MONEY home selling

How to Sell Your House Without Paying an Agent’s Fee

For Sale sign illustration
Robert A. Di Ieso, Jr.

Q: Do we really need a real estate agent to sell our house? — Peter Koo, Kent, Ohio

Real estate agents typically charge a 4% to 6% commission on the sale price, so selling without an agent could certainly save you big bucks. Even after you pay $1,000 or so for your own online ads, open-house brochures, and a lawn sign, you would still probably clear an extra $14,000 on a $300,000 sale, $24,000 on a $500,000 sale, or $36,500 on a $750,000 sale.

And that’s not the only advantage to selling it yourself — a process often referred to as “for sale by owner,” or FSBO (pronounced “fizz-bo”). “You get to control the negotiation, rather than having it filtered through a middleman,” says Los Angeles real estate attorney Zachary Schorr.

While a good agent can certainly help with the negotiation process, he or she also has a vested interest in the transaction. “And closing the deal may in some cases be more important to the agent than getting you the absolute best price,” Schorr says. If you’re a good negotiator and can handle the process without emotion and with clear eyes, you might do better on your own.

You will need to write your own description of the house, take your own photos, and give your own tours to prospective buyers. “If you excel at these things — or if you’re a control freak like me — you may do a better job than some realtors would,” Schorr says.

The Downsides

Make no mistake, though: Working without an agent requires a huge investment of time, knowhow, and effort. You need a wide range of skills, from home staging to salesmanship to negotiating. And you need to be able to completely divorce yourself from the emotions that can arise when a buyer takes a dig at your curb appeal or lowballs the offer on the beloved home where you raised your family.

If these factors don’t dissuade you from attempting to sell it yourself, here is how Schorr suggests overcoming the three biggest challenges you’ll face:

Limited pool of buyers: Most serious house-hunters are working with a real estate agent; the commission would normally get split between the buyer’s and seller’s agents. But without a commission on the table, no agent is going to bring clients to see your house. In fact, many shoppers are contractually obligated to purchase their home through their agent — meaning even someone who finds your house while out on a drive or surfing the Internet may not easily be able to buy it.

If you don’t get any offers, Schorr suggests a compromise solution: State in big bold type in your online ads and your lawn sign that you will pay a 2.5% commission to the buyer’s agent. You’ll only save half as much in commission costs, but you’ll get a much bigger pool of potential buyers coming to look at your place.

Bargain hunters: Of course, some buyers may find you even without a buyer’s agent. “If you have a great house, in a sought-after neighborhood, and you’re on a busy road where you’ll get a lot of visibility, then you might do fine working with only the unsigned homebuyers who discover your house on their own,” says Schorr. If you’ve got a charmer with a great kitchen in an affordable price range, they’ll find it online no matter how far off the beaten path you are.

The trouble is that those buyers may seek to discount the purchase price: Because they know there are no agents involved, they may feel that they should benefit as well.

How should you handle that? It depends. If you’re in a great house that sells itself, stick to your target price. But if you’re thrilled to get an offer because you can’t stand showing the house anymore, split the commission savings and make a deal.

Lack of advice or tools: You may miss an agent’s help throughout the process, starting with when you set a listing price. Online price calculators may not be sufficient to determine the fair market value of your home because they use completed sales, which tend to lag the market by a few months. Also, the algorithms don’t necessarily account for factors like curb appeal, landscaping, recent renovations, or school district lines.

A smarter idea is to hire an appraiser to value your house, likely for around $300 to $500.

You may also want a lawyer to produce and review contract documents; some states actually require you to hire one. Although you can find much of the paperwork online, Schorr says, “you need to tailor it to your deal — and the way you fill it out is just as important as what the boilerplate language says.” You’ll probably pay $1,000 to $3,000, depending on the cost of living in your area, but you’ll get an experienced pro who’s in your corner and can make sure the deal gets done right.

Obviously, these solutions all can eat into your sell-it-yourself savings. So try going it on your own for several months.

