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Finally, Some Talk on Home Ownership; Will Action Follow?

by Teamworks

By: Gavin Mathis

Published: January 26, 2012

State of the UnionIn his third State of the Union address, President Barack Obama called on Congress to expand refinancing opportunities to millions of Americans.

It was nice to finally hear a politician talking about solving our housing market woes — the bull's-eye in terms of economic recovery.

Aiming to strike a populist chord with voters, President Barack Obama asked Congress Tuesday night during the State of the Union address to pass a mass refinancing effort that would help home owners take advantage of today’s lower mortgage rates.

“I’m sending this Congress a plan that gives every responsible home owner the chance to save about $3,000 a year on their mortgage by refinancing at historically low rates,” the president said. “No more red tape. No more runaround from the banks."

The proposal is an extension of the administration’s Home Affordable Refinance Program, which made it easier for home owners with loans owned or backed by Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae to refinance at record low interest rates. The proposal would broaden refinancing opportunities to home owners whose loans aren’t backed by the federal government.

To pay for the plan, Obama said that a small fee on the nation’s financial institutions would be implemented to ensure that the plan is deficit neutral.

Although Obama’s words were music to the ears of many home owners (especially since politicians on both sides of the aisle have been relatively mute on housing issues) — more needs to be done to help underwater home owners modify their loans and encourage banks to streamline the lending process. In the weeks ahead, Obama needs to leverage his refinancing proposal by emphasizing it on the campaign trail and letting every home owner know how easier rules and lower interest rates will help them.

Housing is a key driver of the economy. The NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS® estimates that for every two homes sold, one job is created. Plus, housing accounts for more than 15% of the U.S. gross domestic product. In past recessions, a rebound in housing has usually been one of the first signs that economic conditions are improving.

Besides stepping up refinancing efforts with banks, the president outlined the creation of a new mortgage fraud unit to investigate misconduct by lenders. “This new unit will hold accountable those who broke the law, speed assistance to home owners, and help turn the page on an era of recklessness that hurt so many Americans,” Obama said.

As we get closer to Election Day, the need for comprehensive housing solutions must not become just populist rhetoric in a speech. Effective housing policy is too important to too many Americans to be lost in election year jockeying.

In fact, housing and mortgage issues are make-or-break election issues for many voters and perilous territory for politicians. In a recent survey of voters, 60% believe dealing with mortgage and foreclosure issues is key to stabilizing the economy, including 57% of Republicans and 66% of Democrats.

The clearest way for Obama and his Republican opposition to prove to the American people that they’re fighting for the interests of their fellow Americans is to help home owners by making housing a priority. 

What did you think of the comments President Obama made about housing issues and mortgage lending?

A Clean Slate

by Teamworks
Clearing the nation's inventory of short sales and foreclosures will require fortitude and business savvy. Take an in-depth look at how practitioners are making distressed sales work.


Tax Rules Encourage Short Sales Sooner, Rather than Later

by Teamworks

By: Dona DeZube

Published: January 18, 2012

Warner Robins Short SaleTax rules that let you escape paying federal income tax after a short sale expire this year.

If you can’t afford your mortgage and know you’re going to eventually have to sell your home via short sale, you might want to get going on that sooner rather than later.

If you complete your short sale in 2012, you won’t owe federal taxes on the transaction. If you wait until 2013, you could owe a hefty federal tax.

In a short sale, the lender lets you sell your house for less than what you owe on the mortgage.

For example:

  • You have $200,000 left on your mortgage.
  • You can sell your house for $150,000.
  • Your lender agrees to let you sell the house and takes $150,000 instead of the $200,000 you owe.
  • Your lender forgives the $50,000 difference between the $200,000 you owe and the $150,000 you sold your house for.

If you did the short sale in this example this year, you wouldn’t owe taxes on the $50,000 the lender forgave. That’s because in 2007 and again in 2008, Congress told the IRS to stop collecting taxes on forgiven debt until 2013.

