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The Real Value of Homeownership . . . It’s Not Monetary



There are numerous media sources reporting the advantages and disadvantages of homeownership. Every expert (from international money managers who have hundreds of billions of dollars of assets under management to local and national real estate experts) has chimed in on the subject. The bottom line is that the percentage of folks that own a home is going down.

This is largely because the amount of Echo-Boomers, adults from the ages of 18-34, are either still living at home or are renting. I write this blog post not for the hopes that those individuals will enter the world of homeownership (I am confident that they will when the time is right), but to give readers a real life experience of the value of homeownership. And it is certainly not monetary.

I grew up in a middle-class family. Both of my parents worked and were lucky enough to have steady employment for most of their careers. My father worked within the same industry for almost 30 years and retired at the age of 62 with my mother doing so as well. They purchased a simple home back in 1972 for about $35,000. At that time, their mortgage payment with taxes and insurance was about 40% of their take home pay. Needless to say, with all other household expenses, they were barely making ends meet. Their decision to buy a home was not made from the expectation of home appreciation and whether or not it was a good investment. No, they did not even remotely think of those points when closing on their home! Instead, their goal was to raise a family in a home which they could call their own. It would be a permanent place that their child could call home…a home in which they could have family gatherings for holidays such as Christmas and Christmas Eve which were always hosted by my mother and father. A home that when my parents came home from a long day at work they could walk into and relax. For a moment, they could feel like a burden was lifted off their shoulders and all the day’s work actually meant something. They were building a foundation of memories!


I was born in 1974. I was lucky enough to have parents that had started to build the foundation that was the basis of memories that will last a lifetime. I can remember playing basketball and baseball in the driveway with my father and wrestling with my dogs on the front lawn. I remember waiting and looking out the window anxiously for all of my relatives to show up for the holidays. I remember the aroma of Christmas cookies and pies permeating the house. I remember all of my cousins and neighborhood friends retreating to the basement playroom during holidays where we would spend hours talking and playing with toys. We were establishing memories and friendships that carry on to this day.

Second Home

During the Summer, my father’s love for fishing and the ocean brought us to a campground on the shores of Cape Cod. My mother worked in the public school system which afforded her the summers off from work. From the time I was 7 years old, on the last day of the school year, we packed the car and headed off to the trailer for 3 months of beach going, fishing, and camping. My mother and I would stay down the Cape for the summer and my father would make the journey every weekend to join us. Again, I am blessed to have such great parents that allowed this to happen. In 1984, my parents, along with some campsite comrades, decided to purchase land and build a summer home for their respective families. The choice was a tough one. Both families knew it would be financially testing to complete such a task. However, in the long run, they felt it was the right decision. A permanent summer home where their families could congregate, host visitors, and relax from the week-long grind was worth the financial sacrifice. Again, this decision was not made in the hopes of financial gain; it was made for the good of their family.

I remember the construction of the home as if it were yesterday…from the pouring of the foundation, to the framing, to the day my father and I made our first overnight stay. We slept in cots in front of the fireplace that my father and his best friend built. The house was not finished but we were so anxious to stay in the house that we did so without plumbing or light fixtures. We had a blast! Those memories will last me a lifetime.

Fast Forward

Unfortunately, after a battle with cancer my father passed away on April 28, 2010 at the age of 69. A month earlier, my daughter, his first grandchild was born. Tragically, my daughter will never have the privilege to meet my father and my best friend. But while sitting on the Cape house deck in the very chair my father always relaxed in, watching my wife and mother play with Riley in her wading pool, I came to realize something. So many of us look at homeownership through “monetary glasses”. When one is buying a house as a primary or secondary residence and is hoping to stay a while, homeownership is not about the monetary/price appreciation aspect of purchasing the home. It is about building a foundation of memories for you and your loved ones. I count my blessings that my parents thought this way. It is because of their wise decisions, that the foundation they built will be enjoyed for generations to come.

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5 Mistakes Buyers Make in a Hot Market

By Tara Nicholle Nelson
 August 8, 2012
Note: This is Part 1 of our two-part ‘Hot Market Mistakes’ series. While home prices are nowhere near their peak of 6 or 7 years ago, the nationwide data is clear: the housing market this summer has been hotter than at any time since the recession:
  • The Census Bureau just revealed that new home starts rose 6.9% in June to their highest level in four years – up 23.6% from a year earlier.
  • In April, home prices rose for the first time in seven months, according to the S&P/Case-Shiller home price index.
  • The number of home sales pending rose 9.5 percent year-over-year from June 2011 to June 2012, as reported by the National Association of Realtors.

