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Mortgage déjà vu

Your home is not an ATM, it’s a long-term investment

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The Big Short, gay news, Washington Blade, mortgage loans

The movie ‘The Big Short’ has given us insight into the role of the financial institutions in the housing crash.

Remember back in the early to mid-2000s when interest rates were low, financing was creative and mortgage loans were given out like candy by some unscrupulous lenders?

Properties were appreciating so quickly that homeowners were often encouraged to refinance and use the rising equity in their homes for debt consolidation, home improvements, college tuition and vacations.

Back then, borrowing money was easy. A person could state his income and verify his assets (SIVA loan), state both her income and her assets (SISA loan), or obtain a no income, no asset loan (NINA) just by having a stellar credit rating and paying a higher interest rate.

And remember those adjustable rate mortgages known as “Option ARMs,” where the borrower could choose each month to make a fully amortized payment, an interest-only payment, or an even lower payment based on an initial “teaser” rate? The initial rate was so low that the principal and interest you didn’t pay on a monthly basis would be added to the loan amount and when it came time to pay off the loan, you owed more than you did when you initially got it.

The assumption in the lending community was that rapid appreciation would overtake the additional debt and result in a profit on sale despite your having added to your initial loan amount. Nice work if you can get it and, like a Ponzi scheme, it worked for a while.

A Home Equity Line of Credit (HELOC) was also a popular option. You didn’t need to refinance; just get a new appraisal substantiating a higher value and have an instant line of credit of up to 100 percent of the newly appraised value. Easy peasy.

Then the economy took a downward turn and the money that had flowed so freely dried up.  Many homeowners simply put their heads in the sand, refusing to believe that third notice from the mortgage company containing the dreaded word, “foreclosure.”

Years later, I would tell my clients who had to bring additional funds to closing to be able to sell their homes that they did not lose their equity but simply spent it in advance. One could only hope to rob Peter to pay Paul for so long until Peter demanded payment as well.

But sometimes Peter agreed to accept less than owed and the concept of the short sale re-integrated itself into the housing market. It grew so exponentially that our tax laws were changed to eliminate penalties for debt forgiven by financial institutions.

The movie “The Big Short” has given us insight into the role of the financial institutions in the housing crash, but consumers were not entirely blameless. Some most certainly must share responsibility for their own fate by not seeking to understand their loan documents and by being mesmerized by the shiny object before them – a home they knew they could not really afford.

There are still areas of the country where people have not crawled out of the mortgage abyss so imagine my surprise the other day when I heard a television commercial for a lender that used the tag line: “Your home is your bank.”

To quote Yogi Berra, it was “like déjà vu all over again.”

Let me be clear: When I bought my first house, the interest rate was 11.75 percent. I also remember earlier conversations around the dinner table where my parents discussed rates as high as 18-21 percent, so I’m all for creative mortgage loan programs that make homeownership more affordable.

The problem with the home-as-bank theory, however, is that it presupposes that the borrower a) has equity in the home, b) has the income to handle higher payments, and c) understands any terms, conditions and limitations of the loan product.

With interest rates beginning to rise since the election, the promise of a 2.99 percent rate with “no closing costs” may seem enticing but remember, folks, there’s no such thing as that proverbial free lunch. The interest rate will have conditions and those closing costs are hidden in there somewhere, either in the amount of the loan or incorporated into the interest rate.

So, when deciding on a suitable type of mortgage for your purchase or refinance, remember that your home is not an ATM. Think of it instead as your personal sanctuary and a potential long-term investment in your future. Your financial solvency may depend on it.

Valerie M. Blake can be reached at 202-246-8602 or [email protected]. Each Keller Williams Realty office is independently owned and operated. Equal Housing Opportunity.

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Real Estate

Investing in real estate: What you need to know

From REITs to flips, tips for getting started

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In many cases, buying or selling a home is a very personal experience. Many people buy a home with the intention of living there – making memories, building a family, becoming part of a community. The same is true of sellers. Selling a home, in many cases, is simultaneously difficult and exciting – it means the ending of one chapter and the beginning of another. While the majority of buying and selling experiences may be personal – increasingly, others in the market are interested in real estate not just to find a home, but also to make a great investment.

In our current market, it’s easy to see why real estate can often end up being quite a profitable investment. In 2021, sellers often saw huge profits on the sale of real estate – but even in years where profits aren’t quite as significant as this year, real estate has often proven to be a sound and reliable long-term investment strategy. Real estate investments can add diversification to your portfolio, and a very successful venture, particularly if you buy and sell when the circumstances are right.

