Thinking of Refinancing? Do It Now to Avoid Fees

As the U.S. slowly returns to work, analysts are warning of another possible wave of layoffs as businesses restructure in a post-coronavirus economy. You may find yourself or a loved one in financial difficulty — even if it’s a temporary situation.

In this case, when household budgets are stretched to the maximum, you have the option of requesting forbearance which can temporarily postpone your mortgage payments and those will be tacked on to the end of your mortgage term. Don’t mistake forbearance for debt

If you’ve been patiently waiting to refinance at the lowest possible rate, you should do it right now before they go up in December.

The government has taken a major COVID hit and it intends to recoup any lost funds by imposing a 0.5% new mortgage refinancing fee on December 1. If half a percent doesn’t seem like much, let’s put it in perspective: the average U.S. homeowner will pay, on average, $1400 for that bump.

Rates haven’t been this low since the 1970s (yes, 50 years ago). While no one can predict the future, it’s not a bad bet that today’s rates through November 30th could be the lowest you’ll see for a very long time.

Yes, it’s a short window, but it could be worse. The Adverse Market Refinance Fee was slated to begin in September, but industry pushback forced the FHFA to hold off until December. Consider this your window of opportunity.

Here are the rates right now (source: Freddie Mac)

If you’ve been waiting for the right time, the time is now. Get in touch and let’s look at your options. If you hadn’t considered a refinance but would like to discuss the possibility, please call me at 617-965-1236. I have been very busy helping homeowners save money and I’d love to do the same for you.

Ready to buy a new home or refinance the one you own? Please get in touch and I’ll be happy to answer your questions and help guide you through the process. I look forward to speaking with you.


Website Refresh!

One thing we’ve learned during the pandemic is to take a closer look at our marketing.

If it’s been a few years since you’ve updated your website you may find that it looks and feels dated. There may be some broken links, an outdated logo, and a need to add or delete services.

I love the new and improved Westchester Mortgage. It fits with my style and looks like the kinds of clients I love to help.

Have a look and let me know what you think! I value your opinion.

By the way, if you’d like a referral to my trusted marketing team, send an email and I’ll put you in touch with the best people I know to help you market your business.


September’s Home Improver: White Vinegar: The All-Purpose Cleaning Solution

Having company this weekend and need to clean in a hurry? No time to shop for products? Grab some white vinegar and get cleaning!

As a non-toxic, natural cleaning agent, white vinegar is great for little jobs where either commercial cleaning products don’t exist, or they contain chemicals that may be less eco-friendly or less healthy for a house with small children and pets. Always remember, as with any cleaning agent, do a spot test on fabrics.

1. Kitchen. Using equal parts water and vinegar, clean the inside of your refrigerator. You can even leave a bottle of solution in the door when you’re done. To clean your microwave, place a half cup each of water and vinegar in a glass bowl and run the microwave for 3 minutes. Then simply wipe away and greasy buildup with ease.

2. Bathroom. When paired with baking soda, you can remove all the nasty stains and odors from around the toilet and tub. It won’t have a negative effect on tiles, grout, and metals the way bleach does.

3. Bedroom. Mix white vinegar, rubbing alcohol, and some tea tree oil in a spray bottle. Lightly spritz on your mattress to help combat dust mites, mildew, and general odors. For a deeper clean, follow with a dusting of baking soda. Let dry, then vacuum the mattress.

 

Is Forbearance a Good Option or a Re-fi Trap?

As the U.S. slowly returns to work, analysts are warning of another possible wave of layoffs as businesses restructure in a post-coronavirus economy. You may find yourself or a loved one in financial difficulty — even if it’s a temporary situation.

In this case, when household budgets are stretched to the maximum, you have the option of requesting forbearance which can temporarily postpone your mortgage payments and those will be tacked on to the end of your mortgage term. Don’t mistake forbearance for debt forgiveness.

This may seem like a godsend in difficult times – and it can be – but read on to learn about how being granted forbearance can work against you.

As of this past Monday, nearly 4.3 million homeowners were in forbearance plans.

The Massachusetts Division of Banks, in a memo sent in late March, said that “institutions will implement all reasonable and necessary change to provide relief to those adversely impacted borrowers during this state of emergency, and continuing thereafter, as necessary.”