Given this rapid turn of the market, what’s a buyer to do? Maybe take a new approach to prepping for the hot market house hunt. To that effect, I submit that savvy buyers will find more pitfall-preventing power in learning what not to do. Inspired by the last time we had a market heated up by short times on market, low inventory and multiple offers, here are five hot market mistakes home buyers should avoid making:
1.  Acting out of desperation.  Deep inhale – aaaaaand exhale. It’s extremely easy to get caught up in the lightning-fast pace at which the great homes come on and off your local market, growing panicked and even desperate – especially when you see ‘just-right’ homes go from ‘New’ to ‘Pending’ status before you can even get an appointment to see them!
But know this: desperation has no place in a home buying transaction. Panic does nothing but cause people to make impulsive and otherwise unwise decisions, ranging from talking themselves into a home that isn’t quite what they really want, to paying way more than they can truly afford to spend (see #s 4 and 5, below).
If you’re in the market for a home, and your local market is so hot it’s causing you to feel freaked-out, panicked or overwhelmed, remind yourself that:
  • There are probably hundreds of homes in your neck of the woods that will meet your needs. When one goes off the market, another is on it’s way on.
  • There is no ‘perfect’ home.  If you didn’t get that one that seems like ‘the one,’ then, by definition, it’s not ‘the one.’
  • Every home you see or make an offer on, and don’t get, equips you with a better understanding of the market, putting you in a better position to get the home that will eventually be yours. In life generally, I believe every experience is either a stunning success, or a successful education. Look at the homes you miss out on as an opportunity to get a successful education about the market.

Desperate is bad.  Urgent, however, is good. If you know, for example, that single family, 3+ bedroom homes, near downtown under $400,000 move very, very quickly, then act on that knowledge:
  • Ask your agent to notify you as soon as they hear of homes coming on the market that meet your needs – even before they are on the MLS, if possible.
  • Give your contact information to the listing agents at Open Houses similar to what you’re looking for and ask them to drop you a note if they get similar listings.
  • As soon as you see a new listing that seems like it might work for you, go see it – don’t wait for the weekend. And if you see a home and really like it, make an offer without further ado.

2.  Hesitating. What’s worse than seeing great properties come and go before you can get out to see them?  Seeing them go into contract after you view them, but before you make your own offer. When the market is hot, often buyers who have been sitting on the fence or simply window-shopping for ages will stumble into a great Open House and decide that it’s time to make an offer, only to realize that their loan approval has expired and it will take a day or two to get a new one. At the other end of the spectrum, buyers who have just started house hunting can come across a home they love, but drag their feet in making an offer because (a) they’re used to a slower-paced market, so don’t recognize the urgency and (b) they aren’t 100 percent sure something better won’t be coming right along.
On a hot real estate market, hesitation can be costly.  You can end up in a multiple offer situation where you would have been the only offer a few days prior, or can even end up losing out on a property entirely because another, more decisive buyer swoops the place right out from under your nose.
Morals of the story: Make sure you maintain a current loan approval in place at all times – in fact, I say you shouldn’t be out house hunting if you don’t have a current loan approval.  And, for those new to the house hunt, go Open House hunting even when you aren’t completely in love with the listings you’re seeing online. Once you’ve seen a good number of homes, you’ll have more material against which to compare every other home you see, making you less likely to dither before making an offer when you do find a good one.
3.  Ignoring the market entirely.  I’m not an advocate of making your decisions about whether and when to buy or sell based on what’s happening in the market. Rather, I recommend making your real estate decisions based on what’s happening (and what you forecast and envision will be happening in the next 5-10 years) in your family, your career and your life.  
That said, when it comes time to execute your decision to buy, it’s foolhardy not to take market dynamics into account.  I’ve seen many a buyer over the years decide to stick their heads in the sand and their ears in their fingers, tuning out all of the market ‘noise’ as though it doesn’t apply to them.  Unfortunately, in a hot market, this usually results in them getting beat out for 5 or 10 different houses, then having the emotional kneejerk reaction of throwing every single dollar they have at the next house they fall in love with – whether it’s the right house or not, and whether they can truly afford it or not.
You don’t want to fall under the panic-inducing spell of the market, but neither do you want to ignore it. Rather, ask your local agent to help you pay attention to neighborhood-specific information, like:
  • which types of properties move quickly,
  • how many days they generally stay on the market,
  • whether multiple offers are a reality you need to face, and
  • how much over-asking homes like the one you want are selling for.

