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We Buy Houses and REOs and Help Stop Foreclosures and Successful Home Loan Modifications for homeowners that are looking for options and solutions to sell their house fast cash or stay.

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Superstorm Sandy (Waves batter the coast near homes in Narragansett, R.I., Monday, Oct. 29, 2012. A fast-strengthening Hurricane
Steven Senne/Associated Press

The wave of flood-insurance sticker shock that’s sweeping across the U.S. didn’t originate with Hurricane Sandy. But a year after the one of the most devastating storms in U.S. history, homeowners in Sandy-ravaged regions of the East Coast have been among the first to feel its impact — and loudly voice their protests. Even as those still rebuilding from the storm (pictured above battering the Rhode Island coast) complain of low-ball insurance payouts and government red tape, others are sounding the alarm about rate hikes that went into effect this month.

Property owners who’ve already been buying federally subsidized flood insurance are seeing their rates go higher, sometimes very much higher. As maps of flood-prone areas are reevaluated and redrawn, they’re soon to be joined by many others in other flood-prone regions of the country — many of whom might not even know that they’re now at risk of flood — or of having to buy prohibitively expensive flood insurance.

AOL Real Estate recently carried the accounts of those in newly designated “high-risk” flood zones as seeing their annual flood insurance premiums multiply from the hundreds into the thousands. And this past week at a meeting in Middletown, N.J., a local official decried the choice given hundreds of its citizens — between raising their homes to a higher elevation or paying higher insurance rates — as part of a “national Ponzi scheme” by the federal government. Middletown Patch further quoted officials there as saying that residents face insurance premiums of up to $31,000 a year if they fail to comply.

“We’re not alone here in Middletown,” said Committeeman Anthony Fiore. “This is happening up and down the coast of New Jersey. It’s happening in New York. It’s happening in Mississippi. It’s happening all over the place.”

In Mississippi, that state’s insurance commissioner filed a lawsuit in September to block the rate hikes, which he says could be as high as 3,000 percent, and in Florida, officials have pledged to file a legal brief in support. “The ripple effect that we’re going to be feeling in Florida and other coastal states, I don’t think anybody thought ahead about that,” Pam Dubov, the appraiser of Pinellas County, Fla., told The Associated Press.

Meanwhile, Bloomberg reported Thursday that reassessed rates are sending a chill through the residential real estate market. “We were getting five or six showings a week,” it quoted Wendy Lockhart, a St. Petersburg, Fla., real estate agent as saying. “Then when all this started hitting the front pages about three weeks ago, we’ve had no showings.” Lockhart also told the news service that because her insurance premium rose “from about $1,000 to $8,105,” she’s now having difficulty selling her own home.

Also this week, CNN quoted the president of the Massachusetts Association of Realtors as saying that the flood insurance cost is driving homebuyers away there, too. “We don’t have hard numbers yet, but we have a lot of anecdotal information about lost deals,” said Peter Ruffini. “Our company has lost several.” A Realtor in New Jersey told the cable channel, “For every $5,000 a year your flood insurance goes up, you’re losing $100,000 in property value.”

The flood insurance rate hikes that went into effect on Oct. 1 were put in place by Congress months before Sandy struck — in reaction to disasters such as 2005’s Hurricanes Katrina and Rita that brought so many claims that the federally financed program to insure flood-zone properties faced insolvency. The Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act, passed in July 2012, instructed various federal agencies to figure out how to keep the National Flood Insurance Program funded and running efficiently, and set a schedule of yearly insurance-rate hikes that would eventually eliminate the subsidized premiums for many property owners. It also called for updated maps of flood-prone regions.

Although it passed easily, there’s now a movement in Congress to delay or alter Biggert-Waters, with even co-sponsor Rep. Maxine Waters of California expressing dismay at the level of rate hikes and urging that they be delayed. The head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which is running the program, also has told Congress that he’s concerned about the poor and middle class being “priced out of their homes.” But he said that FEMA’s hands are tied until Congress changes the legislation.