This relief package includes:

  • Forbearing mortgage payments for 60 or more days from their due dates
  • Waiving late payment fees and any online payment fees for a period of 60 days
  • Postponing foreclosures for 60 days
  • Offering borrowers an additional 60-day grace period to complete trial loan modifications, and ensuring that late payments during the COVID-19 pandemic do not affect their ability to obtain permanent loan modifications

While an approved forbearance request can be a much-needed relief in difficult times, it is part of your mortgage history and will remain on your record, though not necessarily in a punitive way.

For more information on COVID-19 assistance, visit the CARES Act government website.

If you are planning to take advantage of a lower rate through a refinance, you should be aware that you may have to get caught up in full before your new loan is approved. So if your three-month forbearance was tacked to the end of your mortgage, you would essentially be undoing the forbearance and paying the months you had skipped in order for your refinance to go through.

Coming up with three three months of mortgage payments may be insurmountable at this time, especially when you opted for forbearance in the first place. In addition, you may need to show where the funds came from to cover the months of forbearance. Whether you borrowed the money or if it was gifted to you, the banks may choose to decline the refinance if they conclude that you’re still too deep in financial difficulty or uncertainty.

If you would like to discuss financial options, please call me at 617-965-1236.

Ready to buy a new home or refinance the one you own? Please get in touch and I’ll be happy to answer your questions and help guide you through the process. I look forward to speaking with you.


Happy Juneteenth!

Juneteenth is a holiday celebrated annually in almost every state on June 19 and often through the weekend. Its name is a portmanteau (combination) of the date.

Although the Emancipation Proclamation had formally freed enslaved people almost two-and-a-half years earlier, Texas was the most remote of the slave-states, with a low presence of Union troops, so enforcement of the proclamation had been slow and inconsistent. It finally came on June 19, 1865 in Galveston, Texas.

In 1980, Texas became the first state to recognize Juneteenth as a state holiday. In 2020, all but three states observe it as a state holiday.

In 2007, Massachusetts was the 25th state to recognize Juneteenth as a state holiday and as recognition of this event gains momentum, it is possible that Juneteenth could become a federal holiday in a few years.


June’s Home Improver: The Best Toilet Paper for Septic Systems

We are in our third month of COVID-19 and even though many are returning to regular day-to-day activities, one thing remains constant: toilet paper is still hard to find and many continue to hoard it. Because of the scarcity you may have gladly accepted whatever was on the supermarket’s shelves, but that could be an issue if your home has a septic system.

Not all toilet paper is the same, and those differences could create issues with your septic system. Your best bets are products that are biodegradable, made from recycled paper, and, of course, septic-safe. Here are the brands offering the best results for problem-free flushing. You may be surprised (and relieved) to see some familiar brands.

  1. Scott – Rapid Dissolving Toilet Paper
  2. Angel Soft
  3. Quilted Northern Regular or Ultra Plush
  4. Cottonelle Ultra Comfort Care
  5. Amazon Brand – Presto! Ultra Soft
  6. Firebelly Outfitters Brand – RV Toilet Paper
  7. Whole Foods Brand – Seventh Generation Toilet Paper

These papers are fast-dissolving and that includes multi-ply and quilted. Other bands may seem thinner, but that does not guarantee their ability to dissolve quickly. If your store is out of your favorite brand, consider one of the above to keep your septic system safe.

 

Case Study: Help with Refinancing

The Situation:

Julie is a divorced mom with a teenager at home. Her finances were perilously low, and she needed help. A friend of hers who had worked with me previously asked Julie to call me to explore her options.

The Challenges:

Julie felt she didn’t have the credit history or sufficient income to refinance and was hesitant to even start. She assumed her application to refinance her home would not be approved.

The Actions:

We had an initial conversation and I gave her suggestions on how to increase her credit scores. (Julie jokingly said “OK, Mom,” when I gave her the list of suggestions.) By her own admission, she was dragging her feet during the process and I encouraged her to continue. She felt completely overwhelmed and frozen from taking action. I helped organize her finances and get her paperwork in order to put the plan in motion. She needed a Marie Kondo of mortgages to “tidy up” her financials and I acted as her coach. From there, good things started to happen. She got a promotion, she updated and completed her paperwork, and I submitted the mortgage application and documentation.