Then, use this information to make strategic decisions about your home buying process, covering everything from which properties and areas you’ll focus on, how quickly you’ll need to get out to see listings and – most importantly – what price range you should focus your search on.  If you know homes are selling for over-asking, engineer your search price range to be low enough that you can be successful, rather than exclusively looking at properties priced at the top of the range you can afford.
4.  Financial fogginess.  Don’t run the numbers in your head.  Don’t ballpark your income, the big bills and such on a notepad, stick your finger in the wind, and decide you can afford X number of thousands of dollars a month for a home. Home buying is the big leagues, financially speaking, so you need to be sparkling, crystal clear on precisely what you can afford. This universal truth of home buying is especially critical in a hot market, where you may be faced with the need to make decisions about whether to increase your price range or your offer price on relatively short notice.
Either keep an income/expense journal, use an online money app like Mint or Manilla or sit down and do a deep dive into your last few months’ checking and other account statements to get a complete picture of what you can afford and to get conscious about what sacrifices might want or need to make.   It is not overkill to bring your tax advisor or financial planner into this conversation, so they can help you understand how your tax situation as a home owner may change, freeing up some extra monthly budget room for your mortgage, property taxes, insurance and HOA Dues or Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI), if applicable. Also, make sure you include line items for your savings, retirement investing, gifts, school tuition, travel and recreation – the sorts of things that lenders will not account for when they tell you what their guidelines say you can afford.
5.  Overpaying.  There are several ways to overpay for a home.  You could pay more than the place is worth, which is difficult to do if you are buying the place with a mortgage loan which requires an appraisal. You could pay more than you need to in order to get the property, which sometimes happens to buyers in multiple offer situations, and buyers who have experienced the trauma of losing out on home after home, and who just decide to make a high offer to get closure and secure a place they like. Whether any price meets this second definition of ‘overpaying’ is difficult to ascertain, as it would require us to know what would have happened in the hypothetical world in which they didn’t offer such a high price and so, might not actually have been the successful buyer.
The antidote to both these forms of overpaying is simple: pulling the comparables before you decide what to offer.  It only takes a minute, your agent will help you, and it’s just not prudent, in 2012, to decide on an offer price without a fresh pull of the sales data on the similar, nearby homes that have recently sold.  If your agent includes active and pending sales in their pull of the comparable data set, you may also find out useful information like whether several other competitive properties have just hit the market, or that all of the competition is now pending – things that might also inform your motivation levels or price strategy.
And there is a third, more insidious form of overpaying that haunts hot market buyers as well: paying more than you can truly afford for a home. It’s fine, even expected, that if you thought you were buying into a depressed market and instead end up buying in a hot one, you might have experienced some upward ‘creep’ in what you’re willing to spend for a home. But that doesn’t excuse letting that creep go beyond what you can truly afford, overextending yourself.  
This form of overspending is also more difficult to do now than it was before the housing market recession began, as lender guidelines a much tighter now than then. But it’s still possible – especially as lenders don’t account for what you should be putting aside for savings, for retirement, for your children’s education and other essential monthly budget items that impact what you can truly afford to pay for a home.  
The only cure for this form of overspending is for you to both know (see #4, above) and to set in stone what your actual, top-line maximum home purchase price is – even if you are the only one who knows this number, in your own head. Your mortgage professional can help you work backwards from the amount of cash you have to invest in the transaction and the maximum amount you can devote to your housing costs on a monthly basis, to arrive at your maximum home purchase price.
Long story short – if you’ve been pondering the prospect of buying a home for long, you might feel like you’ve been sitting in the economy section of an emotional rollercoaster. Prices fell so fast you might have doubted whether buying makes sense at all. Now, with barely a plateau, they’re on the upswing – and every other buyer in town seems to be dropping offers on the choice homes before you can even get out to see them.  Use these tools to avoid repeating the mistakes of the last generation of homeowners.
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Buy a Second Home Before You Retire?

by Michele Lerner

Published November 16, 2011

If you have plans to buy a home at the beach, in the mountains or in the desert for your retirement years, you might be tempted to take the plunge and buy your future home now while interest rates and home prices are low.


Financial experts say buying your retirement home five to 10 years before you stop working could be beneficial. However, people in this age group should be aware of the risks of tying up money and perhaps losing flexibility with a second home purchase.

