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Bank of America offers $10K to lower-income buyers

NEW YORK – April 4, 2019 – Bank of America (BofA) announced on Tuesday the rollout of a new $5 billion affordable homeownership initiative that includes downpayment or closing cost help for low- to moderate-income and multicultural homebuyers. The program will launch in the second quarter of this year.

BofA says the program should help more than 20,000 individuals and families over the next five years move toward homeownership.

Bank of America’s Neighborhood Solutions program includes a downpayment and closing cost assistance option, as well as low-downpayment mortgages and grants that can be applied to non-recurring closing costs.

BofA says it also plans to form strategic partnerships with real estate professionals and a national network of affordable housing nonprofit partners. The goal is to offer homebuyer education and counseling help to low- to moderate-income and multicultural homebuyers hoping to become homeowners.

Through the bank’s new downpayment and closing cost program, the bank will give eligible borrowers up to $10,000 to be used toward their downpayment or closing costs when they get a Freddie Mac Home Possible mortgage.

Eligible borrowers could also qualify for a lender credit up to $7,500 that could be used toward nonrecurring closing costs, such as title insurance and recording fees, or to permanently buy down the interest rate. The funds don’t require repayment.

The bank also announced the Affordable Loan Solution mortgage – a fixed-rate loan for low- and moderate-income borrowers with a competitive rate, a downpayment as low as 3 percent and no required mortgage insurance. The majority of these loans go to first-time home buyers, the bank said.

Source: Bank of America

What makes a house or an apartment a home?It’s changing

What makes a house or an apartment a home?

For some of us, home is a walk-up apartment that we share with a roommate or two. For others, it might be a center-hall house on a leafy suburban street, or a modern glass box overlooking the sea. The variations are endless. The only real universal feature is a roof over your head; everything else that distinguishes a home from mere shelter is different for each of us.

And evolving technology and lifestyles are changing what we want our homes to be.

“With so many entertainment and smart technology options at our fingertips, we find homeowners are spending more time at home. People are focusing on how they truly use a space to reflect how they live, versus what the room is ‘supposed to be,'” says Kerrie Kelly, an interior design expert for the online real-estate marketplace Zillow.

For instance, she notes, dining rooms are no longer just a place to eat.

“Adults work from this space and kids do homework here, making a single-use room more multi-purpose,” Kelly says. “We also see ‘library rooms’ in lieu of formal dining rooms, with more attention to comfortable seating for taking in a variety of media. And lastly, the laundry room isn’t just for washing clothes any more. Pet-washing stations are popping up more frequently instead of laundry tubs.”

For city dwellers, she’s noticed an increase in conversions of loft-like work spaces into living spaces.

“People are interested in living in an urban environment in order to enjoy culture without getting in the car,” she says. “Easily accessible restaurants, entertainment and shopping appeals to all age groups.”

The retailer IKEA surveyed people across the globe for its 2018 “Life at Home” report, and found that 1 in 4 respondents said they work more from home than ever before. Nearly 2 in 3 said they’d rather live in a small home in a great location than in a big home in a less ideal spot.

Jeffrey Dungan, an international architect based in Mountain Brook, Ala., said that more clients want to use their homes for creative pursuits.

“There’s this idea that with the increasing popularity of the Maker movement, and people turning hobbies into successful businesses – whether it’s a side hustle or primary income – the home is more and more becoming a place of business,” he said. “Home is the place where you can do what you love unapologetically, and as more people turn what they love to do into a business, then in a way their business becomes home.”

Dungan worked on a home in Texas where the client wanted a sewing room placed right off the master suite. Other clients are also asking for dedicated spaces such as yoga and art studios.

In IKEA’s report, Alison Blunt, a co-director of the Centre for Studies of Home at Queen Mary University of London, said that there are essentially five things that matter to people when they consider the ideal home: “Comfort, security, a sense of autonomy and ownership, and the capacity for privacy. Home at its core goes back to a sense of belonging.”

A survey by the home-furnishings retailer Article in 2018 asked people what it took for them to finally call a dwelling a home. Many responders said it takes a couple of holidays, barbecues, family visits, big sporting events and game nights before they really feel “at home.” So feather the proverbial nest however you like, and have fun while you do it. Then invite somebody over.

What do buyers want? NAHB lists 2019’s top features

LAS VEGAS – Feb. 21, 2019 – Laundry rooms and energy-saving features such as Energy Star appliances, windows and whole house certification are among the most wanted home features, according to survey results from the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) released during a press conference at the NAHB International Builders’ Show in Las Vegas.

