Nikki Smith

Nikki Smith

A graduate of California State University, Fullerton, where she served as executive editor of the school's award-winning Daily Titan newspaper, Nikki Smith moved to Washington D.C. in 2006 to take a job as a financial reporter. Since the demise of print, however, Ms. Smith has shifted her focus to the wonderful world of Web. At Federal Title she wears many hats including: copy writer, event planner, media liaison, graphic designer, Web developer and marketing strategist. She is the architect behind federaltitle.com and managing editor of its official blog.

Close It!™ House of the Week: Renovated red brick Colonial

Written by Nikki Smith ON Thursday, 12 March 2015

This week we're checking out a renovated brick Colonial that's just three blocks from the Friendship Heights Metro stop. It's listed at $899,999.

Newly on the market, this house has 5 bedrooms and 3 bathrooms over 4 levels, including a newly renovated au pair suite that has its own private entrance. Additionally it has a gourmet kitchen with a large dining room adjacent. 

Assuming a homebuyer puts down 20 percent on a conventional loan, her cash to close number will be approximately $205,612.57. Monthly payments will then be around $3,984.48 per month, including HOA dues. For a complete picture of the cash to close, or for a run-down of the seller's side of the deal, plug the numbers into the Web version of Close It™ or download the free iOS app.

Headlines: More shipping container residences; what's in store for Half Street

Written by Nikki Smith ON Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Here's a look at what's happening in real estate in and around the District of Columbia.

DC region housing market off to an encouraging start

February’s winter storms didn’t do much to damper the enthusiasm in the D.C. region’s housing market, an encouraging sign heading into the busy spring season. -Washington Post


22 shipping container condos planned near H Street Corridor

The 22 residences would be built like rowhouses, with two units per three-story house. The homes would be built 16 feet wide and the units would be about 1,200 square feet each. -Urban Turf

How tiny mortgage rate moves can buy you a lot

It may seem like mortgage rates have been vacillating in a tight range, brushing up against 4 percent on the 30-year fixed and then falling back. Rates, however, are still considerably lower than they were a year ago. -CNBC

Jair Lynch details Half Street vision

Five months after it acquired the hole-in-the-ground from longtime owners Monument Realty and Lehman Brothers, a partnership of Jair Lynch Development Partners and MacFarlane Partners has filed its plans to revive the Half Street project across N Street Southeast from Nationals Park. -Washington Business Journal

Close It!™ House of the Week: Enjoy heated floors, hot tub during the final stretch of winter

Written by Nikki Smith ON Thursday, 05 March 2015

This week we're looking at a charming single family home located just north of Military Road and across from Rock Creek Park. It has a gourmet kitchen with stainless steel appliances as well as a terraced back yard and large, enclosed patio. The list price is $925,000.

There are 4 bedrooms plus 4.5 bathrooms, including an au pair and master bedroom suite that features a heated marble floors and a Jacuzzi with air and water jets. 

Assuming a homebuyer puts down 20 percent on a conventional loan, her cash to close number will be approximately $211,922.20. Monthly payments will then be around $4,096.36 per month, including HOA dues. For a complete picture of the cash to close, or for a run-down of the seller's side of the deal, plug the numbers into the Web version of Close It™ or download the free iOS app.

Headlines: When baby boomers become empty nesters

Written by Nikki Smith ON Wednesday, 04 March 2015

Here's a look at what's happening in real estate in and around the District of Columbia. 

Save at settlement by cutting your closing costs

By understanding what title insurance is, how it works and why you need it, you can ensure you’re adequately protecting your real estate investment without spending more money than you have to. -Washington Post

How Starbucks impacts home values in the DC metro area

Looking for somewhere to live that's constantly abuzz with soaring home prices? If you live near a Starbucks, you'll find that and much more. In top 10 list of U.S. Metro areas whose home values were most affected by Starbucks, Washington, D.C. placed third. -Curbed DC

When appealing a property tax assessment in DC fails

In the past year, 4,507 valuation appeals went to RPTAC, of which 3,290 were residential. That was a big increase for the small commission, with valuation appeals up 1,236 from the year before. -Urban Turf

Home price gains stall in Washington 

Home values in the Washington market continue to rise much more slowly than many other cities, with prices little changed from a year ago, according to real estate firm CoreLogic Inc. -Washington Business Journal

Sticker shock stalls downsizing boomers

Their desire, however, to live in walkable, urban centers, where they can lead an active physical and cultural lifestyle, is just not affordable in today's tight market. They are therefore staying put longer, and causing a huge shortage of available inventory for the overall housing market. -CNBC

Downsizing tips for empty nesters

Life is a journey. Couples buy the big house when they start their families. But when their kids fly the coop, they’re stuck with a too-big house that no longer meets their needs or fits their lifestyle. -Washington Post

Headlines: Consumers don't shop for mortgage, title services enough

Written by Nikki Smith ON Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Here's a look at what's happening in real estate in the District of Columbia and beyond. 

Why DC's housing inventory shortage will continue 'for the foreseeable future'

A recent uptick in the number of homes on the market hasn’t been enough to balance an inventory shortage in the DC metro, and low inventory will likely continue to be a theme through the year. -Urban Turf

How to negotiate closing costs on a newly constructed home

Today, many builders offer incentives to the buyer in the form of either upgrades to the house or credits given at settlement that help reduce the closing costs. -Washington Post

How much for a Georgetown condo under 440 square feet?

This zero-bedroom condo thinks a lot of itself, and it should with how well it's able to transform a potentially cramped abode into a well-lit, well-furnished space. -Curbed DC

JBG acquires majority of Akridge's Half Street project by Nationals Park

DC developer Akridge has sold the majority of its Half Street parcel across from Nationals Park to The JBG Cos., which is expected to redevelop the site with two new residential buildings and a large amount of what one executive called "dramatic" retail. -Washington Business Journal

Study shows consumers spend too little time mortgage shopping

According to a recent report by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) in conjunction with the Federal Housing Finance Agency, a significant number of consumers may not be shopping enough to ensure they are receiving the mortgage that best fits their circumstances. -Washington Post

Equity One unveils Westbard development plans

The condo building proposed for the Manor Care site would have 75-foot heights facing River Road, but rise 50 feet in the back to better fit in with the single-family homes in the neighborhood. The company is planning about 250 units for the two buildings. -Bethesda Magazine

Close It!™ House of the Week: Where nature and nightlife meet

Written by Nikki Smith ON Thursday, 19 February 2015

This week we head just across the DC / Maryland border to a townhouse adjacent to the woods in Silver Spring. The location provides convenient access to the trails of Rock Creek Park as well as shops and nightlife in Downtown Silver Spring. It's listed at $464,950.

The unit has 2 bedrooms, 3.5 bathrooms and 2 fireplaces. The kitchen is spacious with stainless steel appliances, and the house also comes with a home warranty. 

Assuming a homebuyer puts down 20 percent on a conventional loan, her cash to close number will be approximately $106,746.02. Monthly payments will then be around $2,558.31 per month, including HOA dues. For a complete picture of the cash to close, or for a run-down of the seller's side of the deal, plug the numbers into the Web version of Close It™ or download the free iOS app.

Headlines: Millennials make their way into mortgage market; more on fate of pop-ups in DC

Written by Nikki Smith ON Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Here's a look at what's happening in real estate in the District of Columbia and beyond.

Millennials jump into the mortgage market

Statistical measures and anecdotal reports suggest that young couples and singles in their late 20s and early 30s have begun making a belated entry into the home-buying market, pushed by mortgage rates in the mid-3-percent range, government efforts to ease credit requirements and deep frustrations at having to pay rising rents without creating equity. -Washington Post

Report: 1 in 3 FHA borrowers would benefit from a refinance

With mortgage rates as low as they’ve been in more than a year, refinancing is becoming a cost-saving option for many homeowners. -Urban Turf

DC proposes limits on pop-ups

In response to citizen concerns, the D.C. Zoning Commission is considering an amendment in selected R-4 zones (single-family-attached dwellings) to reduce allowable building height and permit no more than two units per row house lot. This is essentially a neighborhood preservation initiative. -Washington Post

The Height Act for dummies

With all the hubbub over pop-ups and new development, population growth and the changing landscape of the city, Washingtonians should get straight on this one. The truth is a little more complicated and perhaps a little less romantic that the myth. -Urban Scrawl

Goldstar to begin work on 41-unit Hill East condo

The construction of a 41-unit condo building at 1500 Pennsylvania Avenue SE, in Hill East, will begin in April. The four-story residential building with parking garage will be finished by the end of 2015. -Elevation Media

Close It!™ House of the Week: A darling Bethesda bungalow

Written by Nikki Smith ON Thursday, 12 February 2015

For this week's pick, we're venturing down Western Avenue into one of Bethesda's nicest neighborhoods to check out a darling bungalow. Located about a mile from the Friendship Heights Metro, this home is within walking distance of plenty of shops, restaurants, trails and transportation options. It's listed at $650,000.

There's two bedrooms plus a finished attic that can be used for an additional bedroom or office space. It has a large deck in the back yard and a wooden picket fence in the front yard, increasing the amount of space for kids and pets to safely roam. 

Assuming a homebuyer puts down 20 percent on a conventional loan, her cash to close number will be approximately $149,121.72. Monthly payments will then be around $2,859.85 per month. For a complete picture of the cash to close, or for a run-down of the seller's side of the deal, plug the numbers into the Web version of Close It™ or download the free iOS app.

Headlines: Despite cold weather, DC area housing market heating up

Written by Nikki Smith ON Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Here's a look at what's happening in real estate in and around the District of Columbia. 

DC-area housing market is on a roll

Typically, January is one of the slowest months of the year. But last month, according to analytics firm RealEstate Business Intelligence (RBI), a subsidiary of Rockville-based multiple-listing service MRIS, the market showed across-the-board progress. -Washington Post

Washington home prices reach highest January level in 7 years

The median price of a house or a condo that sold in the Washington metro region last month was $385,000, the highest January median price since 2007 and up 4.1 percent from a year earlier. Condo prices led the gain, up 4.7 percent. -Washington Business Journal

Where zoning commissioners stand on DC's proposed pop-up rule

The Zoning Commission is strongly divided on a proposed rule aimed at stopping residential pop-ups in DC. But if commissioners’ opinions hold steady, the rule is likely to be implemented on a divided vote. -DC Urban Turf

Bowser Administration scraps downtown museum plans

Last month, administration officials said that five projects that had been awarded under Mayor Vince Gray were under review and could be opened to new bids. Among them was the Institute for Contemporary Expression, the highly anticipated museum from art collector Dani Levinas. -Washington City Paper

Your transit map could look like this if Maryland builds the purple and red lines

Within ten years, you could be able to take trains from West Baltimore to Tysons Corner in Virginia, or go from Bethesda to Fells Point along the Baltimore waterfront without detouring through downtown DC. If, that is, Maryland still builds the planned Purple and Baltimore Red light rail lines. -Greater Greater Washington 

Demand for government-backed FHA loans spikes

Mortgage activity took a slight breather last week, but applications for government-backed loans went on a tear after the government insurer of home loans lowered annual insurance premiums by half a percentage point. -CNBC

Close It!™ House of the Week: Modern amenities, historic charm

Written by Nikki Smith ON Thursday, 05 February 2015

This week we're taking a look at a gorgeous semi-detached federal style home located about a block away from the action on H Street NE that features modern amenities and historical charm. It's listed at $849,000.

A vestibule and foray entry open into a living room with fireplace and soaring 10-foot ceilings. The upstairs portion of the house features 3 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms. A third bathroom is located in the renovated lower level. 

Assuming a homebuyer puts down 20 percent on a conventional loan, her cash to close number will be approximately $194,588.07. Monthly payments will then be around $3,687.51 per month. For a complete picture of the cash to close, or for a run-down of the seller's side of the deal, plug the numbers into the Web version of Close It™ or download the free iOS app.

Headlines: New condos on Capitol Hill; across town a development battle looms

Written by Nikki Smith ON Wednesday, 04 February 2015

Here's a look at what's happening in real estate around the District of Columbia. 

What homebuyers need to know about seller disclosures

Although all states require some form of property disclosure statement, the extent of what must be revealed can vary from state to state, county to county and even city to city. -Washington Post

Greater Washington home prices rising much slower than national average

In December, home prices in the Washington metro were up just 1 percent from a year ago, compared with a nationwide annual gain of 5 percent. -Washington Business Journal

The residential plans for Capitol Hill's new historic Union Garage

Now the building is slated to become three large condos, according to OPaL’s Sean Ruppert. The single-level, three-bedroom homes will measure out at 2,100 to 2,600 square feet and have elevator access and two parking spots per unit. -Urban Turf

Mixed signals for spring housing season

Overall economic conditions, everything from job growth to cheap gas, could help home sales. But still=high home prices, tight credit conditions and low supply all stand in the way. -CNBC

DC's Top 15 developments with crazy, pet-friendly amenities

Some of the amenities in these developments include a rooftop dog park, dog washing boutique, and pet spa. From City Market at O Street to The Jefferson, this is our list of the top 15 developments with the craziest, pet-friendliest amenities. -Curbed DC

Get ready for the next big development battle

The Armed Forces Retirement Home, also known as the Old Soldiers' Home, has long discussed turning over a portion of its 272 acres, just east of Petworth, for development in order to fund its continued operations. The federally-owned site is home to retired veterans—but it also sits on one of the last expansive pieces of prime real estate in the District. -Washington City Paper

Close It!™ House of the Week: Family friendly home with room to grow

Written by Nikki Smith ON Thursday, 29 January 2015

After a short break from our House of the Week series, we're back! And this week we venture over to Barnaby Woods to check out a great house for a family with young children. It's listed at $799,000. 

The house has 4 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms as well as a massive deck out back that overlooks a children's playground set and lots of yard. It appears previous owners have made some updates to the property, including hardwood floors. 

Assuming a homebuyer puts down 20 percent on a conventional loan, her cash to close number will be approximately $182,725.97. Monthly payments will then be around $3,557.87 per month. For a complete picture of the cash to close, or for a run-down of the seller's side of the deal, plug the numbers into the Web version of Close It™ or download the free iOS app.

Headlines: Title problems can snag your closing; pre-printed real estate contracts can get you fined

Written by Nikki Smith ON Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Here's a look at what's happening in real estate in and around the District of Columbia.

Title problems can snag your closing

The unexpected unreleased mortgage lien rears its ugly head all too often, according to those of us charged with shepherding consumers through the last stages of home buying. -Washington Post

Pre-printed real estate contracts could get you fined

It’s a seemingly innocuous practice, some say a convenience, but many real estate agents are steering their brokerages toward enormous fines and unwanted attention from state and federal regulators — and they don’t even realize it. -Inman News

Dying to see the luxury condos on 14th Street built on the site of a funeral home?

In addition to having been developed on the site of a former funeral home, Lionshead has the distinction of being the first new building to pass the District's Green Area Ratio inspection. -Washington Business Journal

Best architectural addition of the year for 2014

The home is essentially a series of glass cubes set onto a hilltop in Rappahannock County, Virginia with views of the Blue Ridge Mountains. -Urban Scrawl

A different kind of pop-up

The homes are meant for one occupant, and have a kitchen, bathroom, living room, a separate bedroom and a front door with an outside patio. The one thing that the homes need: a vacant plot of land to sit on. -Urban Turf

The cost of living everywhere in the world in one index

This is an infographic on the cost of living all around the world. When you look at the data, presented in this way, the results are a bit staggering. -Business Insider

Headlines: Cultural hub coming to U Street? Cost of FHA loan to drop

Written by Nikki Smith ON Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Here's a look at what's happening in real estate in and around the District of Columbia.

Proposal would bring museum, condos and performing arts center to U Street area

Under the proposal, the former Grimke School would be transformed into a cultural hub. In addition to creating a permanent space for the African-American Civil War museum, the building would be home to several performance groups, including Step Afrika!, CityDance, Dance USA and Imagination Stage. -Washington Post

Washington housing in 2014: Almost back

The median price of a house or condo that sold in the Washington region in 2014 was $405,750, up just 1.4 percent from 2013, but just 2.2 percent shy of the 2007 peak price of $415,000, according to listing service MRIS' RealEstate Business Intelligence Report. -Washington Business Journal

A year later, little resolution on contested Florida Avenue site

On Feb. 3, 2014, two developers struck a deal that seemed poised to resolve a longstanding conflict and bring U Street NW-area neighbors what they desired: a mixed-use development with a Harris Teeter supermarket on what's currently a vacant lot. Nearly a year later, all of that is still up in the air. -Washington City Paper

Groundbreaking this week on third phase of Waterfront Station project

Groundbreaking is expected to begin this week for the 365-unit residential project in Waterfront. This project is the third phase in the Waterfront Station project that is completely revitalizing the neighborhood with more than 80,000-square-feet in retail, more than 500,000-square-feet in office space, and hundreds of residential units along 4th Street. -Curbed DC

CFPB site provides education for new homebuyers

The site is part of the agency’s Know Before You Owe campaign and includes interactive tools aimed at creating more informed and empowered homebuyers. -Urban Turf

FHA to lower cost of mortgage insurance

For the typical FHA applicant, the reduction in premiums means a savings of about $80 on their monthly payment, according to CoreLogic's chief economist, Sam Khater. -CNBC

Greatest media hits of 2014

Written by Nikki Smith ON Tuesday, 30 December 2014

We enjoyed some nice press over the past year, including a couple mentions in the Washington Post as well as our first mention in a feature story from Inman News, a real estate tech website.

Coverage mainly focused on our app Close It! and the announcement of our partnership with MRIS to offer a specially licensed version for their agents. Federal Title's version remains available to all and has had nearly 13,000 downloads to date. 

The mobile way to buy or renovate a home (Washington Post)

Close It!: This app "is like Turbo Tax for real estate transactions," says Todd Ewing, president of Federal Title & Escrow in Washington. "The app immediately produces a cash-to-close estimate along with an estimated mortgage payment and a shareable HUD-1 Settlement Statement similar to what the buyer will see on the day of the closing. All the buyer has to do is enter a purchase price and a property jurisdiction."

Apptitude: Wondering what your closing fees will be? Ask Close It! (Washington Post)

A D.C. title company has come up with an app that takes the guesswork out of closing on a local home. Buyers can use Close It! by Federal Title and Escrow to input the purchase price and jurisdiction, and the app will predict how much money they will need for closing and what their monthly payment will be.

MRIS partners with Federal Title to launch closing app (RIS Media)

Through a partnership, MRIS, which facilitates nearly $125 million a day in real estate transactions, now offers a custom, specially licensed version of Close It! to calculate total cash-to-close and net proceeds for real estate transactions.

MLS arming agents with app that calculates buyer and seller closing costs (Inman News)

Like the Close It! app, the MRIS version allows users to compare closing costs in different jurisdictions and show the difference in closing on the first of the month compared to at the end of the month, MRIS and Federal Title said.

MRIS and Federal Title launch comprehensive closing costs calculator (Geek Estate)

Mid-Atlantic Multiple Listing Service (MRIS), and Federal Title & Escrow Co. have launched MRIS Close It!, a desktop and mobile app that provides quick and concise closing cost estimates.

Top posts of 2014

Written by Nikki Smith ON Tuesday, 23 December 2014

As another year comes to a close at Federal Title, we take a moment to look back at some of the most popular articles posted to our blog in 2014. 

Supplemental tax bill catches some Maryland homebuyers off guard
By Catherine Schmitt

A supplemental tax bill is a bill that is issued when a property is reassessed during the current tax year. Often the supplemental bill will be for a specific period, i.e., a quarter, half or three-quarter tax period. This bill is an additional bill that is sent directly to the home owner and is paid directly by the owner.

Maximum VA loan county limits for 2014 released 
By Jackie Kurz

The Department of Veterans Affairs Loan Guaranty Program recently published county "limits" to be used for VA Loans effective January 1, 2014.

How can real estate agents protect against Internet security threats? 
By Nikki Smith

A solid Web marketing strategy can be a boon to business of any size, but it can also make a business more vulnerable to cyber attacks if proper precautions are not taken.

Headlines: Bizarre story of missing real estate agent ends in tragedy 
By Nikki Smith

The body of missing Arkansas realtor Beverly Carter has been located north of the Little Rock area in a shallow grave, the Pulaski County Sheriff's Office said early Tuesday

5 safety tips for real estate agents 
By Nikki Smith

While rare, attacks on real estate agents do happen from time to time and (sadly) women in particular are vulnerable. In light of this recent event, I thought it'd be good to explore the topic and offer some safety tips for real estate agents.

Avoid the DC recapture tax 'surprise' 
By Todd Ewing

DC Office of Tax and Revenue has recently been imposing a recapture tax against properties that were receiving senior citizen tax relief but ineligible due to the property owner’s death – i.e., a change in eligibility.

A wake-up call from CFPB regarding Marketing Service Agreements 
By Todd Ewing

Federal Title has actively taken a strong stance against both MSA’s and Affiliated Business Arrangements (ABAs), recognizing that such arrangements only enrich the referral sources at the expense of the consumer and further drive up the costs of title charges.

New Maryland bill to limit cost of condo resale package 
By Todd Ewing

There's currently a proposal to limit the fee to $50. Hearings on the legislation continue and we will keep you apprised of the final bill.

DC Council passes the Senior Citizen Real Property Tax Relief Act of 2013 
By Joe Gentile

Ten members of the Council of the District of Columbia voted for and passed the "Senior Citizen Real Property Tax Relief Act of 2013" earlier this week. The bill will now be submitted to DC Mayor Gray for his signature.

Real estate predictions for 2014 
By Nikki Smith

"You've got a migration of folks from all over the country trying to crack the DC [housing] market," said Todd Ewing, whose company handled more than 1,400 purchase closings in 2013. "That trend will continue."

Close It!™ House of the Week: Spanish masterpiece with Potomac River Basin views

Written by Nikki Smith ON Thursday, 18 December 2014

This week, we've stumbled across an amazing house in the Palisades neighborhood – a 1953 Spanish masterpiece according to the listing – that looks like it should be located in Napa Valley instead of Northwest Washington, DC. Sale price is $1.595 million.

The photo tour highlights several elegant features of this 4-bedroom, 2-bathroom home, including a gorgeous deck off the main level and a private patio above it off the master retreat. The house has three patios in all. Other features include arched doorways, built-in shelving and a commercial kitchen. 

Assuming a homebuyer puts down 20 percent on a conventional loan, her cash to close number will be approximately $366,298.90. Monthly payments with carrying charges would then be around $7,072.99 per month. For a complete picture of the cash to close, or for a run-down of the seller's side of the deal, plug the numbers into the Web version of Close It™ or download the free iOS app.

Headlines: Arts coming to Dupont Underground; How will DC fund new United stadium?

Written by Nikki Smith ON Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Here's a look at what's happening in real estate in and around the District of Columbia.

Housing gets more affordable: Why aren't more millennials buying?

