REMAX 440/Central Blog

Distressed Homeowners' Top Priorities: Food Assistance and Help with Heating Costs

March 30, 2011 11:31 am

RISMEDIA, March 30, 2011-As the economic downturn continues, more homeowners lagging on their mortgage payments are looking for help with basic needs.

These are the findings of MortgageKeeper Referral Services, Inc., the developer of a unique database that connects users with more than 6,000 qualified nonprofit and government agencies. More than 1,500 homeowners connect with the database every day to find local assistance in 20 different service categories-from child care to prescription assistance, from employment services to income tax help.

Recent data shows that 20% of homeowners who access the database are searching for heating/utility assistance and 18% need food assistance.

"Once basic needs like food and heating are satisfied, homeowners can focus their energies on job searches and housing," says Rochelle Nawrocki Gorey, president of MortgageKeeper. "Our database gets answers to homeowners fast, getting to the root cause of their loan delinquency. Hopefully, the end result is a homeowner that has both their financial and personal needs met so that they can stay in their home."

Counselors and servicers who subscribe to MortgageKeeper's database provide homeowners with a list of nonprofit and government agencies, often located just a few miles from the homeowner.

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Consumers Agree - It's A Good Time to Buy Real Estate

March 29, 2011 11:31 am

RISMEDIA, March 29, 2011-According to the latest Spending and Saving Tracker from American Express, more than two in five (41%) of Americans said that it's a buyer's market for real estate. However, over 61% agree that a seller's market is at least a year away.

Other findings:

Homeowner confidence on whether they would receive the asking price for their home is nearly evenly split-43% said they are confident they would; 47% are not very or not at all confident.

However, many homeowners-39%-are not willing to settle for less than the asking price, even considering the tough real estate market, in contrast to 23% who are willing and 38% who are not sure.

To sell their home in the current market, 44% of homeowners note that they would be interested in including appliances, while 28% would consider offering to make requested repairs or allowing an allotment for repairs.

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Treasury to Begin Orderly Wind Down of Its $142 Billion Mortgage-Backed Securities Portfolio

March 29, 2011 11:31 am

RISMEDIA, March 29, 2011-Recently, the U.S. Department of the Treasury announced that it will begin the orderly wind down of its remaining portfolio of $142 billion in agency-guaranteed, mortgage-backed securities (MBS). Starting this month, the Treasury plans to sell up to $10 billion in agency-guaranteed MBS per month, subject to market conditions.

"We're continuing to wind down the emergency programs that were put in place in 2008 and 2009 to help restore market stability, and the sale of these securities is consistent with that effort," says Mary J. Miller, Assistant Secretary for Financial Markets. "We will exit this investment at a gradual and orderly pace to maximize the recovery of taxpayer dollars and help protect the process of repair of the housing finance market."

The Treasury acquired its portfolio of agency-guaranteed MBS under authority provided to it by Congress under the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008. These purchases of agency-guaranteed MBS helped preserve access to mortgage credit and promote economic stability during a period of unprecedented market stress and volatility.

The market for agency-guaranteed MBS has notably improved since the time the Treasury purchased these securities in 2008 and 2009. Based on current market prices, the Treasury expects to make a profit for taxpayers on this investment. The sale of these securities will not alter our previously stated debt management objectives, nor change the path on which we intend to achieve those objectives.

In 2008, the Treasury retained State Street Global Advisors to acquire, manage, and dispose of its agency-guaranteed MBS portfolio. That firm will manage the wind down of this investment. At the end of each month, the Treasury will post on its website the total agency-guaranteed MBS sales it has made, broken down by coupon and agency.

The sale of these securities is part of the Treasury's continued efforts to wind down emergency programs that were put in place in 2008 and 2009 to promote financial stability and restore economic growth. On Oct. 3, 2010, new Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) purchasing authority expired, and the Treasury is moving to exit its remaining TARP investments in private companies. In December 2010, the Treasury sold its final share of Citigroup common stock, locking in a profit of more than $12 billion on that TARP investment. General Motors' (GM) recent initial public offering cut the Treasury's common stock stake in that company nearly in half and brought in a total of $13.5 billion for taxpayers. Additionally, the Treasury recently received $9.6 billion in TARP repayments through the sale of its Ally Financial trust preferred securities holdings and AIG's sale of its MetLife equity stake.

