Do You Understand Your Mortgage’s Fine Print?

Now that the housing/mortgage crisis has begun to level out in most parts of the country, it has once again become a buyer’s market, and this time in a much more reasonable manner. Interest rates are good, but not unbelievably good like they were leading up to the 2007 crisis. As we all know by now: if something seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Just because we’re looking at the US Financial Crisis (2007-2008) in the rear view mirror doesn’t mean that getting a mortgage loan today comes without risks, though. In fact, there is a lot to be learned from the mistakes made a decade ago.

In order to ensure that you aren’t getting yourself into something you can’t handle or something that will change over time (and not in your favor) – you simply MUST have a complete and solid understanding of everything contained in your mortgage agreement.

To most people, this probably sounds like common sense. But have you ever looked at a real, live mortgage agreement? They are very lengthy with a lot of industry jargon that can quickly spin you into a confused puddle on the floor.

Your best bet is to find a New Jersey lawyer with real estate knowledge. Make sure you trust him and his team implicitly – in all likelihood a paralegal may also work with you on real estate matters, so be sure to meet everyone in the office who will be helping you understand your documents.

Questions to have ready for your attorney and/or paralegal include:

  • Is my rate variable or fixed? If the answer is variable, find out the lowest fixed rate that you’ll be able to lock in your loan.
  • Will there be penalties if I have to break my mortgage contract?
  • Am I required to pay mortgage insurance? If so, find out why. You may be able to work with a different lender who will not require mortgage insurance. If mortgage insurance is non-negotiable, be sure to ask how long you’ll be paying it, because it can often be a significant sum.
  • How long does my mortgage loan last? Will different terms lower my monthly payment?
  • What fees am I required to pay up front and are there any fees that were tossed into the total loan amount?
  • Do I have a balloon payment clause?
  • What are mortgage “points?”
  • Is a down payment required?
  • What is my monthly payment?
  • What is my credit score? We left this question until the end for a reason. We wanted to leave you with it on your mind. Finding out your credit score should be one of the first things you do even before you begin applying for mortgage pre-approval.

Your credit score will have a significant impact on the interest rate you will be offered by lenders. If your score is less than desirable, or even “fair”, talk to your NJ real estate attorney and paralegal about waiting to buy a home until you can boost your score into the “good” or “excellent” range. Work with your trusted legal team to raise your credit score. They will also be able to guide you in determining the best time to jump into the real estate market so that you qualify for the best loan options. This will save you a lot of money throughout the length of your mortgage.

 

 

Images: “Chocolates 1” and “Chocolates 2” by Windell Oskay – licensed under CC 2.0

Can I be Evicted Due to my Roommate’s Poor Credit?

Moving in with a roommate can be a great way to split expenses – both rent and utilities. It can also be an extremely fun time in your life as you venture out on your own and begin to explore the world as an adult.

Naturally, deciding to live with someone, whether in your early 20s or later in life, is a big decision and one that must be taken seriously. It’s in your best interest to make sure that the person you choose to live with is trustworthy and easy to get along with. Failure to take the time to find a roommate who meets these criteria can lead to a very miserable living situation.

However, the single most important trait to look for in a potential roommate is financially responsibility. The following “red flags” indicate a deficiency in the money department and should give you significant pause in selecting your cohabitant:

  • Poor credit score (under 620)
  • History of being evicted for non-payment of rent or utilities
  • Frequent moves from one rental to another – This indicates that they may be more likely to break the lease they sign with you.
  • Tells “horror” stories about all past roommates – The whole “it’s not me, it’s them” scenario – if it keeps repeating itself in someone’s life, this is probably not a person you want to live with.
  • Poor references – Ask potential roommates if you can get in touch with someone they used to live with. Today, this can be as simple as a Facebook introduction and a five minute online chat. Look for answers about paying rent, utilities and security deposits as well as paying for any damages that occurred during the length of their lease.
  • Doesn’t hold a steady job or is only employed part-time – Make sure that they pull in more than enough income to pay their portion of the monthly bills.
  • Inability to put down a deposit

If you plan to apply for a joint lease once you find the right roommate, the property owner (landlord) will almost certainly check both of your credit scores. Even if you have a sparkling credit history and a high score, a landlord can decide not to rent to you if your roommate has dings on their credit report.