Over the last several years, many gay neighborhoods around the country have shown steady appreciation, leading investors, and particularly LGBTQ investors, to consider whether the time is right to consider adding real estate to their investment portfolio. For those considering real estate as an investment strategy, here are a few helpful tips:

• Consider REITs: For those just getting started with real estate investment, Real Estate Investment Trusts, or “REITs” for short, might be a good option. These provide the opportunity to invest in real estate without owning the physical real estate yourself. They are often compared to mutual funds, and you invest in a company, a REIT, which owns commercial real estate like office buildings, apartments, hotels, and retail spaces. Generally, REITs pay high dividends, which make them a popular investment in retirement, as well as for investors not wanting to own one particular piece of property.

• Consider investing in rental properties: Rental income can often be a steady, reliable source of income if you do your due diligence researching the property itself, the surrounding neighborhood, and the potential community of renters. While maintaining a rental property will certainly require some investment of time and energy on your part, it can be a profitable long-term investment and one that is appealing to many people.

• Put your skills to work: If you have a skill set that includes being able to renovate and upgrade homes – or if you know a trusted person or team of people who does, flipping a home that could use some renovation can be quite a profitable investment indeed. Getting a home that could use some extra TLC at a good price and updating it can result in a sales price that is significantly higher than the purchase price. This can certainly be a very good investment – and a fulfilling project too.

• Be willing to listen and learn: When trying something new, it is almost always helpful to talk to those with experience in that area. Investing in real estate is no different. Having a mentor who can give you some tips and advice from their own experience is invaluable.

• Get to know the neighborhood: When making any real estate decision, whether you’re going to live in a home yourself or purchase property for investment purposes, knowing the neighborhood and community you’re interested in is important. A key part of that will be finding a real estate agent who knows and loves the community that you’re interested in, and who understands the market in that area. This can make all the difference between a smooth and successful process, and a stressful one.

(At GayRealEstate.com, we are dedicated to our mission of connecting LGBTQ home buyers and sellers with talented, knowledgeable, and experienced real estate agents across the country who can help them to achieve their real estate goals. Whether you’re interested in buying or selling a home that you live in personally, or buying and selling for investment purposes, we can connect you with an agent who knows and loves the community, and who can help you achieve your goals. Contact us at any time. We look forward to helping you soon.)

Jeff Hammerberg is founding CEO of Hammerberg & Associates, Inc. Reach him at
303-378-5526 or [email protected].

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Real Estate

Dining without a dining room

Today’s hosts are likely more casual than in the past

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The large formal dining room is a thing of the past. Here are some tips for a more modest Thanksgiving set up.

With Thanksgiving quickly approaching, you may be thinking about gathering your loved ones and kindred spirits to celebrate the positive things in your life, praise your higher power, pay homage to indigenous people, or just stuff your face and fall asleep in front of the television at the traditional Thanksgiving after-party: the football game.

Thinking back to my childhood, I remember the wonderful smells coming from the kitchen. The elegant table in the formal dining room was adorned with a crisp, white tablecloth, “the good china,” sterling silver place settings, a variety of serving dishes for the forthcoming bounty, and a cornucopia centerpiece containing dried fruits and vegetables.

My dad, Ozzie, would carve the turkey and my mom, Harriet, would bring out the pecan and mincemeat pies for dessert…wait a minute…did I really grow up in a 1950s sitcom? Yup, I did, although Ozzie was Don and Harriet was Grayce.

Sometimes we would visit my maternal grandparents in Maine, whose formal dining room was less so – an extended part of the living room in the 1940s version of an open floor plan in their three-bedroom apartment over the general store and gas station that my grandfather owned.

On occasion, we would go to Massachusetts to spend a day or two with my paternal grandmother and her extended clan. There was nothing “formal” about the dining room there. Dinner took place on a litany of card tables set up on the jalousied porch off the kitchen.

When dinner was over, my grandmother would rise from the head of the table and declare, “I made the dinner. Now you do the dishes.” My father and his sisters would scurry like baby chicks to adhere to her demand.

As I grew older, I rarely lived near family. Every so often, I would be invited to dinner as the obligatory guest – the girlfriend of whatever young man I was seeing at the time. Later, I would become part of the restaurant holiday dining crowd.

For several years, I had a standing date with a good friend for dinner and a movie on Thanksgiving Day. We would choose restaurants that advertised dishes like Lobster Thermador, Champagne Ravioli, or Boeuf Bourguignon, but would invariably select the traditional turkey dinner with dressing and all the trimmings from the prix fixe menu.