If your house gets lots of attention and you get good offers, stay the course and be prepared to give up a little of your savings to close the deal. But if the process drags on without any real bites, hire an agent. You’ve lost nothing but time, and you’ll enter the agreement with a far better understanding of how it works and how to get the most from your agent.

You Might Also Like:

Will I Pay Income Taxes on the Sale of My Home?

What Renovations Will Pay Off When I Sell?

If You Want to Sell Your House This Year, Start Doing These Things Now

TIME breaking bad

Here’s Your Chance to Pretend to Be Jesse Pinkman

A Look At "Breaking Bad" Locations Through Albuquerque
Steve Snowden—Getty Images A view of Jesse Pinkman's house.

‘Meth lab not included’

Always wanted to live out a Breaking Bad fantasy without actually operating a meth lab? Here’s your chance. Two of the houses featured in the critically acclaimed series are on sale in Albuquerque, N.M.

The house where fictional Jesse Pinkman lived in the series has an asking price of $1.6 million —”meth lab not included” — according to the Coldwell Banker’s press release. The realtors for the house, a mother-daughter team, created a website touting its celebrity status. The house, which was posted for sale Tuesday, has two stories, with 3,500 square feet, and four bedrooms. According to TODAY, the house for sale wasn’t used to film the parties or any “intense” scenes.

Though the series ended almost two years ago, Breaking Bad still gets plenty of hype. “Better Call Saul,” a prequel series that premiered earlier in 2015, was recently nominated for an Emmy. And Albuquerque’s tourism industry continues to capitalize on “Breaking Bad” buzz, offering tours of key locations in the series.

MONEY mortgage

This City Has Nation’s Healthiest Housing Market

Beacon Hill neighborhood of Boston, Massachusetts
Getty Images/iStockphoto Beacon Hill neighborhood of Boston, Massachusetts

The healthiest market isn't necessarily the most affordable.

The Red Sox may be in the cellar. But when it comes to its housing market, Boston is first in the nation.

That’s according to a recent report by financial Web site WalletHub, which ranked the relative health of real estate markets in the nation’s 25 largest metro areas. Researchers determined a market’s “health” based on factors like how much equity owners had in their homes and who paid the lowest interest rates.

Oklahoma City ranked second; San Antonio was third. Four Florida cities ranked in the bottom 10 (Miami, Jacksonville, Orlando, Tampa), while Las Vegas was dead last.

On average home owners in Boston have 43% equity in their homes, meaning their mortgages amounted to only slightly more than half their home’s value. The rate was second in the nation, just behind New York City.

Boston also had the second smallest pool of “underwater” mortgages — the scenario in which the owner owes the bank more than the home is worth. About 6.7% of Boston mortgages were underwater, placing just behind Rochester, N.Y. In Las Vegas, by contrast, 39% of homes are underwater.

Of course, one thing that a “healthy” housing market doesn’t guarantee is that you can afford to live there. Boston’s median home price is nearly $450,000, according to Zillow. That’s up from $326,000 at the height of the housing crisis.

The key to Boston’s success: Attractive housing stock and a strong technology and life sciences industry that have helped draw investment and educated young people, according the hometown paper, the Globe.

 

 

MONEY home financing

4 Things Your Bank Won’t Tell You When You Get a Mortgage

128502214
Ed Freeman—Getty Images

2. Time is not your friend.

As the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau strives to create more transparency within the mortgage industry, there are crucial homebuying truths that endure — and knowing what they are can help you to be better informed as a homebuyer. But don’t expect to hear them from your bank.

1. You Can Get a Better Deal Elsewhere

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac publish mortgagee guidelines that banks use to originate loans. In addition, individual banks may place additional credit requirements on these guidelines to minimize their risk. Let’s say that Fannie Mae has a maximum debt-to-income ratio of 45%, but the bank that you’re applying with has a maximum debt ratio of 43%, conforming to the CFPB’s definition of a ‘qualified mortgage.’ Your bank will likely never tell you can get a better deal elsewhere, even though you probably can. When you work with a bank, you are limited to their programs and their products. Direct lenders, brokers and some smaller banks have access to more credit, which ultimately dictates whether or not your loan will move forward.

