MONEY First-Time Dad

Why I’ll Send My Infant Son to College Before I Buy a House

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Luke Tepper Taylor Tepper

With housing so expensive, I figure my young family will be renting for foreseeable future. The latest on being a new dad, a Millennial, and (pretty) broke.

Mrs. Tepper and I are 28 years old, and our son is four months. Over the past year, Luke has acquired an $800 stroller, a $250 crib, and a $50 humidifier. (Before you make fun, understand that he constantly bore a stuffy morning nose, and what kind of monster wouldn’t spend a measly $50 to help his only son sleep soundly?!)

We’ve begun funding Luke’s New York 529 college savings account in order to spot his entire higher education bill (provided he goes to a state school), and we, of course, will pay his medical expenses for the next 26 years.

But there is one thing that we will not buy him—a house. In all likelihood (which means unless we win the lottery, or someone gives us a hundred thousand dollars), we will put our son through college before we buy our family a home.

Which, when you think about it, is strange. Last year we earned almost $110,000 and that will (hopefully) increase rapidly as we enter our career primes. We hardly travel (much to our chagrin) and have a reasonable $300 monthly car payment. Mrs. Tepper really only shops for (baby) clothes on sale, online, or both, and my main indulgence is a bimonthly $45 bottle of Templeton rye whiskey.

Why then will we be renters, at least until we’re in our fifties?

Reason #1: It’s (Really) Hard to Save

We live in a two-bedroom apartment in Brooklyn with cheap wood cabinets and a kind of white plaster countertop that stains as easily as a peach bruises. In the afternoon it often takes five minutes for the water to go from warm to hot. We don’t have a washing machine—neither does our building, which was built during the Hoover administration—and I do our dishes by hand because we don’t have a dishwasher.

Next year our rent will be $2,020 (and that doesn’t include gas, electricity, cable, Internet, or whiskey).

Eventually we’ll decamp for the ‘burbs for the sake of space and sanity, but with that move comes higher mass transit costs (an $1,800 yearly increase) and more house to heat and furnish and maintain.

The Dave Ramsey in me says I should find more ways to cut spending: no more occasional brunches or flights to Florida. (Luke can meet his grandparents on Skype!) But those hypothetical savings are peanuts in the grand scheme of things, and the me that wants to stay married shuts Dave Ramsey up.

Read: Half of Millennials Will Ask Mom and Dad to Help Them Buy a Home

Reason #2: Student Loans

In order to gain our cushy, 50-hour-a-week jobs, both Mrs. Tepper and I attended (public) graduate school. That came on top of studying at New York University for four years and (seemingly) $550,000,000.

So we have loans. Lots of them. (I alone owe almost $60,000.) Obviously we are not the only ones tied up in the web of student loan bills. People like me now owe almost $1.1 trillion, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, or about twice as much as in 2008, when my wife and I graduated college.

I’m now paying $350 a month—and that’s mostly interest.

Reason #3: Houses Are Expensive

In New York City, the median home price is $369,000, and that comes with a median down payment of $74,000, per a recent Redfin report. In Nassau County, which is out on Long Island, you need to put $88,000 down.

Needless to say, we don’t have that kind of money, nor will we anytime soon.

And that–expensive rent, student loans, and homes—doesn’t even take into account the $1,500 a month gorilla in the room (child care) or, you know, Christmas presents.

Look, there are worse things than not buying a house (like not having a job or being a Dallas Cowboys fan.) We have a happy, healthy family, with sunny days ahead, and maybe we’ll find a way to save a buck or two over the years.

But not that long ago, it took only one middle class job in the family to afford a home. Now, according to the Redfin report and my life, two doesn’t cut it. When the prospect of owning the roof over your family’s head is so far gone, is it really that crazy to buy a $50 humidifier for your son?

MORE: Why Does My One Baby Need Two of Everything?

MORE: How Can Child Care Cost as Much as Rent?

 

MONEY Ask the Expert

How Do I Get Rid of My High-Interest Second Mortgage?

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Robert A. Di Ieso, Jr.

