Housing starts slid further in June as rising construction costs weakened the market

Rising construction costs and a growing shortage of skilled labor contributed to housing starts falling further in June, according to the latest report from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the U.S. Department of Commerce. According to the analysis, housing starts fell 0.9% in June 2019 to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.253 million units.

July 17: MBA, national account jobs; comp, broker, compliance exam products; F&F changes; the Fed & rates

I encounter plenty of people in the mortgage biz, from part-time receptionists to owners, who are focused on helping consumers. It’s a good thing! And they ask me about consumer education. (“Have you ever heard of a class for anyone on home buying or the home loan process?”) One solution, and this is not a paid ad, is to invite them to set up a personalized (branded in your name, look/feel) financial locker through FinLocker, which currently houses over 140 consumer-facing videos and includes goal setting, budget planning and more. Shoot President Brian Vieaux an email to learn more. If it helps just one potential borrower or kid in school, or saves you from creating 140 videos, why not?

Employment

MBA is hiring an Assistant Director of Member Engagement to add to MBA’s dynamic engagement team. The incumbent develops, strengthens and manages personal relationships with executives at the Association’s member companies in order to maximize the value of their MBA membership and engagement. S/he coordinates and facilitates integration in delivering enhanced member value and provides comprehensive account management and support, connecting members to the MBA resources that meets their needs, from engaging on policy issues to leveraging MBA’s conferences, committees, networking groups, education, research and more. Contact Tricia Migliazzo if you have questions, otherwise you can apply here.

NEXA Mortgage is one of the nation’s fastest growing mortgage broker, leading the way out of retail with growth across the country. If you are a LO, BM, or TL, contact NEXA now to experience why brokering is better. Many of our LOs have doubled their production within the first 3 months due to NEXA’s solid support, compensation, underwriting (you don’t really believe brokers lose control), rates, products, leadership, marketing, technology, and processing (you will love our processing). Mark your calendars now to join our weekly WHY NEXA Zoom meeting, Thursday at 11am PST. Login on to NEXA Support and our support staff will place you in the meeting. If you can’t wait to learn more, login now and ask for Michael Neill (480-643-9161) or email Michael. Currently in 9 states, submitted in 14 more and will add any requested. NEXA Mortgage, the leader in WHY Brokering is Better!”

A leading mortgage technology company is seeking a National Account Manager with a proven track record of success in working with consumer direct lenders. The ideal candidate will have a minimum of 3+ years in selling B2B services and technology. You may work remote, so organization and accountability are a must. Frequent travel across the US to meet and present to potential clients as well as participate in trade show opportunities will be required.  Create and deliver effective presentations. Effectively manage pipeline, sales activity, and provide accurate forecasting. You must have a proven track record of success in a high-volume fast paced role. Previous experience in technology sales selling to financial institutions and C-Level executives. Pre-existing contacts in the mortgage and banking industry are a big plus. Send notes of interest to Anjelica Nixt.

Lender products & services

“The Customer Experience is critical. Today, everyone has been focused on the Digital revolution taking place within the mortgage life cycle. While speeding up cycle times and lowering costs are important, we must not lose sight of the key element that drives our business. The consumer, how do you lower costs while improving customer experience? That key focus is, ‘Why?’ Lenders and Servicers are partnering with Sutherland. Our Design and Innovation Labs in San Francisco are a customer’s centric think tank that allows us to uncover opportunities to increase our client’s business. Whether you’re trying to reduce withdrawal rates, increase portfolio retention or reduce call center volumes with Conversational AI, our focus is to pinpoint areas of improvement that keep your most precious asset, ‘the borrower.’ If interested in learning more, or obtaining a Whitepaper on how we recently helped a top 5 Lender, please contact Neil Armstrong (919-270-5324).”

Things are continuing to grow out on the farm! RuraLiving is expanding its Hobby Farm and Rural Resident programs in support of rural America. If you are looking to expand your business and markets, you should explore how RuraLiving programs might help your borrowers finance large acreage properties that do not qualify for conventional or USDA programs. Check out their lender update with their new additions to these unique programs.

