Coronavirus Forcing Home Buyers to Scramble to Close Deals

Real-estate agents are rushing to help home buyers and sellers close pending house sales, as the pandemic poses unprecedented obstacles to a high-touch process traditionally done in person.

House hunting usually involves a lot of contact, from the initial tour or open house to the final inspections and appraisal. The official closing is often an in-person meeting with a notary or attorney who oversees document signings.

With the coronavirus pandemic bringing shelter-in-place orders, the real-estate industry has been compelled to find workarounds for every step of this process, often having to navigate local requirements and consumer anxiety.

Home sales are now closing in parking lots where attorneys pass documents through car windows and throw away pens after each use, said Leslie Turner, founding partner at Maison Real Estate in Charleston, S.C.

“Everything’s just stopped” in terms of new business, she said. “We’re just trying to get the properties that we have under contract across the finish line to close.”

While some of the technology to enable remote home closings has existed for years, many real-estate companies are adopting it en masse for the first time.

“This is a business that time forgot,” said Vishal Garg, chief executive of online mortgage company “It operates literally on paper and fax.”

Some state Realtor associations are recommending addenda for home-purchase contracts that extend closing dates if pending closings are delayed because of the pandemic. Buyers and sellers are also scrambling for alternatives to in-person inspections and appraisals, which are traditionally required for sales and loans to go through.

“It’s been a really challenging time,” said Kelli Griggs, co-founder of Navigate Realty in El Dorado Hills, Calif. “It’s just been a different focus—rescuing deals versus trying to procure them.”

Pending home sales rose 2.4% in February from a month earlier, the National Association of Realtors said Monday. Pending sales usually predate closings by one or two months, the association said.

Companies that sprang up in recent years to offer remote solutions for home buyers and sellers say they are seeing unprecedented demand.

Notarize, a five-year-old company that enables documents to be notarized online, expects to process at least $100 billion in transactions on its platform this year, up from about $10 billion last year, said Chief Executive Pat Kinsel.

“A lot of our partner industries are in crisis right now because they cannot complete really important transactions,” he said.

More than 20 states already have laws allowing electronic notarization, and a handful of others, including New York, issued executive orders in March to permit them. A federal bill on electronic notarization was introduced in the Senate in March.

Many notaries, home inspectors and appraisers are self-employed or employed by small businesses. Most of them are still allowed to work, even under various shelter-in-place orders around the country, but many are choosing not to out of health or safety concerns, according to industry groups. Moving companies are also still allowed to operate in many cities and states.

Nick Gromicko, founder of the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors, estimated that three-fourths of the 30,000 home inspectors in the U.S. and Canada are unwilling to do inspections right now. “Financially, it means that it’s going to hurt them,” he said.

Miller Samuel Inc., a New York City appraisal and consulting firm, stopped doing interior appraisals in mid-March, said Chief Executive Jonathan Miller. More lenders are accepting “drive-by” appraisals based on exterior inspections or “desktop” appraisals based on tax records and other documents, he said.

“We’re needed to help keep the economy going,” he said, but “I’m not knowingly sending my staff into harm’s way.”

The Federal Housing Finance Agency on March 23 directed Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to accept alternatives to in-person interior appraisals until May 17.

But some lenders are still requiring interior appraisals, said Bill Garber, director of government and external relations at the Appraisal Institute. “If [appraisers] do have concerns, our suggestion is to reject the assignment,” he said.

Another obstacle is each county’s recording office, which keeps property ownership records. As of midday Monday, 149 county recording offices around the U.S. were closed, another 998 had reduced hours or service, and the status of almost 2,000 was unknown, according to the American Land Title Association, which is crowdsourcing the information from its members.

In the counties with closed offices, “it’s near impossible to actually complete a mortgage closing,” said Steve Gottheim, senior counsel for the association.

Most Americans live in counties that allow electronic recording, but some offices are still paper-based, he said.

The longer these offices stay closed, the higher the risk that documents could be recorded in the wrong order or that the lack of timely property information could enable fraud, he said.

“Between appraisals and notaries and county clerk’s offices, there’s a lot of obstacles to just getting people to be able to close their mortgages,” Mr. Garg said.

As more companies enable remote closings, real-estate executives said the increased use of technology in the closing process could become permanent for consumers who prefer the convenience.

Darry Dykstra used electronic notarization in late March to remotely close on the sale of an investment home in Plant City, Fla. “It was pretty much a no-brainer,” he said. “Even without the coronavirus, I don’t see me going to the closing table anymore.”

