Staying On Top Of HOA Dues

We have mentioned before several key things to keep in mind when dealing with Homeowners’ Associations (HOAs). Some people highly underestimate the importance of paying the dues for the association. Beyond being cut off from services that the association offers, there can be several damaging effects to missing HOA payments. Here are the issues you may run across, and an article on AOL Real Estate provides more information should you need it.

The dues for a HOA tend to go towards several services provided by the association. These can be all sorts of things, from road and lawn maintenance to even certain utilities. These services vary between associations, and it is extremely important to keep tabs on what your dues go towards.

Missing these payments can cut you off from these services. Things like lawn service and water can be cut off. Many HOAs can and will put liens on your home if you miss payments. This could result in you having to go to court and possibly may end with you losing your home. That is certainly a situation you would want to avoid. These liens also show up on your credit report, and can be severely damaging to your credit score. We have mentioned before how to monitor your credit score, and cannot recommend enough that you do so.

Knowing the damage that missing these payments can do to your finances, it is of the utmost importance that you stay on top of them and ensure that your HOA dues are paid and paid on time. Even being late on these dues can cause harm to your finances, as some associations can impose late fees.

There are numerous areas in which you need to stay informed in regards to finance. Keeping up with all of them can be a daunting task. Reminders such as these can be an important part of ensuring that you do not cost yourself money by making an easily avoidable mistake.

Mortgage Modification: Being Prepared

United States Department of Housing and Urban ...

United States Department of Housing and Urban Development Seal (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In light of the recent lawsuits filed by fifteen states as well as federal agencies against mortgage modification companies that are scamming consumers, in some cases costing them their homes, we thought we would provide some tips to protect yourself. These are means to avoid scammers and be better informed about legitimate options for mortgage modification.

First, do not pay anything upfront for mortgage modification! any company that charges you upfront for these services is scamming you. This is the basis for most of the aforementioned lawsuits. They are attempting to curtail this unlawful activity.

Second, avoid any company charging monthly fees for mortgage modification or legal representation for such. Lawyers can be utilized to fight (but usually not stop) foreclosure or predatory lenders, but they cannot guarantee you loan modification. Any company claiming otherwise is not looking out for your best interests. A lawyer may be able to work out a modification with your bank as part of a foreclosure mitigation process, but no lawyer or outside company can guarantee such results.

Third, typically, your mortgage lender has any modification programs you might be eligible for available already. This is especially true of the federally subsidized programs, such as HAMP. If you are in a foreclosure process, filing for a HAMP modification can pause the proceedings, as legally, lenders cannot foreclose while a federal modification request is currently being  processed. Keep in mind, that you must hold up your end of that process and pay the newly modified loan if accepted. The good thing is that if you meet a government regulated criteria, your lender has to approve you if you apply.

The government has a website that has plenty of information about HAMP loans. If you are looking for a mortgage modification, this should be one of the first places to look. Also, check with your local HUD office to see if they have any other programs that might help. Check with your mortgage lender as well, as they can process applications for federal programs as well as private ones. Failing that, check with other reputable banks that handle mortgage loans. Some may have better rates than others. Also, veterans should check with the VA if they have not already, as they present options not available to civilians.

When applying for a mortgage modification. Be sure to have plenty of information available. Tax records, pay stubs, and household budgets are just some of the information you will need to be ready for the paperwork that comes with a modification. Be sure to have a good amount of time plotted out to fill out all of that paperwork as well.

These tips should help you be better prepared and protected should you decide to pursue a mortgage modification. For more helpful information, check out

Dealing with HOAs

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When attempting to buy a home with any sort of Homeowners’ Association or HOA, be cautious and ensure that you read all documents that are involved in the purchase very carefully. Homeowners’ Associations have numerous rules and bylaws that you need to be aware of. This is especially true in some parts of the state, where these associations can keep you from being able to purchase your home due to numerous reasons.

Most of these associations will run credit checks and criminal background checks to see if you qualify for membership in the association. Applicants with less than stellar credit or past issues with the law are at increased risk of denial by the association. Sometimes, these groups will allow applicants the opportunity to explain themselves. However, this is not any sort of guarantee that said explanation will be enough to sway them should they choose to deny you.

