Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Federal Title featured on NPR homebuyer report

To say the last few weeks around the office of Federal Title & Escrow Company have been busy would be an understatement. As the clock counts down to the deadline for the federal homebuyers tax credit, our staff is working diligently to facilitate as many smooth closings as possible.

Despite the bustle, our very own Todd Ewing was able to take some time out of his busy schedule yesterday to sit down with NPR business reporter Tamara Keith to speak about the mad dash of homebuyers hoping to close before the June 30 deadline.

The story appeared today during Morning Edition and aired here in Washington, D.C. and across the country. Heres a link to the story Mad Dash as Homebuyer Tax Deadline Arrives in case you missed it.

Were pretty excited about the story here around the office. Please share your thoughts on the story, especially Todds part near the end, in the comments section below.

DC area home price gains in April best in U.S.

The Washington area led the nation in home price gains in April, the Washington Business Journal reports.

Median prices in the Washington market rose 2.4 percent in April compared with March, the best gain of the 20 markets surveyed in the S&P/Case Shiller Home Price Index. Nationally, prices rose 0.9 percent compared with March.

Full story...

Senate combines jobless benefits, homebuyer credit

Senate Democrats are working on a new way to jump-start their stalled election-year jobs agenda while saving unemployment benefits for hundreds of thousands of laid-off workers, the Associated Press reports.

The plan is to create one bill that combines the unemployment benefits with an extension of a popular tax credit for people who buy new homes.

Under current law, homebuyers who signed purchase agreements by April 30 must close on their new homes by Wednesday to qualify for credits of up to $8,000. The bill would give those buyers until Sept. 30 to complete the purchases and qualify for the credit.

Democrats hope to pick up Republican support for the bill by combining the two provisions. They have been trying for weeks to pass an extension of unemployment benefits as part of a larger tax and spending package, but the larger bill died in the Senate last week.

Its a tough vote for some lawmakers who want to help constituents hit hard by the recession but are wary of being labeled big spenders. The economy is starting to pick up, but unemployment is still high as the nation continues to struggle from the loss of more than 8 million jobs. At the same time, angst over deficit spending is growing as midterm congressional elections near in November.

Full story...

Real estate news update: 6-30

A daily dose of headlines for real estate agents, mortgage lenders and consumers.

Can social media help revive real estate?
Housing Wire:
As the real estate industry looks for new ways to market and sell property during the downturn, technology firms are launching ways to use social media.
Preparing for the next big one
The New York Times: Many on Capitol Hill insist Dodd-Frank means the end of the �too big to fail� culture, period. Many on Wall Street insist it means the end of American finance.
Home price stability in question for second half of 2010
NuWire: An oversupply of housing and a wave of distressed properties could drag down real estate prices in the US later this year, experts are warning.
Consumer confidence tumbles amid job uncertainty
NPR: Americans, worried about jobs and the sluggish economic recovery, had another relapse in confidence, causing a widely watched barometer to tumble in June.
Evening Star sale illustrates Districts appeal
Globe Street: Evening Stars sales price is definitely a leading indicator that the best office product in DC is still eagerly sought by the largest investment funds.
A closer look at the second leg down
: Without the heavy hand of the government intervening, the residential real estate market is about to experience what price discovery is all about.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

House votes to extend homebuyer credit 3 months

Homebuyers would get an extra three months to complete their purchases and qualify for a generous tax credit under a bill overwhelmingly passed by the House on Tuesday, reports the Associated Press.

Under current law, homebuyers who signed purchase agreements by April 30 have until Wednesday to close on the sale to qualify for tax credits of up to $8,000. The bill would give buyers until Sept. 30 to complete their purchases.

The extended deadline only applies to people who signed purchase agreements by April 30. The National Association of Realtors estimates that about 180,000 homebuyers who already signed purchase agreements are likely to miss the Wednesday deadline.

We owe this to the people who have essentially followed the rules who are caught by a closing date, said Rep. Sander Levin, D-Mich., chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.

The bill passed 409-5. It now goes to the Senate, where Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has sponsored a similar measure.

Full story...

The other value of real estate

Ive been stalking the DC real estate market for months, first hoping to cash in on the $8,000 federal tax credit, then waiting for the credit to expire so housing prices could drop. If Im going to buy, I want to make a good investment, right?

Not necessarily true, says Winifred Gallagher, whose column Living Rooms debuted in The New York Times this week. Real estate holds an often overlooked value for people that is far less tangible than a hefty down payment, she says.

She calls a home a womb with a view, a secure place to which we can return to recharge our batteries or hide out from the storm.

Perhaps if more people changed their attitude about what it means to buy a piece of property, then more people would be getting excited about the prospect of a drop in home prices. Real estate is going on sale

Yet since the governments exit from the housing market, amid reports of a drop in consumer confidence and predictions that housing prices will fall an additional 10-20%, mortgage applications have fallen to record lows and home sales have plummeted, also to record lows.

Properties may lose value through the end of the year, but eventually values will rebound, and as Gallagher says, all the while you could be building your life and putting a stamp on a property all your own, regardless of whats going on in the world outside its walls.

Whether you agree or not, the column is actually quite good.

Mortgage rates hit all-time low

The average rate on a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage dropped to 4.69 percent this week from 4.75 percent last week, the Washington Post reported. That marks the lowest level since the company started tracking the data in 1971 and breaks the most recent low set in December. Rates have hovered below 5 percent since early May.

Yet home sales are tumbling and mortgage applications are slipping. Potential buyers have retrenched, discouraged by employment fears, the recent expiration of a home buyers tax credit and tough lending standards, industry experts said.