The problem may also be geographic. Rent gains are cooling slightly, with a slowdown in 14 out of the 25 largest rental markets, according to a new report from Trulia, but high rents still plague the youngest adults. -CNBC

DC neighborhoods with best price appreciation on 2014

Using legal subdivision data provided by RealEstate Business Intelligence (RBI), UrbanTurf dug into the neighborhoods where median sales prices rose the most between the first ten months of 2013 and the same period this year. -Urban Turf

Even in cold weather areas, winter is still a good time to buy and sell a house

Winter — officially Dec. 21 through March 20 for the upcoming season — can be a surprisingly advantageous time to list, shop, negotiate and buy. -Washington Post

Borrow it: How DC will fund its share of the DC United stadium

Two weeks after the D.C. Council adopted a stadium financing plan that he deemed "clearly unlawful," Mayor Vincent Gray has submitted his legislative proposal to generate the roughly $139 million D.C. will need to acquire the land and prepare the Southwest site for construction. -Washington Business Journal

It's official: The arts are going underground in Dupont

The Arts Coalition for the Dupont Underground has signed a lease with the city to transform a vacant former trolley space under Dupont Circle into an arts exhibition hall and event venue, the coalition announced today. -Washington City Paper

Close It!™ House of the Week: Sunny 1 Bedroom in Adams Morgan

Written by Nikki Smith ON Thursday, 11 December 2014

This week we venture over to Adams Morgan, recently named one of the country's Top 10 neighborhoods, to check out a beautifully renovated 1-bedroom condo with fireplace. It's listed at $379,000.

The unit is located in an historic, full service building and features 10-foot ceilings as well as a renovated kitchen with stainless steel appliances and vintage hardwood floors. It's just steps away to the bustling 18th street corridor where plenty of restaurants and quirky shops await. 

Assuming a homebuyer puts down 20 percent on a conventional loan, her cash to close number will be approximately $89,213.17. Monthly payments with carrying charges would then be around $2,209.01 per month. For a complete picture of the cash to close, or for a run-down of the seller's side of the deal, plug the numbers into the Web version of Close It™ or download the free iOS app.

Headlines: The real estate roller coaster; 7 mortgage myths debunked

Written by Nikki Smith ON Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Here's a look at what's happening in real estate in the District of Columbia and beyond. 

Buying trumps renting in Washington

A Washington resident making the region's median household income is spending an average of 18.1 percent of monthly income on a mortgage payment, according to report from Zillow. Renters are spending an average 27.1 percent. -Washington Business Journal

DC region's housing market remains stalled

According to data released Wednesday by RealEstate Business Intelligence, a subsidiary of MRIS, sales of homes in the D.C. metro region fell to 3,036, a decrease of 1 percent compared to November 2013.  -Washington Post

Renting is twice as expensive as buying: Zillow

On average, homebuyers making the nation’s median income and purchasing the typical U.S. home spend 15.3% of their income on their monthly house payment, down from the historical norm of 22.1% during the pre-bubble period from 1985 to 1999. -Housing Wire

3% down payments may be a game changer

Mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac announced Monday that first-time home buyers can now qualify for loans with down payments as low as 3 percent. That will expand credit for qualified home shoppers who may have been sidelined the last few years because of higher down-payment requirements, housing analysts say. -Realtor Magazine

7 myths millennials believe about mortgage lending

Millennials are forecasted to be a driving force in housing in 2015, with the majority of them being first-time homeowners. -Housing Wire

Real estate agent builds roller coaster house tour (video)

Dutch real estate broker Verder met Wonen found the perfect way to give tours to potential homebuyers: send them for a ride on a custom-built roller coaster through the house. -Distractify

Close It!™ House of the Week: Delightful unit, tastefully updated

Written by Nikki Smith ON Thursday, 04 December 2014

This week we're looking at a delightful 1-bedroom condo in DC's Barnaby Woods neighborhood, located just a block from Connecticut Avenue and about a mile from the Friendship Heights metro stop. It's listed for $264,990.

Previous owners made lots of updates to this light-filled unit, including a chef's kitchen and a fabulous bath with jet tub. This unit also has a covered patio as well as a separate storage unit. 

Assuming a homebuyer puts down 20 percent on a conventional loan, her cash to close number will be approximately $62,620.26. Monthly payments with carrying charges would then be around $1,572.42 per month. For a complete picture of the cash to close, or for a run-down of the seller's side of the deal, plug the numbers into the Web version of Close It™ or download the free iOS app.

Headlines: Construction spending, property values around DC on the rise

Written by Nikki Smith ON Wednesday, 03 December 2014

Here's a look at what's happening in real estate around the District of Columbia. 

George Mason study says suburbs feeling property tax pinch

The report found that property assessments have reached new highs in D.C. and Alexandria as well as Arlington and Loudoun counties. Over the past five years, values are up 15 percent in Arlington and Loudoun counties, 11 percent in the District and 7 percent in Alexandria. -Washington Business Journal

Construction spending rises more than expected in October

Construction spending rose 1.1 percent, the largest gain since May, to an annual rate of $970.99 billion, the Commerce Department said on Tuesday. -CNBC

Property values rebound in a few DC-area jurisdictions since recession

The somewhat dry-sounding report, “Real Property Assessment Trends in the Washington Region, 2005-2014,” offers an interesting take on property assessments in the region and gives insight into which jurisdictions have rebounded the most (and least) since 2009. -Urban Turf

Where we live: Barracks Row has gone from grit to glamour

Barracks Row is a five-block stretch of Eighth Street SE from Pennsylvania Avenue south to the Washington Navy Yard at M Street SE. In the past year, 297 houses sold in the 20003 Zip code, which covers Capitol Hill Southeast, including Barracks Row, said Rachel Abramson, of Capitol Asset Realty. The prices ranged from $332,500 to $2.85 million. -Washington Post

Headlines: Cat cafe coming? DC Open Doors program closes on $72M in financing so far

Written by Nikki Smith ON Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Here's a look at what's happening in real estate in the District of Columbia and beyond.

DC Open Doors program has closed on $72M in financing so far

Open Doors works by giving buyers access to mortgage products that can include incentives like down payment assistance, lower mandatory down payments and lower interest rates than a buyer might normally qualify for. -Urban Turf

DC may get its own cat cafe

The Washington Humane Society will supply the cats to the cafe, according to a spokesperson, meaning all the cats will be available for adoption. -DCist

NY realty firm to open office in DC

The company is announcing Thursday that it is moving into the Washington real estate market by acquiring the boutique brokerage Lindsay Reishman Real Estate. Both are small firms. Urban Compass has 108 agents, and Reishman about 40 employees. -Washington Post

Leggett pitches 'development ombudsman' for Montgomery County

The Montgomery County Council will consider legislation pitched by Leggett to create the ombudsman position in his executive office. The hire, to be paid an estimated $198,600 annually, will act as a problem-solving liaison between developers and county and state agencies, bring "systemic concerns to the attention of the county leadership for resolution," recommend improvements and work to implement them. -Washington Business Journal

4 ways to winterize your real estate business

That means exchanging your warm-weather sales tools and tactics in favor of an entirely different approach that will convince home sellers and buyers that “Snowvember” and “Icember” really are a good time to buy or sell — even though the swimming pool looks more like a hockey rink. -Inman News

$1M+ home sales up 16%

Sales of existing homes priced above $1 million jumped over 16 percent in October from a year ago, according to a Realtors report released Thursday, outshining every other price segment. The next strongest was the $750,000-$1 million range, up over 12 percent. Sales of homes priced under $100,000 fell 6 percent. -CNBC

Close It!™ House of the Week: Beautiful blend of row home, condo living

Written by Nikki Smith ON Thursday, 20 November 2014

This week we're going across town to check out a top-unit condo unit situated west of RFK Stadium and just a block or so from Lincoln Park in Capitol Hill East. It's listed at $475,000.

It's a 2 bedroom / 2 bathroom condo with private deck and two off-street parking spots. Plenty of sunlight streams in from three exposures. All together, it's about 1,100 square feet and just steps from Eastern Market, H Street, Barrack's Row and Capitol Hill. 

Assuming a homebuyer puts down 20 percent on a conventional loan, her cash to close number will be approximately $109,485.10. Monthly payments with carrying charges would then be around $2,253.33 per month. For a complete picture of the cash to close, or for a run-down of the seller's side of the deal, plug the numbers into the Web version of Close It™ or download the free iOS app.

Headlines: Rents on the rise; 45% of homes deemed 'affordable' to DC metro middle class

Written by Nikki Smith ON Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Here's a look at what's happening in real estate in the District of Columbia and beyond.

Report: 45% of DC homes are affordable to middle class

Statistics refer to the DC metro area as a whole — a very large statistical area — not to DC proper. -Urban Turf

Rents skyrocket well beyond wages 

Rents are rising most in the local housing markets where renters are already stretched thinnest. In the five least affordable markets, rents are now 7.8 percent higher than they were a year ago. -CNBC

What buyers and sellers can do in a slow market

Buyers have more leverage in the negotiations, including price, earnest money deposits and contingencies. The longer a home sits on the market, the more control buyers will enjoy. -Washington Post

Inside the Atlantic Plumbing Building (Photos)

Developer JBG Cos. recently announced prices for its Atlantic Plumbing condos at Eighth and V streets, Northwest, with junior one-bedrooms starting in the high $300,000s to penthouses for $1.9 million. - Washingtonian Magazine

Md. regulation discourages referrals by real estate agents

Real estate agents making referrals to service providers in Maryland can now be fined up to $5,000 if they violate a new state Real Estate Commission regulation. -Washington Post

DC's historic buildings can anchor a neighborhood; some in jeopardy

Lists such as the National Register of Historic Places and the D.C. Inventory of Historic Sites were formed to preserve landmark buildings. Properties on the list are acknowledged and protected from being completely demolished because of their cultural significance. -Elevation DC

New thresholds for DC Tax Abatement

Written by Nikki Smith ON Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Purchase price and income thresholds to qualify for the popular DC Tax Abatement Program have increased, hopefully making it easier for more homebuyers to become homeowners.

The District of Columbia Office of Tax and Revenue upped the purchase price threshold to $375,200 from $367,200.

At the same time, the income threshold for a single buyer increased to $65,890 from $56,100 while the income threshold for a two-person household increased to $75,350 from $64,080.

For more on income limitations and the DC Tax Abatement Program, please visit our page on the DC Tax Abatement Program.

The most recent data, which is for October, shows a $400,000 median sales price in the District, the highest October-level in nine years. The October median sales price was 2.6 percent higher than September and 5.3 percent higher than the previous year.

The DC Tax Abatement Program provides an exemption from the DC 1.1% Recordation Tax and an allowable credit from your seller(s) of 1.1% equal to the DC Transfer Tax. Additionally, the program provides a five-year real estate tax abatement that begins October 1 following your date of closing.

5 marketing ideas for real estate agents from Close It!™

Written by Nikki Smith ON Monday, 17 November 2014

The best real estate agents are constantly on the look-out for ways to better market themselves to their home buyers. And while the latest report shows it's 34% more affordable to buy versus rent in the DC metro area, many would-be homebuyers remain on the fence

How can you get these homebuyers off the fence – and then convince them to buy the fence along with the house that comes with it? Here are 5 ways Close It!™ can help you market your real estate business:

1. Follow up with clients by sharing Close It!™ in your email, social media or blogging campaigns. 

You've already got a database of email addresses, Facebook page likes and Twitter followers. Perhaps some of those contacts are would-be homebuyers who aren't quite sure if they can really afford to buy a house. Reach out to them about the only app in the region that calculates a homebuyer's total cash to close. It's a fun and useful tool that lets them crunch the numbers any way they want. 

2. Customize your Close It!™ reports with photo and contact info. 

You're already working with several prospective homebuyers who no doubt have lots of questions about how much everything is going to cost in the end. Follow up on last weekend's house tour with a set of HUD-1s custom branded with your professional photo and contact information. Your homebuyers will be impressed when you outline every cost for them down to the penny.

3. Appeal to the foreign investor market.

If you're working in neighborhoods like Georgetown, Foggy Bottom and the West End, it's quite possible you've worked with foreign investors or that you will at some point. Did you know that sellers who do not participate in the U.S. tax system must pay the IRS a tax of 10% of the sales price for all properties over $300,000? A surprise like that at closing could cost you a client, or worse yet, merit you a negative online review. Close It!™ helps you better serve foreign clients by accounting for FIRPTA withholding along with every other nuance of real estate law and tax code for each jurisdiction.

4. Appeal to the first-time homebuyer market.

The first-time homebuyer demographic may make up a smaller share of homebuyers now compared to historic levels, but it's only a matter of time before an influx of millennial homebuyers causes it to explode. And the millennials, more than previous generations, are more likely to look to technology to help them gather information about the process. Be their guide. Keep up with real estate technology, including mobile apps, and share your favorite findings with your millennial homebuyers. Close It!™ is one app homebuyers in the DC metro region in particular will appreciate, but there are many more apps, tools and resources to discover. 

5. Appeal to the move-up buyer market with seller's calculator. 

For buyers in the move-up market, how much house they can afford often depends on how much money they can net from their existing home sale. Introduce those clients to the app that toggles between a net proceeds calculator for the seller side and a cash-to-close calculator for the buyer side. 

Close It!™ is a free iOS and Web app that helps real estate agents, buyers and sellers drill down the costs of buying and selling real estate. 

Close It!™ House of the Week: Cleveland Park Charmer

Written by Nikki Smith ON Thursday, 13 November 2014

This week we're heading over to Cleveland Park to have a look at an adorable two-bedroom coop that's fully renovated and two blocks from Metro. It's listed at $369,000.

Built-in bookshelves, sliding barn doors and a smartly designed kitchen with gas range help this unit make the most out of its 700 square feet. It has hardwood floors throughout and is filled with natural light. It's a second-floor unit with a view onto a tree-lined street.

Assuming a homebuyer puts down 20 percent on a conventional loan, her cash to close number will be approximately $85,565.91. Monthly payments with carrying charges would then be around $2,121.26 per month. For a complete picture of the cash to close, or for a run-down of the seller's side of the deal, plug the numbers into the Web version of Close It™ or download the free iOS app.

Headlines: Best October in 9 years; how to woo first-time homebuyers

Written by Nikki Smith ON Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Headlines: Best October in 9 years; how to woo first-time homebuyers
Here's a look at what's happening in real estate in the District of Columbia and beyond. 

The key to fueling first-time homebuyers

Purchases by first-time homebuyers fell to the lowest level in nearly three decades—just 33 percent this year, down from 38 percent a year ago, according to an annual survey of homebuyers by the National Association of Realtors released last week. The long-term average, dating back to 1981, shows that 4 out of 10 purchases are by first-time buyers. − CNBC

Millennials need to be wooed

Millennials need to be wooed. They need to be shown that, despite their student loans, there’s a massive incentive for them to put money aside to buy, and there are large swaths of the millennial generation that are making far more money than their elders. − Inman News

20% down payment takes 12 years on average

First-time buyers have a whole lot of saving to do — possibly more than a decade of saving for a home purchase. It can take, on average, 12.5 years for first-time buyers to save a 20 percent down payment based on a current personal savings rate at 5.6 percent, according to new research by RealtyTrac.  Realtor Magazine

DC area home prices reach highest October level in 9 years

The region’s median sales price rose to $400,000, an increase of 5.3 percent over 2013. Every jurisdiction in the area experienced price growth, with Fairfax City (14%) and Prince George’s County (13%) leading the annual gains. P.G. County has now seen price increases for 32 straight months. In D.C. proper, home sales prices rose almost 10 percent to $500,000.  Urban Turf

Southwest Waterfront: Born of change, about to change again

A forest of cranes crisscrosses the sky and piles are being driven for the first phase of construction. Condominiums, apartments, offices, hotels, music venues and shops are on the drawing table. − Washington Post

Falls Church still leads Washington in housing market

While there are pricier neighborhoods in Washington, Falls Church City continues to lead median prices by jurisdiction, at $615,000 last month, up 4.2 percent from a year earlier. − Washington Business Journal

Headlines: The case of the incredibly shrinking first-time homebuyer demographic

Written by Nikki Smith ON Wednesday, 05 November 2014

Here's a look at what's happening in real estate in the District of Columbia and beyond.

First-time homebuyers hit lowest level in nearly 30 years

The U.S. economy is improving, employment is growing and home prices are recovering, but first-time homebuyers are not returning to their normal, historical levels of homeownership.  CNBC

Where have all the first-time homebuyers gone?

"Rising rents and repaying student loan debt makes saving for a down payment more difficult, especially for young adults who've experienced limited job prospects and flat wage growth since entering the work force," says NAR's chief economist.  Washington Business Journal

1,700 residential units coming to Bethesda

Of the residential units in the pipeline in Bethesda, roughly 400 of then are condos. Additional apartments and retail space are also on the horizon.  Urban Turf

Congruency in design can sustain home's value

Consistency doesn't mean that every room should have the same finishes or materials.  Rather, it means that there should be a general congruency throughout the home.  Washington Post

How I stopped being a victim after I was attacked

If I were to give any advice to anyone in our community of REALTORS®, it would be to listen to your gut more. We’re all so eager to get the next deal; we’re not listening. Even as our gut is screaming, we think it won’t be us. — Realtor Magazine

Survey confirms yard signs, open houses taking back seat to mobile

After rising from 8 percent to 40 percent from 2001 through 2011, the percentage of buyers who found their homes on the Internet has remained steady at 43 percent for two years in a row. — Inman News

Close It!™ House of the Week: The famous Mushroom House of Bethesda

Written by Nikki Smith ON Thursday, 30 October 2014

Halloween is just a day away and this week we've stumbled upon the perfect house, a one-of-a-kind home in Bethesda, Maryland known about the neighborhood as the Mushroom House.

Once look at its exterior, and you'll know why they call it that. The inside is just as unique and whimsical, reminiscent of a cottage out of Lord of the Rings. It has 4 bedrooms and 2.5 baths and is less than a block from the DC/Maryland line.

Assuming a homebuyer puts down 20 percent on a conventional loan, her cash to close number will be approximately $269,843.27. The monthly payments would then be around $5,758.52 per month. For a complete picture of the cash to close, or for a run-down of the seller's side of the deal, plug the numbers into the Web version of Close It™ or download the free iOS app

Headlines: Spooky Halloween edition

Written by Nikki Smith ON Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Here's a look at what's happening in real estate in the District of Columbia and beyond.

New real estate investors misread signs in the market

The writing is clearly on the wall — this local housing market has definitely leveled off and there’s no saying for sure which direction it’s going from here. It’s by no means doom and gloom but housing prices have stalled almost everywhere in our region and inventories are starting to grow. — Washington Post

Mapping the hidden locations of 10 long-gone burial grounds

What was once a crypt is now a metro station, a mall, or even an apartment complex. Thousands of bodies remain unearthed below developments, and people walk above these plots of land unknowingly, shopping for clothes or commuting to work. — Curbed DC

North of $600: The highest prices per square foot in DC

There are seven DC neighborhoods where the median price per square foot of homes sold this year sits above $600, and two — Georgetown and West End — where that metric is north of $700. — Urban Turf

US home prices rise less than expected in Aug.: S&P/Case-Shiller

The S&P/Case Shiller composite index of 20 metropolitan areas gained 5.6 percent in August over last year, the slowest year-on-year increase since November 2012, slightly below a Reuters poll of economists that forecast a gain of 5.8 percent. — CNBC

Extreme case of brown recluse spiders drives owners from home

In 2008, the Trosts filed a claim with their insurance company, State Farm, and a civil lawsuit against the home’s previous owners, Tina and David Gault, for allegedly not disclosing the brown recluse and other problems with the home. — St. Louis Post-Dispatch

This listing has been staged ... for Halloween

Click your way through this virtual tour if you dare. But be warned, the basement is not for the faint of heart. — Inman News

Abandoned America - 50 states, 50 abandoned places

Scattered across prairielands, hidden in forests or left to rot in the middle of cities, America is full of ghost towns and abandoned buildings. Some might find these sites creepy, but from mining towns to abandoned farmsteads to forgotten roadside stops, these places stand frozen in time, a reminder of America’s history. — Weather Channel

Close It™ House of the Week: A Tudor for entertaining

Written by Nikki Smith ON Thursday, 23 October 2014

This week we're looking at a Tudor style home in Bethesda, Maryland with plenty of space for entertaining guests both inside and out. It's listed at $734,500.

This house has a large living room adjacent to the kitchen, which has a peninsula and granite counters as well as classic white appliances that include a brand new dishwasher and microwave. During warmer months, the deck is ideal for hosting outdoor dinner parties and barbecues. 

Assuming a homebuyer puts down 20 percent on a conventional loan, her cash to close number will be approximately $166,518.81. The monthly payments would then be around $4,087.31 per month. For a complete picture of the cash to close, or for a run-down of the seller's side of the deal, plug the numbers into the Web version of Close It™ or download the free iOS app.

Headlines: Rule change may lower down payment requirement to 3%

Written by Nikki Smith ON Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Here's a look at what's happening in real estate in the District of Columbia and beyond.

Navigating the wide world of mortgage overlays

The word "overlay" in the context of home loans refers to the mortgage approval standards that lenders and their investors place above the guidelines set by Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, the Federal Housing Administration and the Department of Veterans Affairs. — Washington Post

JBG prices Atlantic Plumbing condos, and they're pushing $2 million

The mixed-use residential and retail project, at 2030 8th Street, N.W., will include 62 one- and two-bedroom condos with public and private rooftop terraces, a fitness center and ground-floor restaurants. — Washington Business Journal

US regulator targeting lower down payments on mortgages

The regulator of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac said on Monday it was developing rules to let Americans buy homes with down payments as low as 3 percent, part of a push to boost access to credit. — CNBC

Are Seattle's micro-units DC's future?

At least one DC developer, SB-Urban, is focusing exclusively on building micro-units and has 355 high-end units spread across three properties in its pipeline. Other developers are planning similar, albeit smaller, developments around the city. — Urban Turf

City outlines first steps for implementing 25-year transportation plan

The 36 action items described in today's plan tackle a broad array of challenges. There are public transit improvements, like dedicated bus lanes on a stretch of Georgia Avenue NW, traffic-light priority for 16th Street NW buses, and real-time arrival information in bus shelters across the city. — Washington City Paper

Couple posed as real estate agents to rob homes

The county Attorney's Office issued a statement Wednesday that the couple used an online system to find homes in that were for sale in 2012 and then one would pose as a real estate agent to book times at the homes when the couple knew that homeowners would be away, according to the statement. — USA Today

Close It!™ House of the Week: Large deck with spectacular views

Written by Nikki Smith ON Thursday, 16 October 2014

This week we're checking out a contemporary, fully renovated detached single family home in the Fairway Hills neighborhood of Bethesda, Maryland. This living room of this home looks out on to a fantastic deck and spectacular views of Virginia. 

Large windows and skylights let in lots of sunshine. This house also has a custom kitchen with stainless steel appliances. It's four bedrooms and 3 bathrooms in all plus a family room, laundry room and separate exercise room. It's listed at $855,000.

Assuming a homebuyer puts down 20 percent on a conventional loan, her cash to close number will be approximately $194,712.59. The monthly payments would then be around $4,087.31 per month. For a complete picture of the cash to close, or for a run-down of the seller's side of the deal, plug the numbers into the Web version of Close It™ or download the free iOS app

Headlines: Time to refi is now; 34% cheaper to buy versus rent in DC

Written by Nikki Smith ON Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Here's a look at what's happening in real estate in the District of Columbia and beyond.

Should you refinance today?