The Results:

Four months and lots of encouragement later, her new mortgage was approved, closed and funded! Julie said, “Debbie is a life-saver. I could not have done this without her help and guidance. My life continues to improve as my credit score is steadily rising and new opportunities are presenting themselves.

“Thank you, Debbie, for helping me get back on my feet. I appreciate the care you took with me that went beyond anything I had ever expected. You kept me on track and accountable through this whole process. I would recommend Westchester Mortgage to anyone concerned about qualifying for a mortgage or refinance, especially those who need some extra hand-holding during a challenging process.”

Ready to buy a new home or refinance the one you own? Please get in touch and I’ll be happy to answer your questions and help guide you through the process. I look forward to speaking with you.


Happy Leap Year Day!

Just when you thought winter couldn’t possibly drag on further, we’ve got an extra day of February this year.

Here are some Leap Year facts you may not know

  1. Julius Caesar added the first Leap Year Day to his Julian Calendar in 45 BCE. The date was February 24 and in his calendar, February was the last month of the year.
  2. Babies born on Leap Year Day are called “leaplings” and there are approximately 4 million leaplings out in the world.
  3. Famous “leaplings” include Dinah Shore, Dennis Farina, Tony Robbins and Pope Paul III.
  4. The odds of being born on February 29 are just 1 in 1,461.
  5. Leap years are also Summer Olympics years as well as US Presidential election years.

February’s Home Improver: Cleaning a Sewage Spill

Sewage can flood your basement when pipes break or when drains are backed up. Raw sewage can damage your basement and cause severe health problems. If your flooding is significant, please call a professional. For smaller leaks you feel confident in handling yourself, here are a few tips:

  1. Dress appropriately. Wear long pants, a long-sleeved shirt, boots or waders and rubber gloves. No exceptions!
  2. Turn off gas or water lines and keep a window open when possible. This will keep fresh air coming in and air circulating.
  3. Use a hose to rinse the floor and direct water towards the basement drain.
  4. Fill a bucket with a gallon of water and a cup of bleach. Swirl a stiff-bristled brush broom into the mixture. Scrub the walls of the basement and move down toward the floor. Continue saturating the brush broom and scrubbing the basement.
  5. Hose everything down again. Very important to keep going. Rinse off your brush, too.
  6. Repeat step 4. Yes, you have to do it twice! This is non-negotiable, even for minor seepage.
  7. Hose a third and final time. Then turn on fans and use a dehumidifer to help rid the basement of water.

Refinancing? Assess Before You Say Yes

There’s been a recent re-financing boom like we haven’t seen in a few years, when rates dipped to their lowest in decades. Now the fed has dropped rates below 4% and homeowners are considering refinancing now because rates may never be this low again.

Currently the rate for a 30-year fixed mortgage is at 3.94%, which is the lowest it’s been since November of 2016. For perspective, the rate was 4.71% a year ago and 4.20% just four weeks ago.

Seeing this sharp decline makes refinancing very attractive to homeowners, but let’s look at three questions you may want to ask yourself before pulling the trigger on a refinance.

Can you say yes to the following?

  1. With the new proposed rate, will I consistently save $80 or more per month off my current mortgage payment?
  2. Am I in a position to eliminate my mortgage insurance based on the remaining balance of my current mortgage and increased property values?
  3. Will I be able to recoup the cost of this refinance in under two years?

If you said yes to all three, then you’re probably in a strong position to refinance your mortgage. If you answered yes to at least one, get in touch and let’s determine if a refi is right for you.

Ready to buy a new home or refinance the one you own? Please get in touch and I’ll be happy to answer your questions and help guide you through the process. I look forward to speaking with you.


Happy Independence Day!

This year is flying by and I hope you’re all squeezing in a little vacation time, even if you’re just taking a few days off to relax and not think about work for a while.

Many families will be away over the next few weeks. Whether you’ve planned a fun getaway or you’re simply barbecuing in the backyard with friends and family, time away from the daily grind is essential for recharging your body and brain.

If you are afforded vacation time by your employer and don’t take it, you’re doing yourself (and your company) a disservice.

Research consistently shows the health benefits of taking vacation time, like improved productivity, lower stress and better mental health.

