7 Steps to get home buyer tax credit

By Marcie Geffner - Cyberhomes

The federal government has extended and expanded the popular home buyer tax credit, which is now worth up to $8,000 for buyers who haven’t owned a home in the previous three years or $6,500 for buyers who have occupied their current home for at least five consecutive years in the last eight.

The rules to qualify for the home buyer tax credit have become more complicated as the credit has been extended and expanded. To help ensure you’ll qualify, follow these seven steps:

Read on: http://www.cyberhomesmedia.net/content/news/09-12-11/home-buyer-tax-credit.aspx

GAO tells HUD, DOT to collaborate

By Marcie Geffner
Partnership for Sustainable Communities

The General Accounting Office (GAO) has some advice for the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD): Develop a plan, develop another plan, and adopt a formal approach.

That’s a summary of the recommendations in a new GAO study, “Affordable Housing in Transit-Oriented Development: Key Practices that Could Enhance Recent Collaboration Efforts Between DOT-FTA and HUD.”

Read on:

Deed-for-lease lets former homeowners rent

By Marcie Geffner - Bankrate

Homeowners who can't afford their mortgage payment, but still want to live in their current home may be keen to learn more about Fannie Mae's new Deed for Lease program, which allows homeowners to sign a deed in lieu of foreclosure and then rent back their home and continue to live there.

The program, known as "D4L," is another option for homeowners who are in danger of foreclosure but aren't eligible for a loan modification, according to Fannie Mae Vice President Jay Ryan.

"This new program helps eliminate some of the uncertainty of foreclosure, keeps families and tenants in their homes during a transitional period and helps to stabilize neighborhoods and communities," Ryan said in a Nov. 5 statement.

Read on:

LED lights make holidays safer, brighter

By Marcie Geffner, Cyberhomes Contributor

Homeowners who are in the market for new Christmas lights might want to consider LED lights, which are more expensive, but offer many advantages over standard incandescent bulbs. These advantages are so great that LED lights may be one of the hottest trends of this holiday season.

Read on:

New rules for appraisals

Real estate appraisals aren’t new. Indeed, lenders have long required an appraiser’s opinion of a home’s value before they will approve a loan for a buyer to purchase that home. What is new, however, is that the rules that dictate how lenders order home appraisals have changed significantly this year.

The new rules, known as the Home Valuation Code of Conduct, or “HVCC,” became effective May 1, 2009, and apply to most, though not all, mortgages. The rules were intended to reduce appraisal fraud and help ensure that appraisers aren’t subjected to improper pressures to inflate the home’s value.

Accurate and credible appraisals are certainly a laudable goal, yet the new rules also have resulted in some unintended consequences.

Read on:

Attorney can help with loan modification--or not

By Marcie Geffner - Bankrate

Should homeowners who want to obtain a loan modification from their lender hire an attorney to help them achieve that goal? Attorneys say their services can be helpful, but lenders counter that such services are an unnecessary expenditure of money that would be better applied to overdue mortgage payments.

Read on: http://www.bankrate.com/finance/mortgages/can-an-attorney-help-loan-modification-1.aspx

Right wood makes a better fire

By Marcie Geffner - Cyberhomes.com

Many new homeowners are eager to enjoy a cozy fire in their new fireplace. But the reality doesn’t always live up to their expectations, oftentimes because they’ve chosen the wrong wood. Here’s how to remedy such woes.

Read on: http://www.cyberhomes.com/content/news/09-11-13/choose-right-fire-wood.aspx

States take steps to cut GHG emissions

By Marcie Geffner - Partnership for Sustainable Communities

A number of U.S. states have begun to use transportation and land-use policies and projects to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in an effort to combat climate change. California's climate change program is among the most ambitious overall, but other states have made at least a small start.

Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, Oregon, and Washington may well take the top honors, judging by a national survey that found nearly 600 state-level programs that could cut GHG emissions in the areas of climate, energy, transportation, and building. Boos and hisses might greet such states as Alabama, Mississippi, Nebraska, South Dakota, and Tennessee, which, based on the survey, appear to be nearly oblivious to or decidedly uninterested in these issues.

Read on: http://www.p4sc.org/State_Steps_to_Cut_GHG.html

How much is your home worth?

Marcie Geffner - Bankrate.com

Homebuyers and sellers may be on opposite sides of a home sale, but they have one dilemma in common: They both need to sort through a thicket of prices and valuations to figure out how much a home is really worth.

The holy grail of these prices and valuations is market value, which refers to the price at which a typical seller would be willing to sell the home and a typical buyer would be willing to buy it, according to Leslie Sellers, owner of Leslie Sellers & Associates, an appraisal firm in Knoxville, Tenn.

But while market value is the "goal" or "standard" buyers and sellers would like to ascertain, this amount may be quasi-mythical as it's not necessarily equal to either the appraised value, as determined by a certified appraiser, or the sales price, which refers to the price at which the property was sold.

Read on: http://www.bankrate.com/finance/real-estate/how-much-is-that-house-worth.aspx

Fed says economy is 'leveling out'

By Marcie Geffner - LendingTree.com

The U.S. economic recession may not be over yet, but there are some signs that the situation may be improving, according to the Federal Reserve. That improvement — and the Fed’s plan to keep interest rates low for the time being — are good news for borrowers.

