May 2018: Housing Market Recap

May Housing Market Recap: Sales Slide Again


May existing home sales dropped again, following a decline that began in April. Is this the start of a trend? The coming months will tell. Prices increased again, as they have for over 6 years. The pace of sales was the same as April, with days on the market well below 30. The median existing home price increased nationally, hitting an all-time high. The market story hasn’t changed: The persistent lack of inventory dominates the narrative.

May existing home sales dropped by 0.4 percent compared to April, and were 3.0 percent lower than May 2017, according to the National Association of Realtors® (NAR) May Existing Home Sales Report, released June 20th. This is the third month of year-over-year decreases.

Inventory rose from April to May (as you might expect in a prime selling month), but only by 2.8 percent, and year-over-year it was 6.1 percent lower. Inventory has now fallen year-over-year for 36 months in a row. The supply of unsold inventory was 4.1 months, down from 4.2 months a year ago.

Home prices continued to increase year-over-year. The median price of existing homes sold in May was a record-high $264,800, up 4.9 percent from May 2017 ($252,500). We’re now at 75 consecutive months of year-over-year increases.

Days on the market (DOM) were unchanged from April, staying at 26. A year ago, homes typically stayed on the market for 27 days, so the sales pace has increased slightly year-over-year.
According to NAR chief economist Lawrence Yun, a solid economy and job market should be generating a much stronger sales pace than what has been seen so far this year. “Closings were down in a majority of the country last month and declined on an annual basis in each major region,” he said. “Incredibly low supply continues to be the primary impediment to more sales, but there’s no question the combination of higher prices and mortgage rates are pinching the budgets of prospective buyers, and ultimately keeping some from reaching the market.”

Sales declined regionally, with one exception: The Northeast. Sales in that region grew by 4.6 percent, but that’s still 11.7 percent lower year-over-year. The Northeast was also the only region to see a decline in prices, with a 1.8 percent drop from May 2017. The West led price increases with a 7.2 percent increase. In an interesting shift, California metros no longer dominate the hottest metro areas list (measured by days on the market/listing views per property). The Top 10 are Midland, TX, Boston-Cambridge-Newton, MA-NH, San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA, Columbus, OH, Vallejo-Fairfield, CA, Boise City, ID, Stockton-Lodi, CA, Buffalo-Cheektowaga-Niagara Falls, NY, Grand Rapids-Wyoming, MI, and Fort Wayne, IN.

If you’re selling, congratulations. You will probably receive multiple offers and be able to sell quickly. If you’re buying, it’s time to get organized. You have to be ready to make a strong offer as soon as you find the home you want. Make sure your offer includes financing by meeting with a First Choice Loan Services Inc. loan originator now. Once you have a pre-underwriting approval or preapproval, you’ll be able to include a First Choice Priority Buyer Letter with your offer to show that you are a serious buyer. That’s the First Choice advantage.

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

Divorce and Mortgages

Often one of these major concerns in a divorce is choosing what to do with your mortgage. Landing on what is best for you depends on several factors and your unique situation. Common options include:
•With “bird nesting,” the children stay in the home consistently while the parents split the time living there. Because both parents split their time residing in the home, the mortgage on the property would not necessarily need to change if both parties are contributing to the payment.

•One spouse may want to keep the home. This can be done either through mortgage assumption or mortgage refinance. ◦While not always available, a mortgage assumption may be an option. The spouse who wants to keep the home and assume the mortgage would need to determine if the lender allows an assumption, what the rate on the loan is compared to the current market rates and the cost of the assumption. Assumptions tend to the best option, when available, when the rate is low and there is not much equity in the property.
◦A mortgage refinance is preferred if your mortgage interest rate is higher than the current market rate. The spouse who wants to retain the home would need to qualify to refinance the home using their income alone. If you are the spouse leaving the home, its wise to ensure this step is done so that your name is removed from the existing mortgage. Remaining connected to this could affect you negatively if your ex-spouse misses a payment and can also prevent roadblocks in you qualifying for another mortgage for a place of your own (or even meeting some renting requirements).

