Real Estate: Time to Sell that Large House?

American homes are a lot larger than they used to be.  In 1973, the median size of a newly built house was 1,500 square feet.  In 2015, that figure was 2,500 sq. ft. – 67% more. Plus, with smaller families, there is lots more room per person: 507 sq. ft./person in 1973, and, almost double, 971 sq. ft./person in 2015.

In addition, Americans aren’t any happier with bigger houses.  A study by PhD Clement Bellet found that “house satisfaction in the American suburbs has remained steady for the last four decades.”  His reasoning is based on the premise that people compare their houses to others in the neighborhood-particularly the biggest ones.  The largest homes in the neighborhood seem to be the benchmark.  Dr. Bellet tracked the “one-upmanship” by owners of the biggest homes from 1980 to 2009.  He found that the size of largest 10% of houses increased 40% more than the size increase of median houses.  Apparently, the competition never ends.

Fifty years ago, a one bathroom house or a bedroom that slept 3 siblings might have felt cramped- but it also probably felt normal.  Today, many Americans can afford more space and they’ve bought it. They just don’t appear to be any happier with it.

Dr. Robert Shiller, the noted Nobel Prize winner and co-author of the Case-Shiller index of housing prices, was interviewed recently by the WSJ for an article titled “The Biggest Ways People Waste Money”.  Dr. Shiller opined that “Big houses are a waste.”  He believes that modernization has reduced our space needs.  However, he recognizes, that for some, a big house is a symbol of success. Your neighbors may not know about your finances and achievements, but they can see your big house.

Dr. Shiller suggests books such as “The New Small House”- that talk about designing houses to look impressive as well as function on a smaller scale. Living smaller can be easier on the pocketbook, the owner’s time and the environment.  He concludes: “Just like Uber and Lyft and Airbnb, using resources more efficiently, we can also build houses that are better at serving people’s needs without being big”.

As a result, we’re seeing that fewer people want to buy large, elaborate dream houses.  We know that in the high-end suburbs of Chicago that prices today, in some cases, are ½ of what they were 10-15 years ago. In the Southeast and the Sunbelt, McMansions are sitting on the market, enduring deep price cuts to sell.  For example, Kiawah Island currently has 225 houses for sale, which is a 3-4 year supply.  Of these, the largest and most expensive are the hardest to sell, especially if they haven’t been renovated recently.

The problem is expected to get worse in the next decade.  Baby Boomers currently own 32 million houses, 40% of all the homes in America, and many of these homes are big ones. As the Boomers advance into their 70s and 80s, many will be looking to downsize and/or move to senior housing and therefore will attempt to offload their big house.

When we at DWM talk with clients about housing, we generally ball park a figure of 5-7% of the market value of the house as the annual net cost.  The costs include interest, if there is a mortgage, the opportunity costs of not investing the equity in the house, real estate taxes, insurance, and maintenance and repairs. From this total we subtract the expected appreciation.  For example, a $500,000 house with a $200,000, 4.5% mortgage, might have $9,000 in interest, $18,000 in opportunity costs, $5,000 in real estate taxes, $3,000 in insurance and $5,000 in repairs. Total costs of $40,000 less 2% appreciation of $10,000 nets $30,000 in annual net costs or 6% of the market value.  Of course, values differ across the country and by house. Furthermore, there are some sections of the country experiencing excellent appreciation and some that are experiencing deprecation in value.

As we look at our spending, it’s always good to compare the value received to the cost and, if the cost exceeds the value, a change might be in order.  In our example, if the couple owning the $500,000 house feels they are getting $30,000 or more per year of value from the house, that’s great.  If they are not, particularly if they have a bigger house that may not be appreciating and may be hard to sell in the future, they may want to think about a change now.  Give us a call if you would like to discuss this very important topic.

Moving Forward with Reverse Mortgages

reverse mortgageUntil recently, we haven’t thought too highly of reverse mortgages.  High fees and expenses and inflexible settlement options made reverse mortgages problematic for aging homeowners and their heirs.    Now, important changes including the Reverse Mortgage Stabilization Act of 2013 and more recently last April HUDs (Department of Housing and Urban Development) “Financial Assessment” have made reverse mortgages safer for both borrowers and lenders.  These changes have lowered the upfront costs and put protections in place to ensure the borrower has a capacity (income test) and willingness (credit) to maintain the property and afford taxes/insurance going forward.  With the growing “Aging in Place” movement across the nation, reverse mortgages have become a potential strategy in retirement planning.  Let’s look at two examples.

First, keeping your existing home.  Let’s say you have a large home with an existing mortgage and would like to live there another 5-10 years and reduce your current expenses.  A reverse mortgage might be an answer. You can use the Home Equity Conversion Mortgage (HECM) program to pay off your existing loan and even open a line of credit for future needs.  The maximum principal limit or loan amount is based on the value of your home, the age of the youngest owner, and interest rates.  Since this loan is insured by FHA (Federal Housing Administration) there is a maximum value of the house of $625,500.  Let’s say you are 75 and your spouse is 74.  Age 74 produces a principal loan amount of approximately 60% of the home value; i.e. a $375,000 line of credit (“LOC”).  Further, let’s say that you have a current mortgage of $300,000. This existing mortgage will need to be paid off at closing, so the net LOC availability would be approximately $75,000 which can be used for emergencies, travel or whatever you wish.  Going forward, no monthly mortgage payments would be required and the current payment of let’s say $1,000 no longer goes out each month, therefore increasing your monthly cash flow. Plus the line of credit increases each year by 1.25% above the interest rate so there are potentially more funds available down the road.