“Economic activity is leveling out,” the Fed suggested in its Aug. 12 statement, and what’s more, this “leveling out” can been seen throughout different sectors of the economy. The Fed noted signs of economic improvement for the financial markets, households and businesses.

“Conditions in financial markets have improved further in recent weeks. Household spending has continued to show signs of stabilizing….Businesses are still cutting back on fixed investment and staffing but are making progress in bringing inventory stocks into better alignment with sales,” the Fed reported.

Economic Outlook Improved, But Uncertain
Despite those favorable trends, not all is rosy in the U.S. economy and much of the outlook is still uncertain.

For instance, consumer spending accounts for a large share of U.S. economic activity. It appears that consumers have loosened the reins on spending, but whether that inclination will be temporary or sustained is not yet known.

Similarly, businesses have reduced the cost of large inventories of unsold products, but whether that will help them return to profitability or only shrink their losses remains to be seen.

Indeed, economic activity may “remain weak for a time,” the Fed warned. Given that expectation, the Fed still plans to continue its current policies to promote economic recovery and ward off inflation, which the Fed predicted would “remain subdued for some time.”

Interest rates still low
The Fed’s policy of very low interest rates hasn’t changed. The Fed decided to keep its target range for the federal funds rate, a bank interest rate, at just zero to 0.25 percent, the lowest possible level. The Fed also said that it still believes economic conditions will warrant “exceptionally low levels of the federal funds rate for an extended period.”

Although the Fed sets a target for the federal funds rate, the Fed doesn’t set rates that consumers pay on auto loans, mortgages, credit cards or other consumer debts. Those interest rates can — and do — fluctuate daily due to a variety of factors.

© 2009 LendingTree, LLC. This story, "Federal Reserve says economy is leveling out," is reprinted by the author with written permission of LendingTree, LLC.

Economy up, interest rates down

Marcie Geffner - LendingTree.com

All systems were go for borrowers this week as interest rates dropped again and the U.S. economy showed new signs of recovery.

The average interest rate on 30-year fixed-rate mortgages was just 5.0 percent during the week that ended Sept. 24, 2009, according to Freddie Mac's weekly survey. The average interest rate on 15-year fixed-rate mortgages was just 4.46 percent, the lowest since Freddie Mac began to track this rate in 1991, and the average interest rate on five-year hybrid adjustable-rate mortgages (ARMs) was even lower at just 4.51 percent.

“Mortgage rates held relatively steady at three-month lows this week,” said Freddie Mac Chief Economist Frank Nothaft.

Fed policies keep interest rates low
Meanwhile, the Federal Reserve reported that economic activity has picked up. In a Sept. 23 statement, the Fed said that financial markets have improved, home sales have increased, household spending seems to be stabilizing and businesses have continued to make progress toward aligning inventory levels with sales.

The Fed also said it will keep the benchmark federal funds rate at just zero to 0.25 percent and continue other policies that have helped to support mortgage lending and home sales.

"Economic conditions are likely to warrant exceptionally low levels of the federal funds rate for an extended period," the Fed said.

The Fed doesn't set rates borrowers pay for mortgages, auto loans or credit cards. But bank rates set by the Fed strongly influence the general direction of interest rates on those types of consumer loans. The Fed's current actions, policies and outlook mean borrowers could continue to see low interest rates for some time.

More new mortgages, more home sales
Low interest rates and better economic conditions have prompted a surge in applications to get new home loans, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association. Applications to refinance or to purchase a home with a government-insured mortgage were especially strong.

Home sales softened slightly in August, but only after four months of dramatic increases, according to the National Association of Realtors. If the pace so far this year continues, approximately 5.1 million homes will be sold.

Altogether, low interest rates, a stronger economy and strengthening home sales are good news for borrowers looking to buy a new home or refinance an existing mortgage.

© 2009 LendingTree, LLC. This story, "Economy up, interest rates down," is reprinted by the author with written permission of LendingTree, LLC.

Home appraisals: What you should know

By Marcie Geffner - LendingTree.com

If you’re shopping for a loan to buy a home or refinance your mortgage, you may already know that a home appraisal is almost always required before a loan can close. But if you’re like many other borrowers, you might not know much about appraisals or why they’re so important.

Appraisals have been a hot topic in recent months due to new rules that have changed how lenders and mortgage brokers order appraisals for certain types of loans. The new rules are spelled out in the Home Valuation of Code of Conduct (HVCC), which became effective May 1, 2009.

What is an appraisal?
Technically, a real estate appraisal is an opinion of a property’s value prepared by a licensed real estate appraiser. Each property is unique, so appraisers rely on their expertise and information they’ve gathered about the neighborhood, the property and sales prices of other comparable properties.

Appraisals are supposed to be unbiased and free from the influence of anyone’s opinion of the home’s value. The new rules have placed greater restrictions on attempts to unduly influence appraisers.

Who pays for the appraisal?
Borrowers usually pay for a home appraisal upfront or during the loan application process since the appraisal must be completed before the lender will approve the loan. Under the new rules, borrowers who switch to a different lender during the loan process, as sometimes happens, may have to pay for another appraisal to satisfy the new lender. Even though the borrower pays the appraiser’s fee through the lender, the appraiser typically is independent and not an employee of the lender.

