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26 March 2010

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

What a busy week! Health care reform, believe it or not, was not the only thing happening (although the flurry of articles surrounding it may have fooled you). The Obama administration announced broad new initiatives to help troubled homeowners, potentially refinancing millions of them into fresh government-backed mortgages with lower payments. There was also much discussion around what to do next with Fannie and Freddie, specifically from Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner. In the future, the two agencies will not be allowed to return to their pre-crisis structures and will have guidelines, including stronger consumer protections and explicit guarantees for any government backstop of mortgages. The future of the two mortgage giants, although months away, may be better known on April 15 when the Treasury Department and the Department of Housing and Urban Development will publish a list of questions seeking public comment. The federal government should, Geithner argues, continue to have a role supporting the mortgage market. Stay tuned…

In other news, even those looking to get out of their homes by defaulting on their home loans are having difficulty due to a backlog in the system. Others, who once thought they could count on equity in their homes as a financial safety net, are finding their home may no longer be worth enough. It’s no wonder, then, that some are “strategically defaulting” on their homes because it can be difficult to see the value in times like these. We’ve got our work cut out for us.

With all the turmoil in the mortgage financing world, there has been an increase in people buying homes with cash. Many believe the transactions highlight the sentiment among investors that real estate prices have nowhere to go but up. For those looking for a foreclosure, with cash or without, there are new quick-and-easy auction Web sites. Might be worth checking out?

Moving on… it’s not surprising, given the falling February construction of new homes and apartments, that sales on new homes fell to the lowest level on record in February. The good news is, though, the rate of decline has slowed since February 2009 and sales of existing homes, although down, are 7 percent higher than a year ago. Many are blaming the ferocious weather that swept many parts of the county. If this is true, we can all celebrate the sun finally coming out. Hopefully home buyers will find it as inspiring as agents do!

Mortgage rates near record lows and the government tax credit have not made a big difference in the housing market, some argue. It raises the question: how do we convince nervous home buyers that things will get better? One way is to share the news that, according to bond firms, the market is now stable enough to prevent a big jump in mortgage rates. Any other advice out there?

Still, as we’ve said before, we should expect to see a surge of home sales in April as the home buyer tax credit comes to a close. Some states and other organizations are doing what they can to help the market, before and after this deadline. California is chief among them, with the Golden State launching a $200 million tax credit on May 1st to further incentivize home buyers in the state to stay active when the federal tax credit ends. We look forward to seeing how it works!

Like so many things, the housing market is all about how you look at the situation. A city’s recent downfall could be for the better, as two recent rankings found. Memphis, for instance, ranks eighth in underwater housing markets, but also ranks first in a list of cities for real estate steals. Similarly, some may look at an “as-is” property and see only run-down, but others could see a beautiful fixer-upper. For those interested in investing in “as-is” properties, there are programs, including the Federal Housing Administration’s 203k loan program, which are designed to help you make the most of it.

Due to the recession, 10 percent of 25-to-34-year-olds have moved back home with their parents. In a few years, this group has the potential to make a big splash in the real estate market as they look to move out and buy their own homes. When you are ready to make the move, we are here for you! But let’s hope you get out there soon and take advantage of the market, as new numbers out this week suggest that by mid-2012 the market will once again become a sellers’ market. Do you think it will be sooner?

One sight that spring has sprung: homeowners are starting to invest in their yards by planting gardens and installing decorative elements, getting ready for outdoor entertaining. Another group making the most of the times are 55+ communities, many of which recently relaxed age constrictions and opened the floodgates to “young blood” (that is, 45 and older). Well, party on!

On to other news, Facebook is playing a growing role in how people get news, according to a Web measurement firm. I say, there is no reason why we in the real estate industry can’t share in this dissemination of news. Start sharing interesting local and real estate articles on your pages. And, while we are talking about communication, these days more people are texting rather than calling on mobile phones. We need to make sure we’re communicating how our clients communicate and, now, that means texting. What communication tools are you finding most important?

In marketing news this week, once again there is evidence that the right strategy targeted at the right audience is the best marketing plan. Whether it’s a marketing campaign like Skittles’ high-tech and high-impact social media campaign or as simple as a man in a chicken suit clucking around at a St. Patty’s Day parade, the first step is knowing your audience. The same philosophy goes for email versus social media marketing. Turns out both are effective and complementary.

If you’re planning your trip to NAR Midyear and haven’t yet booked your hotel, Google is testing a new feature within Google Maps that displays specific hotel prices. What an easy way to shop around! Or, if you recently had an unpleasant hotel stay, the hotel industry is now reportedly listening and reading customer reviews and complaints. We can learn from this strategy too. As I’ve said before, listening to feedback – bad or good – from clients is paramount to success.

In perhaps surprising news, it was reported this week that Honolulu and Green Bay, Wisc., are the leading cities for green appliance households. Way to go! Please share your secrets for widespread adoption!

And finally, starting this week you can now gift iPhone applications. I know what is on my birthday wish list…

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