NAHB surveyed nearly 4,000 homebuyers – people who recently purchased a home or plan to purchase one within the next three years – ranking 175 features based on how essential they are to a home purchasing decision.

The top 10 features also included home-storage needs, such as garage storage and walk-in pantries, as well as hardwood flooring, a patio and exterior lighting.

Overall housing trends

Average home sizes continue to decline, and there is a decreased demand for upscale features such as three-plus-car garages. In 2018, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, the average new-home started declined to 2,576 square feet – down from its peak at 2,689 square feet in 2015 – driven in part by increased production in townhouses, which comprised 14 percent of new home starts.

“Builders are trying to meet demand where it’s hottest, and that is at the lower price points,” says Rose Quint, association vice president of survey research at NAHB. “To that end, they are building more townhomes and smaller detached homes. Townhomes take up less land, and that automatically brings the price down.”

New homes have been downsizing since 2016; fewer have four or more bedrooms, or three or more bathrooms. It shows “that builders are trying to respond to the crisis around housing affordability,” Quint says.

NAHB’s survey also includes key information on types and location of homes desired by buyers:

  • Suburbs are the most desirable home location (64 percent), followed by a rural setting (24 percent) and the central city (11 percent).
  • Millennials are the most likely to want to buy a home in a central city (23 percent), compared to Gen X buyers (11 percent), baby boomers (8 percent) or seniors (3 percent).

Kitchen and bath trends

According to NAHB’s survey, 86 percent of homebuyers prefer their kitchen and dining room to be completely or partially open. Top finishes include stainless steel appliances (67 percent), granite or natural stone kitchen countertops (57 percent) and white kitchen cabinetry (32 percent).

“White upon white is the new style that is emerging,” says Nino Sitchinava, principal economist at Houzz. That trend applies to both kitchens and bathrooms in terms of cabinets and countertops, as well as gray on white.

Other rising trends

  • Farmhouse styles incorporating ample amounts of wood
  • Engineered quartz countertops for color flexibility
  • Vinyl and resilient flooring, especially for aging in place
  • Wireless controls
  • Open interior and exterior spaces in the kitchen
  • Higher-end fixture installations in the bathroom, such as wall-mounted sinks, faucets and toilets

A ‘perfect’ credit score is a myth

NEW YORK – Feb. 6, 2019 – Question: I’m currently purchasing a house and I noticed on my credit report that my score is 807. One of the items hurting it is length my accounts have been open.

I have Lowe’s, Home Depot and Discover cards all with zero balances. Should I close them? If so, all at once or filter them over the course of time? I’ve always liked having them for just in case, but I don’t use them very often if at all. Thoughts? – Todd

Answer: You’ve been bamboozled. Tricked. Hoodwinked. We all have. Collectively, we’ve decided we’re going to let an otherwise meaningless score mean a lot to us. And in the process, we’ve made decisions that make no sense whatsoever, and in turn damaged the meaningful signs of financial stability.

Todd, this isn’t necessarily your fault, but if you let me, I’d like to save you from caring about your credit score any more than you have to.

You have an 807. That’s enough. It’s fine. Stop. Despite popular belief, the goal isn’t to have a perfect score. I hear that all the time. “I have perfect credit,” someone will lob at me in an attempt to elicit some sort of figurative cookie. But it takes every ounce of restraint not to scream back “Who cares?! It doesn’t matter!”

Your credit score is no longer a measure of your financial health. More than anything, it’s used to gamify your involvement in the selling of your data. The credit bureaus, or data bureaus as I prefer to call them, sell what they call your “decision analytics” to companies who want to sell you things and want to know exactly how you think and act.

Because every time you swipe a card, dozens of data points are captured about your transactions. Those data points, when aggregated over time with your other purchase data points, write your financial memoir.

“We don’t eat much junk food,” you assert. Well, that’s not what your purchase of an economy box of Ding Dongs every other Thursday at 8:57 a.m. at the grocery store on 95th Street says. I’m not kidding.

The decision analytics data know more about you than you know about yourself. It’s very powerful and valuable information, which is sold over and over and over again. You can’t escape your own decisions, because your decisions are used against you to provoke more suboptimal decisions.

This isn’t science fiction. This is real.

If you ever find yourself sleeping too well, and you’d like to terrify yourself with the ins and outs of decisions analytics – and more specifically data crimes – read Marc Goodman’s “Future Crimes: Inside the Digital Underground and the Battle for Our Connected World.”

So, to answer your question, once you close on your new home, close the credit lines you don’t need. And yes, your credit score will temporarily suffer. Your credit score easily qualifies you for great interest rates, and you have plenty of room to spare. Plus, I’m guessing you won’t be buying another home anytime soon.

