September 2019 Housing Market Recap

Existing home sales fell in the September 2019 Housing Market Recap after two months of gains. Sales dropped across all four regions, with the Midwest taking the biggest loss. Prices rose yet again, as they have for over seven and a half years. Days on the market rose slightly, and inventory fell year-over-year, keeping the focus on the shortage of homes. One bright spot on the inventory front is the change in FHA financing that creates more opportunities for condo purchases via FHA loans.

September existing home sales fell 2.2 percent from August, but were up 3.9 percent compared to September 2018, according to the National Association of Realtors® (NAR) September Existing Home Sales Report, released October 22nd.

Home prices rose again. The median price of existing homes sold in September was $272,100, an increase of 5.9 percent from September 2018 ($256,900). We’ve now reached 91 consecutive months of year-over-year increases.

Days on the market (DOM) increased compared to August, moving from 31 to 32. This mirrors DOM in September 2018. Another way to look at this is that 49 percent of homes were listed and sold within a month. Buyers continue to move quickly.

Inventory stayed about the same as it was in August. However, it fell 2.7 percent year-over-year. At the current sales rate, the supply of unsold inventory was 4.1 months, down from 4.4 months a year ago. (NAR considers 6 months of inventory a balanced market.)

NAR chief economist Lawrence Yun pointed out that despite recent low mortgage rates, the inventory shortage has had an adverse effect on sales volume. “We must continue to beat the drum for more inventory,” said Yun, who has called for additional home construction for over a year. “Home prices are rising too rapidly because of the housing shortage, and this lack of inventory is preventing home sales growth potential.”

Sales dropped across all regions. Comparing September to August, sales fell 0.9 percent in the West, 2.1 percent in the South, 2.8 percent in the Northeast, and 3.1 percent in the Midwest. The Midwest led increases in year-over-year median home prices, rising 7.2 percent, followed by the South at 6.3 percent, the Northeast at 5.2 percent, and the West at 4.5 percent.

Hottest markets. NAR has revised their market hotness report to provide more analysis, but the goal remains to reflect supply and demand by comparing median days on the market (supply) and listing views per property (demand). It’s interesting to see which markets are moving quickly because it may not be what you expect. The September top ten are Fort Wayne, IN, Rochester, NY, Pueblo, CO, Columbus, OH, Topeka, KS, Midland, TX, Buffalo-Cheektowaga-Niagara Falls, NY, Janesville-Beloit, WI, Kennewick-Richland, WA, and Sioux City, IA-NE-SD.

The takeaway. It’s hard to find a new way to say prices are rising and inventory is low. It’s been the same story for years, and it’s not clear when it will change. If you’re a buyer, the advice stays the same. Think financing first by talking to a First Choice Loan Services Inc. mortgage loan originator. Next, work with a trusted Realtor® and expand your search to include more neighborhoods and/or homes that need some work. Finally, stay positive. As we move into fall, you may find sellers are more motivated and new inventory is coming on the market.

The Language of Loans

Every industry has jargon. Home lending is no exception. When you decide to purchase a home, it’s not enough that you’re venturing into unfamiliar territory full of contracts, appraisals, inspections and title binders. Nope, you are suddenly facing a slew of acronyms that mean nothing to you, but are oh-so-important to understanding your home loan. Fear not! Let’s demystify DTI and show APR who’s the boss and learn the language of loans.

FRM and ARM.
There are two main types of mortgages in the US: The Fixed Rate Mortgage and the Adjustable Rate Mortgage. There are advantages to each type, depending upon your specific situation, but at the most basic level, the fixed rate loan has an interest rate that is stable over the life of the loan while the ARM will adjust after the first 3, 5 or 7 years (typically). Your First Choice Loan Services Inc. mortgage loan originator will help you decide which type of loan is best suited to your goals and finances.

Sounds like a utility company or grocery store, but it stands for Principal and Interest. These are the two most important components of your monthly mortgage payment, and represent the money you pay back for the loan you took out. The most common type of loan is a fixed rate loan, in which most of the money goes to interest in the first years. This gradually shifts over the life of your loan until you are paying more in principal than interest.

Don’t feel sorry for yourself; you may be able to figure this out from the section above. Principal, Interest and what else? Taxes and Insurance! The other two major components of your monthly mortgage payment are property taxes and homeowners (aka hazard) insurance. These are usually escrowed (collected and held in an account) by the loan servicer and paid to the appropriate taxing body (or bodies, depending upon your locale) and insurance company when due. (By the way, show you’re in the know and pronounce it by saying each letter separately.)