So take that vacation (or staycation) and enjoy yourself this summer. You’ve earned it!


June’s Home Improver: Keep Bugs Out of Your Home This Summer

You may have noticed the spring has been particularly rainy and damp this year. You may not have loved it, but the many species of insects thrive on it. That means a summer filled with mosquitoes, ticks, ants, beetles, houseflies, spiders, centipedes and stink bugs.

Those creepy crawlies are bad enough outdoors, but they’re far more annoying when they invade your home. So what can you do to keep those invasive bugs out of your house? Here are a few tips:

  1. Pest control. If you live in a heavily wooded area and you regularly find insects crawling or flying around the house, you may want to call a professional to spray the rooms of your home.
  2. Declutter, clean, vacuum and sweep. Critters love a mess and thrive under boxes, in dark corners and in your carpet. The more you clean, the less chance of infestation.
  3. Seal your doors. The tiniest space in your door is a giant welcome sign to an insect. Head on over to your home improvement center and buy an inexpensive but effective door sweep.
  4. Repair or replace screens. See that tiny hole in your window screen? So do hundreds of creatures flying by and they will make themselves right at home if you don’t take care of it.

Honorable mention: Get some bats! Bats eat insects like people eat potato chips. You can’t have just one. In fact, the average American bat eats up to 1,200 mosquito-sized insects every hour, and each bat usually eats 6,000 to 8,000 insects each night.

When the Best Rate Isn’t the Best Deal

It can be frustrating when anxious homebuyers call to see if I can match a rate from a big bank because they think they are getting the best deal–and in a way they are, at least on paper. But there’s so much more to consider.

When a client calls me and says they heard about a super-low rate on a 15-year fixed loan, they are thinking in the short-term and it’s my job to talk to them about the ramifications of diving into a loan that could potentially cripple their financial future.

This is what separates me from the competition. I’m not afraid to talk people out of a deal that could leave them with mortgage-buyer’s remorse just weeks after they sign the contract.

I don’t believe in assembly line mortgages that get rubber-stamped just because the buyer qualifies for it. Those companies pay little attention to how your long-term financial well-being is addressed.

I believe strongly in the analysis of each homebuyer’s unique situation and then acting as a sounding board for them to find the right programs and consultants to help them make the smartest decision possible. For example, they may need to meet with a CPA or Financial Advisor first.

Walk into a big bank and the starting point is typically, “What can you afford?” They’re starting with their endgame in mind, telling you about the great rate but not necessarily caring if the payment is too high or if they’ve chosen the right program for you.

Buying a home takes time, care and analysis on my part to help you find the best path to secure and pay off your mortgage. Call me at 617-965-1236 to discuss how I can help.

Ready to buy a new home or refinance the one you own? Please get in touch and I’ll be happy to answer your questions and help guide you through the process. I look forward to speaking with you.


Happy 4/20!

That’s the numerical code for marijuana’s high holiday, and millions will be lighting up this afternoon to pay tribute to their favorite weed — for medicinal purposes, of course!

So where did 4/20 (or 4:20) come from? Back in 1971, five high school seniors from San Francisco took a break to take a toke and the code 4:20 soon caught on and “went viral” in the days before things went viral.

My husband, Dr. Kevin Hill, published a book on marijuana and is an expert in his field on the subject. Find out more about it here.


April’s Home Improver: Caulk vs. Grout: What’s the Difference?

There are several choices you must make in life: Democrat or Republican? Cat or Dog? Red Sox or Yankees? But no question confounds the average homeowner more than grout vs. caulk.

You didn’t think they were the same, did you? No worries. It’s a common mistake. While they may look similar, each has a specific function for your tile.

Grout is a kind of cement, and because of its porous properties, water can filter through it. It’s perfect for holding your tiles in place. Unfortunately, it’s less effective at the “joints” where the walls come together and where the walls meet the floor.

Movement happens in all houses. They settle or shift on the foundation. This is what causes those cracks in the grout. Using caulk in these areas is the better solution.

You may have noticed mold and mildew between the tiles and joints. It’s best to scrape it out and start fresh, eliminating grout and using only caulk.