•Signing a Quitclaim Deed might be another option, but one that should be considered carefully. Signing this deed does not remove your name from the mortgage; you would still be responsible for a missed mortgage payment, and one could likely hurt your credit score. The deed would also forfeit any rights to selling the home or gaining a profit from the home sale. It does, however, offer a faster way to transfer interest of the property and gives the other spouse full rights to the home. Check with your lender to see if you can Quitclaim title into the spouse who will retain ownership of the home.

•Special memories and rooted attachments can make selling the family home emotionally draining. However, in many ways, it’s a simpler way to go. If there’s equity built up in the home, using a non-biased, trusted Realtor® can help the home sale go smoothly and quickly. The home sale profits can be split between the separating spouses, and both can move forward untethered to the property.

•If selling the home is not the wisest financial decision for both parties, there are additional options. ◦Renting the home is an option worth considering. This would allow the delay of the sale until more equity is built in the home; it does, however, open up the possibility of shared responsibilities of the rental property with your ex-spouse.
◦Finally, living together in the home would be another money-saving option. The viability of this depends greatly on your relationship with the person you are divorcing.

No matter the path you take with your current home, divorce opens up several needs for a professional mortgage originator. Most of the above scenarios involve one or both parties finding a new place to live. Qualifying for a mortgage newly single may be different from when you applied with a spouse; mortgage lenders compare your total current monthly debt obligations (including mortgages, credit cards, child support, etc.) to your earnings and have guidelines that your debt should not be more than a certain percentage of your gross monthly income. Your trusted First Choice Loan Services Loan Originator can cover all of this in greater detail and help cover your home financing options.

Whether working on mortgage assumption, a refinance or qualifying for a place to a new beginning, we are First Choice Loan Services stand ready to help you along the exciting journey to restart your life!

NOTE: This is not intended as legal advice. For the most recent and suitable options for your divorce situation, please consult with your trusted licensed divorce attorney

Nicki Davis
Senior Vice President, Credit

April 2018 Housing Market Recap: A Sales Slowdown

April existing home sales dropped after 2 months of increases. Prices increased yet again, following a trend that has lasted more than 6 years. The pace of sales jumped, with days on the market dropping sharply. Regionally, sales either declined or were flat, however prices increased in all regions. The driving force in this market continues to be lack of inventory.

April existing home sales dropped by 2.5 percent compared to March, and were 1.4 percent lower than April 2017, according to the National Association of Realtors (NAR) April Existing Home Sales Report, released May 24th.

Inventory rose from March to April by 9.8 percent (as is typical in the spring selling season), but it was 6.3 percent lower year-over-year, and has fallen for 35 months in a row. The supply of unsold inventory was 4.0 months, down from 4.2 months a year ago.

Home prices continued to increase year-over-year. The median price of existing homes sold in April was $257,900, up 5.3 percent from April 2017 ($245,000). We’re now at 74 consecutive months of year-over-year increases.

Days on the market (DOM) dropped to 26, compared to March’s 30. A year ago, homes typically stayed on the market for 29 days, so the sales pace has increased both month-to-month and year-over-year.
According to NAR chief economist Lawrence Yun, “The root cause of the underperforming sales activity in much of the country so far this year continues to be the utter lack of available listings on the market to meet the strong demand for buying a home. What is available for sale is going under contract at a rapid pace,” said Yun. “Since NAR began tracking this data in May 2011, the median days a listing was on the market was at an all-time low in April, and the share of homes sold in less than a month was at an all-time high.”

Regional sales generally declined or stayed flat. The only increase was a slight uptick year-over-year in the South. Prices rose across the board, with the West leading at 6.2 percent year-over-year. The hottest metro areas (measured by days on the market/listing views per property) continued to be dominated by California, with 5 metros in the top ten, but there were 2 non-California metros at the top, led by Midland, TX at #1 and Boston-Cambridge-Newton, MA at #2. Columbus, OH, Colorado Springs, CO, and Ann Arbor, MI filled the #4, #6, and #9 spots on the list.