Full story...

Real estate news update: 6-29

A daily dose of headlines for real estate agents, mortgage lenders and consumers.

Home tax credit closing extension dead
Tighter lending standards, new appraisal rules and general banking backlogs are making a two month contract-to-closing period very difficult.
Housing on life support
Seeking Alpha: Among the negative factors pressuring the market, a series of weak real estate releases seemed to create the highest level of concern.
Homebuyer tax credit: Is it better to laugh or cry?
Forbes: The hardest bit to swallow is not so much that the homebuyer tax credit is a boondoggle. It is that it was a totally predictable waste of money.
Realtors now a fount of market realism?
Boston Globe: A survey found 75 percent of homeowners are haggling over the recommended listing prices, arguing their homes are worth more.
Like others, rich falling behind on their mortgages
CNBC: Now, growing numbers of well heeled Americans, their portfolios hammered by depressed markets, have stopped repaying loans or even walked away from mortgages.
Financing rules complicate search for dream condo
Washington Post
: If youve been looking to buy a condo in the Washington area, you know there are deals to be had. But a multitude of rules could block your way.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Financing rules complicate search for dream condo

If youve been looking to buy a condo in the Washington area, you know there are deals to be had. But look carefully before you leap, say real estate agents and some buyers. A multitude of rules could block your way, reports the Washington Post.

Prices in many areas -- not counting hot Metro-centric neighborhoods such as Rosslyn-Ballston and Dupont Circle and Logan -- are expected to stay flat this year, a condition that favors buyers. But borrowers need to have stronger credit and less debt than in the go-go years, even though interest rates are near record lows. And some people are finding that although they may qualify for financing, the building they have fallen in love with does not.

The Federal Housing Administration tightened loan guidelines in the past two years on borrowers and on buildings. Fannie and Freddie, have similar condo review rules for loans they will buy.

Full story...

Real estate news update: 6-28

A daily dose of headlines for real estate agents, mortgage lenders and consumers.

Good schools, bad real estate
Wall Street Journal:
Its supposed to be a buyers market. Yet, for parents determined to buy in areas associated with top schools, those bargains may be harder to come by.
No homebuyer tax credit surge expected from military
Washington Examiner: Most of the military personnel moving their families into the area in the next 16 months will not qualify for the first-time homebuyer credit.
May sales drop no surprise
Washington Times: Does this mean the rest of 2010 is doomed? Not doomed, for sure, but it will be a more sedate market than weve seen in recent months.
Elizabeth Warren: Why credit is still frozen
Business Week: The congressional TARP watchdog says theres no evidence that the $700 billion bailout boosted lending to small business
Fed chair doesnt seem to care about high unemployment
Slate: If Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke had a theme song, it would be Meat Loafs 1978 classic Two Out of Three Aint Bad.
How much should developers pay for surplus buildings?
Washington City Paper
: When the District wants to offload real estate, there are lots of rules about how the city must prove that it indeed no longer needs the property.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Real estate news update: 6-25

A daily dose of headlines for real estate agents, mortgage lenders and consumers.

Housing sales are up, but will it last?
Boston Globe:
Karl E. Case, cofounder of the S&P Case/Shiller Home Price Indices, said questions still remain because of the growing number of foreclosures and unstable economy.
Lawmakers agree on sweeping Wall Street overhaul
Bloomberg: The bill seeks to protect consumers, curb risks, boost surveillance of emerging threats to markets and give regulators more emergency powers.
Despite low mortgage rates, new home sales crash
Total Mortgage Services: The first time home buyer tax credit, pulled home sales from the fall and summer into the spring, and we are now seeing the ramifications of the credit.
REITs are a surprising bright spot in investor market
USA Today: The average real estate fund has gained 11% this year. One reason for gains: Investors may think things cant get much worse. They may have a point.
Lawmakers slam top mortgage firms on loan mods
Reuters: The four largest mortgage lenders in the United States were grilled Thursday about the limited number of home loans they have modified.
Its payback time for housing
: Unemployment is high, job security is low, and credit conditions are tight. Its hard to see a double-dip in housing prices not occurring.

Vanilla Ice talks about his real estate career

In the early 1990s, Robert Van Winkle, a.k.a. Vanilla Ice, took the music world by storm with his album, To The Extreme, and Ice Ice Baby, the first hip-hop single to be number one on Billboard. But Vanilla Ice also has an extensive history in real estate, beginning with a series of smart purchases around the country in his late teens, and now a broad house flipping and remodeling empire.

Now, Vanilla Ice, 42, has a new show premiering on the DIY Network this fall, The Vanilla Ice Project, on which he and his team of remodelers completely gut and renovate a foreclosed Wellington mansion.

Full story...

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Real estate news update: 6-24

A daily dose of headlines for real estate agents, mortgage lenders and consumers.

7 tips for picking a real estate agent
Heres a list of things you can do to pull back the curtain and accurately assess a real estate agents past performance and potential success with your home.

Existing home sales inventory increases
Calculated Risk: An inventory increase is especially concerning because the reported inventory is already historically very high, and Mays 8.3 months of supply is well above normal.
Housing market threatens U.S. economic recovery
Business Week: The end of the tax credit in April is putting a strain on a market still hurting from the worst collapse since the Great Depression.
Innovation on the title side? Yes there is.
Housing Wire: New RESPA changes have prompted some forward thinking title companies and the technology firms that support them to step up and offer some new tools.
Housing double dip is on the way
Seeking Alpha: As soon as the government stimulus fades from the picture, housing is more likely to decline again and perhaps severely.
Discouraging housing data: Does it really matter?
Seeking Alpha
: But homebuyers still prefer co-ops because they can get between 33% and 35% more square footage for the same money.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Real estate news update: 6-23

A daily dose of headlines for real estate agents, mortgage lenders and consumers.