“While there’s no denying that we have historically low interest rates and low home values right now, anyone considering buying a second home before they retire needs to run the numbers,” says Kimberly Foss, president of Empyrion Wealth Management in Roseville, Calif. “People get stars in their eyes sometimes at the prospect of retirement, but the reality is that they may not be able to afford to buy another home right now.”

Foss says she recommends clients max out their 401(k)s and make sure they have adequately insured their future before thinking about buying retirement homes.

“I recommend that people have 12 months’ (worth) of expenses in the bank as an emergency fund,” Foss says. “If they choose to buy another property, they will need extra money to cover those expenses, too. Even if they choose to rent the property for income, they need to have six to 12 months’ of upkeep and rental income covered in their savings in case they don’t have a renter for a while.”

Financing another home before retirement

For 50- and 60-somethings with plenty of discretionary income, buying a home with cash is an option. Others need financing.

There are three basic options for financing a home, says Patrick Cunningham, vice president of Home Savings and Trust Mortgage in Fairfax, Va.

The home can be financed as an owner-occupied home if the buyer lives in it as a primary residence, as a second home or as an investment.

“Second-home financing means that you will need to qualify to pay the mortgage on both your current home and your second home,” Cunningham says. “If you need some additional income to qualify for the loan, you can rent the property, and a lender will use some of your rental income for a loan approval.”

Cunningham suggests that financing a property as a second home rather than as an investment property is the better option because interest rates, qualification guidelines and down payment requirements are generally more lenient on second homes than on investments. He says an investment loan always requires a down payment of at least 20% or 25%.

People getting ready to retire might want to consider the benefit of buying homes before they stop working because a mortgage approval could be more difficult to obtain without an income.

“Conventional loans are written off your income, and you have to prove you have the means to repay the loan,” Cunningham says. “You may not be able to do that based on dividends from your retirement savings. If you are concerned about qualifying for a mortgage after you retire, you could be better off applying for one earlier.”

Rental income

Foss says one of the primary benefits of buying a home before retiring can be the generation of rental income.

“Income from a rental property can act as a hedge against the low interest rate environment we are in and against future inflation because you can raise the rent to offset inflation when it hits,” Foss says. “If you turn the property into a rental property until you are ready to live in it, you also gain some tax advantages.”

Foss says if you can handle the expense and hassle of a rental property, this could be a good way to use the property before it becomes your primary retirement residence.

Property choices

Charles Duck, president of Charles Duck Real Estate in Phoenix, says the pre-retirement buyers he works with are looking for bargain-priced luxury homes because they offer more certainty of future appreciation.

“Some people are deciding to buy now and leave the property empty for a while or to use a place as an occasional vacation home,” Duck says. “Others decide to rent the property until they are ready to use it. The important thing for all these buyers is to find a latchkey property so that they can travel or live elsewhere and not worry about it.”

When choosing a home a few years before retirement, Duck says the first consideration should be the location.

“Many retirees want an urban-suburban location where they can walk to amenities and restaurants,” Duck says. “The important thing is to look at this property like any other investment and evaluate the potential resale value based on the location, community amenities and floor plan.”

Duck says this cohort of buyers should consider looking for low-maintenance houses with all the living spaces on one floor, so the future retirees can avoid climbing stairs.

Flexible Plans

Foss says if you are 10 years or more away from retirement, you may want to opt to rent a vacation home for a month at a time in order to avoid getting stuck with a permanent decision about your retirement destination.

“People change a lot between age 50 and 90, so I like the idea of keeping your options open and allowing for flexibility,” says Foss. “Buying your retirement home early can be a great option, but I recommend that people do this with the mindset that it is a rental property with the option of using it as a vacation home later rather than getting locked into a retirement plan.”

Cunningham says to have a backup plan for a second home, including an estimate of rental value in case the home cannot be sold for a profit if you change your mind.

“Buying a second home is not for people who are just getting by,” says Cunningham. “This should only be a choice for people with the income and assets to handle it.”

Contact you Lazarus Team salesperson for a no obligation consultation. Call us at 609-457-0258 or email us at .

See original article:

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Mortgage Rates Down 4 Years Running; Longest Refinance Boom Ever?

With mortgage rates on a 3-year bender, you may have already refinanced your original home loan. Maybe you’ve done it twice, or even six times. Yes, six! But if you haven’t refinanced in the past 12 months, you’re leaving savings on the table. With mortgage rates down more than three-quarters of a percent, mortgage payments at today’s low rates are downright cheap as compared to one year ago.

