We Want a Diverse Area With Moderate Population, Warm, Beach and Culture—So Where Should We Retire?

Gulfport, FLCourtesy Visit St. Pete/Clearwater

Dear MarketWatch,

We are African-Americans and want to retire to a diverse area with moderate population, warm, beach, culture. We can afford a better-than-average lifestyle and want to feel accepted in our new community — hopefully somewhere with high walkability and homes with character. And maybe near a major airport…. for lots of traveling.

Let me know what you come up with. Thanks.

— Jennifer

Dear Jennifer,

We all know there are plenty of beach towns in the U.S., but finding one with personality is a bigger challenge.

I’m going to leave out some obvious places, like Miami Beach and, though less diverse, Hilton Head. On the West Coast, no Southern California. Too obvious. Plus, while you can afford a better-than average lifestyle, home prices there are so high that they could hamper your travel budget. The same goes for Sag Harbor and the Hamptons more broadly (plus you’d still have winter on Long Island).

Instead, I’ll look for some off-the-beaten path possibilities. I’m sure readers will have their own suggestions.

As always, explore the area in all seasons, and be realistic about the retirement budget. When you find your dream place, ask which areas are susceptible to flooding during hurricanes and other storms.

A street in the historic district of Wilmington, NC
A street in the historic district of Wilmington, NC

Courtesy Wilmington and Beaches Convention & Visitors Bureau

The Atlantic: Wilmington, North Carolina

Check out the Cape Fear region, which includes Wilmington as well as beach towns like Carolina Beach and the more upscale Wrightsville Beach.

Wilmington is growing quickly and at 123,000 people has more than half of New Hanover County’s population. The share of those 65 and older are roughly in line with the U.S. average. Look for a place where you’ll catch a breeze off the Intracoastal Waterway or the ocean to counter the summer humidity — so not too far inland.

You’ll have no shortage of cultural offerings, starting with Thalian Hall, the Cameron Art Museum and the Wilson Center. The University of North Carolina Wilmington, which has 17,000 students, lets those 65 and older audit classes for free, while its Osher Lifelong Learning Institute offers shorter courses to those 50 and older.

Be sure to explore the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor, which stretches from Wilmington to Jacksonville, Fla., and is home to cultural groups descended from enslaved peoples from West and Central Africa. Poplar Grove Plantation is one local site.

Winter days get into the 50s, with average lows in the 40s. Average highs in July are in the 80s.

Here’s what’s on the housing market now in Wilmington and in New Hanover County using Realtor.com (which, like MarketWatch, is owned by News Corp.).

As for travel, while Wilmington has an airport, you’ll have more choices flying from Raleigh two hours away.

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Gulfport, FL, is next to St. Petersburg.
Gulfport, FL, is next to St. Petersburg.

Courtesy Visit St. Pete/Clearwater

The Gulf of Mexico: Gulfport, Florida

Florida’s popularity with retirees is no secret, in part because it’s affordable and has no state income tax. But all too often, home means living in a high rise or a gated community.

Gulfport, though, is described as how Key West was before it became overrun with tourists.

This town of 12,000, just west of St. Petersburg, is your artsy, funky, walkable spot in the middle of the Tampa Bay metro area and its 3 million people. You’ll also find plenty of retirees; 30% of Gulfport’s residents are 65 or older.

Gulfport comes with sunset views from its own (man-made) strip of sand over Boca Ciega Bay so, yes, it’s on the Gulf side of Florida but technically not on the Gulf of Mexico. But opposite the bay is St. Pete Beach, which gets raves from TripAdvisor (a local says head to the Pass-A-Grille section at the southern tip). When you tire of that, there are more white-sand beaches to sink your toes in, including Siesta Beach in Sarasota an hour south (and Dr. Beach’s pick in 2017 for best beach in the U.S.) as well as Caladesi Island State Park (No. 6 on Dr. Beach’s list this year) an hour north.

And if you just want to walk, don’t overlook the 45-mile Pinellas Trail that stretches from St. Petersburg to Tarpon Springs and goes through the northern edge of Gulfport.

For bigger getaways, there’s Tampa International Airport.

To get a sense of the local housing market, here’s what’s for sale now, again using Realtor.com.