The main purpose of an appraisal is to help the lender assess the value of the property and decide whether to approve the loan. That’s why a new appraisal typically is required for a loan refinance as well as a home purchase.

Is an appraisal the same as a home inspection?
Another common misconception is that a home appraisal is the same as a home inspection. Appraisers do consider the condition of the home and may note any major problems, but their observations aren’t a substitute for a home inspection. Home buyers should always get an inspection of the home

© 2009 LendingTree, LLC. This story, "Home appraisals: What you should known" is reprinted by the author with written permission of LendingTree, LLC.

Buyers capitalize on home comps

By Marcie Geffner - Cyberhomes.com

Home sellers typically rely on information about recent sales of nearby homes to figure out how much their own home might be worth. But home buyers also can use this data, commonly called "comparable sales" or "comps," to decide how much to offer for a home.

Read on: http://www.cyberhomes.com/content/news/09-10-13/home-comps.aspx

Realtors cope with appraisal rules

Marcie Geffner - California Real Estate

Challenging. Problematic. Wild. Bizarre.

These are but a few of the choice words REALTORS® have used to describe the new Home Valuation Code of Conduct (HVCC), which dictates certain practices lenders must follow with respect to appraisals related to loans they intend to sell to Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac.

Read on:

Will new rules delay home loan closings?

Marcie Geffner - Bankrate

The federal government's latest loan disclosure rules should give borrowers some welcome relief from upfront loan fees that lock them into a specific lender and costs that unexpectedly escalate at closing. But these same rules also could cause some loan closings to be delayed.

The improved disclosures should benefit borrowers who are offered a subprime or other nonstandard loan or are worried about being hit with costs that suddenly escalate at closing, according to Marx Sterbcow, managing attorney at Sterbcow Law Group, a real estate law practice in New Orleans.

"It's a good law for loans that were Alt-A or subprime or had prepayment penalties and also for prime loans where some knucklehead would (estimate) a 1 percent origination fee only (for the borrower) to find out at the last minute that the loan origination fee is 3 percent. It will cut down on some of that," he says.

Read on: http://www.bankrate.com/finance/mortgages/will-new-rules-delay-home-loan-closings-1.aspx

Help for mortgage scam victims

By Marcie Geffner - Bankrate.com

Government agencies have issued repeated loud warnings about a nationwide epidemic of loan modification and foreclosure-rescue scams. But some homeowners haven't heard these warnings and others have fallen victim to especially clever scams despite their best efforts to avoid them.

The sad fact is that homeowners who have become caught up in a scam generally have little recourse to recoup any money they may have paid and may find themselves worse off than they were prior to their unhappy encounter with a loan modification or foreclosure-rescue company. Yet homeowners who have been victimized can still file formal complaints with government agencies and contact a housing counselor to obtain further assistance with their personal financial situation.

Read on: http://www.bankrate.com/finance/mortgages/help-for-mortgage-scam-victims-1.aspx

Managing multiple offers

By Marcie Geffner - California Real Estate

It’s no secret that a strong purchase offer−a high price, all-cash, no contingencies−can help to win the day when buyers get into a multiple-offer situation. But what many REALTORS® may not realize is that their own behavior also can make a huge difference in the outcome even if their buyer’s offer isn’t the best of the bunch. Agents who are well prepared, professional, and positive can do a great service for both the buyers they represent and themselves.

Read on: http://www.car.org/newsstand/crem/current-issue/september2009/managingmultipleoffers/

New appraisal code causes chaos

By Marcie Geffner - Bankrate

The new "code of conduct" that was supposed to protect lenders and borrowers from faulty appraisals has caused higher costs, delays and considerable chaos in home sales and loan refinances.

Mortgage brokers, appraisers and real estate agents are up in arms over the new rules, which dictate how lenders select an appraiser when they originate certain home loans. Few borrowers care much, if at all, about how appraisers are hired or paid, but those borrowers whose loans have been delayed or derailed due to the new rules may take a very keen interest, indeed.

At the center of the controversy is the Home Valuation Code of Conduct, or HVCC, which outlines appraisal-related practices lenders must follow with respect to so-called conventional or conforming loans that they want to sell to Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac. The practices are intended to reduce the incidence of appraisal fraud and prevent inappropriate pressure being placed on appraisers to inflate home valuations. The code, which became effective May 1, does not apply to "FHA loans," which are insured by the Federal Housing Administration, or "VA loans," which are guaranteed by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. (Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have both posted FAQs about the code.)

Read on: http://www.bankrate.com/finance/mortgages/new-appraisal-code-causes-chaos-1.aspx

Want to modify mortgage? Get a trial run

By Marcie Geffner - Bankrate.com

As if a borrower didn't face enough hurdles in the quest for a mortgage modification, now there is another. It's the required "trial period" of the federal government's Home Affordable Modification program, and it may be a feature of other mortgage modifications as well. The typical trial period lasts three months and allows the loan servicer to test the borrower's ability to make the modified loan payment before finalizing the modification.

