Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Featured Article - October 2010: No National Foreclosure Moratorium Needed to Move Housing Market from Crisis to Calm

By Raphael Bostic, Assistant HUD Secretary for Policy Development and Research

When I accepted the invitation to write a guest column for RealtyTrac in mid-summer, I fully expected to be writing about the continuation of months of improvement in the foreclosure environment and how the Administration was preparing for the next phase of our assault on the greatest crisis the U.S. housing market has seen since the Great Depression.

The experiences of the past few months have borne out this expectation, and we have seen real progress in the housing market.  Foreclosure starts are down by nearly 30 percent from the peaks of a year ago.  In the last 18 months, more than 3.3 million families have received restructured mortgages with more affordable monthly payments, which is more than twice as many foreclosures that have been completed during that time.  And a steady stream of foreclosure completions means that the backlog of distressed properties - the source of a gloomy overhang over housing markets across the nation - is starting to settle out.

Unfortunately, the recent revelations about foreclosure processing - that some banks may be repossessing homes of families improperly - have cast new clouds over this optimistic and hopeful landscape, and these warrant commentary.  The Administration clearly understands the threat this represents, both to general recovery efforts and, more importantly, to homeowners across the country who now fear that banks and servicers might be taking shortcuts that cause them to lose their homes.  That is why the Obama Administration is marshalling the resources of a broad coalition of law enforcement, investigatory and regulatory agencies to examine the issue and take appropriate action if wrongdoing is found.

The importance of this is obvious - no one should lose their home as a result of a bank mistake.  Given the problems that have already been found and admitted to by some servicers, the Obama Administration fully supports the voluntary moratoria that are already in place and others should they be deemed necessary.

While voluntary moratoria have been established in many quarters, some have argued for the need to go further and impose a national moratorium to halt all foreclosures by every servicer in every state.  I do not favor this as a pre-emptive action, as it would likely do more harm than good.  Vacant and abandoned homes destroy the value of neighboring properties like almost nothing else, with their negative impacts being more than three times greater than the impacts of occupied homes just entering the foreclosure process.  Halting foreclosures would halt the resolution of these properties, hurting both the neighbors that must endure the continuing negative effects of a foreclosure sign near their homes as well as those who see these properties as opportunities to become homeowners, some for the first time.  And with foreclosed homes making up 25 percent of all home sales in some markets, a full scale moratorium would put a chill on precisely those housing markets that need these distressed properties to be sold and renovated in order to return to stable footing.

So, where does this leave us?  The recently passed Dodd-Frank legislation to reform Wall Street and banking represents a significant improvement to our banking and housing finance systems, and will help enhance stability and market efficiency.

Another way that stability and market efficiency are achieved is through the availability of high quality data and information about the markets themselves.  As you know, the Obama Administration has made data availability and transparency high priorities, with the belief that people make better decisions and judgments when they are armed with good data.  Through this housing crisis, RealtyTrac and other companies like it have been important sources of information about the incidence and prevalence of foreclosures, and have helped spark many conversations about foreclosures and how to heal the market.

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Thursday, November 18, 2010

Making the Most Out of Your Thanksgiving Gathering

Are you hosting Thanksgiving dinner this year? If so, have you thought about making sure your gathering is successful? Unfortunately sometimes when it comes to hosting a gathering such as Thanksgiving, there are many hosts who tend to worry more about their guests than themselves. While it is always important to make sure that your guests are enjoying themselves, why host a gathering if you cannot enjoy it as well?

When it comes to making the most out of your Thanksgiving get together, there are a number of steps you can take to make sure that you, as well as your guests, have a good time. Perhaps, the easiest way to do this is to start planning and preparing early. Early preparation helps make sure everything is in order before your gathering gets underway which likely reduces or eliminates the stress associated with planning such an event. Examining all of your supplies ahead of time will help you notice whether or not something is missing. This eliminates that worry about having to run out for extra supplies just as your gathering is getting underway.

It is a good idea to start preparing your Thanksgiving dinner the day before. Of course there will be some items on the menu, such as the Turkey, that you will want to cook the day of your gathering, but there are other items that you could easily prepare and store in your refrigerator, such as deserts or the cranberry sauce. Limiting the number of tasks you will have to do during your gathering or the day of it will likely make it easier for you and your guests to enjoy the day.

In addition to starting your cooking early, it may also be a good idea to ask your guests to help you. While many hosts do not like to do this as they feel they are intruding, it is quite normal. Each year, a large number of party hosts, in fact, many ask for assistance from their guests. You will also find that many of your family members or close friends would be more than willing to help you with your Thanksgiving dinner whether they come to your home and help you cook or just bring a side dish that they prepared themselves, you will likely benefit from the help. The more help you receive, the less stressed you are likely to be and the less stress you will have, plus the more you should be able to enjoy your get together.

When you invite guests to your Thanksgiving gathering, it may be a good idea to ask them to RSVP either yes or no regarding their invite. This will without a doubt make it easier for you to plan and enjoy your Thanksgiving gathering because by knowing how many guests will attend, you should be able to get everything prepared early and on time. Of course, you will always want to prepare for a few extra guests, but by asking your guests to confirm their presence, your Thanksgiving gathering should be a lot easier to plan and enjoy.

As you can see, there are a number of steps that you can take to make planning and hosting a Thanksgiving get together easy and stress free. As previously mentioned, the less stress you have, the more likely you are to enjoy yourself as well as your guests. Also, whether you ask for assistance from your friends and family or start your preparations early, you should be able to enjoy yourself at your own Thanksgiving gathering.

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