Millions of Consumers Getting a Credit Score Boost

An overhaul in how several major credit reporting agencies factor in negative credit information is prompting millions of consumers’ credit scores to rise. Collection events were struck from 8 million consumers’ credit reports in the 12 months ending in June. The New York Federal Reserve reported Tuesday that consumers who had at least one collections account removed from their credit reports are seeing an 11-point increase to their scores.

Critics have long claimed such dings to scores are prone to errors or that they’ve unfairly kept many out of the borrowing market. Equifax, Experian PLC, and TransUnion have all agreed to revamp reports, which stems from a 2015 settlement with state attorneys general on the matter. In the settlement, the firms agreed to remove some non-loan related items that were sent to collection firms, such as gym memberships, library fines, and traffic tickets. They also agreed to strike medical-debt collections that have been paid by a patient’s insurance company.

Source: “Overhaul Boosts Credit Scores of Millions of U.S. Consumers,” The Wall Street Journal (Aug. 15, 2018)

Wildfires May Make Insurance Harder to Get in California

As firefighters work on the containment of at least 11 wildfires that continue to burn throughout the state, the California Department of Insurance is already warning homeowners about the insurance headaches they will likely face, even for those whose homes weren’t affected in the latest fires.

The increasing number and severity of wildfires will likely make it more difficult for homeowners in the state to find and hold onto insurance, the California Department of Insurance warns.

California Insurance Commissioner David Jones told the Associated Press that more insurance companies may choose not to renew policies, or may stop writing homeowners policies in areas with the highest fire risk. He also says homeowners in the state should be prepared to face rate increases. Also, some portions of the state may be reclassified from safe to high-risk for wildfires that could jump costs for homeowners.

Source: “California fires may make homeowners insurance harder to get,” Associated Press (Aug. 13, 2018)

5M Renters Have Fallen Prey to Online Scams

More than 43 percent of renters say they’ve found online rental listings that seemed fraudulent, and more than 5 million say they’ve actually been scammed—sometimes to the tune of thousands of dollars—according to a new report released by rental website ApartmentList.com.

The survey revealed that the most common scam is a “bait-and-switch” one, where a different property is advertised than the one that is actually available. The scammer is often able to collect a deposit or get a lease signed for the fake property. Another common scam is the “hijacked ad,” where a scammer takes a home that is legitimately for sale and poses as a fake landlord to collect funds. Apartment List also warns of a growing scam in which a listing property that is already leased is posted online. The scammer then attempts to collect application fees or security deposits from an unsuspecting consumer.

Source: “Ready to Rent a Home? Beware of These New Scams,” CNBC (Aug. 9, 2018)

Dip in Rates Provides ‘Stability’ for Home Sales

Borrowers saw a little relief from recent increases. Mortgage rates dropped slightly this week, with the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage averaging 4.59 percent, Freddie Mac reports. “This stability is much needed for home sales, which have crested because of the multiyear run up in prices, tight affordable inventory, and this year’s higher rates,” says Sam Khater, Freddie Mac’s chief economist.

Home prices are still climbing and rates are up from 3.90 percent a year ago. “Some prospective buyers are definitely feeling an affordability crunch,” Khater says.

Freddie Mac reports the following national averages for the week ending Aug. 9:

  • 30-year fixed-rate mortgages: averaged 4.59 percent, with an average 0.5 point, dropping from last week’s 4.60 percent average. Last year at this time, 30-year rates averaged 3.90 percent.
  • 15-year fixed-rate mortgages: averaged 4.05 percent, with an average 0.5 point, falling from last week’s 4.08 percent average. A year ago, 15-year rates averaged 3.18 percent.
Source: “Mortgage Rates Inch Backward,” Freddie Mac (Aug. 9, 2018)

Another ‘Client’ to Please: The Family Pet

Home buyers are increasingly being swayed by their pets when choosing which property to purchase. Three-quarters of home buyers say they would even pass up an otherwise perfect home—their dream home—if it did not meet their pets’ needs, according to a new realtor.com® survey of more than 1,000 consumers who’ve closed on a home in 2018.

Pet owners comprised 80 percent of recent home buyers—with dogs and cats being the most common types of pet—according to the survey. Younger buyers and those with children appeared to be the most influenced by their pets’ needs when shopping for a home, according to the survey.

Pet owners gave their two most desired features in a home: a large backyard and outdoor space. Other top features pet owners say they valued in a home included a garage, large square footage, a dog run and sturdy flooring.

