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With warmer weather and longer days on the horizon, now is the perfect time to get your yard in shape for summer. Keep this year’s top five landscaping trends (according to the National Association of Landscape Professionals) in mind as you get started.

1. Going green (the color)

Combine different textures and shades of green for a more dramatic lawn. Think of mixing leaves of different size and shape as well as plants with a variety of verdant hues.

2. Going green (the earth-friendly strategy)

More sustainable landscape designs have been becoming more popular over the past few years. Why? They’re better for the planet and can reduce maintenance costs. For example, more homeowners are planting “smart” lawns – varieties of grass bred to stay green with less water.

3. Giving bees a chance

With bee populations in trouble, people are actually starting to welcome the stingers in their yard by planting native plants that provide the nectar they feast on. The efforts to save vital pollinators is another sign of consumers seeking more green, sustainable practices for their yards.

4. Going Danish

The Danish concept of hygge is about creating an atmosphere of coziness by embracing life’s simple pleasures. How do you implement hygge in your yard? Add features that promote mindfulness, such as water fountains or aromatic flowers, and arrange seating in a way that encourages conversation. And don’t forget to include spaces that inspire play – for kids and adults. The experts at Gardendesign.com note an uptick in requests for things like bocce courts, fireplaces and hammocks, features to help home owners relax and play outdoors.

Americans say now is a good time to buy

Many consumers grew more optimistic about the housing in April, rebounding from March’s dip in confidence, according to the Fannie Mae Home Purchase Sentiment Index.

The index increased 2.2 percentage points in April to 86.7, and five of the six components saw an increase.

Americans who said now is a good time to sell a home was the only component to decrease, dropping five percentage points to 26%, however those who said now is a good time to buy a home increased five percentage points to 35%.

Consumers were also more optimistic about the stability of their jobs, with that component increasing by seven percentage points to 77%. Respondents who reported a household income that’s significantly higher than 12 months ago increased by two percentage points to 13%.

Americans who said mortgage rates will go down over the next 12 months rose by three percentage points to -57% and the share of those who say home prices will increase jumped one percentage point to 45% in April.

“The Home Purchase Sentiment Index returned to its longer-term trend line after reclaiming ground lost last month,” said Doug Duncan, Fannie Mae senior vice president and chief economist. “This is aligned with our market forecast of about 3% sales growth in 2017.”

“Historically strong inflation-adjusted house price gains are tempering consumer sentiment, whereas consumer optimism regarding the ease of getting a mortgage reached a survey high,” Duncan said. “On balance, housing continues on a gradual growth track.”

HAL M. BUNDRICK, CFP

If you’re looking for a mortgage, there’s one less reason to walk into a bank these days. Alternative mortgage lenders — non-bank companies without customer deposits — are transforming the mortgage industry. Their goal: to offer mortgage rate transparency and help you complete the home loan process quickly, efficiently and mostly (if not completely) online.

The biggest banks, once major players in the $1.5 trillion mortgage industry, have backed away from a large portion of the business, citing low profit margins and high legal risks. It’s a result of the enhanced regulatory environment that followed the 2008 housing meltdown.

A number of new players jumped into the void — alternative lenders testing new business models and leveraging technology to improve the process of getting a home loan or mortgage refinance:

Marketplaces and brokers assist potential borrowers shopping for mortgages and the best mortgage rates.
Online mortgage lenders seek to shorten the home loan process.
Non-bank lenders offer solutions to credit-challenged consumers.
But the structure and capabilities of these alternative lenders vary widely. Here’s how to navigate the field.

The easiest way for tech startups to enter the mortgage market is by serving as a middleman. So that’s what you’ll encounter most in your search for an online mortgage.

Mortgage marketplaces, like LendingTree, Mortgage Hippo, Zillow and eLoan, are lead generators for loan originators. Here’s how that works: Their mortgage rate algorithms take your basic application info and present you a roster of potential lenders. You choose one, or several, of the rate options, and the referring marketplace site receives a fee for the lead. You then complete the process with the lender.

Online mortgage brokers offer another twist on the process. Companies like Sindeo provide a concierge service, with advisors guiding you through the home loan selection process. It’s more of a hands-on process, in which the broker works closely with you and the lender to complete your loan package.

Online alternative mortgage lenders streamline the process
Alternative lenders are online mortgage originators that are becoming more of a force in the industry. In fact, the largest of them, Quicken Loans, has become one of the largest mortgage lenders in the country. And the company is looking to become even more entrenched with its recent introduction of a “Rocket Mortgage” service, promising full mortgage or refinance approvals online in as little as eight minutes.