As you explore the Tampa area, also check out Safety Harbor, a town of 18,000 on the western side of Tampa Bay with its own walkable downtown, and Dunedin (pronounced Duh-nee-din) north of Clearwater that’s also popular with retirees. You know there’s plenty of cultural offerings in a metro this size. One that might be easy to overlook: the Dr. Carter G. Woodson African-American Museum in St. Petersburg.

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Waikiki, Honolulu, Hawaii
Overlooking Waikiki Beach

Christopher Ball/iStock

The Pacific: Oahu, Hawaii

If year-round pleasant weather is the priority, Hawaii can’t be beat. Average highs are in the 80s year-round, and average lows bottom out in the mid-60s. Of course there’s no shortage of beautiful beaches.

When you tire of water, take advantage of wonderful hiking opportunities. And while the focus of your international travels might shift toward Asia, you may want to spend more time just staying, discovering Hawaiian culture and exploring some of the national parks.

You admittedly won’t find a big population of African-Americans here, but Hawaiians have a much more open and fluid view of race and diversity than many of us on the mainland.

Start your search for your retirement life on Oahu Island. About a third of the island’s million residents live in Honolulu itself, one of the country’s most diverse and affluent cities and the birthplace of President Barack Obama. Curious about sites associated with him in some way? Here are even more.

You’ll find plenty of cultural offerings in Honolulu (including some of Hawaii’s best festivals, as voted by readers of Hawai’i Magazine), plus the state university (those 60 and older can audit classes for free).

There’s even Costco, if that’s your thing. Oh, and that Elvis statue…

Yes, there’s the cost of getting everything to Hawaii — some things will be even more expensive than parts of California. Here’s what the local housing market looks like.

If Honolulu is too pricey, consider some of the smaller towns on the island. Or check out the less-populated (and cheaper) Big Island, also known as Hawaii Island. Start with the Kalaoa area.

The post We Want a Diverse Area With Moderate Population, Warm, Beach and Culture—So Where Should We Retire? appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights | realtor.com®.

Source: realtor.com

Why Does My Mortgage Keep Getting Sold?

marchmeena29/Getty Images

A letter arrives in the mail and tells you your mortgage has been sold. It also informs you to send your monthly payments to a new address. Don’t panic! This happens all the time, and you shouldn’t see many (if any) changes.

“I would say probably 30% to 50% of the time [borrowers are] going to eventually end up mailing their payments somewhere else different from when they first originated it,” says Rocke Andrews, president of the National Association of Mortgage Brokers.

So why does your mortgage get sold—and why can it happen multiple times? Banks and mortgage servicers constantly check the numbers to find a way to make a buck on your big loan. It all takes place behind the scenes, and you find out the result only when you get that aforementioned letter in the mail.

What does a mortgage being sold mean for homeowners?

The short version: When a loan is sold, the terms of that loan don’t change. But where a mortgage-holder submits payment and receives customer service may change as the loan gets sold. And that could affect a few things.

“The level of service that you receive may vary depending upon who the servicer is,” Andrews says. “Certain servicers might offshore a lot of that [work]. So when you would call into servicing you could get a call center in India or over in Asia somewhere and people were less than knowledgeable about the product.”

But service issues that lead to frustration are the exception, not the rule, says Andrews. “Most [consumers] don’t deal with the servicers that much, they just send in a payment and things are happy.”

The new servicer might offer different payment options and may have different fees associated with payment types, so be sure to check any auto payment or bill pay functions you’ve set up.

The basics of mortgage servicing

To understand why mortgages are sold, it’s important to understand some basics.

First, when you take out a mortgage to buy a home, a lender approves your loan and you make payments to a loan servicer. Sometimes, the servicer and the lender are one and the same. More often, they’re not.

The servicer “collects the payment and disburses it out,” Andrews says. “They distribute the payment to the investors, [send] property taxes to the local taxing entity, and [pay] homeowners insurance. They are taking care of all the payments coming in and getting them distributed to the people they belong to.”

Andrews says a small portion of the interest you pay on a loan—often a quarter of a percent—goes to the servicer.