Source: “One of the Family: Three-Quarters of Home Buyers Would Pass Up Dream Home for Pets’ Needs,” Move Inc. (Aug. 8, 2018)

Hike in Mortgage Rates Reduces Affordability

Borrowers got stuck with higher mortgage rates again this week. Mortgage rates are now at their fourth highest level of the year, Freddie Mac reports.

“The higher rate environment, coupled with the ongoing lack of affordable inventory, has led to a drag on existing-home sales in the last few months,” says Sam Khater, Freddie Mac’s chief economist.

The Federal Reserve this week voted to hold off on raising its short-term rate, “but the embers of a strong economy potentially stoking higher inflation, borrowing costs will likely modestly rise in the coming months,” Khater adds.

Freddie Mac reports the following national averages for the week ending Aug. 2:

  • 30-year fixed-rate mortgages: averaged 4.60 percent, with an average 0.4 point, rising from last week’s 4.54 percent average. Last year at this time, 30-year rates averaged 3.93 percent.
  • 15-year fixed-rate mortgages: averaged 4.08 percent, with an average 0.4 point, increasing from last week’s 4.02 percent average. A year ago, 15-year rates averaged 3.18 percent.
Source: Freddie Mac

Federal Reserve Leaves Interest Rates Alone

The Federal Reserve decided Wednesday to hold off on raising its short-term interest rates. But it hinted that it likely will deliver its third interest rate increase of the year at its next meeting in late September. The Fed’s key rate does not have a direct impact on mortgage rates.

“Economic activity has been rising at a strong rate,” the Fed’s statement read. Economic output rose at a 4.1 percent annual rate in the second quarter, which is the highest three-month increase since 2014.

The economy, the Fed, and inflation all have an influence on long-term fixed-rate mortgages. Rates are rising, the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage averaging about 4.71 percent, up from 4.09 percent in 2015, CNBC reports.

Source: “The Fed Didn’t Raise Rates. How to Prepare for the Next Hike,” CNBC (Aug. 1, 2018) and “Federal Reserve Holds Rates Steady, Says Economy Is Strong,” The Wall Street Journal (Aug. 1, 2018) [Log-in required.]

Too Much Income Devoted to Making Rent

Renters are struggling to catch a break. In seven of the largest U.S. cities, the average household would need to make at least six figures to comfortably afford the rent on a two-bedroom apartment, according to a new study by SmartAsset, a personal financial website. SmartAsset researchers looked at how much it takes to afford average rental rates in the nation’s 25 largest cities.

Households that spend more than 30 percent of their incomes on housing are considered “cost burdened” by most economists. SmartAsset researchers found rents in California’s largest cities took some of the biggest bites out of American’s paychecks. Four California cities ranked in the top 10 on the list: San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Jose, and San Diego.

A separate study, recently released by PropertyShark and RentCafe, found that if renters could save enough for a down payment they may fare better as homeowners. Renters in more than half of the 50 cities in the study could barely make it until payday, while in 44 of the 50 cities tracked, homeowners were projected to be able to save money each month.

The Kitchen New-Home Buyers Want

New-home buyers now rank all-white kitchens—once the most in-demand aesthetic—as their second choice, below natural wood cabinetry, according to a new survey from homebuilder Ashton Woods. Respondents to the survey, who are prospective buyers planning to purchase in the next 10 years, picked distressed wood cabinetry as their third most popular choice.

They also said living space is more important to them than bedroom size. Sixty-one percent say they would trade a larger bedroom in order to get a larger living area. Hobby rooms and home offices are also on their priority list, with 67 percent of respondents saying they want an office in their next home.

Source: “Here’s What Buyers of Newly Constructed Homes Want,” The Washington Post (July 26, 2018)

An Artificial Lawn Isn’t Maintenance-Free

Artificial grass, which comes in multiple textures, finishes, and colors, can give homeowners a low-maintenance alternative to natural lawns. But it has pros and cons.

Artificial grass doesn’t need watering and remains green all year, which is a big selling point for homeowners. It works well in most climates, particularly dry climates, but it’s not totally maintenance-free. For example, you’ll need to rinse an artificial lawn to clear it of dirt and debris. Also, you’ll need to “groom your lawn to fluff the blades of grass and keep it from becoming matted,” Rob Turley, general manager at Custom Turf in Finleyville, Pa., told realtor.com®.

Artificial lawn materials can be pricey and require special equipment to install, costing between $8 to $20 per square foot, Turley says. Natural grass costs about $0.25 per square foot, for comparison.

Source: “Is Artificial Grass Right for Your Yard? 5 Factors to Consider,” realtor.com® (July 23, 2018)