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What real millennials want to know about credit
By Christine DiGangi May 22, 2015 7:00 AM
Getty Images

Last week I talked to a bunch of 20- and 30-somethings — members of the so-called millennial generation — about credit, and the conversation reminded me about how differently people deal with money. In many aspects of personal finance, things aren't black or white, and what works for one person would be disastrous sfor another. Something we try to emphasize at is how important it is for consumers to do what works for them.
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At the same time, there are plenty of rights and wrongs in the credit world. During the weekly #MillennialTalk (my chat was May 12), many participants asked questions or shared common misconceptions about credit — these are things everyone should know, especially young people who are just starting to establish themselves financially.

Debt & Credit Are Not the Same

People use these terms interchangeably, but they're not synonymous. Rod Griffin, Experian's director of public education, explained it well in a tweet during the chat: "Credit is a financial tool. Debt is a financial problem."

It is not a bad thing to use credit cards or take advantage of financing when you need it — in fact, you need to use credit in order to have good credit, which in turn allows you to qualify for competitive financing offers, secure housing and access necessities like utilities and a cellphone. You can have good credit without having debt, and that's generally done by using a credit card and paying it off every billing cycle. That can be as little as one transaction on a credit card each month or as much as all of your expenses.

Credit, managed well, will help you avoid debt. It can take some serious organization skills and self-control, so it's up to you to determine how you can responsibly use credit and avoid financial trouble.

Checking Your Own Credit Reports or Scores Doesn't Hurt Your Credit

When someone requests your credit report or credit score, it results in an inquiry on your credit report. There are two kinds of inquiries: hard inquiries and soft inquiries. Hard inquiries will knock a few points off your credit score within 6 months of when they're made. When you request your credit report or credit score, it is a soft inquiry, and it doesn't do any damage.

Go forth and check your credit reports and scores.

For the record: Hard inquiries are those made to help in a lending decision, so they should only appear on your report when you've applied for credit. Do so sparingly to minimize short-term damage to your credit scores.

Secured Cards Can Help You Build or Rebuild Credit

There was a lot of confusion over secured cards. First thing to know: They are credit cards and are reported to credit bureaus just like any other credit card. Some people lumped them in with prepaid debit cards, which are not credit cards and therefore are not reported to credit bureaus. Neither are debit cards. If you're trying to start or rehabilitate your credit, using a secured card will help, and it's possibly the only kind of credit you can get. A prepaid card or debit card will not help.

The difference between secured and unsecured credit cards is you put down a deposit — say, $500 — that secures your line of credit. That deposit serves as your credit limit. Just like with other cards, you want to use as little of your credit limit as possible, to keep your credit utilization rate down. (Using less than 30% of your available credit is very helpful if you're trying to improve your credit.)

People with poor or no credit have an easier time getting secured cards than unsecured cards because of that deposit — the issuer is taking on little risk by doing business with you, because if you don't pay your credit card bill, they can just take your deposit.

You Should Check Your Credit Regularly & Often

You can get a free annual credit report from each of the three major credit reporting agencies — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion — every 12 months through There are dozens of ways you can get free credit scores, so there's no reason to not know where your credit stands. You can get two free scores every 30 days on, which will also show you the areas you need to work on to improve your credit.

Make sure you're comparing the same score only against itself over time, because scores are all different. They're all generally based on the same information, though.

Employers Cannot See Your Credit Scores

In most states, employers can request your credit report as part of the hiring process. There are restrictions on how that occurs, and they vary by state, but an potential employer can never see your credit score.

Everyone who joined the #MillennialTalk on credit offered some really great advice and insight. I especially liked the part where everyone shared things they wished they knew about credit when they were 18. You can look at a summary of what was shared in our Storify (a collection of the tweets), if you want more details on what we talked about. It's not a complete collection, because there were hundreds of participants, but it's an interesting read.

5 Things You Didn’t Know About FHA Mortgage Rates

By Tess Frame | More Articles

May 23, 2015 | Comments (0)

The Federal Housing Administration (FHA) is a government agency that sets the standards for building construction -- but for homeowners or home buyers it can be a lot more. FHA-approved loans can help borrowers overcome obstacles standing between them and homeownership, and give homeowners options to keep mortgage payments manageable.

While the FHA doesn't actually lend to buyers (FHA loans is just another term for FHA-approved loan), it sets standards for mortgage lending and offers tools that current and potential homeowners can use to attain assets, save money on payments, and move ahead financially.

What you should know about FHA loans and rates

For homeowners and those planning to buy a home, it's important to know the rules and limits of FHA loans and consider them along with other home financing options. You might even be surprised to find that you have more mortgage choices available to you than you'd thought. Here are five things you might not know about FHA mortgage rates.

