Good News on Short Sales

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July 15th, 2011 was another big day for anyone in financial distress on their primary residence in California.  Along with Senate Bill 931, signed in January, which prohibits a deficiency judgment against a homeowner after an approved short sale on their first mortgage, Governor Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill 458, which prohibits a deficiency after a short sale for one-to-four residential units, regardless of whether the lender is a senior or junior lien-holder.  In short if you have an approved short sale on the first mortgage the lien holder cannot pursue you for any difference between the short sale price and that loan balance.  The same goes for the second mortgage.  This is for any short sale closing after July 15th 2011.

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Housing Market and Mortgage News

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National average mortgage rates declined from the previous week to 4.72% in the latest Primary Mortgage Market Survey released weekly by Freddie Mac on June 10th.  Rates have recorded weekly declines in seven out of the past nine weeks.  Fixed mortgage rates are now just slightly higher than the all-time low of 4.71% set in December 2009.

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No E-File For First-Time Home Buyer Credit

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While the Internal Revenue Service is encouraging taxpayers to file their returns electronically, taxpayers who used the first-time home-buyer tax credit will have to send in their tax return by paper this year.

First-time home buyers who used the credit will have to go to the IRS Web site, www.irs.gov, to download a form claiming the tax credit. Taxpayers can still use tax filing programs to prepare their return, but will have to print it out and mail it in.

The IRS said paper filing will help prevent fraud and catch people who may have taken advantage of the $8,000 tax credit but didn’t use it to buy a home.

The IRS said it plans to start processing returns by mid-February, adding it may take an extra two to three weeks for taxpayers who used the home buyer tax credit to see refunds.

Among other documentation required for taxpayers who used the home buyer tax credit:

• A copy of the settlement statement showing all parties’ names and signatures, property address, sales price, and date of purchase.

• For mobile home purchasers who are unable to get a settlement statement, a copy of the executed retail sales contract showing all parties’ names and signatures, property address, purchase price and date of purchase.

• For a newly constructed home where a settlement statement is not available, a copy of the certificate of occupancy showing the owner’s name, property address and date of the certificate.

In November, Congress extended the federal home buyer tax credit program to June 30 for buyers to settle on a property.

Homeowners who have lived in their home for five of the last eight years can also qualify for a $6,500 tax credit if they close on a home.

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Good News From Hanley Wood Market Review Dec. 11th

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Holiday Consumer Cheer
Consumers became more optimistic and loosened up their wallets in November which helped boost retail sales figures and consumer sentiment data released on Friday.  U.S. retail sales jumped 1.3% in November driven by a strong start to the holiday shopping season.  Retail sales in November posted its strongest monthly gain since August when retail sales surged 2.4% due to the government’s Cash for Clunkers program.  It will be important to watch December retail sales figures when they are released next month to see if there was sustained consumer activity throughout the holiday shopping season or if November retail sales were just boosted by bargain-hunters capitalizing on early holiday deals.  The University of Michigan/Reuters Index showed consumer sentiment increasing to its highest level since September which enforces the notion that consumer strength has reemerged.
Generally positive economic data provided support for stocks over the past week.  Although initial weekly unemployment claims reported a surprise increase on Thursday, most of the economic data released in a relatively quiet week have been good.  The Commerce Department reported on Thursday that the trade gap was narrowed to $32.9 billion in October due to a rise in exports which benefitted from a weaker dollar.  The broader S&P 500 index is on pace to close higher for the week, up a marginal 0.4% to 1,106 in early afternoon trading on Friday.

The Economy
The Commerce Department reported on Friday that November retail sales increased 1.3% which is the strongest increase in sales since August.  Retail sales also posted a 1.9% increase from November of last year which is its first year-over-year gain since August 2008.  Auto sales increased 1.6% while retail sales excluding automobile sales rose 1.2% which is its largest gain since January.
The University of Michigan/Reuters Index for consumer sentiment jumped 8.9% in December to a reading of 73.4 from 67.4 in November.  This is the highest reading for the index since September.  Consumer sentiment regarding the current economy increased to a reading of 79.1from 68.8, which is the highest it has been since April 2008.
Initial unemployment claims posted an unexpected rise this past week by 17,000 to a seasonally-adjusted figure of 474,000.  Initial weekly unemployment claims have fallen in the past five consecutive weeks before this week’s increase.