A lot of the first-time homebuyers purchased over the last three to four years, whether using FHA as their vehicle with a lower down payment, or conventional with a lower down payment, but they also had mortgage insurance, so while their interest rate may be 4 percent or 4.25 percent, when you factor in the mortgage insurance that they're paying, it's relatively much higher. — CNBC

Micro-units, not large condos, coming to Dupont Circle

Valor's year-old plan to convert a portion of a Dupont Circle commercial building into eight luxury condominiums was short-lived. The developer has returned to the Board of Zoning Adjustments with a revised pitch: 21 microunits. — Washington Business Journal

Buying 34% cheaper than renting in DC Area

Trulia’s chief economist Jed Kolko provided UrbanTurf more fine-grained data that shows how the payoff from buying over renting can vary depending on where in the DC area you live. — Urban Turf

DC more expensive than New York? It's complicated

In the D.C. region, the study found that households spend an average of $28,416 annually on housing, compared with the national average of $17,030. New Yorkers spend $24,187, and San Franciscans spend $25,366. — Washington Post

No, Washington is not more expensive than New York City

To be sure, D.C. is not cheap. But there’s almost no measure by which it makes sense to consider it more expensive than New York City. — Wall Street Journal

Gallaudet plans "town gown neighborhood" near Union Market

The project is viewed as an opportunity for the nation’s leading university for deaf and hard of hearing students to shape some of the industrial land surrounding its campus into a "town-gown neighborhood" designed to accommodate its student body and better integrate the school with the city around it. — Washington Post 

What's in the residential pipeline on H Street?

In total, more than 1,076 units are slated for the H Street Corridor. Here is a rundown of the 12 residential buildings in the pipeline. — Urban Turf

Close It™ House of the Week: Stunning historic Victorian row home

Written by Nikki Smith ON Thursday, 02 October 2014

This week we trek into the District's booming Shaw neighborhood for a glimpse at a truly stunning Victorian row home with legal ground floor apartment, plus landscaped gardens, a roof deck, 3 bedrooms each with a walk-in closet and bathroom, beautiful chef's kitchen and parking for 2 cars.

The house was built 149 years ago and is walking distance to the recently opened O Street Market as well as the luxury shops at newly built City Center.

Assuming a homebuyer puts down 20 percent on a conventional loan, her cash to close number will be approximately $538,130.85. The monthly payments would then be around $11,102.57 per month. For a complete picture of the cash to close, or for a run-down of the seller's side of the deal, plug the numbers into the Web version of Close It™ or download the free iOS app.

Headlines: Bizarre story of missing real estate agent ends in tragedy

Written by Nikki Smith ON Wednesday, 01 October 2014

Here's a look at what's happening in real estate in the District of Columbia and beyond.

Body of missing Arkansas Realtor found in shallow grave

The body of missing Arkansas realtor Beverly Carter has been located north of the Little Rock area in a shallow grave, the Pulaski County Sheriff's Office said early Tuesday. — CNN

Realtor goes to show house, disappears, deputies say

The agent's husband found her brown Cadillac sport utility vehicle parked in the driveway with her purse inside it and saw the door to the home standing open, deputies said. — Arkansas Democrat Gazette

Market heats up in DC, Prince George's County but cools in Northern Virginia

Almost every major indicator is down compared to last year — there are fewer new contracts, homes are taking a bit longer to sell and they aren’t selling as close to list price as last year. — Washington Post

Take a look at the new shipping container apartments in Brookland

Check out how they welded the cargo doors open to create privacy barriers between adjoining units and replaced some panels with see-through material to allow light in. Still, it is most certainly an open-plan design. — MRIS Blog

Where are DC residents moving to, and coming from?

The gist: D.C. is, for the most part, where people either want to, or have to, move. It's reflected in the city's population surge, from roughly 600,000 in 2010 to nearly 650,000 in 2013, in the recent apartment building boom, and in the explosive growth of certain neighborhoods — from Capitol Riverfront to NoMa to Petworth. — Washington Business Journal

Close It!™ House of the Week: Hidden gem near Downtown Bethesda

Written by Nikki Smith ON Thursday, 25 September 2014

This week we head up the street from the District and over to Wilson Avenue near Downtown Bethesda to check out a 4-bedroom, 3.5 bath detached single family home with lots of yard and a deep driveway. 

Hardwood floors, walk-in closets and lots of sunlight are just some of the features this house has to offer. The chef's kitchen has custom cabinets and an 8-foot kitchen island plus two ovens and a pantry. 

Assuming a homebuyer puts down 20 percent on a conventional loan, her cash to close number will be approximately $248.348.16. The monthly payments would then be around $5,083.30 per month. For a complete picture of the cash to close, or for a run-down of the seller's side of the deal, plug the numbers into the Web version of Close It™ or download the free iOS app.

Headlines: An elevated park in DC? Wardman Tower to become condos

Written by Nikki Smith ON Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Here's a look at what's happening in real estate around the District of Columbia.

Wardman Tower to become swanky DC condos

The prices will run from $2 million to up to $8 million or more, targeting the international crowd and the upscale — obviously — suburban Potomac and Great Falls contingent who are looking to reestablish their primary residence in a city location with lots of services. — Washington Post

DC's elevated park may be best yet

Washington, D.C. plans to transform its abandoned rail infrastructure into a vibrant recreational destination, following the lead of so many other metropolises. — Fast Company

Jumbo mortgages now cheaper

For the last several months, interest rates on jumbo loans --mortgages that are $417,000 or more (or $625,000 or more in high-priced markets -- have been lower than what average borrowers pay. — Realtor Magazine

More DC residents let strangers into their homes, happily

For some homeowners and travelers, the social aspect is a huge perk of short-term rentals. The hosts agree that the service attracts highly sociable renters with adventurous spirits. — Washington Post

First-time homebuyer tax credit introduced in DC

Councilmember David Grosso introduced legislation on Tuesday that would reduce the recordation tax rate for first-time homebuyers in DC from 1.45 percent to .725 percent of the property sales price. The recordation tax is collected by the city on all home purchases and goes to help fund the Housing Production Trust Fund. — DC Urban Turf

Close It!™ House of the Week: FHA-approved and priced to sell

Written by Nikki Smith ON Thursday, 18 September 2014

This week we're changing things up a bit by looking at an FHA-approved 1BR condo across the street from the National Cathedral. It was last renovated in 2004.

This little sunny gem with southern exposures is located on Wisconsin Avenue in DC's Glover Park neighborhood. It's got hardwood floors throughout, its own washer/dryer unit, 9-foot ceilings and a private condo park with dog run and picnic area. 

Assuming a buyer put down 3.5 percent on an FHA loan, her cash to close number will be approximately $17,965.63. The monthly payments would then be around $2,014.11 per month including the HOA fee. For a complete picture of the cash to close, or for a run-down of the seller's side of the deal, plug the numbers into the Web version of Close It™ or download the free iOS app

Headlines: Do home renovations impact tax assessments? What's in store for fall real estate?

Written by Nikki Smith ON Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Here's a look at what's happening in real estate around the District of Columbia and beyond.

Top 10 ways to strengthen your purchase offer and beat out competing buyers

Sometimes buyers and their agents don’t realize that there are many different ways to strengthen a purchase offer besides just the obvious one, the purchase price. This is always something to seriously consider when making any offer, whether or not competing with other buyers. — Inman News

MRIS and Federal Title launch comprehensive closing costs calculator

Federal Title, a technology pioneer in the title industry, initially launched the consumer-facing Close It! app in May 2013 to simplify homebuying costs. The app, along with the MRIS version, can compare costs in different jurisdictions and show the difference in closing on the first of the month compared to at the end of the month. — PR Web

Real estate matters | Failure to list second bathroom with tax office could be costly

Let’s start by differentiating between your property’s tax assessment and the many real estate sites on the Internet. You should know that most real estate sites on the Internet compile information about your property from public records including real estate tax assessment sites. — Washington Post

Arlington, VA listed among top places to live in the US

Known worldwide for Arlington National Cemetery that was established during the Civil War, Arlington is an upscale community whose largest employer is the Government of the U.S., with 34,000 employees. The median home price in Arlington is $600,000, and local students can attend classes at the campuses of George Mason University and Marymount University. — Livability

Fall predictions: DC Area home prices to rise just 1 to 2 percent this fall

As fall approaches, there are a number of questions floating around about the DC area housing market. Will inventory continue to come online making it a buyer’s market? Will the slew of new apartments entering the rental market push rents down? Will mortgage rates head higher as experts have predicted? — DC Urban Turf

Close It!™ House of the Week: Enchanting colonial with beautifully landscaped gardens

Written by Nikki Smith ON Thursday, 11 September 2014

This week take a look at a 3-bedroom, 2-bathroom house detached colonial with massive deck overlooking a beautifully landscaped garden. 

The house has hardwood floors throughout with a bright and clean kitchen plus a finished attic and basement and also off street parking. The house was last sold over ten years ago and is now listed at $799,999.

Assuming a homebuyer puts down 20 percent on a conventional loan, her cash to close number will be approximately $183,510.19. The monthly payments would then be around $3,665.10per month. For a complete picture of the cash to close, or for a run-down of the seller's side of the deal, plug the numbers into the Web version of Close It™ or download the free iOS app.

Headlines: First-time DC homebuyers flourish. And there's an app for that.

Written by Nikki Smith ON Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Fall predictions: Watch the inventory

The prospects for the region’s housing market for the rest of 2014 and into 2015 will be determined by the inventory trends over the next few months. If the ratio of inventory to sales continues to increase, sales price growth will remain modest at best. However, if the pace of sales picks up or inventory begins to diminish, prices should recover. — DC Urban Turf

MLS arming agents with app that calculates buyer and seller closing costs

The app, MRIS Close It!, allows agents to calculate cash-to-close and net proceeds for real estate transactions. Users can instantly create, edit and share nonbinding HUD-1 Settlement Statements and net sales sheets for their buyer and seller clients. — Inman News

DC area housing costs are highest in America

But in aggregate, Washingtonian (and nearby suburbanite) households spent an average of $17,603 on housing costs in 2012, beating out (or losing to, really) every other metropolitan area that the BLS looked at. D.C.-area expenses were nearly twice those in Cleveland, which sits at the bottom of the list. — Washington City Paper

Why DC is the No. 1 market in the country for first-time homebuyers

DC's real estate market has some serious advantages when it comes to national rankings. In addition to a metropolitan area with a lot of inventory that keeps moving and local closing costs that are some of the lowest in the country, the District's nature as a city with high-paying jobs tends to attract a lot of first-time homebuyers. — In the Capital

MRIS teams with Federal Title on closing apps

Through the partnership, MRIS, which facilitates nearly $125 million a day in real estate transactions, now offers a custom, specially licensed version of Close It! to calculate total cash-to-close and net proceeds for real estate transactions. — Geek Estate

MRIS to offer custom, specially licensed version of Close It! to members through partnership with Federal Title

Written by Nikki Smith ON Monday, 08 September 2014

MRIS, the industry-leading Mid-Atlantic Multiple Listing Service (MLS), and Federal Title & Escrow Co. today announced they have launched MRIS Close It!, a desktop and mobile app that provides quick and concise closing cost estimates.

"MRIS Close It! accurately answers questions real estate agents commonly hear such as 'how much cash do I need to close?' and 'how much can I expect to net from the sale of my home'," said Andrew Strauch, Vice President of Product Innovation at MRIS. "Through this new core product, our customers now have the ability to quickly and easily answer these questions for homebuyers and sellers on the fly."

Through the partnership, MRIS, which facilitates nearly $125 million a day in real estate transactions, now offers a custom, specially licensed version of Close It! to calculate total cash-to-close and net proceeds for real estate transactions. MRIS Close It! allows users to instantly create, edit and share HUD-1 Settlement Statements and net sales sheets.

"I am going on 37 years in this business and MRIS Close It! is as easy as it gets to calculating closing costs for buyers and sellers," said Scott Miller, MRIS customer and Associate Broker at RE/MAX 100. "My clients and I can rely on MRIS Close It! for quick and helpful closing cost estimates."

Federal Title, a technology pioneer in the title industry, initially launched the consumer-facing Close It! app in May 2013 to simplify homebuying costs. The app, along with the MRIS version, can compare costs in different jurisdictions and show the difference in closing on the first of the month compared to at the end of the month. Many features are customizable including the mortgage rate and down payment amount and allow the user to differentiate between FHA, VA loans and cash purchases.

"We created the most accurate app on the market that simplifies the closing process," said Federal Title founder Todd Ewing. "It removes the guesswork from the equation and is the ultimate closing costs calculator."

The app is a new core product for MRIS customers and is included in their MRIS subscription at no additional charge. To learn more about MRIS Close It! and to download the app for iPhone/iPad, please visit http://www.mris.com/CloseIt.

ABOUT MRIS 

MRIS is Real Estate in Real Time™. We’re a leading provider of real estate information technology and services, and are frequently ranked among the most productive Multiple Listing Services (MLS) in the nation, facilitating over $45 billion in system wide sales in 2013. In its core market, MRIS supports over 45,000 real estate professionals spanning the Mid-Atlantic region, including Maryland, Northern Virginia, Washington, D.C. and parts of Pennsylvania, Delaware and West Virginia. MRIS provides a portfolio of technology solutions and proprietary databases for real estate professionals, as well as broker and agent software products and an industry-leading consumer portal, MRIShomes.com (formerly HomesDatabase). In addition, the CURE Solutions Group, a subsidiary of MRIS, provides proprietary back-end technology to other MLS systems, serving nearly 180,000 customers each day. Visit MRIS at MRIS.com and our web based TV station, mrisTV.com. “Like” us on Facebook/MRISonFB, follow us on Twitter, @MRIS_REal_News and be sure to visit MRISblog.com for real-time news and company updates.

About Federal Title & Escrow Company 

Federal Title & Escrow Company is the largest independently owned title company in Washington, D.C. – innovators within the title industry, trend setters who leverage technology to streamline the closing process, pioneers of a business model that has saved homebuyers more than $8 million in closing costs. Their innovative app Close It!, has over 10,000 downloads to date. It was nominated for a Tabby Award in October 2013 and has been featured in the Washington Post, Title Report and Washington and Baltimore business journals. To find out how this unique company is changing the way homebuyers and sellers think about title companies, visit federaltitle.com.

Close It™ House of the Week: A Cape Cod near the Crescent Trail

Written by Nikki Smith ON Thursday, 04 September 2014

This week we take a look at a Cape Cod style home with four bedrooms and four bathrooms in over 2,700 feet of living space located just across the DC border in Bethesda, Maryland.

This house has a fireplace in the large living room plus a dining room that opens into a kitchen with stainless steel appliances. The house was built in 1951 and renovated in 2006. It recently dropped in price. 

Assuming a homebuyer puts down 20 percent on a conventional loan, her cash to close number will be approximately $212,329.64. The monthly payments would then be around $4,535.03 per month. For a complete picture of the cash to close, or for a run-down of the seller's side of the deal, plug the numbers into the Web version of Close It™ or download the free iOS app.

Headlines: The future of real estate in the Internet Age

Written by Nikki Smith ON Wednesday, 03 September 2014

Here's a look at what's happening in real estate around the District of Columbia.

Online listings breathe new life into open houses

The popularity of online home search sites over the past few years is positively impacting the effectiveness of open houses. With homes now listed online, buyers can learn everything about a house before they even step foot in it. — Washington Post

How to effortlessly use online reviews to grow your real estate business

Whether you’re new to the online review game, already have a few reviews or are dominating your niche with online testimonials, here are some tips to help you build your review portfolio and generate leads from the work you've already done. — Inman News

What Google searches reveal about the housing market

A Google survey showed 18–34-year-olds were twice as likely as 35–54-year-olds to say they were planning to buy a home in the next year, and real estate web usage by millennials grew by 30 percent between May 2013 and July 2014, according to ComScore. — DC Urban Turf

Gentrification on The Waterfront

Will the luxury mega-development on the Southwest waterfront unmoor the low-key way of life on DC's houseboats? These photos offer a look inside one of the largest "live-aboard" communities on the Eastern seaboard, just as the cranes rise. — Washingtonian

Eight Victorian pads for sale in DC

DC's got a slew of late 19th-to-early-20th-century properties on the market, so we've rounded up some of these turreted, bow-fronted gems. Too bad their asking prices aren't what they would've been 100 years ago. — Curbed DC

Close It™ House of the Week: Charming stone front colonial

Written by Nikki Smith ON Thursday, 28 August 2014

This week we head over to the Village of Martin's Additions in Chevy Chase, MD to run the numbers on a charming stone front colonial house with 4 bedrooms and 2.5 bathrooms.

This house is located on a quiet street within walking distance of the Brookville Market and the Friendship Heights metro stop. The house has a fireplace and 9-foot ceilings as well as a renovated kitchen and comes with a homeowner's warranty.

Assuming a homebuyer puts down 20 percent on a conventional loan, her cash to close number will be approximately $211,912.43. The monthly payments would then be around $4,588.20 per month. For a complete picture of the cash to close, or for a run-down of the seller's side of the deal, plug the numbers into the Web version of Close It™ or download the free iOS app.

Headlines: DC's first-time and boomerang homebuyers

Written by Nikki Smith ON Wednesday, 27 August 2014

After losing their homes in the foreclosure crisis, boomerang buyers are back

Boomerang buyers who lost a home to a foreclosure or short sale between 2007 and 2013 are projected to make about 10 percent of all U.S. home purchases in 2014. — Washington Post

Average profit for a DC Metro house flipper is $136,135

Flips made up 10.2 percent of all sales in DC proper in the second quarter, more than twice the national average for the quarter. Gross profits nationwide were $46,000; in DC proper they were much higher, at $222,106. — DC Urban Turf


DC tops list for first-time buyers

In DC, 68 percent of homebuyers were first-timers in 2013, while Maryland also ranked high for first-time homebuyers at 63 percent. In Virginia, the report showed that first-time buyers only made up 57 percent of those taking out home loans. — WJLA


Days to close a loan drops to new low

The average number of days to close a loan has dropped to 37 in July, compared to 41 days in June, the the lowest average since tracking began.  — Realtor Magazine


Is the District affordable? Yes, relatively speaking, says new research

A new study that examines housing costs and transportation costs reveals DC is second to only San Fransisco as the most affordable city in the country. — Washington Post

.realtor coming in October

Written by Nikki Smith ON Tuesday, 26 August 2014

All you tech-savvy real estate agents out there who wish to further distinguish yourselves online will be able to register a .realtor domain name by Halloween, says the National Association of Realtors

If this is something that interests you, make sure to jump on the band wagon early since NAR is offering a year's worth of free hosting to the first 500,000 people who register. And if you have an existing profile at Realtor.com, you'll be able to transition it into a stand-alone site with your name on it. 

The .realtor domain name, in the works since 2012, is NAR's latest attempt to close the gap between the number of buyers who find their real estate agent online (about 9 percent) and the number of buyers who search for homes online (about 89 percent). They've tried other approaches in the past that didn't pan out so well. 

NAR initially applied for the .realtor domain name to help its Realtors® stand out from other real estate professionals and to help consumers distinguish between websites operated by industry professionals from sites maintained by third parties, according to an earlier report from Inman News

Close It!™ House of the Week: Pet-friendly with courtyard & sunset views

Written by Nikki Smith ON Thursday, 21 August 2014

This week we take a look at a pet friendly condo with a balcony in Friendship Heights, Washington, DC.

This bright, 2-bedroom, 2-bath condo is equidistant from the Tenleytown and Friendship Heights metro stops on the Red Line, located in on the third floor of a garden style apartment. Constructed just four years ago, the building is relatively new. And the unit offers several updated amenities including stainless steel appliances, self-closing drawers and granite counter tops. 

Assuming a homebuyer puts down 20 percent on a conventional loan, her cash to close number will be approximately $135,231.27. The monthly payments would then be around $2,691.25 per month. For a complete picture of the cash to close, or for a run-down of the seller's side of the deal, plug the numbers into the Web version of Close It™ or download the free iOS app.

Headlines: Close It! makes a splash; $1M condos at The Wharf

Written by Nikki Smith ON Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Here's a quick look at what's happening in real estate around the District of Columbia.

Record income gap fuels US housing weakness

The income gap between America's richest and poorest metropolitan regions has reached its widest on record, shaping an uneven housing recovery that threatens to hold back the broader revival of the world's largest economy. —CNBC

How SB-Urban plans to get its no-parking developments approved

Given the very low likelihood of residents having cars, the cost per parking space would be prohibitively expensive and add an unnecessary cost to the project, particularly when most of the spaces would go unused. Constructing parking that will go unused will lead to unnecessarily higher rents. — DC Urban Turf

 

 

Aptitude: Wondering what your closing costs will be? Ask CloseIt!

Whether you want something quick, easy and accurate to estimate closing costs and monthly mortgage payments, or you want to drill down into the numbers, this app takes the mystery out of closing. — Washington Post 

Why MLSs will soon be a lot more friendly to brokers

Currently, brokers and agents must often enter and maintain their listings in both their back-end office system and their MLS. With the Update feature implemented, agents will only have to enter their listings in their broker’s back-office system, which can then transmit their listings to the MLS. — Inman News

Revealing the facts and myths about DC's street system

Once you get outside of the original part of the city, the system changes a bit, but Curbed is here to tell you how you can understand the system to know where you are at all times, and to explain some of the misconceptions you may have heard about the plan. — Curbed DC

Condos selling in excess of $1 million to be first project to open at The Wharf

The $1.5 billion project, to deliver 3.2 million square feet of new shops, offices, homes and hotel rooms to The Wharf, will take years to fully materialize. But the first test of whether the development will become a live-work-play environment will come a lot sooner than that, at least the live part of the three-legged stool. — Washington Business Journal

Washington Post profiles our awesome app Close It! in this Sunday's magazine

Written by Nikki Smith ON Friday, 15 August 2014

Washington Post profiles our awesome app Close It! in this Sunday's magazine

Word is spreading about the app that takes the guesswork out of closing.

This weekend, the Washington Post will run an article in their Sunday magazine that profiles our free iOS and Web app, Close It!

Reporter Kathy Orton breaks it down:

"Whether you want something quick, easy and accurate to estimate closing costs and monthly mortgage payments, or you want to drill down into the numbers, this app takes the mystery out of closing."

Believe it or not, this is the third time the Washington Post has mentioned Close It! in their editorial pages since we launched the app in May 2013. About a year ago we had a one-inch blurb on the inside of the front page. About two months ago Close It! was included along with several other real estate apps engineered in the DC metro area. 

We're doing what we can to get the word out to homebuyers as well as their agents and lenders about our awesome app as well as the importance of shopping for title services. Hopefully the app gives consumers a good reference point in terms of calculating closing costs and total cash to close. 

Agents and lenders out there who are interested in adding the Web version Close It! as a feature, tool or resource on their own website, feel free to get in touch with me. I'm happy to assist or offer advice on how to make that happen.

Close It!™ House of the Week: Modernized and move-in ready

Written by Nikki Smith ON Thursday, 14 August 2014

This week we cross over the District border into Bethesda for this charming 4 bedroom, 3.5 bathroom cape colonial located on a corner lot less than a mile from the Red Line. 

The interiors are bright and clean. There's a finished basement. The spacious kitchen features stainless steel appliances with a gas stove as well as granite countertops. It's listed at $899,000.

Assuming a homebuyer puts down 20 percent on a conventional loan, her cash to close number will be approximately $204,574.23. The monthly payments would then be around $4,401.80 per month. For a complete picture of the cash to close, or for a run-down of the seller's side of the deal, plug the numbers into the Web version of Close It™ or download the free iOS app.

Headlines: A look at DC's tiny houses and million dollar 'hoods

Written by Nikki Smith ON Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Here's a quick look at what's happening in real estate in and around the District of Columbia.

