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Housing Market Recovering!


Recovery on Move: December 2010 Existing-Home Sales Jump 12.3 Percent

RISMEDIA, February 5, 2011Existing-home sales rose sharply in December 2010, when sales increased for the fifth time in the past six months, according to the National Association of REALTORS®.

Existing-home sales, which are completed transactions that include single-family, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops, rose 12.3% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.28 million in December from an upwardly revised 4.70 million in November, but remain 2.9% below the 5.44 million pace in December 2009.

Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, said sales are on an uptrend. December was a good finish to 2010, when sales fluctuate more than normal. The pattern over the past six months is clearly showing a recovery, he said. The December pace is near the volume were expecting for 2011, so the market is getting much closer to an adequate, sustainable level. The recovery will likely continue as job growth gains momentum and rising rents encourage more renters into ownership while exceptional affordability conditions remain.

The national median existing-home price for all housing types was $168,800 in December, which is 1.0% below December 2009. Distressed homes rose to a 36% market share in December from 33% in November, and 32% in December 2009.

The modest rise in distressed sales, which typically are discounted 10 to 15 percent relative to traditional homes, dampened the median price in December, but the flat price trend continues, Yun explained.

Total housing inventory at the end of December fell 4.2% to 3.56 million existing homes available for sale, which represents an 8.1-month supply at the current sales pace, down from a 9.5-month supply in November.

NAR President Ron Phipps, broker-president of Phipps Realty in Warwick, R.I., said buyers are responding to very good affordability conditions despite tight mortgage credit. Historically low mortgage interest rates, stable home prices, and pent-up demand are drawing home buyers into the market, Phipps said. Recent home buyers have been successful with very low default rates, given the outstanding performance for loans originated in 2009 and 2010.

According to Freddie Mac, the national average commitment rate for a 30-year, conventional, fixed-rate mortgage rose to 4.71% in December from 4.30% in November; the rate was 4.93% in December 2009.

A parallel NAR practitioner survey shows first-time buyers purchased 33% of homes in December, up from 32% in November, but are below a 43% share in December 2009.

Investors accounted for 20% of transactions in December, up from 19% in November and 15% in December 2009; the balance of sales were to repeat buyers. All-cash sales were at 29% in December, compared with 31% in November, but up from 22% a year ago. All-cash sales have been consistently high at about 30 percent of the market over the past six months, Yun said.

Single-family home sales jumped 11.8% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.64 million in December from 4.15 million in November, but are 2.5% below the 4.76 million level in December 2009. The median existing single-family home price was $169,300 in December, down 0.2% from a year ago.

Existing condominium and co-op sales surged 16.4% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 640,000 in December from 550,000 in November, but remain 5.2% below the 675,000-unit pace one year ago. The median existing condo price was $165,000 in December, which is 7.4% below December 2009.

Regionally, existing-home sales in the Northeast jumped 13.0% to an annual pace of 870,000 in December, but are 5.4% below December 2009. The median price in the Northeast was $237,300, which is 1.4% below a year ago.

Existing-home sales in the Midwest rose 11.0% in December to a level of 1.11 million, but are 4.3% below a year ago. The median price in the Midwest was $139,700, up 3.3% from December 2009.

In the South, existing-home sales increased 10.1% to an annual pace of 1.97 million in December, but are 2.5% below December 2009. The median price in the South was $148,400, unchanged from a year ago.

Existing-home sales in the West surged 16.7% to an annual level of 1.33 million in December, but remain 1.5% below December 2009. The median price in the West was $204,000, down 5.6% from a year ago.

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Copyright 2011 RISMedia, The Leader in Real Estate Information Systems and Real Estate News. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be republished without permission from RISMedia.