This is the all-important Annual Percentage Rate and it’s not the same as the interest rate. Why is it different? The APR covers more than the interest on the principal you are borrowing to pay for the property you are buying. It includes everything you are financing with your loan, such as fees, points (money you can pay to reduce the loan rate), and closing costs. When you want to compare loans, the APR is your real measuring stick. Don’t just rely on an interest rate. Make sure the loans cover exactly the same items and compare APRs.

Here’s something that will affect the APR: Private Mortgage Insurance. Lenders are banking on you paying your mortgage, but if you make a down payment of less than 20 percent on a conventional loan, there’s a higher risk of default. Lenders require PMI to protect them from a loss if you can’t pay your mortgage. PMI is usually included in your monthly mortgage payment as a separate line item. The good news? PMI does not have to be a permanent part of your loan. Once you have at least 80 percent equity in your home, you can ask to have the PMI cancelled. Talk to your First Choice mortgage loan originator to learn more about PMI, as well as fees and mortgage insurance required on certain government-backed loans.

How much are you borrowing compared to the appraised value of the home you are buying? That’s Loan To Value. As you’ve seen above, there’s a lot riding on this. If you borrow more than 80 percent of the value, you’ll pay PMI on your loan.

This is one more measure of how much you can borrow. Lenders look at your existing debt (such as credit cards and car loans) and your income, and derive your Debt To Income ratio. Lenders want to be confident that you can handle your existing debt and your new home loan. If you are carrying a heavy debt load, you will find that you may not be able to borrow as much as you’d like.

Help! I Need A Translator. Guess what? You don’t have to memorize everything you’ve read. When you need someone who speaks fluent mortgage, contact your First Choice mortgage loan originator. You’ll find someone who’ll gladly help you understand the language of loans.

Jane Burns
Content Manager, Marketing/Communications

Clean Habits for Homeowners

It starts with a spoon. Then, a cereal bowl. A plate is next, followed by a pan. Before you know it, the kitchen sink is full of dirty dishes. It doesn’t stop there. A load of laundry needs folding. The floor needs sweeping, and the bathroom could use your attention too. With everything else going on in your life, keeping your home clean can be challenging. Before the messes overwhelm you, here are a few clean habits for homeowners.

Make Your Bed Every Day
If you’re anything like me, you may be a little groggy in the morning. Without that first couple of cups of coffee, I’m barely functioning. Once I’ve made my bed, though, I’ve accomplished my first task of the day. It’s a little act indeed but one that sets the tone for getting things done. Making your bed right when you get up helps build momentum for the rest of your day, creates a cleaner look for your room, and provides you a welcoming place to return to when your day is done.

Wipe High Touch Spots
Door knobs, remote controls, light switches, glass surfaces… there are plenty of items in your home that are touched frequently by several people each day. Stash disinfect wipes in easy to access spots around your home so that you can wipe clean some of those highly trafficked surfaces. This will help remove a few dirty finger prints, built up grime, and cold-causing germs.

Remove Your Shoes
Speaking of germs, removing your shoes when entering your home cuts down on a great deal of what you may track in. Unless you look down with every step you take, you have no idea what you are bringing into your home via the bottoms of your shoes. While you may not directly be touching your floor, your four-legged family members do as do those still getting around by crawling. Taking off your shoes when arriving home will help keep the floors clean longer, treats them more kindly, and reduces outside contaminants to your home.

Put Away Kitchen Appliances
Imagine your kitchen counters without the blender, the toaster and the coffee maker on display. Finding space in the cabinets for common appliances will de-clutter the space and remove additional items requiring surface cleaning. Additionally, it will provide you more room in your kitchen to create new and delicious dishes!

Clean Shelves Pre-Grocery Store
When you take inventory of your pantry and refrigerator before a trip to the grocery store, use the time to rid yourself of canned goods that have either expired or would be best donated to a charity. Also, with a damp rag, wipe down the refrigerator shelves when they are less full. It will help clear space of unneeded items and also prevent build up of residue in your refrigerator.

