Report to Reveal Appraisal Fees By County

The monthly Appraisal Fee Reference reports issued by a la mode Inc. list median appraisal fees for 3,000-plus counties and districts in the United States, Puerto Rico and Guam.

The goal is to help lenders satisfy FHA guidelines dictating that appraisers be paid “reasonable and customary” fees. It also aims to help them comply with updated Real Estate Settlement and Procedures Act rules governing changes to estimated costs.

Source: Inman News (02/22/10)

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Fed: Interest Rates to Remain Low

Investors breathed a sigh of relief Wednesday when Federal Reserve Chair Ben Bernanke told Congress that interest rates are likely to remain low for an extended period. The economy, he said, “still requires support for recovery.”

Investors see these low rates as a boon to a recovery of employment and business.

Bernanke’s announcement also took the edge off the news Wednesday that housing sales hit a new low in January.

“Even though nothing he said was particularly new, it was just enough to calm the ruffled feathers that were out there,” said Jim McDonald, chief investment strategist at Northern Trust in Chicago.

Source: The Associated Press, Tim Paradis (02/24/2010)

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2010: The Year of the First-Time Buyer?

According to the Chinese calendar, 2010 is the Year of the Tiger. But in real estate, 2010 may come to be known as the “Year of the First-Time Home Buyer.”

Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s, says there will be 1.84 million homes sold to first-time home buyers in 2010, compared with 1.73 million in 2009.

These buyers will invariably make some mistakes that they will come to regret a few years down the road, some experts say, including failing to use a real estate professional to help them manage the transaction.

Real estate professionals have the time and the knowledge to sift through thousands of listings, creating market analyses to judge pricing and other key features, points out Ray Boss Jr., a practitioner with RE/MAX Realty Group in Maryland.

“I would want someone who is going to look out for my interests first and foremost,” says Boss. “Someone who knows the contracts, who has experience negotiating, and who can walk me through the entire process smoothly — step by step — and make sure I get the house that’s right for me.”

Source: U.S. News & World Report, Kimberly Castro (02/18/2010)

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Commercial Loans Jeopardize Banks

The Congressional Oversight Panel reported Wednesday that commercial real estate loan failures could jeopardize bank stability.

The panel said most of the bad loans were made at the height of the real estate bubble and are concentrated at smaller banks, which make 40 percent of all small business loans.

“We haven’t seen the worst of the problems yet in terms of loan defaults. This is a large issue for a major portion of the banks out there,” said Matthew Anderson, a partner at research firm Foresight Analytics, which provided data for the report.

Source: MarketWatch, Josh Lipton (02/17/2010)

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Foreclosure Prevention Has Aided 116,000

The federal foreclosure prevention program has helped about 12 percent of borrowers who applied for help since the plans were announced a year ago, the Treasury Department says.

About 1 million borrowers initiated the application process, and as of January, about 116,000 home owners–12 percent–had their loans modified. But administration officials say another 76,000 applications have been approved and are awaiting signatures.

Another 830,500 home owners are currently in a trial modification review period during which banks make sure payments are feasible for the borrower and ensure the qualifications of the assistance program are met.

For those who qualify, the Home Affordable Modification Program brings monthly loan payments down to 31 percent of home owners’ pre-tax income.

Nearly 60,500 people have been denied permanent modifications.

Source: CNNMoney, Tami Luhby (02/17/2010) and USA TODAY, Stephanie Armour (02/17/2010)

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‘Affordable’ Housing Less Attractive Now

Affordable housing projects all over the country have been a tough sell the last couple of years. Some of the reasons include hard-to-get mortgages and a dwindling difference in prices between affordable units and market-rate properties with no restrictions on resale.

The problem is particularly acute in Far Rockaway, N.Y., where New York City housing officials and developers are frustrated by slow sales of existing units, which prevents the remainder of the project from being built.

City-subsidized housing in Far Rockaway and in various other parts of the city selling for $250,000 to $350,000 is sitting on the market for as long as 18 months, even though prices have been cut as much as 30 percent.