Q: I have a $23,000 second mortgage with a high interest rate—8.25%. Should I refinance both my mortgages into one to save money, and at what term? — Jim Davis, Weymouth, MA

A: One of the most important factors in deciding whether to refinance is how long you plan to stay in the home, says Shant Banosian, an executive at lender Guaranteed Rate. The longer you stay, the more you will benefit from any savings from a lower rate. You told us that you are hoping to sell your two-bedroom townhouse in about 18 months so you can move your family of four into a larger home.

You’d like to boost your home equity so you can walk away from your sale with enough money for a nice down payment. Given your time frame, Banosian says it would be a mistake to refinance into a shorter-term mortgage that would significantly raise the monthly payment. Instead, he says, open a home equity line of credit and use that to pay off the second mortgage. HELOC rates average 4.63%, according to Bankrate, and it costs very little to open one, Banosian says. “They’d cut their payment in half.” You could then apply those savings (about $130, you said) to your principal balance.

Related: Should I Refinance So I Can Stop Paying Mortgage Insurance?

 

MONEY mortgages

Good Luck Getting a Mortgage on a Condo. Here’s What You Need to Know

There's a reason why most condo sales are in cash. It's harder to get a mortgage for a condo than a home. Even if you do, you'll pay more.

Home buyers are paying with cash more than ever. In the first quarter, 43% of home sales used cash, according to RealtyTrac, the highest level since the data firm began tracking this three years ago.

Single-family homes get most of the spotlight, perfectly appropriate given the role that well-funded investors converting foreclosed homes into rentals played in rescuing the housing market.

Related: When Wall Street Becomes a Landlord

But cash really rules when it comes to condos. More than half – 56% – of all condo sales were for cash in the first quarter versus 38% for homes, RealtyTrac says.

In Florida and Nevada, that percentage leaps to over 80%, according to analyst Thomas Vitlo of CoreLogic. Other states with high shares of condo cash sales, says CoreLogic:

State Condo Cash Sales
Florida 81.2%
Nevada 80.5%
New York 79.5%
Alabama 75.7%
Arizona 65.7%

 

Those high figures surely reflect investor interest in condos as good rental properties (and investors pay cash): Generally lower-priced than homes, they also require less maintenance. And, condos often are the home of choice for downsizing Baby Boomers who are able to pay cash out of the sale proceeds of their last home.

Related: I Have $1 Million and I Couldn’t Get a Mortgage

The biggest factor, though, is availability of credit. As Vitlo explains, before the recession getting a mortgage to buy a condo was not a problem. You can see that in the numbers: Between 2000 and 2007, the average percentage of condos bought with cash in Florida and Nevada was 22.9% and 35.4%.

Tighter lending standards have made getting a condo loan incredibly difficult and not just because fewer people make enough money to qualify. The condo development itself might not qualify, under Federal Housing Administration rules put in place after the recession.

For borrowers to obtain FHA mortgages, the community has to pass an approval process documenting healthy finances, insurance, among other things. As of late May, 10,020 condo developments had received approval – a fraction of the roughly 158,000 communities around the U.S.

Condos are a “special hell,” says Keith Gumbinger of HSH Mortgage, because the buyer isn’t the only person responsible for property’s future condition—so is the association and even other tenants.

Find out whether your condo is approved here.

FHA mortgages generally allow lower down payments than conventional loans (as low as 3.5%) with lower credit score requirements. So these rules are particularly problematic for first-time buyers, for whom condos provide a reasonably priced housing option, says Tim Lucas, editor of My Mortgage Insider.

What you need to know:

Cash, alas, is actually king. If you can cough up the cash, you may be able to negotiate a better deal because sellers don’t have to worry about financing falling through, either because you don’t qualify for the mortgage or the unit doesn’t appraise. Cash also means a faster closing time.

You’ll pay more. Because condos have historically higher default rates than homes, lenders will charge extra, Lucas says. That may be in the form of a fee – typically .75% of the loan amount – or a higher interest rate, say, 4.375% instead of 4.25%. You may avoid the charge if you can make a big down payment, above 25%.

Where you live matters too. No wonder everyone’s paying cash in Florida and Nevada. Many lenders charge extra for condos in those states. Plaza Home Mortgage, for example, charges a fee of 0.375% of the loan amount there; American Financial Resources charges 0.15% in nine states, including Georgia, Louisiana, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Utah.