“Typically servicing is a labor-intensive business—there are only five or six servicers [nationwide] that probably handle 75% to 80% of all the mortgages in the United States,” Andrews explains. Major players include Chase, Wells Fargo, Citibank, Freedom, and Mr. Cooper. Some of these companies service the loans they originate.

Servicers can sell your mortgage

Lenders can enter agreements with servicers to purchase batches of loan servicing. Or lenders may shop around for a servicer if they’re carrying too many loans on their books.

Servicers are interested in buying loans in order to sell other products to their new-found customers. Andrews uses an example of a big bank that can then attempt to sell retirement funds, credit cards, or other profitable financial product to customers they had no prior relationship with.

Many lenders originate loans, and then proceed to sell off the servicing or the loan itself. If the servicer changes, the customer must receive a notification. There will be a grace period in case a borrower accidentally sends payment to the wrong place.

Lenders often sell the loans to financiers as a mortgage-backed security for investors or to government-sponsored entities like Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and Ginnie Mae.

So why does my mortgage get sold?

Loan servicers are businesses in search of a profit. Andrews says the value of the servicing depends on two main factors:

  • Whether a borrower pays on time or not
  • How long the borrower will be paying

If a servicer receives a quarter percent for servicing a 30-year mortgage, a consumer who pays steadily for the life of the loan is more valuable  than a borrower who opts for a refinance within a few years.

Keep in mind: During a refinance, the new loan pays off the old loan, and new terms are set. So if a servicer was expecting to earn a quarter of a percent over 30 years and the borrower refinances after only five years, the servicer gets the share for five years as opposed to 30.

For example, if you have a $100,000 loan at 4% for 30 years, you’d pay about $70,000 in interest over the life of the loan. However, the lender would need to wait a full 30 years to make that full $70,000. In hopes of a quicker profit, lenders will often sell the loan.

If servicing a loan costs more than the money it brings in, lenders may attempt to sell the servicing of it to lower their costs. The lender may also sell the loan itself to free up money in order to make more loans.

Loan servicers have another consideration in play. They need to pay investors who buy mortgage-backed securities—even if a consumer with a mortgage can’t make payments or is in forbearance.

“The downside to forbearance is the servicing company has to make your payment for you,” Andrews says. “That’s why we’re running into problems.”

With millions of homeowners asking for forbearance, Andrews predicts more mortgages will be sold.

Can I state that I don’t want my mortgage sold?

Somewhere in the terms and conditions of your mortgage paperwork, it likely says your mortgage can be sold. Andrews says there is really no way to keep it from happening.

The trade-off for the odd behind-the-scenes shuffling of your mortgage is a lower interest rate for you—the all-important borrower.

“It’s just part of making the entire mortgage industry safer, more liquid,” Andrews says. “Back in the old days you would go to the bank and make your payment at the bank.” The rates depended on how much money the bank had and the area economy.

But instead of the bygone days of interacting with the local banker, nationwide competition for your borrowing needs has been unlocked.

“By nationalizing the mortgage market, you provide lower rates and better options to the consumer,” says Andrews.

The post Why Does My Mortgage Keep Getting Sold? appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights | realtor.com®.

Source: realtor.com

What This Military Family Faced—and Fought—To Buy Its First House

first time home buyerNatalie Johnson

First-time home buyers today face a tough road, shopping for homes during a pandemic, high housing prices, and deep economic uncertainty. For military families deployed overseas, it’s all even trickier to figure out.

In this second story in our new series “First-Time Home Buyer Confessions,” we talked with husband and wife Kyle LaVallee and Natalie Johnson. They were renting an apartment in Fayetteville, NC, when they decided to start shopping for their own home in the area in April.

At the time, LaVallee was stationed in the Middle East as a sergeant in the U.S. Army. Yet even though he was thousands of miles away, he managed to attend every home tour with Johnson via FaceTime. In July, they closed on a brick, ranch-style three-bedroom that LaVallee would not see in person until a long-awaited trip home in October.

Here’s the couple’s home-buying story, the hardest challenges they faced, and what LaVallee thought of his new house once he home managed to lay eyes on it for the first time.

Location: Fayetteville, NC

House specs: 1,166 square feet, 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms
List price: $111,900
Price paid: $115,000

A pandemic plus deployment seems like a tough time to buy your first house. What convinced you to forge ahead?

