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How to Perform a Landlord or Realtor Background Check

You’ve found the perfect apartment or home and you love the neighborhood. The application has been approved, and you’re ready to sign as soon as the papers show up. Renting or purchasing a new home is an exciting experience, but don’t rush into the process because you’ve found the perfect home. Taking your time is essential to getting the best deal, and starting your research process with the landlord or realtor is the best way to go.

 

How much do you know about your soon-to-be landlord, management company, or real estate firm? A bad landlord can make or break a living experience, so it is essential to learn as much as you can about their building(s). Here are a few easy ways to check your real estate professional’s reputation before signing any documents.

 

Utilize search engines. A simple Google search of your landlord’s or realtor’s name, as well as the property address, will provide quite a bit of information. If previous tenants and clients have had a bad experience, they’ll likely post about it somewhere online. Check review sites like Yelp.

 

Search public records. Property information is often available via local government agencies, and you’re usually able to check for free. Your county courthouse should have ownership records searchable by address, so you can find out if your landlord owns the property directly or if they are acting in place of another professional. You can also search for code violations, foreclosure proceedings, evictions, and small claims court settlements—all of which should be red flags.

 

Get to know your future neighbors. If you’re moving into an apartment complex with multiple units (or a new development community), take a few minutes to walk around the grounds. If you see any other tenants or homeowners out and about, ask them about what it’s like to live in the facility. Be sure to ask how long they’ve lived there and how complaints are often handled.

Does Your Neighbors’ Age Affect Your Home Value?

Understanding the ages of the people around your home is an excellent way to begin assessing property value. Here’s how it works; jobs have caused rapid outmigration in small towns across America. Young, working-age people are buying housing in popular places to find better, more fulfilling, and higher-paying jobs. If you move to San Francisco to work in tech, you’ll be close to great tech companies, but you’ll have an incredibly difficult time finding housing.

 

The majority of the population in growing, high-industry areas are between 20- and 64-years-old. Places that have been abandoned by outmigration, then, skew 65-years-old or older. Essentially, wherever young, working-age people live, housing is in higher demand—and therefore less affordable. The highest concentration of working-age people is in San Francisco County. Here, the median home value is a whopping $1,359,000 (compared to the national median of just $217,300). One must only acquire an age demographic map to get an understanding of their home value.

 

There does, however, seem to be one place where this rule does not apply: The Sun Belt. Retirees move to warm, sunny, beautiful locations to live life in luxury, but their presence does not appear to disrupt home values. It appears that these locations, often coastal areas with balmy weather, offer enough amenities to attract residents regardless of age.

 

If you live in one of these low-valued places, don’t fret—there appears to be a new trend sweeping the real estate market. Young people are beginning to rely more on the gig economy and freelance work, which introduces a greater range of flexibility. Rather than moving to urban hubs in search of industry, individuals can now move to cheap, underdeveloped parts of the country and buy large homes for next to nothing. As the trend continues, we expect home values to rise while the median age dips.

 

What You Need to Know About the Fair Housing Act

As moving season winds down, we would like to take a moment to review one of the most important real estate laws in existence. The Fair Housing Act, landmark legislation that passed 50 years ago, is an essential part of renting and buying real estate in the United States. If you searched for a new home this summer, you likely saw the Equal Housing Opportunity logo on a landlord’s, real estate agent’s, or lender’s paperwork. This federal law, however, is more than just a logo.

 

Also known as the Civil Rights Act of 1968, the Fair Housing Act was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson just days after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. The act itself prohibits housing discrimination based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, disability, and familiar status. At the time when the act was signed, overt housing discrimination was a massive problem throughout the country. The segregation of whole neighbors and the outright rejection of qualified renters based on race made several parts of the country inaccessible to people of color.

 

Though the act passed, discrimination in the housing market continues to be an unfortunate reality. According to the National Fair Housing Alliance, over 25,000 housing discrimination complaints were filed in 2017. Over half of the complaints were based on disability, while around 20 percent were based on race. However, these numbers reflect only the reported incidents. The NFHA estimates that over 4 million instances of housing discrimination occur annually.

 

So, what does housing discrimination look like? Here are a few examples of discrimination people in protected classes have encountered.

  • A real estate agent tries to “steer” a buyer away from a certain neighborhood
  • A landlord tries to avoid renting to someone by saying the unit has been rented
  • A property management company refuses to rent to a family with children
  • A landlord evicts a person of color for a reason they wouldn’t evict a white tenant for
  • A landlord refuses to make reasonable accommodations for a tenant who is disabled.

 

If you have been discriminated against, you can take action by filing a complaint with the Department of Housing and Urban Development. You can also file a complaint with local housing resources, which can be found through the NFHA.

Pay Off the Mortgage Before Retirement?

