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WJB Insight
Home Energy Efficiencies that Improve Home Value
August 16, 2013

As we approach the end of the summer season, now is a good time to review and evaluate all that you’ve spent over the past few months to keep your home cool. Recognizing that energy leaks can lead to higher bills and can affect your home and your wallet in any extreme temperature, hot or cold. Now is the time to consider home-energy efficiency improvements you might be able to take advantage of before the winter weather sets in.

Utility Expenses Investigation

Prior to taking action toward home-energy efficiency, take a moment to review the past few months worth of utility bills. If you already believe that you’ve spent more this summer as compared to the same time period last year, review and compare your actual usage reports.

Schedule an Energy Efficiency Audit

If a review of utility payments doesn’t indicate much, coordinating an energy efficiency audit is a great way to understand where you currently stand in terms of energy consumption. An audit will identify where efficiency can be improved, and if there are significant energy losses in your home, the audit information will help you prioritize big projects first.

Seal Air Leaks

As a result of your energy audit, an easy first task is to seal any gaps that might be found around your windows or doors, as well as in your attic or basement. Replacing the caulking around entryways is a messy yet fairly simple task, and spray foam insulation is a quick and easy way to plug larger gaps that might appear around the foundation of your home.

Repair Duct Leaks

The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that roughly one-fifth of the air that is transferred throughout your home via forced-air systems is lost through leaks in ductwork. Duct sealant is available at most home improvement stores and can be an easy fix to repairing these leaks.

Install Thermostat Control

Programmable thermostats allow for more controlled costs on heating and cooling bills. If conservatively programmed, these devices can contribute anywhere from 5-15% savings in costs per year.

Replace Old Windows & Doors

Installing higher-efficiency windows and doors in your home can lead to less energy waste for years to come. While certainly a higher cost than other improvements, replacing old windows and hollow metal doors is one of the best investments you can make to your house. If this type of project seems outside of your budget range, consider applying for energy financing as a way to supplement the cost, and you’ll likely realize the ability to make other, significant energy efficiency improvements as well.

Any of these improvements that can be made by the DIY-capable contribute to reducing home-related expenditures in the near term and over time. Additionally, any number of home energy efficiency improvements should be considered as investments to the overall value of your home – particularly those greater in cost.

Posted in WJB Insight

Household Expenses
July 17, 2013

When buying a home, calculating your expenses — not just your mortgage payment — is an important part of assessing which homes you can afford. Where you live may have a large impact on your household expenditures, including child education, groceries, laundry, lawn and garden supplies and care, and home supplies.

For example, in Austin — the most expensive city for households according to the Intuit Spending Index — households spend $877.74 per month on home-related expenses. Households in San Francisco come in second spending $875.95, followed by Nashville, Seattle and Portland.

Las Vegas households spend the least, just $544.81, with Oklahoma City and Miami just above.

Despite the discrepancy in household expenditures across the some of the nation’s cities, household spending is rising across the board. Since January 2009, spending on child activities increased the most at 118 percent and spending on health insurance rose 111 percent.

Spending on tuition increased 70 percent, while spending on childcare rose 65 percent. Intuit’s index also found people with children spend more on fast food and groceries, but spend less on pets, alcohol and public transportation.

Lower mortgage rates and home prices decreased spending on housing 27 percent — the only home-related expense to drop in the Index.

If you are trying to determine how much you spend on household expenses, start tracking your spending several months before you decide to buy a home. Include emergency and unexpected expenses in addition to the weekly and monthly expenses. This will give you a more accurate perception of how much you truly spend.

Posted in WJB Insight

Upgrades That Devalue Your Home
June 19, 2013

While generally remodeling or making upgrades to your home will increase its value, there are certain changes that will devalue your home.

Converting a Bedroom

Turning a bedroom into a man cave, gym, study, studio, or any other use that isn’t a bedroom will devalue your home. If you are set on converting a room, do it in a way that if you go to sell later on you can easily change it back. Or know that the conversion will drop the price of your home.

Removing a Bathroom

Why would anyone do this, you ask? Well, what if it’s a bathroom in a wing of the house that isn’t used and the plumbing needs to be replaced? Or you’re a photographer who wants a dark room. Or you want to expand your kitchen. Similarly to removing a bedroom, decreasing the number of bathrooms in your home will almost always lead to a decrease in value.

DIY Renovations

If you want to upgrade or remodel, make sure you know what you are doing or hire someone who does. Misaligned outlets, crooked window sills and counters, and cheap materials will all be painfully evident to most buyers.

Creative Color Schemes

If you must paint your walls navy blue or bright pink, plan to repaint later on. Neutral colors are more appealing to home buyers.

Water Features

Depending on where you live, there are exceptions to this rule. However, pools, hot tubs, koi ponds, fountains and the like require maintenance. If you don’t live in an area where they are the norm, then installing a water feature could deter buyers later on.

Removing Original Architectural Features and Décor

If your house is old, retaining the charming original characteristics can increase its value. Choose which you keep wisely. While arches, molding, fireplaces and stained glass windows increase value, lime green shag carpeting and pastel appliances most likely won’t.

Posted in WJB Insight

What to Consider Before Buying an Investment Property
May 20, 2013

The housing market is rebounding and interest rates are still low, meaning an investment property might make a lot of sense for you. Before you move forward with purchasing an investment property, take note of these considerations.

Rental Property

If your property doesn’t generate rental income, you are counting on it increasing in value at a rate higher than inflation. Look at the market that you’re considering and if historically that holds true for homes in the area.

Time Shares

Time shares aren’t generally thought of as an investment, since re-sale can be difficult and — at times — at a lower price.

Real Estate Development

Development deals come with a high price tag and a lot of risk. While the return can also be high, for the average investor, the risk doesn’t outweigh the potential reward.

Foreign Real Estate

Before buying property in another country, make sure you are aware of the differences in their real estate laws and protections. Also take into consideration the country’s economic and political stability.

Associated Costs

If you purchase an investment property, the mortgage will not be your only expense. Consider necessary insurance, differences in tax treatment of investment property vs. primary residence, upkeep and, if you plan to visit your property — travel costs.

Once you’ve thought through the considerations above, an investment property may still be a good financial move for you. Interest rates are low, and while home prices are rising, they are still relatively low in many markets.

