President Obama Considering Further Expansion Of HARP Refinance Program

President Obama is considering announcing a major expansion of the HARP 2.1 refinancing program in his upcoming State of the Union speech that would make it possible for underwater borrowers whose loans are not held by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac to refinance at today’s low rates. The Washington Post, citing Treasury Department sources reported this morning that the President is weighing whether to use his executive powers to expand the program to include non-agency loans in the successful refinancing program. Congress refused to approve such an expansion of the program last year.

HARP has helped about 1.8 million homeowners refinance since April 2009. Some 81,600 borrowers used the HARP program to refinance last month alone, according to HUD. Some 11 million homeowners have been unable to refinance under HARP. The HARP program, which has been modified a number of times since its launch four years ago, is limited by that fact that borrowers’ loans must be held by one of the government sponsored enterprises, Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac. As a result, it has not been able to help millions of homeowners.

The plan, if adopted, would likely be aimed at homeowners who have otherwise kept up with their mortgage payments but have been unable to refinance because the loan against their home exceeds its depressed value. Many Republicans in Congress have balked at the idea amid concerns over the cost to taxpayer, according to the Post. In his State of the Union Speech last year the President proposed an expansion of the HARP program that would provide access to refinancing for all non-GSE borrowers who are current on their payments and meet a set of simple criteria. However, the plan required action by Congress, which failed to materialize. The Post reported that Michael A. Stegman, a senior Treasury Department official, said late last month that the administration would “consider non-legislative means at our disposal to help responsible . . . homeowners access these low rates.”

Check today’s mortgage rates now.

Read more at The Niche Report

Hot Features New Home Buyers And Builders Want

As we’ve written before, the housing forecast looks strong for 2013.  There are three strong indicators to look at for new home construction:  Building permits authorized for privately-owned housing units hit 866,000 in October 2012, representing a nearly 30% gain from October 2011.  Housing starts for October 2012 reached 894,000 units, representing a 42% increase from October 2011.  Finally, housing completions in October 2012 came to 772,000; A 33.6% increase over figures from October 2011.  So the 2013 housing outlook is looking strong, and rates are likely to remain low, at least for the first part of the year.  If you’re considering building or buying a new home, you might want to move that time line up!

Click here to get today’s mortgage rates.

The surge in new home building is sure to have home buyers dreaming up all sorts of amenities and features for their new homes.  We posed the question to our Facebook fans and asked a local architect: If you were buying or building a new home, what is one feature you’d really like to see?

Here were the most popular responses:

The old front porch, revisited

Front porches are making a big comeback and there’s one reason; they help create a sense of community that is lacking, especially in suburban areas.  Front porches are also necessary to help new homes blend with older homes when doing “in-fill”, which is adding a home or a few homes to vacant lots in in-town neighborhoods with older homes built in an era where the front porch was the most important part of a home.  The front porch can be more than a place for newspapers to stack up while you’re on vacation.  The perfect front porch is a welcoming extension of the home. A place to drink morning coffee, chat with passing neighbors and meet new ones.

A greener, more efficient place to call home

Energy efficiency has been a hot trend for a few years and hopefully it will continue.  Green efficiency takes many forms, from the ground breaking to the shingles on the roof, there is an environmentally friendly option for nearly every product or process involved in building a home. Builders are adding better insulation in the walls, energy efficient dual layer windows with simulated divided lites and low-energy LED lighting.  As far as finishing touches go, you can even specify low VOC (volatile organic compounds) paints, recycled carpets and renewably sourced hardwoods with water based stains.

Read about the ultimate in green living here, Laura Turner Seydel’s (daughter of Ted Turner) EcoManor, located in Atlanta, Georgia.

The heart of the home

The home kitchen has come a long way from being tucked away in the back corner of the house.  Heck, kitchens used to be completely removed from the house in a separate building.  Given the nature of fires originating in the kitchen, outdoor kitchens would probably make insurers very pleased.  But we digress, the open kitchen has been popular for some time.  Homeowners often entertain from both the kitchen and family room, so they want the kitchen to be open and flow well with that space.  Organization is the key to a well-functioning kitchen, so often you’ll see vegetable prep areas near the main sink, a baking station with a lift-up mixer in the base cabinets, a bar area with a second sink and mini fridge integrated into the island.  The most well organized kitchen might even include a designated charging area/docking station for a whole family’s mobile devices.

 For man years to come

Those buying or building a custom built home are often thinking about designing a home that will serve a family as it grows and changes over the years.  Atlanta architect Adam Stillman of Adam Stillman Residential Design frequently gets two requests from new home builders.  Adam says most young couples specify a second family room in close proximity to the guest bedrooms.  When children are young, this room functions as a playroom and as they grow up, it transitions into a space for weekend guests to relax and enjoy some space without interfering with their hosts.  Adam adds, “Another very common request is for a large study or living room with a full bath attached.  This room is designed to do double duty as a bedroom for elderly parents when they come to stay for an extended period.”  While we’re on bathrooms, our Facebook commenters suggested the following; dual sinks, linen closets in the bathroom, heated floors and even a urinal.

 Strange overtones

If all of these new home features seem ordinary to you, check out a couple that are a little more off the wall.  Architect Adam Stillman says there is a growing trend of new home builders asking for vaults to be built under their concrete front porches.  These vaults are accessible through the basement and have concrete walls and ceilings.  What they’re for is anyone’s guess.  Uses range from eyebrow raising safe-rooms to more mundane wine and fur storage spaces.

