands to reason that if you […]

2 comments Read the full article →