Whether your mortgage is conventional, FHA, VA, USDA or jumbo, it’s time to look at rates.

30-Year Mortgage Rates Below 3.75%

It’s been a 4-year Refi Boom. Since 2008, the combination of aggressive Federal Reserve policy plus a weak economy have combined to push U.S. mortgage rates to levels bordering on insane.Today, mortgage applicants willing to pay discount points and closing costs can get 30-year fixed rate mortgages in the mid-3 percent range; and 15-year fixed rate mortgages in the 2s. Even jumbo mortgages are rock-bottom,As a point of comparison, when the Refi Boom started in August 2008, 15-year fixed rate mortgages were more than double where they are today. 30-year fixed rate loans were similarly expensive, in relative terms.Heck, even as compared to last year, today’s mortgage rates look cheap.

Save 10% On Your Mortgage — Instantly

Falling mortgage rates mean falling mortgage payments. For homeowners quick enough to strike while the iron’s hot, the monthly savings can be huge — especially for households using the HARP refinance program who’ve been previously unable to refinance.Today, the national average 30-year fixed rate mortgage rate is 3.67% for homeowners willing to pay closing costs and discount points. One year ago, the rate was 4.55%. That’s an 88 basis point difference in just 12 months — a huge difference.As a real-life example, if you refinanced a mortgage from June 2011 into today’s mortgage rates, no matter your loan size, you’d save an instant 10% on your monthly mortgage payment.·                                 June 2011 : $509.66 principal + interest for every $100,000 borrowed·                                 June 2012 : $458.59 principal + interest for every $100,000 borrowedThat’s $51.07 monthly savings for every $100,000 borrowed. On a real-life mortgage, a homeowner in Orange County, California, borrowing at the local conforming limit of $625,500 would recognize savings of $319 per month just for doing a refinance — or $3,833 per year.The “break-even point” on a mortgage like that comes quickly — even after accounting for discount points and closing costs.Mortgage rates have never been this low in history.

Discover Your Savings Via Refinance

Mortgage rates have dropped for 4 years but there’s reasons to believe they’ve neared a bottom. First, rates are nearing a point where, given their inherent risk, they become unattractive to Wall Street investors.Plus, with Basel III rolling out and mortgage turn times rising, lenders have reason to inflate their respective pricing. Rates look good today, though, and today marks a good time to lock.You have to see today’s mortgage rates to believe them.

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Higher not hyper ! Healthy market continues !

UST seven years after the biggest housing bubble in American history began to deflate, could another be inflating? Prices in a 20-city index compiled by CoreLogic Case-Shiller rose by 11% in the year to the end of March, and by more than 20% in Phoenix and Las Vegas, both cities at the centre of the housing collapse. Inventory is down: homes are selling in days, and often for more than the asking price. In Phoenix, bidding wars have broken out between would-be homeowners and investors paying cash. Americans once more see property as a winning asset.

But to qualify as a bubble, an asset must not simply appreciate; it must decouple from its intrinsic value. For houses, The Economist each quarter compares the ratio of prices to household income and rents against their long-run average in 20 countries. We have now done the same for the 20 metropolitan areas in the Case-Shiller index. The verdict: in most markets houses are at or near their long-run values, but none looks bubbly.

For America as a whole and in most cities, price-to-rent and price-to-income ratios are at or near their 25-year average. (To be sure, the bubble era dragged that average up; valuations are still higher than in the 1990s.) How they got there varies, however. Cities in Arizona, California, Nevada and Florida experienced the biggest bubbles, and in the subsequent bust values fell well below long-term averages. Price rises in Phoenix, Tampa and Miami have restored values only to their long-run averages.

In New York prices never gave up much of their bubble-era rise, and have since recovered more slowly than in the country as a whole. Relative to rents and incomes, valuations have been flat or down slightly. Homes around Washington, DC sell for roughly double their level of the late 1990s, but that seems justified by strong gains in rents and incomes. A brisk rental market also explains the strong run-up in prices in San Francisco.

In Denver house prices have regained their peaks, and valuations are above their long-run average. This is the only city that, by our methodology, counts as expensive. But by the standards of recent history the over-valuation is trivial. Many things could trip up the housing recovery, from stalling job growth to higher mortgage rates. But at the moment a bursting bubble is not one of them.