FEMA’s FloodSmart website has links to local flood maps, including information about maps that are scheduled to be updated. The site also allows homeowners to determine their current risk levels as it directs them to agents selling NFIP policies in their areas. For those in flood zones, the slideshow below looks at the kinds of properties now affected by the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act.

FACING HIGHER FLOOD INSURANCE PAYMENTS:

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WASHINGTON — Average U.S. rates on fixed mortgages dropped this week to their lowest levels in four months, a positive sign for the housing recovery.

Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac says the average rate on the 30-year loan fell to 4.13 percent. That’s down from 4.28 percent. The average on the 15-year fixed loan declined to 3.24 percent from 3.33 percent.

Both averages are the lowest since June 20.

Mortgage rates have been falling since September, when the Federal Reserve held off slowing its $85-billion-a-month in bond purchases. The bond buys are intended to keep longer-term interest rates low, including mortgage rates.

And a slowdown in hiring in September makes it more likely that the Fed will continue its stimulus into next year.

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Jason Baker Photography via Zillow

By Erika Riggs

Edwin Gonzalez’s wife Lillian is the one who fell in love with the home. “Since she was a little girl, she’s always wanted a Victorian,” he explained. It was Thanksgiving 2008 and Lillian’s sister sent her the Gardner, Mass., listing. Three days later, Edwin and Lillian went to see the home.

“The minute we walked in, we felt like we were going back in time,” Gonzalez said. “Lillian said, ‘This is mine!’ It was a dream home, really, it’s very charming. It calls you in.”

They bought the home and moved in about six months later. That’s when they started hearing rumors about the stately Victorian. Apparently, their dream home was haunted.

The home is known as “The Victorian.” A gorgeous and enormous estate, it was built by furniture maker S.K. Pierce in 1875. With bay windows, intricate woodwork and a mansard roof, the house is a prime example of the period’s Victorian architecture. Nonfiction author Eric Stanway has written a book about the home’s history, which he believes could be the cause of purported ghost sightings on the property.

The first owner, Pierce, moved into the home with his family and shortly after, tragedy struck. His wife died suddenly of a bacterial disease, and he remarried another woman, Ellen, 20 or so years his junior. The age difference didn’t sit well with Pierce’s son, Stanway says. As a result, Ellen inherited the property instead of Pierce’s son. Following her death, Ellen’s son, Frank, took over the home in the 1900s. Frank, however, reportedly lost the entire estate in a card game, though he was allowed to remain living in the basement. “He’s one of the ghosts,” explained Stanway.

There are other rumors of unhappiness in the home, says Stanway. A girl drowned in the pond out back and at one point, the home reportedly operated as a brothel and one of the women working there was murdered in an upper bedroom. Another resident, a Finnish immigrant, fell asleep while smoking and burned to death.

“It’s had its share of things,” said Stanway. All of these events, he theorizes, have led to the influx of ghosts. “The place is crawling with them!”

The home at one point was slated to be torn down, not because of ghost activity, but for another issue. The house had not been updated for some time and at one point, stood vacant for 20 years.
Yet after the home was condemned, the city of Gardner didn’t have the funds to go through with demolition. The house ended up selling to another buyer. A younger couple, Stanway says, bought it with plans to fix it up.

But the new owners only lived there a few years before moving out. Again, the home was vacant until Gonzalez and Lillian decided to buy in 2008.

Ghost ‘Sightings’: Gonzalez says he knew nothing of the home’s history when he moved in, but from Day One, he’s reported odd things happening: an enormous potted plant tipping over for no reason, shadowy figures, footsteps, and a glass ornament that was moved from the mantle to rest exactly in the middle of the floor several times.

But it wasn’t until Gonzalez saw his first ghost that he started to believe that the home was more than just a bit odd. Prior to that, he dismissed any haunting story.