Until recently, financial planners advocated for staving off retirement until individuals were able to pay off their mortgages. However, the tide is turning, and that same conclusion may not be the best choice for all individuals. Most experts will tell you to extinguish the mortgage before you retire, as you will be on a fixed income with reduced cash flow. The logic behind this is that you’ll need to budget harder to ensure you have cash available for essential living expenses. Additionally, you’ll likely need to pay for additional Medicare as you age. Additionally, some people fear losing their homes due to the inability to keep up with mortgage payments. This is the last thing a retired person will want to deal with.

 

However, times are changing, and many homeowners are carrying mortgage debt well into their 70s and 80s. In the 1980s and 1990s, it was common to pay off a mortgage in full before retirement. However, many people can’t afford to pay off the entire mortgage before they reach retirement age, often pushing retirement off in order to continue making mortgage payments.

 

This reality has created a trend shift. Fewer than half of all Baby Boomers are mortgage-free in retirement. A recent survey from American Financing found that 44% of 60- to 70-year-old homeowners will retire while still holding a mortgage. Additionally, with rising mortgage rates, future generations of homeowners will be facing the same problem. Increased household debt and the prevalence of low-down payment mortgages will continue to push payments well into retirement.

 

If you’ve reached retirement age and still have a few years left on your mortgage, you should not rush the repayment process. This could result in a lack of resources down the line, which can be dangerous in retirement. Additionally, many current homeowners have relatively low mortgage rates, meaning monthly payments may not be a huge burden in retirement. Putting money into an illiquid asset later in life may not be very strategic; if your money is tied up in a property, you may experience additional financial burden.

 

In the end, the decision to pay off your mortgage before retirement is entirely personal. Individuals should consider their retirement packages, savings, and monthly payments before acting.

 

The Implications of High Mortgage Rates

Mortgage interest rates are rising steadily, and they are only projected to increase for the next four years. Freddie Mac reported that rates have hit their highest levels since 2011, but anything below 6% is still considered to be “good.” However, this is not necessarily a mortgage doomsday. Interpreting the implications of rising mortgage rates can be difficult, but we’re here to help.

 

While we may no longer have lifetime low home loan interest rates, we still have historically excellent rates. Rates hit 30-year fixed all-time lows in November of 2012, when mortgage rates bottomed out at 3.31%. In 1981, the average rate was almost 17%–an almost unthinkable figure for most current homeowners. However, in the early 1980s, the Federal Reserve was fighting inflation, and these high rates reflect that battle.

 

When it comes to mortgage rates, it’s all about relativity. If you experience something better, such as record lows, it’s hard to see dramatic increases—even if those increases are still lower than most yearly averages. There’s a difference between, “Your mortgage will cost around $100 more every month” and “We currently have the highest rate in over four years.” If you already have a mortgage, there is no need to panic; simply refine your budget and continue making your payments.

 

Going forward, it is important for potential homeowners to grow accustomed to higher mortgage rates. There will, of course, be periods of relief, but rates will continue to rise over time. Anticipate pullbacks along the way to jump on short falls, but use this as an opportunity to better budget and curb the cost of your potential home. Use a mortgage calculator to understand exactly how much you can afford to spend on a house, then only look for homes within your budget. Similarly, select the type of mortgage you’d like to have before jumping into a sale. This will allow you to better understand the costs and repayment process.

 

Over time, current and potential homeowners will adjust their expectations and learn to accept higher rates. In most cases, especially for those still paying off homes from the 1980s, we might even come to understand that it could, in fact, be a lot worse.

 

 

What Does the Builder’s Warranty Cover?

Buyers of newly-built homes are often interested in warranties. Known as a “builder’s warranty,” this agreement promises that the builder will repair or replace certain elements of a home if things go awry. Some of these warranties may be backed by the builder directly, while others are purchased by builders from independent companies that may assume responsibility for specific claims. In some cases, a homeowner will purchase coverage from a third-party warranty company as a way to supplement coverage provided by the builder.

 

Before investing in this type of warranty, it is essential to understand what’s covered and what is not covered. Additionally, you should understand the claims filing process; disputes may arise, and you should prepare to defend yourself if necessary.

 

In the case of newly constructed homes, most warranties will offer limited coverage on factors like workmanship and materials as they relate to components of the home. This may include windows, sliding doors, roofs, plumbing, electrical, and HVAC systems. A warranty will generally provide coverage for one- to two years, but separate components may have their own timelines. The warranty itself will define how and by whom repairs are made.

 

So, what’s not included? Warranties will not cover household appliances, and they rarely cover tile and drywall cracks and irrigation systems. Most builder’s warranties exclude expenses that may be incurred as a result of the repair, such as household storage.

 

However, you should understand that all warranties are different. Before you close on a new home purchase, ask your builder or third-party warranty provider the following questions.

 

  1. What does the warranty cover?
  2. What is not covered by the warranty?
  3. What is the claim process?
  4. What is the extent of your liability?
  5. Where are some of your previous projects so I can speak with owners there?

 

Additionally, before signing, check with your state’s Attorney General Office or contractor licensing board to ensure your builder is offering all warranties they are required to provide.