Caliber Home Loans, Inc. continues to make Non-Agency loans more efficient and effortless for our business partners through innovations and technology. Caliber Smart Start is a game-changing tool that validates loan parameters against Caliber’s portfolio program guidelines with just a few clicks of a mouse. Smart Start also takes the guesswork out of processing and documenting the loan file. This free tool reduces uncertainty and allows you to expand your product offerings and turn your pipelines faster. Fire up your Non-Agency production today by visiting www.CaliberSmartStart.com.

Lenders Compliance Group posted an article on its Mortgage FAQs website titled

Compliance Management System – Exam Readiness. One of its subscribers was cited for a deficient compliance management program and asked for some urgent guidance. Jonathan Foxx, LCG’s Chairman, wrote a response that you should read. He lays out the dangers in not being prepared, provides a whole set of important questions for self-assessment, and, as a solution, offers the CMS Tune-up!™ – one of many “mini-audits” that the compliance firm has pioneered – which LCG says is cost-effective, done relatively quickly, and offers “actionable findings.” The article has links for presentations and appointments as well as for scheduling calls and audits. You can read the post HERE.

National mortgage lender, NewRez, recently announced the launch of Preferred Lending Services, LLC (“Preferred Lending Services”), a new Joint Venture mortgage company operating in the Greater Tampa, Florida region. Led by industry veteran Bob Klorer, Preferred Lending Services is the 13th Joint Venture to be established in the NewRez partnership network. “We are thrilled to formally expand our lending footprint throughout the state of Florida with the launch of Preferred Lending Services,” says Randy VandenHouten, SVP, Joint Venture & Retail Lending, NewRez. “Under Bob’s leadership, and backed by the strength and expertise of NewRez and Shelter Mortgage, Preferred Lending Services will prove to be a great asset to the Greater Tampa community.” For more information on the Shelter Mortgage Joint Venture platform, please contact Randy VandenHouten. To learn more about Preferred Lending Services, visit flpls.com.

“July 18th is National Mortgage Brokers Day, brought to you by Association of Independent Mortgage Experts (AIME). Why are we celebrating this day JUST for brokers – and why now? The age of millennial shifts the market towards a more economical versus emotional drive to purchase a home. After a 10-year industry lull, independent mortgage brokers began to rise back to the surface. In doing so, millennial home buyers realized the benefits of researching all of their options and started using brokers for their mortgage needs. This increased the independent mortgage broker share of the housing market from 8% to 15% in just a year and a half, according to data from Inside Mortgage Finance. This year, we’re bringing you a number of ways to get involved and help spread the word that #BrokersAreBetter. See how you can show your support this #NMBD on AIME’s National Mortgage Brokers Day event page.”

Growing your team is a great accomplishment that also multiplies the number and complexity of LO comp plans. After acquiring several banks and absorbing MB Financial Bank’s mortgage division in July 2018, Level One’s own mortgage team doubled in size, spurring the decision to move from manual, spreadsheet-based commission calculation to LBA Ware’s full-featured compensation management platform CompenSafe. Said Level One Bank Executive Vice President, Consumer Banking Officer, Timothy R. Mackay: “CompenSafe created significant efficiencies for our payroll department, saving countless hours of manual labor and eliminating the risk of human error. Additionally, it has improved compensation transparency with our loan originators who now have the ability to login and view their pipeline and payroll information at any time.” Get the full scoop on how Level One leveraged CompenSafe to scale up here.

Conventional conforming changes just don’t stop

Fannie Mae Announcement SEL 2019-06 outlines changes related to HomeReady® income limits, clarifies requirements for compliance with Office of Foreign Assets Control Regulations, simplifies requirements for signed IRS Form 4506-T, updates its definition of relocation loans and disaster policies reminders.

Wells Fargo Funding announced it will not purchase Freddie Mac CHOICERenovation Mortgages.

A recent Fannie Mae Servicing Guide update outlines its escrow waiver policy and clarifies requirements for compliance with Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) regulations.

Freddie Mac’s Guide Bulletin 2019-7, explains its revised requirements for Home Possible® mortgages to state that, effective July 3, occupying borrower(s) must not have an ownership interest in more than two financed residential properties, including the subject property, as of the note date (or as of the effective date of permanent financing for construction conversion and renovation mortgages).

Plaza offers a One Time Close (OTC) Construction-to-Permanent Conventional Loan Program through its Wholesale Lending Division. Instead of securing separate construction financing AND permanent financing, borrowers can combine them into one single transaction.