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7 Simple Ways to Keep Your Kids’ Toys From Taking Over Your Home

Conquer the clutter and reclaim the precious space you once ruled.

If having your family at home all day, every day has made your space feel chaotic, and your days and nights seem to run together, regain a sense of order with these simple tips.

1. Reduce the clutter

It doesn’t matter how organized you are — a surplus of toys will always ensure your house is a mess waiting to happen. Fortunately, getting kids on board with the idea of ditching their stuff is a lot easier than it sounds.

The trick is to make it an opportunity for them to define themselves and their interests. Encourage kids to make a pile of ”baby toys” to donate, and have them set aside any toys that no longer interest them, such as action figures from a forgotten TV show. Separating these toys will help them appreciate how much they’ve grown and rediscover the toys they love.

2. Choose toys wisely

Since you’ll probably be stuck with them for a while, it pays to be picky when it comes to buying toys. To make toys more meaningful to your child, only buy them for holidays, special occasions and rewards — don’t shy away from asking relatives to do the same.

Avoid toys that are poorly made (cheap), not age-appropriate, unnecessarily large, pointless or anything tied to a movie — unless it’s that one you’ve been playing on repeat every day. The best toys are versatile, encourage creativity and can easily be expanded upon, such as Legos, wooden train tracks and dollhouse sets.

3. Leave some toys out of reach

If you’re constantly finding play dough and puzzle pieces in the sofa cushions, it’s time to put them on the top shelf of the closet. Designating these messy toys as ”family toys” will give you more quality time with your child instead of scrubbing pen marks off the curtains.

Also, try to set aside a tote of toys, games and puzzles for rainy days. This ensures you’ll always have a trick up your sleeve for sick days or when a boring relative visits.

4. Set boundaries

If toys are already sprawled out over every available surface of your house, don’t worry! You can quickly reclaim order in your household by setting a few ground rules, such as ”no toys in the kitchen” or setting limits on the number of toys allowed out overnight.

While that might seem a bit draconian, children are generally happier when they’re given clear expectations and few surprises. That’s why it’s important to follow through and pick up every night, no matter how exhausted you feel at the time.

5. Give kids ownership

Picking up toys doesn’t have to be boring. Babies, toddlers and big kids alike can have fun organizing and picking up, just as long as it’s not a negative experience. This means you should provide enough time for enjoyment without resorting to counting ”1, 2, 3” or shouting empty threats.

A great thing about setting aside extra time for picking up is that you and your child can do fun things like scoop up blocks with a blanket or deliver toys across the house via tricycle. If you make it fun enough, your kid will eventually pick up without even being asked.

6. Give every toy a home

Without a simple organizational system, picking up can be a major headache. Don’t throw everything into one big toy box; there’s a better way.

Buy a series of matching plastic bins and line them up along the wall where your child can easily put away and retrieve toys on his own. Designate one box for Legos, one for stuffed animals, one for train tracks … you get the idea.

Use stacking plastic boxes for smaller toys like matchbox cars and dolls. Organize them further by storing puzzle pieces, doll clothes and other annoyances in Ziploc bags.

7. Hit the books

It’s not your imagination. That pile of storybooks by the couch really is getting taller, and if you wait much longer, it will likely turn into a giant heap.

Worse yet, your kid uses those books to stall and push back bedtime a little later with each passing night. That’s why it’s important to either keep the books in your child’s room, or keep a small selection of favorites in a basket for easy retrieval.


Originally published December 2017

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Class Valuation solutions modernize appraisals using mobile technology and machine learning

The word “innovation” has rarely been used when referencing appraisal management companies. Class Valuation plans to change that by delivering technology that improves upon an already stellar customer service record, provides lender and investor certainty, and enhances the experience of all users along the way.

At a time when so many are competing to bring the industry modernization, Class Valuation has delivered a holistic digital solution that will change the future of the profession.  

The introduction of Property Fingerprint and Class INtelligence combine unbiased comprehensive property data collection, enhanced quality control and other performance factors connecting the feedback loop and providing for end-to-end improvements and efficiencies.

stakeholders have been pleading for innovation and improvement from our
profession,” said Scot Rose, chief innovation officer at Class Valuation.
“Class Valuation is leveraging advanced technologies to answer their call.
Whether an investor, lender, appraiser or a consumer, we will improve the
experience and bolster the confidence of all stakeholders in the process.”