Housing Market
National average mortgage rates increased from the previous week to 4.81% in the latest Primary Mortgage Market Survey released weekly by Freddie Mac on December 10th.  This was the first weekly increase in average fixed-rates since the beginning of November.  Rates last week were at their lowest levels since Freddie Mac started the survey in 1971.  This is also the sixth straight week that fixed-rates have averaged lower than 5.0%.  In the week ending December 4th, the MBA’s seasonally-adjusted purchase index increased 4.0% from the previous week but was still down 16.3% compared to the same time last year.  This was the third consecutive weekly gain for purchase applications which have been unseasonably high due to the extended homebuyer tax credit and record-low mortgage rates.
New home sales rebounded in October after posting its first monthly decline since March in September.  Seasonally-adjusted new home sales increased 6.2% from the previous month to an annual rate of 430,000 units.  New home sales for the previous three months were also revised higher by 7,000 units.  The seasonally-adjusted annual rate of new home sales is at its highest levels since September 2008.
In October, the median new home price increased to $212,200 from an upwardly revised figure of $210,700 in September.  Median new home prices are up 0.7% from the previous month but still 0.5% lower than they were this time last year.  The median new home price has now recorded ten straight months of year-over-year declines.  Competition from lower priced existing homes along with foreclosures and short sales have dragged on new home prices.
In October, new home inventories declined to 240,000 from a September figure of 252,000 on a non-seasonally adjusted basis.  Seasonally-adjusted inventory of unsold new homes have declined for 30 straight months to 239,000 units.  Seasonally-adjusted months of new home inventory dropped to 6.7% in October which is the lowest it has been since December 2006.
Existing home sales in October jumped due to the anticipated expiration of the original homebuyer tax credit.  The seasonally-adjusted annual rate of total existing homes sold surged 10.1% in October to 6.1 million units.  Existing single-family home sales increased 9.7% from last month to 5,330,000 units while condo and co-op sales were up 13.2% from last month to 770,000 units.  Existing home sales are at their highest annual rate since March 2007.
The median existing home price in October declined to $173,100 from $176,000 in September.  This is the fourth straight month that existing home prices have declined and the lowest they have been since April.

Existing home inventory declined for the third straight month in October, falling 3.67% to a preliminary 3,574,000 units from an upwardly revised 3,710,000 units in September.  This is the lowest level of existing home inventory on the market since January 2007.  Months of existing home inventory dropped significantly due to a jump in sales activity along with the drawdown in units for sale. At the current sales pace, there are 7.0 months of supply of existing homes on the market compared to 8.0 months in September.  The market is approaching the 5-6 months supply of inventory level that is considered typical in a healthy housing environment.
Pending home sales rose for the ninth straight month in October, according to the National Association of Realtors.  The trade group’s Pending Home Sales Index, which is a forward-looking indicator based on sales contracts in October, increased 3.7% to a reading of 114.1.  The index is at its highest levels since March 2006.

For market-level data and analysis please visit our website at http://www.hwmarketintelligence.com.

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Mortgages to Help Make Your Home Energy Efficient

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These Mortgages Are Efficient

If you’ve been putting off making energy-efficient upgrades to your home because you are worried about the cost and think you can’t afford them, now is the time to stop procrastinating and take advantage of the energy-efficient mortgage (EEM) program and a new tax credit for upgrades.

What Is an EEM?

>> An EEM helps home buyers or homeowners save money on utility bills by enabling them to finance the cost of adding energyefficiency features to new or existing homes as part of their Federal Housing Administration (FHA)-insured home purchase or refinancing mortgage.

EEMs are one of the most beneficial and under-utilized programs that a homeowner can capitalize on in today’s market. Although they have been around since the ’80s, their use receded when subprime loans took the stage, explains Jana Maddux, program manager for California Home Energy Efficiency Rating Services (CHEERS ® ). “This is the best kept industry secret.”