Refinances drive meager mortgage volume again

Applications to refinance jumped 4 percent from the previous week but are still off 39 percent from the same week a year ago. — CNBC

6 DC neighborhoods where homes cost $1M and up

The most expensive neighborhood so far in 2014 is Massachusetts Avenue Heights, to the west of the Naval Observatory, where the median sales price this year is $1.847 million. Unsurprisingly, it is also the DC neighborhood where homes take the longest to sell (61 days on average). — DC Urban Turf

Millennials should be buying a home right now

Assuming that home values stayed constant and that a home buyer would put 20 percent down and take out a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage, Zillow found that a D.C. area buyer who waits one year to purchase a home would probably pay an additional $186 per month. — Washington Post

DC's 'Tiny Houses' highlighted in ReasonTV video

Take the politics as you will; the video is worth watching for its explanation of the tiny-house dilemma and its provocative arguments in the ongoing debate over how cities like the District should manage their growth. — Washington City Paper

What you need to know about Dupont Circle's secret tunnels

Even those who do know about the underground tunnels beneath Dupont Circle may not know about its storied and occasionally sordid history, nor about the plans to turn it into to a destination the likes of which D.C., and honestly the United States, has not seen. — Curbed DC

Why 83% of real estate agents become obsolete after handing over the keys

One major reason homeowners do not rehire their real estate agent is that they simply cannot remember their agent’s name. A dismal 17 percent of homeowners actually use their agent again. — Inman News

Close It!™ House of the Week: Colonial with an English garden

Written by Nikki Smith ON Thursday, 07 August 2014

For the inaugural edition of Close It!™ House of the Week, we chose a property that's right in our own back yard.

This detached single family home is a brick colonial with a fenced-in English garden located on a tree-lined street in Friendship Heights, Washington, D.C. It has 3 bedrooms and 2.5 baths and is listed for $799,999.

Assuming a homebuyer puts down 20 percent on a conventional loan, her cash to close number will be approximately $183,510.61. The monthly payments would then be around $3,657.70 per month. For a complete picture of the cash to close, or for a run-down of the seller's side of the deal, plug the numbers into the Web version of Close It™ or download the free iOS app.

Federal Title targets consumers' best interest with 'Best Practices'

Written by Nikki Smith ON Thursday, 24 July 2014

While real estate settlement service providers across the country groan about new government regulations stemming from Dodd-Frank, the largest independently owned title company in the region is capitalizing on the changes in its latest effort to turn the title industry on its head.

A "leader in compliance," Federal Title & Escrow Co. at the beginning of this year became one of the first title companies in the country to implement a series of business procedures with the best interest of their clients – homebuyers and sellers – in mind. The procedures are known as "Best Practices," and financial institutions and real estate agents working with Federal Title can rest easy, too, knowing each settlement is federally compliant and hassle-free. 

"The consumer is our client," said company founder Todd Ewing. "They are the ones paying the bill at settlement, not their agent or lender. Therefore it's our duty to look out for the consumer's best interest." 

Protecting the consumer's best interest

Among other things, Best Practices established procedures for protecting consumers’ identities and something called non-public personal information: social security, driver's license, and credit or debit card numbers for example. It also established procedures for safely storing, emailing and disposing of sensitive documents. 

To further protect consumers, Federal Title took out several insurance policies including a cyber protection policy that's good for up to $1,000,000 per claim with a provision for hacker attacks. Copies of these policies are available upon request. 

"Behind the scenes, we're going above and beyond the minimum requirements according to Dodd-Frank to deliver the highest level of protection to our clients, that they hopefully never have to realize," Ewing said. "Agents and lenders in the area are hearing about our efforts from other real estate professionals as well as their buyers and sellers – we take these compliance requirements seriously."

Turning the title industry on its head

Too often, in today’s environment, title agents depend on the referrals of agents and lenders – often leading to added cost for the consumer.

Real estate brokerages have forged Affiliated Business Arrangements (ABAs) to refer business to title companies for a price, Ewing said, and that expense gets kicked down to the homebuyer or seller. The federal government's Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has paid close attention to ABAs in recent years, resulting in a rise in Marketing Service Agreements (MSAs).

"It's like putting lipstick on a pig," Ewing said. "No matter what they call it, it’s a kickback with the same end result taking more money out of the pockets of consumers and putting it into the pockets of big brokers."

A large swath of Federal Title's business comes from referrals by real estate agents and lenders, but Ewing said he will continue to target homebuyers and sellers directly while appealing to like-minded real estate professionals who have the consumer's best interest at heart. 

"Demonstrating a level of professionalism to our clients – that we take seriously their privacy as well as compliance with the federal regulations – is the latest in a string of efforts to earn the consumer's trust and ultimately their business," Ewing said. 

Leveraging technology to earn clients' trust

The implementation of Best Practices is one way Federal Title has leveraged technology to change the way the title industry interacts with consumers. Last year the company developed a free iOS and Web app known as Close It! that accurately calculates cash to close for home buyers and cash in pocket for sellers. 

They were the first title company in the region to publish their rates online and offer an instant discount on transactions where the order was placed through the company's pioneering online order system. (Coincidentally the discount illustrates how much is kicked back to referral sources through ABAs and MSAs.)

"No other title company invests as heavily as we do in consumer-driven technology," Ewing said. "We have to try to reach the consumer directly before they get steered to their broker's preferred title company partner and pay more for inferior service."

Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act and the title industry

Passed in 2010, the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act mandated new consumer financial laws and created an agency known as the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to enforce them. 

Among other things, the CFPB is tasked with regulating financial products and services such as home mortgages. They have the authority to supervise financial institutions for compliance with these laws and, by extension, third-party service providers such as title companies.

Banks are under the CFPB microscope, and they in turn are taking a hard look at third-party service providers to ensure business practices and services are on the up-and-up in terms of the new requirements mandated by Dodd-Frank.

To guide settlement service providers through the changing landscape, the American Land Title Association developed a series of industry guidelines dubbed "Best Practices." Implementation is voluntary, but in doing so title companies can demonstrate to the consumers and real estate professionals alike a level of professionalism – and ensure a compliant real estate settlement experience. 

5 safety tips for real estate agents

Written by Nikki Smith ON Tuesday, 25 March 2014

A female real estate agent who was preparing to show a vacant property in New Carrollton, MD was robbed on Monday, according to news reports. It appears the attacker took her purse and some personal items, but the woman will be O.K.

While rare, attacks on real estate agents do happen from time to time and (sadly) women in particular are vulnerable. In light of this recent event, I thought it'd be good to explore the topic and offer some safety tips for real estate agents.

Stranger danger! Verify customer information

In addition to getting your new client's full name and phone number, find out what where he works. Ask for an email address. Ask for multiple telephone numbers. Google is your best friend. While some might consider it creepy to Google an individual before a first date, it's totally acceptable to Google a potential client in the name of personal safety. What's more, you might learn a thing or two about your new client that you can use to help him find the perfect property.

Use the buddy system. Tell someone in your office where you're going

If you're out in the field, let people know. Ideally you shouldn't host public open houses or show vacant property alone. Bring a friend. But since that isn't always practical, at minimum it's a good idea to tell a co-worker and perhaps a personal contact, too, where you're going to be and when you expect to return.

Have new clients meet you in your office or another public place whenever possible. In those situations where you must meet a new client one-on-one, remember Google is your friend. (See the first tip.)

Carry your cell phone and keep it in your hands

Since you've already told your buddy that you will be showing houses or meeting a new client, why not pre-program that contact into your phone in case you need to make a quick call? Bonus points for downloading one of those personal safety apps. Some basic personal safety apps are free while fancier ones cost money. Of course, your phone will be useless in a pocket or purse, so keep it in your hands as much as you can. In the event you have to send a distress call, you can make it quickly and then throw your phone at the perp's face (just kidding).

Familiarize yourself with your surroundings

Take a drive around the neighborhood and keep an eye out for safety concerns. Do a quick Internet search before you go to look up crime reports and other information about the neighborhood. At the property, survey the exits and make sure you're able to get out easily in the event you have to make a quick escape.

Likewise, if you're in a property with your client, make sure you know where he is. Keep your client in sight, ideally in front of you and at a safe distance. Let him enter a room first while you linger by the doorway. You don't have to be weird or obvious about it, but keep your guard up. One of the best ways to avoid a compromising situation is to not allow yourself to get into a vulnerable position where a would-be attacker can take advantage.

Trust your gut

If something doesn't feel right, get out of there. Or don't meet the client one-on-one. It's that simple. Don't discount the lessons taught to us in kindergarten about stranger danger and the buddy system. Take extra steps to ensure your personal safety.

While it's unfortunate to hear about what happened with the female agent at the vacant house in New Carrollton, hopefully her experience will remind others of the inherent dangers of working with the public as a real estate agent. Stay safe out there!

What's up in real estate?

Written by Nikki Smith ON Thursday, 09 January 2014

Housing outlook 2014: 10 predictions from the experts
Forbes

In 2013 the housing recovery was a welcome bright spot for the economy: prices were shooting up, fewer homeowners were underwater, and builder confidence was finally on the upswing. It's looking like 2014 should be another good year for housing – mostly.

What are your gripes about closings?
Realtor Magazine

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) is asking for feedback on the most stressful, confusing, and problematic areas for consumers when it comes to the closing process in a home purchase.

This guy spent the last month dressing up like local realtors and pasting himself over their bench ads
Buzzfeed

For the last month Phil Jones has been recreating the ads from local realtors and then taping over them with his own version. He called it The Faces Of Real Estate.

Local news

Photos: Metro shows off railcar of the future
DCist

Metro today gave the media a look at its new 7000 series railcar, which was greeted at the Greenbelt station by Mayor Vince Gray, Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley and other politicians.

New condo supply on the rise
DC Urban Turf

The number of unsold condo units in new projects or those under construction (and not yet marketing) rose to 3,308 in the DC area by the end of 2013, an increase of 1,000 units from the third quarter when the new condo supply hit its lowest level in a decade.

Report: DC-area condo prices to keep rising for the next three years
Washington Business Journal

In its quarterly snapshot of the Washington condo market, Delta notes the year-over-year change in condo prices in the third quarter was positive for the sixth consecutive quarter, even as sales volume fell to the lowest level since the final quarter of 2011.

Technology

4 methods for your mobile house hunt madness
Trulia Blog

You’ll want to make sure you find the best solution (home), with the most efficiency (time, money, etc.) and strategic smarts (not driving yourself wild with anxiety or overwhelm). What you need is a little method to avoid the madness that mobile house hunting can bring.

5 DC startups positioned for major growth in 2014
Huffington Post

HomeSnap makes hunting for real estate a breeze. The algorithm uses a combination of big data and iPhone features (accelerometer, gyroscope, location services) to determine where you are and then present a home's details.

Home Improvement

7 storage solutions you didn't know you had
House Logic

Every square foot of your home is valuable. These storage solutions take advantage of underused nooks and crannies. And just for fun, we did some back-of-the-napkin calculations based on the average price per square foot of a U.S. home ($81) to attach a theoretical value to the bonus space.

Low-cost cabinet makeovers
Better Homes & Gardens

Save thousands of dollars by using paint and new hardware to update your existing kitchen cabinets instead of buying new ones. These colorful, budget-friendly examples will help you get started.

Real estate predictions for 2014

Written by Nikki Smith ON Monday, 06 January 2014

Demand will remain high and the cost of homebuying will increase for homebuyers in the Washington, DC metro area.

LIMITED HOUSING INVENTORY is the biggest driver of the DC region's housing market, says Federal Title & Escrow Company's founder, and as long as supply is limited the market in 2014 will look a lot like last year.

Houses with multiple offers selling for tens of thousands dollars above asking price in some cases – it happened frequently enough in 2013 that the editors at Urban Turf created a new column called Above Asking.

"You've got a migration of folks from all over the country trying to crack the DC [housing] market," said Todd Ewing, whose company handled more than 1,400 purchase closings in 2013. "That trend will continue."

Higher interest rates should not affect the region

Some real estate experts are predicting mortgage rates in 2014 will rise above 5% for the first time since 2010, but the increase is not expected to greatly impact the DC region's housing market.

Homeowners who were planning to refinance have already done so by now, Ewing said, and the federal government continues to attract new people to the region who are in need of housing, driving demand.

"There are still homebuyers out there looking, most two-income households," said Ewing, who's been handling real estate settlements and observing market cycles since the mid-90s. "I don't see a rising interest rate having much of an impact on whether a homebuyer moves forward."

Increased oversight from CFBP will increase closing costs

Expect the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (created through the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010) to crack down on enforcement of the Real Estate Settlement Procedure Act, a piece of legislation from the 1970s meant to protect consumers from unethical business practices, including excessive fees.

"If the CFPB does what its charter sets forth, such as the enforcement of anti-kickback laws, and remains vigilant of those in the industry who engage in such practices at the expense of the consumer, then this crack down could ultimately be beneficial to the consumer," Ewing said.

But any benefit to the consumer will come at a price that will most likely get passed along to the consumer, as additional training, staffing and implementation new technology will add to the cost conducting a real estate closing.

Phasing out the HUD-1 Settlement Statement

The HUD-1 Settlement Statement will become extinct in August 2015, and the Closing Disclosure will take its place, according to a ruling of the CFPB last November. The new document is five pages and will essentially combine the Truth in Lending Disclosure with the HUD-1.

This year title companies will be looking to completely overhaul their software systems in preparation of change, which may lead to added costs for the consumer.

Federal Title anticipated the CFPB's ruling on the Closing Disclosure and incorporated it into Close It!, an iOS and Web app that accurately determines how much cash will cross the closing table during any given real estate settlement.

Tech developments from Federal Title

Speaking of technological developments at Federal Title, Ewing who has been pleased with the initial performance of the iOS app said he plans to announce the release of a new product later this year. Since launching in May 2013, Close It! has garnered nearly 10,000 downloads and the tablet version was nominated for a Tabby Award last fall, Ewing said.

"It's a popular tool with agents and lenders, and it's way ahead of its time in that it produces a Closing Disclosure," Ewing said. "Going forward we intend to keep on innovating, and we're excited to roll out something new for real estate professionals [later this year]."

Greatest media hits of 2013

Written by Nikki Smith ON Monday, 30 December 2013

It proved to be an exciting year for us with the release of our iOS and Web app, Close It!, which has garnered more than 8,000 downloads and was nominated last October for a Tabby Award.

Several publications wrote stories about our app, including the Washington Post, Washington Business Journal, DC Urban Turf and Curbed DC.

42 best tablet apps for business finalists announced by Tabby Awards
PR Web | Oct. 8, 2013

The Tabby Awards /Business, the only competition for the best business and enterprise tablet apps, announced its finalists today in its second competition. The Tabby Awards /Business received submissions this year from a dozen countries: Australia, Canada, Germany, India, Ireland, Israel, Japan, Poland, Switzerland, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States.

Real estate settlement app for Apple users
Heads Up RE | June 8, 2013

If you are in the market for a new home and are worried about how much it is going to cost you to complete the transaction, there is a new real estate settlement app for iPhone and iPad users called Close It!. This real estate settlement app allows you to figure out what your settlement costs are going to be when you sit down at the closing table and have to produce your down payment monies. Oh, and did I mention it is free, yes, it is free.

Title company unveils mobile app that produces customizable HUD-1
American Land Title Association | June 4, 2013

The company said getting started with the app is as easy as entering a purchase or sales price. The results can be fine tuned on a live worksheet to narrow down cash to close or cash in pocket within hundreds of dollars or less for consumers in D.C., Maryland, Virginia and Florida. 

Federal Title & Escrow creates app to generate cash to close info
The Title Report | May 31, 2013

Federal Title & Escrow released a mobile app called Close It! that produces a detailed picture of cash to close and monthly mortgage payments for homebuyers and cash in pocket for home sellers on an editable, shareable closing disclosure statement.

Tip of the week: New mobile app
Washington Post | May 31, 2013

Whether you’re the buyer or the seller, you want to know how much cash will cross the table at your real estate settlement. Federal Title & Escrow, a Washington title company, has developed a mobile app called Close It that works like Turbo Tax for real estate transactions.

Free app calculates closing costs
Baltimore Business Journal | May 29, 2013

Washington, D.C.-based Federal Title & Escrow Co. has launched a free application that helps homebuyers and sellers know exactly what their closing costs will be...

New app from D.C. company calculates closing costs
Washington Business Journal | May 29, 2013

The iPad app, called Close It!, produces customizable HUD-1 settlement statements for D.C., Virginia, Maryland and Florida residential real estate transactions, with a detailed picture of cash to close and monthly mortgage payments for buyers and cash in pocket for sellers...

Free app calculates closing costs
Washington Business Journal | May 28, 2013

The app includes 45 closing cost variables on the buyer's side and 22 variables on the seller's side, and produces an official HUD-1 Settlement Statement that can be saved, printed or emailed....

New app calculates total cash outlay for homebuyers
DC Urban Turf | May 20, 2013

Close It! from local title company Federal Title will work on mobile devices — though it’s currently available only on the iPad — and creates a document that replicates what you would see on a HUD-1 on the day that a buyers closes on a new home.

Testing Close It!, an app that calculates homebuying costs
Curbed DC | May 20, 2013

The ease of use on this app is pretty nice. The big important numbers (the cash to close and monthly payments) are significantly larger and anything in red, whether it's the interest rate or the type of property can be changed. Overall, this seems rather helpful in terms of doing the quick math for any purchaser that gets frustrated by that part of the process.

Realtors aim to help buyers navigate a D.C. market short on inventory
NW Current | Apr. 10, 2013

Even so, activity is solid. In the first three months, there was a 9.9 percent rise in contracts for condos and co-ops and a 0.8 percent increase in contracts for single-family homes, compared with the same period in 2012. Settlements are up in both categories — 25.6 percent for condos and co-ops, 6.3 percent for single-family homes.

“We’ve definitely seen things picking up,” said Joe Gentile, vice president of Federal Title & Escrow Co.

DC Tax Credit not renewed
Curbed DC | Jan. 10, 2013

The $5,000 DC Homebuyer tax credit was not renewed under fiscal cliff talks...

Most popular posts of 2013

Written by Nikki Smith ON Monday, 23 December 2013

At Federal Title we believe educating consumers and their agents is the best way to ensure the real estate closing process is as quick, painless and affordable as possible. Our attorneys regularly write articles based on their experiences "in the trenches" and provide insight and, occasionally, commentary on the current state of our industry.

Over the course of 2013, visitors to our website viewed Federal Title's official blog more than 65,000 times. The blog contains literally hundreds of articles, and the following is a list of the most popular articles written in the past year.

New simplified loan modification initiative announced to help troubled homeowners avoid foreclosure 
by Jackie Kurz

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will offer a new loan modification initiative designed to help troubled borrowers avoid foreclosure and remain in their homes, according to an announcement today from the Federal Housing Finance Agency. (3/27/2013)

What does it mean when my DC property is classified as Class 3? 
by Catherine Schmitt

As a real property owner in the District of Columbia, the last thing you would ever want or need is for the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs to classify your property as Class 3 – Vacant Real Property. (4/9/2013)

My parents are going to be on title with me. Can I still qualify for the DC Homestead Deduction? 
by Todd Ewing

If you are buying a property in DC and otherwise qualify for the Homestead Deduction, you will still qualify even if your parents, who live somewhere else, are co-owners with you. As a benefit to homeowners living in a property as their principal residence, the DC Homestead Deduction subtracts $69,100 from the assessed value of the property before real estate taxes are calculated. (5/30/2013)

Loan payoff includes more than just principal balance 
by Joe Gentile

In about half of the settlements that I conduct a seller will stop me and comment, “The payoff is too high, I owe less than what’s listed.” This is because the seller is confusing the mortgage principal balance with the payoff amount. (3/20/2013)

I just bought a property in Maryland. How do I qualify for the Homestead Tax Credit? 
by Todd Ewing

If you just bought a property in Maryland, there is nothing that you need to do right now to qualify for the Maryland Homestead Tax Credit. The property taxes you pay are calculated based upon the assessed value of your property. If the assessed value goes up, your property taxes go up. (5/28/2013)

Refinance appraisal: What you can expect 
by Dianne Pickersgill

The following are some thoughts, based on my own personal experiences with refinance appraisals, including a refinance appraisal of my DC condo that took place this month. I’m not an appraiser, so this is not a professional opinion. (2/25/2013)

Popular $5,000 DC Homebuyer Tax Credit for first-time buyers not renewed for 2012 tax year 
by Nikki Smith

First-time homeowners in the District of Columbia, who purchased their principal residence after Dec. 31, 2011, will not be able to take advantage of the popular $5,000 DC Homebuyer Tax Credit when they file taxes this year. (1/8/2013)

Condominium limited common elements: Know what you're buying 
by Dianne Pickersgill

Condominium ownership is really popular in DC, Maryland, and Virginia. Here at Federal Title, condominium sales make up about 25% of our transactions. (2/11/2013)

6 real estate apps that make you look like a genius 
by Nikki Smith

Want to look smart in front of your clients? It’s gonna take more than having a smart phone with access to email and Internet. You need to know what real estate apps can increase your productivity, expand your networks and, well, make you look like a tech genius in front of your clients. (7/1/2013)

Benefits of a VA loan in today's real estate market 
by Jackie Kurz

With interest rates remaining steady at all-time lows and a housing market that has seen below-market prices in most areas, now is a great time for servicemembers to purchase a home or refinance their existing home and take advantage of the benefits of a VA loan. (4/10/2013)

Close It! nominated for Tabby Award

Written by Nikki Smith ON Tuesday, 08 October 2013

We've got exciting news to share! Our iOS app is one of three finalists for a Tabby Award in the Business Products and Services category.

Launched in May of this year, Close It! has already received more than 5,000 downloads. The app is available for iPad and iPhone (the former is the version that's in the running for this particular award).

Close It! is like Turbo Tax for real estate transactions. If you've downloaded the iOS app, you know already know how easy it is to accurately calculate your buyer's total cash to close or your seller's total cash in pocket.

If you haven't downloaded Close It! yet, what are you waiting for?! Download Close It! >>>

For those who have never heard of the Tabby Awards, it's a worldwide competition for the best iPad, Android and Windows 8 tablet apps.

At least a dozen countries are represented this year. More than 40 apps, including Close It! were selected as finalists in 18 categories.

An international panel of judges will choose the winners on November 13 in New York City.

How to choose a really good real estate agent

Written by Nikki Smith ON Friday, 20 September 2013

The idea of buying a home is simultaneously enchanting and daunting. For instance, it's fun to daydream about color palettes and kitchen / bathroom renovations and coming home to your very own Home Sweet Home. It's less fun to think about what the transition from daydreaming and dream home entails.

A really good real estate agent can walk you through the steps of homebuying and even help you negotiate an offer that might lower your upfront and ongoing costs of home ownership.

Really good real estate agents are familiar with the neighborhoods where you'd like to live. They know how long houses have sat on the market and can tell you the difference between listing prices and recent purchase prices.

The question is how do you find a really good real estate agent?

Talk to friends & relatives

Whether through Facebook or other social media platforms or (gasp!) face-to-face, ask your friends and relatives who've had recent homebuying experiences what real estate agents they recommend. And find out why.

Was their agent especially skilled at contract negotiation? Did he or she have encyclopedic knowledge about the local market? What about their communication skills? Did their agent return phone calls and emails in a timely manner?

These kind of details will help to paint a colorful picture of what it's like to work with a real estate agent. And presumably, if it's coming from your friends and relatives, it's coming from a source you know well and one you can trust.

Read online reviews

If you don't have friends or relatives with recent homebuying experiences in your area, the Internet may be the next best thing. Sites like Angie's List (paid subscription required) and Yelp (no subscription necessary, but be sure to check the "filtered reviews) have tons of reviews about local real estate professionals.