Class Valuation’s Property Fingerprint combines mobile technology and machine learning to generate virtual tours, detailed floorplans and enhanced property data to ensure greater transparency, granularity, consistency and credibility.

User validations are integrated ensuring accuracy and reduced QC revisions. Property deficiencies cannot be concealed, photo capture is automated and the potential for fraud is practically eliminated. All while significantly reducing overall cycle-times.

reports that appraisers have embraced the technology with open arms, as it standardizes
the inspection and provides a higher level of service to their clients. Lenders
and secondary market participants have been impressed with the improved quality
of appraisal reports and the keen insight into property characteristics that
augment collateral risk mitigation.   

“Appraisers and
lenders currently use antiquated processes that haven’t been significantly
updated in years,” said Tim Staudenmaier, chief digital officer at Class
Valuation. “Property Fingerprint streamlines the appraisal workflow while
improving quality, consistency, reliability and data.”

Class INtelligence was developed in 2018 and implemented into the
Quality Control (QC) process. Class INtelligence deploys advanced algorithms
and analytics on
system data to assess data accuracy and appraiser competency as well as validate
against industry guidelines and regulations.

the lending community, this means assurance that not only is each order vetted
by their QC team, but the data is further analyzed by Class INtelligence to
expedite order assignment and ensure each one gets into the correct hands based
on appraiser performance, property complexity and geographic criteria.

advancements firmly place Class Valuation at the forefront of innovation in the
mortgage space, but this Detroit MI-based appraisal management company has not
forgotten its core values, rooted in providing an exemplary experience for all.
“While Class is busy helping to lead our industry into the future, we are laser-focused
on exceeding our outstanding track record of best-in-class customer service.”
CEO John Fraas said.

Class Valuation is a company to watch in 2020, as they lead the way in modernizing the appraisal industry well into the future. To learn more about partnering with this trailblazing organization, contact

John Fraas,

As the CEO
of Class Valuation, John Fraas is responsible for overseeing the day-to-day
operations and aiding in the execution of the company’s strategic plans. Fraas
is passionate about helping the company to continue to grow through innovation
and exceptional service.

Scot Rose, Chief Innovation Officer

With over 20 years of valuation industry experience, Scot Rose joined Class Valuation in April 2018 as the chief innovation officer. In his role, Rose partners with industry stakeholders and the Class executive team to drive thoughtful change and modernize the appraisal and collateral risk process.  

Tim Staudenmaier, Chief Digital Officer

As chief digital officer, Tim Staudenmaier is responsible for digital strategy supporting products and solutions. Prior to joining Class, he served as Fannie Mae’s Manager of Collateral Strategy & Innovation. In this capacity he helped design and roll out Collateral Underwriter (CU), Fannie Mae Connect Collateral Reporting and the Appraisal Process initiative.

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Working From Home? Here’s How To Create A Stylish Home Office In Any Room

In September 2019, the Bureau Of Labor Statistics reported that 29 percent of Americans worked from home. Since the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic that number has increased substantially. As if this situation isn’t difficult enough for everyone personally and economically, working from home has its own challenges, especially if there isn’t a dedicated home office space. This is particularly true in New York City, where most of the population lives in smaller apartments.  

Since most of the nation is likely working from home for the next couple of months, it’s essential to establish a dedicated home office space whether it’s located within a larger room, a closet or even a nook with a tiny footprint. Here’s are the best ways to convert any space into a home office. 

Setting Up A Home Office In The Bedroom Or Guest Room

While it isn’t ideal to work and sleep in the same room, the advantage of having an office in your bedroom is that unless you live in a loft or studio apartment, every home has a bedroom with a door that closes. Interior designer Alexis Rogers of Home With Alexis suggests most bedrooms can accommodate a workspace with one of three configurations.  

“If you have a closet that can be sacrificed, you can remove the doors of the closet and convert the closet space into an office nook,” she says. “Even if it’s a shallow closet, having the desk in that nook creates a purposeful workspace while also giving it a separate feel from the rest of the bedroom.”

If you’re only going to be working from home temporarily, this might be a smart idea because you can put clothing into storage and then re-attach the doors when you return to your regular office. Not sure where to store the doors? Try under the bed.  

Another option Rodgers recommends is swapping out an end table for a desk, if you have room to do so. “This will work out better if you can keep your desk tidy, or if you just need a dedicated place to sit and work on your laptop that’s away from the noise and activities of the rest of the house,” she explains. 