Why Now?

>> Recent developments make this the best time for homeowners to give serious thought to making the upgrades that will lower utility bills while increasing the value of the home. Earlier, the maximum amount the FHA allowed for upgrades was $8,000. That stipulation was recently modified, so now the maximum amount of the portion of the EEM for energy improvements is to be the lesser of 5 percent of the value of the property or:

115 percent of the median area price of a single family dwelling; or  150 percent of the conforming Freddie Mac limit.

Also, under the stimulus plan, upgrades are eligible for a tax credit of 30 percent of qualifying costs up to $1,500, but this is only through 2010.

Who Offers It and How Can You Qualify?

>> EEMs are sponsored by federally insured mortgage programs (FHA and Veterans Affairs) and the conventional secondary mortgage market (Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac). Lenders can offer conventional EEMs, FHA EEMs, or VA EEMs. For instance, anyone eligible for the FHA section 203(b) mortgage insurance can apply for an EEM, once the cost of improvements and estimated savings are determined by a home energy-rating system consultant.

The first step is to have a CHEERS® rater or another approved energy rater complete an analysis of your home and obtain a report, which you then submit to the lender. The main criterion is that your savings after upgrades should exceed their cost.

“The CHEERS® report will show the existing condition of the house after conducting several tests, all of which determine how much air leakage there is and the estimated savings and future utility bills after improvements are made,” Maddux says. Raters are independent, and some may also be able to coordinate the entire upgrade process for you, for a fee.

Which Upgrades Qualify?

>> Insulation, new furnaces, air-conditioning and heating units, dual-pane windows, duct system and air leakage repairs, water heaters, and lighting.

More Info:

ENERGY STAR: www.energystar.gov/

To find out more about the FHA requirements and search for EEMs: http://portal.hud.gov/.

For an FHA lender list: www.hud.gov/ll/code/llslcrit.cfm.

Padma Nagappan is a freelance real estate writer.

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New Rules for Appraisals

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Real estate appraisals aren’t new. Indeed, lenders have long required an appraiser’s opinion of a home’s value before they will approve a loan for a buyer to purchase that home. What is new, however, is that the rules that dictate how lenders order home appraisals have changed significantly this year.

The new rules, known as the Home Valuation Code of Conduct, or “HVCC,” became effective May 1, 2009, and apply to most, though not all, mortgages. The rules are in flux, and at press time, it appears HVCC will apply to most FHA loans, effective Jan. 1, 2010. At press time, HVCC did not apply to VA loans. The rules were intended to reduce appraisal fraud and help ensure that appraisers aren’t subjected to improper pressures to inflate the home’s value.

Accurate and credible appraisals are certainly a laudable goal, yet the new rules also have resulted in some unintended consequences.

Here’s what you need to know:

Slow and Low Appraisals

One such consequence has been that appraisals now may take up to a week longer to be ordered and completed. Consequently, if your home purchase contract includes an appraisal contingency, you may want to allow more time for the buyer to approve the appraisal and check off that contingency. Buyers should expect to pay as much as $100 more for an appraisal than may have been customary before the new rules became effective.

Another consequence has been that appraisers have become more conservative in their home valuations. In some cases, the appraiser may even believe the home is worth less than the agreed-upon sales price.

If that happens, you should understand that the appraised value of a property isn’t necessarily the same as the market value since the appraisal is done for the purposes of the buyer’s loan, not the home sale. You also should be aware that if the appraised value is lower than the sales price, the buyer may choose to exit the transaction through the appraisal contingency or the buyer and seller may want to renegotiate the sales price.

A so-called “low appraisal” technically can be appealed; however, such appeals rarely result in a higher valuation.

The rules that established HVCC required that an Independent Valuation Protection Institute be established to maintain the integrity of HVCC. Appraisers can contact the Independent Valuation Protection Institute if they feel pressured, threatened, or bribed into situations that compromise their independent valuation(s) and compliance with HVCC. Consumers also can contact this institute; however, at press time, this institution was not established and an interim process for handling complaints has not been established. (www.independentvaluation-protection-institute.org/).