These deals also tend to come with a list of rules and restrictions. These could be anything from limits on pets to how tall you can allow your grass to get. Breaking these rules can result in fines or other punishments. Being aware of these rules before purchasing a home is vitally important. Make sure you know what you are getting into in order to avoid any major problems.

Also, make sure you are aware of what your dues are and when you must pay them. In Florida, a Homeowners’ Association can foreclose on a home over past due fees. This is obviously the last thing you want happening to you, so it is up to you to ensure that these payments are made on time, every time.

Being aware of the pitfalls of dealing with a Homeowners’ Association is extremely important, but there benefits as well. You usually have access to some extra amenities such as community  pools or clubhouses. The dues typically include the cost of services such as lawn care and water. Being aware of these in advance is important as well, as you would not want to pay for something again that you already pay for with your HOA dues.

We hope this gave you a better understanding of the ins and outs of Homeowners’ Associations. For any further questions, email

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Billionaire Recommends Buying Home as Smart Investment

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Billionaire money manager John Paulson recommends putting your money into your home. The Mega-wealthy money guru stated in a recent interview that he believes that buying a home to live in is the best investment one could make today.

Citing low interest rates, affordable prices and the high cost of renting as factors, Paulson reasons that you would be ahead of the game from the moment you put in your down payment. “Today financing costs are extraordinarily low. You can get a 30-year mortgage somewhere around 4.5 percent. And if you put down, let’s say, 10 percent and the house is up 5 percent, which is the latest data, then you would be up 50 percent on your investment,” hedge fund manager Paulson explained.

We are inclined to agree with Mr. Paulson. This is especially true if you follow the added caveat we often add that you look just outside the major cities, where costs are lower, congestion is less prevalent, and you can still take advantage of most of the perks of city life. When you can get more home for your money, with less stress, yet still enjoy the benefits of big city fun, why would anyone pass it up?

Rentals are overpriced.  Unless you are trapped in one due to an inability to afford a down payment (which we have covered workarounds for), there are few upsides to the inflated cost of renting. With the money you save on your residence, any repairs a landlord may have covered will cost you less than the extra rent money in most cases. With homeownership comes freedom. If you own your property, there is no landlord telling you how to live your life. What Mr. Paulson suggests is not just an investment in your financial future, but also your emotional well-being as well.

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European Buyers Bolster Florida Home Market

The NAR building and the U.S. Capitol in the b...

The NAR building and the U.S. Capitol in the background. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The real estate market in Florida is recovering quicker than in many parts of the country, and it owes much of that momentum to a rather unlikely source. The Florida housing market is being bolstered by buyers from Europe. This information comes from a study produced by the National Association of Realtors and published by Yahoo Finance.

The article points out that many coastal states are receiving a boost from foreign buyers. Many cities on the West Coast are being bolstered by Chinese buyers as proximity to IT and technology companies are providing families moving from China with new opportunities for professional advancement. Florida, along with Arizona are states being aided by buyers from European nations who want to live in warmer climates.

The benefits are mainly being felt by four states, Florida, California, Texas and Arizona. Many other parts of the country are still struggling as the middle and northern areas of the country are not as attractive to foreign buyers and investors. These deals have really kickstarted the markets where they are active though, as the majority of these sales are cash deals.

The Chinese buyers flocking to California are also trying to hedge their finances in the seemingly increasingly likely event that the Chinese real estate market suffers setbacks like the U.S. market did in the past few years. European buyers are already starting on the road to recovery after their own real estate woes. While the Yahoo Finance article does not state this, it would stand to reason that many of the European buyers are looking for investment or vacation properties.

How long this trend will last is anyone’s guess at this point. It is hard to predict how long conditions will persist in a foreign market, but an educated guess would assume that with the European markets beginning to recover and the Asian markets continuing to grow, the first real challenge to this trend is the perceived instability of the Chinese real estate market. That could provide a short term boom as people may look to flea a bad situation, but those left behind could feel the financial crunch from that, leading to problems down the line. Of course, this is all purely speculation at this point. The only thing we can really do is wait for more clear signs of activity before jumping to judgement.

Rate Increases Coming For HAMP Loans

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If you modified your mortgage early in the lifespan of the government’s HAMP initiative, watch your interest rates, as they may be climbing soon. The Home Affordable Modification Program, or HAMP was a program put into place by the federal government to help struggling homeowners avoid foreclosure. The program began in 2009, although the first big wave of homeowners enrolled in the program did not come until the following year.

