People sometimes me ask how I manage to balance freelancing about real estate and writing a novel. It's not easy, and after three years of this balancing act, I've thought of an explanatory metaphor: It's like riding a teeter-totter up and down by myself. First I ride up and down on the real estate-freelancing seat, then I jump off, run around to the other side of the teeter-totter and ride up and down on the novel-writing seat. It's hard work and it's not exactly efficient, but at least I haven't fallen off yet.
Last week I wrote an editorial for Inman News (subscription required) about the extent to which real estate is now intertwined with Wall Street and the need for both sides to learn more about the inner workings of each others' markets. With that in mind, I'd like to commend and recommend a terrific article: "Junk Mortgages Under the Microscope," in which Allan Sloan, senior editor-at-large of Fortune magazine, demystifies "GSAMP Trust 2006-S3," a package of mortgage-backed securities issued last year. Read on!
A short list of my recent fantasy book and film discoveries:
- Solstice Wood by Patricia A. McKillip is a lovely story about the boundaries between reality and fantasy. This book won the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Adult Literature at Mythcon earlier this year.
- Night at the Museum is a delightful father-and-son film (now on DVD) about a museum that comes to life after dark.
- The Thief Lord is a family-friendly story (also now on DVD) about a band of children who have a magical adventure in Venice, Italy.
In the debate over how federal government regulators and lawmakers should respond to recent turmoil in mortgage lending, a few good ideas have emerged:
- Mandatory licensing of all mortgage brokers and loan officers. Licensing should be required regardless of whether the individual is self-employed or works for a mortgage brokerage, savings and loan or banking company and should be accompanied by mandatory continuing education and enforcement.
- Prohibition of yield spread premiums, which are commissions or bonus that lenders pay mortgage brokers when they sell borrowers loans at interest rates that are higher than the lowest rate for which the borrower could qualify. Disclosure of YSPs would not be adequate because loan disclosures are already dysfunctional.
- Elimination of the tax liablity on forgiveness of debt in short sales. This relief should be available only for homeowners who have been forced to sell their principal residence due to a severe financial hardship such as a loss of previously steady employment, disability or major illness. State tax authorities should conform to federal law.
The housing market in my Los Angeles neighborhood has held up fairly well price-wise, but the number of transactions has fallen off a cliff, judging by the scarcity of for-sale signs, the lengthy duration of the few signs that pop up and the steady stream of solicitous Realtors who've knocked on my front door. While I sympathize with their plight, I'm not planning to move any time soon, if ever. Nor do I know anyone who wants to move into or out of the neighborhood. Nor am I all that interested in the unvarying information about recent home sales that every Realtor has on offer. But what most disappoints me about these Realtors is not their diligent prospecting, but the sameness of their pitches. If I were planning to move, I'd want a Realtor with a lot more imagination, especially in a market characterized by a slow pace of home sales.