Your down payment for an FHA loan can be minimal.

FHA loans are great for home buyers with lower savings or who don't want to deposit all their cash into the home. The minimum down payment required by FHA loan rules is 3.5% which means if you're buying a $300,000 home, you only need

$10,500 to put down (not including any fees or closing costs). For many conventional mortgages, you'd need to provide as much as 20% (or more) down, which for the same $300,000 home would be a whopping $60,000.

You can get an FHA loan with bad credit.

Insufficient credit or a less-than-ideal credit history doesn't have to mean you can't qualify for a mortgage. Even those with "bad" credit as low as 500 can get an FHA Loan. If your credit score is between 500 and 579, you can still qualify for an FHA loan -- you'll just need to put at least 10% down instead of the 3.5% required for scores of 580 and up. Check with your lender to see if you meet all other requirements.

You can use your loan to help cover repairs.

FHA loans have an optional add-on loan product called a streamlined 203(k) rehab loan, which allows you to borrow up to $35,000 to pay for home repairs and improvements like replacing carpet or paint, remodeling, or correcting nonstructural home damages. Even better, the amount of the loan is based on the projected home value after the fixes are made, not the value of the home in its imperfect condition.

Mortgage insurance is mandatory on FHA loans.

Mortgage insurance protects lenders in the event that a buyer defaults on their mortgage. Because the buyer fronts a smaller portion of the home's value, lenders are taking a bigger risk by financing FHA loans. This means you'll have to pay for private mortgage insurance (PMI) including the upfront premium, which is currently at 1.75% plus the annual premium which varies by loan amount and term length as follows:

For a 15-year loan with a down payment or equity of less than 10 percent, the annual premium rate is 0.7%

For a 15-year loan with a down payment or equity of 10 or more percent, the annual premium rate is 0.45%

For a 30-year loan with a down payment or equity of less than 5 percent, the annual premium rate is 0.85%

For a 30-year loan with a down payment or equity of 5 percent or more, the annual premium rate is 0.8%

But don't worry -- mortgage insurance is tax deductible through 2015, so that extra payment won't actually take as much out of your pocket as you think.

5. It's easier to refinance an FHA mortgage.

For homeowners who already have an FHA-financed home, refinancing can be a great way to put equity to work and save money on monthly payments. For example, once you've reached an 80%-to-20% ratio home value to loan amount, you might be able to refinance and reduce or even eliminate your mortgage insurance and save as much as several hundred dollars per month. Typical refinancing will require an appraisal, paperwork, possible fees, and sometimes even an additional down payment.

Buying a new home is exciting, especially for first-time homebuyers. As you shop for the right home -- and the right loan -- keep in mind the benefits and limitations associated with FHA-approved loans, and talk to your lender about available loan products. Even with a small down payment, you could be a homeowner with a high net worth sooner than you think!

This article originally appeared on GoBankingRates.

Credits for first-time home buyers

Article Courtesy of:


By Gina Roberts-Grey

posted on October 24, 2014 7:14 PM

Thinking of buying your first home? You'll need to save for the down payment and closing costs. But there are a number of federal and state grants, tax credits or other options designed to make it easier for first-time buyers to afford their first home. In fact, even if you've owned a home in the past, you may qualify for these programs if you meet certain guidelines.
Who Can Benefit

According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the government agency for the housing, a "first-time homebuyer" is someone who meets any of the following conditions:

• An individual who has not owned a principal residence during the three-year period ending on the date of purchase of the property. A person's spouse is also considered a first-time homebuyer if either person meets the above test.

• A single parent who has only owned a home with a former spouse while married.
• A displaced homemaker who has only owned with a spouse.
• An individual who has only owned a principal residence not permanently affixed to a permanent foundation in accordance with applicable regulations.
• An individual who has only owned a property that was not in compliance with state, local or model building codes – and which cannot be brought into compliance for less than the cost of constructing a permanent structure.
• As long as you qualify as a first-time homebuyer, these options can help make your dream of buying a new home a reality.

[Ready to buy a home? Click to compare mortgage rates from multiple lenders now.]

Tax Credit Vs. Tax Deduction

The first thing to understand about tax benefits is the difference between a tax deduction and a tax credit. "Many people think these terms are interchangeable," says Lisa Greene-Lewis, a certified public accountant and TurboTax expert in San Diego, Calif. "A tax deduction reduces your taxable income, but your actual tax reduction is based on your tax bracket, " she explains. “A tax credit is a dollar-for-dollar reduction in the taxes you owe,” she says.