Capital markets

The Fed has publicly stated the concern with ongoing trade tensions weighing on business investment and slowing GDP growth, and easing would be consistent with the Fed making efforts to meet the price stability side of its mandate. But more accommodative policy would help support growth and hiring, putting pressure on remaining resource capacity in the economy and leading firms to raise prices. At issue for the FOMC is that slack is the part of the inflation equation that the committee can influence in the short term, but the undershoot in inflation remains centered in goods and services largely unaffected by slack. Prices in “acyclical” inflation categories have been running lower than cyclical areas in recent years, and are materially weaker compared to historic trends. Fed easing in the coming months should support higher inflation by driving the cyclically sensitive areas of inflation higher. With core inflation running below the FOMC’s target for almost all of the current cycle and inflation expectations drifting lower, the price stability side of the FOMC’s mandate needs all the help it can get. Yet, with acyclical inflation categories responsible for the bulk of the underperformance, rate cuts are unlikely to solve inflation’s persistent shortfall on their own. Look for core inflation to continue to run below 2 percent through the second half of the year, even as the Fed likely provides some additional policy support.

Fed Chairman Powell’s testimony before the House Committee on Financial Services left the markets expecting a rate cut on July 31st. Now the question becomes by how much? There has been discussion that the Fed may choose to go beyond the expected 25bps movement and cut by 50bps, however that may be too aggressive at this point. Most experts seem to believe the Fed will move 25bps this month and cut another 25bps later in the year depending on the prevailing economic conditions. Inflation data in June continued to be below the Fed’s target as the Producer Price Index over the previous twelve months was up 1.7 percent and the consumer price index was up 1.6 percent over the same period. The Fed does not want to see the economy enter a deflationary cycle given that consumer spending accounts for 70 percent of the economy. Combined with the other downside risks surrounding trade and slowing global growth the fed may feel the time is right to give the economy a little boost.

The treasury market took another hit yesterday, including the 10-year closing +3 bps to 2.12 percent following a stronger than expected economic release in the form of June Retail Sales, a recent trend that has seemingly diminished the prospect of a 50-bps rate cut at the July 30-31 FOMC meeting. Despite the largest YoY decline in June import prices in three years, President Trump saying we have a “long way to go” with China on trade (claiming he still has the option to impose tariffs on $325 billion worth of Chinese goods), and dovish-minded remarks from Fed Chair Powell and Chicago Fed President Evans in which both said the Fed will act as appropriate to sustain expansion (read: two potential rate cuts regardless of a China deal), Treasuries seemed to be propelled in slinky-like fashion as they rebounded from recent overselling.

Today began with Mortgage applications decreasing -1.1 percent for last week, according to data from the MBA Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey (adjusted for the Fourth of July holiday). Next up is housing starts and building permits for June (-.9% due to multifamily numbers, and -6.1% respectively), before the afternoon brings remarks from Kansas City Fed President George and the latest Beige Book. And looking at current conditions, Agency MBS prices are up a few ticks versus last night’s close and the 10-year is yielding 2.09%.

Overheard here in San Francisco. “I just watched a documentary on marijuana. I think all documentaries should be watched this way.”

Visit www.robchrisman.com for more information on our industry partners, access archived commentaries, or to subscribe to the Daily Mortgage News and Commentary. If you’re interested, visit my periodic blog at the STRATMOR Group web site. The current blog is, “Residential Lending, Banks, and Market Share.” If you have both the time and inclination, make a comment on what I have written, or on other comments so that folks can learn what’s going on out there from the other readers.

Rob

(Market data provided in partnership with MBS Live. For free job postings and to view candidate resumes visit LenderNews. Currently there are hundreds of mortgage professionals looking for operations, secondary and management roles. For up-to-date mortgage news visit Mortgage News Daily. For archived commentaries, or to subscribe, go to www.robchrisman.com. Copyright 2019 Chrisman LLC. All rights reserved. Occasional paid job listings do appear. This report or any portion hereof may not be reprinted, sold or redistributed without the written consent of Rob Chrisman.)

Homebuilder confidence rises slightly, but cost concerns threaten future growth

Although homebuilder confidence inched forward one point to 65 in July, many builders still report rising construction costs as a major cause of concern, according to the National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index. NAHB Chief Economist Robert Dietz said while the current low mortgage interest rate environment should be getting more buyers off the sidelines, they remain hesitant due to affordability concerns.