Caveat: A better loan offer elsewhere is not a better offer if it won’t close because you are unable to meet the loan guidelines. So make sure that you can meet the requirements of that “better deal” before you go for it.

2. Time Is Not Your Friend

Once you’ve locked in your interest rate, the clock is running – and time is now indeed money. Let’s say you’re nearing the end of your 30-day interest-rate lock, and you need an additional 15 days. Your lender might charge you as much as 0.25% of the loan amount – on a $300,000 loan, that’s $750 more in fees because you took an additional week to get your financial documentation back to the lender. Lock fees vary, as do rate lock policies among banks. Be informed, ask upfront. After you have chosen to lock your rate, get your financial documentation back to the lender in 24-48 hours as needed in the process. While this is recognizably an inconvenience, it will ensure that your loan closes in the timeframe in which the interest rate is locked.

FYI: The reason why interest rate lock extensions cost you is because if interest rates go up and you’re locked in at lower rate, your loan is less profitable, and therefore less desirable, to the end investor.

3. You’d Better Have a Ton of Equity

Equity is a crucial factor when applying for a mortgage. If you intend to get the absolute lowest possible interest rate the market will bear you’re going to need a minimum of 30% equity in your home — ideally more. Mortgage pricing adjusters (factors that drive mortgage costs) — like occupancy, credit score and loan-to-value — begin after a loan to value of 65%, or 35% equity. That means if you have 35% equity to finance a loan for an owner-occupied home, the pricing is going to be quite a bit better than if you have 25% down, for example. Loan officers will normally tell the borrower the minimum amount they need to get a mortgage, but not necessarily the minimum amount they need to get a mortgage with the best possible combination of rate and fees.

Here’s a nifty calculator you can use if you want to see how much home you can afford. Your credit score also has a big impact on that number.

4. Appraisers Hold All the Cards

Mortgage professionals who work in a non-banking capacity will be more likely to tell you that appraisers do hold all the cards. Loan professionals who work for a bank have more rules and requirements for originating than non-bank loan officers. Additionally, many bigger banks own the appraisal companies, subsequently getting a piece of the appraisal revenue. The Home Valuation Code of Conduct that arose in the aftermath of the financial collapse took away the ability for loan officers to have any direct access to appraisers, including the ordering and scheduling of the appraisal. Currently, the entire appraisal process is automated to meet federal compliance regulations.

Now, you may qualify for a mortgage on paper with your credit score, income, credit and debt, but the appraiser’s opinion of your home’s value can kill your mortgage, even though a different appraiser’s opinion of value may give you a green light. Even a $5,000 difference in value is enough to throw a loan off-course. Should your appraised value not meet expectations, you do have recourse. Ask a real estate agent friend to pull comps identifying neighboring houses not included in the appraisal report. Next, ask your bank to have a “re-consideration of value” performed with the new information. In most cases, it’s a 50/50 shot, as the loan industry has been forced to give appraisers absolute power.

The more clarity and understanding consumers have about the loan process, pricing and general guidelines, the more information they will have to make an educated choice. Always best to continually ask questions — and then some — throughout the transaction.

More From Credit.com:

MONEY housing

U.S. Homeownership Drops To Its Lowest Level Since 1967

aerial view of neighborhood
Jake Wyman—Getty Images/Aurora Creative

The last time homeownership levels were this low, LBJ was president.

Data released by the Census Bureau on Tuesday reveal that the U.S. homeownership rate stood at 63.4% for the second quarter of 2015. The rate is down slightly compared to the first quarter (63.7%), and it represents the lowest level of homeownership in America since 1967. If the homeownership rate drops just a few more tenths of a percentage point, it would reach a new all-time low since the government began tracking such data in 1965 and the rate was a flat 63%.

In fact, some housing experts say it’s fairly likely the homeownership rate will continue to fall and will indeed hit a record low in the near future. “We may have another percentage point to go before we see a bottom” in terms of the homeownership rate, Mark Vitner, senior economist with Wells Fargo Securities, told Bloomberg. “We’re still suffering the effects of the housing collapse and the financial crisis.”