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Update on First Time Homebuyer Credit and Tax Refunds

March 29, 2011 11:31 am

RISMEDIA, March 29, 2011--The IRS recently released information on processing issues that are impacting a small percentage of tax returns involving repayment of the First Time Homebuyer Credit (FTHB), primarily involving 2008 home purchases. While most of these returns are processing normally, the IRS recognizes the hardship caused by delayed refunds, and it has assigned additional staff and resources to address the issues promptly.

It is important to note that taxpayer returns claiming a home purchase in 2010 are not affected, and those returns are being processed as are the vast majority of other homebuyer returns.

Here's an update on the source of the processing issues:

1. Married Filing Joint taxpayers who received the FTHB credit on a 2008 purchase

There seems to be an identified processing issue primarily impacting refunds for married couples filing joint returns this year who received the First Time Homebuyer credit on their 2008 tax return. This credit was an interest-free loan, and must be paid back beginning this year under the provisions of the law.

This issue, related to Form 5405, First-Time Homebuyer Credit and Repayment of the Credit, primarily impacts Married Filing Jointly taxpayers who filed their tax returns this year before Feb. 22. The IRS is working aggressively to manually process tax returns for this group of taxpayers. It expects most, if not all, of these refunds to be available by April 5, and others the following week. (The date assumes that there are no other issues with their return, and that their refunds are not subject to any offsets for unpaid federal taxes or other debts.)

2. Taxpayers who received the FTHB credit and are now reporting the sale or disposition of their home

3. Taxpayers who received the FTHB credit and are attempting to pay back more than the amount required (typically $500)

These two issues require changes to IRS' core tax processing systems. The IRS is actively working on the development and testing of the required changes that will allow these impacted tax returns to be processed and appropriate refunds issued. The IRS does not currently have a definitive date for when these changes will be complete, although it will be in April.

What should taxpayers do?

The IRS understands that taxpayers affected by this issue are anxious to get the status of their refund. For those who have already filed, no action is necessary. They can check "Where's My Refund" at for updates. Because the IRS is already aware of this issue and is taking corrective action, there is no need to call.

For those who have not yet filed and are making a repayment of a First Time Homebuyer Credit this year, there is a simple step taxpayers can take to help speed processing. Couples filing a joint return for tax year 2010 who received the credit on their jointly filed 2008 tax return should file two 5405 forms, one for each taxpayer. For couples filing a joint return for 2010 but who had a different filing status in 2008 and only one spouse received the credit, the IRS recommends filing one Form 5405 for the taxpayer who received the credit.

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Spring Cleaning Made Easy

March 28, 2011 11:31 am

RISMEDIA, March 28, 2011--For those living in colder climates and even for those who don't, spring is a much-needed reprieve full of sunshine, chirping birds and fresh flowers. It's also the perfect time to clean up and rid yourself of items that serve no other purpose than cluttering your home. Having a functional and organized home is important to any homeowner, so use the springtime to get your affairs in order and clean, clean, clean! Follow these simple tips to help you through the process:

Windows are a hotspot for dirt to accumulate. A squeegee, a bucket of water and some window cleaner will help you go the distance. Leave no window untouched. Wipe down every window until all streaks are gone and repeat the process if necessary. A dry cloth can also help get every single grain of dirt. Those perfectly clean windows will help the sun shine into your home every day of the season.

Help brighten up your home by changing any old or dingy linens. Use lighter colors and color coordinate them for a brighter appeal. Pale greens, yellows, lavenders and other pastels are good choices for duvets, pillow cases or couch slips. Simple decisions like this will help create the perfect warm atmosphere that your family to enjoy.

Attack the fridge whenever possible. If you've been putting off the task, now's the time. Throw away old containers of food, clean mildew and rid your fridge of bad smells. Take everything out of the fridge and thoroughly wipe down the inside. Remove drawers and shelves and clean those as well, removing any crust or old food that may be stuck. It's important to start a solid cleaning regimen your refrigerator to ensure fresh food and a healthy family.