Real estate sites like Redfin, Zillow and Trulia post agent reviews as well. The downside of online reviews is you most likely don't know who the source is. More than likely the review is bias, but reading multiple reviews should allow you to get a fairly balanced picture.

Contact top prospects, interview them

Once you've made a short list of prospects, call them and ask more questions. For added peace of mind, find out if your prospective agents have additional references.

Pick their brains about the neighborhoods where you'd like to live. Find out, on average, what percent of the listing price do their clients typically pay. Obviously a real estate agent who negotiates deals for less than the asking price is someone you want negotiating your home purchase.

The more research you do at the beginning of the agent selection process, the better your chances of finding a really good real estate agent and having a pleasant homebuying experience.

Once you've made it through the all the steps, consider posting your own agent review to give future homebuyers an idea of what it was like to work with your agent selection.

And if these tips don't help to ease your mind about how to select a real estate agent, feel free to reach out to our office and ask for even more agent recommendations. We closed roughly 1,500 deals last year, so we know a lot of real estate agents (mortgage lenders, too).

6 real estate apps that make you look like a genius

Written by Nikki Smith ON Monday, 01 July 2013

6 real estate apps that make you look like a genius
Want to look smart in front of your clients? It’s gonna take a lot more than just having a smart phone with access to email and Internet. You need to know what real estate apps can increase your productivity, expand your networks and, well, make you look like a tech genius in front of your clients.

The desire for transparency in the real estate market was brewing long before the housing market collapse, but now more than ever your clients demand access to instant information – so much so that they are sidestepping real estate agents with growing frequency. To stay top of mind and on the cutting edge, check out these awesome apps.

Find homes faster with Homesnap

This innovative – “fast and easy-to-use application,” according to the Los Angeles Times – is probably the coolest way to shop for homes as well as one of the smartest ways real estate agents can market themselves. What’s makes this app so special?

Well, for starters Homesnap can pull up all kinds of information about any house or condo when you snap a picture of the property using the app’s camera. How cool is that? And creating a profile within the app allows you to keep a diary of your snaps in an Instragram-like photo feed.

Beyond the photo feed, real estate agents will also appreciate the client-sync feature. It allows them to import their clients’ contact information then see their snaps in real time while the app adds the agent’s branding to every snap. Clients can reach out to their agent in just one tap to schedule a showing or get more info on the property.

The developers of Homesnap recently launched a Foursquare-esque check-in feature that lets agents “check in” to houses. By having the most check-ins, an agent becomes the neighborhood’s equivalent of the Foursquare “mayor.” Potential buyers see this as they use the app to search for homes, increasing the agent’s credibility and visibility at the same time!

To get the word out about this new feature, the Homesnap team has announced a contest for real estate agents.

Close It! for iPad ready for download

Written by Nikki Smith ON Friday, 17 May 2013

Free mobile app calculates cash to close for homebuyers and cash in pocket for home sellers with great accuracy

Close It! for iPad ready for download

Ever wonder what your total cash to close would be to buy your home? Or how much money you will pocket from the sale of your home? Now there's an app for that.

"Close It! is like Turbo Tax for real estate transactions," said Todd Ewing, president of Federal Title who first conceived of the app last summer. "And the results are accurate within one-tenth of 1 percent on average."

Download the app now >>

Close It! is the first mobile app that produces a complete, picture of cash to close and monthly mortgage payments for homebuyers and cash in pocket for home sellers. It's free to download for iPad.

Title professionals across the country have used technology like this in-house for years now, but Close It! is the first app that makes it easy for homebuyers and sellers to produce a HUD-1 Settlement Statement – such as what would be reviewed and signed at the closing table – right from their mobile device.

Getting started with the app is as easy as entering a purchase or sales price. Then fine tune the results on a live, dynamic worksheet and instantly narrow down cash to close or cash in pocket with great accuracy.

Whether you're shopping for homes or getting ready to sell, calculate your costs right on the spot with Close It!

Save Our Homes in Florida

Written by Nikki Smith ON Monday, 29 April 2013

To homebuyers in Florida: beware of misleading annual property tax assessments when researching homes online.

An amendment to the state constitution known as Save Our Homes, around since 1995, caps annual increases to assessed property value at 3% or the change in the Consumer Price Index – whichever is lower.

When the property changes ownership, the SOH property assessment value expires at the end of that calendar year. The new owner must apply for her own Homestead Exemption, and the property will receive the SOH benefit beginning the second year. I'm paraphrasing this article.

Homebuyers who are unaware of the program may view the annual property tax assessment listed on a real estate website or government database and mistakenly think their property tax assessment will be roughly the same. But in many cases the new assessment will be significantly higher than the old one, resulting in a large jump in annual property taxes that are due.

SOH is only good for homes that are receiving the Homestead Exemption. Rental and investment properties do not qualify. In the majority of cases SOH may not be inherited. If the house is a duplex and 50% is owner-occupied principal residence, only 50% of the property assessment is shielded by SOH.

Florida homeowners enjoy a Homestead Exemption of $50,000 for if their Florida property is their permanent residence, but they must apply for it. That amount is deducted from their property's assessed value and the taxes are based on that lower number. There are a number of other exemptions available ranging from persons with disabilities to veterans to widows and surviving spouses of service members.

Real property tax assessment guide

Written by Nikki Smith ON Wednesday, 03 April 2013

While all government jurisdictions collect taxes on real property, each does so in its unique way. Collection methods and tax due dates, for example, vary from one jurisdiction to the next.  

To help you navigate real property taxes in the District of Columbia, Maryland, Virginia and counties in Florida where we operate,  we have compiled this list of tax collection & billing offices along with links to property tax assessment pages wherever possible. This information will help you better understand how property taxes work and predict your property tax liability for any given property in that jurisdiction.

Click beyond the jump to continue reading.

Popular $5,000 DC Homebuyer Tax Credit for first-time buyers not renewed for 2012 tax year

Written by Nikki Smith ON Tuesday, 08 January 2013

Del. Norton working to re-instate tax credit that has existed since 1997

First-time homeowners in the District of Columbia, who purchased their principal residence after Dec. 31, 2011, will not be able to take advantage of the popular $5,000 DC Homebuyer Tax Credit when they file taxes this year.

The tax credit that has made homebuying affordable for thousands of DC residents since it was first introduced nearly 15 years ago was axed from legislation during negotiations over the fiscal cliff and was not included in the American Taxpayer Relief Act signed by President Barack Obama last week, according to a spokesman for Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC).

An attempt to make the credit retroactive for 2012 purchases and extend it into 2013 was unsuccessful, but the congresswoman is working on a plan to get the credit reinstated, he said. There's no specific plan of action or timeline in place yet.

Click beyond the jump for reaction from Federal Title's president.

Most popular posts of 2012

Written by Nikki Smith ON Thursday, 27 December 2012

As another year comes to a close, let's take a look back at some of the more popular articles that were posted to our blog in 2012.

What does 'no consideration' mean?
by Catherine Schmitt

When someone says “no consideration” deed, what does it mean? Does it mean no transfer and recordation taxes?  No. It actually means that the property is being transferred via deed without money exchanging hands. Not all no consideration deeds are exempt from transfer and recordation taxes. There are a number of situations where a “no consideration” deed is appropriate and some of them are as follows... [Read More]

Maryland Homestead Tax Credit eligibility application deadline is Dec. 31
by Joe Gentile

For Maryland homeowners who wish to submit their one-time application to confirm eligibility for the homestead tax credit, the deadline is finally approaching. Every principal residence homeowner in Maryland should follow these steps to make sure that their property is registered and eligible for the homestead tax credit... [Read More]

Real estate taxes factor in homebuying decision
by Nikki Smith

A lot of folks think real estate taxes across the board are always higher in DC compared to Maryland or Virginia. While it's true transfer (recordation) taxes paid at settlement are higher for DC purchases, those homebuyers pay a far lower annual property tax rate compared to Maryland and Virginia thanks to the Homestead Deduction... [Read More]

Say good-bye to the HUD-1 Settlement Statement
by Todd Ewing

Just barely two years since the title and mortgage industry was turned upside-down with regulatory changes to the Truth-in-Lending Act (TILA) and the Real Estate Settlement Procedure Act (RESPA), the CFPB will be releasing its proposed forms and regulations next month to replace the HUD-1 Settlement Statement, Good Faith Estimate, and Truth-in-Lending Disclosure... [Read More]

Deed transfers in Montgomery County... Explained
by Joe Gentile

Today we will switch gears by taking a look at deed transfers as they relate to spouses and domestic partners in Montgomery County, MD.  Keep in mind that this is solely for Montgomery County – each county in Maryland has different rules.  All of the scenarios below are solely for changing the title of the property – these transactions are not part of a refinance or a modification... [Read More]

Owner's title insurance: Is it worth the price?
by Todd Ewing

While a homebuyer is required to pay for the lender’s title insurance premium, the owner’s title insurance is optional to the homebuyer, and sometimes homebuyers who are looking to shave dollars off their closing costs consider opting out of the owner's title insurance policy... [Read More]

Owner's title insurance: Seller fraud and HELOCs
by Todd Ewing

During our 16 years of business Federal Title has, on three separate transactions, paid out claims on owner’s title insurance policies due to a seller committing fraud by securing a home equity line of credit (HELOC) immediately prior to closing. These claims amounted to a total of $280,000... [Read More]

What is an Earnest Money Deposit?
by Joe Gentile

An EMD is essentially a good faith deposit to demonstrate to the seller that the purchaser is serious about the transaction and is willing to part with some money in advance of closing to prove his or her willingness to buy... [Read More]

3 reasons HELOCs create title headaches
by Joe Gentile

Home Equity Lines of Credit (HELOCs) may be difficult to obtain in today’s market, but not too long ago, everybody had one.  Recently, a series of closings were delayed in our office due to issues with HELOCs, and I expect that dealing with HELOCs will only get worse... [Read More]

Owner's title insurance: Encroachment from a neighboring property
by Todd Ewing

Just recently, during our underwriting review of an upcoming closing, our office discovered that the subject property — we will call it LOT 1 — was severely encroached upon by the improvements of the neighboring lot, which we will call LOT 2. I have included an actual copy of the location drawing below for your reference.

See how Federal Title stacks up against national, local closing cost averages

Written by Nikki Smith ON Friday, 17 August 2012

The cost of buying a home dropped 12 percent from last year, according to a survey conducted by Bankrate.com, which reports homebuyers nationally pay $2,159 on average for title and closing costs.

The numbers vary a bit by state, but in every case Federal Title charges less than average for title and closing costs. In the District of Columbia, for example, homebuyers pay an average of $2,319 compared to $2,176 when they settle at Federal Title.

Closing costs in the District of Columbia rose to 10th place on the list of most expensive closing costs in the country from its 11th place position in 2011.

Average closing costs in Maryland and Virginia are quite a bit less than the national average, coming in at $1,997 and $2,046 respectively. Maryland homebuyers who settle at Federal Title pay $1,691 while their Virginia counterparts pay $1,696.

This year closing costs in Virginia are on average the 29th most expensive in the country, a big jump from the No. 38 position the state held last year. Maryland also jumped up on the list to 35th most expensive closing costs on average from 42nd in 2011.

Did you know Federal Title has a sister office in Coral Gables, Florida? Homebuyers in the state pay an average of $2,772 for title and closing costs compared to the $2,486 paid by homebuyers who settle with us.

Closing costs on average in Florida were 12th most expensive in 2011. This year Florida has the 4th highest closing costs on average.

These numbers come as no surprise to Federal Title. A similar closing costs study conducted last year using slightly bigger numbers also demonstrated that our title charges are among the most competitive in the region, and in most cases (DC & Maryland) top the competition.

Bankrate used the following parameters to gather Good Faith Estimates from 10 lenders in each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia for their June 2012 survey:

  • Loan amount: $200,000
  • Down payment: 20 percent
  • Purchase price: $250,000

View average closing costs by state

To calculate Federal Title's charges, homebuyers should use our Quick Quote tool. It is the easiest and fastest way to calculate closing costs. It's free to use and completely anonymous – we don't ask for your e-mail address.

How to compare title insurance service providers

Written by Nikki Smith ON Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Pending home sales in the Washington, DC metro area are nearly as high as they were two years ago when the $8,000 federal first-time homebuyer tax credit was still in effect, another sign that the market is poised for a turn-around.

That's good news for sellers. More buyers hopefully means homes are spending less time on the market and fetching offers closing to the initial asking price.

What exactly does a title company do?

Written by Nikki Smith ON Monday, 04 June 2012

While we talk all the time about the importance of shopping for title services, it's about time we address what it is exactly that a title company does. Let's take a closer look at what goes on between the time when you agree to purchase your property and when you legally take ownership.

An order is placed. Once you have a ratified sales contract, you are ready to order settlement and schedule your closing appointment. To complete your order, either you or your agent will provide contact information of all parties involved in the transaction along with the purchase price, loan amount, property jurisdiction and type of loan. A pre-closing manager oversees this phase in the process.

Title work begins. A title abstractor goes to work to ensure clear title. A title abstractor is someone who searches records and files pertaining to a specific property to find its history. This can include transactions between current and previous owners in buying and selling the property, as well as any liens or judgments against the land or house.

Meanwhile, your lender's loan processor works to fund your loan and communicates with members of the settlement team to produce a final HUD-1 and other legal documents you will sign at closing. A settlement coordinator acts as a liaison between the title company and buyers, sellers, agents and lenders. 

Time to sign. Once clear title is established and your closing documents are assembled, it's time to go to settlement. Signing all the paperwork will take about an hour. Buyers sign more documents than sellers. Once all the documents are signed, it's time to celebrate: You are now a homeowner.

End of the line. Work on your closing doesn't end with your signature, though. Your case moves on to post-closing, where the post-closing manager disburses escrowed funds, such as a final water & sewer bill. Post-closing is also your point of contact should an unexpected property tax bill, utility bill or lien come to light after settlement.

How to assemble a winning homebuying team

Written by Nikki Smith ON Friday, 25 May 2012

Let's face it: When it comes to buying a house, title insurance is likely the farthest thing from your mind. After all, there are so many steps along the path to homeownership that you'll take before you find your way to the settlement table.Securing a loan, finding the right real estate agent and finding a dream home to buy – these aspects of the homebuying process are far more glamorous, and self-explanatory, than the wonky legal aspect involved in issuing your title insurance policy.

Moneyball Poster
To assemble a winning homebuying team, look at the stats. Weigh services offered by agents, lenders and title companies against cost, and stretch your dollar further.

If you're serious about buying a house or condo, you've hopefully heard of a thing called "closing costs." These expenses are tacked onto the sales price of the home. Time was when you could lump your closing costs into your home loan, but nowadays a stricter mortgage industry holds borrowers on the hook for those costs. 

Break your closing costs down into three categories: policy premium, government transfer taxes and service provider fees (paid to the real estate agent, lender and title company, who packages the deal). Expect charges in the first two categories to be the same across the board.You can (and should) shop real estate service providers as you assemble your homebuying team.

Most homebuyers do some bit of research when selecting their agent and lender. They talk to friends and family, they jump online to read reviews and compare rates. But that's only two-thirds of the puzzle.A huge savings many homebuyers overlook is in selecting a title company. Take the time to get a quote from a handful of local settlement agents, and compare the bottom line closing costs. Ask if their company is affiliated with any other company, such as a real estate agency or bank.

It is widely known that independent settlement companies tend to charge lower settlement fees than title companies that participate in what our industry calls an affiliated business arrangement.

The right homebuying team includes the right title company, something to keep in mind while your hunting agents, lenders and houses.

Real estate taxes factor in homebuying decision

Written by Nikki Smith ON Friday, 30 March 2012

The spring real estate season is upon us, which means a stream of homebuyers will once again be wondering where is the best market to buy. As you help your homebuyer make that decision, you may want to consider the tax factor.

A lot of folks think real estate taxes across the board are always higher in DC compared to Maryland or Virginia. While it's true transfer (recordation) taxes paid at settlement are higher for DC purchases, those homebuyers pay a far lower annual property tax rate compared to Maryland and Virginia thanks to the Homestead Deduction.

If your homebuyer intends to stay put and use the property as a primary residence for 10 years or more, it's cheaper from a real estate tax standpoint to buy in DC based on today's calculations. The breakdown is summed up in the chart.

Of course, there are many other factors your homebuyer will take into consideration when choosing where to buy. When it comes to real estate taxes, your homebuyer should determine how long he or she intends to stay in the property, if the property will be used as a primary residence and if he or she is comfortable paying more taxes up front at settlement.

Another way your homebuyer can lessen the blow to their pocket book at closing is to take advantage of our REAL Credit™, which has saved our clients more than $8 million over the last 10 years.Breakdown of DC, MD and VA property, transfer taxes

Shop title insurance providers, save on closing costs

Written by Nikki Smith ON Tuesday, 20 March 2012

The Internet makes it so easy for consumers to find the best prices on all kinds of goods. Why would anyone willingly pay retail price when it's so easy to point-and-click your way to a bargain?

If we were talking about furniture or household electronics, it would seem like a no-brainer. But because it's title insurance – and title insurance is a pretty wonky subject – so many consumers seem complacent to let someone else do the shopping (or steering) even if it does wind up costing them hundreds or even thousands more at the closing table.

At Federal Title, we're trying to get the word out to consumers (shopping is easy, saving is awesome), so we partnered with our friends at the Better Business Bureau to produce a television commercial that will air on CBS for the rest of this month.

Why is selecting an independent title company so important?

Written by Nikki Smith ON Tuesday, 06 March 2012

Two reasons basically. By selecting a title company that is not bound by what’s known as an Affiliated Business Arrangement, you eliminate potential conflict of interest and generally save money.

When buying a home, you will be working with three groups of people: a real estate agent, mortgage lender and your "settlement team."

Click beyond the jump to keep reading.

 

New section on our website: Media Hits

Written by Nikki Smith ON Tuesday, 21 February 2012

At the end of last year, I compiled a list of all the news stories that mentioned Federal Title or featured a quote from one of our attorneys. The original list includes a lengthy piece from Washington Post columnist Harvey S. Jacobs that mentioned a study we commissioned about a year ago. The study, along with the article, highlight the importance of selecting your own settlement team. The extra effort could net you a savings of up to $1,180. 

That piece is probably my favorite, but it turns out there were quite a few articles published in 2011 in which Federal Title got a say. So I decided to go one step further and compile all the articles we've been mentioned in since I took over as marketing director in August 2009. All of these articles can be found in a new section of our website, the Media Hits section.

For now you'll find the media hits section under the Buyers & Sellers menu item, nestled under Articles. Happy Reading!

Greatest media hits of 2011

Written by Nikki Smith ON Tuesday, 27 December 2011

If there's one point we really like to drive home around here, it's that consumers should shop title companies in the same way they shop for a lender or real estate agent. The savings could be in the range of thousands of dollars.

When our attorneys aren't busy providing expert settlement services to our clients, they are spreading the Federal Title gospel to all who will listen. Here's a sample of some news stories we got to weigh in on this year:

New refinancing options for lower title fees
Washington Post
In the Washington area, Federal Title & Escrow provides as much as to $1,000 off total closing costs for home buyers who use its online “Real Credit” software platform for their transactions.

Shop for title insurance and closing services
Fox Business
If you have already been shopping for a real estate agent, a lender, a home and a moving company, you may be feeling shopped out. Before you put your feet up and relax, you should take the time to shop for title and closing services.

Shopping for title insurance can save you bundles
HSH.com
Whether you're buying a home or trying to refinance your mortgage, you should expect your title insurance to be among the more expensive items you'll have to pay for to get your new mortgage. However, you can save a bundle by shopping around for the most cost-effective policies that will protect you and your investment.

Buying a home? Shop around for title insurance
Washington Examiner
It may not seem like that much when you put that number next to the $400,000 you're going to owe the bank. But when you're paying those up-front closing costs, it can help ease that immediate burden.

New DC title insurance shortcomings
Washington Post
[T]he new law does not require settlement services providers to disclose their fees in writing or publish them on their Web site. The new law creates a huge disincentive to continue to publish settlement fees and costs since those disclosures could later be used by the District as evidence that those fees were not applied in all similarly situated settlements.

Get the refi that the lender promised
Bankrate.com
Section 1300 on the HUD-1 lists "additional settlement charges." It's a good idea to ask what these fees are for, and whether they are necessary. Ewing suggests that consumers go online to check for average closing cost fees at other local title companies to make a comparison.

Closing on your home: Are you walking in blind?
HSH.com
Homebuyers should stay in close touch with their real estate agent and lender in the days leading up to the closing to be certain all the necessary documents and financial arrangements for the mortgage are in place.

Who owns the foreclosure you bought?
Fox Business
Although most buyers have little to fear, the recent chaos surrounding sales of distressed properties highlights the importance of protecting yourself when purchasing a foreclosure.

Sponsored: 10 things you should know about closing costs
DC Urban Turf
Closing costs will inevitably take a large bite out of your wallet at the settlement table — anywhere from a few to several thousand dollars. The information in this article will help you better understand closing costs and teach you the right questions to ask your title or real estate agent.

Most popular articles of 2011

Written by Nikki Smith ON Thursday, 22 December 2011

Our blog is one of our best tools for communicating with our clients. We use this space to answer commonly asked questions and address industry changes that may impact you, the homebuyer (or the homeowner who wants to refinance). It's where we write about what we know best: the closing process.

The following is a list of the Top 10 most popular articles on our blog in 2011. Please feel free to leave suggestions for future blog posts in the comments below. 

Shopping for title insurance services in the District of Columbia could save homebuyers up to $1,180, according to a recent study, while shopping in Maryland or Virginia could mean a savings of over $900.
 
"In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes," Ben Franklin once famously said. Yet when it comes to taxes on real property – especially for first-time homebuyers – we find much uncertainty and confusion exists.
 
You just signed a contract to buy your dream home, the one with the white picket fence, the game room and the custom kitchen.  The only issue is that the sale of your property is taking place on June 20, while this house will not be ready until June 25.  Immediately you call the buyers of your property, and while they have no problem waiting to move into the property, the lock on their loan expires on June 20.  Now what?
 
In the world of real estate closings and title insurance lurks an oft misunderstood concept we call the “Reissue Rate.”  Simply put, a reissue rate is a homebuyer discount on the cost of an owner's title insurance policy.
 
As a result of a $10 million settlement in a class action lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court of Atlanta, Georgia, Wells Fargo will issue refunds of $175 to approximately 60,000 military members and veterans who refinanced VA loans through Wells Fargo, Wachovia and SouthTrust between January 20, 2004 and October 7, 2010.
 
In the vein of “Affiliated Business Arrangements = Bad Business,” I bring to you yet more evidence of the same.  In an effort to maintain their government-sanctioned kickbacks, proponents (i.e., RESPRO, et. al.) of Affiliated Business Arrangements (ABAs) made a specious claim in a recent meeting with the Federal Reserve Board. 
 
An insured closing letter, also called a closing protection letter, is issued for an agent by the title insurance underwriter to your lender prior to your closing. This letter is for lender purposes only and is not issued to individuals for owner’s title insurance.
 
Effective January 1, 2011, the rate of withholding taxes to be withheld and paid to the Clerk of the Court on the sale of real estate by non-residents in the state of Maryland has been lowered from 7.5% to 6.75%. The rate of withholding for non-Maryland entities has remained unchanged at 8.25%.  
 