Loan servicers have sent out more than 300,000 letters to homeowners who might qualify for a lower mortgage payment through the government's program, according to the U.S. Treasury Department. If you received such a letter or expect to participate in a mortgage modification program, you may be curious about the trial period requirement. Here are 10 questions and answers:

1. Is a trial period required to get a mortgage modification?

Read on:


Your guide to 'foreclosure rate' and other distressed terms.

By Marcie Geffner - California Real Estate

Short sales and bank-owned properties are likely to be a fixture in many California housing markets for the foreseeable future. That’s why REALTORS® need a better than-basic knowledge of facts and figures that relate to these properties, so they can obtain more listings, close more transactions, and differentiate themselves from their competitors.

“It is not inconceivable that in California, at least for the next year, virtually all of the opportunities for most agents will be some sort of distressed property sale,” says Rick Sharga, vice president of marketing at RealtyTrac in Irvine.

“Like it or not,” adds Sean O’Toole, CEO of ForeclosureRadar.com in Discovery Bay, “you have to come up to speed on this information.”

Read on:

Is the 40-year mortgage a joke?

By Marcie Geffner - Bankrate.com

It's true: A 40-year mortgage can make your monthly house payment more affordable. But mortgage brokers say such long-term loans generally aren't the best choice for most borrowers because they typically come with a higher interest rate and cost more in interest over the lifetime of the loan.

This trade-off between a lower payment and higher costs is so unattractive that Jeff Lazerson, president of online mortgage broker MortgageGrader.com, says the 40-year mortgage is "a joke."

"Amortizing a loan over 10 more years does very little to decrease the payment, and the industry has historically priced 40-year loans more expensively than 30-year loans, so the benefit that the consumer perceives they should get, they don't get," he says.

Read on:

Can you get an Obama loan modification?

By Marcie Geffner - Bankrate.com

Borrowers who can't afford their mortgage payment may want to take a look at the Home Affordable Modification program, which is part of the Obama administration's Making Home Affordable plan.

The Home Affordable Modification program creates a uniform process for loan servicers to modify existing mortgages for homeowners who meet the following two conditions:

• They spend more than 31 percent of their income on monthly housing costs.
• They already are delinquent or in imminent danger of default because of a major change in their financial situation.

The rules are complicated. The federal government has issued top-level guidelines, but Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have their own specific guidelines. In addition, lenders, loan servicers and mortgage insurers may have their own requirements as well.

Read on:

Making Home Affordable Refinance: The Rules

By Marcie Geffner • Bankrate.com

The federal government's Home Affordable Refinance program is designed to help homeowners refinance their mortgages even if they owe slightly more than the current value of their homes.

The program could be a boon for some borrowers, though its many layers of rules may resemble one of those maddeningly complex contests that offer valuable prizes to people who complete a maze of special offers.

The program is complicated because the federal government has a top-level set of rules; Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have their own separate sets of rules; and lenders, loan servicers and mortgage insurers generally have their own rules as well.

Borrowers may well wonder where to begin. Here's our guide to help you navigate through this labyrinth of rules.

Read on: http://www.bankrate.com/finance/mortgages/do-you-qualify-for-refi-plan-1.aspx

Should you skip your mortgage payment?

By Marcie Geffner • Bankrate.com

If you've been tempted to skip a few mortgage payments to try to convince your lender to modify your loan, you may want to resist that temptation. Whether your goal is to stave off foreclosure or just make your payments more affordable, experts say deliberate delinquency is not as smart an idea as it may seem.

The bottom line is that:

•If you can make your payment, you should do so.
•If you can't, you shouldn't.
•If you're in between, you should get help to assess your situation.

"Back in the day, (lenders) would only provide modifications to people who were significantly behind because that evidenced that they truly needed the loan modified. They were of that mindset, and they didn't realize the enormity of the problem," says Gail Cunningham, a spokeswoman for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling in Silver Spring, Md. "But now, they've realized that the logic of making someone become delinquent and dig a deep financial hole before you help them was really not good for anyone."

Read on: http://www.bankrate.com/finance/mortgages/should-you-skip-your-mortgage-payment-1.aspx

Assist-2-Sell Adds Office in Canada

By Marcie Geffner - Assist-2-Sell

Lyle and Sandy Longridge were no different from countless other real estate agents who sell property across Canada. That is, until last August, when the dynamic husband-and-wife duo decided to open up the country's newest Assist-2-Sell® franchise. Their new company, in New Westminster, B.C., opened for business in October, and today, Sandy Longridge calls the couple's choice "the most exciting and fulfilling" decision of their careers.

"We wanted to run our own show and be our own boss," she says. "We wanted to do something that we could believe in."

The Longridges settled on Assist-2-Sell after almost a year of research because they admired the company's business model, which is built around giving home sellers and buyers exactly what they want in today's housing markets: Flexible commissions and superior service.

"Real estate is changing," says Lyle Longridge. "The traditional model is not going to survive in the same form as it is now. Assist-2-Sell is a great way for us to position ourselves for that future and those changes."

Read on: http://www.assist2sellblog.com/my_weblog/2009/03/index.html

Foreclosure Prevention Counseling, the Law, and You

What you need to know before you offer your services

By Marcie Geffner - California Real Estate magazine

REALTORS® might seem perfectly positioned to offer foreclosure prevention counseling and loan modification services to homeowners who can’t afford their mortgage payments. After all, many of these struggling homeowners naturally turn to the trusted REALTOR® who helped them purchase their home to ask for such assistance. But while you might be willing to help, you also should consider a number of risks before you decide to tackle this type of activity.