Buyers and sellers are both well advised to discuss the implications of these new rules with their REALTOR ® .

Learn More

Home Valuation Code of Conduct: www.freddiemac.com/singlefamily/pdf/122308_valuationcodeofconduct.pdf

• Freddie Mac HVCC Fact Sheet: www.freddiemac.com/singlefamily/home_valuation.html

• Federal Housing Finance Agency HVCC Notice: www.fhfa.gov/webfiles/14611/ hvcc_NOTICE_7_22_09F.pdf

• NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS® HVCC Resources: www.realtor. org/government_affairs/gapublic/gses_hvcc_announced

• California Office of Real Estate Appraisers: www.orea.ca.gov/

Marcie Geffner is a freelance real estate writer.

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Obama Signs Tax Credit Extention

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RISMEDIA, November 6, 2009—President Barack Obama has approved the first-time homebuyer tax credit extension which will extend the tax credit until April 30, 2010.

The extension is part of a $24 billion economic stimulus bill that will extend the $8,000 tax credit for homebuyers who are purchasing their first home from the current November 30 deadline and expands the program to offer a credit of $6,500 to homeowners who have lived in their current home for at least five years and are seeking to relocate.

The following details apply to the homebuyer tax credit expansion:

Who is Eligible
-First-time homebuyers, who are defined by the law as buyers who have not owned a principal residence during the three-year period prior to the purchase, may be eligible for up to an $8,000 tax credit.
-Existing homeowners who have been residing in their principal residence for five consecutive years out of the last eight and are purchasing a home to be their principal residence (“repeat buyer”), may be eligible for up to a $6,500 tax credit.
-All U.S. citizens who file taxes are eligible to participate in the program.

Income Limits
Homebuyers who file as single or head-of-household taxpayers can claim the full credit ($8,000 for first-time buyers and $6,500 for repeat buyers) if their modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) is less than $125,000.
-For married couples filing a joint return, the combined income limit is $225,000.
-Single or head-of-household taxpayers who earn between $125,000 and $145,000, and married couples who earn between $225,000 and $245,000 are eligible to receive a partial credit.
-The credit is not available for single taxpayers whose MAGI is greater than $145,000 and married couples with a MAGI that exceeds $245,000.

Effective Dates
-The eligibility period for the tax credit is for homes purchased after Nov. 6, 2009, and before May 1, 2010. However, home purchases subject to a binding sales contract signed by April 30, 2010, will qualify for the tax credit provided closing occurs prior to July 1, 2010.

Types of Homes that Qualify
-All homes with a purchase price of less than $800,000 qualify, including newly-constructed or resale, and single-family detached, townhomes or condominiums, provided that the home will be used as their principal residence. Vacation home and rental property purchases do NOT qualify.

Tax Credit is Refundable
-A refundable credit means that if the amount of income taxes you owe is less than the credit amount you qualify for, the government will send you a check for the difference.
-For example:
-A first-time buyer who qualifies for the full $8,000 credit who owes $5,000 in federal income taxes would pay nothing to the IRS and receive a $3,000 payment from the government. If you are due to receive a $1,000 refund, you would receive $9,000 ($1,000 plus the $8,000 first-time homebuyer tax credit).
-A repeat buyer who owes $5,000 would pay nothing to the IRS and receive $1,500 back from the government. If you are due to get a $1,000 refund, you would get $7,500 ($1,000 plus the $6,500 repeat buyer tax credit).
-All qualified homebuyers can take the tax credit on their 2009 or 2010 income tax return.

Payback Provisions
The tax credit is a true credit. It does not have to be repaid unless the home owner sells or stops using the home as their principal residence within three years after the purchase.

The www.federalhousingtaxcredit.com site is being updated. Check the site next week for more detailed information on the new tax credit.

For more information, visit www.nahb.org.