A third choice is either adding a desk to the existing bedroom furniture configuration or switching out a dresser for a desk. “If your closet has extra drawers and shelves and you can edit the contents of your dresser into those drawers and shelves, or if your closet has room for the dresser itself and you’d prefer to keep your desk in a main area of the bedroom, use the dresser’s former location for your desk,” she says. 

Then bring in desk accessories. “Add a stylish chair, lamp, and beautiful piece of art above the desk. Create a little work sanctuary, and when it’s not in use, it still looks beautiful.”  

Turn A Living Room Into A Working Room 

The next most obvious choice for a workspace is the living room. Under the best circumstances, to turn your living room into a home office, consider purchasing a desk and then creating a small work corner. Then consider using a room divider. This can be particularly helpful if you have children because it sets a physical boundary. They also make excellent backgrounds for Zoom calls.

But if there isn’t a space for that, Sara Ianniciello, who is the director of design at Whitehall Interiors has some strategies for working on the sofa, if you must. “Make sure to keep proper ergonomic heights with the placement of your laptop, especially if you are working on a couch and coffee table,” she says. “This can be done with items that you already have in your home, like setting your laptop on a thick book or box to avoid neck strain.” 

In most homes, miscellaneous objects tend to find their way into living rooms. Clutter can really hinder productivity, so Ianniciello suggests decluttering as often as possible. “This is something easy that you can do in any room of the house that makes a big difference. A clean workspace will help you stay organized and focus better,” she says. 

Then bring in decor intentionally. “Candles, plants, picture frames, and art are great accessories to have at or near your workspace, even in the living room. Consider adding things like this or a table or task lamp during working hours and reverting back to normal when you are done for the day. This will help put you in work mode,” says Ianniciello.   

Cook Up Productivity By Turning A Kitchen Into A Home Office

Yuna Megre of Megre Interiors suggests starting by de-cluttering your entire kitchen. “Clean out your kitchen cabinets, organize them and move anything you can from surfaces into the closets,” she says. “This is vital not only providing you with extra space, but in decluttering your thoughts. If there is a lack of space in your kitchen, grab a box, and put anything you don’t use on a daily basis and move the boxes to another room.”

Then strategize the best way to use the space you have. “Don’t forget your vertical surfaces—your walls, windows, cabinets, and fridge. These can all be spaces for Post-Its, notes, drawing, and putting up documents you need in front of you when you work,” she says. 

But then the question is where to establish your workspace in the kitchen. The best-case scenario is having an eat-in kitchen without an attached family room, explains Raf Howery, CEO of Kukun. Kukun is a recently launched app that allows users to estimate and compare costs of home remodeling, which is something many people will likely be doing once the pandemic ends. “If you have an eat-in kitchen and you don’t have an attached family room,” he says, “Use your kitchen table, moving it so that it backs to a wall. You can move it back for meals. Avoid frying during that time.”

It’s always possible to use the kitchen island as a desk. However, Kukun cautions this setup can be uncomfortable for your back. 

If that is the only choice in terms of set-up, Alexis Sheinman of Pembrooke and Ives proposes a few ways to work around this. “Whether at a bar-height counter, dining table or kitchen island, clear the surface off and match the table height with the most comfortable work chair you can find. If you have a wood or metal chair, bring a cushion [or pillow] along,” she says. 

Accessories are also key to establishing the space. Consider buying a desk lamp. “Light can make or break the ambiance and brightness and is key to productivity. If your kitchen doesn’t get enough natural light, bring a table or floor lamp. Then, adjust the light level throughout the day according to the weather and time of day,” Sheinman says.

From there, you can accessorize to improve the aesthetic. “Make it pretty – a small vase with flowers, a pretty table cloth, mason jars with pencils and pens, etc can make your workspace super fun,” shares Megre.

Convert A Playroom Into A Home Office 

Remember when you thought it would be great to turn that extra room or basement into a playroom for the kids? Are you now regretting that decision? Turning the space into your office might be a great lesson in sharing for them. Luckily, this doesn’t require major construction and is simple enough to DIY using The Container Store’s entirely customizable Elfa Closet System.

The Home Edit’s collaboration with The Container Store on a homework station is a versatile workspace setup that can be used as a home office now and then for homework likely in the fall. It’s worth noting that this set up can work in any room that has a free wall.  

