Archive for the ‘World View’ Category

July 2, 2013 a bipartisan group of Senators introduced a bill to remake the role of the federal government in mortgage finance. The bill proposes replacing Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac with a new guarantor, the Federal Mortgage Insurance Corp. The FMIC would offer reinsurance of mortgage securities if private creditors ever reached another crisis in the future.

The legislation would “require private entities to buy mortgages from lenders and issue them to investors as securities,” Reuters reports.
“Private equity would be required to absorb a 10 percent loss of the principal underlying those new mortgage-backed securities if the loans went bad.”

The government took control over Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in 2008 and has spent $187.5 billion in keeping the government sponsored enterprises afloat. Recently, the GSEs have emerged from needing taxpayer bailout funding and have been posting record profits since the housing market has picked up. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac back nearly half of all new U.S. home loans.

“It lessens the footprint of the federal government in housing and winds down Fannie and Freddie,” says Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., one of the lawmakers who introduced the bill. “But at the same time it keeps the housing finance industry in a liquid state.”

The bill is only the first step and it will likely take years before Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are fully wound down, analysts say.
Analysts say that  even if the proposed legislation won the support of the Democrat-led Senate it would still need to gain approval in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives. Many lawmakers in the House have said they favor a fully private system.

The legislation “represents a milestone in the government’s response to the housing crisis as it is the first comprehensive, bipartisan measure to deal with Fannie, Freddie and mortgage finance,” writes Jaret Seiberg, a senior policy analyst at Guggenheim Securities, in a research note.
However, Seiberg was doubtful the legislation would be approved as is.

Senators push bill to scrap mortgage firms Fannie, Freddie,”


SOURCE: Reuters Vivianne Rutkowski REALTOR

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Same-sex couples are significantly more likely to face discrimination in the online rental housing market than heterosexual couples, according to a new study of 50 metro markets released by the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

“This is simply wrong. It is unjust, and we as a country cannot stand for it,” HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan said about the study’s findings.

For the study, HUD testers sent to landlords one e-mail from a heterosexual couple and another e-mail from a gay couple about the availability of a rental unit.

Heterosexual couples were “significantly more likely” to receive an e-mail response than gay male and lesbian inquiries.

“Heterosexual couples were favored over gay male couples in 15.9 percent of tests and over lesbian couples in 15.6 percent of tests,” according to the study.

“Federal housing laws do not prevent discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, but 20 states and Washington D.C. have taken preventative measures to pass laws that prohibit discrimination again LGBT people,” MSNBC reports.



NOTE: REALTORS, members of National Association of REALTORS, are bound by The REALTOR Code of Ethics, Article 12, against discrimination based on sexual orientation.


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The U.S. home ownership rate has fallen to its lowest point since 1995, the Census Bureau reported in April 2013.

The home ownership rate dropped to 65 percent in the first quarter of 2013, down slightly from 65.4 percent a year earlier.

Housing analysts said tight credit conditions, constrained inventories of for-sale homes, and an increase in single-family rental homes have caused the home ownership rate to fall.

Paul Diggle, a property economist for Capital Economics, said his prediction is that home ownership rate would likely fall for the remainder of the year.

The home ownership rate peaked in June 2004 when it stood at 69.2 percent.



SOURCE: Bloomberg News

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Here is an excellent article about wood floors from REALTOR Magazine. I hope you’ll find it helpful:

“Just as with ties and hem lengths, wood flooring styles change. Colors get darker or lighter; planks get narrower or wider; woods with more or less grain show swings in popularity; softer or harder species gain or lose fans; and the wood itself may be older, newer, or even pre-engineered with a top layer or veneer-glued to a substrate to decrease expansion and contraction from moisture.

