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

If you are a frequent CNN viewer, you know well about the political upheaval that has unfolded this past week, from a Republican taking the late Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat in Massachusetts, to the likelihood of health care reform bring shoved “off the table”, to President Obama’s new proposal for stricter rules on banks, in order to minimize risk. All of this is not unrelated to real estate, which this week also saw the effects of politics and legislation.

One such piece of legislation, the Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP), was created to finance mortgage modifications, but we learned this week that it has a success rate of just 1 percent. This small percent is not because homeowners do not want to take advantage of the modifications, but instead because the design of the program is counterintuitive, placing a strain on banks.

One company trying to avoid low success rates and a taxpayer bailout is the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), which this week announced tighter loan requirements, underlying its attempt to make smarter investment decisions. As part of the new rules, borrowers who want to put the minimum down will now be required to have credit scores of at least 580, a relatively low figure when you consider the average credit score of FHA-insured borrowers is 693. The changes from the FHA, a company which insures about 30 percent of new loans, up from 3 percent in 2007, has the potential to enormously affect the housing market as a whole.

In other real estate news, home construction slowed in December—perhaps not surprising as most states were covered with a slick sheet of ice and snow. But, offering a glimmer of hope, building permits rose 10.9 percent in December to the highest in a year, a common sign of improvement, and builders are likely to start construction on 38 percent more single-family houses this year, as compared to 2009. And home builders are not resting on their laurels, as they get creative gathering addresses to contact tenants, participating in rent-with-equity programs, wooing new owners with pet adopt-a-thons, and reminding potential home buyers they could end up with a “pocket full of quarters” because they won’t need them for the Laundromat. Thank you, home builders, for helping us do our job! We should take a page from their creativity book and use it as inspiration! Have you heard of any other clever programs to lure future home buyers? Anything you’re working on now?

As we all know, something else that helps us do our jobs is the tax credit, which will play an essential role in spurring the economy. We are all counting on move-up buyers to be a large customer base this spring under the terms of the expanded tax credit. In reality, though, it may be difficult for this consumer to act. Their window (November through April) is very short – almost too short to begin, find and purchase a home if you weren’t already considering it. Are you seeing an increase in this type of buyer? How do you think they will play into the housing recovery?

In other news, this year might finally be the year of the green home. Among other things, homeowners are looking for energy efficient homes with fewer fireplaces to preserve heat. According to a Burst Media survey, while most people are “aspirationally green,” consumers are willing to pay more for a variety of products that are environmentally friendly and sustainable. Let’s hope this trend translates into home decisions!

If all our blogs on social media have still left you doubtful of its benefits, consider a recent Forrester Research study, released this week, which shows one in every three online Americans update their status on a social networking site at least once a week. Perhaps surprisingly, these “conversationalists,” as they’re called, are probably your target market: 56 percent are female and 70 percent are aged 30 or older. Social networking is not a passing trend; it is quickly becoming a part of our every day life.

And let’s not forget about the big announcement coming from Apple next week. Plenty of implications there for real estate! Does anyone want to get the rumor mill started and speculate?

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