Rugs, floors and carpets will be one of the easier tasks on your spring cleaning journey. Vacuum all of your floors, and time permitting, use a strong cleaner for an extra bonus. Some vacuum cleaners allow for washing carpets and can be done with the help of a special attachment. Hiring a cleaning service is also an option. Remember, if using stronger solutions, keep windows open to ventilate the house.

Cleaning out closets can be one of the most time-consuming pieces to the puzzle, but is essential for de-cluttering your home. Remove winter items and store them in storage bins under your bed, in the garage or possibly the attic. This alone saves plenty of room and allows for more space for your spring and summer wardrobe. It's also a great time to start a donation box. Clothes you haven't worn in seasons can be donated to The Salvation Army, Goodwill or any charity. It's a good deed that will also help you organize and prioritize.

Junk draws and miscellaneous items add up quickly! Take every "miscellaneous" spot in your home and try halving the items inside. This doesn't only apply to your junk drawers. Try doing this with your closet floor, coffee table, or any spot where clutter tends to creep up in your life.

Spring cleaning can sometimes be a burden, but the feeling you'll get afterwards will be a great one. Split up the work amongst family members and get cracking. Your home will be well-prepared for the seasons to come and you'll be happy you took time.


Easy Ways to Transform a Room

March 28, 2011 11:31 am

RISMEDIA, March 28, 2011-Updating a living room or family room doesn't have to mean giving it a complete makeover. A few simple changes can transform a tired room into a fresh space in no time.

Give your windows better treatment

Replace heavy draperies, which can look outdated, with a more contemporary alternative. Faux wood, honeycomb blinds, roman or vertical shades-there are a lot of options to dress up your windows. Many online companies will send you samples so you can see how the different options will look in your particular space.

Lighten things up with sheers. The soft folds of billowy sheers allow more light to come into the room, but still offer some privacy. Sheers in lighter colors also make the room appear larger and serve as a color-coordinated highlight at the same time.

Use mirrors to add visual interest

Instead of hanging a large mirror in a traditional space, such as above a couch or fireplace, modernize by hanging several smaller mirrors. Create a grouping of mirrors with frames that have the same color, but different sizes, shapes and textures.

Hang a large mirror between two windows to give the illusion of having more windows in the room.

Replace an outdated furniture item

Update your coffee table or entertainment center. These larger pieces are often the focal point of the room, so changing them out can put the entire room in a whole new light.

Look for items that are both functional and easy to assemble. For example, Z-Line Designs furniture includes an instructional DVD with each item, so you can easily assemble pieces that are traditionally complicated to put together. Their ready-to-assemble mounts and stands for flat panel TVs can update any room in a flash. For more information, visit

Freshen up accessories

There's no need to re-upholster a sofa or its matching chairs. Swap the current accent pillows out for some new ones. Try a new, complementary color or add a pattern or fun texture to a solid background.

Switch out your centerpieces. Replace a silk flower arrangement for a tray with pillar candles on it. Update the framed photos with new pictures and new frames. Look around the house for a few interesting pieces that can be put to new use-what can you do with a stack of interesting books or a grouping of pretty bowls?

For more information, visit

A Closer Look at February Existing-Home Sales Following Sustained Gains

March 28, 2011 11:31 am

RISMEDIA, March 28, 2011-Existing-home sales fell in February following three straight monthly increases, according to the National Association of REALTORS .

Existing-home sales-completed transactions that include single-family, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops-dropped 9.6% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.88 million in February from an upwardly revised 5.40 million in January, and are 2.8% below the 5.02 million pace in February 2010.

Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, expects an uneven recovery. "Housing affordability conditions have been at record levels and the economy has been improving, but home sales are being constrained by the twin problems of unnecessarily tight credit, and a measurable level of contract cancellations from some appraisals not supporting prices negotiated between buyers and sellers," he says. "This tug and pull is causing a gradual but uneven recovery. Existing-home sales remain 26.4% above the cyclical low last July."

A parallel NAR practitioner survey shows first-time buyers purchased 34% of homes in February, up from 29% in January; they were 42% in February 2010.

All-cash sales were a record 33% in February, up from 32% in January; they were 27% in February 2010. Investors accounted for 19% of sales activity in February, down from 23% in January; they were 19% in February 2010. The balance of sales were to repeat buyers.