Johnson: Kyle was deployed in October 2019 while we were renting a one-bedroom apartment in Fayetteville. Kyle wasn’t fond of renewing the apartment lease—we had been there for two years and were running out of space. We wanted to get a dog; we wanted a yard, and our own property where we can do anything we wanted.

We started educating ourselves on the process. We knew a mortgage was going to be significantly less than what we were paying in rent. Kyle thought it would be smart to buy because [nearby] Fort Bragg is one of the biggest military bases in the world. If we ever leave or get stationed somewhere else, we’re not going to have a problem finding anyone to rent it. And we could always come back.

Kyle LaVallee and Natalie Johnson at one of their favorite hangouts in Fayetteville, where they’ve decided to put down roots

Natalie Johnson

LaVallee: I was interested in gaining equity and ownership, rather than just paying to rent something I’d never own in the end.

Johnson: We started looking at houses back in January. In April, we kept seeing information about lowering interest rates. That’s why we got serious about the process in the middle of the pandemic, and when we connected with our real estate agent, Justin Kirk with Century 21.

How much did you put down on the house—and how’d you save for it?

Johnson: We put 20% down.

LaVallee: I was making a lot of money while I was deployed, and I had no expenses really. I was just saving everything I had, knowing I wanted to invest it in a house.

Johnson: I cut spending. I didn’t buy things I wanted, just what I needed. The pandemic helped a lot, honestly because we obviously couldn’t go out.

LaVallee: We qualified for a VA loan, but we just wound up using a conventional loan. Most people in the military will use a VA loan where you don’t put any money down, but [since we had enough saved] we wanted the lowest monthly mortgage payments.

first time home buyer
LaVallee and Johnson on LaVallee’s first morning in the new house after coming home from deployment

Natalie Johnson

What were you looking for in a house?

LaVallee: We knew we might [eventually] be moving, so it wasn’t like it had to be a house we would stay in forever, more of an investment property.

Johnson: We were looking for things that would be attractive to future renters. We had a military family in mind because Fayetteville’s got more than 50,000 active-duty. We looked for a location close to a Fort Bragg entrance. We thought three bedrooms was perfect for us because our families are close with each other, so they’ll all come down at the same time so we’ll have two extra bedrooms for them. Kyle really wanted a garage, so that was a huge thing.

LaVallee: Garages aren’t very common down here, so that limited a lot of options for us. A lot of houses have carports, or they finish the garage and turn it into a bonus room.

Johnson: We wanted something that needed a bit of fixing up, because we like to be handy and put our personal touch on everything, and we ultimately knew that would be a lower-cost house.

Johnson and LaVallee’s new kitchen

realtor.com

How many homes did you see in person, and how did Kyle participate from overseas?

Johnson: It was 10 or 12 homes. We were out three to four times a week looking at places with our real estate agent. We wore our masks for the tours, and I used hand sanitizer since I was opening and closing drawers and closets. Most were vacant, but we did tour one house that still had people living in it, although they were gone during the tour, so we avoided touching a lot of things.

During tours we FaceTimed Kyle in. We figured that was probably the most convenient way to do it since he could see every single house and room in detail.

The large living room in Johnson and LaVallee’s new house

realtor.com

LaVallee: Well, I couldn’t really see all the details.

Johnson: He got to know our real estate agent really well via FaceTime. Our agent would say, “Let me know if you need me to hold Kyle while you go look in this room.” I felt so bad, though, because I work full time, so I’d tour homes around 5:30 in the evening, which for Kyle was 2:30 in the morning. But he stayed up for every single tour.

LaVallee: I was sometimes frustrated not being able to be there. I left it all up to her. I had to trust the feelings and vibes she got from each house.

The big backyard where Johnson and LaVallee hope a dog will someday run around

realtor.com

How many offers did you make before you had one accepted?

Johnson: We put three earlier offers in.

LaVallee: They would be listed and the next day would be sold. The first three offers we put in were asking price, and I’m pretty sure everybody else offered more, and ours were never even considered.

Johnson: It was ridiculous. It was definitely a seller’s market, so you had to act really fast and you had to be really competitive. On our fourth offer, we ended up at $3,100 over asking. I felt like we had to fight for this house.