First, measure the wall and then install an Easy Hang, which is available in a range of finishes. From there, choose a shelf to function as the desktop. Then build up with shelves and choose organizers depending on your needs. Utilizing the wall is essential if you don’t have a large footprint to work with. 

Products like the Elfa Utility Board can help keep accessories neat and the desk clutter-free. Color coordinate everything in true Home Edit style for a whimsical look that both kids and adults can appreciate. 

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Savings from Refinancing, by County

While mortgage rates hover near historical lows at 3.5%, in an effort to lower their monthly payments and boost cash flow, many homeowners have refinanced their homes. See here how much the monthly mortgage payment changes when rates drop from 4.0% (May 2019) to 3.5% (February 2020) and 3.0%.

Nationwide, it is estimated that the drop in mortgage rates from 4.0% to 3.5% decreases the monthly payment by $70 while a decline from 3.5% to 3.0% decreases the monthly payments by $65. Specifically, monthly mortgage payment is reduced from $1,1401 to $1,080 (3.5% rate) and $1,010 (3.0% rate).

However, the savings from lower rates depend on the price of the homes. At the high end, San Francisco homeowners have already seen a $300 drop in their monthly payments from the decline of the rates from 4.0% to 3.5%, and if rates will be even lower at 3%, refinancing the same-priced home would save an extra $290 per month. Specifically, monthly mortgage payment is reduced from $5,0802 to $4,780 (3.5% rate) and $4,490 (3.0% rate). Thus, a drop in mortgage rates by 100 basis points could boost homeowners’ cash flow by nearly $600 per month.

Here are the counties where homeowners can save more than $200 on average every month from a 50 basis points drop of the rates:

Graphic: More than $200 Reduction in Monthly Mortgage Payment

In this blog, we calculated the monthly payment for 3,120 counties across the United States at 4.0%, 3.5%, and 3.0% rates. See here how much homeowners can save from refinancing their homes.

Select a County from the dropdown and see how much monthly payments change over the different mortgage rates:


Table: County Median Home Price and Monthly Payment

See median home prices by county (Q4 2019).

1 For the typical home with a value of $266,300

2 Value of the home: $1.18M

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Hey, Stargazers! This Mansion in Aspen Comes With Its Own Observatory

An Aspen, CO, home on Hopkins Avenue in the heart of the tony town is perfect for stargazing of all kinds.

“What is really unique about this house is the fact that it’s right in the center of downtown Aspen, where we have just a handful of single-family homes,” says listing agent Carrie Wells. “You’re half a block away from restaurants and shopping.”

Listed for $17 million, the historic Victorian home was built in 1888. It’s across from Francis Whitaker Park, a 4-acre park where people play horseshoes, picnic, and relax.

“As you’re looking from the house toward Aspen Mountain, you overlook open space, which is also very unique,” says Wells.

Another distinctive feature of the home—and the reason for its moniker—is the observatory house. Previous owner Elizabeth Jones installed a rooftop observatory as a gift to her son. According to Wells, Aspen’s altitude combined with a lack of city lights makes the area perfect for stargazing.

Rooftop observatory
Rooftop observatory

The home also offers spectacular mountain views.

“It has views up toward Aspen Mountain so you can see the ski runs,” Wells says. Red Mountain is also visible.

The current owners have used the home in the summers and rented it out during the ski season. The monthly rental income is about $40,000.

The 3,944-square-foot home has six bedrooms and 6.5 bathrooms, and its exterior might be a bit deceiving.

“It looks one way on the outside, and when you walk in, it’s modern and open and very different from what you would imagine,” Wells says. “The current owners did an extensive renovation on the interior, and it’s very contemporary. It’s Victorian on the outside, but contemporary and open on the inside.”

The owners also took down walls to better display their art collection and open up the flow for entertaining.

“It actually has a really nice outdoor entertaining space, so that’s also unique and great for this property,” Wells explains. “It’s a property that works well if you like to entertain.”


Michael Brands/Ross Kribbs

The remodeling project won the 2002 Colorado Award for Remodeling Excellence. According to the CARE website, the awards are the state’s largest and longest-running award competition, which honors Colorado architects, custom builders, interior designers, landscape designers, remodelers, and other industry partners.

Downtown Aspen is the place to see and be seen, and this house provides great access to everything.

“Because you’re in the center of where all the action is, you can walk right outside your door and have dinner at all the top restaurants just a half a block away,” Wells says. “It’s where everyone seems to walk around, so there’s a certain lifestyle.

Wells says the eventual buyer will probably use the house as a vacation retreat.

