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

The warmer temperatures have brought, along with seasonal allergies, a sense of hope and perhaps a flurry of optimism to the housing market. Last month, as home buyers felt a sense of urgency to take advantage of the tax credit and an influx of foreclosed homes lured them to the market, pending home sales shot up 8.2 percent, marking the largest margin increase in more than eight years and making this year’s spring selling season better than last year’s.  Of course, many wonder how the market will react once the tax incentive ceases to exist. More jobs and economic growth, however, could continue to propel a housing recovery and the return to normal household formation rates.

On another upbeat note, some argue that the immense concern in the housing market may be misplaced. Total sales are only 10 percent below their long-run average and foreclosure-mitigation programs are likely to keep inventory from immediately flooding the market. In other good news, a survey from Fannie Mae found that nearly 70 percent of respondents believe putting their savings in a home is a relatively safe investment. We agree!

Over the past few weeks, Washington has been busy creating and expanding multiple programs and initiatives aimed at aiding the housing market. In one such initiative, the Obama administration is revamping its foreclosure prevention efforts by introducing two ways for borrowers to have their loan balances written down: expanding the HAMP program and the FHA “short refinance.” The latter allows borrowers who owe more than their homes are worth to become eligible to refinance into a smaller loan backed by the FHA, according to The Wall Street Journal. Another initiative, the Home Affordability Foreclosure Alternatives Program offers money and other incentives to spur short sales, including $3,000 for moving expenses. Finally, the Neighborhood Stabilization Program relaxes rules to make it easier for communities to spend money on redeveloping abandoned and foreclosed properties. Phew, that is a lot to keep track of!

For some time, many have believed that women make the final decisions when it comes to choosing a home. Well, now builders are embracing this busy demographic as they are start to cater to females by trumpeting more security, less maintenance and walk-in pantries, among other things. What features are the most important to your women clients? What about to men?

Renters are another group getting increased attention in today’s market. In fact, of the top 20 real estate Web sites, seven are now focused on rentals, including Rent.com, Apartments.com and ForRent.com. Joining the parade, Trulia this week launched a comprehensive rental properties search. All of these tools will certainly come in handy for the 30 percent of consumers who are now considering both renting and buying at the same time. One last group worth discussing is the “new affluents,” a demographic with a median age of 45 and a household income of $200,000. These consumers favor brands that represent quality, aesthetics and authenticity. These attributes, along with uniqueness, integrity, design and performance, represent today’s “prestige” for these high-end consumers. If these types of consumers are in your area, take this into consideration!

The technology world was abuzz this week as the iPad has officially been released. Making its debut last weekend, more than 300,000 were sold on the first day and more than one million apps were downloaded. Seems impressive, but questions still remain among brands and analysts on how exactly the device will be used: Video? Email? E-Reader? Regardless, there are a few new iPad apps we can use, including one from Zillow, which allows users to search for sale and rental properties on a large-screen map and flick through photos, and a revamped geolocation service app from Loopt, which is designed to push information to users about nearby events and venues based on their current location, complete with photos of places and things to do. What are your thoughts on the iPad? Do you plan to purchase one?

For those of you looking to advertise locally, McClatchy, in partnership with WebVisible, is introducing an online platform which helps local advertisers raise their visibility in newspaper listings, Web sites, search engines and mobile phones, with a focus on search-engine marketing. This is a pretty important capability, considering a recent estimate says Internet access will grow 30 percent to just over 100 million U.S. households in the next six years. Wow! What a market.

On a fun note, the buzz this week is on Tiger’s return to golf at the Masters. Any predictions on who will take home the green jacket this year? Personally, I think it would look great in our offices – that’s Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate green!

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