The bull market and an improving jobs picture would seem to bring with it rising homeownership levels. Yet as a recent Harvard study pointed out, many would-be homeowners—particularly younger ones, in their 20s, 30s, and 40s—are still struggling in the aftermath of the Great Recession. Wages have been stagnant for the middle class, and many households are cautious about jumping into homeownership in the face of hefty student loan debt and memories of being burned in the housing crash. Rising home prices don’t help ownership levels either.

All combined, these forces are conspiring to make renting seem like the wiser option over buying lately.

For the sake of comparison, the 50-year average for homeownership in the U.S. is 65.3%. The rate rose through the 1970s and early 1980s, before dipping to around 64% or slightly under in the late ’80s and early ’90s, a period marked by economic downturn in much of the world—and a recession that lasted eight months in the U.S.

Fueled by easy credit, a booming economy, and boundless optimism, the homeownership rate soared in the late ’90s and early ’00s, nearly hitting 70%. The 69.2% homeownership rate of 2004 is currently the all-time high. Based on how things have been going, it very well could remain as the record high for years or even decades to come.

MONEY selling a home

I’m Trapped in a House I Can’t Afford to Sell

house padlocked
Steven Puetzer—Getty Images

What to do when you're underwater on your mortgage.

Eddie would like to to sell his home, but like millions of Americans, the widely touted housing recovery hasn’t fully reached his North Akron, Ohio, neighborhood. He owes about $60,000 on his mortgage and the two experienced real estate agents he consulted put the value of his home at somewhere around $58,000 to $59,000. Even if he were to find a buyer who would pay the full $60,000 he owes, by the time he paid a real estate commission and closing costs, he would have to bring a few grand to the table.

“Being underwater on the mortgage has me trapped here,” he writes in an email. “As I sit here right now, I cannot even sell my home without taking a loss, and that will prevent me from buying the next house.”

Eddie’s not alone. According to CoreLogic, at the end of 2014, 10 million (20%) of the 49.9 million residential properties with a mortgage have less than 20% equity (referred to as “under-equitied”) and 1.4 million of those have less than 5% equity (referred to as near-negative equity). According to the Zillow Negative Equity Report, “the rate of underwater homeowners was much higher among the homes with the least value.”

What can borrowers who find themselves with little or no equity to do? Here are six options.

1. Cough Up Cash

Coming up with cash to get out of an unaffordable home may make sense if it will save money in the long run. Run a “break even” analysis to find out at what point your monthly savings will exceed the money you must pay to get out. For example, let’s say Eddie would have to come to the closing table with $5,000 to get out of his current home loan. If he saves $100 a month in a different home it will take him 50 months to replenish his savings with the money he paid at closing. After that, his $100 a month savings is money in his pocket. But if he’d save $300 a month on a new home, it would take less than two years to come out ahead. (Of course, that’s a simplistic example that doesn’t take into account taxes, the cost of moving or buying a new home, etc.)

In order to reduce the money they have to pay to get out of their homes, some borrowers are opting to sell their homes themselves to save money on real estate commissions. (Ever wonder why real estate commissions are often 6% of the sales price?) This may be an option for a seller who is comfortable doing most of the work themselves and in no rush. Be sure to factor in closing costs as well. Some may be negotiable, but some won’t be.

2. Let It Go

At some point, it may make sense for a borrower to cut their losses and move on, whether that involves deed-in-lieu of foreclosure, a short sale, a bankruptcy or a combination of those.

In Eddie’s case, he has a very good reason to avoid this route. Over the past two years he’s been diligent about rebuilding his credit scores and has made significant progress, raising his credit scores anywhere from 75 to 100 points or more, depending on which credit scoring model is being used. (You can get your credit scores for free on Credit.com to see where you stand and to track your credit-building progress.)

“He’s worked so hard to improve his credit score I wouldn’t want to recommend anything that would take him in the wrong direction,” says Credit.com contributor Charles Phelan, founder of SecondMortgageAdvice.com. For example, if he stops making his mortgage payments in order to get his lender to agree to a short sale it would cause significant damage to his credit scores. Since he’s not in distress, it probably wouldn’t make sense.