Before the 2007 law passed, you had to pay federal income tax on forgiven debt. If your lender forgave $50,000, the IRS said that $50,000 was income. If you were in a 28% tax bracket you’d owe $14,000 (.28 x $50,000) in federal income taxes.

Here we are 12 months away from the deadline, and it’s anybody’s guess whether Congress will renew that no-taxes-on-forgiven-debt rule. It’s just one of literally trillions of dollars of tax benefits expiring at the end of this year, and there’s no signal yet as to what, if anything, Congress will do about any of them.

And if that’s not confusing enough, states have their own tax laws on debt forgiveness that you have to consider, too.

Silver tax lining for 2013?

If you end up having to short sale in 2013, you may be able to escape taxes another way. If what you owe all your creditors exceeds the value of everything you own, you may not owe tax. Read about the insolvency rule in Publication 4681. (Note: The IRS includes all your assets in determining if you’re insolvent before the short sale.)

Despite its name, a short sale often takes a long time to complete. To ensure you have short sale success before the tax rule changes, work with a real estate agent who has done short sales, promptly give your lender any paperwork it asks for, and pray for patience. You’ll need it.

Did you buy or sell in a short sale? How long did your transaction take?

Foreclosures fall to lowest level since 2007

by Teamworks

@CNNMoney January 12, 2012: 8:18 AM ET

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- Foreclosure filings and repossessions fell to their lowest level since 2007 last year.

Total filings, including default notices and bank repossessions were down 33% for the year to 2.7 million, according to RealtyTrac, the online marketer of foreclosed properties.

One in every 69 homes had at least one foreclosure filing during the year, while 804,000 homes were repossessed. That's a significant improvement from the peaks reached in 2010 -- when 1.05 million homes were repossessed -- and the lowest levels seen since 2007.

More than 4 million homes have been lost to foreclosure over the past five years.

While the declines seem like good news for the housing market, where a flood of foreclosed homes has depressed home prices, much of it is due to processing delays caused by fall-out from the "robo-signing" scandal that broke in late 2010.

During the year, banks spent more time making sure paperwork was legal and proper, creating a backlog in the foreclosure pipeline. As a result, the average time it took to process a foreclosure climbed to 348 days during the fourth quarter, up from 305 days a year earlier.

"Foreclosures were in full delay mode in 2011, resulting in a dramatic drop in foreclosure activity for the year," said Brandon Moore, chief executive officer of RealtyTrac.

However, Moore said there were "strong signs" during the second half of the year that lenders are working through foreclosure backlogs in certain markets. He expects foreclosure activity to rise above 2011's level but remain below the peak hit in 2010.

Low rates offer some help for homeowners

Early in 2011, many forecasters were predicting a wave of foreclosures due to resetting adjustable-rate mortgages, but low mortgage rates helped many borrowers refinance into more affordable loans, said Moore.

The government helped as well, through efforts like the Home Affordable Refinance Program (HARP), which made refinancing easier for borrowers who owe more on their mortgage than their homes are worth.

Government foreclosure prevention programs, including HARP and the Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP), have started about 5.5 million mortgage modifications since April 2009, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

"Programs like HAMP and HARP have definitely made a dent in the foreclosure problem," said Moore "However, they are certainly not living up to their billing of preventing several million foreclosures. In addition, many [HAMP] homeowners fall back into foreclosure later on."

Of course, there were still plenty of factors working against homeowners in 2011, including the continued erosion in home prices. Falling prices rob homeowners of home equity, which they can tap if they need emergency cash.

Foreclosure hot spots

Hot spots for foreclosures remain mostly in "bubble states," where speculative investors helped drive up home prices beyond their fundamental values during the mid-2000s housing boom.

Nevada, where one out of every 16 households received some kind of default notice during the year, was the worst hit of all, a distinction it has held for the fifth consecutive year.

