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Preparing to Buy a First Home


Jim Cicchese pic

Jim Cicchese

As a Realtor with Keller Williams Westlake Village, Jim Cicchese facilitates the purchase and sale of residential properties. In this role, Jim Cicchese draws on more than 28 years of experience in working with homeowners.

Purchasing a home requires both mental and logistical preparation. Financially, the buyer’s first job is to determine the price range, which is generally restricted to 30 percent or less of the person’s gross monthly income. The individual must have money for the down payment, which generally ranges from 3.5 to 20 percent of the home’s total cost. Buyers also must make sure they have enough money for closing costs.

Lenders typically need to see evidence of an individual’s ability to meet the financial obligations of homeownership, so potential homebuyers will have to collect certain bank and tax documents. This should be part of a process in which the borrowers investigate different mortgage options, such as adjustable-rate or fixed-rate loans.

The type of mortgage will depend largely on the buyer’s financial needs and responsibilities, while the selection of the property itself centers on the individual’s personal preferences. A home is a very personal choice and requires an in-depth look at the features of the property and the neighborhood. By visiting the property at multiple times of day and talking to the neighbors to get a feel for the neighborhood, buyers can determine if a house is not only affordable but livable.

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Preparing a Condominium for Sale


Keller Williams pic

Keller Williams
Image: kw.com

As a REALTOR® with Keller Williams Westlake Village in California, Jim Cicchese draws on more than 28 years of experience in real estate. Jim Cicchese facilitates the buying and selling of residential properties, including condominiums.

If you are planning to sell your condominium, one of the first things that you will need to do is to make it appealing to the discerning buyer. This means investigating the market to find out what amenities tend to get the most attention in your particular area, either by perusing listings or by asking a real estate professional. This will help you decide what features to highlight in your own listing.

Market research can also help you to determine how to price your condo. Units that cost significantly more than similar properties are likely to remain on the market for longer and ultimately drop quite a bit in price. A real estate agent experienced in selling condominiums can help you to competitively price your unit, while also taking charge of marketing and interacting with buyers.

The agent can also give you expert advice in the staging of your condominium. For most owners, this involves removing personal items like family photos, so that the potential buyer can envision his or her own life in the space. The owner should also ensure that the home is in good repair, both to create an appealing experience for the buyer and to prepare for the eventual pre-sale inspection.

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Mortgage Options for First-Time Home Buyers with Lower Credit Scores

 Jim Cicchese pic

Jim Cicchese
Image: kw.com

With his long career in real estate spanning nearly 30 years, Jim Cicchese currently works as a Realtor with Keller Williams Westlake Village, where he served on the Keller Williams Agent Leadership Council in 2013 and 2014. On his website, Jim Cicchese stresses the importance of home buyers understanding the buying process to help them make sound decisions.

One key component in the home buying process is applying for and getting a mortgage, which can be tougher for younger, first-time home buyers, who generally have lower credit scores. Fortunately, you do not need an “excellent” credit rating to get decent mortgage rates.

FHA loans, backed by the Federal Housing Administration, often provide buyers with a 580 credit score or above 100% financing with a down payment as low as 3.5 percent. FHA loans are even available for those with a rating ranging from 500 to 580, though with a higher down payment of 10 percent.

For first-time buyers with slightly higher credit scores, the Fannie Mae HomeReady mortgage provides another option with 100 percent financing and a low down payment. For this loan, buyers should have a credit score around 620 or above.

Conventional fixed-rate mortgages might be harder to get, typically requiring scores on the higher end of the credit rating spectrum, at around 740. That said, other factors like solid employment history, good income, low current debt, and a sizeable down payment can all help your chances.

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Sites to See in Monterey, California

Point Lobos State Natural Reserve pic

Point Lobos State Natural Reserve
Image: pointlobos.org

A Realtor in California with 28 years of experience, Jim Cicchese serves clients at Keller Williams Westlake Village. When away from work, Jim Cicchese enjoys traveling up the California coast and particularly likes visiting Monterey.

The Monterey area offers a number of beautiful outdoor destinations. Below are just a few sites to see in the area:

Monterey Bay Aquarium. Located at the old Hovden Cannery right on the edge of the bay, the Monterey Bay Aquarium gives visitors a glimpse of the diverse array of marine life that flourishes in Monterey Bay.

Point Lobos State Natural Reserve. Located south of Monterey, the Point Lobos State Natural Reserve features granite cliffs, caves, rock-enclosed ponds, and unique rock formations formed by erosion.

