Whether you rent or buy, you are paying for the house you occupy. A simple analysis will show you whether it’s cheaper to rent or buy.
It doesn’t make sense for some people to buy, their credit score may be too low to qualify for a competitve rate on their loan or they may not plan on staying in their current job/city long enough to recoup the costs of buying. But for those who have a down payment and good credit and don’t plan on moving out of town anytime soon, buying may be a better choice than renting. In fact, owning may cost you significantly less than renting!

The first comparison a discerning buyer needs to make is whether the house payment is lower than what they’d have to pay in rent.  You can see what your mortgage payment would be here: 

Next, consider the other benefits that accrue to a homeowner such as principal reduction, appreciation and tax savings. These can dramatically weigh in favor of owning rather than Mortgage Payment Calculator

Tenants have made the decision to buy a home. The decision currently facing them is whether to buy it for themselves or their landlord.  An example of this analysis is below.  To run the numbers for yourself, click here:  Rent vs. Own


As a friend of mine recently said, “we talk about schools to anyone and everyone”.  Indeed, if you live in Dallas and have a child (or are thinking about having a child sometime in the next 15 years), the “right” school for your little pride and joy is often the topic of lengthy and heated discussions. 
There are lots of fantastic schools in the suburbs around Dallas, and there is an almost endless variety of private schools in the area, but let’s start with the three public school options inside the loop:  Highland Park ISD, Richardson ISD, and Dallas ISD. 
Highland Park ISD
The Washington Post named Highland Park High School as one of the Top High Schools in the Country in 2011, ranking them 35th nationally.  Assuming you are willing (and able) to pay for the real estate in Highland Park, that’s a hard public option to pass up.  Indeed, all things being equal, Armstrong Elementary in Highland Park is at the very top of my list of schools (much to my husband’s dismay). 
So, why did I like Armstrong (and the other HP elementary schools so well)?  In general, there seemed to be less emphasis on teaching to the TAKS test and more emphasis on project based learning.  As one of my tour guides said, “HPISD is the closest thing you will find to a private school in the public sector”, and indeed the resources rival those of privates schools.    Each classroom is equipped with a smartboard type device.  I passed several classrooms in which the students were all working on netbooks and others with multiple computers per classroom. Each elementary school I toured had an auditorium available for performances (in my elementary school we performed on a gym/cafeteria stage).  In particular, I found Armstrong Elementary appealing because it was smaller than the other elementary schools I toured which seemed more manageable and was more in line with my perception of how an elementary school should look and feel.  As a friend who also toured the school said, “Armstrong sparkles”. 
Other items that distinguish HP schools from others in the area:
·    If a teacher does not have his/her master’s degree when they are hired in HPISD, they must   obtain it within 6 years. 
·    The head custodian has a house on the grounds of each elementary school.
·    Each school has a nurse and counselor on staff fulltime as well as teachers dedicated to other topics:  science lab instructor, speech instructor, etc.
·    The elementary school campuses only consist of grades K-4. 
Of course, there were a few things that I wasn’t so fond of. 
Each elementary school has a staggered pickup time.  Kindergarten is dismissed at 2:30, Grades 1-2 are dismissed at 3:00 and Grades 3-4 are dismissed at 3:15.  I’m sure there is some sound logic behind this, but it seems like a waste of time to pick your kindergartener up at 2:30 and wait around until 3:15 to pick up your third grader. I can see that my plans for working from home in the afternoons after the kid(s) are picked might not work as well as anticipated with this schedule. 
As with most school districts, student enrollment is often at capacity which means as much as you may love Armstrong or University Park Elementary, it’s not guaranteed that your child will go to that school even if you live in the district.  (See map here). 
Current state guidelines require schools to apply for an exemption if there will be more than 22 students in a classroom.  Assuming that there are 4 kindergarten classrooms at a school, there are 88 spots available.  If 90 children enroll, chances are good that 2 students will be placed at another school within the district if there is room at those schools.  If not, the school may apply to the state for an exemption to allow 23 kids in 2 classrooms.  On the other hand, if 98 students were to enroll, the school may decide to add another kindergarten classroom.  The ambiguity of how this is determined and applied makes me a little uncomfortable, but it seems to be the status quo in both HPISD and RISD. 
Assuming you decide that HPISD is where you want to be, you’ll need to mark your calendar for “Kindergarten Round Up”.  This typically occurs in late February and you’ll need to have already moved or be under contract on a house at that time to enroll your student.  More information on items needed to enroll your child can be found on the HPISD website. 
Next:  Richardson ISD …
The Housing Affordability Index reached a record high of 192.3 for February, 2011. Two contributing factors to the Index are the price adjustments homes have experienced in recent years combined with the unusually low mortgage rates make this an outstanding opportunity for buyers who can qualify.
Before the housing bubble burst in 2006, the index average for the year was 108. The high prices and higher interest rates restricted many buyers from purchasing. As the market started to deteriorate, which resulted in declining values and lower interest rates, the index started to rise.