Should I buy a home in foreclosure?
Smart Money:
Yes, they can be a great opportunity for would-be buyers to score a deal but the transactions themselves are complicated and prone to snags.
Housing tax credit extension update
Calculated Risk: This bill includes the extension of the date not duration of unemployment benefits. One of the sticking points is the extension of the COBRA benefit.
REO inventory to peak in summer 2011
Housing Wire:The amount of REO inventory held by lenders is expected to peak in August 2011 at 545,000 properties, primarily due to an increase in REO from GSEs.
Housing data shows 2% Y-o-Y rise
Seeking Alpha: This price movement has been influenced by the government subsidy of housing, so we will need to see how this series trends out over the remainder of 2010.
Delinquent borrowers get help outside Obama mortgage plan
CNN Money: More troubled homeowners have fallen out of trial mortgage modifications than have received long-term help, a new government report released Monday shows.
Condos rule over co-ops at high end
Wall Street Journal
: But homebuyers still prefer co-ops because they can get between 33% and 35% more square footage for the same money.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Real estate news update: 6-22

A daily dose of headlines for real estate agents, mortgage lenders and consumers.

Social Safeway design nod to changing markets
Washington Post:
At just more than 71,000 square feet and open 24 hours a day, it is the Districts largest supermarket, completed only 376 days after the old store was closed.
Pity the celebrity tax payer
Forbes: The IRS is targeting more high-earners as part of an effort to close the $290 billion tax gap between what its owed and what it collects.
Summers cites recovery, risks
Boston Globe: The US economy has probably begun a lasting recovery, but the outlook has become more uncertain in recent weeks.
Verifying borrowers finances
The New York Times: Industry executives say the change should not have a drastic effect on borrowing, unless of course the borrower is prone to running up huge credit card bills.
Would-be homebuyers race to close deals
Washington Post: The legislation, attached to a bill that would extend unemployment benefits, still needs final approval in the House.
Stable D.C. office market attracts buyers
National Real Estate Investor
: Political dramas may dominate the headlines in Washington, but the allure of this market for office investors is far more mundane -- stable cash flow.

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Headlines compiled by Strategic Research.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Home buyers race to close deals before tax credit expires

More breathing room could be on the way for people racing to meet the June 30 closing deadline to qualify for a home-buyer tax credit, the Washington Post reports.

The Senate recently passed a measure that would give buyers who met the April 30 deadline for signing a purchase agreement an additional three months to close their deals. The legislation, attached to a bill that would extend unemployment benefits, still needs final approval in the House.

The new closing deadline would be Sept. 30.

Silver Springs Discovery Channel turns 25

For 25 years Discovery Communications the media company behind the Discovery Channel, the Learning Channel and Animal Planet has brought jobs to Washington Metro Area from its Silver Spring, MD headquarters.

The company celebrates its 25th anniversary this month, and is stronger than ever, reports the Washington Post. The universal nature of the content the company broadcasts has helped them to build an international presence in recent years. The company has expanded its audience stateside by focusing on better stories with a wider appeal.

Said founder John Hendricks: Our brand will not only survive but thrive because of our content.

Real estate news update: 6-21

A daily dose of headlines for real estate agents, mortgage lenders and consumers.

Downtown DC development hold sees fortune vanish
Washington Post:
At a time when mountains of cash were being made in real estate, Spriggss resistance became the talk of Washington and beyond.
Builder KB Homes taps into Justin Beiber fever
Wall Street Journal: KB Home, the nations largest builder, is dangling the chance to see YouTube/Twitter phenom Justin Bieber in concert
Americas best cities for young professionals
Forbes: Faced with 9.5% national unemployment, even the most ambitious young people are thinking carefully about how to find their best shot at success.
Mortgage rates tick up but are still cheap
USA Today: Concern over the European debt crisis and the volatile stock market have made U.S. Treasury debt more attractive.
Should the government encourage home ownership?
The Atlantic: Most people take the benefits of home ownership for granted. But does that mean the government should take aggressive measures to support it?
Fed orders improvements at Virginia bank
: Hampton Roads Bankshares Inc must submit plans for improved board oversight of operations to improve credit risk management, capital, liquidity and earnings.

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Headlines compiled by Strategic Research.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Washington, DC among Americas top cities for young professionals

With an unemployment rate thats half the national average and the third-best average income for college graduates, the District of Columbia is ranks among the countrys top places for young professionals to live, according to a Forbes report. Washington, D.C. placed second behind Houston, Texas and one spot ahead of the Twin Cities.

Homebuilder catches Justin Beiber fever

KB Home, the nations largest builder, is dangling the chance to see YouTube/Twitter phenom Justin Bieber in concert, the Wall Street Journal reports.

KB Homes offer-limited to one entry per household, per community-will undoubtedly generate traffic. �Hes huge with kids and families,� says Craig LeMessurier, a KB Home spokesman, whose 7-year-old son is a fan. �Thats the demographic we sell to.�

Real estate news update: 6-18

A daily dose of headlines for real estate agents, mortgage lenders and consumers.