The national median existing-home price for all housing types was $156,100 in February, which is 5.2% below February 2010. Distressed homes-sold at discount-accounted for a 39% market share in February, up from 37% in January and 35% in February 2010. "The decline in price corresponds to the record level of all-cash purchases where buyers-largely investors-are snapping up homes at bargain prices," explains Yun. "We'd be seeing greater numbers of traditional home buyers if mortgage credit conditions return to normal."

NAR President Ron Phipps, says buyers should look into loan availability as soon as they decide they want to buy. "Despite very affordable mortgage interest rates, credit remains a challenge-buyers should check their personal credit, and mortgage availability in their area," says Phipps.

"REALTORS are an excellent resource to learn about all of the marketplace factors, but in this tight credit environment it's important to learn up-front what a lender might be willing to offer as well as specific programs that might be available in your location," Phipps explains.

Total housing inventory at the end of February rose 3.5% to 3.49 million existing homes available for sale, which represents an 8.6-month supply at the current sales pace, up from a 7.5-month supply in January.

According to Freddie Mac, the national average commitment rate for a 30-year, conventional, fixed-rate mortgage rose to 4.95% in February from 4.76% in January; the rate was 4.99% in February 2010.

Single-family home sales fell 9.6% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.25 million in February from 4.70 million in January, and are 2.7% below the 4.37 million pace in February 2010. The median existing single-family home price was $157,000 in February, which is 4.2% below a year ago.

Existing condominium and co-op sales dropped 10.0% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 630,000 in February from 700,000 in January, and are 3.1% lower than the 650,000-unit level one year ago. The median existing condo price was $150,400 in February, down 11.1% from February 2010.

Home Improvement Still on Americans' To-Do Lists for 2011; One Third Plan to Go Green

March 25, 2011 11:31 am

RISMEDIA, March 25, 2011--Nearly two-thirds (64%) of homeowners say they will invest in renovation projects this year. While the number of people planning to make home improvements is similar to 2010 (62%), the amount they are planning to spend is significantly less - dropping from an average of $6,200 in 2010 to $3,400 in 2011. Even though homeowners' confidence in the real estate market has increased compared to last year, less than half (43%) believe they would get the asking price for their home if it was on the market today.

Spending Green to Make Green

Nearly one-third (32%) of homeowners with home improvement plans said they'll be looking to invest in green improvements this year. Many are choosing to spend on energy saving measures because of the long-term, cost-saving benefits (31%). Energy efficient windows and doors (16%) top homeowner's lists, followed by: insulation (12%), roofing (11%) and heating/ventilation/cooling systems (10%).

"This year, consumers are spending smart and looking for ways to save when it comes to home renovation," says Pamela Codispoti, executive vice president and general manager of Consumer Card Services, American Express. "Our survey revealed that consumers are investing in green improvements to increase their savings over time and choosing to handle renovation projects on their own to save now. Many also plan to use their tax refunds to pay for improvements."

I'll Do It Myself, Thank You

More than three in five homeowners (64%) with home improvement plans say they'll take on at least some of the work themselves, 20% will hire a contractor to do all of the work, and 11% will ask a family member to do the work. Among those who plan to do some or all of the work themselves, 30% will be taking a "friends and family" approach to getting the work done. Twenty-one percent plan to split the work load by hiring a contractor for specialized projects. Thirteen percent plan to go it alone.

Bathroom Makeovers Top the List for Room Redos

Indoor renovations outrank outdoor remodeling projects 55% to 29% respectively. Cosmetic work, such as painting, and redoing rooms were the most popular indoor projects, with bathrooms holding on to the top spot again this year for the most popular room remodel. Those who set their sights on outdoor projects are most interested in refreshing their landscaping (22%), followed by building or redoing a deck or patio (9%).

Source: American Express Spending & Saving Tracker

Bankrate: Mortgage Rates Plunge to 3-Month Low

March 25, 2011 11:31 am

RISMEDIA, March 25, 2011-Mortgage rates posted a sharp decline, with the benchmark conforming 30-year fixed mortgage rate falling to 4.91%, according to's weekly national survey. The average 30-year fixed mortgage has an average of 0.38 discount and origination points.

The average 15-year fixed mortgage dropped to 4.12%, and the larger jumbo 30-year fixed rate retreated to 5.46%. Adjustable rate mortgages were mostly lower also, with the average 5-year ARM sinking to 3.74% and the 7-year ARM pulling back to 4.10%.