Simply put, sometimes we’re encouraged to make poor decisions in order to improve our credit scores. You can’t take the bait.

Not too long ago when I was refinancing my mortgage, the lender told me to improve my score, which was somewhere in the high 700s, by diversifying my credit. “Diversify my credit?” I replied with a scrunched face.

I was told my purposeful decision to maintain only three credit lines, which included two mortgages on two different properties, wasn’t good enough. Did it affect my rate? No, of course not.

But the bank wanted me to know I was making a poor decision by not borrowing more money, and my “poor” credit score was the result. They encouraged me to consider taking out a home equity line, a car loan or any other different type of loan that could display my ability to handle different types of credit. Hard pass.

You don’t have an actual problem, Todd. You’ve just been convinced that it’s a problem. This medium shirt doesn’t fit because my biceps are too big. See? That’s not an actual problem.

And by the way, that was merely an example. Sadly, my arms have plenty of room in my shirt, but at least I don’t care about my credit score.

Peter Dunn is an author, speaker and radio host, and he has a free podcast: Million Dollar Plan.

Bitcoin no longer worth the mining cost, JPMorgan says

If a dystopian future is indeed ahead, investors and companies may want to have more of a plan than merely mining cryptocurrencies.

On average, the cost of creating a Bitcoin amounted to $4,060 globally in the fourth quarter, more than the value of Bitcoin, now trading for less than $3,600, according to John Normand, head of cross-asset strategy at JPMorgan Chase, who on Thursday released in a wide-ranging report on cryptocurrencies. In other words, the cost of mining Bitcoin is far outstripping what miners can fetch on the market.

“Prices had declined to a point where mining became uneconomical for some miners, who have responded by turning their mining rigs off,” Norland noted.

That’s not to say the equation doesn’t make sense for some, with Chinese miners able to pay far less — about $2,400 for each Bitcoin — by making deals with electricity producers such as aluminum smelters with surplus power, the analysts found.

“The drop in Bitcoin prices from around $6,500 throughout much of October to below $4,000 now has increasingly pushed margins further and further negative for just about every region except low-cost Chinese miners,” wrote the analysts, who noted their cost projections could be tilted high because of iffy data and conservative assumptions.

The negative margins will likely lead to more producers heading for the exits, a scenario that could push prices down for those who remain, because they would garner a bigger stake of Bitcoins for the same level of energy consumption. If only low-cost Chinese miners stay in the game, the marginal costs could fall to less than $1,260 for each Bitcoin, the analysts wrote.

At the same time, wild price swings make cryptocurrencies a less than ideal way of setting aside value, said Normand.

“We have long been skeptical of cryptocurrencies’ value in most environments other than a dystopian one, characterized by a loss of faith in all major assets (dollar, euro, yen, gold) and in the payments system,” he wrote. “Developments over the past year have not altered our reservations about these assets’ role in global portfolios, even if their novelty value can remain high indefinitely.”

Hackers access data on thousands of home loans

NEW YORK – Jan. 24, 2019 – An estimated tens of thousands of loans and mortgages have had private data compromised online, according to an investigation from a security researcher and TechCrunch. The sensitive information that was found mostly dated back to 2008 and included loans from banks like Wells Fargo and Citigroup, among others.

The banks are reportedly in the process of trying to identify the customers affected and inform them of any possible account hacking.

“These documents contained highly sensitive data, such as Social Security numbers, names, phones, addresses, credit history and other details which are usually part of a mortgage or credit report,” security researcher Bob Diachenko, who discovered the breach, wrote on his blog, SecurityDiscovery.com. “This information would be a gold mine for cyber criminals who would have everything they need to steal identities, file false tax returns, get loans or credit cards.”

Consumers are urged to change the passwords on their financial accounts.

The database that was hacked was not password protected, but in the data theft of that open database, hackers may have gained access to personal information that that they could then use to access a borrower’s other accounts that were password protected.

Source: “Fraud Alert: Your Mortgage Info Could Be at Risk,” USA Today (Jan. 23, 2019) and “Document Management Company Left Credit Reports Online,” SecurityDiscovery.com (Jan. 23, 2019)

Trying to avoid real estate attorneys? Do this By Gary M. Singer

Jan. 21, 2019 – Another year has gone by, and every year at this time I like to give some general advice on how to avoid needing the services of your local real estate attorney.

Here are the steps to take when dealing with the majority of legal issues concerning your home. I call these my “Four Pen Rules”

  1. The first rule is always read what you are signing. Read the contract, proposal, invoice, or whatever you are presented. If you do not understand what you see, ask questions and keep asking until you do understand. However, remember, it is the document that binds you, not their explanation of it, so if you are being told something that does not match what you were asked to sign, don’t put pen to paper.