“I heard rumors about ghosts, but I thought it was so silly and I thought people just said that because [the house] was creepy,” he said. But then he had what he calls a “life-changing experience.”

“I saw a man appear in the nursery, in broad daylight, in what was my office,” Gonzalez said. “When I looked, this man, with jet black eyes, looked at me in this pasty white color. I didn’t expect it; I started shaking.”

Around the same time, a new neighbor stopped by asking Gonzalez if one of his kids could play. Gonzalez and Lillian don’t have children. But the neighbor claimed to have seen a small boy several times in the window.

Unbeknownst to Gonzalez, Lillian was having her own strange experiences, which culminated one morning. Lying in bed, Lillian said she felt a sudden pressure on her chest and lungs, making it impossible to move. That moment in 2011 scared both Gonzalez and Lillian enough that Gonzalez decided it was time to move out. Gonzalez says that they haven’t really been back since, other than to host the occasional ghost tour.

Today: Gonzalez and Lillian still own the home and have had it featured on a few ghost hunter TV shows. This fall, they’re offering ghost tours of the home with benefits going to the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life.

Despite their experiences, Gonzalez is unsure about selling. They still love the home and see its potential. “It’s still Lillian’s dream to fix it up,” he says. For now, they’re holding onto it — living in an apartment, while deciding whether the ghostly property is worth the investments.

Author Stanway echoes Gonzalez. “It’s a remarkable place,” he adds. “Architecturally, it’s brilliant.”

More from Zillow:
10 of the Most Haunted Homes in the U.S.
Homes for Sale in Haunted Cities
Bullet Holes Included in This Ma Barker Hideout Home for Sale

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Michael Jordan’s suburban Chicago mansion is up on the auction block — not because of foreclosure or bankruptcy, but perhaps because selling a home via auction seems to be an emerging trend in the luxury real estate market. “Instead of being at the mercy of the market and waiting for buyers to make offers, the sellers are able to name the date of their sale and the format, and they don’t have to deal with any negotiations,” Laura Brady, president of Concierge Auctions, which is handling the basketball star’s home sale, told AOL Real Estate.

Although many may think auctions are for collectibles, fine art, and distressed or bank-owned properties — such as the former Versace mansion that sold at auction last month for $41.5 million — home auctions actually have been a growing choice for those selling real estate, especially sellers of unique, high-end properties who want to take control of the sale process, say leaders in the auction industry. Among the advantages: Properties can be sold “as-is,” and with no financing contingency, no post-auction inspection period, etc.

There’s no minimum opening bid for Jordan’s 56,000-square-foot compound, but potential buyers of the former NBA superstar’s estate, which is being sold furnished, do have to put down a deposit of at least $250,000 just to qualify to participate in the home auction. The mansion, pictured above and in slideshow below, features nine bedrooms, 15 bathrooms and a regulation basketball court. The 7.39-acre property currently appears on the Multiple Listing Service priced at $21 million, down from last year’s list price of $29 million.

Concierge Auctions, which has set Nov. 22 as the live auction date of Jordan’s “Legend Point” property, is one of a few companies operating in the luxury real estate auction space. It and competitors such as Grand Estates Auction Company prefer to hold auctions on-site because, they say, it creates a sense of urgency for potential buyers, as well as being expedient and transparent. Participants bid in person, with paddles, as one might at an antique-collectibles auction. Sometimes, however, buyers will bid over the phone.

Grand Estates — which focuses exclusively on those properties — started in 1999 by auctioning off homes valued at $1.9 million and greater. Today the minimum value of a home has to be $2 million. A sister company, Interluxe, deals with lower-priced (but still high-end) homes. As AOL Real Estate has reported, there are even companies that help sellers of for-sale-by-owner properties auction off their homes.

“We were the first to enter the luxury real estate business,” says Grand Estates President Stacy Kirk Reich, who co-founded the company with her mother after one of their own properties sat on the traditional market a bit longer than they would have liked. Concierge began in 2005.