The opportunities are not being seized by buyers and some real estate professionals feel that it’s because there is confusion in the marketplace. Buyers are uncertain whether they would qualify and whether now is a good time to be purchasing a home.
All markets are different and every situation is unique. The only certain way to determine would be to investigate your individual situation. You owe it to yourself and your family to visit with a real estate professional who can show you the real cost of housing and recommend a lender.
The National Association of Realtors releases the index at the end of each month with a two month lag time for compiling the information. When the index is at 100, a median income family can afford a median price home. As the index increases, housing affordability increases.

Many homeowners are overlooking an opportunity to lower their property taxes by not challenging their tax assessment.  Property values have decreased in the past two to three years and the assessment may not reflect the current market value.

Deadlines are critical and if the challenge isn’t made in a timely fashion, the opportunity to lower the assessment can be lost for the year.  The deadline to file a protest with the Dallas Central Appraisal District is May 31, 2011.

The process for the challenge is relatively simple and can be done by a homeowner or by professional representation.  In some cases, if there is an obvious mistake, the state employee may be able to correct it without a hearing.

Check the property assessment record for common mistakes that can include the number of bedrooms, baths, lot size and square footage of the improvements.  Documentation is required to verify the errors.  If you have an appraisal, such as when you purchased the home, it can serve as proof of the discrepancy.

In other cases, a hearing is required before a panel of citizens who will listen to testimony from the taxpayer and a representative of the assessor’s office.  Based on the documentation presented, the panel will make a ruling to lower the value, make no change or in some cases, raise the valuation.

Recently closed comparables are the most common proof presented in a hearing.  Comparables should be similar in size, condition and location.  I’m can supply you with the comparables, filing deadlines and any other pertinent information you need to make a challenge. 

Lowering your assessment will result in lower property taxes and more money in your pocket.

If you’d like more information or help with lowering your assessment, give me a call.  I can always be reached at 214.563.2385 or via email at heather@heatherguildgroup.com.

During your house hunting trip, you see a couple of listings that are bank owned foreclosures, also known as REO (Real Estate Owned) properties.  These properties have been foreclosed upon through a process where they are offered on the county court house steps on the first Tuesday of each month by the trustee of the mortgage.  Most of these homes have a bid reserve, and if the reserve is not met, then the servicing lender takes the property back.  This is how a foreclosed property becomes a REO.  These REO homes are offered by local real estate agent for the servicing lender (Bank of America, Chase, Wells Fargo, OneWest Bank, etc. and additionally, may have also been transferred to Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, or HUD).
There are three very important steps needed to make an offer and purchase a REO property.
Be Patient – all REO properties are managed by an REO asset manager, either an employee of the lender, or an asset management company employed by the lender.  Each asset manager handles anywhere between 300-600 active properties at a time.  Communicating with, submitting offers, getting questions answered, or amendments signed with an asset manager that has that many properties is much different than doing the same with an individual seller.  Unlike an individual seller, the REO listing agent can rarely pick up the phone and have a conversation about a property with the asset manager, much less go to their office and sit down in front of them.  All communication is usually documented in the lender’s online system with document upload available.  Additionally, the asset manager has authority to make decision up to a certain financial point, but if it goes beyond that, then they will have to send the file out to upper management or an outside investor for approval.  Once again, the person making the decisions in upper management or outside investor level is also working with hundreds upon hundreds of properties.
Submit offer and contract packages exactly and follow the seller’s offer instructions exactly – when making an offer or writing a contract package on a property that is owned by a financial institution, each institution has specific corporate policies and procedures about what much be included in an offer package or contract package.  It varies slightly from institution to institution.  Most REO listing agents post offer instructions in the multiple listing service with the property that is for sale.  These instructions should be followed completely and fully, as leaving just one thing out may disqualify your offer or cause your purchase contract to get kicked back from the seller.
Choose the correct mortgage lender and loan program – if you are getting a mortgage to purchase a REO property, most REO sellers will want to see a pre-approval letter from a “direct endorsement” lender stating that you have made loan application, and your credit file has been reviewed. 
A direct endorsement lender is a mortgage lender that originates and funds mortgage loans in-house, and is not brokering the loan to a wholesale lender.  A direct endorsement may sell the mortgage loan in the secondary market, after the loan has funded, and there has been a post closing underwriting review.  Always ask your mortgage loan officer if they are a direct endorsement lender, a mortgage bank or a mortgage broker.  If they are a mortgage broker, most REO sellers will not accept pre-approval letter from them.
Many REO sellers will require the buyer to make loan application with their own retail lending division.  For example, if you are purchasing a REO property owned by Bank of America, the seller will require that the buyer make loan application with Bank of America Home Loans.  The seller allows the buyer to close their loan with a lender of the buyer’s choosing, however, they want the additional loan application and pre-approval to ensure that the buyer is mortgage qualified from more than one source.
Many REO properties are in less than perfect condition, and most REO properties are offered in AS IS condition.  The seller will do no repairs to the property, and allow no repairs to be done to the property prior to closing.  Conventional loans have minimum property standards required to obtain a loan, such as structurally sound, no foundation problems that need correction, a roof that doesn’t leak, and no bacteria like substances growing.  Some conventional loan programs have more stringent property requirements.  FHA 203b and VA loans have a higher level of minimum property standards than a conventional loan.  In addition to the conventional loan requirements, FHA 203b and VA loans require that all mechanical/plumbing systems be tested and operational, and no safety/hazard conditions – i.e. broken glass, trip hazards, defective flooring, no flooring, no worn counter-tops, etc. 
If the property is in fair to poor condition, and the buyer needs mortgage money to purchase the property, then there are rehabilitation loan products available to them.  FHA 203k rehab loans is the most comprehensive loan product that allows property acquisition funds and rehab/remodel funds all in one loan with one closing.  Many lenders have a purchase plus loan product that allows for purchase plus cosmetic repairs after closing rolled into one mortgage loan, with one closing.