Mortgage rates fell sharply, pulling back below the 5% mark for the first time in nearly two months. While mortgage rates had been lower in three of the past four weeks owing to concerns about Middle East tensions and the potentially negative economic consequences of higher oil prices, it was the unfolding tragedy in Japan that produced this week's movement. Concerns among investors about a potential nuclear meltdown and worries about slower global growth stemming from the devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan, had investors piling into safe haven U.S. Treasuries, helping to drive mortgage rates lower. Mortgage rates are closely related to yields on long-term government bonds.

The last time mortgage rates were above 6% was Nov. 2008. At the time, the average 30-year fixed rate was 6.33%, meaning a $200,000 loan would have carried a monthly payment of $1,241.86. With the average rate now 4.91%, the monthly payment for the same size loan would be $1,062.67, a difference of $179 per month for anyone refinancing now.

Survey Results

30-year fixed: 4.91% - down from 5.04% last week (avg. points: 0.38)

15-year fixed: 4.12% - down from 4.32% last week (avg. points: 0.38)

5/1 ARM: 3.74% - down from 3.88% last week (avg. points: 0.39)

Bankrate's national weekly mortgage survey is conducted each Wednesday from data provided by the top 10 banks and thrifts in the top 10 markets.

To see mortgage rates in your area, go to

HUD Awards First Choice Neighborhood Grants

March 25, 2011 11:31 am

RISMEDIA, March 25, 2011-U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Shaun Donovan announced that 17 communities will be the first recipients of Planning Grant funding through the Department's new Choice Neighborhoods Initiative. These communities will share a total of $4 million in Choice Neighborhoods Planning Grants while six other communities are selected as finalists to compete for approximately $61 million in Choice Neighborhood Implementation Grants.

HUD's new Choice Neighborhoods Initiative (CN) will promote a comprehensive approach to transforming distressed areas of concentrated poverty into viable and sustainable mixed-income neighborhoods. Building on the successes of HUD's HOPE VI Program, Choice Neighborhoods will link housing improvements with a wider variety of public services including schools, public transit and employment opportunities.

The Choice Neighborhoods Initiative is a centerpiece of the Obama Administration's interagency Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative-a collaboration between the Departments of Housing and Urban Development, Education, Justice, Treasury and Health and Human Services to support the ability of local leaders from the public and private sectors and attract the private investment needed to transform distressed neighborhoods into sustainable, mixed-income neighborhoods with the affordable housing, safe streets and good schools every family needs.

HUD received 119 submissions for CN Planning Grants and 42 submissions from communities seeking CN Implementation Grants. Successful Planning Grant applicants demonstrated their intent to transform neighborhoods by revitalizing severely distressed public and/or assisted housing while leveraging investments to create high-quality public schools, outstanding education and early learning programs, public assets, public transportation and improved access to jobs and well-functioning services. HUD focused on directing resources to address three core goals-housing, people and neighborhoods.

The 17 communities awarded CN Planning Grants will use the funding to build the capacity they need to get them ready to undertake a successful neighborhood transformation to create a choice neighborhood. These grants will enable these communities to create a comprehensive "Transformation Plan," or road map, to transforming distressed public and/or assisted housing within a distressed community. This Federal support provides a significant incentive for the local community to take critical steps to create viable neighborhood transformation.

The six finalists for CN Implementation Grants have already undertaken the comprehensive local planning process and are ready to move forward with their Transformation Plan to redevelop their target neighborhoods. HUD will publish a second Notice of Funding Availability (NOFA) shortly to give these finalists the opportunity to assemble and submit a more detailed application for the approximately $61 million in available funding. HUD will award these grants by the end of September.

Congress approved the Choice Neighborhoods Initiative with the passage of HUD's FY 2010 budget, allowing HUD to use $65 million in funding to provide competitive grants to assist in the transformation, rehabilitation and preservation of public housing and privately owned HUD-assisted housing. CN builds on the successes and lessons of HUD's HOPE VI program and widened the traditional pool of eligible applicants by allowing, in addition to public housing authorities, local governments, nonprofit organizations and for-profit developers (who apply jointly with a public entity) to apply.

For more information, visit

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