July 16: AMCs wanted; rehab, U/W, training, non-QM, marketing products; Ginnie’s growth

Although lots of small lenders don’t seem interested in being acquired any longer (“Hey, our pipeline is full and we’re making money again!), M&A is alive and well. The latest example comes from Southern California where William Lyon Homes (NYSE: WLH) has bought South Pacific Financial Corp., a retail mortgage banking company based in Irvine. South Pacific has been rebranded as ClosingMark Homes Loans Inc., and is part of a new financial services division being launched by the homebuilder. The unit, ClosingMark Financial Group, will include title insurance, settlement and mortgage services.

Jobs & franchises

AMCs and Title Companies: Due to continued growth, Accurate Group is looking to acquire appraisal management and title/closing businesses throughout the U.S., with particular emphasis in the Western U.S. By becoming part of Accurate Group, your teams will gain access to the latest digital and mobile technologies and be on the leading-edge of revolutionizing real estate lending processes. Please contact Paul Doman to learn about Accurate Group’s approach to acquisitive growth.

Are you tired of managing a corporate P&L? Then maybe it’s time to start managing your own instead. Introducing Motto Franchising, LLC, the very first national franchised mortgage brokerage network in the U.S. When you join the Motto Mortgage network, you have the freedom and flexibility to run your own business while taking advantage of an out-of-the-box mortgage company solution. We even streamline the process of starting a new business by providing a strong wholesale lender mix, franchisee setup support, LOS training, licensing assistance, marketing tools and more. It’s time to manage your future, on your terms. To learn more on how this innovative model is breaking the mold, contact our team (866.668.8649).

Lender products and services

As a lending manager, the winding down of home-buying season is the perfect time to re-evaluate your process and determine how technology can help unlock the potential of your business. Taking a step back to look at what you’ve accomplished this home-buying season and how you can improve next time around is crucial for meaningful year-over-year growth. Whether it’s improving your borrower experience, lifting referrals, or increasing back-office efficiencies, digital mortgage providers like Maxwell are an impactful way to push your business forward. Today, Maxwell has 150+ retail-focused lenders on the platform that enjoy increased efficiency — closing loans 45% faster than the national average — and elevated borrower experience, seeing customer satisfaction increase as high as 25%. To experience Maxwell, click here and set up time for your customized demo. It’s not too early to start planning for 2020!

MortgageFlex Systems a leading industry LOS provider announced its successful integration of MortgageHippo, a borrower-centric digital lending platform with CU Home Mortgage Solutions (CUHMS). MortgageFlex realized MortgageHippo was an efficient solution because of its ability to improve automation, adapt to the lenders look and feel, and support lender strategies. By utilizing open API’s, the integration was seamless. MortgageFlex and MortgageHippo align on the same values and mission to exceed customers’ expectations. Both organizations strive to deliver a smooth digital experience across multiple channels of lending. Now, MortgageFlex and MortgageHippo are expanding their relationship to offer a bundled cost solution. “The focus of many lenders is to establish a POS presence that will improve the quality of originations and level of customer service,” COO of MortgageFlex, Craig Bechtle said. “By creating an industry-leading integration between MortgageFlexONE and MortgageHippo, we were able to provide CUHMS, a seamless transition between POS and LOS.”

Verus Mortgage Capital, the industry’s premier non-QM investor, helps lenders reach responsible borrowers like the self-employed, foreign nationals and real estate investors who don’t fit traditional credit profiles. Grow your customer base, your margins, and your loan offerings. Learn more about Verus’ correspondent lending opportunities at CMBA’s 47th annual Western Secondary Market Conference July 15-17. Email Jeff Schaefer to schedule an on-site meeting.

Calling all Marketing Managers: How difficult is it to produce compliant marketing that is targeted, localized, and customizable… while meeting your Loan Officer’s deadlines? Usherpa’s custom marketing portal – Launch Pad – was designed for corporate marketing teams so you can design and send materials that align with your unique company vision and brand strategies all in one place. Effortlessly build a library of collateral that is directly linked to all your LO’s databases and integrated with your Loan Origination System. Why switch between multiple systems to build content on demand when you can seamlessly design marketing campaigns within Usherpa CRM? Launch Pad is your one-stop-shop to getting the right messages out at the right time. Don’t hesitate! Learn how Usherpa’s HTML email wizard leverages your efforts while saving an impressive amount of time.