Federal Grants Help Families

New Federal Program Provides Nearly $73 Million in Counseling Grants to Help Families Find and Keep Housing RISMEDIA, January 18, 2011—In an effort to help families find decent housing and to prevent future foreclosures, the Obama Administration announced nearly $73 million in housing counseling grants to more than 500 national, regional and local organizations. As a result of the funding, hundreds of thousands of households will have a greater opportunity to find housing or keep the homes they have because of the housing counseling and counseling training grants awarded by U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan. The grants represent a $13 million, or 22% increase over last year’s funding level. In announcing the grant awards, Donovan said HUD-approved housing counseling agencies are a critical part of the nation’s housing recovery. “These organizations are on the front lines of helping families who are desperate to remain in their homes,” said Donovan. “Now, more than ever, it’s crucial that we support these agencies that are working with struggling families on a one-to-one basis to manage their money, navigate the homebuying process, and secure their financial futures.” Housing counseling grants will assist families in becoming first-time homeowners and remaining homeowners after their purchase. HUD-approved counseling agencies not only provide homeownership counseling, but also offer financial literacy training to renters and homeless individuals and families. Donovan added, “This critical funding will help counseling organizations continue to assist families in making more informed choices before they purchase a home and counsel families facing foreclosure.” Nearly $68 million will support the direct provision of housing counseling services by 24 national and regional organizations, five multi-state organizations, and 484 state and local housing counseling agencies. In addition, HUD is awarding more than $5 million to three national organizations to train approximately 4,500 counselors who will receive the instruction and certification necessary to effectively assist families with their housing needs. National and regional agencies distribute much of HUD’s housing counseling grant funding to community-based grassroots organizations that provide advice and guidance to low- and moderate-income families seeking to improve their housing conditions. In addition, these larger organizations help improve the quality of housing counseling services and enhance coordination among other counseling providers. Counseling agencies will use $9.5 million to help assist senior citizens seeking reverse mortgages or Home Equity Conversion Mortgages (HECM). These agencies will provide counseling for the rapidly growing number of elderly homeowners who seek to convert equity in their homes into income that can be used to pay for home improvements, medical costs, and other living expenses. The organizations that provide housing counseling services help people become or remain homeowners or find rental housing, and assist homeless persons in finding the transitional housing they need to move toward a permanent place to live. Grant recipients also help home buyers and homeowners realistically evaluate their readiness for a home purchase, understand their financing and downpayment options, and navigate what can be an extremely confusing and difficult process. In addition, grantees help combat predatory lending by helping unwary borrowers review their loan documentation, and avoid potential mortgage scams, unreasonably high interest rates, inflated appraisals, unaffordable repayment terms, and other conditions that can result in a loss of equity, increased debt, default, and even foreclosure. Likewise, foreclosure prevention counseling helps homeowners facing delinquency or default employ strategies, including expense reduction, negotiation with lenders and loan servicers, and loss mitigation, to avoid foreclosure. With foreclosures at critical levels nationwide, these services are more important than ever. HUD awards annual grants under the housing counseling program through a competitive process. Organizations that apply for grants must be HUD-approved and are subject to performance reviews to maintain their HUD-approved status. For more information, visit Copyright© 2011 RISMedia, The Leader in Real Estate Information Systems and Real Estate News. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be republished without permission from RISMedia.

Stay Safe This Winter

Prevent Home Fires with These Simple Tips RISMEDIA, January 8, 2011—The cold weather and winter conditions often bring an increase in home fires as many people use alternate heating sources such as space heaters, fireplaces, or coal or wood stoves to stay warm. Fires related to heating are the second leading cause of home fires in this country, and fixed and portable space heaters are involved in 74% of fire-related deaths. As the winter months continue and homeowners look to keep their homes warm with various heating sources, including portable heaters, the Greater NY Red Cross urges everyone to use caution when turning to these heating methods and offers the following safety tips on fire prevention: -Keep all potential sources of fuel like paper, clothing, bedding, curtains or rugs at least three feet away from space heaters, stoves, or fireplaces. -Portable heaters and fireplaces should never be left unattended. Turn off space heaters and make sure any embers in the fireplace are extinguished before going to bed or leaving home. -If you must use a space heater, place it on a level, hard and nonflammable surface (such as ceramic tile floor), not on rugs or carpets or near bedding or drapes. Keep children and pets away from space heaters. -When buying a space heater, look for models that shut off automatically if the heater falls over as another safety measure. -Never use a cooking range or oven to heat your home. -Keep fire in your fireplace by using a glass or metal fire screen large enough to catch sparks and rolling logs. -Have wood and coal stoves, fireplaces, chimneys, and furnaces professionally inspected and cleaned once a year. For more information, visit Copyright© 2010 RISMedia, The Leader in Real Estate Information Systems and Real Estate News. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be republished without permission from RISMedia.

January Is Radon Action Month

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January is National Radon Action Month; Homeowners Urged to Test Their Homes

RISMEDIA, January 4, 2011Government agencies are teaming up with environmental and health organizations throughout North America to promote January 2011 as national radon action month. One in 15 homes across the U.S. has elevated radon levels. With as many as 21,000 deaths each year, radon exposure is second only to smoking in causing lung cancer deaths in the United States, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The only way to know whether radon exists in elevated levels in your home, and to protect your family from radon, is to test. EPA and National Safety Council are asking homeowners and renters to test their house for radon and learn how to protect their family from radon gas. Offices, schools, and government facilities should also be tested for this deadly carcinogen as well. Penalties and fines to business owners arising from complaints of indoor air quality violations within the workplace are becoming more and more common with heightened awareness.

