June 30, 2011

Baltimore offers $10,000 incentive to buyers of formerly vacant rehabs

The $8,000 federal homebuyer tax credit pushed up sales in 2009 and part of 2010. Now Baltimore's housing department is hoping $10,000 toward closing costs and downpayment will drum up as much interest in vacant homes, the city's perennial problem.

The agency plans to officially announce the incentive today -- a total of $500,000 available for the first 50 buyers of Vacants to Value properties. Homeowners can qualify either by finding a recently rehabbed home that the city considers a Vacants to Value property or by purchasing a still-vacant home with a rehab loan such as a 203(k).

Ken Strong, assistant commissioner for green, healthy and sustainable homes at Baltimore Housing, said the city is putting together a list of eligible homes. The program will launch July 1, he said.

The money comes from bond funds intended for homeownership incentives.

"We've had such a slow year -- the housing market has been so depressed -- that some of the money we've set aside for homeownership incentives in the past year have been unspent," Strong said. "Now we want to target them to get real stimulus into Vacants to Value."

The city's Office of Homeownership, 410-396-3124, will handle questions about the program. The money can be used with other incentives, such as Live Near Your Work and Buying into Baltimore.

Buyers, do these sorts of incentives make a difference? I'm curious whether they get people off the fence or change buying patterns. The now-gone federal tax credit was widely seen as encouraging people who would have bought a bit later to speed things up -- at a multi-billion-dollar cost.

UPDATE: Here are more specifics from the city about which homes are eligible:

1. A city-owned vacant house sold since July 1, 2010 and rehabbed for homeownership

2. A city-cited property with a "vacant house" notice since July 1, 2010

3. Any property that has been vacant for a year, as long as the evidence of that -- from the seller and/or buyer -- is acceptable to the city

February 10, 2011

Title company misused escrow funds, state says

While you're waiting for January home sale stats to appear today, here are two very different stories to read that both have something to say about the housing market:

First, Crofton-based Beltway Title and Abstract Inc. has had its licensed suspended by the state after auditors discovered that more than $1 million in escrowed funds intended for real estate transaction costs had been misappropriated, the Maryland Insurance Administration said Wednesday. The money, pulled out over a period of seven months, was spent on business expenses, the state said.

Here's the insurance administration's license-suspension order.

Second, the new Census 2010 numbers show population growth -- and decline -- across the state. According to the count, Baltimore has 30,000 fewer residents than it did a decade ago. As one colleague pointed out, that works out to a loss of eight people per day. ("I hope people aren't leaving because of me - I have so many arms to embrace you!" quipped @manwomanstatue, the self-proclaimed "most hated public art in Charm City.")

The city has successfully challenged census estimates before: The 2003 figures were revised upward by nearly 15,000, for instance. But the decennial census is a count rather than an annual estimate.

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said in a statement that the 30,000-person loss was the city's smallest since the decade of the 1950s. (Baltimore's population peaked in 1950 at about 950,000 before dropping by nearly 11,000 by 1960.)

Still, the newest loss figure is striking for a decade that brought an inflow of housing-bubble newcomers and ended at a time when moving -- if you had to sell your home first -- was no easy proposition. (Still isn't, but it's a new decade now.)


Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 1:00 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Closing costs, Housing stats, Moving

August 18, 2010

Real estate closing costs on the rise

If you got a "good faith estimate" for a loan last year and again more recently, the  closing-cost figure probably went way up.

Closing costs -- minus taxes -- are about 35 percent higher on lenders' good faith estimates in Maryland and nationwide this year, says in its annual mortgage fee survey.

Some of that jump is actual, honest-to-goodness increase. But a big part of it, Bankrate says, is more honesty. Or at least more careful calculation.

"Before this year, lenders were not penalized for underestimating fees in the good faith estimate. Now they are penalized for lowballing fees," the company says, referring to a federal rule that went into effect Jan. 1.

Maryland's closing costs
, not including taxes, average $3,402 for a $200,000 loan, according to Bankrate's survey of lenders. That ranked the state 15th lowest.

Continue reading "Real estate closing costs on the rise" »

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:00 AM | | Comments (14)
Categories: Closing costs, Resources for new buyers & owners

August 10, 2010

State program ups its down-payment help

The state-run Maryland Mortgage Program is increasing to $5,000 the down-payment and closing-cost assistance it makes available to its borrowers.

State officials also announced Monday that the mortgage program's interest rate is being lowered to 4.25 percent, the second recent drop.

The down-payment and closing-cost assistance -- which had been $3,500 -- comes in the form of a no-interest loan that's paid back when you sell the home, refinance or pay off the mortgage. It's known as DSELP, for Downpayment and Settlement Expense Loan Program.

Other programs provide additional assistance on top of that money, such as House Keys 4 Employees, an employer-help initiative. (Here's the list of participating employers.)

The mortgage program requires borrowers to attend a homebuying workshop, so include that in your buying timeline if you want in. Most of the Baltimore region has specific housing-counseling requirements, listed here.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 6:00 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Closing costs, Resources for new buyers & owners

October 20, 2009

The cost of selling a home in today's market

The housing-market slump means sellers are agreeing to cover some or all of buyers' closing costs. A big savings for buyers -- and a big expense for sellers.

Doris Hall-Scheeler, senior vice president at Sage Title Group in Baltimore, sees sellers contributing up to 6 percent of the sales price to buyers in closing-cost assistance. That's $18,000 on a $300,000 house. And it's just part of what homeowners have been paying to move on.

Add taxes and real estate commissions, and sellers can end up forgoing more than 12 percent of their sales price, Hall-Scheeler said.

That's frustrating for folks who were counting on that money to help buy a new home. But it's especially rough for sellers whose home values haven't increased more than 12 percent since they bought.

A lot of people are in that boat: Practically half of the Baltimore-area homeowners who bought during this decade and sold in the first half of 2009.

Continue reading "The cost of selling a home in today's market" »

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:09 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Closing costs
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About Jamie Smith Hopkins
Jamie Smith Hopkins, a Baltimore Sun reporter since 1999, writes about the regional economy. Her reporting on the housing market has won national and local awards. Hopkins is a Columbia native and has lived in Maryland all her life, save for 10 months spent covering schools in Ames, Iowa.
She trained to become a wonk by spending large chunks of time as a geek and an insufferable know-it-all.
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