That kind of near real-time approval is an example of how radically the mortgage process is changing. Next-gen lenders strip away layers of delays built into the old system by using automated loan-decision algorithms, electronic document gathering and secure online communications.

Seeing an opportunity to shave off a sliver of the monumental home loan market, new players are making a move to mortgages. Online student-loan refinance service SoFi now offers mortgage loans. And in just five years, Loan Depot has grown to 5,000 employees, offering mortgages as well as consumer loans to residents in all 50 states.

Another example is Lenda, a recent addition to the home loan landscape, which so far serves only a limited number of states but is a direct online lender offering purchase and refinance loans.

Non-bank alternative lenders cater to those with less-than-perfect credit
In some ways, the mortgage industry is coming full circle, back to where it started. Wells Fargo, JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America and other huge lenders — battered by Justice Department fines, federal lawsuits and growing regulation as a result of the housing crisis — are shying away from mortgage lending, especially FHA loans, which have long catered to first-time homebuyers and borrowers with lower credit scores. As more of the large, national banks move to lending only to the most-qualified borrowers, community home lenders are filling the void.

Non-bank lenders are much like the original mortgage bankers; many are locally owned and family-run businesses serving their hometowns. These smaller lenders often face fewer federal regulations and still welcome borrowers with less-than-perfect credit, and they have bolstered the FHA-backed lending that big banks have been avoiding.

Credit unions also play a growing role. They originated more than 8% of U.S. mortgages in 2015, nearly double their amount in 2010, according to the CUNA Mutual Group.

There are non-bank mortgage lenders with national footprints, such as PennyMac, but just like their local counterparts, they are built more for phone and face-to-face transactions than for a strictly online loan process.

Alternative mortgage lenders now account for almost half (45%) of all home loans, according to the Federal Reserve — the largest share in 20 years. These originators are transforming the mortgage loan process with faster approvals plus online application and document processing, and they are powering a more competitive market.

But getting a mortgage online is not always strictly a keyboard- or smartphone-only transaction. While the paperwork process is moving more and more to e-documents, with some online services you’ll still have to visit a closing attorney or notary to finalize the loan.

Choosing whether to go with a mortgage middleman or a direct lender is a personal choice, based on your comfort and familiarity with the home loan process and how much guidance and advice you prefer.

But it’s empowering to know that when it comes to financing a home, you have more options than ever.

Source: Orange County Register

In a state where vacant homes and apartments are scarce and where rents and house prices are out of control, state leaders and experts have proposed a host of solutions. Build more homes, build them in higher-density developments and build them in existing cities and suburbs, closer to jobs and transit to reduce pollution and congestion, they say.

A Chapman University fellow offered a more traditional solution: urban sprawl. Rather than limit new construction to apartments and condos in “infill” development, California needs to build more houses, using vacant land in interior communities like the Inland Empire and the Central Valley, said Joel Kotkin, Chapman’s RC Hobbs Presidential Fellow in urban futures and co-author of a new report on millennials’ housing needs.

Kotkin was a guest speaker at a California Association of Realtors forum in Sacramento streamed over FaceBook. “Millennials contemplate unaffordable housing that could compel them to leave California,” said the report, “Fading Promise: Millennial Prospects in the Golden State. Nothing,” the report states, “could improve housing affordability than to restore the competitive market for land by permitting greenfield development.”

Source: Bankrate.com

The mortgage interest deduction would survive under President Donald Trump’s tax reform plan. But fewer homeowners would use it. The reason is that the standard deduction would be almost doubled, leaving the mortgage interest deduction only for homeowners who pay the most interest – those are the people with the biggest home loans.

Tax reform will take a long, convoluted path through Congress. Any bill that is signed into law will differ from what was proposed originally. If the expanded standard deduction makes it through, you’ll probably pay less taxes overall, but without using the mortgage interest deduction. Here are some steps you can take:

• If you plan to buy your first home within a few years, consider saving up for a bigger down payment. If you’re not going to deduct your mortgage interest, you will benefit from having a smaller mortgage and thus paying less interest.

• If you own a home, consider getting a home equity line of credit before tax reform passes. Your home’s value could fall in the future, reducing the equity to borrow from. So you might be able to get a bigger credit line now than you will after tax reform is passed.

• If you file jointly and deduct more than $24,000 a year, cheer up — you might get to keep deducting mortgage interest, depending on the details of the tax reform that’s eventually passed. Shop for a jumbo mortgage if you’re a big earner.

San Francisco’s 2017 doom and gloom train continues with yet another site releasing a study this week showing that locals in California, particularly in the Bay Area, have developed a wandering eye for homes elsewhere.

The real estate site Redfin released its migration report Monday, showing which cities site users are most frequently browsing homes in—and by extension, which cities they’re most likely to be thinking about leaving.