Carmel-by-the-Sea. A small beachside village south of Monterey, Carmel-by-the-Sea offers visitors an extensive dog-friendly beach ideal for taking in the sunset. The village also attracts visitors to boutique shops and restaurants located on its famous Ocean Avenue.

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Four Tips for Better Mountain Biking

Mountain biking

Mountain biking


For almost three decades, Jim Cicchese has worked as a Realtor in Westlake Village, California, serving his community and becoming a top producing agent in the process. When he is not busy selling homes, Jim Cicchese is an avid mountain biker.

Mountain biking can be a lot trickier than the simple bike rides you enjoyed as a child. These four tips will help a beginner become a better mountain biker.

1. Focus – Keep your focus aimed on where you want your bike to go. A novice mistake is to fixate on the things you want to avoid, like a small rock on the trail. It’s important to see obstacles well in advance, rather than when they are just a few feet away.

2. Movement – Shifting your weight on your bike can either help or hinder your performance, depending on the situation and your position. Lean forward when going uphill to improve your front tire’s traction. Lean back while descending to improve balance. For sharp turns and switchbacks, leaning into the turn helps to control your balance.

3. Gears – Learn to use your bike’s gears properly. Lower gears make climbing easier but cause fatigue over flat terrain. When coming upon a hill always downshift before you need to in order to maintain your momentum and avoid a difficult last-minute shift.

4. Use Speed Wisely – Speed might frighten a novice, but using it wisely can make for a smoother, more efficient ride. Going fast over loose dirt or rocks can actually smooth out these rough spots, whereas going slowly can make maintaining stability a chore. Similarly, any speed you pick up going down a hill can be used to help carry you up the next one.

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Roughly 50% of homeowners with modified mortgages redefault and billions and billions of tax payer dollars continue to go up in smoke. Despite critics calling for a stop or at least a reassessment of the program, money continues to flow. And the FHA just made it much easier for “damaged” buyers to get right back in the mix, reducing the wait time from three years to one. Is there any question that Washington will do whatever it takes to prop up the housing market?

Nearly half of the US homeowners who had their loans modified under a government aid program are now defaulting again on their mortgages at an alarming rate, according to a recent report. The Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program (SIGTARP), said that around 865,100 homeowners have avoided foreclosure with the help of The Home Affordable Modification Program, also known as HAMP, through loan modifications. However, more than 306,000 other homeowners had redefaulted on their modified mortgages as of April, the report added.

HAMP was set up to help struggling homeowners avoid foreclosure by working with their lenders to lower monthly mortgage payments. The Obama administration launched HAMP in 2009 to aid struggling homeowners impacted by the housing crisis. Some call it an undeserved handout to owners not all that concerned with saving their homes; others say more needs to be done.

“This is a program where there’s not enough people being helped,” Christy Romero, special inspector general for SIGTARP, told Reuters. ”Exactly why people are falling out of HAMP isn’t well understood by Treasury,” said Romero. “If redefaults are happening at an alarming rate, then you’ve got to stop that and change the program somehow where you stop the trend.”

It would seem that simple economics would apply; don’t spend dollars when you earn dimes. That is likely a main reason “why people are falling out of HAMP” and it would seem that the best way to stop the trend is to foreclose and have those owners live within their means. Washington is about the only place where a program with a 50% failure rate and billions of wasted dollars would continue.

But Washington is not content pouring money into a program with less than marginal results, they are encouraging lenders to loosen the restrictive guidelines on home buyers; anything to keep the housing bounce going. This has worked with FHA effective this month. Previously, borrowers who experienced a foreclosure had to wait at least three years before getting a chance to get approved for an FHA loan, but with the new guideline, certain borrowers who lost their home as a result of an economic hardship may be considered even earlier. Borrowers who went through a bankruptcy, foreclosure, deed-in-lieu, or short sale to reenter the market in as little as 12 months, according to a mortgage letter released Friday. For borrowers who went through a recession-related financial event, FHA stated it realizes “their credit histories may not fully reflect their true ability or propensity to repay a mortgage.”

So that covers the “strategic default” or other fiscal maneuvering that many do to simply avoid paying? Seems like it’s getting smarter to just walkaway from financial obligations as opposed to struggling and trying to honor them. Many have asked “what’s the point”…what’s the answer to that question?

Hank Miller, SRA
Associate Broker & Certified Appraiser
Atlanta Communities Real Estate