“When the market was on fire in 2005, 2006, 2007, sellers were using the auction because they thought they could exceed appraised values, and that was true in that market period,” Reich told AOL Real Estate in a phone interview. “Then from 2008 forward, when buyers were reluctant to act [under the traditional sales model] because they feared paying too much, auctions continued to surge ahead and do very well because there were sellers who wanted intensive marketing efforts that created an urgency for the buyers to act now.”

At the same time, says Reich, buyers were assured that they weren’t paying too much because they knew what the next closest offer was. The live, in-person auction process provides a layer of transparency that one does not find in closed bidding, in which each potential buyer puts in an offer above the reserve or list price, and they have no idea what the other buyers are willing to pay.

Between 2005 and 2008, said Reich, sellers were able to put reserves on the property that buyers were easily able to meet and exceed. Then as the market trended downward, the “absolute” market strategy became more popular because buyers wanted greater buying opportunities. (The “absolute” auction is when there is no minimum bid. With a reserve, the opening bid has to at least match the minimum amount at which the seller is willing to sell.)

Now in 2013, said Reich, “in many marketplaces where there have been double-digit appreciation — such as parts of Florida, like Naples, Miami and Palm Beach — sellers once again can set a reserve which buyers will bypass because of the rate of appreciation.”

Michael Jordan’s home has no reserve. “I have so many amazing, happy memories of my life in the house over the years,” Jordan, who helped lead the Chicago Bulls to six NBA championships, said in a statement issued through the auction house. “It’s where my kids grew up. It’s where I lived during my championship years. But my kids are grown now and I don’t need a large house there anymore.”

Jordan still has business interests in Chicago, including his restaurants. “Chicago will always have a piece of my heart,” said the basketball legend, who now lives in his home state of North Carolina.

MICHAEL JORDAN’S ‘LEGEND POINT’ MANSION:

More about home and real estate auctions:
Neighbors Dig Deep in Bidding War Over Narrow Strip of Real Estate
Luxury Homes on Auction Block in Bid to Buy Some Buzz
Kenny Rogers’ Estate on Auction Block

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By Abby Hayes

If you live in a city or county with high rates of home abandonment and foreclosure, you may be able to get a good deal on a new home, either for your primary residence or as an investment property.

In areas where high rates of home abandonment and foreclosure have become a huge problem, land banks are becoming a popular solution. These are organizations, typically run by the local government, that focus on acquiring and then reselling abandoned houses and lots.

Land banks are revolutionizing the way cities deal with abandoned or foreclosed properties, which have traditionally taken years to acquire, clean up and resell. Since the recent mortgage crisis, more and more cities have been opening land banks as they deal with huge numbers of abandoned, foreclosed properties.

Rather than letting abandoned homes drag down property values, reduce tax revenues and generally become a burden, local land banks are working to encourage homeownership, especially in urban areas with high rates of abandonment. Land banking is an interesting phenomenon, but what does it mean for you and your homebuying journey? Well, depending on where you live, you may be able to get an excellent bargain on an abandoned home with “good bones” or excellent redevelopment potential.

How the purchase process works. So how do you purchase a home from a local land bank? The short answer: It depends. Different land banks have different rules and ways of operating, so the main thing is to check with your local land bank. Some land banks sell primarily to nonprofits, while others open up sales to for-profit developers.

Often, nonprofit community development corporations (CDCs) work in tandem with their local land bank to acquire properties cheaply. These CDCs then renovate the properties and sell them at a still-discounted rate to individual homebuyers. If you’re interested in affordable housing but don’t want to do the renovation that land-banked homes often require (because they’ve often been abandoned for years), check out local CDCs to see about affordable housing opportunities in your area.