Cant sell? Consider lease purchase or lease option
Wall Street Journal:
Unless you expect the market to come roaring back in the next few years you may be better off finding someone who wants to buy your home down the road.
Builder survey reports new home sales down 27%
Housing Wirel: Builders also reported a decline in new housing starts in eight of 10 regions, as builders felt little hurry to start more homes.
Mortgage applications rise nearly 18 percent
MSNBC: The number of customers applying for mortgages jumped last week, a sign that the market could be stabilizing after dropping off sharply last month.
Getting the US out of its structural slump
Seeking Alpha: The main problem with America is that it is aging. The second problem is that it distorted the economic mix in order to absorb the savings of the world,
US housing market slows as buyers get picky
CNBC: Exacting buyers are upending the battered real estate market, agents and other experts say, leading to many more collapsed deals than usual.
Citigroup halts foreclosures in area hit by oil spill
: The three-month halt started this week and will apply to loans owned by the banks mortgage unit, not debt that Citigroup services for other lenders or investors.

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Headlines compiled by Strategic Research.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Charles County has 2nd highest foreclosure rate in Maryland

Charles Countys foreclosure rate was the second-highest in the state in April, the Washington Post reports.�

The county had one in every 297 housing units receiving at least one foreclosure filing, higher than the national rate of one in 387. The number includes homeowners in any stage of the process, from receiving a notice of default to having the bank seize the home. The rate is almost 1 1/2 times the state average.

Not far behind, at No. 4, was Calvert County, where one of every 311 homes is in foreclosure.

Senate OKs new tax credit closing deadline

The Senate has amended a bill to give homebuyers who were under contract on a home purchase by April 30 an additional three months to close the deal and claim the federal homebuyer tax credit, Inman news reports.

The National Association of Realtors supports the amendment, saying Realtors have reported that as many as one-third of qualified applicants have been told by lenders that their loans will not close before June 30 because of the sheer volume of loan applications in the pipeline.

DOJ: Nearly 500 arrests in mortgage fraud probe

The Justice Department on Thursday announced a major crackdown on mortgage fraud, disclosing that investigators have made nearly 500 arrests since March, the Associated Press reports.

The nationwide probe involves 1,215 criminal defendants in cases that involve more than $2.3 billion in losses.

Real estate news update: 6-17

A daily dose of headlines for real estate agents, mortgage lenders and consumers.

Housing starts fall sharply in May
Washington Business Journal:
The end of the homebuyer tax credit slowed construction of new homes in May, although housing starts were still higher than a year earlier.
Georgetown Apple store opens Friday
Washington Business Journal: Apple was required to tone down the storefronts design after the preservationists criticized it as not fitting in with Georgetowns historic look.
Breaking the foreclosure cycle
The New York Times: Program aims to create a solution to the foreclosure problem that is also an antidote for why that particular house fell into foreclosure in the first place.
Maryland lags in delivering its share of bike trail
DC Mud: The most optimistic estimate coming out of County work sessions is that the final trail will not be available to non-motorists until late 2018/early 2019.
High default seen for modified mortgages
Wall Street Journal: Among those with loans that arent backed by any federal agency, the redefault rate within a year is likely to be 65% to 75% under HAMP.
Lenders go after money lost in foreclosures
Washington Post
: Lenders have become more aggressive in trying to recoup money lost in foreclosures and other distressed sales.

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Headlines compiled by Strategic Research.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Study: Math deficiencies increase foreclosure risk

Im thinking back to the countless hours spent scratching my head in math class asking myself, When am I ever going to use this stuff in real life? A new study out of Columbia University is attempting to provide at least one answer.

Study says math deficiencies increase foreclosure risk, the headline in The New York Times reads. The assistant business professor who led the study found that borrowers with poor math skills were three times more likely than others to go into foreclosure.

Overall, 21 percent of the respondents whose math abilities placed them in the bottom quarter of the survey experienced foreclosure, versus 7 percent of those in the top quarter, business and technology reporter Bob Tedeschi writes.

But do poor math skills cause borrowers to go into foreclosure? Our pal and real estate agent Ken Montville of MD Suburban Homes thinks its a bit of a stretch, yet he agrees a homeowner who cant balance his checkbook or budget for future expenses is at a disadvantage.

In Tedeschis article, Richard L. Tracy, Jr. of Campbell Mortgage asserts that borrowers with math deficiencies would most likely have a weak credit score, too.

The credit score may be a good indicator into how a borrower has handled previous debts, but its not a crystal ball that can predict how a borrower will rebalance his budget if he loses his job or if the interest rate on his adjustable rate mortgage resets and ups his monthly payment beyond his comfort level.

Whether financial illiteracy causes borrowers to go into foreclosure down the road or not, its tough to say. But what is certain is that its the homebuyers responsibility to understand the terms of his loan including such mathematical concepts as amortization, principal and interest, interest-only versus fix-rate loans, percents and fractions and make an educated decision.

What a coincidence the Merriam-Webster definition for literate is having or displaying advanced knowledge or education. Cause or correlation aside, lets just say it would behoove you to know a little math before you plunk down several thousand dollars at the closing table.�

Real estate news update: 6-15

A daily dose of headlines for real estate agents, mortgage lenders and consumers.

Oil spill may cause $4.3 billion loss in Gulf Shore properties
Business Week:
Falling real-estate prices are one consequence of the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history as oil keeps gushing from a BP well.
FBI to arrest hundreds for mortgage fraud
Calculated Risk: The FBI typically doesnt arrest borrowers who misrepresented their income - they arrest mortgage brokers who encouraged people to falsify their income.
Vacation home scams online: If its too good to be true ...
Washington Post: The FBIs Internet Crime Complaint Center reports that sham vacation home offers are only the latest in a long list of online fraud operations it tracks.
Jumbo mortgage markets slow return to normal
Market Watch: But while some primary lenders are said to be putting their toes back into the jumbo space, still others are pulling out. So its a very mixed bag
Big banks move to short sales, but will it help housing?
CNBC: The bad news is that short sales, like it or not, are comps. They sell for less, and consequently bring down the values of properties around them.
Sending in the scouts
The Real Deal
: Previewing properties in New York has become an increasingly popular trend as buyers have become pickier about getting bargains and inventory has risen.