Before we leave this example, let’s discuss how a reverse mortgage is paid off.  Assuming you are joint borrowers, the loan must be paid off at the earliest of 1) when you both move out, 2) when you sell the house, or 3) when you both die.  Also since this is a non-recourse loan you, your estate, or your heirs will never owe more than the value of the home at the time of sale.  On the other hand if there is still equity in the property at the time of sale, that remains with you, your estate, or your heirs.

Second, purchasing a house.  Let’s assume, on the other hand, you decide to downsize by selling your existing home.  Let’s say you find a new home for $500,000 that you love and traditionally would have to seek financing or pull from other assets to complete this new purchase.  However, using a reverse mortgage for purchase you qualify again for approximately 60% or a $300,000 loan.  The net result is you only have to bring $200,000 of your net proceeds from the “big house” sale to complete the purchase. The remainder of your sales proceeds could be invested and ultimately spent or left as part of your legacy.  Again, you will not be required to make principal or interest payments on the new house while you live there.  And, again, this is a non-recourse loan, regardless of house prices, interest rates and how long you stay there, you will never owe more than the value of the home at the time of sale.  And, if there is still equity when it sold, you, your estate or heirs will receive it.

As you can see, reverse mortgages may be an excellent strategy for some seniors.  Of course, every family’s situation is unique and full details are needed to determine if a reverse mortgage is appropriate.

In Charleston, we have found a great source of information on this topic, David Heilman of Franklin Funding.  David is one of 130 professionals across the country who have obtained the Certified Reverse Mortgage Professional® (“CRMP®”) designation.  These folks not only know what they are doing, they have committed to ethics standards concerning their work.  David is part of a national organization, National Reverse Mortgage Lenders Association, whose website, provides information on reverse mortgage lenders across the country, some of which have the CRMP® designation.

We expect reverse mortgages to be a strategy that will be of benefit to more of our clients in the future and wanted to let you know some of the basics and DWM’s ability, collaborating with appropriate professionals, to help guide you through the process of due diligence and implementation.  Please give us a call if you have a question.





Advice for New Nesters

New NestersThey have graduated from college and have finally secured their first job. They are officially launched. Give yourselves a high five. It is what all parents dream of and sometimes fear. An empty nest with quiet solitude and, presumably, less mess and lower grocery bills. Now those fledgling adults need their own places to roost, but rents are high in Charleston or Chicago or other cities where they may have migrated. The best areas to live and work are always the most expensive. Paying rent to a landlord can seem like throwing money away. Wouldn’t it make more sense for them to buy their own nest?

The good news is that mortgage rates are favorable now and the real estate market is stronger in many areas. Real estate will likely be an asset that appreciates. There are some favorable mortgage programs for first-time home buyers. Generally, there are two categories for loans: the conventional mortgages offered by Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac and then the slightly more lenient programs offered by the FHA. There is also a kind-of hybrid program offered by Fannie Mae called My Community Mortgage that is similar to the FHA loan programs, but has income limitations based on the HUD median income in your area. Lastly, if looking in a small-town area, there is a USDA loan program that offers favorable rates, flexible lending guidelines and can offer options with no down payment. There are location and income limitations for the USDA loans, but worth looking into, if purchasing real estate in a small town. The individual banks will occasionally offer short-term “niche” loan programs, but there can be some catches with those.

The first place to start in the home-buying process is to get an accurate and current credit score and credit report for your first-time home buyer. All loan programs will require this information from the buyer and it is good for them to know where they are before starting the process. Lenders look carefully at payment history, debt ratios and employment history for young buyers. FHA loans will allow letters of explanation for credit issues and flexibility in some of the other guidelines. They can get pre-approved for a mortgage so they know exactly what amount is possible to borrow. Generally speaking, the conventional mortgages require a credit score minimum of 680. The other programs are more flexible and will individually evaluate to qualify, though 620 is probably their minimum. They can certainly start by checking with their bank on what they can do. The mortgage broker we spoke with says that they work hard to find the best available option for the borrower and to make sure that they manage the underwriting process to ensure qualification. Having options and someone to help with underwriting can be especially useful for a first-time buyer. The rates and down payment minimums might be better in a conventional loan program, but the guidelines are a little stricter. It is advisable for the new buyer to get educated and look into improving their credit worthiness, if needed.

Prior to real estate shopping, it is also recommended that the buyer have a very good understanding of their budget so they know exactly how much house they can afford. It is good to remember all the “sleeper” costs in both the purchase and ownership of a home. There are settlement costs, taxes, insurance, maintenance, repairs, HOA fees etc. that all should be considered as part of the budget. Also, have the potential new nester check out the neighborhood at different times of day to see if it meshes with their lifestyle. And be sure to test the commute to and from work… in this day and age, that can be a very big consideration for quality of life as well as resale!

There are several options for you to participate in as parents. All of the programs allow some down payment and/or settlement cost help from family members. The rules vary, but there are definitely options to provide 100% as a gift, as long as the buyer can qualify for the mortgage on their own. The lender will require proper gift letters and possible bank statements. There is also the ability to be a non-occupant co-borrower that can help with qualification, as long as the occupant can demonstrate that they can afford the payments with their income. This will affect the parents’ debt ratio and appear on their credit report. You could also purchase something and rent it to your child, possibly even with a rent-to-own contract. There are, of course, tax advantages to ownership for the young buyer and may be advantages for you, also.

DWM clients know that financial planning assistance for their children, including first time home buying, is covered as part of our Total Wealth Management process. We’re happy to help with nest-building for the entire family.