“Just like summer, XINNIX has a deal that won’t last forever! We are providing exceptional Summer Savings to help your referral business grow with two outstanding one-hour classes for one great low price. “Exceeding Realtor Expectations” and “Powerful Presentations” are the perfect combination that will help your business thrive this summer and beyond. Through July, both classes (valued at $498) are being offered together for the low price of $299. Don’t delay! This offer ends on August 1. Register today for our August classes and watch your production grow all season long. For more information about The XINNIX System of performance training, accountability, and coaching, visit our website or click to schedule a call with one of our Account Executives.”

The key to success is to start looking into opportunities to expand your business. As a leading investor in the industry, TMS offers a suite of rehabilitation loan products to maximize your loan offerings. It is currently running a pricing special on FNMA Homestyle, FHA 203k and USDA Combo CTP Pilot loans. Reach out to your TMS CAREspondent VP or sign up to partner with TMS today to learn more.

Simplify your underwriting process with Loan Product Advisorasset and income modeler (AIM). Through the expertise of third-party service providers, AIM automates the manual processes of assessing borrower assets and income. AIM reduces the burden of traditional documentation, speeds up the loan origination process and helps you close loans faster. Freddie Mac is working hard to bring you solutions that create efficiencies for your business and improve the borrower experience – giving you a competitive edge. These capabilities are available now. Gain greater efficiency in your underwriting processes with AIM– get The Freddie EdgeSM.

Capital markets

Here at the Western Secondary in San Francisco some of the folks were talking about how Ginnie Mae securities (primarily GNIIs, composed of government loans) traded poorly in the selloff amid heightened concerns about more supply following last week’s passage in the House of two bills impacting FHA and VA loans. Investors in mortgages, and mortgage-backed securities, are keenly interested in watching prepayment speeds. Who in their right mind would want to pay 105 (a premium of five points, like paying $105,000 to own the cash flow from a $100,000 mortgage) if it is going to pay off in six months and return $100,000? The exposure of Ginnie, Freddie, and Fannie pools of mortgages are driven by rates and broker exposure. Experts think prepayments, aka “speeds,” will increase this month due to lower rates. But there are other things lenders should know about what is pushing rates and prices around these days.

Ginnie Mae announced that issuance of its mortgage-backed securities (MBS) totaled $44.217 billion in June, the highest since December 2016. A breakdown of June issuance includes $42.785 billion of Ginnie Mae II MBS and $1.432 billion of Ginnie Mae I MBS, which includes $1.014 billion of loans for multifamily housing. Ginnie Mae’s total outstanding principal balance of $2.076 trillion is an increase from $1.971 trillion in June 2018. For more information on monthly MBS issuance, UPB balance, REMIC monthly issuance and global market analysis, visit Ginnie Mae Disclosure.

Credit is the lifeblood of the economy, and it continues to flow, as corporate bond issuance has picked up, and growth in bank credit remains solid. Financial markets encountered a significant amount of volatility at the end of 2018. Not only were there signs of slower global growth, but markets witnessed the Fed tightening monetary policy further, escalating trade tensions with China, a U.S. stock market swoon, and yield spreads on corporate bonds, especially on high-yield corporate bonds, widening noticeably. Tighter financial conditions, if maintained, can lead to slower economic growth, if not to outright economic contraction. Furthermore, new issuance in the corporate bond market slowed to a trickle at the end of last year as there was only $12 billion of new investment grade bonds brought to market in December. There was no new issuance in the high yield market that month, which normally slows toward the end of the year, but December’s outturn was the lowest monthly total in at least 18 years. Corporate bonds are vitally important to the financing of the non-financial corporate sector as they account for two-thirds of its outstanding debt. Activity in the corporate sector could come to a screeching halt if the corporate bond markets remain essentially closed for an extended period of time.