Posted in WJB Insight

Navigating this Spring’s Competitive Housing Market
April 19, 2013

This spring’s housing rush has begun. Homes in Dallas, Denver, Boston, Washington, D.C., Seattle, New York and several cities in California are selling in days and even hours, and many are generating bidding wars.

Decreases in inventory are driving the competition in these markets. In February, inventory declined 19.2 percent year-over-year, according to the National Association of Realtors.

Buying in a Competitive Market

Choose a good agent: When hiring an agent in a competitive environment, you want an individual who moves quickly, is responsive and is a skilled negotiator. Meet with a few realtors before choosing one to represent you.

Know what you want: Do your research. Identify the area or neighborhood you want to buy in, clarify what type of home you want, and think about what concessions you would be willing to make if the home was the right price in the right location.

Communicate: Be very clear with your agent about your expectations. You don’t want to waste your time or theirs looking at homes that aren’t a good option for you.

Come prepared: Make sure you are pre-approved for a mortgage and able to close quickly.

Selling in a Competitive Market

Create the perfect listing: Do your research on what features are desirable to today’s buyers and include those buzzwords in your listing.

Make sure your listing shows up in the right places: Your listing should show up on sites like Trulia and Zillow, as well as on mobile real estate apps. Check that the information for your property is correct.

Don’t be greedy: It may be a seller’s market, but if you price your home too high, you’ll miss out on the multiple offers and bidding wars those offers generate. Research comparables in your area and price your home accordingly.

Posted in WJB Insight

Springtime Home Maintenance
April 1, 2013

Spring, the traditional time for cleaning and other home maintenance, is approaching. These checklists will help get you started.

Home Cleaning Checklist

A deep clean will make your home shine for spring and summer.

  • Wash walls and ceilings: Removes fingerprints, dust, and dirt.
  • Shampoo rugs: Removes any mud stains or other discolorations.
  • Reseal grout: Avoids staining.
  • Dust: Removes some allergens.
  • Clean upholstery: Removes allergens such as pet dander and stains.
  • Clean windows, inside and out: Your view will be much clearer.
  • Clean window treatments: Removes dust, stains and grime.
Home Organization Checklist

Before you begin your busy spring and summer schedule, re-organize your home.

  • Swap out heavier blankets, throws, window treatments for lighter weight ones.
  • Swap out winter clothing for spring and summer clothing. Dry clean any wool before storing in sealed bag.
  • Go through storage areas such as your basement, garage or attic and discard or donate items you no longer need.
  • Organize your file cabinets.
  • Update your medicine cabinet and discard any expired medicines, cosmetics or other items.
Landscaping/Gardening Checklist

Prepare your yard for spring and your garden for planting.

  • Clean and organize your gardening shed.
  • Prep your beds. Remove mulch and add compost to the soil.
  • Prune your fruit trees.
  • Start seeds indoors.

Spring is the perfect time to update your landscaping or start a vegetable garden.

  • Assess the amount of water you want to use. Are you xeroscaping or creating a lush garden?
  • Using graph paper, draw out the updates you will make.
  • Decide on the types of beds: Raised? Vegetable or flower?
  • If expanding or improving your lawn, decide whether you will seed or sod.
  • Research which plants you want based on your climate, aesthetic or what you like to eat and look for sales.

Posted in WJB Insight

Mortgage Interest Tax Deduction
February 15, 2013

The American Tax Payer Relief Act of 2012, passed early this year, re-instated a law enabling U.S. homeowners to deduct their annual mortgage insurance premiums from their taxes.

The law expired in 2011, but with the Tax Payer Relief Act, Congress extended the deduction for 2012 and 2013. In addition, it retroactively applies to any mortgage insurance premiums paid after Dec. 31, 2011.

Borrowers with an annual adjusted gross income of less than $100,000 filing an itemized return are able to deduct 100 percent of their annual mortgage insurance premium. Individuals with higher incomes are still eligible to deduct their premiums, but the amount a homeowner can deduct decreases with higher income levels.

Nearly 3.6 million tax payers claimed the mortgage interest deduction in 2009, the most recent year Internal Revenue Service data is available. Combined, American homeowners will save about $100 billion this year from the mortgage interest deduction, according to Compass Point Research & Trading.

These savings will help make buying a home more affordable than renting. Combining continued low interest rates and the extension of the mortgage insurance tax deduction, now is still an excellent time to buy a new home or refinance.

Mortgage Insurance Cancellation for FHA Loans

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development announced late last year its plan to revise the cancellation of mortgage insurance premiums for Federal Housing Administration loans for which the outstanding principal balance reaches less than 78 percent of the original principal balance.
The changes to the mortgage insurance cancellation, expected sometime in 2013, are a response to the FHA’s struggling finances.

HUD in its Annual Report to Congress wrote:

Analyses conducted by FHA’s Office of Risk Management projects lost revenue by approximately $10 billion in the 2010-2012 vintages as a result of the current cancellation policy. The same analyses also suggest that 10%-12% of all claims losses will occur after MIP cancellation. Therefore, beginning with new loans endorsed after the policy change becomes effective later in FY 2013, FHA will once again collect premiums on FHA loans for the entire period during which they are insured, permitting FHA to retain significant revenue that is currently being forfeited prematurely.

For homeowners with FHA loans, the monthly mortgage insurance premium will cancel once the principal balance reaches 78 percent of the loan to value and the borrower has made 60 consecutive mortgage payments. If a borrower currently has an FHA loan and is considering refinancing, it may be best to refinance now before these changes take effect.

Posted in WJB Insight

Tips for your Home Inspection
February 15, 2013

An inspection may seem like an inconvenient cost when buying a home, but in the long run it can save you a lot of money and heartache.

An inspector, if they do their job well, will make you aware of issues with your prospective home, such as needed repairs or structural damage. If the inspector finds problems with the home, you may decide you can overlook them, you may try to negotiate the price of the home in anticipation of costs associated with the problems, or you may decide the house is not for you and keep looking. The point is that you are aware of the problems before they become yours to solve.

Finding an Inspector

Now that you know why you need a home inspection, how do you find a good home inspector?

Hire Your Own:

A seller may offer up an inspection report. While they may have the best intentions, it is always better to hire an individual you’ve vetted who is working for you.


Ask your inspector if they hold any certifications or memberships that qualify them as a home inspector. An inspector can be accredited through the American Society of Home Inspectors. In addition, they may be a member of the National Association of Certified Home Inspectors.