“What attracts people to a house like this is its location, because they’re buying for the lifestyle of being able to walk everywhere,” Wells explains. “So many of our buyers don’t want to rely on their cars; they do that in their primary location. So to walk everywhere is just very desirable.”

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FHA, VA join Fannie, Freddie in relaxing some standards

With the coronavirus continuing to reshape the face of the country and the economy, the biggest players in the mortgage business are moving to make it easier to lend under these extraordinary circumstances.

Last week, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac relaxed their standards for both property appraisals and verification of employment on the loans they buy.

And late last week, the Federal Housing Administration and
Department of Veterans Affairs made similar changes.

The FHA and VA both announced late Friday that would allow for appraisal and income verification alternatives as appraising homes and verifying employment are more difficult right now than they were just a few weeks ago.

On the appraisal front, the FHA and VA will allow
exterior-only appraisals (known as drive-by appraisals) or in some cases, desktop
appraisals, where the appraiser doesn’t inspect the property or comparable
sales. Instead, the appraiser relies on public records, multiple listing
service information, and other third-party data sources to identify the
property characteristics.

In its announcement, the VA cited the contagious nature of
COVID-19 as the main factor for making the appraisal changes.

“Loan Guaranty is committed to protecting veterans, appraisers and industry stakeholders while continuing to execute our mission of delivering VA home loan benefits,” the VA said in a bulletin.

“The potential risks associated with the COVID-19 provides
unique challenges in the appraisal process as VA fee panel appraisers may be
required to access the interior of homes,” the VA continued.

As a result, the VA said it is changing the “long-standing
practice of requiring access to the interior of the home for certain types of
loans and characteristics of those loans.”

According to the VA, appraisers are still required to follow the same procedures of the VA appraisal process and are still required to meet Uniform Standards of Appraisal Practice and state requirements, but are allowed the broader use of exterior inspection.

“Considering the health and safety of veterans and VA Appraiser Fee Panel members during this national emergency, valuations may come in a form of an exterior-only appraisal with enhanced assignment conditions or in limited instances, a desktop appraisal,” the VA said.

According to the VA, the new appraisal rules apply to purchase
and refinance loans but considered to be “temporary in nature.” The VA noted
that it will return to “normal operations after the national emergency.”

The stipulations are much the same for the FHA.

According to the FHA, approved appraisers can “use exterior-only or desktop-only appraisal inspections as a substitute for interior inspections for most forward mortgage and Home Equity Conversion Mortgage purchase transactions and exterior-only appraisal inspections for most forward refinance and HECM traditional and refinance transactions.”

Beyond the appraisal policy adjustments, the FHA and VA are
also making changes to their employment verification policies.

“Many employers have suspended non-essential operations in compliance with state and local government directives,” the FHA said in its announcement. “This has hampered the ability of mortgagees to fully comply with FHA requirements for reverification of employment, either verbal or electronic, to be completed within 10 days prior of the date of the note.”

For forward and HECM loans, the FHA will now allow mortgagees to use the following alternatives to re-verify borrower’s employment:

  • Year-to-date pay stub or direct electronic verification of income dated immediately prior to the note date
  • Bank statement showing a direct deposit from the borrower’s employer for the pay period that immediately precedes the settlement date

According to the FHA, for forward purchase transactions, the
mortgagee must also provide documentation of a borrower’s cash reserves
equaling a minimum of two months of principal, interest, taxes, and insurance.

The VA’s policies are similar.

“Lenders should continue to use good judgment and flexibility when verifying stable and reliable income,” the VA said. “Lenders should make every effort to satisfy VA’s longstanding requirements concerning verification of employment.”

But if a lender is unable to verify employment through traditional
means due to coronavirus-related issues, the lender can use “employment and
income verification third-party services,” the VA said.

“If the lender is not able to utilize a third-party service to verify employment and income, a verification of employment can be met with evidence of direct deposit from a bank statement and pay stubs covering at least one full month of employment within 30 days of the closing date,” the VA said.

“Lenders should reconcile payment amounts between the paystubs and direct deposit listed on the bank statement,” the VA continued. “If the required VOE documentation cannot be obtained by evidence of bank statement and pay stubs, and the borrowers have cash reserves totalling at least two months mortgage payments post-closing, the loan is eligible for guaranty.”

For more information on the VA’s employment verification changes, click here. For more information on the VA’s appraisal changes, click here.

And for more information on the FHA’s changes, click here.