For those who do think it’s time to let go, however, it’s a good idea to get professional advice as there may be both legal and tax implications to walking away from your home. Here’s a complete guide to your options if you are underwater on your home.

And there’s another option that might work: “If a seller can prove that he or she has buyer – as evidenced by an executed purchase contract with a meaningful earnest money deposit in escrow – the seller can use that as leverage to haircut the loan just enough to make the deal close. But just calling the bank and asking them without anything in writing and earnest money won’t do anything,” says Salvatore M. Buscemi, author of Making the Yield: Real Estate Hard Money Lending Uncovered. And if the lender won’t budge, “the buyer isn’t obligated to cover any shortfalls for the seller,” he warns.

3. Pay Down Debt

Paying down the principal balance on your mortgage can get you to positive equity faster. Eddie says he has taken a part-time job to bring in extra cash to do just that.

A word of caution: homeowners need to be careful not to become “house poor” by sinking all their their money into their home, and failing to leave cash available for emergencies. If that happens, it’s easy to end up in a situation where they are forced to run up credit card debt to fill in the gaps.

4. Raise the Price

Increase your home’s value and you may be able to get a higher price. “I began a renovation that will encompass the kitchen (refinishing cabinets, new range hood, new lighting, fresh paint and laminate flooring) the bathroom (a tub surround, a shower door and a new floor), and the living room (these awful white walls will soon be tan),” Eddie says. “Hopefully once these renovations are complete I will see my home value increase by at least $5,000.”

“Cosmetic improvements or little incremental improvements can start to bump the value up,” says Phelan, “because he’s not that far away from having property that’s coming back in the money.” Just be careful to focus on improvements that are likely to increase the home’s value. Be especially careful about going into debt here. If the home doesn’t sell, you’re stuck with that extra monthly payment.

Eddie’s decided it’s worth a try. “Worst case, I will have a house with three rooms renovated,” he says.

5. Rent or Be a Renter

For those who can swing it, another option may be to go ahead and purchase another home now, says Scott Sheldon, senior loan officer with Sonoma County Mortgages and a Credit.com contributor. “If you purchase the new property as an investment property you can use the projected fair market rents to purchase the property to offset the mortgage payment, typically at 75% of the gross rents.”

In other words, purchase the new home as a rental and move into it later. “He is going to be paying a premium, a higher interest rate and higher fees, to purchase the property as an investment property,” he warns. For some, though, this could be a way to snag a property at an attractive price and then move into it later.

What about renting out his current home and purchasing the other as his primary residence? “In order to convert a primary home to a rental property you have to have 30% equity in the property supported with fair market appraisal and have a tenant lined up by closing,” says Sheldon. “This way you can use the fair market rents to offset the mortgage payment of your current home, allowing you to go buy another one.”

Since Eddie is nowhere near that level of equity yet, that option is off the table for the moment. For someone considering this path, remember that becoming a landlord can be quite risky. If your tenant doesn’t pay rent or trashes your property, your costs can mount quickly.

6. Wait It Out

Finally, if none of these strategies work, simply continuing to pay the mortgage and live in the home may be the best option. However, if Eddie stays, both Sheldon and Phelan suggest he look into whether he can refinance his current loan through the Home Affordable Refinance Program (HARP). If he brings his interest rate and payment down, he’ll be able to throw more money at the principal balance. Phelan also encourages him to contact a local housing agency for a free consultation. There may be local programs that could help.

More From Credit.com:

MONEY home improvement

How to Get Color in Your Garden Without Spending a Fortune

For Sale sign illustration
Robert A. Di Ieso, Jr.

Q: Not a single flower is blooming in my yard. We had so many in spring, but every July and August, we’re left with monotone greenery. Can we add late-summer color without spending a fortune?

A: Yours is a common problem in the northern tier of the country, where the vast majority of plants bloom in spring. But the good news is that there are plenty of affordable ways to add flowers throughout the summer and into the fall, says Tony Abruscato, director of Chicago Flower & Garden Show.