In 2009, the World Health Organization, the United Nations, the Presidents Cancer Panel, and the Health Physics Society have all called for stronger policies regarding radon risk reduction. Independent scientists from around the world have agreed that the threat is real and the WHO is calling for a reference level of 2.7 pCi/L of air for radon as compared to the U.S. action level of 4.0. Based on this new standard, nearly twice as many homes and buildings will require radon mitigation in the coming years, said Ross Aton, a radon mitigator who installs radon systems in Indiana and Kentucky.

Amid these growing concerns about the health risks of long-term exposure to indoor radon; EPA has designated January as National Radon Action Month. During National Radon Action Month, The Environmental Protection Agency along with the U.S. Surgeon General will ramp-up their efforts to educate the public about the dangers of radon and what can be done to minimize the health risk from long-term exposure. As part of their efforts, they will encourage the media and local health departments to help promote awareness of this national health problem.

Radon is invisible and odorless, so one could live in a home with elevated levels for years without knowing it, said James Gelina, owner of Air Quality Control Agency Inc. (one of the larger radon remediation firms in the U.S.). January is a perfect time for these awareness activities. Since homes are closed-up in the winter, its an ideal time to assess indoor radon concentrations, added Gelina.

Copyright 2010 RISMedia, The Leader in Real Estate Information Systems and Real Estate News. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be republished without permission from RISMedia.

Make 2011 A Better Year!!

5 Simple Tips to Improve Your Financial Outlook in 2011 by Nancy Martin on Thursday, December 30, 2010 at 5:02am RISMEDIA, December 30, 2010—The holidays are a wonderful time full of having fun with friends and family and giving gifts to the people we care about. For many Americans, however, the joy of the season will soon be replaced by the stress of paying holiday debt. “It is easy to get caught up in the excitement of giving during the holidays,” said Mechel Glass, director of education for CredAbility, a national nonprofit credit counseling and education organization. “But many overdo a good thing and then struggle to make even minimum payments on their credit cards.” CredAbility advises consumers to top their list of New Year’s resolutions with a commitment to improve their financial outlook. To help consumers tackle what can be a stressful time, CredAbility offers the following tips: 1. Know how much you owe. A common mistake is not keeping track of debt. The thinking is that as long as you can keep up with the payments, everything is fine. However, if circumstances change due to a layoff or other unexpected event, you could find yourself unable to make payments and in immediate financial stress. The only way to understand what you are facing is to have a realistic picture of what you owe. Gather all your credit card statements and other bills and add up the total. 2. Create a spending plan. The easiest way to take control of your money is to set out a plan for how you will spend it. This is not glamorous and can be something of a task, but it gives you the power to decide where your money goes. The plan should be flexible and include monthly expenses such as mortgage or rent, utilities, food, transportation, entertainment, clothing, etc. Make sure your expenses are not more than your income. If they are, go back to the plan and make adjustments. 3. Pay off credit card debt. The average cardholder has about $5,100 in credit card debt (U.S. Census Bureau) and the interest paid on that balance can be $800 or more a year (based on 18% interest rate). This number increases per household when there is more than one cardholder in the house. Just think of what you could do with an extra $75-$150 a month in your budget. Stop charging additional purchases today and make a commitment to yourself that once you have paid off your debt, you will not charge any purchases unless you have a plan in place to pay off the balance in 90 days or less. Sacrifices now will mean less stress and a better financial future. 4. Build a savings cushion. Once you have paid off your credit card balances, you should begin to build a savings cushion for emergency or unexpected expenses or if you lose your job. Your goal is three to six months of living expenses put aside in a savings account. With this cushion in place, when the refrigerator stops working, your car’s transmission gives out or your mother-in-law moves in, you will not have to put those unexpected expenses on a credit card. 5. Develop a strategy for your financial future. Set aside time at least twice a month to manage your finances including paying bills, balancing your checking account and analyzing your expenses. Begin thinking about, and planning for retirement—consider when you would prefer to retire, how much money you will need to live the lifestyle of your choice and what you need to do now to get there. Establish a retirement fund and contribute to it on a regular basis. For more information, visit Copyright© 2010 RISMedia, The Leader in Real Estate Information Systems and Real Estate News. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be republished without permission from RISMedia.