There’s even more documents required. In addition to all that paperwork you have to fill out, the condo association will have to fill out a questionnaire asking for info such as “are there lawsuits pending?” The association also will have to supply a budget.

If you’re military, go VA. The Veterans Administration offers a zero down loan even on a condo. The condo developments also have to be approved in advance, though there’s a longer list than the FHA, Lucas says.

MONEY real estate

Retiring? Stay or Go, You’ve Got Moves to Make

Housing accounts for the biggest part of your costs in retirement. So spend wisely.

Once you start looking at retirement over a horizon of five years or so, it’s time to start thinking about how you’ll manage your biggest single asset: your home.Whether you intend to stay put or move to that lake cottage, keeping real estate costs under control is key to your security.

Those costs may be larger than you think. On average, housing makes up one-third of spending for those ages 54 to 74—the largest single category. More than half of Americans ages 55 to 64 are carrying mortgages, higher than in previous generations. “Paying mortgage debt into retirement reduces your lifetime wealth and limits your spending,” says Pam Villarreal, a senior fellow at the National Center for Policy Analysis.

Staying in your house, with your mortgage paid, doesn’t free you from making decisions. Few pre-­retirees think about adapting their homes for retirement living. “It’s hard for active people in their fifties or sixties to think about what they might want 15 years from now,” says Bonnie Sewell, a financial adviser in Leesburg, Va.  Should you end up not being able to get around easily, though, you’ll have fewer choices and less ability to make them. So take action now:

Moving? Don’t take your mortgage with you. Nearly 30% of boomers plan to relocate when they retire, according to a new AARP survey. Many of them are seeking to cut costs by moving to a lower-tax state. Carry a mortgage, however, and this strategy may not have a big impact on your cash flow, as a recent analysis by Villarreal found. Mortgage debt can easily erode the benefits of lower taxes. Run your own numbers at whynotmove.org.

Cash flow

Sure, if you’ve got plenty of cash, mortgage payments may not seem like an issue. But there’s security, and flexibility, in not carrying debt. “Many of my clients see having no mortgage payments as a way of freeing up cash for future health care costs,” says Philadelphia financial planner Cathy Seeber.

If you plan to stay, renovate now. By your late fifties, your kids are probably out of the house, and the tuition bills are behind you—or nearly so. Time to renovate? Use this opportunity to make a few additional changes that will let you stay in your home for the next couple of decades. “The last thing you want to do in your seventies or eighties is manage a major rehab in an emergency,” says Sewell.

If you have a house with stairs, make sure you can live on one floor if necessary, says Mary Jo Peterson, a design consultant in Brookfield, Conn.  That may mean expanding a powder room to a full bath. You can also add design touches that appeal to people of all ages—a sloped ­entrance-walk instead of steps is more convenient for moms with strollers and college students dragging suitcases, not just the elderly. Find more ideas at aarp.org/­livable-communities, and your family home can last for generations.

 

MONEY

30-year Mortgage Rates Flat This Week

Average mortgage rates edged up a hair to 4.14% with an average 0.5 points from last week’s 4.12%, according to Freddie Mac data. That’s up from 3.91% a year ago.

Related: Which Mortgage is Right for Me?

The rate on the average 15-year mortgage was 3.23% with 0.5 points, up from 3.03% a year ago. For adjustable-rate mortgages, the rate on a five-year ARM averaged 2.93% this week with a 0.4 point and a one-year ARM averaged 2.40% with a 0.4 point.

MortgageRates060514
Source: Freddie Mac survey.

 

 

MONEY refinancing

Should I Refinance So I Can Stop Paying Mortgage Insurance?

Q: My home value has gone up since I bought in 2012. Should I refinance and pay about $4,000 in closing costs to eliminate my private mortgage insurance? — Joi Marquez, Las Vegas

A: When considering a refinance, a crucial calculation is your breakeven point: When will the interest savings on your new loan offset the costs of refinancing, and will you stay in your home long enough to benefit?

You told us you are now paying $584 a month on your 4.75% 30-year mortgage, which includes around $80 in private mortgage insurance charged because you didn’t put 20% down. If you refinance your $75,000 balance into a 5/1 adjustable-rate mortgage at 3.75% you’ll save about $46 per month. At that rate, given the closing costs, it would take you around seven years to break even.