I’ve said it before: Don’t wait until you find a home to look for financing. This low inventory market means you’ll almost certainly be competing against multiple offers, and things will move quickly. The strongest offer will win, and that offer will have a solid financial component. Meet with a First Choice Loan Services Inc. Loan Originator now for a pre-underwriting approval or preapproval. You’ll know how much loan you may qualify for and you can review loan programs to find the one that best suits your financial needs and goals. Make sure your offer includes a First Choice Priority Buyer Letter!

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


Whether you are selling your home or refinancing, the appraisal is critical. Lenders require them so they have an independent valuation of the property to support the loan amount. Of course, you’ll want to get the highest value possible. While you can’t control the all-important comps (comparable homes) that the appraiser must consider, there are several things you can do in advance to ensure that your home is in good condition and shows to its best advantage.

First, a few points about the appraisal. It’s not the home inspection. That’s the work of the home inspector, who checks the home’s exterior and interior, including electrical and plumbing systems, for condition, safety and code issues. Its purpose is to give homebuyers a better understanding of the condition of the property they are buying. The appraisal is an independent determination of the value of the property, and while it includes information about the condition of the home, you won’t find the appraiser up on the roof or poking a penknife into a basement pier. The appraiser may identify health and safety issues, but the primary concerns are the square footage, number of bedrooms and bathrooms, overall condition of the property and the comps – similar homes nearby that sold recently.

What can you do to improve your chances of a good appraisal? Here are some tips.

Condition. Take care of your home. Fix things as they come up so your home shows that it is well maintained. Don’t ignore a crack in the ceiling, chipped paint, or less-than-attractive bathtub caulk. (You know what I mean.) If you fixed a roof leak five years ago, but the water damage still shows on a ceiling, repair it. Don’t raise unnecessary doubts.

Appealing. Make a good first impression. Trim the bushes, mow the lawn, sweep the patio. Make sure the gutters don’t overflow when it rains. Fix cracks in the front walk and driveway. If the flowerbeds are looking tired, add some color with annuals. The same goes for container gardens. Tidy up outside, too. While these items won’t be listed on the appraisal, they demonstrate that you care about your home.

Clean. No need to go overboard, but make sure the house is clean, inside and out. If you have pets, take care of any odors (wet dog, stinky litter box). Your house may be under contract for sale, or the appraisal may be for your own refinance, but remember the appraiser will take photos and you want your home to look its best.

Working. Fix the balky tap in the guest bathroom. Make sure all the doors and windows open and close smoothly. Replace the cranky electrical switch that only works if you flip it to the perfect position. If one of the burners on the stove won’t light, get it repaired. You may be willing to work around your home’s shortcomings, but everything should be functional for the appraisal.

Organized. If you’re moving, you’re probably already clearing out and packing some things away. If you’re staying in your home and refinancing, you may be planning to remodel. Either way, this is a good time to clear the clutter and lighten up. Make it easy for the appraiser to see your home.

History. Create a folder of upgrades or improvements. When did you replace the water heater? How old is the roof? Did you remodel the kitchen? Keep receipts and records, including any required permits, to share on appraisal day.

Remember, the appraiser is independent. You can’t choose who appraises your house. Neither can the Realtor® or lender. However, at First Choice Loan Services Inc. we have our own in-house appraisal desk to ensure fast, quality appraisals. Your First Choice mortgage loan originator will be happy to tell you more about the advantages of choosing First Choice for your home loan.

Joe Baio
Senior Vice President | Collateral Services

First Choice Loan Services Listed Among Top 100 Mortgage Companies in America- For Fifth Time

EAST BRUNSWICK, NJ (May 11, 2018) – New Jersey-based residential mortgage lender First Choice Loan Services Inc., a Berkshire Bank Company announced that it is featured on this year’s list of the “Top 100 Mortgage Companies in America” in the Summer 2018 issue of Mortgage Executive Magazine.

The publication selected companies based on their 2017 total annual dollar volume. This is the fifth year for First Choice Loan Services to appear on Mortgage Executive Magazine’s list.