Here are key categories for consideration:

Solid Plank

This is what some refer to as “real” wood because the wood usually ranges from three-eighths to three-quarters of an inch in total thickness to permit refinishing and sanding. Thicker floors have a thicker wear layer to allow for more frequent refinishing and sanding, so they can withstand decades of use, says architect Julie Hacker of Stuart Cohen and Julie Hacker Architects. It also can be stained, come from different species of tree, and be sold in numerous widths and lengths:

  • Width and length: Designer Steven Gurowitz, owner of Interiors by Steven G., is among those who prefers solid flooring for many installations because of its rich, warm look. Like other design professionals, he’s seeing greater interest in boards wider than the once-standard 2 ¾ to 3 ¾ inches — typically 5 to 6 inches now but even beyond 10 inches. And he’s also seeing corresponding interest in longer lengths, depending on the species. Width and length should be in proportion. “The wider a board gets, the longer the planks need to be, too, and in proportion,” says Chris Sy, vice president with Carlisle Wide Plank Floors. These oversized dimensions reflect the same trend toward bigger stone and ceramic slabs. The downside is greater cost.
  • Palette: Gurowitz and others are also hearing more requests for darker hues among clients in the northeastern United States, while those in the South and West still gravitate toward lighter colors. But Sprigg Lynn, on the board of the National Wood Flooring Association and with Universal Floors, says the hottest trend is toward a gray or driftwood. Handscraped, antique boards that look aged and have texture, sometimes beveled edges, are also become more popular, even in modern interiors, though they may cost much more.
  • Species and price: Depending on the preference of the stain color, Gurowitz favors mostly mahogany, hickory, walnut, oak, and pine boards. Oak may be the industry’s bread and butter because of the ease of staining it and a relatively low price point. A basic 2 ¼-inch red oak might, for instance, run $6.50 a square foot while a 2 ¼-inch red oak that’s rift and quartered might sell for a slightly higher $8.50 a square foot.
  • Maintenance: How much care home owners want to invest in their floors should also factor in their decision. Pine is quite soft and will show more wear than a harder wood like mahogany or walnut, but it’s less expensive. In certain regions such as the South, pine comes in a harder version known as heart pine that’s popular, says Georgia-based designer Mary Lafevers of Inscape Design Studio. Home owners should understand the different choices because they affect how often they need to refinish the wood, which could be every four to five years, says Susan Brunstrum of Sweet Peas Design-Inspired Interior. Also, Sy says that solid planks can be installed over radiant heating, but they demand expert installation.

Engineered Wood

Also referred to as prefabricated wood, this genre has become popular because the top layer or veneer is glued to wood beneath to reduce expansion and contraction that happens with solid boards due to climatic effects, says Sy, whose firm sells both types. He recommends engineered, depending on the amount of humidity. If home owners go with a prefabricated floor, he advises a veneer of at least one-quarter inch. “If it’s too thin, you won’t have enough surface to sand,” he says. And he suggests a thick enough substrate for a stable underlayment that won’t move as moisture levels in a home shift.

His company’s offerings include an 11-ply marine-grade birch. The myth that engineered boards only come prestained is untrue. “They can be bought unfinished,” he says. Engineered boards are also a good choice for home owners planning to age in place, since there are fewer gaps between boards for a stable surface, says Aaron D. Murphy, an architect with ADM Architecture Inc. and a certified Aging in Place specialist with the National Association of Home Builders.

Reclaimed Wood

Typically defined as recycled wood — perhaps from an old barn or factory — reclaimed wood has gained fans because of its aged, imperfect patina and sustainability; you’re reusing something rather than cutting down more trees. Though less plentiful and more expensive because of the time required to locate and renew samples, it offers a solid surface underfoot since it’s from old-growth trees, says Lynn. Some companies have come to specialize in rescuing logs that have been underwater for decades, even a century. West Branch Heritage Timber,for instance, removes “forgotten” native pine and spruce from swamps, cuts them to desired widths and lengths, and lays them atop ½-inch birch to combine the best of engineered and reclaimed. “The advantage is that it can be resanded after wear since it’s thicker than most prefabricated floors, can be laid atop radiant mats, and doesn’t include toxins,” Managing Partner Tom Shafer says. A downside is a higher price of about $12 to $17 a square foot.

