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Should You Buy a Home During the Holidays?

Union Tribune San Diego

by Lily Leung

December 1st, 2012

Once Thanksgiving is over, the real estate world starts to wind down for the holidays and it typically reawakens after the Times Square ball drops and resolutions come to life.

But if you’re a potential homebuyer who’s prepared to close in today’s competitive market, you may want to keep shopping while everyone’s waiting for spring, some real estate agents suggest.

That advice may be especially relevant this year for consumers who have repeatedly lost out on deals because of a limited and continually decreasing supply of homes, but remain persistent. Buying intensity typically cools down at the start of fall through early January, which could increase the odds for those with more patience.

Related: Report: We're in the midst of a housing recovery

Home sales have increased from October to November only four times since 1988, when DataQuick began to track home sales and prices locally. In the other years, transactions have fallen from anywhere between 0.2 percent and nearly 26 percent. Home listings have dropped off from 3 percent to 11 percent during those months in the past three years. “During Christmas, people will be focused on the holidays and nothing really happens,” said Ken Pecus, co-founder of San Diego-based Ascent Real Estate and 20-plus-year real estate veteran.

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Upshot of the Foreclosure Backlog

The New York Times

by Lisa Prevost

December 6th, 2012

Foreclosures are taking significantly longer in states where lenders must go through the courts, and the delay may or may not be good for borrowers, depending on their circumstances. But some researchers say that dragging the process out hurts society at large.

About half of the 50 states have judicial foreclosure systems. The housing market crash so bogged down the systems in New York and New Jersey that foreclosures there have routinely dragged on for two or three years; their timelines are among the longest in the country. The national average, which factors in nonjudicial states, is about one year, according to RealtyTrac, which monitors foreclosures nationwide.

The sluggish process has caused a backlog of loans in foreclosure and is slowing the housing market recovery in judicial states, says Michael Fratantoni, the vice president for research and economics at the Mortgage Bankers Association. As of the end of the third quarter, according to the association, 6.6 percent of all loans were in foreclosure in judicial states, compared with 2.4 percent in nonjudicial states.

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Five Things to Know About a Home Before Committing to Buy

Inman News

by Dian Hymer

December 17th, 2012

Your due diligence inspections should include more than hiring a home inspector to look at the home and reviewing a current termite inspection. And your due diligence should start as soon as you have serious interest in a listing.

Making an offer to purchase a home consumes a lot of time and emotional energy. Before your real estate agent or attorney puts pen to paper, find out as much about the property as you can. In particular, you want to know if there's any reason you shouldn't try to buy the house.

Seller disclosure requirements vary from state to state, as does real estate practice and protocol. Find out if there are any seller disclosure statements and presale inspection reports. If there are, ask to see copies before you write an offer.

In some areas, it is standard procedure for listing agents to provide a disclosure package that includes any existing reports and disclosures to interested buyers before they make an offer. In other areas, reports are made available only after the buyer and sellers have negotiated the purchase agreement. Get ahold of as much information as you can about the physical condition of the property as soon as possible.

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Fannie and Freddie Halt Foreclosures for the Holidays

CNN Money

By Les Christie

December 3rd, 2012

Homeowners facing foreclosure just received an early Christmas present: They won't be evicted from their homes over the holidays.

Mortgage giants, Freddie Mac (FMCC, Fortune 500) and Fannie Mae (FNMA, Fortune 500), announced Monday that they will suspend all bank repossessions beginning December 17 and December 19, respectively, and will not resume the evictions until January 2, 2013.

"The holidays are a chance to be with loved ones and we want to relieve some stress at this time of year," said Terry Edwards, Executive Vice President of Credit Portfolio Management, Fannie Mae.

According to Freddie spokesman, Brad German, the suspension will not affect other pre- or post-foreclosure activities, such as the filing notices of default or the scheduling of auction sales. Fannie said in its press release that other legal and administrative proceedings will also continue.

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Factoring in Commuting Costs

The New York Times

By Lisa Prevost

November 22nd, 2012

Mortgage lenders do not figure in a household’s likely commuting costs when weighing loan applications, but a recent study suggests that borrowers of moderate means would be smart to calculate these costs themselves before buying.

The study, published in October by the Center for Housing Policy and the Center for Neighborhood Technology, looked at transportation and housing costs in the 25 largest metropolitan areas. It found that transportation costs rose faster than incomes in every area over the last decade.

That has added to the financial burden shouldered by moderate-income homeowners, defined as households earning 50 to 100 percent of a metropolitan area’s median income. Transportation consumes 30 percent of their income, on average. Add housing costs to that and the combined cost burden rises to 72 percent.