Organize Daily Mail
Often we pick up the mail at the end of the day when our energy level may be low and there are a few hundred household duties that need to be accomplished. Going through your mail may not get done right away, and it’s easy to get backed up. If you’re not able to devote a few minutes each day to shift through your mail, keep the important things and recycle the others, then commit one space on a shelf or in your home office where the mail is kept until you can get to it. Getting pieces of mail or catalogues that you no longer want to receive? Look for contact information to unsubscribe. It will save trees and lighten your load when mail sorting.

Routinely Purge
Much like evaluating your food inventory before going to the grocery store, regularly take stock of your clothes. From shoes to hats and everything in between, decide if what deserves real estate in your closet or drawers. You can ask if it brings you joy or if it has been over a year since you last wore it. However you decide if its worth keeping, try to purge once a month or once a quarter. It will help to have a nearby bag or bin you use to store soon-to-be donated items.

These habits don’t have to take a lot of time. The key is just working them into your routine. Once you do, you may find where you live is not only cleaner but feels even more like home.

Chad Peterson
Senior Vice President, Communications

August 2019 Housing Market Recap

The August 2019 Housing Market Recap shows existing home sales rose in August for the second month in a row. However, regional sales results were mixed, with gains in three regions and a loss in one. Prices continued to rise, as they have for seven and a half years. Days on the market rose, but inventory fell.

August existing home sales rose 1.3 percent from July, and were up 2.6 percent compared to August 2018, according to the National Association of Realtors® (NAR) August Existing Home Sales Report, released September 19th.

Home prices rose again. The median price of existing homes sold in August was $278,200, an increase of 4.7 percent from August 2018 ($265,600). We’ve now reached 90 consecutive months of year-over-year increases.

Days on the market (DOM) increased compared to July, moving from 29 to 31. A year ago, homes typically stayed on the market for 29 days. To look at it another way, 49 percent of homes were sold within a month of being listed for sale, so while the pace has slowed for a second month, the market continues to move quickly.

Inventory fell from July to August, and year-over-year, keeping us firmly in a seller’s market. At the current sales rate the supply of unsold inventory was 4.1 months, down from 4.2 months in July and 4.3 months a year ago. (NAR consider 6 months of inventory a balanced market.)

NAR chief economist Lawrence Yun attributed the increase in sales to lower mortgage rates, but also pointed out that low inventory continues to drive prices higher. “Sales are up, but inventory numbers remain low and are thereby pushing up home prices,” said Yun. “Homebuilders need to ramp up new housing, as the failure to increase construction will put home prices in danger of increasing at a faster pace than income.”

Regional results are mixed. Comparing August to July, sales jumped 7.6 percent in the Northeast, rose 3.1 percent in the Midwest, climbed a modest 0.9 percent in the South and fell 3.4 percent in the West. The Midwest led increases in year-over-year median home prices for the second month in a row, rising 6.6 percent, followed by the West at 5.7 percent and the South at 5.4 percent. The Northeast fell by 0.3 percent.

Holding Pattern. If you feel like we’re stuck in an endless loop of rising prices, and low inventory, you’re right. The pattern will change, but it’s been years since we’ve seen a buyer’s market. It’s still a great time to be a seller, but not so much fun if you want to buy. All I can do is repeat my advice to be a ready buyer. How? Start by lining up your financing (with a First Choice Loan Services Inc. mortgage loan originator, of course!). Next, work with a trusted Realtor® and expand your search. Look at areas outside your preferred search zone. Look at home styles that may not be your ideal. Look at homes that need some work. A final thought. Home values have been increasing steadily. If you are paying rent while you wait for the perfect home, you are losing twice, once by paying the property owner’s mortgage, and again by missing an opportunity to build equity.

Timothy M. Sheahan, Jr.
Executive Vice President | Secondary Marketing


In today’s world of online shopping, it’s easy to find whatever we need just a few clicks away. However, what you may need may already be in your house. With just a few adjustments, some old items in your home may become like new and serve a brand new function. Consider how repurposing can work for you.

Ice Trays
Maybe you finally upgraded your refrigerator, and the new model includes an ice-making function. Now, you have a few ice trays on your hands. These can serve several new purposes. Ice trays are wonderful drawer organizers for small items. They also can serve as wonderful eating trays for small children, separating the food and controlling portion sizes.

Remove the handle from a rake you no longer use, clean the head, and hang it on the wall. It provides a creative way to store necklaces and bracelets so that pieces don’t get tangled. Not a jewelry person? It’s a decorative place to hang baseball hats, kitchen utensils, or even wine glasses.