Why It’s Risky

The potentially risky areas include real estate licensing law, advance fees, the Foreclosure Consultants Law, and errors and omissions (E&O) insurance coverage.

Read on: http://www.car.org/newsstand/crem/current-issue/aprilmay2009/300646/

Do you have enough equity to refinance?

By Marcie Geffner - Bankrate.com

If you'd like to refinance your mortgage but don't want to shell out hundreds of dollars to find out whether you have enough equity to qualify, you're not alone. Plenty of other homeowners share your dilemma, and good solutions aren't easy to find.

"A lot of people have called, got the application, locked that great rate, and then it's down to the appraisal and the deal falls apart," says Joe Metzler, a mortgage specialist at Mortgages Unlimited in St. Paul, Minn.

Read on: http://www.bankrate.com/brm/news/mortgages/20090305-enough-equity-to-refinance-a1.asp?prodtype=mtg

New 'code of conduct' for appraisers

By Marcie Geffner - Bankrate.com

If you want to buy a home or refinance your mortgage, you might not be all that concerned about how your lender selects the appraiser who figures out how much your home is worth. But new rules intended to reduce appraisal fraud and curtail undue pressure on appraisers could have some dramatic repercussions for homebuyers and homeowners.

Proponents say the new rules will result in more reliable appraisals, less fraud, lower costs and minimal disruption. But critics expect less accurate appraisals, delays in loan processing, higher costs and general misery for all concerned.

Read on: http://www.bankrate.com/brm/news/mortgages/20090316-new-appraiser-code-a1.asp?prodtype=mtg

Banks cut off mortgage brokers

By Marcie Geffner - Bankrate.com

A war has broken out between lenders and mortgage brokers, two groups that used to play nicely together so they could make loans for people who wanted to buy a home or refinance an existing mortgage. The fallout from the battle could result in fewer choices of loan products and higher loan fees for borrowers -- or at least that's the argument of the brokers, who so far appear to be on the losing side.

Brokers still control a very large share of mortgage applications; however, a number of lenders, most notably JPMorgan Chase and Citi, recently announced they will no longer accept loan applications that are submitted through brokers. Instead, these lenders have decided to take applications and fund loans only through their own retail and other in-house operations. As a result, brokers have found themselves out in the cold.

Read on: http://www.bankrate.com/finance/mortgages/banks-cut-off-mortgage-brokers-1.aspx

Renters get foreclosure relief

By Marcie Geffner • Bankrate.com

It's every renter's worst nightmare: To move into a home or condominium with affordable rent only to find out that the owner has lost the property in foreclosure. The rent money and security deposit are gone, and chances are good that the bank that now owns the property will evict the tenant even if the rent has been paid.

Such sudden evictions have been on the rise due to the dramatic increase in home foreclosures across the U.S. But some tenants will have other options now that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have introduced new programs that let renters (and in Freddie Mac's case, former homeowners) continue to occupy the home after foreclosure.

Read on: http://beta.bankrate.com/finance/mortgages/renters-get-foreclosure-relief-1.aspx

Government helps homeowners refinance

By Marcie Geffner • Bankrate.com

If you're looking for a way to refinance your mortgage, you might want to consider a loan that's backed by the Federal Housing Administration or, if you're a U.S. military veteran, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Loans backed by these two federal government agencies are especially attractive today because the loan amount limits have been raised, and some loan programs are open to homeowners who have little to no equity or imperfect credit.

Given those benefits, it's no surprise that government-backed loans have accounted for a much larger share of total loan applications. In the second half of last year, government-backed loans accounted for as much as 30 percent of the total loan applications submitted to lenders, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association in Washington, D.C., which has tracked that figure since January 1990. Compare that one-third share to the lowest share of government-backed loans on record -- 5.8 percent in August 2005 -- and it's clear that homebuyers and homeowners have taken a renewed interest in these loans

Read on: http://beta.bankrate.com/finance/mortgages/government-helps-homeowners-refinance-1.aspx

Survival mode

Veterans reveal 12 ways to keep your business rocking in a rough market

By Marcie Geffner - California Real Estate

Though newer real estate agents may be understandably mystified by the challenges of today’s housing markets, longtime veterans have, quite literally, seen it all, and due to their decades of experience, they aren’t nearly as daunted as some of their newer and greener colleagues are.

“Real estate goes through cycles,” observes Annette Graw, a broker-associate with South Bay Brokers in Manhattan Beach, whose career dates back to 1974. “We go up and we go down. It’s nothing new.”

If this is your first—or steepest downturn—here are a dozen tips that veterans suggest could help you hang on until the market turns.

Read on: http://www.car.org/newsstand/crem/current-issue/march2009/survivalmode/

Real estate brokerages hit by bankruptcy, closures

Court records list hundreds of personal, corporate filings

By Marcie Geffner - Inman News

An increase in real estate business closures and bankruptcies is an inescapable reality of any housing market downturn, and this cycle has been no different from those past. Though there are no hard statistics that quantify the number of companies that have closed their doors, merged with their competitors or filed for bankruptcy court protection, there's no doubt that closures and bankruptcies are on the rise and that both large and small real estate companies have been involved.