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$25 Billion Mortgage Servicing Agreement Filed in Federal Court

Department of Justice

Office of Public Affairs


Monday, March 12, 2012

$25 Billion Mortgage Servicing Agreement Filed in Federal Court

View the court documents.

WASHINGTON – The Justice Department, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and 49 state attorneys general announced today the filing of their landmark $25 billion agreement with the nation’s five largest mortgage servicers to address mortgage loan servicing and foreclosure abuses.

The federal government and state attorneys general filed in U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia proposed consent judgments with Bank of America Corporation, J.P. Morgan Chase & Co., Wells Fargo & Company, Citigroup Inc. and Ally Financial Inc., to resolve violations of state and federal law.

The unprecedented joint agreement is the largest federal-state civil settlement ever obtained and is the result of extensive investigations by federal agencies, including the Department of Justice, HUD and the HUD Office of the Inspector General (HUD-OIG), and state attorneys general and state banking regulators across the country.

The consent judgments provide the details of the servicers’ financial obligations under the agreement, which include payments to foreclosed borrowers and more than $20 billion in consumer relief; new standards the servicers will be required to implement regarding mortgage loan servicing and foreclosure practices; and the oversight and enforcement authorities of the independent settlement monitor, Joseph A. Smith Jr.

The consent judgments require the servicers to collectively dedicate $20 billion toward various forms of financial relief to homeowners, including: reducing the principal on loans for borrowers who are delinquent or at imminent risk of default and owe more on their mortgages than their homes are worth; refinancing loans for borrowers who are current on their mortgages but who owe more on their mortgage than their homes are worth; forbearance of principal for unemployed borrowers; anti-blight provisions; short sales; transitional assistance; and benefits for service members.

The consent judgments’ consumer relief requirements include varying amounts of partial credit the servicers will receive for every dollar spent on the required relief activities. Because servicers will receive only partial credit for many of the relief activities, the agreement will result in benefits to borrowers in excess of $20 billion. The servicers are required to complete 75 percent of their consumer relief obligations within two years and 100 percent within three years.

In addition to the $20 billion in financial relief for borrowers, the consent judgments require the servicers to pay $5 billion in cash to the federal and state governments. Approximately $1.5 billion of this payment will be used to establish a Borrower Payment Fund to provide cash payments to borrowers whose homes were sold or taken in foreclosure between Jan. 1, 2008, and Dec. 31, 2011, and who meet other criteria.

The court documents filed today also provide detailed new servicing standards that the mortgage servicers will be required to implement. These standards will prevent foreclosure abuses of the past, such as robo-signing, improper documentation and lost paperwork, and create new consumer protections. The new standards provide for strict oversight of foreclosure processing, including third-party vendors, and new requirements to undertake pre-filing reviews of certain documents filed in bankruptcy court. The new servicing standards make foreclosure a last resort by requiring servicers to evaluate homeowners for other loss mitigation options first. Servicers will be restricted from foreclosing while the homeowner is being considered for a loan modification. The new standards also include procedures and timelines for reviewing loan modification applications and give homeowners the right to appeal denials. Servicers will also be required to create a single point of contact for borrowers seeking information about their loans and maintain adequate staff to handle calls.

The consent judgments provide enhanced protections for service members that go beyond those required by the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA). In addition, the servicers have agreed to conduct a full review, overseen by the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, to determine whether any service members were foreclosed or improperly charged interest in excess of 6 percent on their mortgage in violation of SCRA.

The oversight and enforcement authorities of the settlement’s independent monitor are detailed in the court documents filed today. The monitor will oversee implementation of the servicing standards and consumer relief activities required by the agreement and publish regular public reports that identify any quarter in which a servicer fell short of the standards imposed in the settlement. The consent judgments require servicers to remediate any harm to borrowers that are identified in quarterly reviews overseen by the monitor and, in some instances, conduct full look-backs to identify any additional borrowers who may have been harmed. If a servicer violates the requirements of the consent judgment it will be subject to penalties of up to $1 million per violation or up to $5 million for certain repeat violations.

The consent judgments filed today resolve certain violations of civil law based on mortgage loan servicing activities. The agreement does not prevent state and federal authorities from pursuing criminal enforcement actions related to this or other conduct by the servicers. The agreement does not prevent the government from punishing wrongful securitization conduct that will be the focus of the new Residential Mortgage-Backed Securities Working Group. In the servicing agreement, the United States also retains its full authority to recover losses and penalties caused to the federal government when a bank failed to satisfy underwriting standards on a government-insured or government-guaranteed loan; the United States also resolved certain Federal Housing Administration (FHA) origination claims with Bank of America as part of this filing and with Citibank in a separate matter. The agreement does not prevent any action by individual borrowers who wish to bring their own lawsuits. State attorneys general also preserved, among other things, all claims against the Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems (MERS), and all claims brought by borrowers.