Porcelain “Wood”

A new competitor that closely resembles wood, Gurowitz saysporcelain wood offers advantages: indestructibility, varied colors, “graining” that mimics old wood, wide and long lengths, quickness in installation, and no maintenance. “You can spill red wine on it and nothing happens; if there’s a leak in an apartment above, it won’t be destroyed,” he says. Average prices run an affordable $3.50 to $8 a square foot. The biggest downside? It doesn’t feel like wood since it’s colder to the touch, Lynn says.


Bottom line: When home owners are making a choice or comparing floors, they should ask these questions:

1. Do you want engineered or solid-based floors, depending on your home’s conditions?

2. Do you want a floor with more natural character, or less?

3. What board width do you want?

4. How critical is length to you in reducing the overall number of seams?

5. What color range do you want — light, medium, or dark?

6. Do you want more aggressive graining like oak or a mellower grain like walnut?

7. Do you want flooring prefinished or unfinished?

8. How thick is the wear layer in the floor you’re considering, which will affect your ability to refinish it over time?

9. What type of finish are you going to use? Can it be refinished and, if so, how?

10. For wider planks that provide greater stability: Where is the wood coming from, how is it dried, what is its moisture content, and what type of substrate is used in the engineered platform?



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The median home size most highly desired among home shoppers is 2,226 square feet, according to the National Association of Home Builders’ “What Home Buyers Really Want” survey.

The size of home most desired can vary greatly depending on the buyers’ age, race, and ethnicity, the study found.

As buyers’ ages increase, they tend to want less space, the study finds:

  • Buyers younger than 35 said they most desire a home size of 2,494 square feet.
  • Buyers 65 and older, they want a home that is 2,065 square feet.



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The sound of “home makeover” makes some people excited or it makes some people cringe. The idea of spending lots of time and money painting the house, shopping for new furniture, and replacing the carpet is something few people want to do during their free time.

But not every home makeover has to be so exhausting. In fact, there are many small alterations and additions you can make to your home that have big results for very little money and effort. Here are seven simple suggestions:


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Umbrella insurance offers added homeowner liability protection that kicks in after homeowners insurance reaches its coverage limits.

Understand homeowner liability

Liability insurance covers homeowners in the event you get hit with a lawsuit. Some of the liability risks faced by homeowners are more apparent than others. For example, a house guest takes a tumble after slipping on your hardwood floors, or a neighbor’s kid falls off a swing in your backyard. Insurance agents call swimming pools, jungle gyms, and trampolines “attractive nuisances” because they draw children unable to appreciate their dangers.


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American people favor home ownership over renting.

The U.S. home ownership rate continues to remain around 65.5 percent, the U.S. Census Bureau reported in October 2012. The home ownership rate is nearly the same as it was in the second quarter of 2011 at 65.9 percent.


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Here are a few surprising and simple ways to cut your energy bill this winter season.

Put lamps in the corners: Did you know you can switch to a lower wattage bulb in a lamp or lower its dimmer switch and not lose a noticeable amount of light? It’s all about placement. When a lamp is placed in a corner, the light reflects off the adjoining walls, which makes the room lighter and brighter.

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To read Part I

It’s not just which energy efficiency projects you implement at home that will make a dent in your bills — it’s how many.

This is the second part of our Q&A with Suzanne Shelton, president and CEO of Shelton Group, a marketing agency specializing in sustainability and energy efficiency. Shelton Group’s annual Energy Pulse research report tracks consumer attitudes toward energy-related topics. 

HouseLogic: (In Part I) you told us why we’re so disconnected from our home’s energy use. Tell us what we should be doing differently to make our homes more energy efficient.  (more…)

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REPRINTED from HOUSE LOGIC – I hope you’ll find many useful ideas. 

Do you see your energy bills rising even if you’ve implemented up to three projects to save energy? In the first of our two-part Q&A with an expert on consumer attitudes toward energy efficiency, we look at the energy-saving truths many of us ignore. Hint: Replacing windows isn’t your best bet.

Suzanne Shelton is president and CEO of Shelton Group, a marketing agency specializing in sustainability and energy efficiency. Shelton Group’s annual Energy Pulse research report — released last fall — tracks consumer attitudes toward energy-related topics. 

HouseLogic: So our energy bills are going up? 