A search of court records for real estate bankruptcies pulled up hundreds of records of personal and corporate filings, and seemingly no segment of the industry has been immune. The lengthy list of Chapter 7, Chapter 11 and Chapter 13 filings included individual brokers, sales agents, independent companies, franchises, developers, homebuilders, mortgage brokers, property managers, time-share operators and more.

Read on: http://www.inman.com/news/2009/03/23/real-estate-brokerages-hit-bankruptcy-closures

Rescue Offers: Helpful Plans or Foreclosure Scams?

Homeowners in need should call lender or non-profit counselor

By Marcie Geffner, Cyberhomes Contributor

Homeowners who are facing foreclosure tend to be stressed out, short of cash and anxious about their future. Unfortunately, those characteristics can make them attractive targets for financial predators. That’s why these homeowners must be especially alert to avoid foreclosure scams and rely only on reputable organizations to help them.

One common foreclosure rescue scam is “phantom help,” in which a “rescuer” charges the homeowner outrageous fees to make telephone calls and complete paperwork the homeowner could have completed himself or promises “more robust representation that never materializes,” according to “Dreams Foreclosed: The Rampant Theft of Americans homes Through Equity-Stripping Foreclosure Rescue Scams,” a report by the National Consumer Law Center in Boston.

This type of scam “gives homeowners a false sense of hope, delays them from seeking qualified help and exposes their personal financial information to a fraudster,” according to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, the agency that insures bank deposits.

While not all foreclosure rescue services are scams, many of these outfits are less competent and clearly more costly than legitimate nonprofit counseling agencies, explains Bruce Hahn, president of the American Homeowners Foundation, a consumer education organization in Arlington, Va.

Read on: http://www.cyberhomes.com/content/news/09-02-02/Rescue_offers_Are_they_helpful_plans_or_foreclosure_scams

6 Ways To Cut Your Housing Costs

By Marcie Geffner - LendingTree.com

Housing costs make up a large chunk of most people's household budget. That's one reason why housing costs can be a prime target if you're looking for some good ways to save money this year.

Here are six ways you can cut the amount of money you spend each month on your home:

1. Refinance. A new mortgage at a lower interest rate may be the best way to save the most money on your housing costs. And that may be true even if you have to spend some money upfront to lock in a lower interest rate. Refinancing can pay off month after month, and the longer you continue to own your home, the more you'll save.

2. Downsize. If your home is too large for your current needs, now may be a good time to consider moving to a less costly residence to save money on your monthly housing costs. Now that home prices and mortgage interest rates have declined, you may be able to find a home that suits your needs at an affordable price. A smaller home also could mean big savings on utilities, maintenance and repairs.

3. Relocate. If you live in an area that has relatively high housing costs, you might be able to save a bundle by moving to an area where housing is more affordable. This option may make the most sense for retirees or those with flexible jobs. The differences can be dramatic, and you may be able to save hundreds or thousands of dollars each month without skimping on the size or comfort of your home.

4. Reassess. If your home has declined in value since your last property tax assessment, you may be able to save on your taxes by challenging the assessor's latest valuation of your property. Many communities have a formal process that allows homeowners to present information they believe will demonstrate a lower value of their home for property tax purposes. The tax savings can be a substantial cut to your housing costs for minimal effort.

5. Research. How much you pay for homeowner's insurance can vary widely among insurers. Do some research, shop around and compare rates, and you might find that you can save a lot of money and still get the same amount of coverage. Ask for a multiple-policy discount if you insure your home and car with the same company.

6. Reduce. Utilities are another good way to save money on your housing costs. Weatherproof your home to reduce small air leaks. Plant shady trees to keep your home cooler in the summertime. Install water conservation devices. Turn down the setting on your hot water heater. Turn off lights, computers, television sets and other electronic devices when they're not in use. Consider energy-efficient appliances that can pay for themselves in just a few years.

© 2009 LendingTree, LLC. This story, "6 Ways To Cut Your Housing Costs" is reprinted by the author with written permission of LendingTree, LLC.

What Interest Rate Will You Pay on Your Loan?

Marcie Geffner - LendingTree.com

If you've decided to buy a home or refinance your mortgage, you may be puzzled by the different interest rates you've seen advertised for home loans. You're not alone: Many home buyers and homeowners are confused when they discover they don’t qualify for these rock-bottom interest rates.

The reality is that the interest rate you’ll pay on a loan is determined largely by your own personal situation. Even if you don’t meet the requirements for the best-of-the-best rates that you've seen advertised, that doesn't mean you won't be able to qualify for a loan or won't be offered an attractive interest rate that you'll be able to afford.

The interest rate you'll be offered will depend on:

● Credit score. Your credit history and credit score will have the greatest effect on the interest rate you'll be offered. The higher your score, the lower your interest rate likely will be. A credit score is a numerical representation of how well you've handled other loans and credit cards in the past.

● Type of property. The interest rate you'll be offered also depends on the type of property you want to purchase. You'll generally pay a higher interest rate to buy a second home or a property you want to rent out to tenants than you will to buy a home you intend to occupy yourself.