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Headlines compiled by Strategic Research.

Monday, June 14, 2010

New requirements for DCs Homestead Exemption

In this season of the World Cup, Im sure most of us would consider it unfair to move the goal posts while the ball is in the air. Well, according to a recent announcement from the Homestead Unit within the DC Office of Tax and Revenue, moving the goal posts on homebuyers is a perfectly acceptable practice when it comes to qualifying for the DC Homestead Deduction.�

As most of you know, the DC Homestead Deduction exempts the first $67,500 of assessed value from the tax rate, providing the homeowner a $573.75 annual savings on their real property tax bill. In order to qualify, the homeowner must be domiciled in the District of Columbia and submit the application with supporting documentation.�

For years, Federal Title has provided homebuyers the complimentary service of filing the Homestead Deduction as an accommodation and without additional charge.� In the past, without �supporting documentation,� our office has had the homebuyer complete the form and we physically file the form with the Office of Tax and Revenue.

{yootooltip title=[A new supporting documentation requirement] width=[900]}To apply for the Homestead Deduction, you must: 1 be domiciled in the District of Columbia;* 2 answer all the questions in PART I, PART II and PART III; 3 sign and date the application in PART IV; and, 4 send this application with supporting documents copy of DC Drivers license, DC voter registration card, DC Income tax, etc. to the Office of Tax and Revenue.

* Generally, you must meet the following four criteria to make the District your domicile: 1 You must be living in the District; 2 You must intend to make your home in the District for an indefinite period of time; 3 You must completely abandon your previous domicile; and 4 You must be physically present in the District at the time you intend to change your domicile to the District. Once you meet these four criteria, you should also do the following:

��� 1 Get a drivers license from the District;
��� 2 Register your cars in the District;
��� 3 Register to vote in the District; and
��� 4 Pay District income taxes. {/yootooltip} requirement that is now causing tremendous angst for homebuyers and title companies alike.�

Now, according to Thanh-Thuy �Twee� Nguyen, Manager of the Homestead Unit, in order to qualify, the homebuyer will now be required to provide the following: 1 copy of DC drivers license; 2 DC voter registration card; 3 and copy of first 2 pages of DC income tax return.��

And what if the homebuyer is a new arrival to DC?�

Well, according to Ms. Nguyen, the homebuyer will have 30 days from settlement date to 1 register to vote; 2 obtain a DC drivers license; 3 register his/her car in DC; and 4 file with his/her employer a new DC Form D-4 Employee Withholding Allowance Certificate.

Federal Title will continue to file the Homestead Deduction form on behalf of the homebuyer at the time of closing. However, the homebuyer will be responsible for providing the new required documentation to our office prior to or at the time of closing so that Federal Title may file and qualify the homebuyer for the benefits.�

Should the homebuyer be a new arrival to DC, then the homebuyer must provide the respective required documentation to our office within 30 days of closing so that Federal Title may properly submit application to the Homestead Unit.

Real estate news update: 6-14

A daily dose of headlines for real estate agents, mortgage lenders and consumers.
Study: Math deficiencies increase foreclosure risk
The New York Times:
21% of the respondents whose math abilities placed them in the bottom quarter of the survey experienced foreclosure, versus 7% of in the top quarter.
Understanding the Gen Y gender gap
Inman News: In the average metropolitan market, single women in their 20s are earning 105 percent of what their single male counterparts are bringing in,
HUD asking a lot of questions about required use
Washington Post: Under the RESPA, consumers cannot be compelled to use the services of affiliates of realty firms, title companies, builders and other market participants.
Penn Quarter is D.C.s place to be
Washington Examiner: The surest sign that a neighborhood has surpassed trendy and arrived at established is when it thrives even as home prices tumble.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Real estate news update: 6-10

A daily dose of headlines for real estate agents, mortgage lenders and consumers.

Obama slept here, you can too
The New York Times:
The presidents former pad � which he shared with a roommate� in 1981 when he was a junior at Columbia University � is for rent, asking $1,900.
Housings double dip
CNBC: While temporary tax credits succeeded in lifting buyer psychology temporarily, they essentially shifted demand forward without having a lasting impact on purchase behavior.
Profit on your homes price -- even if its falling
Forbes: Lets look at a few ways to trade real estate as a diversification method for your investments, and protect yourself against losses.
Our houses, our selves
The Atlantic: A new crop of books suggests that for women, obsession with real estate is replacing obsession with love and marriage.
Will the homebuyer tax credit help?
Forbes: Dont let appearances fool you. Gains in new home sales were likely due to last-minute bargain-hunters scrambling to take advantage of a federal tax credit.
Time for the mortgage industry to get social
Housing Wire
: If you want those satisfied customers referring you to their friends and family, theres no easier way to do that than social media.

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Headlines compiled by Strategic Research.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Real estate news update: 6-09

A daily dose of headlines for real estate agents, mortgage lenders and consumers.