You save a lot more on a credit: "A tax credit of $100 would reduce your tax obligation by $100, while a tax deduction of $100 would reduce your taxes by $25, if you are in the 25% tax bracket," says Greene-Lewis. For more, see Tax Deductions Vs. Tax Credits.

Special Benefits for First Time Buyers

Hone in on HUD. The first place to look for grant assistance is HUD. Although HUD does not make grants directly to individuals, it does grant money to organizations that is earmarked for first-time homebuyers. Check out HUD's resource list by clicking here.

Look to your IRA. Every first-time homebuyer is eligible to take $10,000 during their lifetime out of their traditional or Roth IRA without paying the 10% penalty for an early withdrawal. “However, the federal government's definition of a first-time homebuyer is someone who hasn't owned a personal residence in three years,” says Dean Ferraro, a Mission Viejo, Calif., enrolled agent authorized to represent taxpayers before the Internal Revenue Service. So even if you owned a home in the past, if you meet the federal criteria, you’re eligible to tap into these funds for a down payment, closing costs, etc.

[Want to save on your mortgage? Click to compare rates from multiple lenders now.]

If you have a traditional IRA, you will have to pay income tax on the money you withdraw. Roth IRA accounts will not be subject to additional taxes as they are funded with money that’s already been taxed. Because each person has a $10,000 lifetime amount that can be withdrawn penalty-free from their IRA, a husband and wife could withdraw a maximum of $20,000 combined to pay for their "first home." Just be sure to use the money within 120 days or it does become subject to the 10% penalty, Ferraro cautions.

Size up state programs. Many states –for example, Illinois, Ohio and Washington– offer down payment assistance for first-time homebuyers who qualify. Typically, eligibility in these programs is based on income and may also have limits on how expensive a property can be purchased. Those who qualify may be able to receive financial assistance with down payments and closing costs as well as costs to rehab or improve a property.

Know about Native American options. Native American first-time homebuyers can apply for a Section 184 loan. “Next to the no-money-down VA loan, this is the best federal-subsidized loan offered,” says Ferraro. This loan requires a 1.5% loan up-front guarantee fee, and only a 2.25% down payment on loans over $50,000 (for loans below that amount, it's 1.24%). Unlike a traditional loan's interest rate being based on the borrower's credit score, this loan’s rate is based on the prevailing market rate. Section 184 loans can only be used for single family homes (1-4 units) and for a primary residence.

No longer available: a federal tax credit. You may know someone who benefited from the federal first-time homebuyer tax credit, which ended on July 1, 2010. This program has ended.

Tax Benefits for All Homebuyers

Buying a first home also makes you eligible for the tax benefits afforded to every homebuyer – whether it's their first home or not.

Home Mortgage Interest Deduction. “The IRS allows you to deduct for the interest you pay your lender,” says Greene-Lewis. Home mortgage interest is one of the biggest deductions for those who itemize, and can make a huge difference for filers. You should be advised of interest paid to your lender on a 1098 form sent out annually in January and/or early February.

[Ready to buy a home? Click to compare mortgage rates from multiple lenders now.]

Points or Loan Origination Fees Deduction. The fees you pay to obtain a home mortgage may be applied as a deduction, according to Greene-Lewis. “Points will also be reported on Form 1098 from your lender or your settlement statement at the end of the year.” The rules for how you deduct points are different for a first purchase or a refinancing, she explains.

Property Tax Deduction. Property tax deductions are available for state and local property taxes based on the value of your home. The amount that's deducted is the amount paid by the property owner, including any payments made through an escrow account at settlement or closing. “You may find property taxes paid on your 1098 form from your mortgage company if your property taxes are paid through your mortgage company,” says Greene-Lewis. “Otherwise, you should report the amount of property taxes you paid for the year indicated on your property tax bill.”

Residential Energy Credit. Homeowners who install solar panels, geothermal heat systems, and wind turbines – or energy-efficient windows or heating and air-conditioning systems – to their home may receive a tax credit worth up to 30% of the cost. Click here for details.

The Bottom Line

Factor in both first-time homebuyer and other tax benefits and deductions in deciding whether you can afford to buy a home and how much you can pay for one. Homeownership costs extend beyond down payments and monthly mortgage payments.

"Make sure you factor in closing costs, moving costs, the home inspection, escrow fees, home insurance, property taxes, costs of repairs and maintenance, possible homeowners association fees and more,” says J.D. Crowe, president of Southeast Mortgage, Georgia’s largest nonbank lender, and president of the Mortgage Bankers Association of Georgia. Knowing you truly can afford the home you choose gives you the best chance of being able to live there for years to come.