Ask how long they have been inspecting homes and request they provide references. In addition, ask if home inspection is their primary occupation.


What does the inspector cover in their inspection report? They should be able to provide you with a list. In addition, ask how long the inspector thinks the inspection should take. A normal inspection should take as long as 2 to 3 hours.

Errors and Omissions Insurance:

Even the best inspectors make mistakes, so ask if your inspector carries errors and omissions coverage.

The Inspection

Once you are ready for the inspection, make sure you are present when it occurs. Ask questions and pay attention to comments the inspector makes as you walk through the home. While a good inspector should have a camera, you may also want to bring your own to keep record and help you remember where the inspector found problems.

Finally, make sure you thoroughly read the inspection report. It may elaborate on problems the inspector pointed out during the inspection, or even include issues the inspector failed to mention during the walk through.

Posted in WJB Insight

Impact of the Fiscal Cliff
December 27, 2012

The fiscal cliff, the popular term for the upcoming tax increases and spending cuts if legislators fail to intervene, is weighing on the minds of most Americans. Caught up in the midst of the fiscal cliff debate are pieces of real estate legislation that housing experts say could significantly impact the housing recovery.

The Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act and Debt Cancellation

The Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act is set to expire on Dec. 31, 2012. The law, enacted in 2007, temporarily amended the federal tax code to enable taxpayers to omit income debt reduction or cancellation on their primary residence. Debt reduction through restructuring of a mortgage, for example, refinancing and debt forgiveness through a foreclosure generally qualify under the law.

Why the Expiration Matters

An estimated 11 million homeowners are underwater. Any homeowners who participate in a short sale that closes after Jan. 1, 2013, will be subject to taxation on the amount of debt forgiven if the law is not extended.

In addition, the $25 billion settlement states reached with five top mortgage lenders over the so-called robo-signing scandal urges lenders to forgive billions in mortgage debt next year and in the future. The expiration of the tax relief act could deter Americans from taking part in the settlement, according to attorneys general of the participating states.

Housing experts argue that the expiration of the law would cause significant financial pain for a large group of homeowners who are already under duress.

The Mortgage Interest Deduction

As legislators propose ways to reduce the deficit and avert the fiscal cliff, legislators are proposing reducing the mortgage interest deduction.

The mortgage interest deduction lets homeowners reduce their annual taxable income by the amount of interest paid on their mortgage. The deduction is the largest of its type in the tax code, accounting for an estimated $90 billion in reduced income tax revenue.

The housing industry is fighting changes to the policy, arguing it would hurt the housing recovery, and therefore the economic recovery.

“This is the last thing Congress should be considering when what we’re trying to do is stabilize the economy,” Jerry Howard, head of the National Association of Home Builders, told The Hill.

Posted in WJB Insight

Finding the Perfect Neighborhood: As Important as Finding the Perfect Home
November 16, 2012

The neighborhood you live in can have just as much impact on your life as the house you live in. When you decide to start looking for a new home, first create a profile of your ideal neighborhood. Here are some factors to consider.

Do you have children or are you planning to have them in the future? If children are a factor, be sure to learn about the schools in your neighborhood. Even if you don’t have children, buying a home in a neighborhood with good schools and a child-friendly atmosphere will give your home price a boost.

The old real estate adage “location, location, location” is important for several reasons.

Do you want to be able to walk or ride your bike to work? Or do you not mind commuting further to be able to live in an area where you can escape from the hustle and bustle?

Do you want to be able to walk to restaurants and shops? Or do you not mind having to drive to go out or go shopping?

Access to public transportation or freeways is important to consider when choosing a neighborhood that accommodates your lifestyle preferences.

Type of Home

Do you want a large house with a yard to accommodate guests and children? Or do you want a condo where most maintenance is taken care of for you (and you don’t mind paying HOA fees)? Drive through the neighborhood and take note of the patterns in the layout of the homes, for example, bungalow, ranch, Tudor or Victorian. Does the type of home offer the amount of space and storage you will need?

Do you like the character of old homes and neighborhoods, or do you want a brand new home? An old home can have more charm, but may also require more maintenance. In addition to the age of the home, investigating the demographics of the neighborhood may also offer insight about the average age of your neighbors. Your new community may end up better fitting your lifestyle if you know you’ll be surrounded by families of similar ages to your own.

Do you not mind noise or do you want peace and quiet? If you want a lower-key neighborhood, avoid living near a college or an area with a hopping nightlife. When visiting neighborhoods you are interested in, take note of the amount of traffic and how close it might be to a major thoroughfare; both factors would impact volume levels, even during non-peak traffic hours.

In most cities, safety is also a factor. Evaluate whether a transitional neighborhood where you can get more bang for your buck is an option for you, or if a secure, established community is more your style. Local police departments will be able to provide you with information on recent crime rates in the area you are considering.

Find out how long homes are on the market and if sellers are forced to reduce their price to find a buyer. Also look around to make sure the retail isn’t struggling. If you see abandoned buildings and “for rent” signs, you may want to keep looking. On the other hand, if you think the neighborhood is about to turn around, you may be able to get a great deal.

Hit the Pavement
Once you’ve identified several neighborhoods that are up to your standards, go investigate them. Hang out at the coffee shop or knock on some doors, and ask current residents why they love where they live. Walk around the neighborhood during the day to see what people are up to. Similarly, be sure to check out the neighborhood at night, and make sure you feel safe and secure about where you are.

Finally, if there is a neighborhood association, check if there are any construction restrictions or other similar guidelines that could hinder future plans for your home.

Posted in WJB Insight

The Future of the Mortgage–Interest Deduction
November 16, 2012

In the recent weeks, the mortgage-interest tax deduction debate has resurfaced in the media as Congress prepares to address taxes, government spending and the looming economist-predicted fiscal cliff.

If you are someone who benefits from this incentive, or expects to benefit from it soon, you are likely wondering how the upcoming election will affect the deduction and if it will survive the upcoming budget and deficit negotiations from Congress.

History of the Mortgage-Interest Deduction
The mortgage-interest deduction allows homeowners to reduce their taxable income by the amount of interest they pay on their mortgage loan each year. The deduction dates back to when Congress created the first modern federal income tax in 1894 that established all forms of personal loan interest as tax deductible. The Supreme Court soon ruled this unconstitutional, but in 1913 a constitutional amendment reinstated the deductions.