Investigations were conducted by the U.S. Trustee Program of the Department of Justice, HUD-OIG, HUD’s FHA, state attorneys general offices and state banking regulators from throughout the country, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Colorado, the Justice Department’s Civil Division, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of North Carolina, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of South Carolina, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, the Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program and the Federal Housing Finance Agency-Office of the Inspector General. The Department of the Treasury, the Federal Trade Commission, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, the Department of Veterans Affairs and the U.S. Department of Agriculture made critical contributions.

For more information about the mortgage servicing settlement, go to To find your state attorney general’s website, go to and click on “The Attorneys General.”

The joint federal-state agreement is part of enforcement efforts by President Barack Obama’s Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force. President Obama established the interagency Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force to wage an aggressive, coordinated and proactive effort to investigate and prosecute financial crimes. The task force includes representatives from a broad range of federal agencies, regulatory authorities, inspectors general and state and local law enforcement who, working together, bring to bear a powerful array of criminal and civil enforcement resources. The task force is working to improve efforts across the federal executive branch, and with state and local partners, to investigate and prosecute significant financial crimes, ensure just and effective punishment for those who perpetrate financial crimes, combat discrimination in the lending and financial markets, and recover proceeds for victims of financial crimes. For more information about the task force visit:

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Report: Sellers™ Asking Prices Rose in March


Real estate news and analysis from The Wall Street Journal

Report: Sellers’ Asking Prices Rose in March

April 17, 2012, 6:00 AM

 By Nick Timiraos

Here’s a sign that sellers are feeling more optimistic about their prospects this spring: median asking prices in March jumped by 5.6% from a year ago, and were up 1% from February, according to a report released Tuesday.

The jump in median asking prices comes amid a sharp drop in the number of homes listed for sale from one year ago. While listing inventories in March rose by 1.5% from February, they were still 21.5% below last year’s levels.


Click for interactive with metro-level data.

Inventories of homes listed for sale tend to go up in the spring, and the 1.8 million listings in March represented the second straight increase for the year. Over the past 27 years, the average increase in for-sale listings in March has been 1.8% from February, according to research firm Zelman & Associates.

The figures include sale listings from more than 900 multiple-listing services across the country. They don’t cover all homes for sale, including those that are “for sale by owner” and newly constructed homes that aren’t always listed by the services.

Compared with February, inventories declined in roughly less than half of the top 30 metros tracked by during March, with the biggest declines in Phoenix (-6.4%), Seattle (-4.8%) and Orlando, Fla. (-4.2%).

Northeastern cities showed the largest inventory gains — a finding that shouldn’t surprise given that sellers are more likely to list their homes when the weather improves. Washington, D.C., saw a 9.5% gain, followed by Philadelphia (8.1%) and Boston (7.4%).

But compared with one year ago, inventories are still down sharply in almost all of the 145 markets tracked by Just two, Philadelphia and Hartford, Conn., have seen any annual inventory increases. Listings are down by more than half in Oakland and Bakersfield, Calif.

Where are prices rising? Median asking prices were up from one year ago or unchanged in the vast majority of markets, with whopping increases of 23% in Phoenix, 22% in Miami, 17% in Washington, D.C.

The biggest monthly price gains were reported in San Francisco (6.1%), Seattle (5%) and Washington, D.C. (4.1%).

Where are prices falling? Chicago topped the list, with median asking prices down by 9.5% from last year’s levels. Orange County, Calif., saw a 5.4% decline and Los Angeles posted a 3% drop.

Compared with February, asking prices turned up in all but one of the cities, with Minneapolis posting a 2.2% drop in median listing prices from February

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Warren Buffett: It’s Time to Buy Real Estate

Warren Buffett appeared live on CNBC’s Squawk Box this week. During the interview, he was asked about the current real estate market and whether he felt now was the time to buy. His response was rather emphatic and has been used as a headline in hundreds of articles since the interview:

“If I had a way of buying a couple hundred thousand single-family homes I would load up on them.”

However, throughout the interview, he addressed the market from a few angles. Here is what he said:

Why invest in real estate now?