Other land banks sell directly to individual buyers in certain circumstances. Be aware, though, that land bank properties – particularly those in the most desirable conditions and locations – tend to sell quickly. So if you plan to buy a land-banked home on your own, be prepared to move quickly.

Here are the procedures for a few U.S. land banks, just to give you an idea of how purchasing a home through a land bank works:

Genesee County Land Bank (Michigan): The Genesee County Land Bank, one of the oldest in the country, has a residential buying program that allows individuals to by land-banked homes. Although many of the county’s properties need heavy renovation, some of the featured homes (which will, of course, have a higher purchase price) do not.

To buy a home from this land bank, you’ll need to meet certain down payment requirements, and you’ll need to fill out the Residential Property Interest Application to begin the purchasing process.

Dallas Land Bank (Texas): The Dallas Land Bank focuses on getting primarily empty lots to for-profit and nonprofit developers. These developers have to have built at least three housing units in the three years preceding their land bank purchase.

The Dallas Land Bank sells lots for about $4,500 each, and developers have to complete a proposal for the land bank property and be approved by the land bank board and city council before purchasing lots. Individuals in need of affordable Dallas housing should check with local nonprofit developers who specialize in buying and developing land bank properties.

Cuyahoga County Land Bank (Ohio): The Cuyahoga Land Bank, which includes Cleveland, lets owner-occupants buy homes in need of renovation for as little as $4,000. The land bank also runs a fixer-upper loan program, so buyers can access funding to complete necessary repairs on homes they buy from the land bank.
Under Cuyahoga’s Owner Occupier Advantage Program, owner-occupants have a 30-day opportunity to purchase homes that need moderate work before developers can jump on the properties. Owner-occupants have to go through the bidding process, agree to complete certain renovations and agree to live in the home for at least three years to qualify for this program.

As you can see, land bank procedures vary dramatically from one land bank to the next. But as more and more cities and counties open land banks, it’s worth a Google search to see if your city has a land bank program that could help you pick up a new home for a rock-bottom price.

More from U.S. News:
6 Tips for Boomers Leaving Big Homes Behind
7 Home Improvements That Will Save You Money This Winter
5 First-Time Homebuyer Mistakes to Avoid

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The ghosts and goblins in our homes might be more than Halloween decorations fashioned from scissored bed sheets and carved pumpkins — so say a large number of those recently surveyed about living in a haunted house. According to the poll by Realtor.com, more than a third of the consumers it questioned reported living in a haunted house, or at least in one that they suspect might be. And 63 percent said that they either would be willing to buy a haunted house or at least consider it — though far fewer would pay full market value.

2013’s Haunted Housing Report from the real estate listing and news site asked 1,400 consumers a few weeks ago a variety of questions about their experiences with and attitudes toward haunted real estate. Among the “warning signs” of a possible haunting: 61 percent cited a cemetery on the property; 50 percent, a home being at least a century old; while 45 percent said a very low price and a quick change of ownership. Close proximity to a battlefield was a concern for 43 percent.

Of those who would buy a haunted home, many said they’d only do so at a deep discount. Such a home would have to have a purchase price greater than a 30 percent, said 41 percent of the respondents, before they’d even consider buying one. But don’t bank on deciding once you’re ready to buy. Chances are you will not know that a house is haunted, because in most states the seller will not have to disclose purported paranormal activity — as seller disclosures tend to focus on the structural issues of the home.

The main way to find out: “Do your homework about the property. Go poke around the neighborhood. Ask questions,” says Leslie Piper, a consumer housing specialist for Realtor.com who is also a licensed San Francisco Bay-area agent. Piper told AOL Real Estate that she once bought a haunted house without realizing it. Although she never saw a ghost or spotted levitating objects, Piper says she did have eerie feelings about her Victorian home and had a reputed expert in such matters burn sage there as a way of removing the spirit.