Editor's note: State legislators voted to raise the withholding for nonresident individual sellers from 6.75% to 7% effective June 1, 2012. The rate of 8.25% for nonresident entity sellers remains unchanged.
 
You will still need to meet the guidelines and supply proper documentation. You must have met the property purchase price threshold, used the property as your principal residence and be domiciled in the District of Columbia.  
 
Cash buyers are often reluctant to buy title insurance since it is not required when paying cash for real estate.  Title insurance is viewed as an esoteric commodity that’s imposed by lenders but doesn’t actually serve a purpose.  

Planning to refinance? Don't forget about title insurance

Written by Nikki Smith ON Monday, 31 October 2011

The government took action last week to help more homeowners with their mortgage payments. A revamped Home Affordable Refinance Program aims to remove some of the restrictions that have made it difficult for many to qualify assistance.

Historic lows on interest rates, changes coming to government programs such as HARP, it's no wonder so many Q&A and advice columns are dedicating space to homeowners' questions about refinancing, from knowing when to refinance to tips on how to avoid a mortgage refinance misstep.

One common question about refinancing relates to the settlement process, particularly title insurance.

Some homeowners are surprised when they hear they have to purchase a new title insurance policy when they refinance their mortgage. They bought a lender's and owner's policy when they purchased the home, and they want to know why they have to purchase a new title insurance policy.

To the lender, a refinance loan is no different than any other home loan. Your lender wants to insure that the new loan is protected by title insurance, just like the original lender required on your previous loan.  Lenders are protecting their investment against title related defects.

When you refinance, you are only buying a new title for the lender (a lender's policy), so your closing costs should still be less than when you purchased your home. And, while you're shopping around for the best refinance rates, be sure to shop around among title companies.

This will ensure you get the best pricing for your refinance.

Tips for securing a home loan

Written by Nikki Smith ON Friday, 07 October 2011

This week the 30-year mortgage rate sunk below 4% for the first time ever, yet mortgage applications continue to drop, according to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal.

Despite the attractive rate, lending standards remain tight, making  it difficult for many would-be homebuyers and refinancing borrowers to secure funding. While it is harder now to land a loan than it was five years ago, it's not impossible.

Here are a few tips to help prospective homebuyers and borrowers secure a home loan.

Get your finances in order

Before you can ask for a loan, you should know how much money you have and how much you can afford to borrow. Knowing this up front will also save you the potential heartache of getting attached to a home you can't afford. It'll save you, your lender and your agent a lot of time, too.

You are entitled to a free copy of your credit report from each of the three major credit rating agencies once a year.  Make a habit of getting it. Each report shows if you were more than 30 days late in making a payment on any of your existing loans or bills and lists inquiries made into your credit. If you come across any discrepancies, you'll want to inquire about them before you start shopping for a loan.

You'll also want to gather your most recent pay stubs, bank statements and tax forms. Any reputable lender you work with will need this information to determine if you qualify for a loan.

Limit credit inquiries while you shop for a loan

It may sound crazy, but shopping for a loan actually does ding your credit score by a couple points. So does applying for a new credit card or taking on new debt. Since your credit score helps to determine your interest rate, try to limit your number credit inquiries. Don't open any new lines of credit or make any large purchases until after the deal is closed.

Most experts will tell you to do all your mortgage loan shopping within a two-week span, as that will show up as one inquiry.

Save for a large down payment

The more money you can put into the transaction, the better your chances of securing a home loan. For FHA loans, you'll need at least 3.5%, though FHA loans come with more restrictions.

A 30-year conventional loan typically requires 20% down, but some lenders will make an exception depending on the property type and your financial situation. Note, though, that anytime you put down less than 20%, you'll have to pay for insurance on the loan, which means added monthly expense.

As the housing crisis continues, watch out for special offers from lenders. A recent article in Smart Money describes how many financial institutions, from national banks to local credit unions, are looking for ways to entice consumers to sign up for mortgages.  

If low home prices aren't enough, some banks are waiving lender fees, lowering rates and offering to pay closing costs. You may be able to leverage a large down payment and a lender discount in your favor.

With basic understanding of today's housing market, securing a home loan is not impossible. Be prepared by getting your financial house in order, and you'll be able to take advantage of record-low mortgage rates and home prices.

Independent agencies reject affiliated business arrangements: Washington Post

Written by Nikki Smith ON Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Over the weekend, the Washington Post Real Estate Section published an article by nationally syndicated columnist Ken Harney describing a sea change in the title insurance industry where transparency and honest rates are becoming more commonplace.

Toward the bottom of the story was a nice mention of Federal Title and our REAL Credit program as shining, local example of a title company rejecting the old practices of the title insurance industry in favor of a business model that benefits consumers.

Needless to say our office was pretty thrilled.

We believe consumers should know they have the right to choose their title company based on factors such as price, customer service, years in business, responsiveness and reliability.

We encourage homebuyers to shop for title services and offer them a breadth of information on our Web site to help them make the decision that is best for their situation. For years we've published our rates on our Web site and offered homebuyers and their agents a free online closing costs calculator to help them gauge how much money will be needed for settlement.

If Harney's article is any indication of the future of the title insurance industry, then it seems Federal Title's business model is finally becoming the norm instead of the brow-raising exception to the rule.

And the rest of the pack is following suit, as Harney writes: "A handful of agents in states where regulations permit discounts off closing-packages are now offering them. Plus growing numbers of title agencies are gearing up software platforms to provide services to consumers: online rate quotes, transaction updates ­notifying customers about the status of their title order. Some are even e-mailing documents in advance of closings for customers’ inspection, rather than hitting buyers with last-minute settlement surprises."

Why condo owners need an HO-6 policy

Written by Nikki Smith ON Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Last week we posted a pretty lengthy article about insurance for condo owners entitled, "Condo insurance considerations."

The piece delved into the differences between a Master Policy, which is what your condo association carries to protect the building and its common elements, and the Unit-Owner Policy otherwise known as an HO-6 policy. An HO-6 policy picks up where a Master Policy leaves off, protecting the inside of the unit as well as the owner's personal belongings. Items like replacing cabinets, appliances and flooring are also covered by the Unit-Owner Policy.

Earlier this month, our friend Michele Lerner who has written about Federal Title on many occasions, published a piece with the Washington Times entitled, "Insurance a must-have for condo owners." Her piece does an excellent job of expanding on the types of scenarios a condo owner might encounter where the HO-6 policy would come into play.  

"Condo owners need to understand that the master policy for the condo association often covers the buildings to reconstruct them as they were built originally and will not cover improvements, such as updated kitchens or hardwood flooring, that have been added to a home."

Understand mortgage fraud to avoid it

Written by Nikki Smith ON Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Mortgage fraud investigations have skyrocketed since the financial crisis began in 2008, and a recent report released by the FBI's white collar crimes division indicates the number of investigations has steadily increased in the years since.

If that's not bad enough, apparently now the mafia is getting involved in the scheming, drawn by the chance to rake in "high profits through illicit activities that pose a (relatively) low risk for discovery.

As a homebuyer, you should familiarize yourself with the concept of mortgage fraud in its many forms.

As defined in the FBI's report, mortgage fraud is "a material misstatement, misrepresentation, or omission relied on by an underwriter or lender to fund, purchase, or insure a loan. This type of fraud is usually defined as loan origination fraud. Mortgage fraud also includes schemes targeting consumers, such as foreclosure rescue, short sale, and loan modification."

Buying a house is likely the biggest financial decision you will ever make. Select real estate professionals who understand your needs and look out for your best interests. The Internet is a great place to get started on your search, but you should supplement that information with input from your friends, family & neighbors who've recently bought or refinanced a home.

To get a sense of the types of questions you should ask at the beginning of your homebuying adventure, check out these pamphlets created by the Federal Trade Commission that cover deceptive mortgage ads, buying a home and tips for homeowners.

Live Near Your Work: pilot program in the District

Written by Nikki Smith ON Thursday, 05 May 2011

The DC Office of Planning is now searching for three District employers to partner in a pilot program that will offer homebuyers up to $12,000 toward their down payment and closing costs on a home near their place of employment or transit.

“OP will match employer contributions (up to $6,000 per participating employee) to attract and retain DC residents, with the primary purpose of encouraging employees to live close to their place of employment and/or transit,” according to a statement.

A Request for Applications (RFA) for up to $200,000 in matching homeownership grants, to be administered by qualified DC-based employer was released for the pilot program known as Live Near Your Work on April 29, 2011.

Applications for consideration in the first round of selection are due June 17, 2011. Applications received after this deadline will be considered in the second round of selection, with an October 7, 2011 deadline, if three partners are not selected in the first round.

We will keep you posted as this story develops.

Why homebuyers should shop to save on title services

Written by Nikki Smith ON Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Homebuyers who close with Federal Title are often surprised to learn how much money they've saved on their closing costs. This is because we offer every homebuyer (and refinancing homeowner) an instant rebate known as a REAL Credit™.

So why don't all title companies offer a similar savings?

As our fearless leader Todd Ewing likes to say, long ago Federal Title kicked the "affiliated business arrangement" habit. Some title companies out there are affiliated with real estate firms, mortgage companies – and sometimes both. When they send business to the title company, the title company pays those guys a referral fee, an expense that's often passed on to the homebuyer.

This is why we tell every homebuyer to shop for title services, just as Todd told Michele Lerner of the Washington Times in the recent article "Shop to save on title services," which ran last Friday on the cover of the Homes Section.

Our REAL Credit™ represents what a title company would typically pay to the referral source and ranges anywhere from $100 to $1,100 depending on the purchase price.

Proponents of these so-called ABAs like to say it's actually beneficial for consumers, a sort of "one-stop shop" system that's more convenient. They don't like to talk about how the cost for said convenience often comes at an increased price.

I don't know about you, but I find saving money to be pretty freakin' sweet, and if it's a question of saving as much as $1,100 or more, you can bet I'm going to do some research. It is so easy to shop for title services. The Internet is a magical invention that pulls information – such as closing fees and title insurance rates – at the click of a button.

We've even gone a step further and done the homework for you. Check out the DC Metro Closing Cost Report to review closing fees from title companies who've published their rates online.

10 things you should know about closing costs

Written by Nikki Smith ON Tuesday, 05 April 2011

Closing costs will inevitably take a large bite out of your wallet at the settlement table — anywhere from a few to several thousand dollars. But why pay more than you have to?

With a solid understanding of title insurance & closing costs, you will know the right questions to ask your real estate agent or title agent here at Federal Title.

A steal of a deal in the DC real estate market is increasingly rare, but by understanding your closing costs, you can make sure you’re not overpaying on the back end of your real estate transaction.

Check out our article, which appeared today on DC Urban Turf: 10 things you should know about closing costs.  Give it a read and feel free to leave your comment below.

10 things you should know about closing costs

Study: Homebuyers who shop for title services save big

Written by Nikki Smith ON Thursday, 17 February 2011

Washington, D.C. (17 February 2011) – SHOPPING FOR TITLE SERVICES in the District of Columbia could save homebuyers up to $1,180, according to a recent study, while shopping in Maryland or Virginia could mean a savings of over $900.

"This serves as a reminder to homebuyers and their agents the importance of shopping for a title company," said Todd Ewing, president of Federal Title & Escrow Company.

The study, commissioned by Federal Title and conducted by Veris Consulting from February 1 through February 11 of this year, compared title charges among Washington Metro Area-based title companies, revealing stark differences in charges for identical real estate purchase transactions.

It included only those title companies that published their settlement fees/charges and title insurance premiums for both owner’s and lender’s coverage – also known as title charges – on their respective website.

Further, the study used identical criteria for real estate purchases in the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia. In the District of Columbia, the difference between the most expensive and the least expensive title services was $1,180; in Maryland, the difference was $935; and in Virginia, the difference was $934.

"About 70% of variable closing costs paid by the average D.C. Metro Area homebuyer are title-related," Ewing said. "Yet, very few homebuyers, or their agents, take the time to shop settlement companies to compare title charges."

Title expenses such as settlement fees, title insurance and lender origination charges may vary among service providers, and these kinds of expenses are known as variable closing costs, Ewing said.

He added that comparing title charges among D.C. Metro Area settlement companies can be a daunting task for the untrained eye, which may explain why so few consumers take the time to research title companies.

The study also examined each title company's Better Business Bureau rating to determine if there was any connection between higher title fees and ranking but found none.

Out of 25 companies, six had rankings and the only two that were accredited – Federal Title & Escrow Company and Express Title – were among the lowest and highest cost title service providers, respectively.

Now offering continuing education courses

ON Thursday, 10 February 2011

We are pleased to announce Federal Title is now offering continuing education courses through a partnership with Real Estate Empower, Inc. Our first round of classes will commence Wednesday, February 23. Visit our continuing education section to learn more and to registerfor one or both offerings.

Satisfy course-hour requirements in the following areas:

D.C. Legislative Update    
February 23, 2011
Instructor: Catherine Schmitt, Esq.
Check-in: 9:00 a.m.
Class: 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. 
D.C. Financing Issues
February 23, 2011
Instructor: Jaclyn Kurz, Esq.
Check-in: 1 p.m.
Class: 1:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.  


The cost is just $15. Register now to reserve your seat in an upcoming class, but hurry as space is limited!

Classes will take place at 5335 Wisconsin Avenue, NW, Suite 440. Note: This is the same building where Federal Title's office is located but in a different suite.

Real Estate Empower, Inc. is a member of the Real Estate Educators Association and, like Federal Title, the company is accredited by the Better Business Bureau.

Keep an eye out for more classes in the near future, including classes that satisfy Maryland licensing requirements. For more information, please contact our office.

New: Homebuyer videos section

Written by Nikki Smith ON Friday, 28 January 2011

Sometimes it's easier to understand a subject with visuals. Title insurance and the real estate closing process in general are just two examples. 

With that in mind, take a moment to tour our new Homebuyer Videos section. Real estate agents: Use this section as a resource for your homebuyers. And homebuyers: Use this section to learn more about what goes on behind the scenes leading up to closing.

Here at Federal Title, we believe it's important to inform homebuyers, many of whom are purchasing a home for the first time. The more our homebuyers know in advance, the better prepared and the more comfortable they are when it comes time to sit down at the closing table.

Federal Title on XM169, AM1450 - Tune in!

Written by Nikki Smith ON Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Federal Title's very own Joe Gentile will discuss what's new with real estate fees this morning on SiriusXM's Joe Madison Show this morning beginning at 9:15.

The interview is part of a segment known as Wealth Building Wednesdays, hosted by our friend and Georgetown real estate agent, Jennifer Hammond.

Hammond approached us about the opportunity after reading a recent article posted on our blog entitled, "Added oversight means added expense for homebuyers."

Joe and the rest of us here at Federal Title are pretty excited about the opportunity. Keep an eye -- and an ear -- out for an audio from the interview.

Added oversight means added expense for homebuyers

Written by Nikki Smith ON Wednesday, 05 January 2011

Increased regulation on the title insurance industry will take a bite out of the wallets of homebuyers and refinancing homeowners in the District of Columbia in 2011.

Added oversight will likely amount to added fees and less room for negotiation, Todd Ewing, founder & president of Federal Title & Escrow Company, said just days after title insurance producers and companies operating in DC were placed under the regulation of the city's Department of Insurance, Securities and Banking.

"Title insurance premiums will no longer be negotiable since DISB now requires all DC title insurers to file their respective rates by March 31, 2011," Ewing said. "The requirement will likely result in overall higher title insurance premiums charged to homebuyers and refinancing homeowners."

Click beyond the jump to continue reading.

Closing attorney readies for a new chapter with a familiar beginning

Written by Nikki Smith ON Thursday, 19 August 2010

Closing attorney Jackie Kurz finds her greatest satisfaction at the settlement table as the ink dries and she sees the smiling faces of homebuyers and sellers, all eager to begin a new chapter of their lives, knowing she played a part in making it all happen.

"Having a hand in creating that happiness is very rewarding," the Pennsylvania native said.

Kurz starts a new chapter of her own this week as she returns to Federal Title & Escrow Company. After more than two years, and two states, she is ready to pick up right where she left off, creating a settlement experience for each client that is seamless and painless.

Click beyond the jump to read more about Federal Title's newest attorney.

Federal Title's closing costs below national average

Written by Nikki Smith ON Tuesday, 17 August 2010

A recent survey from Bankrate.com showed homebuyers in Maryland and the District of Columbia pay closings costs that are below the national average. That was good news on its own.

When I began digging through the details of the survey, I discovered this chart that breaks down closing costs for each state and separates origination fees from title & closing fees. That's when I learned (or confirmed, rather) homebuyers who select Federal Title for their closings pay well below average across the board.

For starters, closing costs across the nation averaged $3,741, according to Bankrate.com. The research was based on a $200,000 loan and a 20 percent down payment. 

The survey shows that the average homebuyer in Maryland pays $1,921 in title & closing fees. A homebuyer who settles the same real estate transaction through Federal Title pays $1,465.

And in D.C. the survey shows the average homebuyer pays $2,322 in title & closing fees. If the homebuyer had settled that property address with us, he would have paid $1,905 for the same title services.

Homebuyers in Virginia should be most excited of all: Closing costs average $2,355 across the state — exceeding the national average — but when Federal Title is on the case, closing costs come in at $1,509.

While these numbers are great, it's not the only factor to consider when choosing a title company. Beyond our competitive prices, at Federal Title we've built a reputation of exemplary customer service. We've bought and sold houses of our own, so we know how it feels to be a homebuyer or seller, to expect quality service for your dollar.

With this in mind we are working to improve our technology to make the closing process even more seamless and painless. This will free up time for our humans to tend to each client, which can only improve the title services we provide.

Maryland, D.C. closing costs below national average

Written by Nikki Smith ON Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Average closing costs in Maryland and the District of Columbia are less than the national average, according to the results of an annual survey by Bankrate.com.

Closing costs averaged $3,741 nationally, according to the survey, which was based on a loan amount of $200,000 and included loan origination and title fees.

Here's a breakdown of states in the Washington Metro Area, where Federal Title primarily works:

Maryland $3,402 No. 38
District of Columbia $3,685 No. 22
Virginia $3,883 No. 19

Calculate pro-rated property taxes quickly, accurately

Written by Nikki Smith ON Thursday, 22 July 2010

We invite you to test our revamped Seller's Calculator, an easy-to-use tool designed to help real estate agents and home sellers calculate net proceeds from a sale. It's one of many improvements we're making to our website in the coming months as we continue to update our technology and make the Federal Title closing experience more efficient than ever before.

The new and improved Seller's Calculator takes the guess work out of determining your Seller’s net sales proceeds. Among many other features:

•    It pro-rates real estate taxes,
•    Allows you to apportion transfer & recordation taxes between the buyer and seller
•    Accounts for seller credits to buyers

Seller's Calculator »

To say the last few weeks around our office have been busy would be an understatement. But despite the hectic pace, our very own Todd Ewing was able to take some time out to speak with NPR business reporter Tamara Keith.

The story appeared June 30 during NPR's Morning Edition and aired here in Washington, D.C. and across the country. Here's a link to the story "Mad Dash as Homebuyer Tax Deadline Arrives" in case you missed it.

Federal Title featured on NPR homebuyer report

Written by Nikki Smith ON Wednesday, 30 June 2010

To say the last few weeks around the office of Federal Title & Escrow Company have been busy would be an understatement. As the clock counts down to the deadline for the federal homebuyer's tax credit, our staff is working diligently to facilitate as many smooth closings as possible.

Despite the bustle, our very own Todd Ewing was able to take some time out of his busy schedule yesterday to sit down with NPR business reporter Tamara Keith to speak about the mad dash of homebuyers hoping to close before the June 30 deadline.

The story appeared today during Morning Edition and aired here in Washington, D.C. and across the country. Here's a link to the story "Mad Dash as Homebuyer Tax Deadline Arrives" in case you missed it.

We're pretty excited about the story here around the office. Please share your thoughts, especially on Todd's part near the end, in the comments section below.

The other value of real estate

Written by Nikki Smith ON Tuesday, 29 June 2010

I've been stalking the DC real estate market for months, first hoping to cash in on the $8,000 federal tax credit, then waiting for the credit to expire so housing prices could drop. If I'm going to buy, I want to make a "good investment," right?

Not necessarily true, says Winifred Gallagher, whose column "Living Rooms" debuted in The New York Times this week. Real estate holds an often overlooked value for people that is far less tangible than a hefty down payment, she says.

She calls a home a "womb with a view," a secure place to which we can return to recharge our batteries or hide out from the storm.

Perhaps if more people changed their attitude about what it means to buy a piece of property, then more people would be getting excited about the prospect of a drop in home prices. (Real estate is going on sale!)

Yet since the government's exit from the housing market, amid reports of a drop in consumer confidence and predictions that housing prices will fall an additional 10-20%, mortgage applications have fallen to record lows and home sales have plummeted, also to record lows.

Properties may lose value through the end of the year, but eventually values will rebound, and as Gallagher says, all the while you could be building your life and putting a stamp on a property all your own, regardless of what's going on in the world outside its walls.

Whether you agree or not, the column is actually quite good.

Study: Math deficiencies increase foreclosure risk

Written by Nikki Smith ON Tuesday, 15 June 2010

I'm thinking back to the countless hours spent scratching my head in math class asking myself, "When am I ever going to use this stuff in real life?" A new study out of Columbia University is attempting to provide at least one answer.

Study says math deficiencies increase foreclosure risk, the headline in The New York Times reads. The assistant business professor who led the study found that borrowers with poor math skills were three times more likely than others to go into foreclosure.

"Overall, 21 percent of the respondents whose math abilities placed them in the bottom quarter of the survey experienced foreclosure, versus 7 percent of those in the top quarter," business and technology reporter Bob Tedeschi writes.

But do poor math skills cause borrowers to go into foreclosure? Our pal and real estate agent Ken Montville of MD Suburban Homes thinks it's a bit of a stretch, yet he agrees a homeowner who can't balance his checkbook or budget for future expenses is at a disadvantage.

In Tedeschi's article, Richard L. Tracy, Jr. of Campbell Mortgage asserts that borrowers with math deficiencies would most likely have a weak credit score, too.

The credit score may be a good indicator into how a borrower has handled previous debts, but it's not a crystal ball that can predict how a borrower will rebalance his budget if he loses his job or if the interest rate on his adjustable rate mortgage resets and ups his monthly payment beyond his comfort level.

Whether financial illiteracy causes borrowers to go into foreclosure down the road or not, it's tough to say. But what is certain is that it's the homebuyer's responsibility to understand the terms of his loan – including such mathematical concepts as amortization, principal and interest, interest-only versus fix-rate loans, percents and fractions – and make an educated decision.

What a coincidence the Merriam-Webster definition for literate is "having or displaying advanced knowledge or education." Cause or correlation aside, let's just say it would behoove you to know a little math before you plunk down several thousand dollars at the closing table. 

To rent or to own, that is the question

Written by Nikki Smith ON Friday, 04 June 2010

The $8,000 federal tax credit for first-time homebuyers expired for most of us a little over a month ago, but  mortgage rates continue to hold at historic lows prompting the question: Is it better to rent or own?

The big picture story tells us conditions are prime for buyers, but the truth is on a regional level the story has many versions. To determine if now is the best time for your unique circumstances, take a look at this Rent. vs. Buy Index produced by Trulia, a real estate website.

The index rates the Top 50 markets in the United States based on population and compares the average cost to rent a 2-bedroom apartment with the average listing price for comparable condos and townhouses.  

