"If you look around and say, 'I like my neighborhood, I like the schools and the services, I like my house, and I don't really want to move,' then you have two choices," Markstein says. "You can do a simple refi, and that's straightforward and will save you money in most cases. Or if you have enough equity, you can refinance and add a room or upgrade something in your house."
Loans based on actual equity homeowners have sunk into their property for years are worth asking about. If you bought your house in the last four years and didn't put much money down, "I'd say forget" refinancing, Markstein says. Home prices are down around 2003 levels.
"If you've been paying your mortgage for six to 10 years, chances are you have built up a lot of equity," he says, "unless you live in one of the real estate-depressed areas, like Detroit or South Florida, Phoenix or Las Vegas."
Refis for home improvement usually pay off if you stay in your home for at least another three years, Markstein says. Again, the time may be right. Contractors' fees have come down substantially from the real estate boom.
Blakeslee says if you're on the fence about whether to sell and move or stay and improve, do your research. Get your credit score. Find out what kind of mortgage you could qualify for. Look at the tax credit deals which expire June 30, 2010 (although binding contracts must be signed by April 30) and figure out your real motivation. If it's just to save money, you could stay where you are and add a little extra to every month's mortgage payment.
"You'd be surprised how that adds up and saves you money in the long run," Blakeslee says.
And if you're determined to take advantage of this buyer's market?
"Contact a competent Realtor. Get busy doing your homework. Have them run an analysis for you on prices in your current neighborhood and prices where you're looking to buy," Blakeslee says. "It's a great time to buy, but all the other basics still apply."
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