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5 reasons real estate hasn't recovered

by Ingrid Miles, CBR, REALTOR®

5 reasons real estate hasn't recovered

What's happening with jobs, shadow inventory?

The housing bubble of 2006 burst in large part due to lax lending practices that led up to the housing recession. The collateral damage from these practices hammered personal fortunes through foreclosures and investment losses.

The devaluation of mortgage-backed securities tied to nonperforming mortgages kick-started the falling dominoes in this global financial crisis.

Now the mortgage lending industry is making up for their slipshod business practices by tightening credit standards to an extreme level. This has partly to do with regulations recently put in place that make one wonder if anyone consulted real estate professionals and economists before they were enacted.

It's commonly agreed that the easy-money lending practices that were in vogue before the downturn in 2006-07 should be left behind. Then, buyers didn't need to qualify to get a stated-income mortgage. Unrealistic teaser-rate mortgages were popular, and 100 percent and 110 percent financing was available.

Buyers had little at risk except their good credit, which for many went up in smoke when home prices stopped rising and they were left upside down in their house because the price they could sell for had dropped lower than the balance owed on their mortgage.

Not only were they precluded from borrowing more, but many who lost jobs fell behind on their mortgage payments and lost their homes in foreclosure.

It's a good practice for lenders to actually qualify buyers before giving them a mortgage. Buyers should make a cash down payment. However, many lenders want down payments equal to 20 percent or 25 percent of the purchase price.

Proposed risk-retention rules that would require lenders have more "skin in the game" when offering loans with less than a 20 percent down payment has met opposition from real estate industry and consumer groups. Regulations should be implemented that protect lenders, buyers and investors while fueling a sustainable recovery in the housing market.

Lenders also need to streamline their underwriting procedures. Underwriting criteria have tightened in the last six months. Buyers are told their loan has been formally approved; based on that, they remove their financing contingency.

Then, it's not uncommon for the lender to ask the buyers for more documentation. This leads to delays in closings. Some deals fall apart and put the buyers' deposit at risk.

HOUSE HUNTING TIP: Slow job growth is holding the housing market back in many areas. On the national level, only 25 percent of the jobs lost in the great recession have been replaced. The recovery has been plagued with joblessness and underemployment. The national unemployment rate currently hovers around 9 percent.

Because the home-sale market is a localized business, the housing recovery will be uneven. Some areas, such as Texas; Washington, D.C.; and the Silicon Valley in the San Francisco Bay Area, have strong local economies and are generating sufficient jobs to actually produce a pickup in local housing markets.

To illustrate how important the local factor is, Silicon Valley has strong job growth even though the unemployment rate in California is about 11 percent.

The additional major factor that's keeping housing down is the backlog of foreclosures. Lenders are in some cases holding houses they've foreclosed on off of the market. This is sometimes referred to as the "shadow inventory."

Lenders have tried to keep from flooding an already challenged real estate market with more inventory, which could cause prices to decline further.

THE CLOSING: However, for a sustainable recovery, these properties need to be sold.

Dian Hymer, a real estate broker with more than 30 years' experience, is a nationally syndicated real estate columnist and author of "House Hunting: The Take-Along Workbook for Home Buyers" and "Starting Out, The Complete Home Buyer's Guide."

Pending Home Sales Slip in July but up Strongly from One Year Ago

by Ingrid Miles, CBR, REALTOR®

Pending Home Sales Slip in July but up Strongly from One Year Ago

Pending home sales declined in July but remain well above year-ago levels, according to the National Association of REALTOES®. All regions show monthly declines except for the West, which continues to show the highest level of sales contract activity.

The Pending Home Sales Index, a forward-looking indicator based on contract signings, slipped 1.3 percent to 89.7 in July from 90.9 in June but is 14.4 percent above the 78.4 index in July 2010. The data reflects contracts but not closings.

Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, says sales activity is underperforming. “The market can easily move into a healthy expansion if mortgage underwriting standards return to normalcy,” he says. “We also need to be mindful that not all sales contracts are leading to closed existing-home sales. Other market frictions need to be addressed, such as assuring that proper comparables are used in appraisal valuations, and streamlining the short sales process.”