Johnson had to move into the new home without LaVallee’s help.

Natalie Johnson

Were you competing with other offers for the house you bought?

LaVallee: There were multiple offers.

Johnson: Our real estate agent told us, “You should definitely write a letter and talk about how Kyle’s gone right now and you’re first-time home buyers and this one really clicked with you,” which it did. The second I walked in, it’s this adorable brick house, it’s super homey, it has a great yard. In the letter, we just talked about how all of that was so attractive to us as first-time home buyers, and we were really excited and could see ourselves in this home.

Our real estate agent suggested going in higher than asking, so we just rounded up to $115,000. He also suggested doing a higher due diligence payment—we usually did $200, but this time around we did $500. And the earnest fee we put in was $500 or $600.

After our offer was accepted, we knew it was going to be kind of difficult with the home inspection. They were already redoing the roof, which was a huge cost on their part, so asking for more was definitely going to be a challenge. So we didn’t ask for much.

LaVallee and Johnson are happy they stuck it out in a competitive seller’s market and landed this home.

Natalie Johnson

What surprised you about the home-buying process?

Johnson: How fast it went, for me at least. Our first home tour was in April and then by June, we had found our house and the contracts were written up. I guess I was expecting it maybe to be double the time that it actually was, but houses were just turning over so fast, we had to act fast.

LaVallee: From my side, I thought it happened very slowly! I felt like so much was happening in between each step in the process. I had to be patient because I had so little control of the situation, other than just trying to stay involved and be a part of it.

Johnson: You never really think that when you’re married, you’re going to buy your first house while your husband is on the other side of the world. But we got through it.

Johnson and LaVallee (pictured on the right) on the day LaVallee returned from deployment

Natalie Johnson

So Natalie, you were living in the house for a few months before Kyle returned from deployment in October to see it. What was that homecoming like?

Johnson: He came home a few days shy of the 365-day mark. We were anxious and excited. Several other families and I waited outside of a hangar on base, and soon after hearing their plane landing, we saw the group walking toward us and everyone start cheering and crying.

Because it was dark when we got home, Kyle couldn’t see the outside of the house much, or the “Welcome Home” decorations I hung up! But the moment he set foot in the front door, he just stood there and looked around with the biggest smile on his face.

I gave him the grand tour the next morning. He said it looked much bigger than what he saw on FaceTime. We celebrated with a home-cooked meal and the wine our agent gave us when we closed. It was really special.

LaVallee: I came home to a nice house. Natalie was worried I would come back to culture shock. But I’ve felt at home ever since I’ve been here.

Johnson decorated the house for LaVallee’s return from deployment.

Natalie Johnson

first time home buyer
After LaVallee came home, the two finally got to toast their first home with a bottle of wine, courtesy of their real estate agent.

Natalie Johnson

What’s your advice for aspiring first-time home buyers?

Johnson: I would say to go with your gut. Some of the houses you’ll tour are really logical to buy, but if they have a bad vibe or they’re just not really welcoming, then look at others. A healthy balance between logic and feeling is important.

LaVallee: We didn’t even know what we wanted until we saw five or six houses, so it’s definitely important to shop around and see what’s out there.

Johnson: We really didn’t know much. I told our real estate agent, “Hey, listen, we’re really going to need some guidance. We don’t know what things mean, we need you to break it down for us. You have to be patient with us.” I reached out to three different real estate agents, and Justin was the one who not only answered all my questions but was giving a ton of positive feedback. It was nice to have that encouragement, and it definitely made us more confident. You learn a lot by looking at houses, you learn a ton about yourself.

Johnson and LaVallee met in elementary school.

Natalie Johnson

The post What This Military Family Faced—and Fought—To Buy Its First House appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights | realtor.com®.

Source: realtor.com

Why Your Credit Karma Score May Be Higher Than Your FICO Score

Supermarket cashier and buyer with face masks Drazen_/Getty Images

Can you actually trust the credit scores provided by Credit Karma?

That’s the question many Twitter users have been asking, after scores of tweets about the personal-finance management company went viral. Many of these tweets centered on a common theme — that the credit scores Credit Karma presents are higher than what lenders see.

One Twitter user compared Credit Karma to “the enabling friend that sugar coats everything,” while others accused the company of lying.