Some work on the exterior of your home may have resulted in old shutters lying around. Before taking them to the dump, consider hanging one by a door frequently used for entering and exiting your home. With some clothes pins and S hooks, the old shutter can be a new place to keep keys, store outgoing mail, and clip reminders.

The concept of repurposing ladders has been around for some time. Often used as towel or magazine racks, they add a unique feature to a room. With a few additional steps, ladders can also provide two other functions. First, consider using it as a new place to hang damp laundry. Using a saw, size the ladder accordingly, add a coat of paint, and hang it from the ceiling of your laundry room. With hooks fastened to the rungs, you can give your shower curtain rod a break and use this as a place to hang clothes that need time to air dry. Another ladder option includes hanging it horizontal on the wall and using it as a book shelf. Either leave the weathered look or give it a nice coat of paint.

Similar functions that people use for ladders can be applied to cribs. If your children have outgrown their cribs and you aren’t quite ready to give them away (the cribs, not the children), then you can use the railing as a rack for magazines, towels, or blankets. The railing can be used like this for as long as you need it or until it is needed as a crib again.

Did the glass break in your favorite frame? If another pane of glass is not available for replacement and you want to keep the frame, use picture wire to hang across the frame, attaching at the back. With several rows of wire, you have a beautiful place to showcase and store your earrings.

Our society is one of convenience and immediacy. Now, more than ever, it is important to think of ways we can repurpose what is around us so that we do everything we can to help lessen our individual carbon footprint. It’s earth friendly and also can add unique and functional touches to your home!

Budgeting and Planning a Renovation

Is your home a little…tired? Are you house-hunting and finding properties you love except…they need some work? The solution is renovation. If you want to improve your current home, you probably already have ideas, from the important-but-mundane (new roof) to the more-frivolous-but-fulfilling (spa bathroom). If you are buying a home, the home inspection will reveal the necessities and your own taste will tell you if the bathroom needs an upgrade. Now, how do you decide what to do, set a budget, and pay for it? Here are your next steps for planning and budgeting a renovation.

Need or Want? There will be things you’ll need to address (leaky roof, broken entry steps), and things you want to have (luxury fixtures in a new master bathroom, professional kitchen). The needs, as unexciting as they may be, must take priority. If you don’t replace the roof, the leaks will ruin your hardwood floors.

Return On Investment. As you consider your remodeling budget and what splurges to add, consider whether they are worth it. Certain projects may add value to your home (although you are unlikely to recoup your entire expenditure), others will not. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t add an outdoor kitchen, but you need to realize it’s not going to pay for itself when you sell.

Keep Track. Budgeting means planning and tracking. You can go old school with paper, put a spreadsheet template on your computer (scroll down on the template website to see the examples), or choose an app for your phone. Whatever method you choose, the key to success is to be thorough and keep it up-to-date.

How To Budget. Now that you have your priorities in mind, you need to start budgeting. Begin with a rough idea of what your renovation will cost. Talk to designers (free consultations are usually available at home improvement stores), search online, and ask friends who’ve remodeled recently. Get estimates for roofing and exterior work, like stucco or siding. Don’t forget to include the cost of demolition and waste removal. Plug the numbers into your spreadsheet, and add 20% for unexpected items. Your priorities will probably change as you see the costs, so start replacing ballpark figures with actual prices, always keeping the additional 20%. Be as detailed as possible. When you ask for quotes from contractors, you need to know exactly what you want, down to the kitchen tile and bathroom faucet.

Beware The Scope Creep. Most people who’ve remodeled have experienced the urge to say, “as long as we’re doing this, let’s add that.” Don’t do it. Expanding the scope of work will blow your budget, extend the length of time your home is under construction, and add stress to an already stressful process. If you start with a half-bath renovation, end up living in the garage for several months with your two teenage daughters and a fridge and microwave for a kitchen, you may have gone too far.

Do It Yourself. Depending on the project, and your skill set, you may be able to do some of the renovation and save money. Leave certain work, like electrical and plumbing, to licensed professionals. Even demolishing an interior wall comes with dangers (oops – was that the HVAC duct I just broke?). However, if you are taking out a refi renovation loan, or purchase + renovation loan, you cannot DIY.