Typically, landlords won’t turn away potential renters who only have a few dings in their credit history, but if your roommate is saddled with a significant amount of debt, their credit score has likely suffered because of it.

Perhaps you already have an apartment rental and you want to take on a roommate without adding their name to the lease. Depending on the language of your specific lease agreement, you may be required to add any official occupants’ names to the lease. If this is the case, your new roommate’s credit score can prevent them from joining you in your rental.

Knowing that your possible bunkmate has a dubious financial history, you may be tempted to lie by omission and have them “move in” without officially telling your landlord. While this may temporarily avoid a credit check, it may end in disaster if your landlord discovers your covert roommate. If this happens, you and your undisclosed roommate will likely be evicted for failure to follow the rules set out in the lease agreement.

If you feel that you have been evicted unjustly, you should make yourself aware of your rights as a New Jersey tenant.

 

Image: “Moving Day Boxes” by Nicolas Huk – licensed under CC by 2.0

The Role of the New Jersey Real Estate Attorney

Upon contemplation of purchasing a home in New Jersey, you may be wondering if you should work with a real estate attorney as well as a real estate agent during the process. To some people this may seem redundant, but there are several very good reasons to consider hiring a NJ real estate lawyer.

In New Jersey, state law gives home buyers and sellers a three day “attorney review period.” This three day period begins when a real estate contract is signed. The contract is not considered legally binding until the three day attorney review period has ended.

Many home buyers ignore the attorney review period and ask, “What can my attorney do that my real estate broker can’t do?” The answers follow.

Review legal contracts

During the attorney review period, your NJ real estate attorney will read through the entirety of your real estate contract, looking for any red flags and addressing crucial elements that may be missing. Having your real estate attorney review your contract during the attorney review period will increase your chances of a successful closing without any glitches and without surprises several months from now. Real estate attorneys have been specifically trained in the area of real estate contract law, and they know precisely what to look for, whereas real estate brokers are generally most interested in closing the deal.

Because real estate agents frequently use generic forms that are “one size fits all,” many special circumstances may not be addressed in your purchase agreement. An attorney will notice when crucial details are missing from your sales agreement, and they can add contingencies where they are needed.

Perform a title search

New Jersey real estate attorneys will perform an action called a title search when property is being sold from one owner to another. A title search must be completed in order to determine if a property is free of any liens, judgments, or encumbrances. An attorney can perform a title search much faster and cheaper because of his networking connections and close relationships with title companies in the area.

Legal filings

Often, real estate deeds must be filed with the county and state government. This is more true when commercial property is involved. In these cases, your real estate lawyer will easily be able to assist you with obtaining your tax identification number, establishing your business entity, securing a business license and navigating all of the state regulations surrounding any construction that you may wish to have completed on your new commercial (or residential) property.

Some people choose to move forward with a home purchase without the assistance of a real estate attorney in New Jersey. While this is within your legal rights, it is well worth the extra money and relatively short investment of time to work closely with a lawyer near you who specializes in real estate contract law.

In doing so, you will protect yourself from any problems that may arise during the property transfer process. Some glitches that may occur include: improperly filed deeds, tax issues, undiscovered liens, home inspection challenges/property defects, missing or improperly filed documentation/permits, and failure to properly register commercial property. Your attorney can also attend the closing with you to ensure that everything goes as planned.

Will working with an attorney cost you more money than if you didn’t hire one while you were purchasing a new home or location for your business? YES.

However, the potential money a certified NJ real estate attorney can save you in the long run is indeterminate and can oftentimes be exponential when compared with your initial investment in retaining your attorney’s services. The smart move is to invest in a secure transaction by making sure that your real estate contract is legally binding, in your favor, without errors, and free of encumbrances.

 

Image: “Sherwood Country Club” by Sherwood CC – licensed under CC by 2.0