  2. The second rule is one of my all-time favorites: If you can say it, you can sign it. Get it in writing because, as a rule, verbal agreements are worth the paper they are written on. Verbal agreements are difficult to enforce, and because everyone’s memory works differently, are more likely to lead to a problem. It is easy to avoid the issues to begin with by getting it in writing.

  3. The third rule is to document everything when a dispute occurs. Because nobody is more the 3 feet from their smartphone anymore, this is easy. Take photos and videos. Write down, or type in, notes while it is still fresh in your mind. Emailing these to yourself is a great way to prove the timing of these records should that ever become an issue. If the dispute turns into a lawsuit, your attorney will thank you for making their job so much easier.

  4. The final “pen” rule is a bit of a hybrid. When a problem does occur, try to talk it out with your neighbor. Whether it is branches over the fence line or debris blowing on your lawn, a polite conversation will resolve the vast majority of concerns. Here is where the pen part comes in: After you and your neighbor agree to a fix, send your neighbor a short and friendly note or email setting out what was agreed and asking for any corrections. If you receive corrections in reply, then you have avoided a misunderstanding and inevitable disappointment. If there is no reply, then your neighbor agreed to the fix.

About the writer: Gary M. Singer is a Florida attorney and board-certified as an expert in real estate law by the Florida Bar. He practices real estate, business litigation and contract law from his office in Sunrise, Fla. He is the chairman of the Real Estate Section of the Broward County Bar Association and is a co-host of the weekly radio show Legal News and Review. He frequently consults on general real estate matters and trends in Florida with various companies across the nation.

Shutdown could impact HUD rent subsidies after Jan.

WASHINGTON – Jan. 10, 2019 – Desiree Trail was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder in 2001 after surviving a multiple sexual assaults, getting clean after a drug addiction and weaving in and out of homelessness. The 48-year-old single mother says it took years before she was able to gain access to affordable housing in 2015 under the Section 811 program for people with disabilities.

Since then, Trail has lived in a two-bedroom apartment in Stafford, Virginia, with her nine-year-old daughter. But now she is worried she will lose her home thanks to the government shutdown triggered by a fight over funding for a wall on the Mexican border.

With the partial shutdown nearing three weeks, federal agencies such as the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) have furloughed the majority of their staff. This shutdown is now the second-longest in U.S. history and NBC News reported that more than 1,000 federal contracts with private landlords providing housing have expired in those weeks.

When that news broke, Trail panicked.

“I called my rental office this morning and they haven’t heard anything. I called Senator [Tim] Kaine’s office in [Washington] D.C. and Richmond but unfortunately most of the calls I’ve made, the voicemails are full or the phone systems are down because of the mass influx of calls, so this causes a lot of stress,” she said.

Right now, through various social services, Trail has a monthly income of just over $1,000. Some of that goes to her son in Richmond, $200 is spent on groceries for her small family while another $250 goes towards rent and utilities. Average rent in the area for her apartment is at least $1,300, she estimates, higher than her monthly income. Not much is left over, she says, so if she’s kicked out of her HUD-subsidized housing, she’ll be homeless because she can’t afford a motel.

Because of her disabilities, ranging from fibromyalgia and PTSD to neuropathy, she can’t work.

“This is very triggering,” she began, referring to a letter, first published by the Washington Post, sent to landlords by HUD officials asking them not to evict tenants after they realized funding for multi-family programs were not renewed before the government closed at the end of December.

“At one time I was homeless,” she said. Before she had her daughter, she spent nearly 15 years sleeping in motel rooms and on couches. And before that, she spent her childhood in foster care.

Trail doesn’t want her daughter to experience even one night in a motel room, explaining why the potential of losing her affordable housing hit her especially hard. “This puts single mothers into a position where they’re very vulnerable,” she continued, her voice rising. “A lot of us are being held emotionally hostage.”

According to a statement posted on the National Low Income Housing Coalition’s website, HUD has been in contact with the organization, stating “that while resources for project-based assistance are sufficient for January, funding becomes more uncertain if the shutdown lasts beyond this month.”

Diane Yentel, the NLIHC president and CEO, told the Guardian that the shutdown was a threat to America’s most vulnerable people.

“The vast majority are deeply poor seniors, people with disabilities and families with children. Already, as a result of the shutdown, HUD cannot cover the costs for subsidized homes housing an estimated 70,000 low-income seniors and people with disabilities. Owners of these properties are being asked to cover the costs in the meantime, but the longer the shutdown continues the less likely they will be able to do so,” she said in a statement.