“The concept of a house being haunted is one thing,” says Piper, “but actually seeing it, takes it to another level.” For instance, most survey respondents — 75 percent — said levitating objects would keep them from buying the home, whereas somewhat fewer — 63 percent — felt that they would be dissuaded by ghosts. Sixty-one percent said that they’d be scared off by “flickering lights/appliances” or “supernatural sensations,” with 60 percent expressing wariness about “strange noises.”

In 2012, Michele Callan and her then-fiance, Josue Chinchilla sued their landlord for a $2,250 deposit on a Toms River, N.J., home that they claimed was haunted, AOL Real Estate reported. The couple claimed to be victims of disturbing paranormal activity that included menacing voices, flickering lights, moving bedsheets and clothes mysteriously flying from closets.

Others, meanwhile, relish the possibility of a haunted encounter. The owners of purported axe murderer Lizzie Borden’s former home (pictured above), where she reputedly killed her parents, rents as a bed and breakfast for those hoping to spot the ghosts of Andrew and Abby Borden wandering the grounds.

Then there are whole towns in the U.S. that embrace the spirit of the Halloween season, not just now, but all year round, as seen in the slideshow below. Included are links to a sampling of homes for sale in those places — but please don’t assume any supernatural “extras” come as part of the deal:

AMERICA’S TOP HALLOWEEN TOWNS:

More about haunted houses:
Real ‘Haunted’ Houses
10 Haunted Houses You Wouldn’t Want to Live In
Haunted House Discounts in Hong Kong Scared Off by Housing Boom

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104 Helderberg Castle Rd, New Scotland, NY
Zillow

By Erika Riggs

The limestone ruins look ancient, like something abandoned by its residents hundreds of years ago along a misty loch in Scotland. The property, however, is not across the Atlantic but in upstate New York, most fittingly located in the town of New Scotland. The ruins are not as ancient, either.

The estate at 104 Helderberg Castle Road was built in 1935 by the reclusive Bouck White, a potter and Socialist activist. Located on 4.5 acres, the property also includes a contemporary 2,500-square-foot home, but the castle ruins, a pottery studio and various other outbuildings are the most intriguing selling points.

The property is listed at $179,900, available as a short sale, and listing agent Brian Brosen doesn’t mince words about the type of work it requires, saying the buyer will need to be someone “with a vision and sense of adventure.”

NEW SCOTLAND’S NOT-SO-ANCIENT RUIN:

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For Sale: New York Armory
Former Nuclear Missile Silo for Sale
Pacific Northwest Castle in the Woods

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foreclosure in new canaan ct
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By Christine DiGangi

The number of distressed properties last month decreased 27 percent from September 2012, with a little less than 1.3 million properties in some stage of foreclosure (default, auction or bank owned). That’s one in every 998 homes in foreclosure across the nation. Data from real estate site RealtyTrac showed that while foreclosures were up 2 percent from August, filings have continued to fall over the course of this past year. Prices of those foreclosed homes have also declined, in conjunction with rising values of non-distressed properties, resulting in a more significant discount.

In August, the most recent sales data available on RealtyTrac, the discount on foreclosed homes was 39.5 percent, or an average of $73,900. That’s an increased discount of $3,900 (5.6 percent) from last year, at a median sale price of $113,000. The median sale price for a non-distressed property in August was $186,900.

But the news isn’t good everywhere. Foreclosure activity spiked 104 percent in Nevada from July to August, as it overtook Florida as the state with the most foreclosures. It remained on top in September with activity increasing 44 percent from August. With 1 in every 249 properties in foreclosure, Nevada’s foreclosure rate is up 97 percent from September 2012.

Florida, Illinois, Maryland and New Jersey join Nevada as the five states with the highest foreclosure rates. In June, 1 in every 328 Florida homes had a foreclosure filing, and the rate has declined to 1 in 406 in September.

Below, AOL Real Estate has selected a gallery of higher-end foreclosed homes that are for sale in the 10 states with the most foreclosures on the market, as of September.

