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What Is Escrow? How It Keeps Home Buyers and Sellers Safe

by Amy McLeod Group


What is escrow? In real estate, an escrow account is a secure holding area where important items (e.g., the earnest money check and contracts) are kept safe by an escrow company until the deal is closed and the house officially changes hands.

Escrow is also a contractual arrangement in which a third party—usually the escrow officer—maintains money and documents until the deal is done.

How escrow works

The escrow agent is a third party—perhaps someone from the real estate closing company, an attorney, or a title company agent (customs vary by state), says Andy Prasky, a real estate professional with Re/Max Advantage Plus in Twin Cities.

The third party is there to make sure everything during the transaction proceeds smoothly, including the transfers of money and documents. Escrow protects all the relevant parties in a real estate transaction by ensuring that no funds from your lender and property change hands until all conditions in the agreement have been met.

Along the way, proper documentation is filed with the escrow agent or the escrow company as each step toward closing is completed. Contingencies that might be part of the process could include home inspectionrepairs, and other tasks that need to be accomplished by the buyer or seller. And every time one of those steps is completed, the buyer or seller signs off with a contingency release form; then the transaction moves on to the next step (and one step closer to closing).

Once all conditions are met and the transaction is finalized, the money due to the sellers is transferred from your lender to them. Meanwhile an escrow officer clears (or records) the title, which means the buyer officially owns the home.

How much does escrow cost?

That varies—as well as whether the buyer or seller (or both) pays—with the fee for this real estate service typically totaling about 1% to 2% of the cost of the home.

The earnest money deposit

Earnest money—also known as an escrow deposit—is a dollar amount buyers put into an escrow account after a seller accepts their offer. The escrow company will hold onto that money for the duration of the transaction.

Another way to think of earnest money is as a "good-faith” deposit into an escrow account that will compensate the seller if the buyer breaches the contract and fails to close.

Can you borrow earnest money from your lender?

Earnest money can be borrowed from your lender, but there are certain rules involved. First-time buyers are most likely to need to go to their lender for their earnest money. Your lender will ultimately count your earnest money as part of the down payment on the house.

What is an escrow account?

When you make your monthly payment to your lender, part of it goes toward your mortgage and part of it goes into your escrow account for property taxes and insurance premiums such as homeowners insurance or mortgage insurance. When those bills are due, your lender will use the funds in your escrow account to pay them.

How escrow protects you

Escrow may seem like a pain, but here's how it can work in your favor. Let's say, for example, the buyer had a home inspection contingency and discovered that the roof needed repairs. The seller agrees to fix the roof. However, during the buyer's final walk-through, she finds that the roof hasn’t been repaired as expected. In this case, the seller won’t see a dime of the buyer’s money until the roof is fixed. Talk about a nice safeguard!

Sellers benefit from escrow, too: Let's say the buyers get cold feet at the last minute and bail on the transaction. This may be disappointing to the seller, but at the very least, buyers have typically ponied up a sizable chunk of change for their earnest money deposit. This money, often totaling 1% to 2% of the purchase price of a home, has been held in escrow. When buyers back out with no legitimate reason, they forfeit that money to the seller—a decent consolation for the sale's failure.

Escrow, in other words, is the equivalent of bumpers on cars, keeping everyone safe as they move forward in a real estate transaction. Odds are, no one's trying to swindle anyone. But isn't it nice to know that if something does go wrong, escrow is there to cushion the blow?

Contact The McLeod Group Network for all your Real Estate needs! 971.208.5093 or [email protected]

By: Realtor.com, Cathie Ericson

8 'Valuable' Home Features That May Be a Big Waste of Cash

by Amy McLeod Group

No one likes to overpay for a purchase, and this is particularly true when buying a home. After all, every square foot of space or block closer to a top school will cost you big-time!

So if you're a thrifty soul who must make every home-buying dollar count, check out these home features that often inspire sellers to jack up their price. That's fine if you truly want these things, but if not? You're wasting your money.

1. A huge yard you rarely enjoy

A sprawling green lawn may have a certain curb appeal at first sight. And if you have kids or plan to spend a lot of time outdoors, it's a fine feature to splurge on. But if you doubt anyone will be out there much, you're just tossing money out the window.

It turns out sellers charge a premium for that patch of grass, and you'll funnel even more money going forward on lawn maintenance (or else spend your weekends mowing, weeding, and pruning the yard).

"It could end up just costing you a lot of money to maintain, even though it’s not being enjoyed," says Tim Bakke, director of publishing at the Plan Collective, a website that provides house plans.

2. A short commute you won't use

If you work from home, commute at off-hours, work in the suburbs, or are retired, don't pay extra to buy a house near mass transit, or within easy driving distance of major office areas—those are homes that regular commuters might covet, prompting sellers to charge up the wazoo.

"Homes closer to major commerce centers cost quite a bit more than homes in outlying or suburban areas," says real estate agent Jamie Klingman at Boutiquerealtyflorida.com.

Is this an important factor to you? If not, consider a home that's a bit farther out to save cash.

3. A top school district when you don't have kids

A home zoned for a great public school will always command top dollar on the open market.

"And you'll also pay for this through your taxes," says Bakke.

However, if you don't have (or plan to have) kids, why empty your wallet to send someone else's child to school? Look for homes just outside the district to save on purchase price and property taxes.

4. A single-story house when you're fine with stairs

In many locations, homes all on the same level command a higher dollar value because the boomer generation prefers them when downsizing, says Jen Nelson, an agent in Phoenix.

If you can handle going up a flight of stairs or two, consider a two-story house to get more bang for your buck. (Another bonus? A smaller roof to replace when the time comes.)