Foreclosure free ride: 3 years, no payments

Arizona had the second highest foreclosure rate and California came in third. Florida, which had been running neck-and-neck with the other "Sand States" in past years, fell to seventh, behind Georgia, Utah and Michigan.

Among metro areas, Las Vegas suffered from the highest foreclosure rate in 2011. California put seven cities in the top 10, led by Stockton in the second slot. Other cities in the top 10 included Phoenix, which finished sixth, and Reno, Nev. was eighth.

How to Use Comparable Sales to Price Your Home

by Teamworks
By: Carl Vogel
Published: August 5, 2010
Before you put your home up for sale, use the right comparable sales to find the perfect price.


Knowing how much homes similar to yours, called comparable sales (or in real estate lingo, comps), sold for gives you the best idea of the current estimated value of your home. The trick is finding sales that closely match yours.

What makes a good comparable sale?

Your best comparable sale is the same model as your house in the same subdivision—and it closed escrow last week. If you can’t find that, here are other factors that count:

Location: The closer to your house the better, but don’t just use any comparable sale within a mile radius. A good comparable sale is a house in your neighborhood, your subdivision, on the same type of street as your house, and in your school district.

Home type: Try to find comparable sales that are like your home in style, construction material, square footage, number of bedrooms and baths, basement (having one and whether it’s finished), finishes, and yard size.

Amenities and upgrades: Is the kitchen new? Does the comparable sale house have full A/C? Is there crown molding, a deck, or a pool? Does your community have the same amenities (pool, workout room, walking trails, etc.) and homeowners association fees?

Date of sale: You may want to use a comparable sale from two years ago when the market was high, but that won’t fly. Most buyers use government-guaranteed mortgages, and those lending programs say comparable sales can be no older than 90 days.

Sales sweeteners: Did the comparable-sale sellers give the buyers downpayment assistance, closing costs, or a free television? You have to reduce the value of any comparable sale to account for any deal sweeteners.

Agents can help adjust price based on insider insights

Even if you live in a subdivision, your home will always be different from your neighbors'. Evaluating those differences—like the fact that your home has one more bedroom than the comparables or a basement office—is one of the ways real estate agents add value.

An active agent has been inside a lot of homes in your neighborhood and knows all sorts of details about comparable sales. She has read the comments the selling agent put into the MLS, seen the ugly wallpaper, and heard what other REALTORS®, lenders, closing agents, and appraisers said about the comparable sale.

More ways to pick a home listing price

If you’re still having trouble picking out a listing price for your home, look at the current competition. Ask your real estate agent to be honest about your home and the other homes on the market (and then listen to her without taking the criticism personally).

Next, put your comparable sales into two piles: more expensive and less expensive. What makes your home more valuable than the cheaper comparable sales and less valuable than the pricier comparable sales?

Are foreclosures and short sales comparables?

If one or more of your comparable sales was a foreclosed home or a short sale (a home that sold for less money than the owners owed on the mortgage), ask your real estate agent how to treat those comps.

A foreclosed home is usually in poor condition because owners who can’t pay their mortgage can’t afford to pay for upkeep. Your home is in great shape, so the foreclosure should be priced lower than your home.

Short sales are typically in good condition, although they are still distressed sales. The owners usually have to sell because they’re divorcing, or their employer is moving them to Kansas.

How much short sales are discounted from their market value varies among local markets. The average short-sale home in Omaha in recent years was discounted by 8.5%, according to a University of Nebraska at Omaha study. In suburban Washington, D.C., sellers typically discount short-sale homes by 3% to 5% to get them quickly sold, real estate agents report. In other markets, sellers price short sales the same as other homes in the neighborhood.

So you have to rely on your REALTOR’s® knowledge of the local market to use a short sale as a comparable sale.

Carl Vogel, a freelance writer and former editor of The Neighborhood Works magazine, lives in a home in Chicago that is not typical of those nearby, so he appreciates a savvy comp.


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