● Loan term. Interest rates tend to be higher on 15-year loans than they are on 30-year loans. That means you'll likely be offered a higher rate if you choose the shorter term.

● Loan amount. If you want to borrow more than $417,000, your mortgage may be considered a non-conventional or even "jumbo" loan, in which case, you'll pay a higher interest rate due to the larger loan amount.

● Loan-to-value (LTV) ratio. Your loan-to-value ratio is the total amount of your mortgage divided by the appraised value of your home or the home you want to buy. If you have only a small downpayment, or not much equity, you'll likely pay a higher interest rate. Taking out cash can raise your interest rate as well.

● Location. Interest rates vary from lender to lender and state to state. Some states simply have lower borrowing costs on average.

When you compare the interest rates you’re offered with advertised interest rates, keep in mind that some advertised rates require payment of discount points, which makes those rates appear to be cheaper than they actually are. A point is an upfront fee that's equal to 1 percent of the loan amount. Points don't directly influence the interest rate you'll be offered, but you can pay points to reduce the interest rate on your loan.

© 2009 LendingTree, LLC. This story, "What Interest Rate Will You Pay on Your Loan?" is reprinted by the author with written permission of LendingTree, LLC.

What to know before you refinance

By Marcie Geffner • Bankrate.com

The most fundamental consideration in whether a homeowner should refinance an existing mortgage is the break-even point that represents how soon the cost of the refinance will be recaptured through lower monthly payments. But while the break-even point is easy enough to calculate, other factors may also influence your decision and, if it's a go, the type of loan you'll select.

While there is no rule of thumb for the maximum payback period, or break-even point, that makes sense for most borrowers, three years or fewer typically is considered reasonable if you intend to keep your mortgage at least that long.

To calculate a break-even point, divide the anticipated total cost of your refinance by the monthly savings on your loan payment. The result is the number of months that would be required to recoup the cost.

Read on: http://www.bankrate.com/brm/news/mtg/20090205-what-to-know-refinance-a1.asp?prodtype=mtg.

Lenders face flood of loan applications

Homeowners who want to refinance should be prepared to be persistent.

By Marcie Geffner - LendingTree.com January 16, 2009

If you've decided to refinance your mortgage to take advantage of today's low interest rates, be prepared to be patient and persistent. Many lenders have received a flood of new loan applications due to the lowest interest rates on record. And as a result, most lenders now face enormous backlogs of refinance requests that need to be processed.

A survey conducted every week by the Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) shows just how swamped lenders really are. For the week that ended Jan. 9, 2009, the volume of loan applications nearly doubled compared with the previous week. Volume was up more than 50 percent compared with the same week a year earlier as well, according to the MBA's survey. (These figures are on a non-seasonally adjusted basis.) Applications to refinance hit their highest volume since June 2003, the last time there was a boom in refinancing.

Moreover, many lenders now employ fewer people, which means there are fewer hands and eyes on deck to process all of the loan applications lenders have received. And since lenders have tightened their standards and reinstated documentation requirements, each application now takes longer to process. This combination of fewer people and a heightened level of scrutiny has added to the delays.

The flood of loan applications was set in motion Dec. 16, 2008, when the Federal Reserve cut a key bank interest rate to near zero. While the Fed doesn't set rates that homeowners pay on their mortgages, the government agency's decisions do impact the general level and direction of consumer interest rates. After the Fed's action, interest rates on 30-year fixed-rate mortgages dropped below 5 percent, a remarkably low level. Given rates this low, the flood of loan applications isn't expected to ease up any time soon.

Homeowners who want to refinance are well-advised to be patient and persistent. Shop around for a lender who can meet your needs. Ask questions about the lender's ability to close your new loan in a timely fashion. Stay in touch with your loan officer and be prepared to pick up the telephone periodically if you haven't received an update on the progress of your loan application.

© 2009 LendingTree, LLC. This story, "Lenders face flood of loan applications," is reprinted by the author with written permission of LendingTree, LLC.

Feds to retry former Homestore CEO

Feb. 12 hearing scheduled to set new trial date


Inman News

LOS ANGELES -- Stuart Wolff isn't yet out of the woods. U.S. prosecutors intend to retry Wolff, the former Homestore CEO whose conviction and 15-year prison sentence related to an accounting scandal was tossed out last year by a three-judge panel.

"There will be a new trial. Where we are is essentially as if the original trial had never happened," Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael R. Wilner told Inman News.

Wolff has been newly accused of conspiracy, filing false statements with the Securities and Exchange Commission, lying to accountants, fraudulent insider trading, and falsification of corporate books and records in connection with an alleged accounting scandal nine years ago at the online property listings company now known as Move Inc.

Read on: http://www.inman.com/buyers-sellers/columnists/marciegeffner/feds-retry-former-homestore-ceo.

Return on Investors

Who’s buying foreclosures and how to attract their business

By Marcie Geffner - California Real Estate

Real estate investment is back in style. And that means REALTORS® need look no further for new business than these profit-minded buyers, who’ve returned in droves to some of California’s weakest housing markets.

“Investors are coming back into the market, and they are changing the dynamics of the market,” says Lori Mode, a REALTOR® with Keller Williams Realty in Elk Grove, south of Sacramento.