This honor arrives in succession with additional accolades for First Choice Loan Services. Earlier this year, First Choice Loan Services was named for the fifth year in a row as one of the “50 Best Mortgage Companies to Work For” in the Winter 2018 issue of Mortgage Executive Magazine and was featured as a “Top Mortgage Employer” for the third year in a row in the January 2018 issue of National Mortgage Professional Magazine. Additionally, fifteen loan originators from First Choice Loan Services ranked among the “Top 1% of Mortgage Originators in the Nation” in the Winter 2018 issue of Mortgage Executive Magazine and three loan originators were featured for their top volume production in the April issue of the Scotsman Guide.

Senior Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Norman T. Koenigsberg is very excited for the company to be recognized in this way once again.

“We are tremendously proud to once again be named one of the ‘Top 100 Mortgage Companies in America’ by Mortgage Executive Magazine. The credit for this and all our other accolades is two-fold. First, we could not achieve such greatness without the amazing and dedicated individuals who make up the First Choice Family. I’m honored to work with them every day and inspired by their commitment,” said Koenigsberg. “Second, such milestones are only accomplished through the trust that is placed in us by those we serve. Our home buyers, homeowners and business partners have many options for their home financing needs, and we greatly value the fact that they choose First Choice for their home buying journey. Their support helps us achieve excellence.”

To see the full list of the Top 100 Mortgage Companies in America featuring First Choice Loan Services Inc., visit

About First Choice Loan Services Inc.

First Choice Loan Services Inc., a Berkshire Bank Company is headquartered in East Brunswick, New Jersey. Founded in 2009, the company is licensed to originate and close residential mortgage loans nationwide, excluding Arkansas and New York. With 33 locations across 12 states and over 500 employees, First Choice Loan Services Inc. offers FHA and VA programs, Jumbo loans, fixed and adjustable rate loans, and refinancing and renovation programs. First Choice Loan Services Inc. is an Equal Housing Lender, NMLS #210764. Licensed by the New Jersey Department of Banking and Insurance. AZ BK# 0918586. Licensed by the Department of Business Oversight under the California Residential Mortgage Lending Act. Products and services not offered in state of New York. To learn more about First Choice, visit

About Berkshire Bank

Berkshire Hills Bancorp (NYSE: BHLB) is the parent of Berkshire Bank, America’s Most Exciting Bank®. The Company, recognized for its entrepreneurial approach and distinctive culture, has $11.6 billion in assets and 113 full service branch offices in Massachusetts, New York, Connecticut, Vermont, New Jersey and Pennsylvania providing personal and business banking, insurance, and wealth management services. Berkshire Bank was named one of Massachusetts Most Charitable Companies in 2017 by the Boston Business Journal. To learn more, visit, call 800-773-5601 or follow us on: Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

March 2018: Housing Market Recap

Executive Vice President, Secondary Marketing

March 2018 Housing Market Recap: Sales Grow for Second Month


March existing home sales continued to rise after February’s increase. Prices increased yet again, following a trend that has lasted for 6 years. The pace of sales picked up, with days on the market dropping sharply. There were regional differences in sales, but prices increased across the country. Lack of inventory continues to be the dominant market feature.

March existing home sales rose by 1.1 percent compared to February, but were 1.2 percent lower than March 2017, according to the National Association of Realtors (NAR) March Existing Home Sales Report, released April 23rd.

Inventory rose from February to March by 5.7 percent (as you might expect with the coming of spring when more people list their homes), but it was 7.2 percent lower year-over-year, and has fallen for 34 months in a row. The supply of unsold inventory was 3.6 months, down from 3.8 months a year ago.

Home prices continued to increase year-over-year. The median price of existing homes sold in March was $250,400, up 5.8 percent from March 2017 ($236,600). We’re now at 73 consecutive months of year-over-year increases.

Days on the market (DOM) dropped to 30, compared to February’s 37. A year ago, homes typically stayed on the market for 34 days, so once again the sales pace has increased both month-to-month and year-over-year.