Pay For It. As mentioned above, there are loans specifically for renovations. You can purchase a home and include the renovation funds in the loan. You can refinance your existing home with a loan for renovations only. These loans have strict requirements, including the amount you can spend on renovations, what items are allowed, who can do the work, and how/when the funds will be disbursed. If you are going to take out a renovation loan, whether purchase or refi, it’s critical that you work with a loan originator who understands the programs. At First Choice Loan Services Inc., we not only have experienced mortgage loan originators, we also have a dedicated in-house renovation team to handle your renovation loan.

Ready to make a good home better? Call The Crosby Team now to get your financing in order and start planning!

Joe Baio
Senior Vice President, Collateral Services

Handling Robocalls

It happens to me no less than three times a day. The phone rings. I hope it’s a friend inviting me to a fun event or even a family member calling with good news. But, no. More times than not, it’s a solicitor. The messages range from offering a different insurance plan to applying for a new credit card to warning that the IRS , but the voice is often recorded. It seems even if you do press the button to be removed, the calls continue. In today’s age of technology, our cell phone numbers are easy to find, and that makes us all vulnerable to these types of calls. What is the best approach to handling robocalls?

According to NBC News, 5.2 billion calls were placed to phone numbers in the United States in March of 2019; that’s an increase from 2.5 billion from three years ago. The Federal Trade Commission’s Do Not Call Program receives around 500,000 complaints a month regarding these unwelcomed calls.

The good news is that efforts are being made by the U.S. Senate through the Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence (TRACED) Act to prevent criminal use of robocalling. The act would require the adoption of a call authentication system called “STIR/SHAKEN.” STIR is an acronym for “Secure Telephone Identity Revisited,” while SHAKEN stands for “Signature-based Handling of Asserted information using toKENs.” It will help ensure caller ID is accurate, promote cooperation between agencies to address the problem, and expand powers to enforce civil penalties on violators.

In the meantime, if you find them as annoying as I do, here are tips for handling robocalls.

Sign up for the Do Not Call Registry. This submits the request for your mobile or landline to be removed from companies’ call roster. This can reduce the amount of calls you receive from robocallers and telemarketers, but it will not stop them entirely. This will not prevent you being contacted by city services including weather warnings and/or school closings, organizations and businesses with whom you have or had a relationship, or tax-exempt, non-profit organizations.

Many phone providers have launched services of their own to help protect their customers from falling victim to robocall scams. Some of these programs are free while others might add a few more dollars to your monthly bill for a stronger blocking system. For example, Verizon provides Premium Caller ID for $3 per month. T-Mobile supports a service at no additional charge. AT&T offers Call Protect Plus for an additional $4 per month. According to a study by Mind Commerce, these systems vary in accuracy ranging in success of 93% of the time for Verizon to 86% of the time for AT&T.

As with anything, there’s an app for this. Free apps including Hiya, Mr. Number, RoboKiller, and YouMail provide alerts for robocalls. For a couple of dollars a month, Nomorobo offers the same. Because each system works differently in terms of accessing your contact information, you’ll want to review the privacy policy of the one you choose before using it.

Most phone companies and/or smart phone settings include a feature that allows you to automatically reject incoming calls identified as anonymous. In addition, these calls will not have the ability to leave a voicemail. It is good to note that any personal friend, family member or important business will also be rejected if they call in from a number marked as anonymous. This may cause you to miss important calls.

Hang up. Just hang up. If it’s a recording, you’re not hurting the machine’s feelings. If you’re somehow transferred to a person, in my experience, they stick to their script and don’t acknowledge my voice. A simple hang up will do the trick. You can also go into your call history and block the number. Likely, the system will use a different phone number in your caller ID, but that at least will remove one more they can use.

There doesn’t seem to be a way to avoid robocalls completely… other than not owning a phone. My addiction to Candy Crush won’t allow me to give up my phone, so for the time being, I’m going to rely on the methods above.

Chad Peterson
Senior Vice President, Communications

June 2019 Housing Market Recap

After a promising increase in May, existing home sales dropped as reflected in the June 2019 Housing Market Recap. While two regions saw small gains in sales, they were more than offset by losses in the other two regions. Of course, prices aren’t slowing down. The median sales price for existing homes hit an all-time high. The pace of sales slowed very slightly from both the previous month and a year ago. Finally, lack of inventory is still the story, with no relief in sight.

June existing home sales fell 1.7 percent from May, and are down 2.2 percent compared to June 2018, according to the National Association of Realtors® (NAR) June Existing Home Sales Report, released July 23rd.