Prevent Frozen Pipes This Winter

Tips for Preventing and Thawing Frozen Pipes by Nancy Martin on Wednesday, December 29, 2010 at 7:00am RISMEDIA, December 29, 2010—Mr. Rooter Plumbing, a full-service plumbing and drain cleaning company, offers the following tips for homeowners with frozen pipes. According to State Farm Insurance, an average of a quarter-million families have their homes ruined and their lives disrupted each winter because their pipes freeze and burst. “Taking some simple precautions can save you the expense as well as the time of repairing burst pipes,” said Mary Kennedy Thompson, president of Mr. Rooter Corporation. “The best way to prevent frozen pipes is to winterize your plumbing system.” To help keep frozen pipes from being a drain on your wallet, Mr. Rooter suggests you follow these tips: -Cover faucets and exposed pipes with insulation or wrap them with thick towels. -Open cabinet doors. This allows heat to circulate and keeps interior pipes warm. -Keep faucets running. A small trickle of water/constant drip is recommended. -Secure basement doors, windows and crawl space openings. -Remove garden hoses from outdoor faucets. -Open outside hose taps so water can drain. -Apply electrically-powered heat tape. (Follow manufacturer’s instructions or call a plumber.) -Mr. Rooter also urges homeowners to locate the main water shut-off valve, and learn how to use it. This can come in handy if pipes freeze and burst. To safely thaw frozen pipes, follow these steps: -Turn off the water at the shut-off valve. -Open the nearest faucet. This allows water to drain out as the ice melts. -Heat the exterior of the pipe with a hair dryer. Apply heat slowly and don’t keep the heat in one spot. -Do not attempt to thaw exposed frozen pipes with an open flame, such as an acetylene torch. -If immediate repairs are needed, you should call a qualified plumber. For more information, visit Copyright© 2010 RISMedia, The Leader in Real Estate Information Systems and Real Estate News. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be republished without permission from RISMedia.

Home Sales Up!!

U.S. Pending Home Sales Jump 10.4 Percent in October 2010 by Nancy Martin on Tuesday, December 21, 2010 at 7:00am RISMEDIA, December 21, 2010—Pending home sales jumped in October 2010, showing a positive uptrend since bottoming in June, according to the National Association of REALTORS®. The Pending Home Sales Index, a forward-looking indicator, rose 10.4% to 89.3 based on contracts signed in October from 80.9 in September. The index remains 20.5% below a surge to a cyclical peak of 112.4 in October 2009, which was the highest level since May 2006 when it hit 112.6. Last October, first-time buyers were motivated to make offers before the initial contract deadline for the tax credit last November. The data reflects contracts and not closings, which normally occur with a lag time of one or two months. Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, said excellent housing affordability conditions are drawing home buyers. “It is welcoming to see a solid double-digit percentage gain, but activity needs to improve further to reach healthy, sustainable levels. The housing market clearly is in a recovery phase and will be uneven at times, but the improving job market and consequential boost to household formation will help the recovery process going into 2011,” he said. “More importantly, a return to more normal loan underwriting standards and removal of unnecessary underwriting fees for very low risk borrowers is needed and could quickly help in the housing and economic recovery,” Yun said. Recent loan performance data from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac clearly demonstrates very low default rates on recently originated mortgages, much lower than the vintages of 2002 and 2003 before the housing boom. The PHSI in the Northeast jumped 19.6% to 71.3 in October but is 27.3% below the tax credit peak in October 2009. In the Midwest, the index surged 27.3% in October to 81.7 but is 24.8% below a year ago. Pending home sales in the South rose 7.1% to an index of 93.8 but is 18.4% below October 2009. In the West, the index slipped 0.4% to 104.3 and is 15.6% below a year ago. Near term, Yun expects home sales will continue to climb from their cyclical low this past summer. “Even so, we now have some consumer concerns regarding the mortgage interest deduction, an important component in housing affordability,” he said. “Preliminary results of a new survey show nearly three out of four homeowners and two out of three renters consider the mortgage interest deduction to be extremely or very important to them. Homeowners already pay between 80-90% of all federal income taxes and additional tax burden would hurt them and the economic recovery, so we have a reasonable hope that it will not be changed.” For more information, visit Copyright© 2010 RISMedia, The Leader in Real Estate Information Systems and Real Estate News. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be republished without permission from RISMedia.