“It’s a way, in effect, to short the dollar because you can take a 30-year mortgage and if it turns out your interest rate’s too high, next week you refinance lower. And if it turns out it’s too low, the other guy’s stuck with it for 30 years. So it’s a very attractive asset class now.”

Is buying your own home better than investing in stocks right now?

“If I knew where I was going to want to live the next five or 10 years I would buy a home and I’d finance it with a 30-year mortgage… It’s a terrific deal.”

Should we buy multiple houses?

“If I was an investor that was a handy type and I could buy a couple of them at distressed prices and find renters, I think it’s a leveraged way of owning a very cheap asset now and I think that’s probably as an attractive an investment as you can make now.”

Over the last couple of months, there have been more and more financial analysts coming to the same conclusion: It’s time to buy real estate.

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Experts Expect to See Broad Improvements, Home Prices to Rise in 2013

The Urban Land Institute released its Real Estate Consensus Forecast Wednesday morning, and overall, the 38 real estate economists and analysts surveyed projected broad improvements for the economy.

With signs of improvement in the housing sector already emerging, participants expect to see housing starts nearly double by 2014 and project home prices will begin to rise in 2013.

The average home price, which has declined somewhere between 1.8 percent and 4.1 percent over each of the past three years, according to FHFA data, is expected to stabilize in 2012, followed by a 2 percent increase in 2013, and a 3.5 percent increase in 2014.

Single-family housing starts are expected to rise from 428,600 starts in 2011 to 500,000 in 2012, and jump to 800,000 in 2014.

The unemployment rate is expected to continue falling, with the rate dropping to 8 percent by the end of 2012, 7.5 percent by the end of 2013, and 6.9 percent by the end of 2014.

GDP is expected to grow by 2.5 percent in 2012 and grow to 3.2 percent in 2014.

But, with the improving economy is inflation and higher interest rates. These rising rates will increase costs for investors, and those surveyed do not expect substantial increases in real estate capitalization rates for institutional-quality investments (NCREIF cap rates), which are expected to remain steady at 6 percent in 2012 and 2013 and then rise slightly to 6.2 percent in 2014.

By property type, National Council of Real Estate Investment Fiduciaries (NCREIF) total returns in 2012 are expected to be strongest for apartments (12.1 percent), followed by industrial  (11.5 percent), office (10.8 percent), and retail (10 percent).

By 2014, returns are expected to be strongest for office (10 percent) and industrial (10 percent), followed by apartments (8.8 percent) and retail (8.5 percent).

ULI CEO Patrick L. Phillips advised that while the ULI Forecast suggests that economic growth will be steady rather than sporadic, it must be viewed within the context of numerous risk factors such as the continuing impact of Europe’s debt crisis; the impact of the upcoming presidential election in the U.S. and major elections overseas; and the complexities of tighter financial regulations in the U.S. and abroad.

“While geopolitical and global economic events could change the forecast going forward, what we see in this survey is confidence that the U.S. real estate economy has weathered the brunt of the recent financial storm and is poised for significant improvement over the next three years.,” said Phillips.

Non-housing sector growth, according to the ULI Forecast, which was conducted from February 23 to March 12, 2012

-For the apartment sector, year-end vacancy rates are expected to decline further in 2012 to 5 percent, and then rise slightly to 5.1 percent in 2013 and to 5.3 percent in 2014.

-Apartments are expected to show strong rental rate growth, rising 5 percent in 2012, then slowing down to 4 percent in 2013, and 3.8 percent in 2014.

-Issuance of commercial mortgage-backed securities (CMBS) is expected to increase from $33 billion in 2011 to $40 billion in 2012, $58 billion in 2013, and $75 billion in 2014.

-Ten-year treasury rates are projected to rise to 2.4 percent by the end of 2012, 3.1 percent for 2013, and 3.8 percent for 2014.

-Future equity REIT returns are expected to rise to 10 percent in 2012, then drop to 9 percent in 2013, and 8 percent in 2014.

-Returns for institutional-quality direct real estate investments are expected to trend lower, with returns of 11 percent in 2012, 9.5 percent in 2013, and 8.5 percent in 2014.

-Hotel occupancy rates are projected to increase to 57 percent by 2012, 58.2 percent by 2013, and 59.2 percent by 2014.

-For the industrial/warehouse sector, vacancy rates are expected to decline steadily over the next three years to 12.8 percent by the end of 2012, 12.1 percent in 2013, and 11.5 percent by the end of 2014.