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Senate and House Pass Legislation to Expand Home-buyer Tax Credit

On Wednesday the Senate voted, 98-0, to extend and expand the current first time home-buyer tax credit that is scheduled to expire at the end of November.  The house voted today 403-12 in favor. 

Buyers who have owned their current homes at least five years would be eligible for tax credits of up to $6500.  Anyone who has not owned a home in the last 3 years (including first time home-buyers) would still get up to $8000.   This tax credit is only good for primary residences costing less than $800,000.  There is a phase out for individuals with incomes of greater than $125,000 and $225,000 for joint filers. 

To qualify one must sign a purchase agreement by April 20, 2010 and close by June 30, 2010.  As always, consult your tax professional before making any tax related decisions.

Breaking News: Senate Plans to Extend and Expand Tax Credit

The following aritcle was posted byRISMedia on 10/30/09.  Could prove to be an interesting debate in the House and Senate.

By Alan J. Heavens, Corey Boles, John D. McKinnon

senate_10 30RISMEDIA, October 30, 2009—(MCT/The Wall Street Journal)-The Senate has reached a compromise on extending and expanding the $8,000 tax credit for first-time home buyers, a boost the housing industry believes will help it pull out of its two-year-old downturn. 

While its passage remains uncertain, the agreement would extend the existing credit for first-time homebuyers, worth up to $8,000, while offering a new credit of up to $6,500 for some existing homeowners, Senate aides said. The reduced credit would be available to all homebuyers who have been in their current residence for a consecutive five-year period in the past eight years. Lawmakers in Washington also raised the qualifying income limits to $125,000 for single taxpayers and $250,000 for joint taxpayers, from the current $75,000 and $150,000, housing-industry sources said. Under the Senate compromise, buyers must have sales agreements in hand by April 30, but they will have until June 30 to go to settlement, said the sources. The measure still faces votes in the full Senate and the House. 

Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan are in full support of the Senate’s proposal to both extend and expand the first-time homebuyer tax credit and called on Congress to approve key housing measures that include the tax credit. “We welcome efforts taken by Congress to extend the First-Time Homebuyer Tax Credit for a limited period. This credit has brought new families into the housing market and contributed to three consecutive months of rising home prices nationwide,” said Secretaries Geithner and Donovan. “In extending the credit, we urge Congress to include strict measures to combat tax fraud and protect responsible homeowners.” 

The current tax credit did little for the new-home market in September, the Commerce Department recently reported—news that took many industry analysts by surprise. Sales fell 3.6% from August and 7.8% from September 2008. Industry observers had expected a fifth consecutive monthly increase in new-home sales, believing that the tax incentive for qualified first-time buyers—credited with 357,000 sales of previously owned homes so far this year—would do the trick. Instead, sales of typically more expensive newly built houses slipped. “The decline in new-home sales seems to us to be more a function of the attractive pricing available on resales in the current environment than a reflection of weakening demand,” said Michael Feder, president of Radar Logic in New York, which tracks the market. 

“Since hitting rock bottom in March, demand is up 20 percent,” said Joel L. Naroff of Naroff Economic Advisers in Holland, Pa. For Naroff, the robust rise in existing-home purchases—9.2% year over year in September—indicated that the housing market was not faltering. “Maybe the issue is supply, which fell to its lowest level in 27 years,” he said. “Builders, at least those left standing, have been making sure they don’t have any houses sitting around, and they have been very successful in controlling inventories.” 

IHS Global Insight economist Patrick Newport echoed that, noting new-home inventories “sank for the 29th straight month to their lowest level since November 1982.” Naroff maintained housing has recovered enough to stand without the tax credit, but Newport said that if the credit were not extended and expanded, housing demand would take a hit, and home sales would drop. 

The new provisions are aimed at broadening availability of the credit beyond first-time buyers and giving the weakened real estate market a bigger boost while preventing real estate investors from benefitting. While Senate lawmakers appear to have reached a deal on the substance of the tax credit, they are still at odds over how it would be brought to the Senate floor. 

(c) 2009, The Philadelphia Inquirer.