Decades later, the Tax Reform Act of 1986 passed eliminating interest deduction on personal loans, with the exception of the mortgage-interest deduction in hopes of encouraging home ownership. At the time interest rates were around 10 percent. In comparison, today’s rates are lower than 4 percent.

The Arguments
Proponents of the mortgage-interest deduction say it encourages home ownership and makes the American dream of home ownership more accessible. In addition, housing industry experts say the market is too fragile right now to withstand elimination of the deduction.

“Anything that would change the system substantially now,” said Department of Housing and Urban Development secretary Shaun Donovan in an interview aired on C-Span, would create “a real risk of stopping the momentum that we have in the housing market.”

Opponents argue many Americans are unable to take advantage of the deduction – particularly first-time homeowners – because they often don’t earn enough. Furthermore, the deduction costs the government $90 billion per year, making it one of the most expensive breaks in the tax code.

The Future of the Mortgage-Interest Deduction
The mortgage-interest deduction isn’t going anywhere, according to MarketWatch real estate and personal finance reporter Amy Hoak. There are too many people at this point who rely on the incentive to afford their homes.

In addition, powerful housing industry groups like the National Association of Realtors and the National Association of Homebuilders lobby in support of the deduction.

Recommendations to remove the tax credit are creating uncertainty in the marketplace, NAH Chief Executive Jerry Howard said in a Keys to a Sustained Housing Recovery panel discussion.

“We want consumers to get back in the market housing sector,” he said. “The housing market must fully recover for the economy to fully recover.”

“Politically, it remains nearly impossible to get rid of the perk,” Hoak wrote in a recent article.

In sum, homeowners who benefit from the deduction, the housing industry and the recovering housing market all present obstacles to any efforts to eliminate the deduction. While both candidates in the upcoming presidential election have suggested altering the deduction in some form, it is unlikely the break will be removed altogether.

Posted in WJB Insight

Hybrid Adjustable Rate Mortgages
November 16, 2012

Hybrid adjustable rate mortgages, or ARMs, became the pariah of the mortgage industry following the financial crisis. Now, hybrid ARMs are rising in popularity as a way to save money on interest when buying a home.

A hybrid ARM is a home loan that has an initial set interest rate that changes after an agreed upon period of time. For example, a 7-year ARM or 7/1 ARM, is a loan with a fixed interest rate for the first seven years. After those seven years, the rate changes once each year for the life of the loan.

For buyers who plan to pay off their mortgage quickly or plan to sell soon, an ARM is worth consideration.

ARM vs. Traditional 30-year
To take advantage of current low interest rates, many Americans are buying homes now. Those choosing a 30-year loan are getting a low interest rate with the security of knowing their payment won’t go up. However, they are paying more for that security. With an ARM, borrowers can lock in an interest rate of as much as 1 percent lower than a traditional 30-year loan — double the difference five years ago, prior to the housing crisis.

To understand how much a borrower could save, take this example Bankrate.com analyst Greg McBride provided Fortune magazine for an $800,000 mortgage comparing an 5/1 ARM with a 3 percent rate vs. a traditional 30-year mortgage at 4 percent:

McBride assumed the worst-case scenario with the ARM — one in which the rate shoots up to the 8 percent maximum in year six. Here’s what would happen: For the first five years, our homebuyer’s monthly payments on the ARM would be $3,373 — $446 less than what he’d pay under the 30-year fixed mortgage. Over that period he’d save a total of $39,000 in interest and would amass $12,000 more in equity.

After the initial five years the monthly payments under the ARM would balloon to $5,490. But it’s not until the seventh year of the loan that the savings garnered by the lower ARM payments during the first five years would be wiped out entirely. (This doesn’t factor in the mortgage-interest tax deduction, which would be greater on the fixed-rate loan for the first few years but higher on the ARM thereafter.)

If after five years, however, the rate on the ARM increased at a more moderate pace of one percentage point a year, the initial savings wouldn’t be eclipsed by the fixed rate until the 10th year of the loan.

In sum, if you are one of the many homeowners planning to move or pay off your mortgage in the near term, an ARM might be your best choice.

Posted in WJB Insight

Qualifying for Today’s Low Rates
November 16, 2012

Today’s real estate market offers a tantalizing scenario for borrowers: prices are low, sellers are motivated and interest rates for home financing are at historic lows. These lower rates give you increased buying power, ensure that you will have lower monthly payments and will translate to a less costly loan. Whether you are investing in a second home, buying your first or refinancing to a lower rate, this is a golden opportunity.

In order to take advantage of today’s low rates, you have to qualify for a loan. It’s a straightforward process that ensures you get the right loan for your needs. Let’s take a look at the factors involved:

Credit Ratings
Your credit rating will be the fundamental item in ensuring you get the loan you need. The generally accepted method for scoring credit is through FICO scores (named for the credit scoring method developed by the Fair Isaac Corporation). FICO scores range between 350 and 850, with a score of 750 or above generally considered an excellent score that will instill confidence in a lender. A score of 600 or below is considered poor. Your FICO is calculated by averaging reports from three credit bureaus, Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. The lender will not only look at your FICO score, but inspect your credit history for certain red flags, such as repeated late payments on rent or loans; recently opened loans and credit accounts; and credit card accounts that are near their maximum balance.

Debt-to-Income Ratio
The debt-to-income ratio of a loan compares your pre-tax income against your expenses with the loan. Normally, lenders want to see a borrower spending no more than 40 percent of their income on a loan. This figure is easier to calculate for people with fixed income. For self-employed individuals and those who earn a considerable component of their income through commission, income is averaged over time. Have your tax returns ready to document your income.

Down Payment
If you’re purchasing a home, you will need to have money in-hand to put toward the price of the home. A conventional mortgage requires between 5 percent and 10 percent of the home’s price as a down payment. Lower down payments are available if you qualify for loan programs benefiting first time buyers, such as FHA loans, which require a 3.5 percent down payment.

Fees and Costs
When financing a loan, you will need enough money to cover not only the down payment, but also the fees and costs that are involved in the loan and real estate transaction. If you are purchasing a home make sure you understand which fees and costs are your responsibility, and which costs the seller will pay. In some instances certain fees and costs can be financed through the loan.