Doesn’t sound like a good deal—except that you’ll also eliminate the $80 monthly FHA private mortgage insurance (PMI) payment, which you can’t otherwise drop for another two years.

Mortgage broker Dan Green, who blogs at TheMortgageReports.com, says putting the $126 savings back into principal will boost your breakeven point and ultimately save you in interest payments. And, PMI is no longer tax-deductible, another incentive to get rid of it, he says.

Keep in mind that by choosing an adjustable-rate mortgage over your current fixed, you take the risk that after five years your rate will reset higher, negating savings.

Use Bankrate’s refinancing calculator to help compare mortgage costs and its mortgage calculator to determine the impact of extra principal payments.

TIME real estate

Nearly 10 Million Mortgaged Homes are Still Underwater

Mortgage Bankers Association To Release Weekly Mortgage Market Index June 12
A house for sale in LaSalle, Ill., June 7, 2013. Daniel Acker—Bloomberg /Getty Images

A new reports estimates some 18% of mortgaged homeowners are stuck with homes worth less than their debt, and that's an improvement over previous quarters

A collapse in housing prices has trapped nearly 10 million U.S. homeowners in homes worth less than their mortgages, according to a new report by real-estate price tracking website, Zillow.

The report estimates that in the first quarter of 2014, 18.8% of mortgaged homeowners were stuck in homes that would sell at a loss. That marks an improvement over the final quarter of last year when 19.4% of home mortgages were underwater and a significant improvement over the 2012 high of 31.4% — but still leaves nearly 10 million households struggling in negative equity.

The report estimates that another 10 million homeowners have 20% or less equity on their homes, known as “effective negative equity” as homeowners can’t draw enough home equity to swallow the costs of selling the home and moving upmarket. Many home owners rely on home equity to fund the broker’s fees and meet the next home’s down payment.

Underwater borrowers threaten to leave a lingering chill in the housing market, the study’s authors concluded. “The unfortunate reality is that housing markets look to be swimming with underwater borrowers for years to come,” said Zillow Chief Economist Dr. Stan Humphries.

MONEY buying a home

Countdown to Buying Your First Home: Our Checklist

Get ready for one of the biggest financial moves you'll ever make: Buying your first home.

First-time home buyers have it tough. The supply of homes for sale is tight, and lenders are tightfisted.

Student debt, at an all-time high of nearly $30,000 per grad, is getting in the way of saving for a down payment, says David Stevens, president and CEO of the Mortgage Bankers Association. But it’s a great time to get your foot in the door.

“Interest rates remain the envy of even your grandparents,” says Keith Gumbinger, vice president of mortgage publisher HSH.com. First, make your finances sparkle.

THE TURNING-POINT CHECKLIST

12 months in advance

Make sure the time is right. Use Trulia.com’s rent or buy calculator to see if you’d really come out ahead, based on loan rates, taxes, and where rents and prices are headed in your area. Nationwide it’s 38% cheaper buying vs. renting.

Clean up your act. Devote this year to saving money and paying down debt. You’ll need at least 3.5% down for an FHA loan, or 10% to 20% for a conventional mortgage. Lenders also like to see job stability, so settle in for now.

Learn what you like. When a home catches your eye—a listing, say, or a photo—pin it to a board on Pinterest. Or try Swipe, a new app from the site Doorsteps, which lets you browse listing photos and mark them pass or save.

Six months out

Look better to lenders. To boost your credit score, order your free credit reports at annualcreditreport.com and fix any mistakes. Pay bills on time, chip away at credit card balances, avoid new debt, and don’t close any accounts or apply for new credit. The average credit score for approved mortgage applicants is 755.

Figure out what you can buy. Use an online calculator like the one at Zillow.com to estimate how much house you can afford based on your income, savings, and debts. That’ll help you research homes and drill down on costs.

Forecast future bills. With an idea of how big a house you can buy, you can do a more detailed budget. Scan listings for property taxes on homes you like. Get a homeowners insurance quote at Insweb.com. Call local utility companies for the typical bills. And tack on 1% of the home’s value for yearly maintenance.

Related: Baby on the Way? Time to Make a Budget.