NAR chief economist Lawrence Yun says closings in March eked forward despite challenging market conditions in most of the country. “Robust gains last month in the Northeast and Midwest – a reversal from the weather-impacted declines seen in February – helped overall sales activity rise to its strongest pace since last November at 5.72 million,” said Yun. “The unwelcoming news is that while the healthy economy is generating sustained interest in buying a home this spring, sales are lagging year ago levels because supply is woefully low and home prices keep climbing above what some would-be buyers can afford.”

Weather was not a big factor in regional sales. Despite some severe storms, the Northeast and Midwest saw the greatest gains in sales, while the South and West both fell. Prices rose across the board, with the West leading the increases at 7.9 percent year-over-year. The hottest metro areas (measured by days on the market/listing views per property) continued to be in California, but there were more non-CA metros in the top ten this month, with Colorado Springs, CO, Midland, TX, Boston-Cambridge-Newton, MA and Columbus, OH taking places #3, #4, #7 and #8 on the list.

Think finance first! In this market, if you wait until you find a home and then look for financing, you’ll probably lose the home. Meet with a First Choice Loan Services Inc. loan originator now for a pre-underwriting approval or preapproval. You’ll find out how much loan you may qualify for and you can decide what loan program best suits your financial needs and goals. Strengthen your offer with a First Choice Priority Buyer Letter.

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

7 Ways Your Home Office Can Work for You

7 Ways Your Home Office Can Work For You

We live in a different age. For many, the days of putting on the business suit and fighting morning rush hour traffic while listening to over-caffeinated radio disc jockeys are done. With advances in technology and communication methods, the home office is a common feature in many houses. While this provides a great number of advantages to today’s lifestyle, it is not without challenges. Here are seven ways that you can make working from home work better for you!

  1. Dress the Part. Yes, part of the beauty of working from home is that suit and tie is not required; plus, you save money on those dry cleaning bills. In fact, business casual can mean your favorite pair of sweats. But, there is something to be said for dressing for success. Dress comfortably but not so comfortably that it encourages laziness. Get up and get yourself ready as if you were going to be seen. It’ll help create a routine for your day that may be missing for some working from home. We love those plaid flannel pajamas too, but trust us, you’ll tend to be more focused and on task when you’re showered and dressed for your day.
  2. Consider the Space. You know what best helps you be productive and what can serve as a distraction. First, think about where your office is placed in the home. Is this a high traffic area or one that will allow you privacy? Next, anticipate your needs… Is there a good chair with proper support? If not, invest in one. Do you require better lighting? Buy a lamp. Want a view? Move the desk by a window. Also, consider the supplies; have pens and paper nearby, keep applicable files and paperwork within reach, and have access to power chords that’ll keep you going. The decisions about how to make the space work best for you are best made by you.
  3. Stay Focused. Be sure your home office is protected. Try not to allow too many of the other activities that happen at home to invade your space. Let that load of laundry that needs folding stay in the other room until you have time for it. Those boxes that need to go into the attic can wait in the garage for a bit longer. Household chores will always be there, and if you attend to them now just to get them checked off the list, you’ll possibly never get important work-related duties done. To help, at the end of each day, write a list of tasks in order of what needs to be accomplished the next day. It will help you hit the ground running and let you crank out things quicker so you can eventually fold that load of whites.
  4. Take a Break. When working in a traditional office setting, the breaks are often built in. Whether a co-worker stops by to talk about the game last night or you venture into the break room for a quick snack and chat, interaction with colleagues helps you pace your day. However, when working from home, your coworker may be your cat, who is not the best conversationalist (at least, mine isn’t). Don’t be afraid to give a five to ten minute break every now and then. There’s a reason these are required by law. Play a quick game on your phone, do quick and simple exercises or read a few pages of your new book… You’ll see an improvement in your productivity when you work in some time to refresh and refocus. Set a timer so you don’t get too lost in the activity.
  5. Explain it Well. While a break every now and then is great, be sure others aren’t confused. Some people hear that work from home, but they seem to miss the word “work.” The situation does allow for some flexibility, but you still have duties and tasks to perform. For friends and family who think you can have 2 hour lunches or go catch a matinee, kindly explain to them that while there is some occasional ‘wiggle room,’ you still have an important job to perform and need to honor the trust placed in you to work from home.
  6. Use Technology. Relationships are key in life, and this includes your colleagues. While convenient, working from home can also feel isolating. We live in a world heavy on emails and texting, so don’t be afraid to pick up the phone and actually call someone. Facetime or use Skype to see a friendly face to have a meeting. So much can be lost or misinterpreted in the written word. A phone conversation or a video chat can quickly clear up matters, have a project move in the right direction and improve relationships!
  7. Draw Lines. Working from home can be great, but it can also be all consuming. Due to the flexibility, you don’t have to keep standard “office hours,” which also means you can work longer and into the night. You don’t leave things at the office because things are in the other room. For yourself and for sake of your relationships, set boundaries and expectations. Be clear of your work hours with your loved ones and your coworkers and stick to them. If it helps to keep lines more clear, consider working remotely from a coffee shop or other public space so that there’s distinction between work and personal time.