About credits toward closing costs
After a home inspection, its not unusual for a buyer to ask a seller to correct some defect in the home that wasnt obvious when the buyer and seller agreed on the price.
Realtors want Congress to tweak the tax credit timeline
Wall Street Journal: The NAR and its members are asking Congress for flexibility with the June 30 deadline, but it is unclear when�or even if�something would happen.
Borrowers: Beware the second credit report
Smart Money: Your lender might be checking up on you up until the day you close and that letter of approval may not be the last word on your loan.
Tiger Woods opens DC learning centers
Washington Business Journal: The foundation is evaluating a partnership with the D.C. Public School System for more learning centers in the District.
Americas best places to raise a family
Forbes: The top 10 cities for families arent flashy. Most dont draw throngs of tourists or boast enviable night life. But then thats not what most families are looking for.
Area prices climb in May
Washington Examiner
: Mortgage rates holding near record lows, combined with the expiration of the expanded tax credit in April, have helped propel the market in recent months.

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Headlines compiled by Strategic Research.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Real estate news update: 6-07

A daily dose of headlines for real estate agents, mortgage lenders and consumers.

A fresh look at rent vs. buy
Wall Street Journal:
Homeowners need to look first and hardest at present cash flow. If renting is much cheaper than buying, think seriously about it.
Trulia introduces the Rent vs. Buy Index
Trulia: Price-to-rent ratio uses the average list price compared with average rent on 2 bedroom apartments, condos and townhomes listed on

Fed has new set of reasons to stay the course
CNBC: How an increasingly impatient market takes such a timeline is, of course, very uncertain, but low rates can be a stigma as much as they can be stimulative.

Jury still on on tax credit benefit: homebuilder
USA Today: Home sales will decline in coming months now that the government incentive has ended, as high unemployment keeps many buyers on the fence.
Why title companies hate technology
Forbes: Changing the title system involves not just developing new technologies, but also fighting political battles against special interests that profit from the current system.
Is housing already double dipping?
Seeking Alpha
: As the end of Spring buying season coincided with the tax credit the buyers have literally become non-existent in the housing market.

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Headlines compiled by Strategic Research.

Friday, June 4, 2010

To rent or to own, that is the question

The $8,000 federal tax credit for first-time homebuyers expired for most of us a little over a month ago, but� mortgage rates continue to hold at historic lows prompting the question: Is it better to rent or own?

The big picture story tells us conditions are prime for buyers, but the truth is on a regional level the story has many versions. To determine if now is the best time for your unique circumstances, take a look at this Rent. vs. Buy Index produced by Trulia, a real estate website.

The index rates the Top 50 markets in the United States based on population and compares the average cost to rent a 2-bedroom apartment with the average listing price for comparable condos and townhouses. �

Miami, still reeling from the condo crash, is among the Top 3 cities where its better to purchase than rent with a price-to-rent ratio of 8. Baltimore, the District of Columbia and Virginia Beach just barely fell within the realm of purchase, with price-to-rent ratios of 12, 14 and 14, respectively.

The tipping-point, according to Trulia, is a price-to-rent ratio of 15, which may be on the low side, according to some. The Wall Street Journal offers more analysis of the Rent vs. Buy index:

First, homeowners need to look first and hardest at present cashflow. The cult of homeownership made no sense. If renting is much cheaper than buying, think seriously about it.

Second: The markets that have fallen the furthest now look like good places to buy, while those that seem to be safest arent. As the saying goes: There is no such thing as a safe investment, merely one whose risks are not yet apparent. Its a principle that a lot of people forget time and again.

Still not sure is its better to rent or buy? The New York Times recently launched its Rent. vs. Buy calculator, which accounts for down payment, taxes and closing costs as well as rent deposit, renters insurance and of course rent.

Not all title companies hate technology

I came across an article in Forbes today entitled Why Title Companies Hate Technology.

At Federal Title, we love technology We worked pretty hard around here to develop our consumer-friendly automatic quote software and then dove head-first into the world of Web 2.0 when we re-launched the Federal Title website earlier this year, so seeing a headline like that was certainly alarming.

Author Lee Gomes asks if a homebuyer can immediately access his credit score online, then why isnt there an online database where he can access land records and research his own title? Well, Mr. Gomes, if I can access my credit score online, why isnt there a database where I can access and interpret my own X-rays?

Its a conspiracy, according to him, where title companies are deliberately blocking the progress of technology because they stand to profit more from the current, antiquated system. His theory is that title companies have enormous political clout in state capitals, and consequently the consumer is trapped into paying upward of $2,000 in closing costs. It should be noted the bulk of the costs go toward the policy premium, not title services.

Personally, I dont see how a credit score and a title search is an apples-to-apples comparison, as Todd likes to say. A credit score involves no legal interpretation whatsoever. Meanwhile, theres a whole glossary of terms that relate to the title search and settlement process.

Sure the title claims rate may be 1 out of 100 annually, but how does that support the opinion that we no longer need title companies? What Gomes fails to recognize is that issues arise during the title search far more frequently than that more like 1 out of every 3 title searches, according to ALTA.

If potential title clouds appear during 33% of title searches but title claims are only made 1% of the time, thats evidence to me the system is doing its job.

Furthermore, many title companies are embracing technology because they recognize its potential to cut operating costs, a savings thats passed along to the consumer. That was the whole reason Federal Title developed its custom quote software.

The Internet is a great resource for house hunters, but its not a substitute for professional or legal advice. Foregoing legal assistance to save a couple thousand in the homebuying process could actually wind up costing a whole lot more should a claim arise.

It may not be rocket science, but there is more to a title search than the eHow article suggests.

Real estate news update: 6-04

A daily dose of headlines for real estate agents, mortgage lenders and consumers.

