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12 March 2010

Week in Review: Things We Liked from the Week That Was

Of all the signs that the economy is getting better, the most exciting, in my opinion, is the shrinking number of foreclosures. It tells me that the “worst case scenario” is getting a little better, as the number of homeowners facing foreclosure decreased 2 percent from the previous month. Additionally, foreclosures in February grew 6 percent from the year-ago level, the smallest annual increase in four years. But for those foreclosures that are on the market, it is now easier for potential buyers to find a deal, thanks to a new interactive search tool from Baird & Warner.

The government is making efforts to end this foreclosure crisis and increase the housing market overall by implementing a broad range of programs. The latest example will allow homeowners to sell for less than they owe and, in return, get a little cash, potentially encouraging delinquent borrowers to shed their houses through short sales. And to help homeowners restructure their mortgages, the Obama administration is preparing to launch initiatives that help many borrowers get a break on their second-lien mortgage if they already get reduced payments on their first-lien mortgage through the Home Affordable Modification Program. The government is also doing its part to help the hardest-hit states like California and Florida by offering millions in federal aid. There, of course, is no telling if any of these programs will work. A reported 5 million to 7 million properties are potentially eligible for foreclosure but have not yet been repossessed and put up for sale. And analysts from J.P. Morgan Chase are forecasting that bank-owned sales as a share of total home sales will remain at current or even higher levels three years from now.

But architects seem confident this week, reporting business conditions in the first-time buyer and affordable home market improved in the fourth quarter of 2009, along with an increasing demand for home-remodeling projects, including kitchen and bath upgrades and home additions.

In another debate raging this week, the Federal Housing Administration testified yesterday that an increase in down payments from their current 3.5 percent to a new 5 percent would limit new FHA-backed loans by 40 percent or 300,000 homes. The FHA argues that, while an increase would help improve equity in home purchase transactions, it will also adversely impact the housing market recovery. NAR also yesterday urged Congress to refrain from raising FHA minimum down payment requirements, saying the loan guarantee program remains critical to the nation’s economic recovery. Weigh in on the debates below!

At least one thing is still for certain: it is a buyer’s market. In January, buyers paid an average of 2.8 percent less than the listing price. Wow!

A story out this week in The Wall Street Journal reports on smart phone applicationss available to home buyers, including our “Home Selection Assistant.” These apps are truly a home buyer’s best friend, listing information ranging from which nearby homes are for sale and which have sold recently, to pricing and other data. We are just glad that the apps in our industry are not considered “cookie cutter.” We hope you are using these wonderful tools and spreading the word!

A few tech tools were introduced this week to help with localization, including new plans from Foursquare (my new favorite) to distribute a free analytics tool and dashboard that will give business owners access to a range of information and statistics about visitors to their establishments. Facebook also announced plans for a new location-sharing feature. In other Web news, an article in RIS Media this week got me thinking about SEO. What are you doing to improve yours?

In this week’s advertising news, data suggests that digital advertising revenue from mobile and Web platforms will grow at a 17.8 percent pace. Sure makes a case for going digital. Speaking of, YouTube recently began displaying static banners at the top of its m.youtube.com home page, browsing pages and search results pages. Another smart advertising platform, especially if you’re creating videos and directing consumers to YouTube on your own.

For news you can use, or rather learn from, MSN compiled 70,000 pieces of customer feedback for its refurbished home page. Like we have said before, listen to your clients’ needs and desires as you launch everything from Web sites to marketing initiatives. They do, at it turns out, usually know best.

Lastly, for those who watched the Oscar’s last week, you probable saw the new 3-D television from Samsung. Now this is a product I have to have! What are your thoughts on the futuristic television? Think it’s here to stay?

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