In addition to documenting your income, you’ll need to document the money you have in your bank account to ensure you have the funds available to cover items such as the down payment, costs and fees. Lenders will normally require two months of bank statements as verification.

If you’re refinancing a home, equity is crucial, and given recent shifts in the market, your home’s value could have an impact on your ability to qualify. This can become a problem if your home is appraised and it’s discovered that the value is below the loan amount. If you don’t have enough equity for a traditional refinance, there are options, such as the federal Home Affordable Refinance Program (HARP), that are worth discussing with a loan officer.

Today’s market represents a tremendous opportunity to anyone seeking a loan. Don’t be mystified or worried about the qualification process. Instead, call or email me. I’m happy to meet with you to learn about your borrowing needs and outline the steps involved to help you take advantage of today’s low rates.

Posted in WJB Insight

Three Types of Loans to Help Young Buyers into Homeownership
July 27, 2012

The road to homeownership can seem pretty steep to young, potential homebuyers. Their lives seem fairly stable but there are some factors that give them pause:

  • The economy isn’t growing at a comfortable rate.
  • The job market offers slim pickings at best.
  • Low consumer confidence in the housing market
    and other economic areas.

With all this said, right now is actually an excellent time for new homebuyers; perhaps the best opportunity they’ll get in their lifetime and they should know not to miss out.

There are three solid loan choices to help young, new homebuyers dive into this “market of a lifetime.” Let’s review:

1. VA loans
Available to veterans and guaranteed by the U.S. Veteran’s Administration, VA loans frequently offer interest rates that are lower than those of conventional loans, and don’t require private mortgage insurance requirement, which saves you additional money each month. The government-backed loans are available to veterans, reservists, active-duty personnel, and surviving spouses of veterans, and require no down payment, no cash reserves, and no application fee. Also, the seller is required to pay certain closing costs, which decreases the closing costs for the borrower as well. You can also cash out a certain portion in order to pay off some consumer debt with the refinance loan program. WJB offers the VA Interest Rate Reduction Refinance (IRRRL) loan program, which can significantly reduce the interest rate on an existing VA loan.

2. FHA loans
FHA loans were created to help borrowers who wouldn’t otherwise qualify for a traditional home loan or would be subject to higher interest and high mortgage insurance. Available as 30- and 15-year fixed-rate loans as well as 3/1 and 5/1 ARMs, the loans require only a 3.5 percent down payment, which can be from a qualified gift, and there are no income limitations. These loans offer flexible underwriting, and a non-occupant family member may co-sign (for single-family homes only). Property condition standards are much more relaxed than they used to be for these loans, and borrowers can even roll in non-structural rehab work totaling up to $35,000 on the home. Also, the federal mortgage insurance for these loans is usually much less expensive than private mortgage insurance (PMI), which saves you some money.

3. Loans with 97 percent loan-to-value
These loans are just what they say: they let you finance up to 97 percent (with DU approval only) of the home’s value, which makes them an excellent start for young homebuyers wishing to buy, but not having much for a down payment. With only 3 percent down, you can finance the purchase of a single-unit primary residence with a price tag of up to $417,000.

Mortgage insurance companies may have additional guidelines.

Historically low rates and home prices, along with these three powerful programs should give first time buyers confidence in moving forward. If you’re ready to make a move and become a homeowner, please contact me using the information below. We can explore available home financing options and take the first step towards homeownership.

Posted in WJB Insight

Making Your Move on a Second Home
July 27, 2012

If you’re considering buying a second or retirement home, you may have been feeling a bit of hesitancy over the prospect of moving forward with a new real estate purchase. Who can blame you? In an uncertain economy, any major investment — no matter how sound — can feel like an unwarranted risk. But it’s time to cast your trepidation aside, because now is a tremendous time to buy. In fact, it might be one of the best buyer’s markets you’ll see in your lifetime.

Already, we’re seeing market improvement in the National Association of REALTORS®’ most recent data for sales of existing single-family homes, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops, which is 5.2 percent over 2011′s sales rate. Add to that the fact that certain real estate markets that have suffered the worst housing busts also have significant over-supply. These markets include Florida, California, Georgia, Nevada and Arizona — key retirement areas. Moreover, short sales have begun eclipsing foreclosures in 12 states, including California, Arizona and Florida, which is notable because it indicates that sellers who are in trouble financially are still working with their lenders to sell the property, as opposed to completely throwing in the towel.

There are a couple of additional key factors contributing to why the market is currently so buyer-friendly: Home prices sunk to massive lows when the real estate bubble burst, and interest rates on home loans are at historic lows. Right now, mortgage rates are incredibly attractive, ending 2011 with 30-year, fixed-rate mortgages in the 3.9 percent interest rate range, according to surveys from the Mortgage Bankers Association. So far, in 2012, rates have just topped the 4 percent mark. Where home prices are concerned, the cost of existing single-family homes ended 2011 nearly at the same price it began the year, $158,000 (and that was still down from 2010 and 2009), according to data from the National Association of REALTORS®.

That said, those rates and home prices won’t stay this way forever. Already the economy is adding jobs and the unemployment rate is going down. Add in increased retail activity over recent months, and there are several key indications that the economy is improving, and that, in turn, could force the Fed to raise the federal funds rate, which would increase rates on home loans. The six-month inventory of homes for sale is hovering around 2.4 million homes at current sales rates, which is nearly 20 percent below what it was a year ago. As supply decreases, prices will tick upward.

Besides favorable lending and home prices there are other factors that should influence your decisionmaking when it comes to a second or retirement home. Here are some key considerations to make:

  • Have patience — While it is indeed a good time to buy a second or retirement home, take the same care as you did when you were purchasing you primary residence. You want to make sure you are familiar with the area and the home. Then take careful steps to make an offer.
  • Ask yourself the tough questions — In the case of a second home, you have to rigorously question yourself as to how much you’ll use the home. Will the novelty wear off? And, if it is somewhat far from your primary home, you want to make sure you’ll absolutely get your money’s worth, and work out how it will be maintained and whether it will be rented and serviced through a management company.
  • Consider the tax implications — Make sure that you are aware of how a second home would impact your tax status. For instance, if you are renting out the home, that could dramatically alter your income taxes. Make sure to discuss the issue with your accountant.
  • Financing — Choose a lender that understands the value of second and retirement homes. W.J. Bradley is one such lender. I’d love to sit down with you and discuss your plans and determine which loan options work best for your situation. Please contact me using the information printed on this newsletter and I can walk you through your options.