District streets that border states create confusion
Washington Post:
Theres a common misconception that the border runs down the middle of three District boundary streets: Western, Eastern and Southern avenues.
Pending home sales up, but will they close in time?
Washington Post: Realtors point to the rush of business, bank delays with short sales and foreclosures and appraisal issues as reasons why closings could take longer then usual.

Showing the benefits of green retrofits
The New York Times: Retrofitting buildings is considered the low-hanging fruit in carbon reduction, but despite its simplicity, it is still not mainstream. iPhone app marks 1 million downloads
Inman News: Since the January 2010 launch, iPhone users have tapped into through the iPhone app on average of two times per day.
Looking for lending
Wall Street Journal: But the tight credit environment is making it difficult for entrepreneurs to secure those loans. The difference between today is the underwriting scrutiny.
Nordstrom Rack to open 3rd DC store
Washington Business Journal
: The Friendship Heights store will be the sixth in the Washington area. The existing stores are in Sterling, Woodbridge and Gaithersburg.

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Headlines compiled by Strategic Research.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Real estate news update: 6-03

A daily dose of headlines for real estate agents, mortgage lenders and consumers.

How to best other homebuyers
Smart Money:
As the housing market continues to struggle, sellers dont yet have the upper hand as they did in the boom years.
More bank-owned homes likely to hit the market
Wall Street Journal: Housing analysts keep trying to count how many foreclosed homes banks and mortgage investors own.

Americas coolest beach homes
CNBC: With summer heat just around the corner, you can bet plenty of people are planning trips to the shore. But whats cooler than actually owning a mansion on the sand?

The hard truth about residential real estate
Zero Hedge: There is a massive structural imbalance in residential real estate that will take at least a decade or more to unwind.
UDC to expand east of the Anacostia?
Washington Post: The slash to the streetcar program wasnt the only big change to the city budget made in the wee hours Tuesday night.
6 new hurdles for home financing
: If youve been in the market for a mortgage recently, youve no doubt noticed how difficult it can be to get approved. Youre not imagining it, and its not just you.

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Headlines compiled by Strategic Research.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Title Report: Is it time to breathe new life into your website?

The overhaul of an existing Web site or launch of a new one is an undertaking that comes with a lengthy checklist of tasks and possibly a substantial price tag.

However, in the world of Web 2.0 technology and mounting expectations from increasingly tech-savvy customers, title companies around the country are exploring the options available to them today. Those options are allowing the smallest to largest businesses to be more easily found through Internet searches and to better serve as a source for everything from fee quotes to consumer-oriented educational tools once their Web sites are discovered.

Nikki Smith, marketing director for Federal Title & Escrow in Washington, D.C., said that when she was hired by the agency in 2009, its Web site was about 10 years old, consisted of entirely static pages and made the company appear outdated.

�Your Web site makes a very strong impression. If your Web site looks stuffy or antiquated, it might make your business look the same way. Your Web site has to make a good first impression,� she said.

Smith began the project of creating a new site for Federal Title and took on the challenge of reaching its heavily consumer-oriented customer base while also providing the tools and information required by lender and Realtor clients.
Targeting desired functionality

Smith said one of the first priorities she addressed was to make the Web site intuitive for users. As a marketing professional from outside the title insurance industry, she said she was able to look at the site with a different set of eyes.

�That gives me a fresh perspective in terms of whether the way something is worded will be clear to the average customer or if it is going to be clear to find on the Web site if you are navigating blindly. You want to make sure that the important material is easy to find as well as to understand,� she said.

Targeting consumers, lenders and Realtors, Federal Title also decided ways in which content could be repackaged to serve those different groups while also figuring out what individual services would best suit them. For example, a lender may seek out the functionality of a fee quote calculator while consumers seek general information about the role of title insurance.

�Its really about trying to identify with the audience and present information in a way they will also identify with,� she said.

At TitleHub Closing Services LLC, which launched in the Needham, Mass., market in January, real estate attorney Richard D. Vetstein said the technology-driven start-up company had several requirements for what it wanted its Web site to offer. Those included integration of his previously launched Massachusetts Real Estate Law Blog, the companys e-closing system and its social media network.

�We wanted a user-friendly platform chock-full of great content for buyers and sellers and Realtors and lenders and to have it be easily accessible,� Vetstein said.

A consistent design

When it came time to design the site, Vetstein said the first priority was to develop a logo, which would serve as the foundation for the rest of the site. �Youre talking about the core concepts you want to get across,� he said.

Going through the process with a graphic designer, TitleHubs executives were asked about color, feel, warmth and mood along with what their expectations were for the layout and functionality. Next, the company was taken through the process of deciding on the placement of menus, how to wave out boxes, the location of navigation and search bars and where the companys e-closing system could be accessed.

In order to gain inspiration, the company looked outside the industry to Apple, Dell and Volkswagen.

Rick Grant, principal at public relations firm RGA-Rick Grant & Associates, said that when he works with companies on Web site design, he advises that they duplicate what is already being used in print marketing materials in order to maintain branding. For example, similar colors and fonts should be incorporated.

However, he warned, a companys branding and logo are most likely not what site visitors are hoping to find and should not be overplayed. Instead, content is key.

The build-out

Smith said that once a design is in place and it is time to build the site, title companies will be faced with the additional decision of whether to have someone in-house maintain the site or if that function should instead be outsourced. At Federal Title, Smith pushed for the company to use its own content management system CMS so that any attorney within the company could easily access the back-end of the site from the office in order to update information or make a quick change.

Federal Title operates today on the Joomla CMS, a platform that Smith worked with previously and preferred. Other common systems include Drupal and Wordpress.