The easiest, most affordable solution is annuals—that is, plants that complete their entire life cycle in just one year. Annuals don’t come back from year to year, although you’ll sometimes get lucky and the seeds they release in the fall will sprout new plants in the spring.

The great thing about annuals is they bloom pretty much nonstop for the whole growing season, especially if you remove spent flowers to encourage new ones to form. They also spread, so a small patch of them will expand into a large patch over the course of the summer.

Annuals are also extremely low cost: about $1 to $6 per plant, versus $12 to $30 (or more) for a perennial, a plant that goes dormant for the winter and comes back the next year.

Color Options

You can get annuals that flower in almost any color. Many thrive in shady areas, which are tricky spots for flowering perennials. Popular annuals include impatiens, zinnias, petunias, begonias, dahlias, geraniums, and verbena.

Abruscato also recommends tropical perennials, which can’t tolerate northern winters and so die off each winter like annuals. These include Mexican petunia, Mexican sage, and ginger lily. “If you plant them in pots, you can move them indoors for the winter, and put them back out next spring,” he says .

There are also many standard perennials that will bloom late in the growing season. And because most people’s attention has turned from gardening to vacationing this time of year, you can often get them at a 40% to 50% discount. That means you can probably pick up a plant that will add color every July, August, or September for perhaps $10 to $15.

Abruscato suggests several long-blooming perennials: black-eyed Susan, Echinacea, astilbe, aster, geranium Rozanne, allium, Lacey blue Russian sage, and oak leaf hydrangea. Rose of Sharon shrubs also offer late-season flowers, he notes.

Ask your local garden center for plant recommendations that are suitable for your area. Then select a mix of bloom times, so something is always putting on a show in your yard.

TIME real estate

For $725 Million You Can Buy This Massive, Historic Texas Ranch

Texas, Your Texas
Donovan Reese Photography—Getty Images Texas cowboy on a Texas ranch.

It was a favorite of Will Rogers and Teddy Roosevelt

A Texas ranch featuring more than 1,000 oil wells, 6,800 head of cattle, 30,000 acres of cropland, and a tombstone for a horse buried standing up is on the market. You can get all this (and more!) for the cool sum of $725 million.

The ranch “takes days to see,” according to real estate broker Bernard Uechtritz. The W.T. Waggoner Estate Ranch is about 175 miles northwest of Dallas and covers 800 square miles, making it bigger than New York City and Los Angeles combined, reported Bloomberg.

The ranch is being sold whole hog, which means any buyer gets everything on the property, from the 29 tractors to the empty Old Taylor bourbon bottles that sit in an old hunting lodge. If Waggoner sells for its asking price, it will be the biggest publicly known sum ever paid for a U.S. ranch. The most paid to date was $175 million for a Colorado spread in 2007.

The ranch has a storied history and is going on the market after a local judge ordered the sale of the property, ending 20 years of litigation between dueling branches of the Waggoner family, which has owned the property almost as long as Texas has been a state.

Here’s just some of the interesting items that come with the sale:

  • IBM Selectric typewriter
  • 500 quarter horses (for which the ranch is known)
  • Pink poodle lamp
  • 1998 Bell 206B-3 JetRanger II helicopter
  • Dogs named Shoog, Bee, Jazz, CoCo, and Brute

Read more at Bloomberg.com.

MONEY buying a home

These States Offer the Most Help for Buying a Home

"For Sale" sign outside town home in Society Hill neighborhood, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Frances Roberts—Alamy Society Hill neighborhood, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Grants and no-interest loans are available if you know where to look.

Trying to scrounge together a down payment for a house? Your first instinct may be to hit up mom and dad. One more option you shouldn’t overlook: The state where you live.

Each of the 50 states has some sort of program to help homebuyers, especially those making their first purchase, according to mortgage Web site HSH.com, which recently compiled data and ranked the states.

The most generous state of all is Pennsylvania, where homebuyers have access to no fewer than 11 programs, including ones for first-time and repeat buyers, and even assistance for homeowners looking to make improvements. The Keystone state was followed by Wyoming and New York.