It’s not the first time you’ve heard this sentiment, but it may be getting close to the last time you’ll hear it: we are in a perfect homebuyer’s storm of low interest rates, low housing prices and high inventories. What does this mean for you? That the window on this historic market is slowly beginning to close, and if you’ve been considering a second home purchase, there truly is no time like the present.

Posted in WJB Insight

Underwater? HARP Is Your Life Preserver
May 14, 2012

If you’re underwater with your mortgage, don’t feel alone — and don’t feel like you have no options. With the Home Affordable Refinance Program (HARP) loan, you may be able to refinance no matter how upside-down your mortgage is.

According to researchers at CoreLogic, a leading analytics firm, 11.1 million or 22.8 percent of all residential properties in the United States were worth less than the amount their homeowners owed on the mortgages used to purchase them. It’s hard not to feel stressed out in that situation. Fortunately, you have a life preserver.

The HARP loan is a federal program specifically designed to reach out and give a helping hand to responsible homeowners that have suffered a reversal of fortune thanks to collapse of the real estate bubble. The federal government originally rolled out the HARP program in 2009 to help homeowners who were underwater or near underwater. However, the program was recently broadened to reach even more borrowers who need a helping hand. Originally, HARP applied to 895,000 underwater borrowers; and now HARP II is expected to help up to double that amount. According to HUD, about 400,000 homeowners have taken advantage of the program since it launched in April 2012.

And that’s terrific news, because it means that not only do the homeowners who are in truly dire straits have access to help, but the underwater homeowners who are continuing to make payments and need some financial breathing room can get some relief by refinancing. The new HARP II loans mean that those homeowners can have extra money going back to their bottom line each month, while continuing to pay off their loans in a reasonable timeframe. And that’s a good thing for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, because that equates to more financially stable and dependable borrowers.

The new program offers a number of advantages over the original HARP loans. First off, there is no loan-to-value or combined loan-to-value restriction on fixed-rate loans with terms of 30 years and under. In other words, HARP II can help millions of homeowners no matter how upside-down they are on their mortgages. Previously, there was cap that restricted borrowers who owed more than 125 percent of their home’s current worth from accessing the program.

In addition, an appraisal may be waived if a value for the home can be automatically generated, and the borrower only needs to have a 620 FICO score.

There are three main components to qualifying for a HARP II refinance loan. The first requirement is that your loan must be owned by either Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac. If you’re not sure, I can easily look up your loan for you and determine if you qualify. You can also visit www.fanniemae.com/loanlookup or www.freddiemac.com/mymortgage and fill out the quick, online forms, which will tell you if either government-sponsored enterprise owns your loan. Second, your loan must have been sold to Fannie or Freddie before June 1, 2009. Third, a HARP II refinance must benefit you in least one of four ways:

  • It must reduce your loan’s monthly principal and interest payment.
  • It must reduce the loan’s interest rate.
  • It must reduce the loan’s amortization term.
  • It must transition your mortgage to a more stable type of loan. For example, it must move you from an interest-only loan to a fully amortizing loan; it must move you from an adjustable-rate mortgage to a fixed-rate loan; or it must transition you from a longer 30-year term to a 15-year loan.

If you have a Fannie Mae- or Freddie Mac-owned loan that is underwater, or close to it, and you are looking to come up for air, please contact me using the information printed on this message. I would be happy to meet with you to review your current loan status and discuss how the HARP II program can help you breathe easy and gain the financial confidence and stability you deserve.

Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae have adopted changes to the Home Affordable Refinance Program (HARP) and you may be eligible to take advantage of these changes. If your mortgage is owned or guaranteed by either Freddie Mac or Fannie Mae, you may be eligible to refinance your mortgage under the enhanced and expanded provisions of HARP. You can determine whether your mortgage is owned by either Freddie Mac or Fannie Mae by checking the following websites: www.freddiemac.com/mymortgage or http://www.fanniemae.com/loanlookup.

Posted in WJB Insight

Knowing Your Home’s Value
March 16, 2012

Your home is one of your most important investments and financial assets, but do you know its value? If you hesitate to answer, don’t worry, you’re not alone. Even if you’re not trying to sell right now, there are other reasons that you may want to know your home’s market value. And knowing this number can help you move quickly when it’s time to make a decision about any of the following actions.

Selling your home.
There might come a time when you need to sell your home. You might get offered an out-of-state job opportunity, determine it makes financial sense to downsize, or need to look for a larger home if your family is expanding. If you are ready to buy another home, your current home’s value can narrow down your options for your new purchase, and I can show you the financing options that will be available to you. Knowing your home’s market worth would certainly help you make an informed decision, and put you in a position to more quickly respond.

Refinancing your home.
There are a number of reasons to refinance. For instance, you might be able to finally tap into current low rates, or you might desire better terms. You can find out if you will qualify for a traditional refinancing program or if you may be eligible for the HARP II refinance program, which allows homeowners who owe more than their home is worth to restructure their loans into more stable products with a lower rate. Until you know your home’s value, you won’t know how advantageous or disadvantageous a refinance would be from a financial perspective. I’d be happy to assist you in exploring whether refinancing makes financial sense for your unique situation.

Making home improvements.
While you might have mulled over how home improvements, such as a bathroom makeover, new countertops, or perhaps an addition, could improve your enjoyment of your home and mused at what additional value they might bring, you really don’t know until you’re aware of your home’s value. Check what other homes in your areas have sold for, and pay particularly close attention to any sold properties that had upgrades similar to or the same as yours in relation to those that don’t. Once you get an idea of what your home might sell for, you can see if the upgrades you are considering are worth the expense, or if you might want to go with a more cost-effective option.

Reassessing your taxes.
Your county assessor’s office reviews property values on a periodic basis, and makes adjustments based on a property’s market value. In a down market this can mean much lower property taxes. Being aware of your home’s value can put you in a position to anticipate changes and do some tax and financial planning accordingly. That said, many assessor offices only shift their regular assessments by a maximum amount or percentage of the previous year’s value. However, many states offer an appeal mechanism that can help you push for a lower reassessment to ensure an even more advantageous (and fair) property tax break. But the key is to know your home’s actual value and be able to document it.*

So, how do you determine your home’s value? Your first instinct might be to go to a popular website or download an app for online services that provide estimated real estate values. While these services might offer some instant gratification, they might not take in all the factors and trends that will give you the most accurate estimate of your home’s worth.