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Working From Home? Tips For Creating A Home Office That Promotes Health, Comfort And Creativity

If you are like millions of Americans, you are ‘working remotely.’ For many of us, that new reality produces additional stress as we squeeze work responsibilities into spaces not designed for them.   

Whatever space you have to work with, it’s more important than ever to make it one you feel good spending time in. Here are some tips for creating work and study spots that promote focus and clear-headedness, while still unmistakably feeling like part of your home, whether that spot is a seat at the kitchen table, a cozy corner or a dedicated desk space. 

First, give yourself a healthy environment.

Many people avoid all contact with the outside world in hopes of reducing the spread of Corona virus. But research published by the Urban Land Institute shows that opening windows can make airborne contaminants less potent. That’s especially useful for apartment-dwellers, who may breathe in recycled air through a ventilation system.

The Corona virus actually thrives in low-humidity, air-conditioned spaces. Adding humidifiers is an easy fix.

Plants make for a happy place. Research shows that interacting with nature, by adding natural light or even looking at potted plants, reduces stress and curbs anxiety.

If you don’t have space for plants, think color: if you are missing out on interacting with nature, bring the outside in. Using the colors of nature, like greens, browns, ocher reds and soft blues, can sometimes help you feel just that little bit closer to the world outdoors.

Be intentional:  Cheryl Eisen, Celebrity Interior Designer and Founder and CEO of Interior Marketing Group, says, “To create a workspace that is conducive to productivity, establish a designated room or space. If you don’t have a home office this can be a desk or table. Try to choose a space away from the TV or the fridge to avoid distractions and mindless snacking.”

She also points to the importance of decluttering and choosing proper lighting. 

“Eliminate any items you don’t need to create a space that feels clean and organized, especially if your workspace is in another room of your home. Use functional and stylish storage solutions to keep the surfaces clear and help boost productivity.” 

Especially for those who stare at a computer screen all the day, lighting has a major impact on productivity. Natural light is the best, so if you can, set up a workspace facing a window. If your workspace doesn’t have access to natural light, opt for LED lighting; it creates clean, comfortable light without glare in addition to being energy-efficient.

Eisen adds, “An organized workspace is crucial to creativity. It prevents distractions to help the flow of ideas. Everything should have a place; this helps keep your mind clear to allow your imagination to flow freely.” 

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The Coronavirus, Real Estate, and You: Our Coverage of the Pandemic

As the coronavirus epidemic roils American society, it is totally upending the world of real estate. The editorial team is tirelessly covering the impact of the pandemic on trends in the housing market, where mortgage rates are heading, and the outlook for home buyers and sellers. We’re also full of suggestions on what to do with your home if you end up cloistered indoors, whether it’s self-quarantine or sheltering in place.

Here’s a quick guide to the stuff you need to know:

The latest on the real estate market

How Record Unemployment Claims Will Affect the Housing Market

The Government Has a Plan To Help Out Renters—Will It Be Enough?

Mortgage Rate Madness: They’re Up, They’re Down, Where Will They Land?

How the Coronavirus Is Affecting Home Buyers and Sellers Right Now

Is Now the Right Time To Buy an Investment Property? How Low Rates Can Help Investors Increase Their Buying Power

Coronavirus Is Likely To Upend the Spring Home-Buying Season—and Not Just in the Way You’d Expect

U.S. Suspends Most Foreclosures Amid Coronavirus Uncertainty

The Fed Slashed Interest Rates. Here’s Why Mortgage Rates Likely Won’t Follow Suit

Recession Alert: What Home Buyers and Sellers Need To Know About the Housing Market

Home Selling in the Age of Coronavirus: It’s a Whole Different World

Mortgage Rates Are at Nearly 50-Year Lows. How Much More Could They Fall?

Worried About the Coronavirus? Here’s a Middle-Class Prepper Retreat for the End of the World

U.S. Real Estate Market Shows Symptoms of Coronavirus Effect: What You Need To Know

That quarantine life

A Farewell to Stark Spaces: How COVID-19 Is Ushering In the End of Minimalist Design

5 Ways My Home Has Calmed Me Down During the Coronavirus

Your Essential Quarantine Supply List: What You’ll Actually Need for a Few Weeks at Home

20 Fun Ways To Pass the Time When You’re Stuck at Home

Stocking Up and Running Out of Space? 8 Clever Tricks for Storing Your Coronavirus Supplies