While not necessarily new, state homebuyer assistance programs may be more critical than ever. That’s because seven years after the 2008-2009 financial crises, lingering after-effects like depleted savings and an expensive rental market have made it particularly hard for 20- and 30-somethings to buy homes.

Traditionally, getting a mortgage in the strictly private market requires a down payment of 20%. Yet the Federal Housing Administration makes it possible to buy homes with as little as 3.5% down, with the caveat being that you will be required to pay mortgage insurance. The assistance offered by states — often in the form of grants or no-interest loans — can help get you to the finish line.

Not all programs are available to all would-be homeowners. As well as targeting groups like veterans and the disabled, many state programs have income caps that reduce or eliminate benefits for those making more than a certain amount. One thing you shouldn’t assume, however, is that programs only target the needy. Many are open to middle-income earners.

For instance, Pennsylvania offers closing-cost assistance up to $6,000 in the form of a no-interest 10-year loan to borrowers at participating lenders. The program is open to all borrowers regardless of income or whether it’s your first home. In addition, first-time homebuyers (and some repeat buyers) can turn the first $2,000 of their federal mortgage income tax deduction into a much more valuable tax credit. While incomes are capped, you can earn up to $97,300, or $113,500 if you have kids, and live in relatively high-cost counties like Philadelphia.

Want to find out what your state offers? The HSH directory includes links to state pages with detailed descriptions of individual programs. But you don’t have to be an expert to claim the benefits. Most assistance is arranged through private lenders. So if you think you might qualify, look for participating banks that should be able to help you enroll.

One final thing: If there isn’t much on offer in your state, you should also check Web pages of county and local governments. Even states that offer relatively little help, like Hawaii and Kansas, may fill in the gap with county level programs, according to HSH.

 

MONEY Buying a House

Best Dessert Contest Has $390K California Home as the Prize

Grand Prize home from Homerecipecontest.com
courtesy homerecipecontest.com With a $100 entry fee and a great dessert recipe, this 1906 Craftsman home in California could be yours.

Winning sure would be sweet.

Inspired by a recent contest that featured a Maine B&B as the prize for writing the best essay, a realtor in northern California has decided to cook up a contest of her own.

Instead of an essay, however, the contest will be determined by who submits the best dessert recipe. And the prize will be a 1906 four-bedroom, two-bathroom, 2,267-square-foot Craftsman home in Jackson, Calif. It was purchased last fall for $239,000, and after an extensive renovation is currently valued at $390,000.

The details of the unusual arrangement are spelled out at HomeRecipeContest.com. Submissions must include (of course) an original dessert recipe, along with a $100 entry fee, payable only by cashier’s check or money order.

Erin Allard, the 26-year-old real estate agent at Rockford Investments who came up with the contest idea, told the Contra Costa Times that she is “deeply passionate about improving housing,” and apparently also quite passionate about baking and desserts. The “Jackson market is small and rural, it typically takes many months to sell a home,” she said of her motivations to award the home as a contest prize. “I figured if I was going to have to wait awhile, I wanted to do something fun to ‘sell’ the house in the meantime.”

Speaking with the Daily Mail Online, Allard explained that the judge’s panel will consist of pastry chefs, food bloggers, and home bakers, who will give each dessert submission up to 100 points based on how unique it is, as well as accessibility, creativity, crowd appeal, and the clarity of the instructions. “I weighted ‘inspirational’ and ‘accessible’ more strongly to encourage entries that would be easy and fun to make for chefs of all experience levels,” said Allard.

There’s more than one reason Allard’s real estate company wants to encourage as many entries as possible. The publicity can only help the fledgling business along. What’s more, it’s not like the home is simply being given away. The more entries, the more entry fees are collected. The Maine inn contest planned on getting 7,500 submissions at $125 apiece, which would total $900,000. It’s conceivable that by the time submissions for the California home contest are cut off on September 7, Rockford Investments could collect more in entry fees than the home is worth.

Your browser is out of date. Please update your browser at http://update.microsoft.com