This month its time to answer a couple of the questions I’ve been getting from readers.
Q. My brother graduated from college five years ago and got a great loan to buy a house, using 100% financing and settlement assistance programs to pay most of his closing costs. Now I’m graduating in December, have got a sweet job lined up, and I’m being told no one can help me. What’s the deal?
A. Well, you’re a victim of the real estate meltdown. The generous financing programs that fueled the real estate boom of the last decade were one of the first things to go after it all came crashing down. The current market is on a different planet than the market of five years ago: some of the largest lenders in the country then have disappeared today, or been absorbed into bigger companies, and we’re going back to the “good old days” when you had to have some skin in the game.
There is some good news. FHA loan programs still allow you to buy a home with just 3.5% of the purchase price as a downpayment. Also, many of the settlement expense loan programs are still out there for qualified buyers. Try to keep your debts down (including student loans and credit cards) and save some money, and you should be able to purchase a home before you know it.
Q. I bought a house in Baltimore with something called a Ground Rent, but it was one that no one has been collecting. I’ve heard that there was a major change in the law that might allow me to get rid of it altogether, and I’ve also heard that wasn’t happening. I’m confused.
A. Ground rents confuse everyone, so you’re not alone. A ground rent is, literally, a lease payment for the right to use the land your house is on, like the old ‘quitrent’ you might have learned about in medieval history class! In Maryland, they generally are collected by someone, and can be bought out by a homeowner for a small payment and legal fees after which the deed is changed to Fee Simple (where you own the house and the land together). Some Maryland ground rents, you’re correct, are so old that no one is actively collecting them. Also, some were not redeemable at all.
After a small scandal a few years ago where someone actually lost their home for non-payment of the ground rent, the legislature tried to modernize and reform the ground rent system by creating a registry, and setting a deadline by which all ground rents had to be registered by the owner, or else they would become void.
Ground rent holders, however, have challenged that reform in court. So everything is on hold until that case is heard and judgment is rendered.