The Guardian contacted HUD by telephone and email and received no response.

Some landlords are saying they will step into the gap. Heather Goff, whose family owns approximately 200 HUD housing units in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, told the Guardian no one will be evicted from any of their properties. Their reasoning is threefold: first, her grandparents acquired the properties in the mid-70s so most are owned outright. Second, she says, their properties are Section 8 housing, meaning the tenants pay 30 percent, Section 8 vouchers pick up a large chunk and HUD pays for whatever is left over.

Finally, if someone isn’t able to cover rent, the Goff family pays because “some of our tenants we’ve had for decades and are really a part of our extended family,” she said. “We will do what it takes to keep our [people] housed.”

But not all low-income tenants are as secure as Goff’s. Many are speaking out on social media weeks after the viral hashtag #shutdownstories was used to inform the public of the real-world impact of a long-term government shutdown affecting more than 800,000 employees.

Twitter user Suzn worried about her elderly mother in public housing, lamenting: “I’m very concerned about my 93-[year-old] mother. She lives in HUD approved housing for seniors. She submitted all paperwork to recertify as low income. HUD shut down & can’t do whatever is needed to mediate with landlord. Will she be a casualty of shutdown? Too close to home.”

Copyright © 2019 theguardian.com, Khushbu Shah. All rights reserved.

What can condo boards consider closed-door ‘personnel issues’?

STUART, Fla. – Jan. 8, 2019 – Question: Our HOA board called a private board meeting for ‘Personnel Issues.’ The meeting was held to discuss an email a director sent by mistake to the general manager. The email had some satirical comments about a board member’s decision.

The board voted to ask the director to resign for ethics reasons, and if they did not resign to remove them from their officer position. Is this a meeting that can be legally closed?

They also had private board meetings which were called to discuss a vendor contract but had it without an attorney present. The way I read the Sunshine laws that is also not a legal meeting. When I asked the board president about the meetings, he said their attorney said they were legal because they were contract negotiations. Your opinion? – R.L., Port St. Lucie

Answer: Thank you for your questions. The law applicable the Homeowners Associations is Section 720.303, Florida Statutes which provides that:

“Notwithstanding any other law, meetings between the board or a committee and the association’s attorney to discuss proposed or pending litigation or meetings of the board held for the purpose of discussing personnel matters are not required to be open to the members other than directors.” The law for condominiums is identical.

A meeting of the board to discuss the actions or communications of a director or officer as you have described is not a personnel matter in my opinion. An officer or director of the association is not the association’s “personnel.”

If the meeting was about comments made about the general manager, then it could be considered a personnel matter, but that would mean it involved something about the general manager who is the association’s employee, i.e. personnel. You indicated the purpose of the meeting was to discuss comments made to the GM about the board – not about the GM. This does not qualify in my opinion as a personnel matter that would allow the meeting to be closed to members.

Meetings to discuss negotiations about the vendor contract when the association’s legal counsel was not present are also not meetings that can be closed to the members. Even if the association attorney was present at the meeting, it likely should not have been closed because the purpose of the meeting was not to discuss “proposed or pending litigation” as required by the law below.

Boards often want to hold closed meetings to discuss matters that they otherwise do not want to publicize, sometimes for good reason such as negotiation of contract terms when there are several service bidders, but neither of the two exceptions apply for this purpose.

Question: Can the association require a $25 processing fee for approving rentals? – C.G., Palm City

Answer: Condominium and cooperative associations can only charge a fee in connection with a rental application if 1) The governing documents require the Association to approve rentals or leases and 2) The governing documents expressly provide that a fee can be charged.

Further, if the fee is authorized, the law provides that it cannot be greater than $100 per applicant with each adult deemed to be a separate applicant. However, spouses are deemed to be a single applicant. The HOA law does not address these issues, but in my opinion, the authority to charge a rental application fee must be found in the governing documents.

Richard D. DeBoest II, Esq., is co-founder and shareholder of the Law firm Goede, Adamczyk, DeBoest & Cross, PLLC. The information provided herein is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice.

The publication of this article does not create an attorney-client relationship between the reader and Goede, Adamczyk, DeBoest & Cross, PLLC or any of our attorneys. Readers should not act or refrain from acting based upon the information contained in this article without first contacting an attorney, if you have questions about any of the issues raised herein. The hiring of an attorney is a decision that should not be based solely on advertisements or this column.

Editor’s note: Attorneys at Goede, Adamczyk, DeBoest & Cross, PLLC., respond to questions about Florida community association law. The firm represents community associations throughout Florida and focuses on condominium and homeowner association law, real estate law, litigation, estate planning and business law