At First Choice Loan Services Inc., we have a large number of our team members who work remotely. This is a unique and special feature of our culture and one way that we embody our core value of being Nimble. This flexibility that we offer our employees is also something we like to offer our clients. We do everything we can to make the home loan process simple and easy for you, even providing online resources for you so that you can take many of the steps of the mortgage journey without leaving your sofa.

Whether working on your home financing or your day-to-day job, we want to help you be productive from the home you love.

5 Benefits of Having a Pet in Your Life

5 Benefits of Having a Pet in Your Life



March 23rd is National Puppy Day which is a holiday most everyone can celebrate! Like donuts, ice cream, and that second glass of wine, puppies are hard to say no to. But, unlike the other options, they come with no calories (unless you’ve been curious what a Milk Bone tastes like, but I digress…). Aside from being calorie-free, puppies and other pets can bring amazing benefits to your life.

Ice Breakers. You may not feel comfortable walking up to a random stranger and saying hello, but when they’re walking around with a cute dog, you may not be able to help yourself. It could happen at the dog park, obedience classes or just walking down the street. Questions like “What’s his name?” “How old is she?” and “Does he do any tricks?” could lead to “What’s your phone number?” “Are you free tomorrow night?” and “Will you marry me?” The dog could even be the ring barrier. Or, you could just make new friends. Friends are good too.

Physical Health. Dog owners need to take their little buddies on a walk. This, along with other games like fetch, help keep your dog healthy but also get your heart moving. In addition to a little cardio, pet owners are also shown to demonstrate lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol, and lower the risk of heart disease. On top of that, pets are actually shown to fight allergies instead of cause them; recent studies show that homes with infants and furry friends introduce less risks of asthma, eczema and other allergies.

Mental Health. In addition to improving physical health, having a pet in your home has also proven to help your mental health by decreasing stress, increasing levels of serotonin and dopamine (nerve transmitters for calming and pleasure), decreasing depression, and sharpening minds. How could you not feel great when you walk in the door and your pet thinks you’re a celebrity?

Life Lessons. Whether it’s just you and your pet or if you have a large family plus a pet or four, the relationships between pet owners and their four-legged children are always unique. Caring for a pet teaches children valuable lessons of schedules, responsibility and caring for another life. Studies show the work spent in training pets helps remind us the value of patience and help us strengthen our sense of empathy which, as we know, definitely come in handy in other areas of our lives.

Love. Come on… puppy or kitten, goldfish or bird, iguana or gerbil when you love a pet, it’s a member of your family. The greeting at the door, the cuddling on the couch or just the presence in the room can improve any day. Pets’ intuitive nature make them our best friends and confidants. Our lives wouldn’t be the same or as complete without the love that they provide.

So don’t let that backyard go to waste! Sure, there may be the occasional “accident” on the carpet, and you may lose a shoe or two to the chewing monster, but all in all, having a pet in your life can make every day a little brighter and your house feel more like a home.