For those who love their upholstery and carpets as much as they love their dogs, the solution is a designated dog washing station in the garage or mudroom.  If you have a dog, you know the only thing worse than him shaking water all over you and your bathroom after a bath is when he comes bounding in with excitement after playing in the mud and leaves a trail of paw prints all over the house.

What’s In Store For The Housing Market In 2013?

After years of declining property values, foreclosures and tightened lending guidelines the housing market picked up some steam in 2012.  Historically low interest rates led to a wave of refinances and new home purchases, values increased slightly and new home construction picked up marginally. Trulia’s “Housing Barometer” for October showed that the housing market was 47% back to normal.

Rock Bottom

If you were hoping values had hit rock bottom, the answer is likely “yes”. All major housing indexes show both asking and sales prices rising consistently over 2012.  Home values were crippled by the surplus inventory created by the housing boom.  An increase in lending and low interest rates fueled purchases of this excess inventory, causing values to rise. With interest rates forecasted to remain low in 2013, the trend of increasing values should continue.  New construction in 2011 came in at just over 600,000 units and this year 750,000 new units were build (by comparison, at the peak of construction in 2005 there were 2.5 million new units constructed).  Forbes Magazine predicts that 2013 will see about 1,000,000 units produced.  Finally, as values begin rising, more borrowers will get their heads above water again.  This gain in equity will help fuel the renovation market and benefit retailers like Atlanta’s Home Depot.

The Elimination of the Mortgage Interest Deduction?

One thing that both some Democrats and Republicans are considering is the elimination, or at a very least a cut of, the mortgage interest deduction.  This deduction costs the federal government more than $100 billion dollars in tax revenue annually, an amount that would surely help narrow the federal deficit, even just a little.  The elimination or cut in mortgage interest deduction could be a wash to the homeowners who have refinanced under the governments expanded refinance programs.  Their financial situations have likely improved as a result of their refinance, but does this lessen the sting?  A change in the mortgage interest deduction must be carefully considered because any reduction or elimination will make home buying more costly, thus, you guessed it, reducing home values.

Foreclosures and Delinquencies

Homes in foreclosure on the market will remain elevated but banks are unlikely to flood the market with their inventory, as this would force prices lower across the board.  Mortgage delinquencies are also expected to continue to remain high, but the continued loan and principal modification programs and short sales will prevent these from becoming foreclosures.

Odds Are…

Americans are scrambling to purchase tickets for tonights Powerball drawing as the jackpot surpasses a record breaking $500,000,000.  Chuck Strutt, executive director of Multi-State Lottery Association, predicts there’s a 60 percent chance there will be at least one winner drawn tonight, as the jackpot has rolled over a staggering 16 times without anyone striking it really rich. People are buzzing about what they would do with their winnings. The first step most would take is to pay off their mortgages and their immediate family’s mortgages. But before you go and spend all that money in your head on Madonna’s Upper West Side pad, consider the following: The odds of winning the big prize tonight is 1 in 175,000,000.

You’re more likely to have one, or in some cases more than one, of the following happen to you:

  • Death by vending machine – 1 in 112,000,000
  • Be declared a saint – 1 in 20,000,000
  • Pick a perfect NCAA Bracket – 1 in 13,460,000
  • Birth identical quadruplets – 1 in 13,000,000
  • Become an astronaut – 1 in 12,100,100
  • Be elected president – 1 in 10,000,000
  • Die from a bee sting – 1 in 6,100,000
  • Getting struck by lightning – 1 in 1,000,000
  • Being dealt a royal flush in the first hand – 1 in 649,740
  • Finding a four leaf clover – 1 in 10,000
  • Losing an arm or leg to a chainsaw – 1 in 4,464

In short, odds are that someone will win the lottery, but the odds are it won’t be you. On the bright side, you’re far more likely to wake-up a multi-millionaire than you are to have a meteor land on your house, at 1 in 182,138,880,000,000…roughly.

How To Buy A Short Sale Home

Low interest rates have home sales really picking up steam lately, but a depressed economy and underwater mortgages have left many struggling homeowners with little option other than a short sale.  A short sale is the sale of a property in which the proceeds from the sale fall short of the balance owed to the lienholder of the property.  Both banks and property owners may prefer a short sale over a foreclosure because it mitigates additional costs incurred as a result of foreclosure proceedings.

Short sale homes are typically maintained better than a foreclosure because they may not be vacant or have had appliances and fixtures removed from the home. However, there are some costs related to this process, such as insurance that must be pair or repairs due to a lack of regular maintenance that wasn’t kept up by the previous owner.

If you’re pursuing a short sale to get a good deal, be aware that a closing in 30-45 days will be very unlikely. Sometimes this process can take 3-4 months, or even longer.  Do your research. Have your agent check public records to find out whether a foreclosure notice has been filed, this can help you determine how much to offer.  Finding out whether there are one or two loans on the property.  If the first mortgage is for $160,000 and the second is for $40,000, offering $160,000 leaves no room for the two lenders to come to an agreement on who gets what.

Sit down with your agent and write an offer to the seller that is contingent upon the lender’s acceptance. If the seller agrees to your offer, it is then submitted to the original lender.  Give the lender an appropriate timeframe in which to respond (2-3 months), after which, the offer is automatically cancelled.  Reserve the right to conduct a home inspection, but be aware that the lender will not offer to pay for anything that a seller typically pays for.  You are purchasing a property “as is”.

Making a short sale purchase work for you boils down to your bottom line.  You’re buying a property at substantial savings, but it will take longer than a traditional purchase, and that’s only IF the lender is willing to negotiate a short sale.  Happy Home Hunting!