Mortgages Are Getting Easier to Land, but Home Ownership Lags

Lending restrictions relaxed in 2014, allowing would-be homebuyers to more easily secure a mortgage, according to a report issued Thursday by Zillow real estate database. But landing a loan to buy a home today isn’t nearly as easy as it was before the housing bubble burst.

Zillow’s Mortgage Access Index released Thursday serves as an indicator of how easy or difficult it is for potential homebuyers to acquire a mortgage. The index shed about 3 percent between the third and the fourth quarter of 2014 but was ultimately up almost 36 percent year over year.

“We saw essentially a pause in the pace of the improvement of credit conditions, where we have seen really remarkable recovery in credit conditions since their low point in 2010,” says Stan Humphries, chief economist at Zillow. “It is extremely unlikely that we’ll get back to the credit conditions that prevailed in the 2004 to 2007 period of time, but that’s probably a good thing. I think most analysts agree at this point that credit conditions were too loose at that point in time.” More here.

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FICO Program Gives Consumers Easy Access to Credit Info

Following suggestions from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), millions of consumers will now have access to the FICO Scores and credit reports that nonprofit credit counselors purchase on their behalf, FICO (NYSE: FICO) announced Tuesday.

The software company’s newly expanded FICO Score Open Access for Credit & Financial Counseling program will allow millions of people who receive nonprofit credit counseling, housing counseling and other services to receive a free copy of the FICO Score that these organizations have purchased.

In addition, FICO has created content to help these consumers understand the key factors that influence their credit scores.

At the same time, Experian, one of FICO’s credit bureau partners, has agreed to allow qualified credit counselors to share Experian credit reports with their clients, providing additional information to consumers who are struggling financially.

Until now, counseling organizations have generally been prohibited by their contracts with the credit reporting agencies from giving the consumer the credit report or score that they have purchased on that consumer’s behalf, the CFPB noted in a statement about FICO’s announcement.

These reports and scores, however, “help counselors engage in constructive conversations with their clients about steps the clients can take to improve their financial situation,” the agency said.

As part of its ongoing efforts, the CFPB brought counseling organizations’ concerns about restrictions on their clients’ access to credit information to the attention of the credit reporting companies and FICO, and urged that these restrictions be removed. More here.

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CoreLogic: National Foreclosure Inventory Dwindles

National foreclosure inventory continues to shrink, falling 27.3% year over year in February, according to new data from CoreLogic.

In February of this year foreclosure inventory comprised about 553,000 homes, or 1.4% of all homes with a mortgage, down from 761,000, or 1.9%, in February 2014, data show. The latest numbers mark 40 months of continuous year-over-year declines in the foreclosure inventory, including 25 straight months of declines greater than 20%.

“Also in February 2015, the 12-month sum of completed foreclosures continued to decline, dropping by 16.1% from February 2014 to 550,000,” CoreLogic says in a statement. “The seriously delinquent inventory fell to 1.5 million loans, a 19.3% year-over-year decline.” More here. 

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Smart Ways to Trim Your Water Bill This Spring

Water bills can fluctuate quite a bit throughout the year and tend to peak during the summer when people water their lawns, turn up air-conditioning systems that use water, wash cars and even fill swimming pools. The good news is that there are reliable ways to reduce your water consumption, which in turn means lowering your expenses. As an added bonus, using less water also means reducing your energy consumption and lessening your environmental footprint.

Here are some tips to reduce your water consumption – and save on that monthly bill, even when the weather heats up:

1. Fix leaky toilets.

The average household can leak more than 10,000 gallons of water each year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, and much of that water escapes through toilets.If you hear yours running, then try to fix it yourself or call a plumber. (If you rent, let the landlord know.) Likewise, keep an eye out for slow drips coming out of sinks or pipes. Not only can they cause water damage, but they mean more wasted water.

2. Use your toilet properly.

People often end up wasting water by flushing their toilets more than necessary or even using their toilets as a garbage bin. Tissues and other items belong in the trash, not the toilet. Extra flushes and clogged drains end up wasting water. Another option is to stick a plastic bottle weighted down with sand or pebbles in the back of your toilet, so it uses less water.

3. Look for WaterSense labels.

WaterSense is the EPA-sanctioned label that lets consumers know that a product meets certain requirements. Specifically, WaterSense-labeled items are 20 percent more water efficient than average and lead to reduced water consumption. You can find the label on products from showerheads and toilets to faucets, or read more at epa.gov/WaterSense. (You can also follow the program on Twitter at @EPAwatersense.)

4. Skip the lawn.

In drier parts of the country, homeowners can spend over half of their water use on keeping their lawns and gardens moist. If you think about it, that represents a massive inefficiency​: Lawns and gardens don’t need daily sprinkler runs to thrive. Instead, try to get the most out of rain ​by collecting it or just let the lawn get a little brown during dry spells. Stick with native vegetation that doesn’t struggle to survive in drier climates. Adding mulch can also help. More here.

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HUD to Consider Credit Scoring Alternatives?

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is looking at the way companies calculate credit scores as part of its effort to improve credit access to Americans, HUD Secretary Julian Castro recently told several real estate trade groups.

“We do hear about the need to look at new ways of incorporating and analyzing data so that it’s more sensitive to getting at the responsibility folks have shown in their lives that would indicate—be predictive of—their future behavior and paying down that mortgage,” Castro said during a Credit Access Symposium on April 1, as reported by the National Association of Realtors (NAR). More here. 

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Spring Remodeling: Trends in Kitchens and Baths From breakfast bars to aromatherapy steam showers, here’s what buyers are seeking today.

Considering any home improvement projects this spring, like renovating your kitchen or bath? It’s worth looking at some data first. In today’s marketplace, you may not fully recoup your remodeling costs at resale time.

For a bathroom remodel, a homeowner can expect to recoup about 70 percent of the cost upon resale, while a major kitchen remodel could return 67.8 percent of the cost, according to the Remodeling 2015 Cost vs. Value Report, which compares the average cost of 36 types of remodeling projects with the value retained at resale in 102 U.S. markets. More here.

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