But financial conditions have eased markedly thus far in 2019. Not only has the stock market rebounded, but corporate bond spreads have receded in recent weeks. In addition, new issuance in the corporate bond market has picked up noticeably in the new year. In January, there was $117 billion of investment grade bonds and $17 billion of high yield bonds that were brought to market. The $134 billion of total corporate bond issuance in January was above the average monthly run rate of 2018. Bond issuance may be important for large and some medium-sized businesses, but smaller enterprises rely on bank financing. In that regard, growth in bank credit has strengthened in recent months. Total bank credit was up 5.0% YoY in the week ending January 23, more than a full percentage point higher than just a few months previously. Commercial and industrial loans were up 11.0% relative to the same period in 2018. If there is a weakness in bank credit, it is in real estate loans, which are up only 2.9% on a year-ago basis. In summary, financial markets have bounced back this year, with volatility subsiding and credit continuing to flow to the non-financial sector. Solid growth in credit at present reinforces the conviction that U.S. economic growth will remain resilient in 2019, albeit a bit slower than last year.

Last week we saw that June’s strong payrolls did nothing to change the outlook of the Federal Reserve regarding its economic outlook and the expectations for a rate cut at the end of July. Global economic trade winds as well as deteriorating fundamentals should be enough to compel the members of the FOMC to cut rates as an insurance measure to aid continued economic expansion. At his recent semiannual testimony before Congress, Fed Chair Powell was candid in his assessment that he does not consider labor market as being hot and that it has room to continue to attract people back into the workforce as well as the potential to boost wages. Although as we’ve seen, wage grown has been anemic throughout the expansion. On the other side of the Fed’s dual mandate, inflation continues to remain below the Fed’s target despite recent price index data showing small upticks. Part of the reasoning behind a rate cut is also to bring inflation up to the Fed’s desired levels.

Turning to yesterday’s bond market, which drive mortgage prices, U.S. Treasuries began the week quietly, closing -1 bp to -2 bps across the curve, including the 10-year -1 bp to 2.09 percent on no notable domestic news, though China’s growth figures for Q2 showed the slowest growth rate in nearly three decades. That slowing was expected, and speaking of expectations, Fitch Ratings expects the FOMC to cut the fed funds rate just one time this year. And from Europe, Germany’s Economy Ministry showed that growth weakened in Q2 while manufacturing remained sluggish in its latest monthly report.

Today is much more interesting as far as markets are concerned, with several first-tier releases. We’ve already had earnings reports from JP Morgan, Wells Fargo, and Goldman Sachs, as well as June retail sales (+.7%) and import / export prices (-.9%, -.7% respectively). Ahead are Redbook same-store sales for the week ending July 13, June industrial production and capacity utilization, May Business inventories, the NAHB Housing Market Index, and May TIC data. There are also several Fed speakers during the session to provide further rate cut clarity, including Governor Bowman, Atlanta’s Bostic, Dallas’ Kaplan, Chicago’s Evans, and Chair Powell. The Fed will also publish the minutes from the recent discount rate meetings. But we begin the day with Agency MBS prices worse .125 and the 10-year yielding 2.11%.

Overheard here in San Francisco at the Western Secondary. “I bought shoes from a drug dealer once. I don’t know what he laced them with but I was tripping all day.”

Visit www.robchrisman.com for more information on our industry partners, access archived commentaries, or to subscribe to the Daily Mortgage News and Commentary. If you’re interested, visit my periodic blog at the STRATMOR Group web site. The current blog is, “Residential Lending, Banks, and Market Share.” If you have both the time and inclination, make a comment on what I have written, or on other comments so that folks can learn what’s going on out there from the other readers.

Rob

(Market data provided in partnership with MBS Live. For free job postings and to view candidate resumes visit LenderNews. Currently there are hundreds of mortgage professionals looking for operations, secondary and management roles. For up-to-date mortgage news visit Mortgage News Daily. For archived commentaries, or to subscribe, go to www.robchrisman.com. Copyright 2019 Chrisman LLC. All rights reserved. Occasional paid job listings do appear. This report or any portion hereof may not be reprinted, sold or redistributed without the written consent of Rob Chrisman.)

Buyer, Beware: Is Your Future House Haunted?

We’ve all heard home-buying horror stories. Sellers backing out or financing falling through can quickly kill a deal. But these snags don’t hold a candle to buying a “stigmatized” home.

A home where paranormal activity, suicide, murder, cult activity or other misfortunes and crimes took place could be categorized as a stigmatized property.

In real estate terms, a stigma refers to an intangible attribute of a property that may prompt a psychological or emotional response on the part of a potential buyer. In addition to physical defects, a house may have unusual features or a history that negatively impacts its value.