“The impact is larger for moderate-income households,” said Jeffrey Lubell, the executive director of the Center for Housing Policy in Washington, “because everyone needs to get where they need to go and the fixed costs are the same for everyone. The lower you go down the income stream, the more transportation costs loom as a very big expense.”

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Home Prices Show Biggest Jump in 6 Years in October

Los Angeles Times

by Jim Puzzanghera

December 4th, 2012

Home prices increased 6.3% in October from a year earlier, the biggest year-over-year gain since 2006, according to Irvine research firm CoreLogic.

Prices dipped 0.2% in October from September, but such a drop was expected at the end of the home-selling season, the firm said Tuesday. October marked the eighth straight month of year-over-year prices increases and added to recent evidence of growing strength in the housing market. CoreLogic reported Monday that foreclosures were down 17% in October from a year earlier.

"The housing recovery that started earlier in 2012 continues to gain momentum," said Mark Fleming, CoreLogic's chief economist. "The recovery is geographically broad-based with almost all markets experiencing some appreciation." Home prices increased 21.3% in Arizona, the most of any state. California saw a 9% increase. Prices increased from October 2011 in all but five states -- Alabama, Delaware, Illinois, New Jersey and Rhode Island.

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Short Sales Jump Ahead of Tax Hike

CNN Money

by Les Christie

December 6th, 2012

A soon-to-expire tax break for troubled homeowners is helping drive a spurt in "short sales."

During the three months ended Sept. 30, short sales in which homeowners had fallen behind on mortgage payments soared 22% over last year, according to a report released Thursday by online marketing company RealtyTrac. By comparison, short sales by people current on their payments went up 17%.

In a short sale, homeowners sell at a price that is less than what they owe the bank, and the bank agrees to absorb the loss. The bank unloads the house and the homeowner gets out of a mortgage he can't afford. And currently, homeowners don't have to pay federal tax on the unpaid mortgage debt because of a bailout-era law known as the federal Mortgage Debt Forgiveness Act.

But the act expires on Dec. 31 and, unless it is extended, the IRS in January will start treating unpaid mortgage debt as taxable income for many borrowers. The average amount of forgiven debt in a short sale is about $95,000, according to Blomquist. The tax on that could go as high as $33,250, even more if the Bush tax cuts expire.

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How to Stage Your Home to Sell During the Holidays

The Oakland Tribune

by Michelle Jennings Wiebe

December 10th, 2012

Dear Santa,
Please bring us a buyer for our home. It's been staged with holiday TLC. May they bring a huge pile of cash or a nice pre-approval letter.

Thank you,

Stressed-out Home Seller
So, it's that time of year -- the holidays. The time of year that you celebrate, when you shop, decorate, wrap, mail and bake. And, oh wait, you also have to sell your house!

Before you freak out, here are some helpful interiors tips to assist in selling your house quickly, even with the slowdown in house hunting during November and December. The good news is that buyers who are out there are serious and motivated.

Clean and edit
This is the No. 1 priority when selling your home any time of the year. You want your house to show at its absolute best, which means light, bright and squeaky clean. Remove all the counter clutter, stacks of magazines and other trinkets around the house.

Deck the halls
Definitely decorate for the holidays, which makes a home warm, inviting and festive. But "less is more" definitely holds true, as the goal is to have your house appear spacious and open.

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The Automated Home is One Step Closer

CNN Money

by Drian Dumaine

December 10th, 2012

The powerhouse private equity firm Blackstone recently invested in an Provo, Utah company that installs home security systems in an equity deal that valued it at $2 billion. What does Blackstone see in an industry that's not known for being particularly sexy?

It turns out that private company Vivint, which had sales of nearly $400 million in 2012 and is second in residential security only to ADT, is becoming much more than a security firm. CEO Todd Pedersen sees the security business as a way to sell his customers everything from smart thermostats, to lighting control systems to even rooftop solar systems. Says Pedersen, who favors plaid shirts and a baseball cap with “Vivint" scrawled across its front: "We've been an industry that hasn't innovated in 20 years.”

Pedersen aims to fix that. He figures that his 700,000 customers might want more than just security. His home automation system -- which comprises of a touch-sensitive control panel mounted on the wall, sensors, cameras, lighting controls, thermostats and smart phone apps -- can help keep your house safe and save energy at the same time. For example, the system links with the motion detectors of the home security system to tell when you're home and when you're not. When you're not, the heat is turned down and the lights are automatically turned off. Other systems like the Nest thermostat, which was created by former a Apple (AAPL) designer, tries to "learn" when you're home or not based on your past behavior. Pedersen claims his system is more accurate and says on average his customers can save $30 a month in heating, cooling and electric bills.

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