All told, nearly 20 percent of San Francisco and San Jose Redfin users in the first three months of 2017 (the site combines the regions into one stat) were at least flirting with the idea of a home elsewhere, checking at least ten ads abroad in that time.

That’s not as many as in some other cities. For example, New York’s ratio was 23 percent; Houston’s 25 percent; Dayton, Ohio’s an absolutely alarming 51-plus percent.

But when the site factors in how many—or rather, how few—users in other cities are simultaneously shopping for homes here it gives the Bay Area the highest Net Outflow rating of all of the cities studied.

SF browsers most often had their eye on Sacramento, although Seattle and Portland, Oregon were as usual attractive destinations as well.

This does not mean that 20 percent of San Francisco and San Jose residents are really going to take the plunge and relocate, of course. (It is Sacramento, after all.)

The report considers only Redfin users, albeit with a sample size of 1 million, and not everyone who browses home is really picking up stakes and leaving.

According to the U.S. Census, San Francisco gains far more people than it loses every year (though the most recent figures explore only through 2015), and the city still anticipates a net gain of at least 10,000 new resident per year.

However, this is the third report in less than six weeks suggesting a general regional restlessness.

At the end of March, the Bay Area Council’s annual phone survey of a 1,000 people found roughly 40 percent of the Bay Area considering decamping.

And at the beginning of April, the resume site Indeed reported that nearly 40 percent of Bay Area tech workers on its site were looking for a job elsewhere.

These sorts of survey are usually most helpful when compared with the same benchmark in the past, but in this case this is actually Redfin’s first migration report, though the site plans to release a new one each quarter.

But first-time buyers face headwinds from high prices

The spring home-buying season is in full swing and it started off with a bang.

Home prices increased in February to a new high for the fourth consecutive month, according to the S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller Indices, released Tuesday by S&P Dow Jones and CoreLogic.

And another release Tuesday from the Federal Housing Finance Agency showed home prices rose 6.4% annually and 0.2% from the prior month.

But these rising home prices didn’t hold back new home sales, which increased a full 5.8% monthly and 15.6% annually, according to Tuesday’s release from the U.S. Census Bureau and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

“The 2017 spring home shopping season has started off with a bang, and at this point the strength of the market shouldn’t come as much of a surprise,” Zillow Chief Economist Svenja Gudell said. “February Case-Shiller numbers point to more fierce competition in the housing market.”

“The thing to watch for now is when market conditions will shift, and change does seem to loom on the horizon, with rising mortgage interest rates and flattening rents,” Gudell said. “Both could put a dent in home-buyer demand and overall price growth and affordability.”

Another expert confirmed that the market is strong for now, but explains high home prices and low inventory create significant headwinds for first-time homebuyers.

“Strong demand bolstered by income and job growth sets the stage for intense competition and continued price growth in the housing market,” Trulia Senior Economist Cheryl Young said.

“Consumers are likely to also take advantage of mortgage rates as they remain low,” Young said. “While the housing market looks to be recovering, these high prices impact the affordability of homes, directing the strongest headwinds towards starter-home buyers.”

But one expert explained that while new home sales were above expectations in March, home prices are actually beginning to level out.

“New home sales for March were above our expectations,” said Tian Liu, Genworth Mortgage Insurance chief economist. “Strong demand from homebuyers and very tight supply conditions in the overall housing market are fueling demand for new homes.”

“In addition, prices on new homes are stabilizing, suggesting more affordable homes are coming to the market, which will help builders capture more demand from first-time homebuyers,” Liu said.

While the Case-Shiller report shows home prices increased to a new high, the rate of increase slowed.

“The pace of house price gains slowed in February according to Case-Shiller, with the smallest month-on-month rise since July last year,” Capital Economics Property Economist Matthew Pointon said.

After the new home sales report showed March’s increase, one expert explained this increase is likely to continue throughout 2017.

“We expect new home sales to rise further over the course of 2017 in response to solid job gains, faster wage growth, still low, albeit rising, mortgage rates, and faster household formations,” said Nationwide Chief Economist David Berson, who served as chief economist at Fannie Mae for over 20 years.

However, the increase in new home sales may not be much help for first-time homebuyers.

“The good news is that new home sales jumped for the third month in a row, to about the same as last year’s peak in July,” realtor.com Senior Economist Joseph Kirchner said. “Already this spring market is challenging last year’s high-water mark.”

“The bad news is that sales are increasingly concentrated at the mid- to upper-end of the price range,” Kirchner said. “Sales of affordable new homes under $200,000 dropped to 12% from 17% of the market since last April.”