Read on: http://www.car.org/newsstand/crem/past-issues/october2008/235694/.

Cash crunch? 6 ways to get liquid

By Marcie Geffner • Bankrate.com

If your budget is like that of so many other households, it may seem like you never have quite enough cash on hand to pay all your bills at the end of every month and still set aside a few extra bucks for a rainy day. And these days, your cash crunch may be worse than ever if your expenses are rising, your income is falling and your credit limits are being shredded.

Though there aren't really any new ideas in cash management, financial planners suggest six tried-and-true techniques that can help you improve your liquidity and boost your cash flow without resorting to such drastic measures as selling your home, bailing out of your long-term investments or even raiding your jewelry box.

Read the rest of this story: http://www.bankrate.com/brm/news/pf/20090203-cash-crunch-liquidity-a1.asp?prodtype=pfin.

Solving refinance challenges

By Marcie Geffner • Bankrate.com

Homeowners who have financial problems and want to refinance their mortgage may be pleased to know there are some strategies that can help them overcome such challenges as inadequate income, excessive debt, negative equity or poor credit.

The challenges aren't imaginary. Lenders have indeed tightened their standards, and there are few good solutions to common problems, according to Robert Satrick, president of Prime Financial Services in Van Nuys, Calif., and chairman of the California Mortgage Bankers Association in Sacramento.

"That sounds harsh. I know that," he says. "But that's the reality of the way it is."

Read the rest of this story: http://www.bankrate.com/brm/news/mtg/20090122-solving-refinance-challenges-a1.asp?prodtype=mtg.

Home sellers count 'days on market'

Some locations boast short DOM, beating national trend

By Marcie Geffner, Cyberhomes.com

Homeowners typically have two questions top of mind when they decide to sell their home. The first concerns how much their home is worth. The second involves how long it will take to find a buyer. It’s the answer to that second question that real estate brokers refer to as “days on the market,” or “DOM,” in broker shorthand.

While sellers generally experienced significantly longer DOM in 2008, there were some counties where homes were sold comparatively quite briskly in November.

Chittenden County, pop. 150,000, in northwestern Vermont took tops honors for the shortest DOM among 470 counties across the nation. Homes in Chittenden were snapped up after being on the market for just 36 days, or a little longer than one month, on average, according to Cyberhomes.

Read the rest of this story: http://www.cyberhomes.com/content/news/09-01-07/Home_sellers_attentively_count_days_on_market_

Borrowers benefit as Fed lowers rates

Zero bank interest rate could make home loans more affordable.

By Marcie Geffner – LendingTree.com December 19, 2008

Homeowners jumped at the opportunity to refinance their existing mortgages this week after the Federal Reserve lowered two key interest rates, one to a new record low of zero.

The Fed lowered the federal funds rate to a target range of 0 to 0.25 percent, the lowest level on record for at least the last 40 years, and the discount rate 0.75 percent to just 0.50 percent. The federal funds rate is the rate banks charge one another for overnight loans. The discount rate is the rate the Fed charges banks for short-term loans.

Rates may stay low

Mortgage interest rates had already fallen to extremely low levels, yet managed to slip even a bit more after the Fed's action.

The interest rates set by the Fed aren't the same rates that borrowers pay for home, auto or consumer loans. But the Fed's actions indirectly affect how affordable those loans are for borrowers. The latest rate cuts look like a sure sign that the Fed is committed to keeping interest rates low.

How will borrowers benefit?

Lower mortgage interest rates are a boon for homeowners who want to lower their monthly mortgage payments or switch from an adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) to a fixed-rate loan. Homeowners who refinance now can take advantage of 30-year fixed rates that are hovering near historic lows. Homeowners who have an ARM or a home equity line of credit (HELOC) may also benefit from a lower rate on their existing loan.

Home buyers can benefit from low interest rates as well. Today’s low rates mean buyers may be able to qualify for a mortgage with lower payments or a higher loan amount.

Fed aim is economic growth

Going forward, the Fed intends to support the functioning of the nation's financial markets and stimulate the economy through low interest rates and other actions. Specifically, the Fed plans to purchase mortgage-backed securities and debt issued by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to support the mortgage and housing markets. The Fed also will evaluate other actions that might also boost economic activity.

Indeed, the Fed said in its statement that it will "employ all available tools" to promote economic growth and keep prices stable. That determination should benefit borrowers in 2009.

© 2008 LendingTree, LLC. This story, "Borrowers benefit as Fed lowers rates," is reprinted by the author with written permission of LendingTree, LLC.

Flee, or stay the financial course?

By Marcie Geffner • Bankrate.com

If you're worried about the dramatic ups and downs in the U.S. stock market, you can still count on one thing for sure: You're not alone. Plenty of people have panicked and sold off their mutual funds, raided their bank accounts or taken other ill-considered steps they may well regret later on -- or at least that's the perspective of financial planners, who unanimously advise against hasty decisions and instead advocate calm.

"You can't make good decisions when you are emotional. You have to calm down," says Frank Boucher, principal of Boucher Financial Planning Services in Reston, Va. "Sit back, take a deep breath, relax and when you are ready to deal with it without emotion, you are ready."

Read the rest of this story: http://www.bankrate.com/brm/news/investing/20090106-financial-uncertainty-a1.asp