Especially if you are considering a move, the best option is to go to a real estate agent that has expertise in your marketplace. An experience professional who is familiar with the properties in your area and has been involved in numerous local transactions will have not only the tools and information but also the context and expertise to get a more accurate read on your home’s true market value. An experienced agent can bring insight into your local market and help you see opportunities that you may not have considered before. This also gives you the opportunity to find a trusted agent that you can work with when it’s time to buy or sell.

I work with a number of experienced real estate partners who can meet with you to help determine your home’s actual market value and help you prepare for any of the situations listed above. If you’d like to learn more or get in touch with those experts, please contact me using the information on this email. I’d love to help!

*WJB is not a tax advisory firm. The information contained in this article is for informational purposes only and may not reflect current tax year rules and regulations. Consult your tax advisor or the IRS for current tax year rules, restrictions and regulations.

Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae have adopted changes to the Home Affordable Refinance Program (HARP) and you may be eligible to take advantage of these changes. If your mortgage is owned or guaranteed by either Freddie Mac or Fannie Mae, you may be eligible to refinance your mortgage under the enhanced and expanded provisions of HARP. You can determine whether your mortgage is owned by either Freddie Mac or Fannie Mae by checking the following websites: www.freddiemac.com/mymortgage or http://www.fanniemae.com/loanlookup

Posted in WJB Insight

Get Ready to Refinance
February 21, 2012

Everything changes with time, and your home financing shouldn’t be any different. The home loan you selected when you bought your house 10, five or even one year ago may not fit your financial situation anymore.

As we all know, your financial situation and the real estate market can change. Because our lives and the economy are not static, it’s important to reassess your home financing periodically to see if it is still the right plan for you and to see if there are ways for you to reduce your monthly payments, pay off your loan sooner or change to a loan type that works better for your current financial needs.

For many people refinancing is a great idea — even if you only bought your home in the past couple of years. Additionally, new programs have opened up the refinancing option to homeowners who may be underwater on their loans, allowing them to reap the benefits of a revised home financing program.

There are many different reasons why a homeowner may choose to refinance.

  • Take advantage of historically low interest rates.
    Interest rates haven’t been this low in 50 years. If you can get in now before they begin to climb, you can keep your monthly payments low and could even hold down the overall cost of your loan over the long haul.
  • Ditch your adjustable-rate mortgage.
    It could be your current loan is an ARM that will soon adjust upwards. Or, you might prefer the peace of mind offered by a fixed-rate mortgage.
  • You have a Fannie- or Freddie-owned loan.
    Even if you’re underwater on your home, you may qualify for a refinance under the HARP II program. With no LTV requirements, homes worth less than their mortgages can still get a refinance so the owners can take advantage of today’s market and reduce their monthly payments.*
  • Get some cash.
    You could have credit card debt or another large expense that you wish to pay off. If this is the case, you might want to refinance and “cash out” a certain amount to cover this expense. In fact, cashing out a certain amount at a mortgage’s much lower rate to pay off a debt — say, a credit card — at a much higher rate often makes solid financial sense.
  • Change to terms that better suit your current financial situation.
    For instance, your current loan might be a 30-year, but you now find yourself in a financial position that lets you pay it off in 15 years. Opting for the shorter term loan will help you pay off your debt sooner and save significant money over the term of the loan. Likewise, you might find yourself in a position where your income has decreased and you wish to extend the term of the loan.
  • See whether you can remove your private mortgage insurance.
    PMI is required of borrowers who put down less than 20 percent on their home, and can cost anywhere from .25 percent to .75 percent of the loan value. In general, if you have a 22 percent equity position in your home, you will likely be able to remove your PMI, but be sure to check your state regulations as they vary widely. Look at comparable houses for sale in your neighborhood to help you gauge whether your equity has risen.
  • Roll a second mortgage into one loan.
    Again, this could mean significant savings for you over the long haul.

If you see yourself in any of these situations, you should give me a call so we can see if a refinance would benefit you.

Key Considerations
Whatever your reasons for wanting to refinance, there are a number of factors you’ll want to consider.

  • Make sure that your current loan does not have a pre-payment penalty for refinancing. Such a penalty says that you cannot pay off your loan too early. If you have one in place, you’ll want to make sure you are outside that penalty phase (these typically last between one and five years).
  • Look at whether or not the costs of a refinance are recouped by your lower rate. All loans have closing costs associated with them, and you want to make sure that whatever savings your new loan delivers will also be worth the closing costs.
  • Ensure the savings over the long term make sense. Compare the overall cost of the new loan to the cost of the old loan. Take the remaining months of your existing loan and multiply them by your principal and interest payments and compare that product to the same calculation for the new loan. Is it lower? Is it higher? How large is the difference? Obviously the goal is to save money, but if a cash-out is involved, you’ll need to account for that.
  • Factor in the tax deductions of the new loan in comparison to the old. Are they larger or smaller? By how much? The write-off for mortgage insurance means a lot to most households, so you want to make sure that the money you save on your mortgage won’t be undermined by a less advantageous tax position.**

When considering a refinance there is a lot of information to take into account, which is why it makes sense to sit down with a home financing expert to ensure you’re making the smartest financial decision you can.

I would love to help you make the most informed decision possible. Please contact me today!
*Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae have adopted changes to the Home Affordable Refinance Program (HARP) and you may be eligible to take advantage of these changes. If your mortgage is owned or guaranteed by either Freddie Mac or Fannie Mae, you may be eligible to refinance your mortgage under the enhanced and expanded provisions of HARP. You can determine whether your mortgage is owned by either Freddie Mac or Fannie Mae by checking the following websites: www.freddiemac.com/mymortgage or www.fanniemae.com/loanlookup. ** WJB is not a tax advisory firm. The information contained in this article is for informational purposes only and may not reflect current tax year rules and regulations. Consult your tax advisor or the IRS for current tax year rules, restrictions and regulations.

Posted in WJB Insight

Do You Make the Most of Your Loan Statement?
February 21, 2012

Every month, you receive a mortgage statement that reminds you to make your regular payment against your loan, but did you realize that it can serve as a strategic financial tool?