How To Coronavirus-Proof Your Home—and Your Life

DIY projects to fill your quarantine time

6 Easy DIY Garage Projects To Take On While You’re Stuck Inside

5 Brilliant Household Hacks for All Those Sold-Out Quarantine Supplies

5 Cheery Living Room Decor Ideas We Stole From Instagram While Self-Quarantining

Working from home? We feel your pain

The Best Remote Working Essentials for Your Home Office Space

Work From Home in Style With These Luxe Office Looks We Stole From Instagram

Is Device Overload Draining Your Precious Bandwidth? How To Work From Home at Full Speed

5 Annoying Work-From-Home Habits You Need To Stop Doing Right Now

How To Home-School Your Kids and Work at Home Without Going Crazy

The Rush To Work From Home Creates Opportunity—for Cybercriminals

How I Learned To Make the Most of Working From Home—and You Can Too

Help, My Husband and I Both Work at Home Now—in a Studio Apartment

What we’ve been talking about

‘House Party’ Podcast: Is This Tom Brady’s New Home? Weird Ways We’re Passing the Time During Quarantine

‘House Party’ Podcast: Home Buying and Selling During a Pandemic; the Duggars’ Odd Arkansas Home Finally Finds a Buyer

‘House Party’ Podcast: Coronavirus, and Where To Store All That TP; Why Pharrell Got Teased for His ‘Community College’ House

And, some must-see videos

The Essential Quarantine Supply List

Stuck at Home? Time for Some Touch-Ups

How Is the Coronavirus Affecting Real Estate? A Realtor Explains

How To Prep Your Home for Coronavirus and Keep Germs at Bay

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Solving the Ultimate Small Space Dilemmas

Squeeze every last bit of storage space out of your dwelling, no matter its size.

When you’re in a small space — especially if you’re sharing it with others, and you’re spending a lot more time there than you ever have before — you’ve probably come to realize that square footage is something to be savored, not squandered. If things are feeling a little crowded, this may be a good time to assess your organization methods.

Whatever your hobby or collection, there’s an organizational hack to help you store it. Here are some clever storage tricks for six of the toughest, bulkiest space-takers you may own.

Offseason wardrobe

Tuck those bulky winter sweaters (or shorts and flip-flops) in plastic bins under your bed. If your bed’s too close to the ground, lift it up with sturdy wood blocks. Even a few extra inches create enough space for a sizable storage container.

If elevating the bed isn’t an option, maximize your closet space with a few sets of cascading hangers. Put blouses on one set and T-shirts on another, and you’ll most likely double your closet space.

Extra linens

Extra pillows, comforters, and bedsheets are great for guests, but not so great for your small space. Try vacuum storage bags — stack your items inside, and use your vacuum cleaner to remove the air. Your items will shrink significantly so you can store them under your bed or on a shelf.

Shoe collection

A burgeoning shoe collection can take on a life of its own if not properly corralled. Take it back to dorm-room days with an over-the-door shoe organizer. These college favorites are popular for a reason — they store a dozen pairs of shoes or more, plus scarves, baseball caps, belts and chunky necklaces.


Bikes can be one of the most difficult belongings to stash, especially if you don’t have a deck, garage or basement. Try installing a strong hook in the wall, and hang your bike by the front tire. Pro: It’s a great way to get the bike off the floor. Con: It still protrudes into the room.

For a less invasive option, hang your bike flush against the wall — like you’re hanging a piece of art. The hardware can be as simple as two wooden dowels that support the bike’s horizontal bar. (Just make sure you anchor the supports in the wall’s studs so they can hold the weight.)

Exercise equipment

An inflatable exercise ball is a great workout aid — and a real space suck. You could always deflate it, but the hassle probably isn’t worth it. So, why not get creative and make it a usable piece of furniture?

Repurpose medium or large exercise balls as dining room chairs, and store them under the dining table when you’re done.

No room for a dining table? The bike trick applies here, too. Install a couple of dowels high up on the wall, and set the ball there until you’re ready for a crunch session.

Decorations and keepsakes

Have a collection of things you just can’t get rid of? Maybe old photo albums, holiday decorations or crafting supplies? Strategically placed shelves are your storage lifesaver when seeking space for infrequently used items.

There’s often a wealth of unused space above and behind your hung clothing in bedroom and hallway closets. While shelves in these locations may require a footstool or flashlight to access, it won’t matter if you only need the items a few times a year.

Top photo from Zillow listing.


Originally published August 2017

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