Get to know your state’s disclosure laws

Here’s a scary fact: A listing agent may not be required to disclose a stigma to buyers.

Ever heard the phrase “caveat emptor” (let the buyer beware)? In the past, sellers were not required to disclose anything about homes they were selling. Over the years, most states have made changes to this rule and now require that buyers be made aware of certain issues.

The law urges buyers, sellers and their agents to engage in fair and honest dealing with all principals in the real estate transaction. However, the laws that regulate disclosure of sketchy events vary from state to state. Some state laws explicitly relieve the salesperson or broker of the obligation to disclose certain property stigmas.

For instance, what if a house is haunted? Massachusetts is particularly lax when it comes to stigmas. In the witch city of Salem, a seller’s agent does not necessarily need to volunteer information about paranormal activity or even a felony, suicide or homicide that has occurred in a home.

But if you or your agent asks a seller’s agent directly, they must answer truthfully. This differs from California’s stringent laws, which, in addition to other disclosures, mandate that buyers be informed of any deaths that occurred at a property in the last three years.

While it’s certainly ethical for sellers to be upfront about any defects that may impact the value of a property, it may not be a legal requirement.

Research before you fall in love

Since you’re unlikely to find the descriptors “haunted” or “former crime scene” in a property listing, how should you go about digging up some dirt?

  • Check with a real estate attorney in your state to see what disclosures are required.
  • Ask the seller’s representative if criminal or paranormal activity has been reported. Again, sellers and their agents are legally obligated to reveal problems they’re aware of when asked.
  • Carefully review the seller’s disclosures, if one is included with the listing. In many states, property owners are forced to put their real estate disclosures in writing.
  • Get the inside scoop from the neighbors.
  • Always Google the address of your future home. You may uncover a headline that sways your decision.

You may learn that a former owner passed away in the house. In areas with older properties, this is likely going to be the case, though it may not be cause for concern. Someone peacefully passing away in the comfort of their home is a lot different from a situation that involved foul play.

Related:

  • Tenant Troubles: Who Is Responsible for Problems in Your Rental?
  • 3 Things You Should Know About Preliminary Title Reports
  • What You Need to Know About the Fair Housing Act

3 Simple DIY Driveway Ideas

A DIY driveway can be an easy want to add parking or improve the look of your home. Here are three relatively simple options.

1. Carve out a parking pad

The easiest, most affordable way to get an extra parking space is to clear out some grass and throw down mulch. It works fine, looks good and can be done in a day.

But beware: Mulch isn’t a permanent solution. Mulch breaks down over time, floats away in a heavy rain and fades in the sun. Over time, you may end up spending more money sprucing up the mulch than you would have pouring concrete in the first place.

Be sure to use a store-bought landscape barrier, or even lay down newspaper to prevent weeds.

If mulch seems too temporary, consider other loose materials like gravel, stones or crushed oyster shells.

2. Build a DIY driveway with pavers

A more solid parking option is a concrete or brick paver driveway. It can be installed either professionally or DIY. Thousands of videos online show the steps and all the tricks of the trade. It’s really quite simple:

  1. Excavate the area to be paved.
  2. Install a base material, such as crushed concrete, at a thickness of a few inches.
  3. Pack down the base material with a compactor, making sure to slope it as desired.
  4. Install a thin layer of sand on top of the base material.
  5. Install paver blocks on the sand layer, laying them in place in the pattern of your choice.
  6. Install a border row of bricks along the edges, and back that row with a poured concrete edge restraint, which will keep things from moving outward.
  7. Put another layer of sand on top of the finished surface and broom it into the joints between the bricks.

When installed properly, a paver driveway can last for decades.

3. Go with classic concrete

Finally, there is the tried-and-true concrete driveway. There’s a reason concrete is still the most common driveway product in the world: It looks good, doesn’t cost a fortune and lasts a very long time.

There are fewer steps to pouring a concrete parking area than there is to installing pavers, but it’s not quite as beginner-friendly. If you’ve never poured concrete before, it’s a good idea to start with a smaller area, such as a sidewalk, before tackling a large area.

Related:

  • Sealing and Insulating Your Ductwork
  • How to Fix Ceiling Water Stains
  • How to Replace a Ceiling Fan