What many people may not realize about the program is that at the five-year anniversary of the modification, the interest rates are designed to go back to the market average rate. This could result in increased payments of up to a few hundred dollars for many homeowners who may still be struggling to make their current, reduced payments.

This increase will begin for the first wave of enrollees in HAMP around October. Banks must warn homeowners of the increases 120 days in advance, which means that some may have already received their first notices. Another wave of notices should be due around Labor Day.

Those who waited until 2010 to get in on the deal will see their rates increase in 2015, during what is expected to be the largest glut of increases. The Treasury Department is said to monitoring the situation, and is ready to take further action if they see signs of another housing crisis looming due to these loan resets. They claim they are working with servicers to provide loss mitigation options should the need arise.

So for those who modified their mortgages under this program, keep an eye on your mail for those warning notices, and do not ignore them. Be prepared for when your rates increase and plan accordingly if you are able. If you are not able to handle the increase, open a dialogue with your mortgage provider and see what options may available to you. Whatever you do, do not just ignore the issue.

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Avoiding Home-buyer Regrets

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AOL Real Estate posted an article by the staff at Zillow about the common regrets experienced by first time homebuyers. Most of these regrets are avoidable if you go into your move with a little bit of planning. Just a little preparation can lead to a much more satisfying  experience. Here are ways to avoid some of the most common mistakes made by first time homebuyers.

Many buyers end up wishing they had something larger or with more storage space. There are a few ways to work around this, depending on your wants and expectations. Moving further from the cities can lead to more home for your money. Weeding out unnecessary stuff can free up more space if you can bring yourself to part with it. If your property allows for it and you have room in your budget, putting up a shed can give you plenty of extra space.

Another common complaint is paying too much and being caught off guard by the cost of closing. This is something that can be alleviated by talking things through with your Realtor and making sure you know what to expect and how much home you can afford. If you happen to be going it alone, there are plenty of resources online to help you understand closing costs and mortgage terms. Spending time researching them before going into a transaction can help you prepare and possibly save you a bundle.

Being dissatisfied with their neighborhood is another common complaint among homebuyers. The AOL Real Estate article provides some good advice here. Driving through on a Friday night gives you a good idea of what a neighborhood is really like. To add to that, there are also resources online to find out things such as crime records, property taxes, and other neighborhood specific information.

Many homebuyers also regret not having a larger yard. Again, buying further from the cities can help here. Also checking outside of large communities, out in rural areas can be helpful here. Checking with your Realtor about what you can afford and check around accordingly can be quite helpful here.

Parking is another major concern among first-time homebuyers. Having a little extra room in your budget can be helpful here. Then you may be able, depending on the neighborhood, to add an extra section to your driveway, or even an added carport.

Getting out there and doing that extra legwork and knowing what you can afford can prepare you for most contingencies and help you avoid most common regrets. Doing a little prep work beforehand can save you a lot of hassle later.

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Affordable City Living Can Be a Reality in Tampa Bay

Exterior of the Raymond James Stadium in Tampa...

Exterior of the Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Daily Finance has an article about how people are being priced out of city living by soaring prices. This is a topic that we have covered extensively. Most major cities in America are becoming havens for the rich as housing costs have squeezed most people out of the running for many residences. This is where Tampa Bay has an advantage over many parts of the country.

Real estate in Tampa Bay has more variety and affordability than most other major metropolitan areas. While there are still the high-priced “middle class lifestyle on an upper class budget” type of homes around, there are plenty of places that are affordable for the average household. With three major cities within a small radius, Tampa, St. Petersburg and Clearwater, there are options for just about everybody. There are also towns right on the outskirts of those cities that have plenty of affordable places within a short distance of the bigger cities. You have all of the benefits of the bigger cities with less of the hassle.

There is always a hint of the big city culture and entertainment scene anywhere you look in the Tampa Bay area. From Weeki Wachee Springs and Buccaneer Bay in Hernando County, to the Innisbrook golf resort in Palm Harbor, there hints of big city culture even far outside the cities themselves. Wherever you go in the Tampa Bay area, something exciting is nearby.

As for work and avoiding those long commutes, as previously mentioned, there are plenty of affordable places in and just outside of the cities, meaning short commutes without mountains of mortgage debt. This is great for those who have been priced out of other cities, as there is plenty of opportunity alongside plenty of affordable homes in the Tampa Bay area real estate market.