Of course, not everyone had this exact experience. Some people noted that their score on Credit Karma was actually lower than the score provided to them by their credit-card company. How can this be?

It’s a common misconception that there is one, singular credit score for each consumer. “Most people would seriously be stunned if they knew just how many credit scores there are,” said Matt Schulz, chief credit analyst at LendingTree.

In fact, there are two broad categories of credit scores: FICO scores and the VantageScore. Of the two, FICO is the more famous — it was created by a company originally known as Fair, Isaac and Co. in the 1950s. The base FICO score ranges from 300 to 850, although industry-specific scores can range from 250 to 900. Based on where a consumer falls in that range they will be considered to poor to exceptional credit, with higher numbers representing better credit.

VantageScore was created by the three major credit bureaus — Experian, Equifax and TransUnion — as a competitor to FICO in 2006. While it uses a different algorithm than FICO, the information used to produce the score is the same. That’s because both FICO and VantageScore rely on consumer data from the credit bureau to produce their scores. Also like FICO, the VantageScore uses the same range, from 300 to 850, to gauge a person’s creditworthiness.

But it gets even more complicated than that. There’s not one single FICO score or VantageScore — there are multiple versions of each that have been released over the years. It can help to think of these scores like computers, said Ted Rossman, industry analyst at CreditCards.com.

“Some people have PCs and others have Macs,” Rossman said. “And even within PCs, for example, you might be running Windows 10 or Windows 8 or Windows 7, etc.”

Over the years, both credit-scoring firms have released new iterations of their scores in an effort to provide a more accurate, holistic picture of a consumer’s financial behavior.

Last year, FICO released two new credit scores, the FICO Score 10 and the FICO Score 10 T. Among the changes made to these new models were a different approach to weighting personal loans and the incorporation of so-called “trended data” to provide a sense of a borrower’s financial trajectory.

‘The credit score you see on financial tools and apps is what’s considered an ‘educational’ score.’

Sara Rathner, credit card expert at NerdWallet

Lenders don’t necessarily use the latest versions of credit scores. For instance, the Federal Housing Finance Agency has specific credit-score requirements for the loans that Fannie Mae and Freddie Macback. For these mortgages, lenders can only use FICO Models 2, 4 and 5. Plus, lenders will look at more than just your credit score — they’ll dig into your credit report to identify potential red flags or find explanations for why your score may have dropped or risen.

“Mortgage lenders usually pull FICO scores from all three bureaus — and like the Olympics, they throw out the highest and lowest scores,” Rossman said. “A credit card or auto lender, on the other hand, might just check one. Which bureau and which version can vary considerably.”

Credit Karma uses VantageScore 3.0 for the information it provides to its users, a company spokesperson said.

“The credit score you see on financial tools and apps is what’s considered an ‘educational’ score,” said Sara Rathner, credit-card expert at personal-finance website NerdWallet. “It’ll give you a general sense of where you stand, but don’t take it as gospel.”

As for why credit scores vary from version to version or lender to lender, that comes down to the underlying data used to produce the scores. The FICO Model 2 used in mortgage lending, for instance is produced based on the data from Experian that is sent by lenders on how much debt borrowers owe, whether they’re paying it on time, etc. But lenders don’t always report that information to all three bureaus.

Newer versions of FICO and VantageScore will also incorporate data such as people’s history of paying their rent and utilities on time. Again, not all landlords and utility providers send that information to the bureaus.

“The difference in scores can be really frustrating, because a lower than expected score can mean a more expensive loan,” Rathner said. “This is definitely something that makes it harder for consumers to make informed financial decisions.”

The good news is that the efforts people make to improve their scores should improve their scores across the board. Making on-time payments and avoiding maxing out your limit on credit cards are great starting points.

And in cases where two scores do differ substantially, that could be an indication of an error on your credit report. Consumers can get one free copy of their credit report from each of the three credit bureaus every year to keep tabs on what lenders are seeing. “A quick decrease for no apparent reason can be a sign of identity theft and is important to address in a hurry,” Schulz said.

The post Why Your Credit Karma Score May Be Higher Than Your FICO Score appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights | realtor.com®.

Source: realtor.com