During your house hunting trip, you see a couple of listings that are bank owned foreclosures, also known as REO (Real Estate Owned) properties.  These properties have been foreclosed upon through a process where they are offered on the county court house steps on the first Tuesday of each month by the trustee of the mortgage.  Most of these homes have a bid reserve, and if the reserve is not met, then the servicing lender takes the property back.  This is how a foreclosed property becomes a REO.  These REO homes are offered by local real estate agent for the servicing lender (Bank of America, Chase, Wells Fargo, OneWest Bank, etc. and additionally, may have also been transferred to Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, or HUD).
There are three very important steps needed to make an offer and purchase a REO property.
Be Patient – all REO properties are managed by an REO asset manager, either an employee of the lender, or an asset management company employed by the lender.  Each asset manager handles anywhere between 300-600 active properties at a time.  Communicating with, submitting offers, getting questions answered, or amendments signed with an asset manager that has that many properties is much different than doing the same with an individual seller.  Unlike an individual seller, the REO listing agent can rarely pick up the phone and have a conversation about a property with the asset manager, much less go to their office and sit down in front of them.  All communication is usually documented in the lender’s online system with document upload available.  Additionally, the asset manager has authority to make decision up to a certain financial point, but if it goes beyond that, then they will have to send the file out to upper management or an outside investor for approval.  Once again, the person making the decisions in upper management or outside investor level is also working with hundreds upon hundreds of properties.
Submit offer and contract packages exactly and follow the seller’s offer instructions exactly – when making an offer or writing a contract package on a property that is owned by a financial institution, each institution has specific corporate policies and procedures about what much be included in an offer package or contract package.  It varies slightly from institution to institution.  Most REO listing agents post offer instructions in the multiple listing service with the property that is for sale.  These instructions should be followed completely and fully, as leaving just one thing out may disqualify your offer or cause your purchase contract to get kicked back from the seller.
Choose the correct mortgage lender and loan program – if you are getting a mortgage to purchase a REO property, most REO sellers will want to see a pre-approval letter from a “direct endorsement” lender stating that you have made loan application, and your credit file has been reviewed. 
A direct endorsement lender is a mortgage lender that originates and funds mortgage loans in-house, and is not brokering the loan to a wholesale lender.  A direct endorsement may sell the mortgage loan in the secondary market, after the loan has funded, and there has been a post closing underwriting review.  Always ask your mortgage loan officer if they are a direct endorsement lender, a mortgage bank or a mortgage broker.  If they are a mortgage broker, most REO sellers will not accept pre-approval letter from them.
Many REO sellers will require the buyer to make loan application with their own retail lending division.  For example, if you are purchasing a REO property owned by Bank of America, the seller will require that the buyer make loan application with Bank of America Home Loans.  The seller allows the buyer to close their loan with a lender of the buyer’s choosing, however, they want the additional loan application and pre-approval to ensure that the buyer is mortgage qualified from more than one source.
Many REO properties are in less than perfect condition, and most REO properties are offered in AS IS condition.  The seller will do no repairs to the property, and allow no repairs to be done to the property prior to closing.  Conventional loans have minimum property standards required to obtain a loan, such as structurally sound, no foundation problems that need correction, a roof that doesn’t leak, and no bacteria like substances growing.  Some conventional loan programs have more stringent property requirements.  FHA 203b and VA loans have a higher level of minimum property standards than a conventional loan.  In addition to the conventional loan requirements, FHA 203b and VA loans require that all mechanical/plumbing systems be tested and operational, and no safety/hazard conditions – i.e. broken glass, trip hazards, defective flooring, no flooring, no worn counter-tops, etc. 
If the property is in fair to poor condition, and the buyer needs mortgage money to purchase the property, then there are rehabilitation loan products available to them.  FHA 203k rehab loans is the most comprehensive loan product that allows property acquisition funds and rehab/remodel funds all in one loan with one closing.  Many lenders have a purchase plus loan product that allows for purchase plus cosmetic repairs after closing rolled into one mortgage loan, with one closing.