Caulk is flexible and can help absorb movement so it’s the better choice for wall or floor joints. It won’t crack and will keep your tiles work looking newer for a longer period. Remember to apply it smoothly and accurately to avoid uneven lines and drips.

Ice Cream and Mortgage Options

While on our summer vacation, my husband, daughters and I stopped for some ice cream to cool off after enjoying a wonderful day in the hot sun.

“Would you like chocolate or rainbow sprinkles?” My daughter pondered the question for a moment, then asked, “Why can’t I have both — half chocolate and half rainbow?”

Great idea, I thought. Why not have a taste of both options? It costs the same and the server was happy to indulge us. This got me thinking about options and how easy it is to recommend me over the big banks when it comes to financing the home you’ve always wanted but never thought you could afford.

When you go to a bank, their goal is to get you a mortgage. What I have discovered in talking to clients is that they were, in fact, given some options and they did answer some questions. But the options offered by the bank employees are generally pretty basic: 15-year or 30-year mortgage? Adjustable or fixed rate?

When I talk about options, there’s more involved than simply choosing the length and type of mortgage. I get as creative as possible while considering your whole financial picture — past, present and future.

Last year I spoke with a newly divorced mother of three who was interested in buying a summer place. We discussed the option of a cash-out refinance. This is when you take the equity out of your current home to use it for another property-related transaction. It differs from a home equity loan, which is another loan on top of your existing mortgage.

This is an option my client never knew existed and it’s not something typically offered by the big banks. With the cash-out refinance, she was able to buy her summer home.

If you need advice on creative ways to buy either a first or second home — or if you just can’t decide on which toppings you should choose for your ice cream — please get in touch. I look forward to working with you.

July’s Home Improver

An Expert’s Advice on Watering Your Lawn 

Ask anyone when the best time to water the lawn is and you’re likely to get several very different responses. Some say watering during the morning hours is best, while others insist that an evening spritz is ideal. So who’s right? We did a little research and we also reached out to a local expert for help in figuring out when and how often we should turn on the hose or sprinklers.

According to Kyle McNerney of Smart Water Management, the best thing you can do for your lawn is water the soil deeply and at the frequency required. You’ll need to factor in weather, plant types, sun, shade and the depth of the roots of a particular plant. For example, shrubs need more water than grass, and should be watered 2-to-3 times a week. While lawns don’t need as deep a watering as shrubs, Kyle believes they should be watered every other day. Daily watering may be required on days of intense sun and heat.

So when is the best time of day to water your lawn? According to Popular Mechanics, the morning is the ideal time of day. The weather is usually cooler and there’s less wind, which allows for a more even distribution of the water. During the day, water can evaporate too quickly, even before it is absorbed into the soil. Evenings, once thought to be the perfect time, are actually the worst. Water clinging too long to the grass can promote fungus and cause your grass to die off prematurely. Turn on your sprinklers before you head to work and your lawn will have the best chance to thrive throughout the summer and fall.

Age and Term-Related Mortgage Myths

When it comes to selecting the length of your mortgage, certain factors apply. There are some misconceptions about length due to age and income that don’t necessarily apply. Let’s bust some myths about mortgage term lengths.

Myth No. 1: A 15-year mortgage is always better than a 30-year mortgage. False. When you’re younger, you should expect your income to increase over time. If you have kids and enough money to afford paying down your principle quickly, then take on that 15-year mortgage — especially if you plan to tackle another major financial obligation: your children’s college tuition. On the other hand, as you move closer to retirement age, your income will probably level off or decline. In this case, playing it safe makes the most sense. Go with a 30-year mortgage with payments that you can make comfortably over time.

Myth No. 2: People over age 60 will not be approved for 30-year mortgages based on the fact that they could die before the mortgage is paid off. Yikes! Not true. A borrower’s age is never a consideration, thanks to the Equal Credit Opportunity Act. This is a protected category and is not to be considered during the application process. Your loan is determined by your income, savings, assets and credit history.

Myth No. 3: A 15-year mortgage will lower your monthly payment. Complete myth. While you will pay less interest over time, your monthly payment will be higher due to the fact that more of it goes to the principle reduction. If you are newly divorced or single, you’re working with only one income. A 30-year mortgage may work better for you in the long run.