Suzanne Shelton: Yes, for many of us, even though we may think our energy use is going down.

HL: How come?


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Certain dated design features in a home can really make some home buyers cringe.

Among the items making their list:

1. Popcorn ceilings: The speckled ceilings can attract dirt and be impossible to paint. Plus, if the home was built prior to 1980, the ceiling may contain asbestos and need to be tested by an inspector.

Fix it: Unfortunately, there’s no quick fix for removing popcorn ceilings; it can get messy. It’ll have to be scraped off and the ceiling then will need to be repaired. Plus, you’ll want to have it tested for asbestos before scraping. Home owners will likely want to consider hiring a professional to do this.


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A Home Buyer Poll conducted by TD Bank of more than 1,300 Americans revealed that:

  • 64% of women say home ownership is essential in achieving the American Dream,
  • 52% of men say owning a home is a vital component of achieving the American Dream.


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Money Magazine published its annual “Best Places to Live” list.

In 2012, Carmel, IN, took first place overall on the 100 top places list, with Reston, VA, topping the list locally at No. 7, followed by Centreville, VA, at No. 17. Four Maryland localities were ranked in the top 25.  Ashburn, VA, ranked No. 30 overall and No. 6 on the “Top-Earning Towns” list.


Bethesda, MD, took the top prize for MEDIAN FAMILY INCOME with $184,606.  Ashburn, VA, 6th-place median family income averaged $146,093. The only other area in the region on the income list was Arlington, VA, with $132,580. (more…)

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Owning a home free and clear gives a sense of security and a psychological comfort, although every borrower’s situation is different and the decision should be made individually.

Should you pay off your mortgage early? (more…)

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Automated HVAC Systems

Programmable thermostats can save consumers about $180 per year in energy costs, according to Energy Star.   Automated systems can be set to reduce consumption when residents are out and to create heating and cooling zones in a home—a guest bedroom, for instance, might not always need the same level of heat as the living room.


Water Heaters

Tankless gas water heaters turn on when residents start using hot water and turn off when they’re done, which can reduce water heating costs up to 35 percent annually. Water heaters that have a timer can be programmed to turn off when the home owner is away.



Automatic dimmers will adjust lighting based on the time of day, which is extremely beneficial for exterior lighting.


Blinds & drapes Automated blinds are an eco-savvy development in window treatments. Program shades to close during the hottest part of the day in summer and to let sun in during winter.



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Home remodeling is expected to have its best year since 2006, according to Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies. The biggest focus areas of home owners in remodeling: Mid-size kitchen and bath projects, maintenance improvements, and energy efficiency upgrades. (more…)

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The number of shared households made up 18.7% of all households in the nation in 2010, growing from 17% in spring 2007, according to a U.S. Census Bureau report.

Looking back on the recession, the U.S. Census Bureau finds the number of shared households grew by 11.4% from 2007 to 2010. Meanwhile, total households grew by a modest 1.3%.


The Census Bureau defines a “shared household” as one with an “additional adult” over the age of 18 who is not enrolled in school and is not the cohabitating partner or spouse of the householder.

More than half of the additional adults were under the age of 35, but since the recession, those in the 25 to 35 age demographic accounted for almost half of the rise in people who live with another householder.


The number of these “adult children” living with their parents grew from 1.2 million to 15.8 million in the three years between 2007 and 2010.

Shared households in 2010 accounted for 18.7 % of all households in the country, up from 17% in 2007. A bulk of the increase comes from the number of adult children moving back in with their parents, which grew from 1.2 million to 15.8 million between 2007 and 2010.



SOURCE: U.S. Census Bureau

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Despite rock-bottom mortgage rates in 2012, the cost of getting a loan is on the upswing, thanks to reduced competition among banks and tougher lending requirements. Some analysts say part of the reason behind the increase in fees is the increased cost to lenders of processing loans with more paperwork required nowadays. (more…)

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The majority of Americans don’t fully understand how credit scores are formulated, according to a survey released by the Consumer Federation of America. That gap in credit knowledge can cost them when applying for a mortgage. (more…)

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