HIGH-END HOMES IN FORECLOSURE STATES:

More on Credit.com:
Why You Should Check Your Credit Before Buying a Home
How to Get Pre-Approved for a Mortgage
How to Search for Your Next Home

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Builder Sentiment (In this Friday, Nov. 16, 2012, photo, construction worker Miguel Fonseca carries lumber as he works on a hous
Gregory Bull/AP

By ALEX VEIGA

U.S. homebuilders were less confident in the housing market in October, reflecting their uncertainty over the budget impasse in Washington.

The National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo builder sentiment index slipped two points to 55. The September reading was revised down from an initial reading of 58.

Measures of current sales conditions for single-family homes, builders’ outlook over the next six months and traffic by prospective buyers all fell from September. The partial government shutdown has made it harder for some buyers to close on their mortgages, raising concerns that a prolonged shutdown could undercut the strength of the housing recovery.

Still, builders remain optimistic that the recovery will endure. Any reading above 50 indicates more builders view sales conditions as good, rather than poor.

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yellow model house with past...
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New requirements for Federal Housing Administration-approved mortgages go into effect today, presenting potential roadblocks for homebuyers with collections or judgments in their credit histories. While lenders have recently been able to take significant economic events into account in processing loan applications, today’s changes are a step in the opposite direction for loan accessibility.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development issued mortgage letters Aug. 15 instructing lenders to add collections accounts and judgments to an applicant’s debt-to-income ratio, one of the qualifying standards for an FHA loan. Loans made on and after Oct. 15 must follow these guidelines.

What Lenders Need to Look At: Charge-offs and medical collections are not included in these new standards, though they have a negative impact on credit scores and will therefore be factors in consumers’ credit-worthiness. For an applicant with more than $2,000 in collections accounts, the lender is required to incorporate those debts into the debt-to-income ratio, because paying those debts may interfere with the ability to make mortgage payments.

“It’s very dramatic because typically FHA has been geared toward people with less than perfect credit,” said Eddie Hilliard, a loan originator at Mortgage Acceptance Corp. in Florida. “Now for them to not only have to explain away the collections and judgments but to add them to the debt ratio — it’s really going to put them out of sorts.”

Collections accounts do not need to be paid off in order to qualify for an FHA loan, but judgments do. An exception can be made to the judgment rule if the borrower can arrange a payment schedule.

Additional Obstacles: The squeeze potential homebuyers may feel will be compounded by another regulation that goes into effect Jan. 10, 2014. As part of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, the maximum debt-to-income ratio will be 43%.

“Now, depending on the Automated Underwriting System findings, you could go as high as 55 percent,” Hilliard said. The AUS analyzes completed mortgage applications and applicants’ credit histories to generate loan decisions. Some applications are manually underwritten to consider circumstances of the debt, and by the new guidelines, mortgage applications of consumers with disputed credit accounts of more than $1,000 must be manually underwritten.

Such adjustments are steps toward strengthening the FHA loan program, which has been stressed since helping to fill the gap created by the collapse of the subprime mortgage market.

In some states, the regulations reach farther. In the nine community property states, even if one goes about the mortgage process alone, a spouse’s collections and judgments are factored into the debt-to-income ratio. (Those states are Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin.)

For anyone going for an FHA mortgage, the key is to pay those debts: Any payments that can lower your debt-to-income ratio will help. Take stock of your credit profile by reviewing your free annual credit report and ways to strengthen your credit. The Credit.com Credit Report Card is a free tool that shows you which areas of your credit you need to work on, and there are several approaches that can help consumers reduce collections debt.

“The best option now is to get ahead and make your debts right,” Hilliard said. Try to get a settlement, reach out to that creditor, make payments. You’re going to have to start making arrangements to clear that credit up.”

More from Credit.com:
Why You Should Check Your Credit Before Buying a Home
How to Get Pre-Approved for a Home Loan
How to Search for Your Next Home

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