Miami, still reeling from the condo crash, is among the Top 3 cities where it's better to purchase than rent with a price-to-rent ratio of 8. Baltimore, the District of Columbia and Virginia Beach just barely fell within the realm of purchase, with price-to-rent ratios of 12, 14 and 14, respectively.

The tipping-point, according to Trulia, is a price-to-rent ratio of 15, which may be on the low side, according to some. The Wall Street Journal offers more analysis of the Rent vs. Buy index:

First, homeowners need to look first and hardest at present cashflow. The cult of homeownership made no sense. If renting is much cheaper than buying, think seriously about it.

Second: The markets that have fallen the furthest now look like good places to buy, while those that seem to be "safest" aren't. As the saying goes: There is no such thing as a "safe" investment, merely one whose risks are not yet apparent. It's a principle that a lot of people forget time and again.

Still not sure is it's better to rent or buy? The New York Times recently launched its Rent. vs. Buy calculator, which accounts for down payment, taxes and closing costs as well as rent deposit, renter's insurance and (of course) rent.

Not all title companies hate technology

Written by Nikki Smith ON Friday, 04 June 2010

I came across an article in Forbes today entitled "Why Title Companies Hate Technology."

At Federal Title, we love technology! We worked pretty hard around here to develop our consumer-friendly automatic quote software and then dove head-first into the world of Web 2.0 when we re-launched the Federal Title website earlier this year, so seeing a headline like that was certainly alarming.

Author Lee Gomes asks if a homebuyer can immediately access his credit score online, then why isn't there an online database where he can access land records and research his own title? Well, Mr. Gomes, if I can access my credit score online, why isn't there a database where I can access and interpret my own X-rays?

It's a conspiracy, according to him, where title companies are deliberately blocking the progress of technology because they stand to profit more from the current, "antiquated" system. His theory is that title companies have "enormous political clout in state capitals," and consequently the consumer is trapped into paying upward of $1,100 in closing costs. (It should be noted the bulk of the costs go toward the policy premium, not title services.)

Personally, I don't see how a credit score and a title search is an apples-to-apples comparison, as Todd likes to say. A credit score involves no legal interpretation whatsoever. Meanwhile, there's a whole glossary of terms that relate to the title search and settlement process.

Sure the title claims rate may be 1 out of 100 annually, but how does that support the opinion that we no longer need title companies? What Gomes fails to recognize is that issues arise during the title search far more frequently than that – more like 1 out of every 3 title searches, according to ALTA.

If potential title clouds appear during 33% of title searches but title claims are only made 1% of the time, that's evidence to me the system is doing its job.

Furthermore, many title companies are embracing technology because they recognize its potential to cut operating costs, a savings that's passed along to the consumer. That was the whole reason Federal Title developed its custom quote software.

The Internet is a great resource for house hunters, but it's not a substitute for professional or legal advice. Foregoing legal assistance to save a couple thousand in the homebuying process could actually wind up costing a whole lot more should a claim arise.

It may not be rocket science, but there is more to a title search than the eHow article suggests.

First-time homebuyer tax credit still on for military personnel

Written by Nikki Smith ON Wednesday, 02 June 2010

While the Federal Tax credit is a thing of the past for most of us, those serving overseas in the U.S. military, the foreign service and the intelligence community may still be able to claim the $8,000 credit.

"Members of the military and certain other federal employees serving outside the U.S. have an extra year to buy a principal residence in the U.S. and qualify for the credit," according to the Internal Revenue Service. That means qualifying homebuyers have until April 30, 2011 to enter into a sales contract. If the homebuyer meets that first criterion, he or she then has until June 30, 2011 to close the deal.

For more information on the credit, check out the IRS article, First-Time Homebuyer Credit: Members of the Military and Certain Other Federal Employees.

Second credit screening could delay closing or kill the deal

Written by Nikki Smith ON Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Want further proof that it's a bad idea to open a new line of credit while trying to buy a house?

Beginning June 1 your lender will likely be pulling a last-minute second credit report immediately before closing. If you've taken out a new loan that's large enough to affect your debt-to-income ratio calculations used in the original mortgage approval, your deal could fall through.

Opening a new line of credit – whether for new furnishings, landscaping, appliances, a new credit card, etc. – is one of the top homebuyer mistakes to avoid.

From the Washington Post:

The June 1 changes are part of a new effort by mortgage giant Fannie Mae to cut down on slipshod underwriting by lenders and fraud by borrowers. Fannie's "loan quality initiative" will require lenders not only to pull two credit reports for each mortgage transaction but to perform additional verifications of borrower occupancy plans for the property, Social Security numbers and Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers.

The story appeared in last Saturday's edition. 

E-signatures for real estate contracts OK'd by FHA

Written by Nikki Smith ON Thursday, 13 May 2010

The Federal Housing Administration recently announced it will now accept E-signed third-party documents – including real estate contracts.

The news come from the chief legal officer of the company that spear-headed an industry wide effort to move the FHA to formally recognize E-signed third-party documents. The FHA decision will help streamline the sale and financing of homes across the country, Ken Moyle of DocuSign said.

"FHA’s lack of guidance was not at the forefront of anyone’s mind a couple of years ago when the agency was only involved in two percent of home loans," Moyle writes on the DocuSign blog. "But the collapse of financial markets in late 2008 catapulted FHA into the mortgage spotlight almost overnight."

The last time FHA released formal guidance on e-signatures was in 1996.

"As the new #1 source of funding for nearly half of first time home buyers in 2009, FHA’s inability to articulate a clear process for accepting electronically processed documents became a very real problem for those who depended on the agency as a downstream partner," Moyle writes. " In fact, in early 2009 we saw some major FHA lenders retreat from their progressive policies toward e-commerce, as they waited for a signal from FHA."

An April 8, 2010-dated FHA mortgagee letter is the first in what is expected to be a series of responses to this initiative. It essentially says (and DocuSign confirms) it’s now official: E-signed third-party documents, including real estate contracts, are now being accepted by the FHA.

Could new rules make tax-credit closing deadlines tough to meet?

Written by Nikki Smith ON Monday, 10 May 2010

An article in this weekend's Washington Post discusses how new regulations could make it tougher for homebuyers to meet the June 30 closing deadline in order to cash in on the federal governments $8,000 tax incentive.

From the Post:

"As a result of toughened underwriting standards, confusing new federal disclosure rules, appraisal regulations and a long list of other potential obstacles, meeting that deadline could be harder than expected. In fact, mortgage industry leaders say some buyers who are seeking the tax credits won't get a cent because the clock will run out on them."

The same article also advises:

"Anticipate massive traffic jams and regulation-driven snares at title, escrow and settlement firms in the weeks and days preceding the deadline."

Changes to Truth in Lending Act that took effect August 1 of last year require a minimum seven-day waiting period between issuing a disclosure of mortgage loan costs on a Good Faith Estimate and the settlement or closing date.

Tack on an additional three business days of wait-time before consummating a loan transaction should the APR reflected in the initial disclosure vary by more than an eighth of one percent (.125%).

Homebuyers to ensure they receive the federal tax credit, not only should they be planning ahead as the Post recommends, they should make sure to receive a guaranteed quote for title services and avoid any last-minute surprises that could push them beyond the deadline.

And speaking of last-minute: Don't wait until the last minute to schedule closing. Even the most diligent of title searches can overlook something. Read this story from the trenches about a $6,000 lien on a $1,200 property. In short, the seller's attorney and real estate agent swore there were no issues with the property's title, and guess what - they were wrong!

To cash in on the federal credit, a little pre-planning and a lot of CYA is in order.

Am I ready to buy a home?

Written by Nikki Smith ON Friday, 07 May 2010

Though the federal government closed the door on the $8,000 homebuyer tax credit, real estate professionals remain optimistic that homebuyers looking to take advantage of low mortgage rates and home prices will not be deterred.

But what are the odds that the influx of buyers lured by the tax incentive could find themselves underwater or in a foreclosure situation in the coming years? Hopefully, with stricter lending standards and industry reform, the odds aren't great.

First-time homebuyers in today's market are more cautious than before, said local real estate journalist Michele Lerner, who spoke to an intimate audience of aspiring homebuyers and real estate agents at the Gallery Neptune in Bethesda.

"Buying a home is both a financial and emotional decision," Lerner said, noting that first-time homebuyers don't always think about buying a home as an important long-term decision. "It's not just about buying, it's a lifestyle change."

Lerner spent several months interviewing real estate agents, mortgage lenders and attorneys from all over the country to write her book "Homebuying: Tough Times, First Time, Any Time," a collection of 20 years of experience writing about housing and real estate condensed into 11 chapters.

Amazon.com calls it a "MUST for anyone thinking of buying a home."

In doing the research for her book, Lerner said she was surprised by the contrasts she observed after talking to experts in local markets around the U.S. While national reports have painted a dismal picture of the housing market on the whole, pockets do exist where the outlook is not nearly as bleak.

Lerner, a long-time resident of the Washington Metro Area, pointed to the nation's capitol as a case in point. Lower levels of unemployment and incomes that rank above the national average have sheltered the District from the worst of it, while other areas such as South Florida and California have not been so lucky.

Sounds like all the more reason for homebuyers to do their due diligence, which is where a book like Homebuying can come in handy. To avoid the mistakes of homebuyers in recent years, Lerner says homebuyers should not only develop a realistic budget, but develop relationships with professionals they can trust: "The relationships you build with your real estate agent and lender will make or break your decision to buy a home," she said.

Lerner's work is regularly featured in the Washington Times "Friday Homebuyer Guide. " You can also check out this sample chapter and purchase your own shiny copy of the book at Lerner's website.

DC $5,000 first-time homebuyer tax credit regaining popularity

Written by Nikki Smith ON Tuesday, 04 May 2010

For District of Columbia residents who missed the April 30 deadline for the $8,000 Federal First-time homebuyer Tax Credit, there's another tax credit to cash in on.

Many have forgotten that DC offers a $5,000 tax credit to anyone who hasn't owned a main home in the District during the one-year period ending on the date of purchase. Since the DC Tax Credit is smaller and couldn't be taken simultaneously with the Federal Tax Credit, it has largely been ignored.

But the Federal Tax Credit required a ratified sales contract dated prior to April 30, 2010 and for settlement to take place by June 30, 2010. Now that it's expired, the DC Tax Credit will regain some of its appeal during the second half of this year. Additionally, the DC Tax Credit has not expired since it began in 1997.

Here is information taken from the 2009 IRS Form 8859, and so it applies to the 2009 taxes but can be used as a general guideline since it should be similar for the 2010 tax year (information for the 2010 tax year has not yet been released).

Frequently asked questions about the DC Tax Credit

Who is eligible for the DC Tax Credit?

Generally, the DC Tax Credit can be claimed in the year that the principal residence has been purchased as long as the purchaser(s) did not own another principal residence in the District of Columbia during the one year period ending on the date of purchase.  NOTE: Unlike the Federal Tax Credit, the DC Tax Credit only requires that you be a DC First-time Homebuyer.  Even if you are ineligible for the Federal Tax Credit since you own a property in another jurisdiction, you may be eligible for the DC Tax Credit.

How much is the credit for?

The maximum credit is for $5,000, or $2,500 if married filing separately.  The credit begins to phase out when the modified adjusted gross income exceeds $70,000 ($110,000 if married filing jointly) and ends at $90,000 ($130,000 if married filing jointly).  

Are there any exclusions?

Yes. You cannot claim the credit if you are eligible to claim the Federal Tax Credit on IRS Form 5405 or if you purchased your home from related persons or by gift or inheritance.  Related persons include, among others, grandparents, parents, spouses, children and grandchildren.  Also, the DC Tax Credit can only be claimed once, so it is not available if already claimed on another property.

Where can I get more information?

In depth information can be obtained from the District's Office of Tax and Revenue or by reviewing the IRS Form 8859.

History of the DC Tax Credit

The Taxpayer Relief Act of 1997 was signed by the president on August 5, 1997. The tax credit has been renewed every year ever since, granting taxpayers in the District of Columbia who have not recently owned a home eligibility for a one-time tax credit of up to $5,000 to be claimed against federal income taxes.

The tax credit is reported on Form 8859, and the taxpayer must file Form 1040 to claim this credit.  Download the DC First-Time Homebuyer Credit Tax Form 8859.

5 keys to buying your first home, tax credit or no

Written by Nikki Smith ON Monday, 26 April 2010

Time is running out for first-time homebuyers looking to take advantage of the $8,000 federal tax credit, set to expire Friday, April 30. Even if you're not in a position to cash in on the credit in the next five days, you can still land a great deal on a piece of property if you follow these five steps, which come from a USA Today article.

1. Get your finances in order.

2. Find a real estate agent and start looking.

3. Investigate the reputations of builders, condos.

4. Make an offer and apply for a mortgage.

5. Prepare for closing.

In honor of Earth Day: EPA proposes rainwater-trapping rules for D.C.

Written by Nikki Smith ON Thursday, 22 April 2010

Coinciding with the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, the EPA has announced a proposal that would require developers in the District of Columbia to implement measures for trapping runoff to prevent pollution from making its way into rivers.

The proposal would effect new and redeveloped properties in the District and require 90 percent of rainwater that falls onto a plot to be captured via green roofs and rain barrels.

If approved, Washington, D.C. would become a test-case for an ambitious plan to curb runoff nationwide.

Real estate closing process in 6 steps

Written by Nikki Smith ON Friday, 16 April 2010

So you've submitted an order for settlement – what happens next? This is a common question we receive from homebuyers wanting to know the next step in the real estate closing process.

In this article I will outline the steps that occur in between placing an order for settlement services and signing the documents at the closing table. Terms and procedures may vary slightly by jurisdiction, and this is a generic outline of the real estate closing procedure.

Here at Federal Title we have a dedicated team of closing experts that includes settlement coordinators, processors and attorneys, who will guide you through the final steps of your journey to home ownership.

Could a short-sale boom end the foreclosure crisis?

Written by Nikki Smith ON Monday, 29 March 2010

The federal Home Affordable Foreclosure Alternatives program goes into effect next week, and some mortgage industry professionals anticipate it will spur a short-sale "boom" that could help ease the pains of a distressed property market.

For underwater homeowners, a short sale is better than foreclosure because it's less detrimental to the consumer's credit score. Whereas a foreclosure could knock as much as 200 points off a FICO score, the damage from short sale is about half as bad.

In the past short sales took an average of more than six months to complete, CNN Money reports, and banks were often reticent to approve short sales because it meant taking a loss.

But with a surge of foreclosure activity expected over the coming months, many lenders are choosing the lesser of the two evils. The CNN article also reports lenders lose 50 percent on a foreclosure and 30 percent on a short sale.

For lenders and mortgage brokers interested in learning more about HAFA, check out "Lender incentives in new HAFA program could expedite short sales."

Update: Lenders with HAFA questions can also check out this Q&A post on the Wall Street Journal's blog.

REO property inventory on the rise?

Written by Nikki Smith ON Monday, 22 March 2010

The inventory of real estate owned property is rising. An increase of REO inventories could cause home prices to fall, and the Wall Street Journal reportsinventories could rise as high as 733,000 units by April before dropping off again.

Inventories fell toward the end of 2009 because many properties were held up in the foreclosure pipeline while banks determined which distressed homeowners qualified for loan modification programs.

There are still deals to be had out there for investors and first-time homebuyers. If you're planning to put an offer in on an REO property, consult this list of Dos and Don'ts by settlement attorney Todd Ewing to avoid common mistakes and increase your chances of success.

Appeal property tax in 4 steps

Written by Nikki Smith ON Thursday, 18 March 2010

If home prices have dropped in your area, there's a chance you could be paying too much in property taxes. Thankfully, there is something you can do about it: Challenge your property tax assessment before the local Property Tax Assessment Appeal Board (or some variation thereof).

The New York Times features an article, "High Property Taxes? 4 Steps to Lowering Them" to get you started down the road to appeal. For homeowners and homebuyers with questions about the tax appeal process in the DC Metro Area, learn how to "Take Advantage of Tax Appeal" from this article by our very own attorney Joe Gentile.

As he says, there's no need to be intimidated by the tax appeal process. Most appeals are resolved the first time, especially if you have done your research.

A small investment of time could potentially net thousands in annual savings. So check out online resources like Zillow's recent home sales tool. If you're about to purchase real property, talk with your real estate agent or closing attorney to make sure you understand the process. And if you're still unsure, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. us for more information.

Do open houses work for real estate agents?

Written by Nikki Smith ON Thursday, 18 March 2010

Before the age of the Internet, the only way potential homebuyers could tour a home was to either contact their real estate agent to schedule a showing or to attend an open house.

Now-a-days virtual tours, photo galleries and online listings make it easier for the consumer to shop for houses without setting foot in one. Yet on any given Sunday you can bet somewhere in the DC Metro Area there's an open house taking place.

Do open houses work?

"The bottom line is that there is really only one good reason Realtors have Open Houses," writes Ken Montville of MDSuburbanhomes.com. "It’s so they can possibly run into someone who is unrepresented by another Realtor and who might be interested in using their services. In other words, it’s a great way to prospect for new business."

Tradition dies hard, he adds. For agent insight, check out the rest of his post, "Do people still do open houses?" that weighs in on the investments versus the returns for an agent who hosts an open house in today's real estate market.

12 ways to come up with a down payment

Written by Nikki Smith ON Wednesday, 17 March 2010

It's hard not to get excited at the prospect of owning a home, especially when there's so much buzz about historically low borrowing rates, an influx of foreclosures on the market and a new program that might actually expedite the short sale process.

But with tighter lending standards these days, you may find the homeownership train is leaving the station without you if you don't have enough of your own money to throw into the pot.

With a federally backed FHA loan, you still need to come up with 3.5% of the sales price PLUS closing costs. On a purchase price of $300,000 in the District of Columbia, that's more than $16,000. (Calculate closing costs for yourself with a Quick Quote.)

Unless your favorite rich uncle remembered you in his will, or you've been saving for years in anticipation of a massive real estate market meltdown, you may be a few dollars short of making a down payment in today's market.

Here are 12 ways to come up with a down payment, according to Philly Real Estate Information:

  1. Set up an automatic saving plan.
  2. Get a gift from your parents, grandparents, other relatives or friends.
  3. Sell a car, boat, motorcycle, collectibles or other assets.
  4. Liquidate stocks, mutual funds, savings bonds or other investments.
  5. Allocate your income tax refund.
  6. Take a loan from your 401(k) retirement plan and repay yourself with interest.
  7. Withdraw funds from your 401(k) plan, subject to taxes and penalties.
  8. Collect on a loan that you made to someone else.
  9. Get a bonus from your employer.
  10. Explore homebuyer programs for teachers, police officers, firefighters and other public servants, if you qualify.
  11. Apply for a state or local government homebuyer down payment program.
  12. Use a private down payment assistance program.

Any other bright ideas? Leave your tips for saving toward a down payment as a comment below.

Consumer lending on the rise at smaller banks

Written by Nikki Smith ON Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Interest rates for home loans remain at all-time lows. The federal first-time homebuyer program has still got some steam left in it, and real estate agents are touting, "Now's a great time to buy!"

There's just one small problem: Tighter lending standards make it tougher to get a loan.

Most consumers can't buy a house without a loan, but last year at the largest 10% of U.S. banks (by asset size), consumer lending shrank by 4.7%, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Happily, there is a silver lining.

The same article reports consumer loans rose 3% at financial institutions that make up the lower 50% of industry assets. A spokeswoman for one Pennsylvania bank reported a 30% jump in consumer lending.

For consumers in the market for a mortgage, remember to shop around the same way you should when choosing a title company. Compare costs, talk to a few experts, read some blogs . If after shopping, you come to find lending standards are too strict to accommodate your needs, look for ways to beef up your down payment.

More on that a little later. ...

Lender incentives in new HAFA program may expedite short sales

Written by Nikki Smith ON Monday, 15 March 2010

Lenders are coming to grips with the fact that short sales will remain a part of the housing market for the next 24 to 36 months, the Wall Street Journal reports.

For lenders and mortgage brokers interested in the Home Affordable Foreclosure Alternatives program, an extension of the federal government's Home Affordable Modification Program that goes into effect April 5, here are some highlights, according to the U.S. Treasury Department.:

  • Borrowers receive pre-approved short-sale terms before listing the property, so sellers know what lenders will accept before listing the property.
  • There's a set time line, with deadlines for lenders and sellers to keep the short-sale process moving.
  • At the completion of a sale, borrowers may receive up to $1,500 for relocation expenses, while servicers may receive compensation of up to $1,000. Up to $3,000 of proceeds up for grabs among subordinate lien holders, making it possible to compensate second-mortgage lenders.

Guest bloggers wanted

Written by Nikki Smith ON Thursday, 11 March 2010

How would you like a chance to be front and center before thousands of curious consumers with a genuine interest to purchase or refinance a home in the near future?

Better yet, what if you could broadcast your real estate industry expert knowledge and exponentially increase your exposure to these potential clients without spending a dime?

That's what Federal Title & Escrow Company is offering to mortgage lenders, real estate agents and other industry experts in the DC Metro Area – the opportunity to submit an article for a special guest column featured weekly on the company blog.

Submit an article to Federal Title's blog

In an age when Google accounts for 43% of global Internet traffic, businesses are relying more and more on web marketing strategies to improve their search engine rankings and stay in front of customers.

Establishing online visibility is a lot like competing in a high school popularity contest in that you need the most votes to win. Votes come in the form of inbound links from other websites. The more of them you have, the higher your page will land in search results.

Federal Title guest bloggers are encouraged to contribute a thoughtful article on a topic that somehow relates to the real estate industry – be it homebuyer programs, hot neighborhoods, new loan regulations, closing costs, just about anything goes – and provide a link back to their website. You can also submit a previously published article from your own blog or website and still provide a link.

The rules are simple:
1) No blatant self promotion; and
2) Federal Title reserves the right to edit all content as necessary.

Submit an article to Federal Title's blog

With no advertising dollars on the line, you've got nothing to lose! The marketing team is standing by the answer your questions and help you get started, so why not give this blogging thing a shot?

Order settlement services from your smart phone

Written by Nikki Smith ON Wednesday, 10 March 2010

An increasing number of real estate firms are providing homebuyers with free smart phone applications, commonly referred to as "apps," to make house hunting easier than ever.

While websites have offered similar technology for years now, mobile apps literally put this power in the palm of the homebuyer's hand, providing a snapshot of the local real estate market in real-time. Apps use smart phones' global-positioning technology to provide all kinds of information, from a homes features and amenities to property values to information about local schools and crime statistics to photos of the surrounding neighborhood.

There's no question that real estate apps are more than a passing trend. Zillow reports nearly 1 million downloads of its app and an average of 2 million home look-ups each month. Redfin has reported a high level of customer satisfaction from its app even if it's not a money-maker per se.

While Federal Title does not have a mobile app, it is possible to access our online tools, including the automatic quote generator and seller's calculator, directly from your smart phone. Add the link to your list of favorites to generate a quote at any time: https://tools.federaltitle.com/titleagents/buildrequest/default.aspx — no download required.

'Strategic default' on the rise

Written by Nikki Smith ON Tuesday, 09 March 2010

At a time when one in four homeowners is underwater, and 2 million more Americans have gone through foreclosure, the thought of defaulting on a loan is becoming less taboo. In fact, many homeowners are taking a cue from high-profile investors, who have walked away from multi-billion dollar real estate investment projects, and choosing to cut their losses, the San Francisco Chronicle reports.