Home prices hit an all-time high. The median price of existing homes sold in June was $285,700, an increase of 4.3 percent from June 2018 ($273,800). We’ve now reached 88 consecutive months of year-over-year increases.

Days on the market (DOM) increased slightly from May, moving from 26 to 27. A year ago, homes typically stayed on the market for 26 days. To look at it another way, 56 percent of homes sold within a month of being listed for sale. This housing market continues to move at lightning speed.

Inventory increased slightly from May to June, and year-over-year, but not enough to mark a shift from a seller’s market to a buyer’s market. At the current sales rate the supply of unsold inventory was 4.4 months, up from 4.3 months a year ago. (NAR consider 6 months of inventory a balanced market.)

NAR chief economist Lawrence Yun pointed out that low inventory is (still) a major problem. “Home sales are running at a pace similar to 2015 levels – even with exceptionally low mortgage rates, a record number of jobs and a record high net worth in the country,” said Yun. “Imbalance persists for mid-to-lower priced homes with solid demand and insufficient supply, which is consequently pushing up home prices.”

Regions: Prices up, sales mixed. Comparing June to May, sales rose 1.6 percent in the Midwest, and 1.5 percent in the Northeast, but fell 3.5 percent in West and 3.4 percent in the South. The Midwest led year-over-year price increases at 6.7 percent, followed by the South at 4.9 percent, the Northeast at 4.8 percent, and the West at 2.3 percent.

Buying now? You may feel like you’ve no sooner seen a new listing online than it’s under contract. Improve your chances by following these steps. First, line up your financing (with a First Choice Loan Services Inc. mortgage loan originator, of course!). Next, work with a trusted Realtor® who knows the neighborhoods that interest you. Finally, be flexible. Broaden your search area and look at homes that need some work. At First Choice, we have purchase + renovation loans that allow you to finance the remodeling with your purchase so you only take out one loan and close one time, saving you time and money. Be patient, be persistent, and don’t give up. Your home is out there.

Fast Ways to Add Curb Appeal

When it’s time to sell, you’ll want to make your home as attractive as possible. Sparkling clean? Check. All appliances and systems working? Check. Clutter tamed? Check. Staged (if your Realtor® advises it)? Check. That takes care of the inside, but what about the outside? Those critical first seconds when a prospective buyer sees the exterior of you home, whether online or in person, can make the difference between an interested buyer and a pass. To increase buyer interest, you need to bump up your curb appeal. Here are ideas for fast ways to add curb appeal that don’t take a lot of time or money.

First Impressions. Realtors know that if buyers don’t like the look of a home in a photo or on a driving tour, they won’t want to look inside. Even in this red-hot market, buyers will be reluctant to view a home that doesn’t meet their initial expectations. It may be a cliché, but you only have one chance to make a first impression. Make it a good one.

The Basics. Let’s start with the minimum. Think clean, think tidy, think well maintained. Your home should tell buyers at first glance that you have cared for it and it’s in good condition. Start by standing outside, across the street or on the sidewalk. Pretend you’re a buyer and you’ve never seen the home before. What do you see? Unless your home was just featured as an “after” on an HGTV remodeling show, you’ll have work to do. Mow the lawn, trim overgrown shrubs, sweep paths and the driveway. Better yet, wash the sidewalk, paths and driveway. When was the last time you cleaned the windows? Do them yourself, or pay for professional cleaners. If the house exterior is dirty, you can try a power washer, but be careful to avoid areas you could damage, like windows or doors. Don’t forget to declutter. Put the bikes and toys away, get rid of any broken pots you’ve been saving “just in case,” and coil the hose neatly or hide it in a hose pot or storage box.

Dig Deeper. Dead flowers and sickly bushes are not appealing. Be ruthless. Rip them out and plant something new and colorful. Yes, buyers will see that you have done some yard renewal, but that’s a positive. You’ve done the work so they won’t have to! No need to go overboard, but a few well-placed shrubs or a new tree will be attractive without breaking the bank. Be sure to weed and mulch your flowerbeds, too. If the lawn looks patchy, consult your garden center about ways to re-seed.

A Lick Of Paint. Paint is an inexpensive way to give your home a fresh face. Start with the front door and entryway trim. Then consider other accent areas, like windows and trim, or shutters. When you are thinking of colors, look at your home’s style, main body color, and current color trends. For inspiration, visit the ever-popular Houzz website. Remember, if you live in a planned development, check with your homeowners’ association (HOA) for any color restrictions.