City Housing commissioner Rafael E. Cestero said when the projects were planned, these units ”were deeply affordable” compared with what was then on the market. ”We had no idea what was going to happen,” he said.

Source: The New York Times, Cara Buckley (02/19/2010)

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NAR Resource to Reduce Short Sale Stress

According to the most recent REALTORS® Confidence Index, buyers continue to be discouraged with the extended short sale process, which frequently results in foreclosures that could have been prevented.

New resources from the National Association of REALTORS® aim to help REALTORS® and consumers successfully navigate the short sale process to help more home owners avoid foreclosure.

“Our members report that short sales are often riddled with delays and red tape,” said NAR President Vicki Cox Golder. “NAR has worked tirelessly to provide REALTORS® with the resources they need to navigate short sale transactions, as well as provide guidance on helpful government programs designed for home owners facing the process.”

Full Details….

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Navigating the parkways of downtown Aiken to get easier

“We are going to keep it simple,” said Frommer about the change to the downtown traffic system.
Aiken Public Safety officers and S.C. Department of Transportation officials will start the changeover from the old system to the new one, beginning Sunday.
The lights on Park Avenue from Laurens Street to York Street will be the first ones completed, said Capt. Wendell Hall.

From 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday, residents who want to attempt to navigate the roads using the system can do so.
A number of other downtown intersections will be signaled in a similar manner, but police and road crews hope to first work out any kinks on Park Avenue.
“The other intersections will join the system, but determining how quickly that will happen is dependent on how well Sunday goes,” Hall said.
Public Safety will be downtown during the changeover to answer questions.

“This system is supposed to be much simpler for drivers,” Hall said. “… Especially in the circles and squares.”There won’t be any further need for the “circles go, squares no” mnemonic device that has helped drivers navigate downtown intersections for decades.
“If it’s red, stop,” Frommer said. “If it’s green, go.”

The intersections will be marked with signs where there may be some doubt. There are “no right on red” signs. The traffic signals operate on a camera system that changes the light based on the traffic volume. The cameras replace coils or “loops” in the road that for years have been used to sense and detect vehicles and operate the switching equipment.

The cameras now will record the image of a car as it pulls into the frame and adjust the light cycle accordingly.
The devices are not being used to ticket drivers, Frommer said.
“That’s not what this is designed for,” he added.
Aiken Public Safety is giving drivers a 30-day grace period to learn the new syst

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Construction Up Along With Builder Confidence

Construction of new homes rose to an annual rate of 591,000 in January, up 2.8 percent from December when the revised rate was 575,000, the Commerce Department announced Wednesday.

Meanwhile, the monthly home builder confidence scale rose two points in February to 17.

The National Association of Home Builders Chair Bob Jones said, “Builders are slightly more optimistic that the housing recovery is finally beginning to take root.”

Builder confidence was highest in the Northeast and the South, weaker in the West and lowest in the Midwest.

Source: The Wall Street Journal, Meena Thiruvengadam (02/16/2010) and CNN, Blake Ellis (02/17/2010)

Vacant Lots Become Hot Property

Vacant residential lots are looking better and better to real estate investors.

The cost of a finished, ready to build lot, can cost a developer about 25 percent of the finished home price. There are a number of these ready-to-go lots on the market at about half what they actually cost to prepare. Investor groups are snapping them up, figuring that the time will come soon when they will be in demand.

“The country needs 1.2 million new units for the next 10 years just because of population growth,” says Scott Clark, president of American Development Partners, which has bought thousands of vacant lots all over the West. “[U.S. builders] built about 500,000 units in 2009 and 600,000 units in 2008, so there eventually will be pent-up demand. We want to get as many of those finished lots as we can because as demand begins to rise, the need for housing will become painfully obvious. The delta (ratio of change to value of underlying asset) in this investment will be significant.”

Source: Inman News, Steve Bergsman (02/12/2010)

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