Three months out

Pick your loan. Fixed mortgage rates, now 4.4%, may edge up to 5% this year, forecasts HSH.com. If you are confident this is a starter home, you can save with a 7/1 adjustable-rate loan, now 3.5%. The risk: You end up staying longer than seven years and rates rise sharply. Most—92% of mortgage borrowers—opt for fixed-rate loans.

Prove you’re a serious shopper. Based on your income and credit, a bank will give you a mortgage pre-qualification. “It’s the No. 1 thing you want in your back pocket when you go shopping,” says Svenja Gudell, an economist with Zillow.

Even better in a hot market: Pay a few hundred to go through underwriting upfront.

Find a guide. Look for a realtor who has worked in the neighborhood where you hope to live. And in a tight market like today’s, ask candidates what their strategies are for unearthing listings and handling potential bidding wars.

MONEY

Reverse Mortgage: Is It Too Risky?

Considering a reverse mortgage to drum up retirement cash? Don't tap your home's equity too hard. photo: adam voorhes

If you’re 62 or older, you’ve probably started getting reverse-mortgage solicitations in the mail, and it’s hard to miss the aging actors singing the loans’ praises on TV (hey, it’s the Fonz!).

The pitch may sound appealing, especially if you’re among the 83% of boomers who plan to stay in their home through retirement: Tap your home’s equity now and receive a monthly payment, line of credit, or lump sum, regardless of your credit score or income.

The mortgage will start accruing interest immediately, but you won’t need to pay back a dime until you move out or die — at which point you or your heirs must repay the bank in full.

Indeed, reverse mortgages can be a good option for seniors age 70 or older who are committed to staying in their homes and don’t have the savings to cover their expenses, says elder-law attorney Janet Colliton of West Chester, Pa.

However, she adds that recent trends are making the loans a riskier proposition. For one, borrowers are younger: Last year 47% were in their sixties, more than double the percentage from 2001. A growing number (69%) are also taking their payout in a lump sum rather than a steady stream. And reports say predatory lenders have been pushing these mortgages on folks who can’t afford them.

The result: Borrowers who take the loan too soon, or spend the payout too quickly, could end up without a source of equity to fall back on — and might even lose their homes.

If you or someone you love is thinking about a reverse mortgage, consider these questions. If you answer yes to even one, this type of loan is probably the wrong option for you.

Are you in your sixties?

You want to put off a reverse mortgage as long as possible. The amount you can borrow is based on the current interest rate (you can borrow more when it’s lower), your home equity, and the age of the younger spouse. The older he or she is, the more you get.

On a $300,000 house with a $100,000 mortgage, for instance, a 75-year-old might receive a $574 monthly payment, while a 65-year-old would get just $411. (See reversemortgage.org for a calculator.)

Related: Your Pension: Lump Sum or Lifetime Payments?

Younger borrowers also face more years of compound interest, which can quickly ratchet up the amount you owe.

There’s also a greater chance that you’ll run into unexpected medical bills or other expenses as you age, sapping your payout more quickly than you anticipated.

Will the costs be more than you can afford?

Reverse mortgages are a notoriously expensive way to tap equity.

For that borrower with the $300,000 home, fees would include $6,000 in upfront mortgage insurance, a $2,500 origination fee, and about $3,400 in traditional closing costs — and that’s before you get to the monthly mortgage insurance premium of 1.25% of the loan balance.

Plus, you’ll still need to cover regular housing expenses such as taxes and maintenance.

Don’t commit to the loan until you’ve met with an independent financial adviser to go over the total cost and discuss alternatives, says Steve Weisman, author of A Guide to Elder Planning.

Is there a better option?

Before turning to a reverse mortgage, homeowners should explore bolstering their finances by downsizing or working longer.

Those with good credit might also consider a traditional refinance or a home-equity line of credit (HELOC), where you draw only the funds you need and pay off interest as you go, says Waterford, Conn., financial planner Nancy Butler.

It’s also a good idea to get your heirs involved — particularly since they’ll be responsible for paying off (or selling your house to pay off) the loan after your death. They may be able to provide a private reverse mortgage or become a part owner of the house now.

Ultimately, people should think very carefully before draining their home equity, says Margot Saunders, counsel at the National Consumer Law Center: “Once it’s gone, it’s gone.”

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