Little Things Mean A Lot. A few thoughtful touches can make a tired exterior look appealing. When was the last time you replaced your mailbox? What about your house numbers? Your doormat? Think about making your entry more welcoming with a patio chair (add a bright cushion) and a container or hanging basket of flowers. Check your lighting, too. You don’t have to spend a fortune on exterior light fixtures and they can provide a quick update to your entry.

Now that your home is ready for its close up, don’t skimp on professional photos. Your internet listing is the showcase for that impressively renewed exterior, so be sure the photos are top notch. Happy selling!

James Iley
Executive Vice President | National Production

Wire Fraud Can Steal Your New Home

Fraud takes our money and undermines our trust. Real estate wire fraud targets the transfer of funds in the last stages of a transaction. In the worst-case scenario, wire fraud can steal your home. So if you read nothing else today, please read this: No matter what, your initial wiring instructions for your purchase will not change. If you are provided new instructions, STOP! Wiring instructions do not change during the closing process. Call your mortgage loan originator and/or Realtor® immediately if you receive new wiring instructions. If that got your attention, read on.

A Fool And His Money. You probably know the old saying “A fool and his money are soon parted.” While you may feel foolish if you fall for a scam, realize that fraudsters are incredibly sophisticated in their understanding of one thing: people. They rely on their knowledge of humans and human nature to part you from your valuable personal data and your hard-earned dollars. Hackers know that people aren’t as careful as they should be when they set passwords. Phone scammers know how to play on your fears. Real estate wire fraudsters rely on bogus emails and exact timing to take advantage of you in an unfamiliar and stressful situation.

Why Wire Fraud? Broadly defined, wire fraud is a scheme to obtain money on false pretenses using electronic means. So why do fraudsters target wire transfers? Here’s another saying, this one attributed to bank robber Willie Sutton (although he may never have said it). When asked why he robbed banks, Sutton was said to have replied, “Because that’s where the money is.” Consider this. Globally, electronic funds transfers are in the quadrillions of dollars annually. I can’t even imagine what one quadrillion looks like, but if you want to steal money, that’s a very tempting target.

What Just Happened? You’re getting close to your closing. You know you are going to wire funds to the title and escrow company’s trust account, where the money will be secure until it’s time to disburse it according to the closing instructions. An email arrives from the title and escrow company with updated wire transfer instructions. You arrange for the transfer and check another item off your long to do list. The next day, or the day after that, the title company contacts you with a reminder to wire your funds. What? A quick conversation reveals that the money never arrived. You review the wire instructions with them and realize that your money went to an unknown account and the instructions came from a fraudulent email address. By now, your funds are probably gone forever, transferred out of the false account immediately after they arrived. Let’s back up and see how it was set up.

How It Works. The Multiple Listing Service (MLS), Zillow, Redfin and other real estate services are one prime starting point. It’s not difficult to obtain the listing agent’s email address, or see when the home goes under contract. A hacker can break into the agent’s email account and find out who’s involved in a transaction. Fraudsters then try phishing to gain personal information about the buyer, seller or title and escrow company. Because real estate transactions involve multiple parties, each of whom has an email address, that are multiple targets to attack. Scammers send emails that appear to come from a legitimate source, but the email address will be one letter or number off the real one. They request information, or send fraudulent instructions, and suddenly the transaction is compromised. Read a real-life example here.

Protect Yourself. Saving yourself from wire transfer fraud starts at the beginning of your transaction. You are going to receive and send so many emails and phone calls that they’ll become routine and you’ll assume that they are legitimate. Don’t. That’s exactly what the fraudster relies on. Check email addresses carefully. Look for anything in an email that seems off. Don’t trust that a call is really from your bank or the title and escrow company. If they call you, hang up and call them back using a number you know is legitimate.

Never accept wire instructions via standard or unencrypted email or telephone. Even if a fraudster has obtained information to disrupt your transaction, there is one very important thing you can do. Never take instructions for a wire transfer via unsecure email or phone. At First Choice Loan Services Inc., our Closers only provide documentation through a secure portal, where the borrower is required to login to retrieve the documents and information. We prefer working with title agents who do the same. For your protection and to safeguard your personal information, never accept changes to wiring instructions via email or telephone. ALWAYS CALL YOUR LENDER TO VERIFY.

Jerra Ryan
Senior Vice President, Compliance