5. A bigger house than you truly need

Very often buyers purchase a home that's way bigger than they actually need.

"People end up with too much house and not even using the rooms they have," says Pat Vosburgh, a certified real estate negotiation expert at Vosburghandvosburgh.com.

Since a purchase price directly reflects things like size, why overpay for bedrooms or media rooms you won't use—and have to heat, cool, furnish, and clean? Instead, protect your bank account by looking only for homes that reflect how much space you'll actually use.

6. A hot neighborhood

A hip neighborhood that everyone's buzzing about can send home prices soaring. But getting caught up in the hype and overspending in an area where prices haven't quite gelled yet can be a risky proposition where you end up (you guessed it) overpaying. Buy homes only in new areas that are still a relative bargain.

7. Fancy amenities you won't use

Here's a reality check: If you don’t drink wine regularly, you don’t need a wine refrigerator—or to pay for a house with one, either.

"A six-car, air-conditioned garage or a built-in commercial pizza oven may appeal to a specific buyer," says Bruce Ailion of Atlanta's Re/Max Town and Country. But such premium upgrades and add-ons will send a purchase price north, so you'd better make sure you use whatever you buy, often.

This is especially true when you buy a condo or a home in a planned community, since you'll have to consider the monthly condo or HOA fees you'll be paying as part of your purchase price. Make no mistake, those fees are for amenities—think a gym or lounge—so if you don't plan to take advantage of these features, you're squandering your money.

8. The nicest house in the neighborhood

It may be tempting to snag the home with the biggest price tag in a certain ZIP code for bragging rights. "But you never want to buy the most expensive home in the neighborhood," says Vosburgh.

While it might be fun to know your casa is the area’s castle, having the top comp in a neighborhood may become an issue when it comes time to sell. This scenario leaves little room for your home's price to appreciate, so you may not be able to recoup what you paid. So unless you're truly smitten with this home, buyer beware.

Contact the expert's on The McLeod Group Network for all your Real Estate needs! 971.208.5093 or [email protected].

By: Realtor.com, Margaret Heidenry 

Rents Are on the Rise: Don’t Get Caught in the Rental Trap!

by Amy McLeod Group

There are many benefits to homeownership. One of the top benefits is protecting yourself from rising rents, by locking in your housing cost for the life of your mortgage.

Don’t Become Trapped 

A recent article by Apartment List addressed rising rents by stating:

“Rents are up 2.7% year-over-year at the national level. Year-over-year growth continues to fall between the 2.1% rate from this time last year and the 3.4% growth rate from October 2015.”

The article continues explaining that:

“Despite the seasonal slowdown, rents are still up year-over-year in 89 of the 100 Largest cities.

Additionally, the Urban Institute revealed that,

Over a quarter of renters, or 11.1 million households, are severely cost burdened, spending at least half their income on rental housing.

These households struggle to save for a rainy day and pay other bills, including groceries and healthcare.

It’s Cheaper to Buy Than Rent 

As we have previously mentioned, the results of the latest Rent vs. Buy Report from Trulia shows that homeownership remains cheaper than renting with a traditional 30-year fixed rate mortgage in the 100 largest metro areas in the United States.

The updated numbers show that the range is an average of 6.5% less expensive in San Jose (CA), all the way up to 57% less expensive in Detroit (MI) and 37.4% nationwide!

Know Your Options

Perhaps you have already saved enough to buy your first home. A nationwide survey of about 24,000 renters found that 80% of millennial renters plan to eventually buy a house, but 72% cite affordability as their primary obstacle. Aside from affordability, one in three millennial renters have concerns about their credit scores, and another 53% said that a down payment is an obstacle.

Many first-time homebuyers who believe that they need a large down payment may be holding themselves back from their dream homes. As we have reported before, in many areas of the country, a first-time home buyer can save for a 3% down payment in less than two years. You may have already saved enough!

Bottom Line

Don’t get caught in the trap that so many renters are currently in. If you are ready and willing to buy a home, find out if you are able. Let’s get together to determine if you can qualify for a mortgage now! 971.208.5093 or [email protected].

By: KCM Crew

Millennials Flock to Low Down Payment Programs

by Amy McLeod Group

Millennials Flock to Low Down Payment Programs | Keeping Current Matters

A recent report released by Down Payment Resource shows that 65% of first-time homebuyers purchased their homes with a down payment of 6% or less in the month of January.

The trend continued through all buyers with a mortgage, as 62% made a down payment of less than 20%, which is consistent with findings from December.

An article by DS News points to the new wave of millennial homebuyers:

“It seems that the long-awaited influx of millennial home buyers is beginning. Ellie Mae reported that mortgages to millennial borrowers for new home purchases continued their ascent in January, accounting for 84 percent of closed loans.”

Among millennials who purchased homes in January, FHA loans remained popular, making up 35% of all loans closed. Ellie Mae’s Executive Vice President of Corporate Strategy Joe Tyrrell gave some insight into why:

“It is not surprising to see Millennial borrowers leverage FHA loans because they typically offer lower down payments and lower average FICO score requirements than conventional loans. Across the board, we're continuing to see strong interest in homeownership from this younger generation.”

Bottom Line

If you are one of the many millennials who is debating a home purchase this year, let The McLeod Group Network help you understand your options and set you on the path to preapproval. 971.208.5093 or [email protected] 

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The McLeod Group Network
Keller Williams Capital City
1900 Hines St SE #220
Salem OR 97302
971-208-5093
Fax: 971-599-5229

**Disclaimer: Amy McLeod, and her team, do not initiate, process, or service mortgages.  And provide this information only as a service.  You should confirm information here with your Licensed Mortgage Lender.