The PHSI in the Northeast declined 2.0 percent to 67.5 in July but is 9.7 percent above July 2010. In the Midwest the index slipped 0.8 percent to 79.1 in July but is 18.8 percent above a year ago. Pending home sales in the South fell 4.8 percent to an index of 94.4 but are 9.5 percent higher than July 2010. In the West the index rose 3.6 percent to 110.8 in July and is 20.6 percent above a year ago.

“Looking at pending home sales over a longer span, contract activity over the past three months is fairly comparable to the first three months of the year, and well above the low seen in April,” Yun says. “The underlying factors for improving sales are developing, such as rising rents, record high affordability conditions and investors buying real estate as a future inflation hedge. It is now a question of lending standards and consumers having the necessary confidence to enter the market.”

The National Association of REALTORS®, “The Voice for Real Estate,” is America’s largest trade association, representing 1.1 million members involved in all aspects of the residential and commercial real estate industries.

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IRS's top 10 tax tips for home sellers

by Ingrid Miles, CBR, REALTOR®

IRS's top 10 tax tips for home sellers

Real Estate Tax Talk

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From time to time the IRS releases tips designed to help people with their taxes. Some of these are quite useful.

Last week the agency released "Ten Tax Tips for Individuals Selling Their Home," (IRS Summertime Tax Tip 2011-15).

As a real estate agent or broker, it is not your job to give home sellers tax advice. Indeed, it is advisable not to, since you could end up getting sued if you give wrong advice.

Instead, refer sellers to this list of IRS tips. It's a good starting place for them to begin to understand this often complex area of tax law. You could even print it out and hand it to anyone who asks you about these issues.

Here are the IRS's top 10 tax tips for home sellers:

1. In general, you are eligible to exclude the gain from income if you have owned and used your home as your main home for two years out of the five years prior to the date of its sale.

2. If you have a gain from the sale of your main home, you may be able to exclude up to $250,000 of the gain from your income ($500,000 on a joint return in most cases).

3. You are not eligible for the exclusion if you excluded the gain from the sale of another home during the two-year period prior to the sale of your home.

4. If you can exclude all of the gain, you do not need to report the sale on your tax return.

5. If you have a gain that cannot be excluded, it is taxable. You must report it on Form 1040, Schedule D, Capital Gains and Losses.

6. You cannot deduct a loss from the sale of your main home.

7. Worksheets are included in Publication 523, Selling Your Home, to help you figure the adjusted basis of the home you sold, the gain (or loss) on the sale, and the gain that you can exclude.

8. If you have more than one home, you can exclude a gain only from the sale of your main home. You must pay tax on the gain from selling any other home. If you have two homes and live in both of them, your main home is ordinarily the one you live in most of the time.

9. If you received the first-time homebuyer credit and within 36 months of the date of purchase, the property is no longer used as your principal residence, you are required to repay the credit. Repayment of the full credit is due with the income tax return for the year the home ceased to be your principal residence, using Form 5405, First-Time Homebuyer Credit and Repayment of the Credit. The full amount of the credit is reflected as additional tax on that year's tax return.

10. When you move, be sure to update your address with the IRS and the U.S. Postal Service to ensure you receive refunds or correspondence from the IRS. Use Form 8822, Change of Address, to notify the IRS of your address change.

These tips can be found on the IRS website at http://www.irs.gov/newsroom/content/0,,id=104608,00.html.

Stephen Fishman is a tax expert, attorney and author who has published 18 books, including "Working for Yourself: Law & Taxes for Contractors, Freelancers and Consultants," "Deduct It," "Working as an Independent Contractor," and "Working with Independent Contractors."

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Contact Information

Photo of Ingrid Miles, CBR, SRES, Lead REALTOR Real Estate
Ingrid Miles, CBR, SRES, Lead REALTOR
Keller Williams Realty
11 South Main St & 1 Merrimac St
Topsfield & Newburyport MA 01983 & 01950
Direct: 978-471-9750
978.861.4218
Fax: 978-861-4218

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