It’s true. Whether you receive your statement via regular postal mail, or get your statement online, there are various pieces of information on it that can serve as useful intelligence for better managing your home financing, and help you make well-informed decisions about your loan.

Let’s take a look at four important pieces of information found on your statement each month:

1. Taxes.
As tax season approaches, you’ll want to review your property tax write-offs, but also use your statement to check that you aren’t paying too much. Many people have their property taxes paid via an escrow account attached to their home loan. The yearly property tax is put aside in the account and paid out per your local county assessor’s tax collection.

If you pay your property taxes through such an escrow, the year’s property tax total will be divided by 12 and bundled into your monthly mortgage payment. If your local real estate market has shifted, the figure being set aside for your property tax escrow could have shifted, as well. If the property tax fees on your payment stay the same while your home’s value changes, it might be time to have your home’s value reassessed.*

That said, there can be limitations placed on how much the assessors can adjust the value of your property each month, so make sure you familiarize yourself with your local regulations.

2. Amortization.
When you make a payment against your home loan each month, you pay the same amount, but what that money goes toward changes over time. In your loan you have the principal amount, which is the amount you borrowed to finance the purchase of your home, and you have interest, which is the fee you are paying for borrowing that money.

When you first begin paying your loan, your payment goes predominately toward interest, but over time your monthly payment shifts increasingly toward principal. This process is amortization, and your statement shows how your loan is amortizing each month.

If you want to try to pay down your loan more quickly in order to gain additional equity in your loan, you can pay a little extra each month, or make an additional payment each year. Make sure to note on your payments that you wish these extra payments to be applied toward principal, and watch your progress on your statement.

3. Homeowner’s insurance.
Like your property taxes, many homeowners pay their homeowner’s insurance in monthly installments that are bundled into their loan payment. If you do this, make sure to monitor your loan statement to see if this amount increases or decreases, which would obviously reflect changes in your insurance rates.

Also, taking a moment to examine the amount you are paying provides you with an opportunity to mull over whether or not you need to alter your policy in any way.

4. Private mortgage insurance.
Borrowers are generally required to pay for private mortgage insurance (PMI) if their down payment is less than 20 percent of the sales price of their home. This means that the loan-to-value (LTV) ratio is more than 80 percent. Essentially, PMI is designed to protect the lender in cases where the borrower defaults on the loan.

In most cases when your current loan’s LTV falls to 78 percent or below, you no longer need to pay for PMI. So, if you pay PMI, watching the principal on your loan each month can help you keep track of when you may be able to cancel your PMI, which can save you a fair amount of money (which you could consider putting toward the principal, in fact).

Remember, your mortgage statement is more than just a reminder to make your payment — it’s a useful tool. If you’d like to learn more about how to strategically leverage the information on your loan statement, or if you have any other home financing questions, please contact me using the information on this email.

*WJB is not a tax advisory firm. The information contained in this article is for informational purposes only and may not reflect current tax year rules and regulations. Consult your tax advisor or the IRS for current tax year rules, restrictions and regulations.
Posted in WJB Insight

Time for Your Annual Mortgage Checkup
December 8, 2011

For many Americans, our homes represent our single largest financial investment and asset, let alone the place where we eat, sleep, live our lives and raise our families. Given all the life changes that we can experience in 12 months, it’s worth taking a moment to review what has happened in our lives — and in the real estate market — and ensure our homes still have the right financing behind them. There is no better time to do this than at the start of every new year.

It’s a smart financial move to take a look at your mortgage each year to determine if it is still the right fit and meeting your current needs. Reviewing your loan with a licensed mortgage professional is critical so you can fully understand your options. I’d be happy to spend some time with you and review your current mortgage and your long- and short-term financial goals. Together we can determine if it’s time for a change. Below are some of the points we will address and events that may have changed in your life during the last twelve months.

Low mortgage rates. We keep hearing that mortgage rates are lower than they have been in decades. Perhaps you were not in a position to take advantage of today’s rates because of a previously low credit rating or annual income. If circumstances have changed and you are now in a place where you can leverage current bargain rates, it may be time to reevaluate your current mortgage and make a change.

Life changes. A new baby, an unexpected medical expense, saving for college tuition, decreased or increased income or having to buy a new vehicle and take on a monthly car payment are all big events that can change your budget in ways that impact your mortgage. Some of these events you can plan for now, so that you are prepared for your budget to change significantly. To address other unexpected expenses that may have occurred in the last year, you may want to look into a cash-out refinance to meet additional financial burdens head-on. We can discuss your options to decide what works best for you and your changing needs.

More favorable loan options. You might want to consider different loan terms, get a completely different type of mortgage or remove a second mortgage. Or, you might be in an adjustable-rate mortgage that will soon adjust upwards, so you might seek a fixed rate.

Eliminating mortgage insurance. Perhaps your current loan includes private mortgage insurance, which is required when you make a down payment of less than 20 percent, and can cost from .25 to .75 percent of the home’s value. In general, if you financed your home at least two years ago and now have 20 percent equity in your home, you can request your lender remove the PMI. You may also consider a refinance for a different type of mortgage.

As you can see, when conducting your mortgage review we’ll need to look at many variables. In addition, you’ll need to keep some other factors in mind:

Closing costs. If you wish to refinance to get a lower rate, you want to see how long it will take you to recoup your closing costs. You’ll need to consider how long you plan to stay in the home along with other factors to make sure a refinance is a fiscally sound move.

Tax deductions. Another key consideration is the possible gain or loss of tax deductions, depending on the type of mortgage you pursue.* We sometimes don’t realize how much of a tax break we’ve been getting from our mortgage interest!

No matter how you slice it, engaging in an annual mortgage review is a big job, and you’ll need some expert advice to ensure your mortgage is still the right one for you — or to select new financing that brings you greater benefits. In the same way you would consult with a doctor to come up with a healthy fitness plan for the coming year, I would love to sit down with you and review all the options and variables in play. Reach out to me via the contact information on this email to schedule your mortgage checkup today!

*W.J. Bradley is not a credit counseling or financial advisement firm and this information is for educational purposes only and is not to be taken as guidelines or guarantees to improve your credit or financial situation or eligibility to secure a home loan.

Posted in WJB Insight

My Mission:
  Terri Trotter Earley
Loan Officer
2011 South Route 59
Plainfield, IL 60586
NMLS# 579177
To educate and advise clients on their home financing options and become a trusted advisor and their lender for life.

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