Fast-forward to 2020 and we may not have gathered at all, content to have Whole Foods or Door Dash deliver Thanksgiving dinner to be eaten in front of the television while watching Hallmark movies.

Now here we are. The formal dining room has gone the way of the good china and the sterling silver. For most of us, they are simply not necessities in our lives any longer. So how do you host a dinner party when there is no room specifically designated for dining?

First, you don’t need to purchase things you have no room to store later. Although “rent” can be a four-letter word to a real estate agent, a party rental company’s website allows you to select items online and have them delivered and removed at a fraction of the cost.

Are you trying to seat a large group for dinner? Let’s start with the premise that all your guests do not need to be at a banquet table. Consider having several tables for two or four placed around the room. It will give you the ambiance of your favorite bistro and still allow for conversation among your guests.

You can also rent folding chairs, linens, place settings, and stemware. Once your order arrives, just set the tables and add candles or your favorite centerpieces to complete a festive look.

If you have no room for a seated event, you can order standing cocktail tables. Your breakfast bar or kitchen counter will make a perfect buffet line.

Better yet, have an open house, inviting guests at slightly different times so you see everyone without feeling like you’re in the middle of a crowded concert.

Is your style even more casual? Rather than worrying about recycling plastic cups and sporks, pick up a bunch of Oftast dinner or dessert plates for 79 cents each at Ikea. Add a 6-pack of Svalka wine glasses and cutlery service for four from the Mopsig collection for $5 each. Pull out some pillows and eat while sitting cross-legged on the floor surrounded by family and friends.

Some of us may have trouble getting back up, but we’ll be in perfect position to fall asleep during the football game.

Valerie M. Blake is a licensed Associate Broker in D.C., Maryland, and Virginia with RLAH Real Estate. Call or text her at 202-246-8602, email her via DCHomeQuest.com, or follow her on Facebook at TheRealst8ofAffairs.

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Real Estate

How has the meaning of ‘home’ changed during COVID?

People want peace — a place to get away from it all

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Many buyers are still looking for space in a new home.

During the pandemic, “Home” must have taken on different meanings for many people.  As was reported often in the news, many people found themselves dissatisfied with the home they bought before the pandemic, and now, several months or a year and a half later, the home that was meant to be for dinner, sleeping, and the occasional breakfast was now frequently central operations for a squad of 4-6 people, 24 hours a day, all working, zooming, streaming, in class, learning how to cut their own hair online, looking up recipes online because they were tired of the same five meals they have had for four months at a time, and the balcony that was nice to have for a Friday evening glass of Sauvignon Blanc at sunset was now not enough for Mom, Dad, the 3-year-old and the baby on the way.  

So off they went to find a new “home” and then put the old home on the market. But now that older home is sitting, getting showings but no offers. Did they make a mistake? Are they now going to have two mortgage payments? Well, probably not indefinitely. What I am seeing is that home purchasers were quick to pull a trigger and go aggressively after the new home that was going to be the solution to all their woes, but the buyers for the first home are much slower.  Less rushed. They are entering the market maybe. Taking advantage of lower interest rates. They are not feeling rushed and are not competing as much for properties. One agent reported multiple offers, but after the place was on the market for almost a month. Again, people are taking their time.  

Basically, what I am seeing is that people want space in their new homes. They want room to relax, spread out. They might even want a relaxing environment. A quiet night’s sleep.  Many people in the past year have reported higher anxiety levels than at any point of their lives.  A good night’s sleep can mean the difference between sailing through that meeting or appointment the next day or feeling like you have to cancel everything and call your therapist.  People want peace. Our lives are spent arguing online and hearing news headlines that are more “breaking news” than they were an hour ago. It’s natural to want a refuge. A place to feel you can get away from it all.  They don’t want sirens and people wandering the alleys at night.  They don’t want fixer uppers as much. They want to move and move now into something they can feel comfortable in.  That’s what I am seeing.  

People want a place they can work in, but still feel at home. They don’t want to feel that their work lives and their home lives are literally on top of each other – they want some separation. Whether it’s a separate room, or an entire floor that is dedicated to work, they want to feel they can step away from it when they need to.  

I also have a homebuyer seminar on Zoom next Thursday evening at 6 p.m. Feel free to contact me to get the access link. 

Joseph Hudson is a Realtor with The Rutstein Group of Compass. Reach him at [email protected] or 703-587-0597.

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