Foreclosure and delinquency rates remain high, a Treasury official said in a prepared statement Monday. And though there are signs of recovery in the housing market, the federal government still has a lot of work ahead of them, he said.

Part of that work is putting pressure on U.S. banks to ease terms for distressed homeowners, as well as incentive programs to encourage homeowners to sell their properties at a loss. A "Hardest Hit Fund" is aimed at supporting state and local housing agencies in California, Florida, Nevada, Arizona and Michigan help unemployed workers keep their homes and to help underwater homeowners into loan modification programs.

Refinancing borrowers struggle to capitalize on low mortgage rates

Written by Nikki Smith ON Monday, 08 March 2010

Borrowers are missing out on billions of dollars in savings because high rates of negative equity, tighter lending standards and falling incomes have made it difficult for many to refinance.

Federal officials are investigating ways to help refinancing borrowers, and last week the White House announced it will extend its Home Affordable Refinance Program.

Current refinance volume is nowhere near as much as expected, experts say, considering interest rates continue to hover at historic lows. Last week the Mortgage Bankers Association reported the average rate on a 30-year fixed mortgage was 4.95%.

The last time mortgage rates were at current levels was 2003, when refinancing activity hit $2.9 trillion, according to trade publication Inside Mortgage Finance. Last year refinance volume reached $1.2 trillion, the highest amount since 2003.

The Wall Street Journal examines why last January's refinance applications were at their lowest levels in a year.

Exactly how good is the new Good Faith Estimate?

Written by Nikki Smith ON Tuesday, 02 March 2010

Two months since the new RESPA rule took effect, some mortgage lenders report consumers are asking more questions throughout the homebuying process, while others say consumer confusion has simply taken a new shape.

The new rules will hopefully ensure fewer surprise fees, but does the new Good Faith Estimate make it easier for consumers to understand the terms of their loan program?

"One of the major flaws on the GFE is that it doesn't include a line for the total monthly payment, including principle, interest, taxes and insurance," our very own Todd Ewing told the Washington Times in an interview. "The monthly payment is expressed only as principle, interest and mortgage insurance premiums, which doesn't really clarify for borrowers how much they will need to pay each month."

The new Good Faith estimate has increased the amount of time it takes for a transaction to close, a New York Times article reported, because lenders must obtain a guaranteed quote for settlement services before sending the form to the borrower. The same article also reported consumers are asking more questions about closing costs than before because closing costs are represented as a lump sum on the new Good Faith Estimate instead of an itemized list like before.

The new Good Faith Estimate that went into effect January 1 was a response to consumer's primary complaint at the closing table: hidden or surprise fees.

Whereas in the past the GFE was an estimate of likely fees with no requirement of accountability, the new GFE holds mortgage lenders to a stricter standard. In some cases there's zero tolerance for going over the estimate, and lenders can incur heavy penalties.

How has the new RESPA rule affected you?

Google for real estate agents

Written by Nikki Smith ON Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Before a customer ever picks up the phone to ask for your business, chances are she spent a sizeable chunk of time investigating her needs and your services online.

Today more than ever, potential homebuyers are using search engines, particularly Google, to find anything from a reputable real estate agent to their next (or first) dream home.

To help you connect with homebuyers, check out Google for Real Estate Professionals, a wonderful toolkit where you'll find just about everything you need to make sure potential clients find you on the World Wide Web.

For example, with Google Maps homebuyers can view a property from a bird's eye or street view, explore traffic and public transit information and, perhaps most importantly, learn how to get in touch with you. All you have to do is upload your listings.

Once you finish uploading, take a couple extra minutes to explore the Local Business Center, where you can claim and manage your business listing.

YouTube is a great way to showcase not only your listings but your business as well. Post a testimonial video from a happy homebuyer or an informative piece that explains a tricky aspect of the homebuying process. Let your potential clients get to know you by guiding them on a walk-through of your newest property listing.

All services in the Google for Real Estate Professionals toolkit are fairly easy to figure out, and just about all are completely free to use.

GFE-based quote tool is now RESPA compliant

Written by Nikki Smith ON Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Washington, D.C. – Lenders navigating new RESPA rules can bank on the accuracy of Federal Title & Escrow Company's online quote system to prepare their Good Faith Estimates.

"Our online quote is accurate to the penny, or we'll pay the difference," company president Todd Ewing said. The final RESPA rule puts lenders on the hook to provide accurate Good Faith Estimates. Federal Title takes some of the pressure off with an accurate, online GFE-based quote system.

If a lender uses the system to prepare a Good Faith Estimate and winds up in violation of the tolerance limitations, Federal Title will pay the difference between the quote and the final HUD-1 executed on the day of settlement, Ewing said.

It's called the Zero Tolerance Guarantee, and it specifically covers HUD-1 series line items 1100 and 1200, also known as "title charges" and "government recording and transfer charges," which include transfer and recordation taxes, recording fees and title insurance premiums.

As the final RESPA rule that took effect at the beginning of this year aims at transparency, the title insurance industry is beginning to shift toward the same business model Federal Title adopted some time ago, Ewing said.

"Lenders are not only seeking instant, electronic quotes for title work that don't throw off any specified tolerances, they've come to expect them," he said. "With so much information available through a few taps of the keyboard, who wants to call up and ask for numbers?"

With this spirit in mind, Ewing also announced the launch of the company's revamped website that includes an informative blog, convenient search functionality and improved navigation.

Seasoned settlement attorney returns to Federal Title

Written by Nikki Smith ON Tuesday, 01 December 2009

Pens around Catherine E. Schmitt's office have a way of disappearing. That's the running joke around the office anyway, because this retired Marine and newest member of Federal Title & Escrow Company's team of closing attorneys can do a lot more with a pen than push paper.

Catherine Schmitt, formerly the managing attorney for Monarch Title – Georgetown and Bethesda – rejoins the ranks of Federal Title's talented staff after a five-year hiatus. She brings with her 20 years of title experience and a steadfast work ethic sharpened by her service with the U.S. Marine Corps.

She says the most rewarding aspect of her work is the time she spends developing relationships with her clients.

“I am a loyal customer of Catherine”, says Tom Buerger of Re/Max Allegiance. “She is always there for me – whether it is as an expediter for a quick settlement, as a counselor to allay the fears of my first-time homebuyers or as a resource to solve potential issues before they become a problem that will delay settlement. She is my attorney-on-call.”

Schmitt’s clients vary from new homebuyers to seasoned investors, but one thing her clients have in common is they understand the settlement process.

"Buying and refinancing a home are big decisions,” says Schmitt. “The settlement process is an opportunity to educate clients. It's a time for them to ask questions, so they can feel comfortable and informed."

Schmitt earned two Bachelor’s degrees from the University of Maryland and has her Juris Doctorate from Drake University Law School in Des Moines, Iowa, the same institution that produced Federal Title's founder and president, Todd Ewing.

"Catherine works hard and is dedicated to her clients.” Ewing says. “She is a model of customer service, and I am very excited to welcome her back to our team.”

Homebuyers seeking advice from Schmitt about title insurance or the settlement process need only venture up Wisconsin Avenue to Federal Title’s Friendship Heights office. Reach Catherine E. Schmitt at 202-362-1500 or e-mail her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

About Federal Title & Escrow Company

In an industry contaminated by affiliated business arrangements, kickbacks and other referral incentives, the Internet returns the power to the people. Federal Title recognizes consumer-driven market pressures, as exemplified by the new RESPA rule, and seeks to offer home buyers substantial closing cost savings and a streamlined settlement process. Federal Title has a reputation of being technically innovative and always at the forefront of the latest real estate trends.

Years ago the company made a bold move by eschewing all Affiliated Business Arrangements and established its REAL Credit Program, which saves home buyers up to $1,100 on closing costs.

Now Playing: Closing Costs Explained Visually

CONTACT:
Nikki Smith
Main line: 202-362-1500
Direct line: 202-274-1517
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Website: www.federaltitle.com

Title Report highlights our 'unique' business model

Written by Nikki Smith ON Monday, 12 October 2009

A few weeks back Federal Title president Todd Ewing spoke with The Title Report editor Jennifer Kovacs about Federal Title's approach to the changes."There's a hard push with the RESPA reforms toward what we've been doing all along, which is full disclosure. Mortgage lenders are not just going to expect it, they're going to demand all title companies provide a guaranteed quote for their services," Ewing said.

With new legislation around the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act slated to take effect Jan. 1, 2010, many in the industry have concerns about how these changes will impact their daily work routine. More accountability, full disclosures -- the new RESPA rule has placed a lot of lenders in particular on the hook.

Click beyond the jump to read "Title company's unique anti-AfBA business model pays off.

How well do you understand RESPA?

Written by Nikki Smith ON Thursday, 01 October 2009

At its core, the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act, better known as RESPA, is a consumer disclosure and anti-kickback statute intended to alert consumers about their settlement costs and to prohibit kickbacks that could increase the cost of getting a mortgage.

New RESPA regulations were published in November 2008 and are scheduled to take effect Jan. 1, 2010.

To prepare for the changes, Federal Title & Escrow Company is hosting a free event for 100 guests, which will feature a presentation by mortgage banking and consumer finance expert Holly Spencer Bunting. To attend this free event and learn more about RESPA, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. the marketing department at Federal Title.

Wondering just how savvy you are when it comes to RESPA? Take this RESPA Quiz created by Realtor.org and test your knowledge of the law.

Federal Title joins Expert Click community

Written by Nikki Smith ON Thursday, 10 September 2009

Todd Ewing
 
 Todd Ewing, president of Federal Title & Escrow Company is among the newest members of the Expert Click community. Expert Click connects journalists and experts in a variety of fields. For information about the title insurance business, how to calculate closing costs and laws and regulations like the Real Estate Settlement Procedure Act, or RESPA, visit Todd's profile.

 

RESPA reform luncheon coming up

Written by Nikki Smith ON Monday, 07 September 2009

Are you still chewing over the details of the new RESPA rule, wondering how the changes will affect your daily work routine? Federal Title & Escrow Company invites you to hear the real story on RESPA and This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. in the Dogwood Room at the Kenwood Golf & Country Club in Bethesda on Wednesday, September 16 at 10 a.m.

Mortgage banking and consumer finance expert Holly Spencer Bunting will discuss the new RESPA rule, which goes into effect on the first of the year. Bring your questions for a Q&A session immediately following the presentation. Here's what Holly had to say about her upcoming presentation:

Despite the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's ("HUD" or "Department") publication of its final rule to amend the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act ("RESPA") in November 2008, the rule continues to stir controversy as the effective date for the new HUD-1 Settlement Statement and Good Faith Estimate draws closer. While there is still hope that HUD will delay implementation of the new forms until the Department coordinates its efforts with the Federal Reserve, settlement service providers are gearing up for the January 1, 2010 effective date. This session will provide an in-depth overview of the components of HUD's final RESPA rule and the new HUD-1 and GFE disclosure forms.

Space for this free event is limited to the first 100 guests, so This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. ! Last day to RSVP is Tuesday, September 8.

Decipher the FAQs of new RESPA rule

Written by Nikki Smith ON Tuesday, 01 September 2009

A Frequently Asked Questions report released by the Department of Housing and Urban Development regarding implementation of the new RESPA rule has raised more questions from an industry in need of interpretation and guidance.

"Lenders and title companies were looking to HUD to address the more difficult practical circumstances they will face in completing the new GFE and HUD-1," said Phil Schulman, an attorney with Washington, D.C.-based K&L Gates in an interview with the Title Report. "For the most part, they merely restate the instructions already contained in the regulations."

Decipher the FAQs with mortgage banking and consumer finance expert Holly Spencer Bunting, an associate with K&L Gates, who will present an in-depth overview of the components of HUD's final RESPA rule and the new HUD-1 and GFE disclosure forms.

Her presentation is followed by a complimentary lunch and will take place Wednesday, September 16 in the Dogwood Room at the Kenwood Golf & Country Club in Bethesda.

Only 15 spots remain! If you have not reserved your spot or believe a colleague could benefit from this free event, please respond as soon as possible. We are limited to the first 100 guests, and time is running out.

The last day to RSVP is Tuesday, September 8. Don't miss this wonderful opportunity to gain a full understanding of the new RESPA rule and enjoy a free lunch compliments of Federal Title.

Closing costs video 'good intro' to settlement steps

Written by Nikki Smith ON Tuesday, 01 September 2009

If you're shopping for a home and haven't had a chance to watch this quick introduction to title insurance, you may want to check it out. While "Closing Costs Explained Visually" is targeted toward consumers, real estate experts are also finding it useful.

"Rather than a detailed step-by-step dissertation on title and escrow -- which many consumers really need before the home buying begins -- the two-minute Federal Title & Escrow Co. video is useful as a primer to get you into the basics of the process," writes Broderick Perkins, editor of Deadline News and the Real Estate News Examiner blog.

After a proper intro to the settlement process from Federal Title, home shoppers may then want to read Perkins' thorough three-part title insurance series for a better understanding of today's title insurance industry.

My favorite installment: Part 3 - Shop Around for Title, Escrow Services.

Title insurance companies sometimes get a bad rep, but we're not all bad. Some companies are committed to giving their customers the lowest rate possible on insurance premiums. Federal Title for one is saving home buyers as much as $1,100 through our REAL Credit Program.

As a home buyer, the more you know about the settlement process, the more you'll be able to save on closing costs.

RESPA expert to shed light on new legislation

Written by Nikki Smith ON Monday, 31 August 2009

Mortgage banking and consumer finance expert Holly Spencer Bunting will educate real estate agents, mortgage lenders and members of the media about upcoming changes in RESPA regulations during a complimentary luncheon next month.

Federal Title & Escrow Company is hosting the event in the Dogwood Room at the Kenwood Golf & Country Club in Bethesda, Md. on Wednesday, September 16 beginning at 10 a.m. Bunting is an associate with the Washington, D.C. office of K&L Gates, concentrating on issues of federal and state regulatory enforcement, according to the firm's website.

She represents companies in the mortgage lending, title insurance and real estate industries in connection with regulatory compliance matters and defends clients subject to government audits, investigations and enforcement proceedings.

Additionally, Bunting advises clients about federal and state consumer credit and protection laws and regulations, including the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA).

Consequently, Bunting has delivered several presentations on RESPA and compliance and written several articles about the consumer protection statute, including "Finally, a Final RESPA Rule," and "RESPA's New Average Charge Provisions – Available for Some."

10 things homebuyers should know about title insurance

Written by Nikki Smith ON Thursday, 27 August 2009

You have the right to choose your title company. In an industry contaminated by affiliated business arrangements, kickbacks and other referral incentives, the Internet returns the power to the people. Don't let your mortgage lender or real estate agent steer you toward their preferred title company without doing your homework first. You could save thousands of dollars – yes, thousands – by selecting a title company on your own.

It's easy to save money on title services. Ask for quotes from several title companies and compare them with your real estate agent's or mortgage lender's recommendation. By shopping around and asking about discounts, a lot of times the home buyer can save thousands on closing costs.

Your mortgage lender will require title insurance. This isn't one of those cases where you can skirt the extra expense and hope for the best. If you are borrowing money for a real estate investment, your mortgage lender will want to make sure it's protected. Title insurance protects your money if it turns out the seller didn't legally have the right to sell the property in the first place. At minimum, you will be required to purchase a lender's policy. An owner's policy, while recommended, is not required. To save money on your owner's policy look into Standard v. Extended coverage.

Title insurance is a one-time fee. Unlike other types of insurance, there is no ongoing premium to pay for title insurance. Your mortgage lender is required to provide you with a Good Faith Estiamte for closing costs, including title insurance, and factor those costs into the initial disclosure. This three-minute video explains closing costs in laymen's terms: Closing Costs Explained Visually.

Ask about "standard" title insurance vs. "enhanced" title insurance. Some title companies push enhanced title insurance without providing the consumer with a proper disclosure that a less expensive standard policy is available. For many home buyers a standard policy will suffice. It costs less, too. Compare standard vs. enhanced title insurance, and make sure to ask your title company what types of insurance products they offer. Talk with your lender and settlement attorney to determine what policy is appropriate for your home investment.

Who pays for title insurance depends on where you live. Sometimes it's the buyer who pays, sometimes it's the seller. And sometimes the cost is split between the two. In the Washington Metro Area, for example, title insurance premiums are generally paid by the home buyer. It's important to note that title insuranceis regulated largely on the state level. If you're conducting a little Internet research, be sure to use regional qualifiers in your search (e.g. state, county, etc.).

Some closing costs are fixed while others are variable. The cost of your title insurance policy and government recordation fees are dependent on the purchase price of your home, and the bulk of settlement costs are typically paid by the home buyer. However, the seller doesn't get off scot-free.

Seller fees include a fee for mortgage release procurement and deed preparations. The settlement fee is often split between buyer and seller. Home buyer fees include a title examination/abstractor fee, location survey fee and a fee to process paperwork. A title company may charge additional fees unique to each transaction, but the extent of the fees should be disclosed up front.

Settlement costs factor into your loan's Annual Percentage Yield (APR). Home buyers should know the settlement process can be delayed due to recent changes to the Truth in Lending Act (effective Aug. 1, 2009). If the actual APR differs from the estimated APR by more than 0.125 percent, your mortgage lender must issue a new initial disclosure that reflects the accurate rate and wait a minimum of 3 business days to close the deal. To avoid surprises at the closing table, invest five minutes of your time at the beginning of the transaction to obtain a guaranteed quote online for settlement services.

If you're planning to refinance, your lender will require a title insurance policy. There are plenty of reasons to refinance such as reducing your interest rate and mortgage payment or consolidating debt.While a new owner's policy may not be necessary if you plan to refinance, your mortgage lender will still want to ensure the investment is protected, so you will likely need to purchase a new lender's title insurance policy. Here is an example of a title insurance rate card for a refinance.

Referral fees increase the cost of title insurance. The Government Accountability Office recently reported that 5 percent of title insurance premiums went toward insurance claims. A far greater percentage (some reports claim 50 percent or more), went to real estate agents and mortgage lenders for referral fees. This practice is illegal and punishable by imprisonment and/or a fine, yet it's very difficult to regulate. Home buyers' best protection against exorbitant title costs is education, simply knowing they have the right to choose their title company, asking about discounts and learning about what options are available. Not all title companies shell out referral fees, or kickbacks. In fact, some title companies cut out the middle man and credit the home buyer instead when he/she orders settlement services online directly from them.

Lenders, title agents most affected by new RESPA rule

Written by Nikki Smith ON Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Washington, D.C. – Mortgage banking and consumer finance expert Holly Spencer Bunting will address controversy surrounding the reformed Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act during a presentation and Q&A session next month.

The new RESPA rule, which aims to connect the dots between estimated closing costs set forth in the good faith estimate and actual closing costs disclosed in the HUD-1 form, will mostly impact mortgage lenders and closing agents.

"The rule continues to stir controversy," Bunting said.

While there's hope the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development will delay implementation, settlement service providers are gearing up for Jan. 1, 2010 effective date, she added.

Mortgage lenders and real estate agents are encouraged to attend the free luncheon event, beginning at 10 a.m. Wednesday, September 16 at the Kenwood Golf & Country Club in Bethesda, Md., presented by Federal Title & Escrow Company.

"At its core, the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act, is a consumer disclosure and anti-kickback statute intended to alert consumers about their settlement costs and to prohibit kickbacks that could increase mortgage costs," said Todd Ewing, president of Federal Title.

Claims that fraud, deception and general consumer ignorance led to the disastrous outcome of the real estate lending bubble fueled the overhaul of the home buyer protection statute. Bunting will provide an in-depth overview of the components of HUD's final RESPA rule and the new HUD-1 and GFE disclosure forms.

About the Holly Spencer Bunting

Bunting is an associate with the Washington, D.C. office of K&L Gates. She represents companies in mortgage lending, title insurance and real estate industries in connection with regulatory compliance matters, according to her biography on the company's website.

Her articles have appeared in a variety of publications including "The Review of Banking and Financial Services," "Mortgage Banking and Consumer Credit Alert," and "The Banking Law Journal."

About Federal Title & Escrow Company

In an industry contaminated by affiliated business arrangements, kickbacks and other referral incentives, the Internet returns the power to the people. Federal Title recognizes consumer-driven market pressures, as exemplified by the new RESPA rule, and seeks to offer home buyers substantial closing cost savings and a streamlined settlement process.

Federal Title has a reputation of being technically innovative and always at the forefront of the latest real estate trends. Years ago the company made a bold move by eschewing all Affiliated Business Arrangements and established its REAL Credit Program, which saves home buyers up to $1,100 on closing costs.

Talking title insurance: Investigate closing costs early

Written by Nikki Smith ON Monday, 10 August 2009

Your title insurance expenses are largely dependent on the cost of the home you plan to purchase. Sometimes homebuyers, especially first-timers, don't anticipate the added expense to the end of their real estate transaction. They may feel sucker punched by the settlement process.

Mortgage lenders require title insurance. ... If you were loaning somebody hundreds of thousands of dollars, you would probably want to protect your investment, too. And that's what title insurance does.

Still, some people believe title insurance is a racket.

"Title insurance is the biggest rip off of all the parasitic rip offs built in to the housing industry," reads one comment on a recent Kiplinger's article (which, by the way, misses the mark on title insurance premiums).

Title insurance itself is not a rip off at all. In the grand scheme of things, it's a small fraction of the money you're putting up to buy the property. As in 1 percent, according to the American Land Title Association. Furthermore, title insurance claims arise more often than you might think.

If there's a claim against your property and you don't have title insurance, you will have to pay to represent yourself in court. Once you finish paying the attorney's fees, you could still end up losing your property. Do you want to risk losing your home AND the money you paid for it?

More likely "the viking" probably allowed himself to get ripped off.

Conduct a little Internet research, and you'll find local title companies that offer competitive rates and generous discounts for escrow services. Homebuyers should note, however, title insurance premiums are set by the provider – not the title insurance agent.

For example, if 10 companies all use First American Title Insurance products, all 10 companies will charge the same insurance premium. Costs for settlement fees, title abstractor and examination fees, recording fees (which vary by location) and other fees that may apply may vary by company and may be negotiable.

Start investigating closing costs early in the home buying process. Get a free quote for title & escrow services from a local title insurance company like Federal Title. Understand the difference between an lender's policy and an owner's policy as well as the standard versus expanded policy.

If you know what questions to ask your real estate agent and mortgage lender about the closing process, you're chances of negotiating a great deal increase.

What do TILA changes mean for lenders, title agents?

Written by Nikki Smith ON Monday, 27 July 2009

Changes to the Truth in Lending Act (TILA) now require lenders to provide consumers "early disclosure" of good faith estimates of mortgage loan costs and a minimum seven-day waiting period between disclosure and closing.

This means it's all the more important for lenders to obtain an accurate settlement fee quote from their title agent as early as possible. The Federal Reserve has highlighted the major changes in the truth in lending early disclosure requirements this chart:

To avoid delays in the closing process, lenders must be precise. The new requirements also call for an additional three business days of wait-time before consummating a loan transaction should the APR reflected in the initial disclosure vary by more than an eighth of one percent (.125%).

A guaranteed quote, such as the one offered by Federal Title & Escrow Company, will ensure there are no surprises – or closing delays – at the end of a real estate transaction.

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Did you know?Homebuyers who close with Federal Title can instantly save up to $750 on their closing costs.

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This site contains general information only and is not intended to be relied upon as, nor a substitute for, specific professional advice. We accept no responsibility for the loss occasioned to any purpose acting on or refraining from action as a result of any material in this site.

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