Mortgages 101

Quick Answers to Over 250 Critical Questions About Your Home Loan

 Mortgages 101

Author: David Reed
Pub Date: May 2008
Print Edition: $16.95
Print ISBN: 9780814401668
Page Count: 320
Format: Paper or Softback
Edition: Second Edition
e-Book ISBN: 9780814401835

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Chapter 1

Introduction to Mortgages

There's a lot more to buying a home than just picking one out and moving in. If you don't have a wad of cash stuffed in your sofa cushions, chances are you'll need a mortgage. Mortgage lending has been around for a long, long time, and some things haven't changed while other parts of the mortgage process are brand new. Knowing what you're getting into can help you to make the right decisions.

1.1 What's the difference between buying and renting?

One way you own the roof over your head, and the other way, you don't. If you've always rented or otherwise never owned a home, one of the things you'll discover is that when things go wrong with your house there's no landlord to yell at. There's no superintendent to come fix your leaky faucet. If your hot water heater is busted, you're the one who has to make the trip to your appliance store to shell out another thousand bucks or so just so you can take a hot shower in the morning.

When you rent, you can pretty much walk away as long as your lease agreement has been fulfilled. Want a change of scenery? Pack up and move across town. Want a swimming pool and fitness center without the hassles of owning either? Rent. Want new carpet or drapes every year? Rent. Want your utility bills paid? Rent. Free cable? Ditto. You get the point. Renting has its perks. Much less responsibility and no hassles of ownership.

1.2 How do I know if it's better to buy a home or continue renting?

Perhaps one of the easiest ways to determine if it's better to buy or rent is to sit down and calculate the financial advantages of owning versus renting. This is commonly done online with a "rent versus buy" calculator found on the Web.

Tell Me More

These calculators compare your current or probable rent situation with a projected home ownership number. They're easy to find. I ran a Google search for the term "mortgage and calculator" and retrieved 6,100,000 websites that had those two terms.

But the kicker is that these calculators rarely will they tell you, "No, it's not a good idea to buy." That's because of the tax benefits of home ownership. The interest and property taxes associated with a mortgage are generally tax deductible. You can deduct them from your gross income when you file your taxes. With rent, you can't.

Yeah, I know. When you're a renter you don't pay property taxes or mortgage payments. Instead you give money to someone else for the privilege of living there. But you can't write off your rent. It's just that. Rent.

When might a "rent versus buy" calculator suggest it's better to rent? When you intend to own your next home for only a year or so. Buying a home incurs other expenses, such as money for the down payment, property taxes, and hazard insurance (which is much higher than a renter's policy). Many apartment complexes pay your electric bills along with water and other utilities. When you own, you pay all these expenses. Owing a home with all its tax benefits doesn't outweigh the acquisition costs to buy the home if you're only going to own it for a short period. Short term, rent. Longer term, buy. Are your rent payments the same or less than what a mortgage payment would be? Depending upon where you live, they may be the same. Especially if interest rates are relatively low.

Let's say you're renting a nice 3,000-square-foot, three-bedroom home close to schools in a friendly neighborhood. You might be paying $1,800 each month in rent. A similar three-bedroom home might cost $150,000. If you put 5 percent down to buy the home, your monthly house payment, including taxes and insurance, would be close to $1,200 using a 30-year fixed rate at 7.00 percent.

If rent payments in the area you want to buy are near what a mortgage payment would be, it makes sense to buy. If you can save $600 per month and you also get to write off the mortgage interest and property taxes, then it's truly a no-brainer.

Another reason buying is generally better than renting is simply a matter of appreciation and equity. When you rent and property values increase, your landlord will probably raise your rent again. And, of course, each time you make a rent payment you're not increasing your equity in anything; you're just helping your landlord increase his stake in your house or apartment. I'll give you an example.

Your rent is currently $1,000 per month, and you're thinking about buying a $150,000 home. If you put 20 percent down and borrow $120,000 at 7.00 percent on a 30-year fixed rate, your principal and interest payment are about $800 a month. Let's also assume that property values are increasing in your area by about 5 percent per year. What's the situation after two years?

If you rented, you paid someone else $24,000. But if you owned and itemized your federal income taxes, you likely deducted over $16,600 in mortgage interest on your income taxes. You also paid your loan down by over $2,500 while at the same time increasing your equity position in the house by nearly $18,000.

Now you see why those calculators always tell you to buy a home.

Through all of these calculations, remember the real reason for buying: You buy a home because you want to. Because you like the place. It's your home. A home is one of the largest single financial commitments someone can make. And while I agree with that statement, let's not go overboard here. Buy a house because you want to, not because some calculator told you so.

1.3 How should I search for a house?

That's easy. Start doing some research on your own on the Internet, even before contacting a real estate agent. If the Internet was invented for any particular industry it has to have been for real estate. Before the World Wide Web was born, one could typically locate houses only in the newspaper on the weekend. If you saw a house that you liked, you'd contact the agent selling the home. Then came the endless cycle of driving around in a real estate agent's car looking at houses until--finally, finally--you found a home you wanted to buy.

Tell Me More

The Internet has helped agents become more productive by letting consumers do a little shopping first before they get serious enough to use an agent. An agent who advertises a house is called the "listing" agent, because he puts the house for sale on the multiple listing service, or MLS.

The agent will show you the home and ask if you are using another agent. If you aren't, the agent will ask if you would like to see other homes for sale. You of course say "yes," and the agent then becomes a "buyers" agent as well, helping you find a home to buy and not just listing a house for sale. You give your agent your requirements for your dream home, such as four bedrooms on a cul-de-sac with a swimming pool. Your agent would then scour the MLS to search for such homes. After the search, you'd both get in the agent's car and go see the homes.

But viewing homes on the Web gives both you and your agent a head start. You only look at homes you're interested in, and the agent's not dragging you all over town to look at homes you'd never buy. Your agent spends more time selling or listing homes and less time driving all over the place.

You can start with At this official site of the National Association of REALTORS, you can search for homes anywhere in the country or across town using home listings from your local newspaper to your local or even national real estate brokerage. It's really cool. You simply log onto the site, choose where you want to live, and select your preferences, like four bedrooms in this zip code in this price range with a pool or without, and so on. Next thing you know, there are your potential dream homes right on your computer screen. Some sites even have "virtual" tours showing different views of the house. This way you can see what homes are selling for and what's generally available.

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