Making these decisions can be difficult. There are so many factors to consider. The best thing you can do before making such a significant financial commitment is to call me at 617-965-1236. We’ll discuss all of your options so that you can make an informed decision that makes sense for you. I look forward to your call.

DIY Winterizing Tips

Stay warm and safe with these do-it-yourself fixes.

Although winter doesn’t officially arrive until next week, freezing cold temperatures have been invading New England for weeks. If you’re feeling a chilly draft or just want to prepare for when it gets reallycold in the next month or so, follow these easy, inexpensive ideas to keep the cold outside and the warmth inside.

1. Buy or make a door snake. Remember when you were a kid and your parents had a stuffed snake that you couldn’t play with because it was keeping the cold out? You can still find them. If you know how to crochet or know someone who does, a door snake will block out drafts for the price of a skein of yarn.

2. Switch the direction of your ceiling fans. Ever wonder why your ceiling fan moves in either direction? It’s not a lefty-righty thing. Because hot air rises, the ceiling fan should run in reverse (clockwise) at a low speed during the winter. This will cycle the warm air back down from the ceiling to where you are.

3. Seal gaps in windows. If you have old drafty windows, you should expect a big heating bill if you do nothing about it. Finding and caulking the gaps will accomplish two things: It prevents cold air from seeping in, but it also avoids wood rot by keeping moisture out. Here’s a tutorial.

4. Buy, test or replace your detectors. Your home needs both smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors to keep you safe this winter. Replacing batteries may not be enough, as typical detectors have a reliably functioning lifespan of only 6-8 years. If you’re buying a new detector, write the date on the inside of it so you’ll know when to purchase a new one. If you suspect your detectors are older than what is recommended, you owe it to yourself and your family’s well-being to replace them immediately.

The Diminishing Value of PMI and MI

In the past, many divorced women have paid Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI) on FHA loans to secure a mortgage that insures against a default in payment. This is required if your downpayment is less than 20% of the appraised value or sale price. It’s understandable, particularly if owning a home on your own is new for you. Mortgage insurance (MI) is also a requirement for non-FHA loans when your downpayment is under 20%. Keep in mind, that over the length of a mortgage, this insurance can cost you thousands of dollars. You may want to avoid it completely, if possible. Here’s why:
1. You can’t deduct it anymore. In the past, homeowners could deduct PMI from their taxes, but as of 2014, the new tax law no longer allows this deduction. That puts you on the hook for every dollar of PMI you pay.
2. It lessens your ability to get a future loan. PMI built into a mortgage works against the income you have to pay the loan. For example, if you pay $200 monthly for PMI, your income is worth $200 less because it’s tied to PMI rather than free for you to use for paying off other debts.
3. It slows down your payment timeline. Over time, the PMI you pay increases the length of your mortgage because of the monthly charge that’s factored into the payment.
If you pay MI, it can be eliminated. You don’t have to pay MI forever. After you have built a solid amount of equity in your home, you can stop paying your premium. This occurs at 78% loan to value.
Avoid PMI and MI pitfalls by working with me to find the best solutions that work for you. If you currently pay PMI or MI, this may be a good time to look at refinancing. Just because you agreed to your mortgage, it doesn’t mean it can’t be reworked to save you money in the long run. Get in touch at 617-965-1236. I look forward to your call.

The Spooky Truth About Candy Corn

Why is candy corn still available and why do people buy it? No one ever craves candy corn. When you think about it, trick-or-treaters come home with sacks full of various delicious candies, yet no one ever claims dibs on the candy corn. Baby Ruth, Almond Joy, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and other delightful treats are all consumed long before anyone dips a hand in the bowl of candy corn.
Maybe it’s because it looks more like a bowl of rotten teeth than the Indian corn it’s supposed to mimic. Whatever it is, over 25 million pounds of the sugary stuff are sold annually.
Originally known as “Chicken Feed,” when it was first introduced in the 1880s, the product we know today as candy corn made its debut in 1900. The scary thing? The recipe hasn’t changed a bit in over more than a century. Candy corn is made of sugar, water, corn syrup, marshmallow, confectioner’s wax and artificial colors. Very sweet indeed. But at 3.57 per calories per piece, they’re no worse than a bowl of cereal or a peanut butter ann jelly sandwich when it comes to causing cavities. Just remember to brush after eating!