�Any of those will do the same things. Its just a matter of preference. Once we decided which management system we wanted to use, it was a question of contacting a host who would then host the URL for us,� Smith said, adding that she chose a local company in the Washington, D.C., area in order to have the ability to visit in person if needed.

Once the host was in place, Smith was left with building the site through Joomla by uploading information onto the server and creating it one piece at a time. By doing it herself, Smith said Federal Title was able to garner a significant savings, having been quoted by developers anywhere from $2,500 for the creation of a bare-bones site to $50,000 for a high-end site.

�We could have spent $50,000 on a site that wouldnt have put us any farther ahead than the site we ended up creating. To me, that was an accomplishment. We saved money and achieved the same goals,� she said, adding that she instead spent less than $1,000 for outsourced graphics, templates and hosting fees.

TitleHub took a different approach by taking the design and layout created by its graphic designer and giving it to a Web development company to create the site.

�We knew that this was of a sufficient complexity that we needed a Web designer, the only issue was whether we went with an all-in-one that did both design and build-out,� Vetstein said. To get what it wanted, TitleHub decided the right decision was to use the two separate providers.

From that point, the site was created with a fair number of tweaks made along the way. �There were a lot of bugs and kinks to work out, like getting the menus right. And, of course, we had to get them all of the content for the pages, so we were doing a lot of writing,� he said.

Making it work for your company

Grant said its important to build a site with a variety of ways for visitors to gather the information they need. He recommended that companies take a prospect through the regular flow of business via the Web site, from the agents role at first contact to closing. What is presented through that approach, he added, is imperative, since oftentimes potential clients are searching the Web for title agents because something went wrong with a provider they were working with previously.

�When something goes wrong, thats probably the vast majority of times youre going to find a lender looking for what you do. Its even more important at that point that you have a Web site that clearly explains your value proposition, that makes it easy to get in touch with the knowledgeable people at your organization,� Grant said. �Make it easy for them to come on, get set up, get the information they need and give them as much as you can teach them before they even pick up the phone.�

While this process doesnt always have an inexpensive price tag, Vetstein said TitleHub had to weigh the benefits of developing a Web site that fit closely with its own business model and make the investment, which has so far been returned by business pulled in through the site.

�Our platform in terms of marketing and sales and getting Realtors and lenders to do business with us is so Web-focused. Were so high on social media and blogging � its part of our business model. We use technology to make the process better and more efficient for our partners,� he said.

Smith advised that a budget be put in place and, if possible, companies should consider having someone in-house who can tackle the project, reducing the cost and increasing the level of accountability to which a company can hold that individual. There are also many materials available online for those thinking of managing the process on their own. �If people are patient and just take a day to read over the overview before they jump into it, its not that hard at all to do it yourself or to hire someone like me to do it for you,� she said.

Finally, determining if a company Web site is effective should not be left to speculation. Smith recommended the use of Google Analytics, which provides breakdowns of site visits, visitor profiles, top entry and exit pages and a wealth of other data that provides insight on what is and is not working.

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Web site check list

You will need to consider the following factors when redesigning your Web site or launching a new one:

��� * Evaluate your current site to determine what is working and what isnt or decide what functionality you would like to offer in a new site.
��� * Work with an in-house or outsourced designer to formulate how your company brand and logo will be used on the site and establish the overall look and feel.
��� * Decide who will build the site and host it. There are a variety of options to choose from and a number of price ranges, so be sure to do your homework.
��� * Take time to work through the build-out phase, trying different options and filling the site with plenty of audience-specific content.
��� * Keep it fresh and remember the work is never done. Update content through blog posts and track overall performance of the site through Google Analytics.

Are you blogging?

The more regularly Web site content is updated, the more likely it is that potential clients will find a companys site through Google searches. And an essential element to that process is blogging.

�Blogging leaves a signature for you out on the Web somewhere,� said Nikki Smith, marketing director for Federal Title & Escrow in Washington, D.C.

�The work on the Web site is never done. You have to keep it fresh. You have to keep paying attention to it. Thats probably the mistake that a lot of people make, thinking, Okay, the Web site is in place, I can go work on something else. Time passes and the Web site isnt new anymore. Its all stale material. And then Google doesnt care about it. If Google doesnt care about it, nobody else is going to know about it,� she added.

With more regularly updated content, sites begin rising to the top of search results on Google, meaning companies become far more visible than they are without the effort. Smith, however, added that blogs should be hosted by the business site rather than an outside host, such as Googles Blogger, in order to drive Web traffic to the company.

Rick Grant, principal of public relations firm RGA-Rick Grant & Associates, said he is a huge proponent of blogs but also noted some challenges that come with the use of them.

�You have to be serious about keeping it updated. It could look far more stale than an ordinary Web site because there is a date assigned to your post,� he said, adding that if someone within an organization commits to updating it at least three times a week, �The blog is the absolute best platform to have for your Web site, bar none.�

This article first appeared in the Title Report on Monday, May 31 and was written by Jennifer Kovacs.

First-time homebuyer tax credit still on for military personnel

While the Federal Tax credit is a thing of the past for most of us, those serving overseas in the U.S. military, the foreign service and the intelligence community may still be able to claim the $8,000 credit.

Members of the military and certain other federal employees serving outside the U.S. have an extra year to buy a principal residence in the U.S.�and qualify for the credit, according to the Internal Revenue Service. That means qualifying homebuyers have until April 30, 2011 to enter into a sales contract. If the homebuyer meets that first criterion, he or she then has until June 30, 2011 to close the deal.

For more information on the credit, check out the IRS article, First-Time Homebuyer Credit: Members of the Military and Certain Other Federal Employees.