Mortgage Modification

Homeowners Hope for Easier and More Streamlined Modification Rules as Result of Foreclosure Probe RISMEDIA, December 7, 2010—(MCT)—Union County, N.C., homeowner Barry Lancett signed two agreements with a national lender this year to modify the terms of his mortgage but still received a disturbing piece of paperwork: a foreclosure notice. “A deputy comes to your door and delivers it in front of the community,” said Lancett, who later avoided foreclosure but is still dealing with lingering issues. “It was humiliating, to say the least.” His experience is one of the biggest frustrations for struggling homeowners—getting hit with a foreclosure proceeding at the same time a loan modification is being worked out with a bank. Recent laws and regulations in North Carolina are supposed to prevent this, but officials say they’re still getting complaints from consumers. Now it’s an issue coming under scrutiny from attorneys general investigating allegations that lenders mishandled foreclosure-related paperwork. “This is of great concern to me because it’s important homeowners have a fair chance to keep their home,” North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper said in an interview. One of his colleagues in the probe, Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard, recently said he was most angry about “simultaneous modifications and foreclosures.” One possible outcome of their investigation may be pledges by banks to improve their loan modification efforts. These programs strive to lower payments for struggling borrowers by reducing interest rates or even principal owed. Cooper, who is in charge of the potential remedies in the probe, said he would like “easier and more streamlined” modifications to be a goal. Potentially, lenders could agree to make changes to their modification processes, add more resources or provide a single point of contact to borrowers trying to work out payment plans, he said. “One of the most important issues is making sure foreclosures are done properly as we go forward,” Cooper said. “That includes serious attempts at modifications.” The officials’ concerns come as foreclosures continue to mount. Nationally, the Center for Responsible Lending has estimated that from 2007 through 2009, about 2.5 million foreclosures were completed. The nonprofit says another 5.7 million borrowers are at imminent risk of foreclosure. Kathleen Day, a spokeswoman for the Center for Responsible Lending, said it’s difficult to tell how many borrowers who could qualify for a modification are going into foreclosure, especially amid the recent revelations about shoddy paperwork. But the group believes it’s “prevalent.” Much of the problem appears to stem from lack of communication and confusion between departments inside banks, housing counselors say. But Day said there can also be financial incentives for servicers to foreclose. A recent Government Accountability Office report also suggests bank errors can contribute to a foreclosure overtaking a modification. It found that half of servicers studied in the federal modification program had at least 20% error rates when figuring whether borrowers’ income qualified them for the program. Lately, the focus is on the foreclosure process and whether banks are following laws and procedures. In depositions, bank employees, nicknamed “robo-signers” have said they rapidly approved foreclosure documents without reviewing their contents. Banks, in some cases, have stalled foreclosure sales to review procedures, but executives have largely said the problems are just technicalities. Not everyone agrees. University of Iowa law professor Katherine Porter said last month in Congressional testimony that flawed foreclosures are not “isolated incidents.” She released a study in 2007 of bankruptcy cases that found a majority of mortgage claims were missing one or more of the required documents. Porter said she believes “the foreclosure process lacks integrity in an unacceptable number of ways” and that the problems undermine loan modification efforts. In the past two years, N.C. regulators and lawmakers have taken steps designed to prevent foreclosures for homeowners trying to work out modifications. The N.C. Commissioner of Banks implemented a rule, which took effect in June, that prohibits a mortgage servicer from initiating or proceeding further with a foreclosure during a pending modification request. The regulation does not apply to national banks, which are not monitored by state regulators. N.C. officials, however, say it’s the policy of the state that all lenders follow the spirit of this rule. North Carolina also passed a law last year that says clerks of court presiding over foreclosure hearings can delay proceedings for up to 60 days to give homeowners and lenders more time to negotiate. In addition, under the federal modification program known as HAMP, servicers cannot send a loan to foreclosure until the homeowner has been evaluated for a modification. The banking commissioner and the attorney general’s office said they couldn’t provide specific numbers on modification complaints. But Noelle Talley, a spokeswoman for the attorney general, said the office is conducting a review of complaints related to borrowers going into foreclosure while they are talking to a bank about a loan modification. Louise Mack, executive director of Kannapolis, N.C.-based housing counselor Prosperity Unlimited, said she had a case in the past year in which her group was working on a modification with a borrower, only to have the bank foreclose on the home. The bank later gave the home back. “We don’t see a whole lot of it,” she said, “but it does happen.” A major problem is coordination inside the servicing companies, which can have separate departments handling modifications and foreclosures, she said. One potential solution is for servicers to have one point of contact assigned to each borrower. Prosperity Unlimited is working with national lenders to provide such an approach for her counselors, she said. In North Carolina, Cooper said the focus is on enforcing already strong laws before pushing legislative changes. In the ongoing foreclosure probe, he said attorneys general are continuing to gather information and have begun holding meetings with the banks involved. “We are trying to move as quickly and expeditiously as possible,” he said. (c) 2010, The Charlotte Observer (Charlotte, N.C.). Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services. RISMedia welcomes your questions and comments. Send your e-mail to: Copyright© 2010 RISMedia, The Leader in Real Estate Information Systems and Real Estate News. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be republished without permission from RISMedia.
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