FICO vs. FAKO: What's Your Real Credit Score?

Article courtesy of:

By Michael Schreiber

posted December 8, 2014 5:30 AM

There are a lot of different credit scores out there, and this has naturally led some consumers to ask: Which scores should I pay attention to, and what's my real credit score? People gravitate to the well-known FICO score, by all accounts the market leader in credit scores (meaning more banks use FICO scores than other scores). In fact, many refer to non-FICO scores as "FAKO" scores, but is that moniker accurate? Let's take a step back and look at the credit score landscape.

First things first: The fact that consumers know anything at all about credit scores is impressive given that they were not intended for popular consumption when originally developed. They were really just meant to be a risk shorthand for lenders — a quick and clear way for a lender to determine whether to issue a loan to a consumer, and at what interest rate. Beyond that, credit scores are an important part of the securitization process. Banks bundle loans and sell them off to investors. Credit scores help determine the value of those investments. But there's no one credit score used to make these determinations.

Each of us has dozens of credit scores used by financial institutions to judge our creditworthiness. FICO alone offers more than 50 different FICO scores to financial institutions and in some cases, directly to consumers. In addition to FICO, the company VantageScore offers credit scores, each of the three major credit bureaus – Experian, Equifax and TransUnion – offer their own credit scores, and a number of other companies have credit scores, too. There are also a number of "educational" credit scores that banks do not use, but instead are intended for regular people to use to get a better sense of their creditworthiness. Because these scores are not intended for use in lender decisions, they are often thought of as "FAKO" scores.

But what exactly is in a credit score, and what makes one score different from another? The vast majority of credit scores are configured using the information in your credit report. Specifically, the scores are based on payment history, debt usage, the age of your credit accounts, the different types of credit accounts on your credit report and credit inquiries. These scoring models are essentially formulas that weight this information in different proportions. One model, for example, may weigh credit age a little bit more than another model. Beyond that, different scoring models can use data from different credit bureaus. For example, one lender may use a credit scoring model with data from your Experian credit report, while another lender may use the same scoring model with data provided by TransUnion, and another from Equifax. So even if the models are exactly the same, the scores will be different if the credit reports don't exactly match (which is not unusual).

Furthermore, different financial institutions use different scoring models for different reasons. One bank may use one credit score for their mortgage business and another for their auto loan business. A different bank could use entirely different scores.

So Which Credit Score Matters Right Now?

When people ask which credit score they should really be paying attention to, it's important to consider the reason for the question. If you want to know your credit score so you can see the same score a lender will see when you apply for credit, that's a very tall order. While FICO does control (by some estimates) 90% of the credit scoring market, it's far from certain that the FICO score you get from one institution will be used by another. Even if you buy a FICO score directly from, it's far from certain that the score you've purchased will be exactly the same as the one a prospective lender is pulling. In that case, for all practical purposes, a "real" FICO score may be no better than an educational "FAKO" score.

On the other hand, if you want access to a particular score that you know has at some point been used by a lender (even if it's not your lender) specifically because it has been market-tested, then the FICO vs. FAKO dichotomy makes more sense. It's important to remember, however, that in this case the distinction is more about peace of mind than any practical advantage. In this scenario, "real" credit scores cannot simply be limited to FICO scores. While VantageScore controls 5-10% of the credit scoring market, these scores are used by some lenders, and therefore, by this formulation, are just as useful as a FICO score.

These questions are naturally bubbling up these days because so many people are getting credit scores from so many sources. People see credit scores when they are buying a house. At the urging of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, more banks are providing people with access to credit scores as a part of their credit card account. Some student lenders are now providing access to credit scores. And, of course, there are plenty of free and paid websites that provide people with credit scores., for example, provides consumers access to two free scores — a VantageScore 3.0 and an Experian National Equivalency Score — along with an explanation of how your credit history is impacting the scores.

The problem is that often when people get their credit scores — particularly when they are getting them from banks — they don't know which scoring model and bureau data are being used to generate the score. Further, some people don't realize they have more than one score, and just assume that the score they are seeing is THE score. That can be particularly confusing if you're getting multiple scores each month from different providers. People often assume that one or more of the scores is wrong.

The reality is that for the foreseeable future, for many Americans, confusion is effectively built into the system. However, the good news is that people in general are becoming more aware that credit scores exist and why they are important, and over time many more people will begin to understand the nuances of the credit scoring landscape and how to use it as a tool for their financial future.

This story is an Op/Ed contribution to and does not necessarily represent the views of the company or its partners.