5 things to know about your home loan's good-faith estimate

Knowing how to read your good-faith estimate can help you save money on your home loan.

When you're shopping for a mortgage loan, it's sometimes hard to understand the jargon lenders use in the good-faith estimate explaining the costs and fees you'll pay when taking out a mortgage.

escrow papers (photo tip #3)
Via Flickr: billaday
When you apply for a mortgage, the lender has three days to give you a good-faith estimate of the fees and interest rate you'll pay, as well as other loan terms. Here are five tips for using the new three-page form to your advantage.

When you apply for a mortgage, the lender has three days to give you a good-faith estimate of the fees and interest rate you'll pay, as well as other loan terms. Here are five tips for using the new three-page form to your advantage.

Know which fees can increase and by how much
In the past, lenders provided an estimate of the costs involved in getting your home loan, and if those costs rose by the time you closed on your home, tough luck. The good-faith estimate shows some fees the lender can't change, like the loan origination fee that you pay to get a certain interest rate (commonly called points) and transfer costs.

The form also lists the charges that can increase by up to 10%, like some title company fees and local government recording fees. The lender must cover any increase over that amount.

Finally, the good-faith estimate lists the fees that can change without any limit, such as daily interest charges.

Look for answers to basic loan questions
In the summary section, lenders explain your loan's terms in simple language. Can your interest rate rise? If so, a lender must spell out how much the rate can jump and what your new payment would be if it does. Can the amount you owe the lender increase, even if you make your payments on time? If it can, a lender must show you the potential increase.

Evaluate the "tradeoffs" on a loan

In the new "tradeoff table," you can ask lenders to provide details on the tradeoffs you can make in choosing among home loans. If you'd like the same loan with lower settlement charges, how will the interest rate change? If you'd like a lower interest rate, how much will your settlement charges increase?

Home maintenance provides enduring value

19/52: the homeowner
Via Flickr: Inger Klekacz
Regular home maintenance is key to preserving the value of your house and property.

If you think home maintenance is an unavoidable series of weekend-eating chores, remember the age-old advice of Benjamin Franklin: "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."

The fact is, proactive maintenance is essential to preserving the value of your home-without it, your home could lose 10% of its value. Regular, routine maintenance enhances curb appeal, ensures safety, and prevents neglected upkeep from turning into costly major repairs.

"It's the little things that tend to trip up people," says Frank Lesh, former president of the American Society of Home Inspectors and owner of Home Sweet Home Inspection Co. in Chicago. "Some cracked caulk around the windows, or maybe a furnace filter that hasn't been changed in awhile. It may not seem like much, but behind that caulk, water could get into your sheathing, causing mold and rot. Before you know it, you're looking at a $5,000 repair that could have been prevented by a $4 tube of caulk and a half hour of your time."

Maintenance affects property value

Outright damage to your house is just one of the consequences of neglected maintenance. Without regular upkeep, overall property values are affected.

"If a house is in worn condition and shows a lack of preventative maintenance, the property could easily lose 10% of its appraised value," says Mack Strickland, a professional appraiser and real estate agent in Chester, Va. "That could translate into a $15,000 or $20,000 adjustment."

In addition, a house with chipped, fading paint, sagging gutters, and worn carpeting faces an uphill battle when it comes time to sell. Not only is it at a disadvantage in comparison with other similar homes that might be for sale in the neighborhood, but a shaggy appearance is bound to turn off prospective buyers and depress the selling price.

"It's simple marketing principles," says Strickland. "First impressions mean a lot to price support."

Prolonging economic age

To a professional appraiser, diligent maintenance doesn't translate into higher property valuations the way that improvements, upgrades, and appreciation all increase a home's worth. But good maintenance does affect an appraiser's estimate of a property's economic age-the number of years that a house is expected to survive.

Economic age is a key factor in helping appraisers determine depreciation-the rate at which a house is losing value. A well-maintained house with a long, healthy economic age depreciates at a much slower rate than a poorly maintained house, helping to preserve value.

Estimating the value of maintenance

Although professional appraisers don't assign a positive value to home maintenance, there are indications that maintenance is not just about preventing little problems from becoming larger. A study by researchers at the University of Connecticut and Syracuse University suggests that maintenance actually increases the value of a house by about 1% each year, meaning that getting off the couch and heading outside with a caulking gun is more than simply a chore-it actually makes money.

"It's like going to the gym," says Dr. John P. Harding, Professor of Finance & Real Estate at UConn's School of Business and an author of the study. "You have to put in the effort to see the results. In that respect, people and houses are somewhat similar-the older (they are), the more work is needed."

Harding notes that the 1% gain in valuation usually is offset by the ongoing cost of maintenance. "Simply put," he says, "maintenance costs money, so it's probably best to say that the net effect of regular maintenance is to slow the rate of depreciation."

Happy 38th Anniversary RE/MAX

I'm happy to say that my company, RE/MAX, is celebrating its 38th anniversary and a year of significant success despite a challenging housing market.

As a newer member to the RE/MAX family, I have had the opportunity to watch this national company's success evolve over time. This month, RE/MAX and its Co-Founders, Dave and Gail Liniger, celebrate a year of remarkable achievements and Founder’s Day, the day RE/MAX was created.

In 2010, RE/MAX worldwide franchise sales were up nearly 30 percent from the previous year and RE/MAX agents were ranked the most productive in the industry by two notable industry surveys.

That's good news for my clients. It means you can partner with us confident that your housing needs, whether buying, selling or investing, will be handled professionally and efficiently backed by years of expertise.