For more information about living in the Tampa Bay area, email

What Car Dealerships Can Teach Us

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Yahoo Finance has an article up about how and why the auto industry is recovering better than the housing market has recently. The answer they give was the same answer as to why the housing market crashed in 2008, subprime lending. The auto industry is thriving because they are more willing to provide credit to lenders looking to buy cars than the banks that provide mortgages are. Of course, we all know how that worked for the housing market.

The article does state that the auto industry is supposedly taking a better accounting of the risks than what the mortgage market did leading into the Great Recession. Whether this is actually accurate remains to be seen. However, there is a point there that bears note, and that is the idea that if the mortgage lenders were to be willing to do a better job accounting for the risks and and ensuring their loans were good risks, that loosened lending could very well have a positive impact on the housing market. We have shown before that steps have been put in place to attempt to ensure that this occurs, but as of yet, there is little data on their effectiveness given how new these programs are.

This does raise the question, “If there are measures in place to ensure mortgages are not being made to bad risk clients, why are there not more quality mortgages being written?” Part of this is due to the fact that these new guidelines also tightened the rules and requirements for getting a mortgage. Part of it is people being too burdened financially to take on a mortgage at this time. Part of it is the disillusionment that some people experienced after the mortgage crisis that led to a weary eye cast at any financial institution.

There is little that can be done about the tighter requirements. That was an unfortunate aftereffect of the mortgage crisis. The financial burdens placed on families across this country carry no easy or even uniform fix. The one thing that can be worked on is that public perception of the financial industry. This is a public relations issue. If people can see the positive effects of the new regulations, then they may begin to trust their institutions again. It may not be a cure all for the mortgage industry, but if more people are borrowing and making their payments, the banks may start to find ways to start lending to higher risk clients in a responsible manner again  like the auto industry appears to have done.

Mortgages that are easier to obtain means more buyers from across the demographic spectrum. This entices more people to sell, and the market flourishes. It can be done. If we want to see sustained growth in real estate, it must be done. There is something to be learned from the auto industry, the question is, will we learn it in time?

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Cautious Optimism Over the Tampa Bay Housing Market

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Market Watch has an article up that explains five reasons that they believe put fears over the state of the current housing market to rest. In the interest of keeping you up to date with everything going on in the housing market, we will run through their points and evaluate their claims so you can get a better idea where things stand.

Claim #1: Homes are really affordable right now.

This one is really on the money. We have stated numerous times on our blog how home prices are really great for buyers in the current market. Buying is currently far more cost effective than renting when one is able to make the purchase. We have also pointed out that here in the Tampa Bay area, home prices are among the most affordable in the country.

Claim #2: Student loans are not as much of a burden as people think.

This claim is one that is really subjective. For some, the burdens of high student loan payments can be crippling. For others, the article’s claims that many buyers can easily afford the loan payment plus the mortgage on a home holds true. However, even when payments are low, high debt loads could have a negative impact on mortgage availability. Some borrowers might have low student loan payments due to income-based repayment plans yet still owe a huge sum. They could likely have difficulty getting a mortgage. Really, this one has to be evaluated on a case by case basis.

Claim #3: Once current grad school students finish school, they will buy homes.

This is really another difficult one to evaluate, because we go back to the same discussion about student loans. If a grad student takes on considerable debt to get their degree, there can be issues with them qualifying for a mortgage.

Claim #4: Younger people are buying more new cars, so homes will follow.

This actually is a pretty good sign. So long as those buying the cars are keeping up with payments, it means that they are becoming financially secure enough to possibly afford a home as the need arises. This is a sign that really gives us some hope.

Claim #5: Getting loans is getting easier.

This is another one we have repeatedly touted ourselves.  We have posted several articles about how mortgages are getting easier to get and how low interest rates have kept them affordable. This is one we completely agree with.

Overall, it would seem as though the Market Watch article is at least half right, if not possibly better. This translates to some decent hope about the state of the market. However, unlike the purely rosy outlook of the article, we temper our optimism with caution. We believe things are on the right track, and so long as things stay that way, good things lie ahead.

If you want to keep up to date with more real estate news and information, bookmark and check back often as we update at least three times a week.

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