TEAM EMPOWERMENT MORTGAGE CHATTER: February 28; Fate of Foreclosure Programs; Fewer Purchases in Jan; Real Estate Expert in the Public Eye; RPM’s Jumbo Loans; Questions to ask an appraiser

“If you do not conquer self, you will be conquered by self.” – by Napoleon Hill


Interest rates are… doing ok. Friday trading volume was a little lower than the recent average, and the 10-yr note’s yield closed around 3.42%. Although the trend in rates seems to be higher, it was a good week as the 10-yr’s price improved by about 1.25 and MBS prices improved nearly a point (.125-.250 on the day). In fact, on Friday stocks improved, the dollar rallied, and Treasuries improved – all on one day!

This week we have a full platter of economic news. Today we’ve already had Personal Income and Personal Consumption/Spending (+1.0% and .2%, respectively); later we have the Chicago PMI and Pending Home Sales. Tomorrow is Construction Spending and February’s ISM Manufacturing Index. Wednesday is the ADP number and the Fed’s Beige Book, Thursday is Jobless Claims and some productivity and ISM numbers. And then on Friday we’ll see the latest unemployment data points, with Nonfarm Payrolls expected up about 180k and the Unemployment Rate to move to 9.1% from 9.0%. One can still expect markets to be subject to events in Africa and the Middle East – the situation is still very volatile. Tomorrow and Wednesday Ben Bernanke will give his semi-annual monetary policy report to the Senate Banking Committee and the House Financial Services Committee. The 10-yr is currently unchanged at 3.42%, and MBS prices are also about unchanged.


Fate of Foreclosure Programs Heads to a Vote

Republicans on the House Financial Services Committee said they will push for a vote next Thursday on bills that would end four government programs that are aimed at helping prevent foreclosures.

Among the programs on the chopping block include the Home Affordable Modification program, which was created to help struggling home owners reduce mortgage payments by offering lower interest rates and longer repayment times. The Treasury Department recently acknowledged that HAMP will fall short of meeting its original goal of preventing 3 to 4 million foreclosures; it’s expected to complete 700,000 to 800,000 loan modifications.

Other smaller programs at risk are aimed at refinancing loans, helping unemployed home owners, and aiding state and local governments in buying foreclosed properties in order to sell or rent them.

Committee chairman Rep. Spencer Bachus, R-Ala., says the foreclosure prevention programs haven’t had much impact and, in some cases, actually are doing more harm than good in helping struggling home owners.

The Obama administration argues that killing the programs will hurt home owners.

“The administration remains committed to reaching eligible home owners to give them every opportunity to avoid foreclosure and will continue working to make our programs as effective as possible,” said an Obama administration spokesperson.


Fewer people sign contracts to buy homes in Jan.

WASHINGTON (AP) — Fewer Americans signed contracts to buy homes in January, the latest evidence that the housing market is struggling to rise above depressed levels.

The National Association of Realtors says its index of sales agreements for previously occupied homes fell 2.8 percent last month to a reading of 88.9, the second straight monthly decline.

The reading was higher than the 75.9 reading from June, the low point since the housing bust. But it’s below 100, which is considered a healthy level. The last time it reached that point was in April, the final month people could qualify for a home-buying tax credit.

Sales of previously owned homes fell last year to the lowest level in 13 years. Economists say it will be years before the housing market fully recovers. High unemployment, strict lending standards, and a record number of foreclosures are deterring potential buyers, who fear home prices haven’t reached the bottom.

Contract signings of previously owned homes are usually a good indicator of where the housing market is heading. That’s because there’s usually a one- to two-month lag between a sales contract and a completed deal.

Steven Wood, chief economist for Insight Economics, said the tax credits have pulled home sales on a “rollercoaster ride over the past two years” and that sales have not yet found a steady level.

The Realtors group had reported a modest 2 percent increase in December, which would have marked the fifth such uptick in the previous six months. But the trade association, which began tracking contract signings of homes in 2001, revised its figures to show that signings fell in December from November by nearly 3.2 percent.

Jennifer Lee, senior economist for BMO Capital Markets, said the dismal contract numbers in January is “clearly bad news” for the nation’s housing industry.

“And we can’t blame weather as three of the four regions saw a decline,” she said.

Prices and sales of previously occupied homes have painted a grim picture of that portion of the housing market, which historically accounts for roughly 85 percent of home sales.

Housing prices in all but one of the 20 cities tracked by the Standard & Poor’s/Case Shiller index fell in December from November. Eleven of the markets — stretching from Seattle to Miami — hit their lowest point since the housing bubble burst in 2006 and 2007.

Sales of previously occupied homes rose slightly last month. But the seasonally adjusted annual pace of 5.36 million is still far below the 6 million homes a year needed to maintain a healthy market.


Become a Real Estate Expert in the Public Eye

There’s no better time for real estate pros to position themselves as industry experts. As we recover from twin crises in housing and the general economy, people are anxious to get back into the market as buyers, sellers, and investors. And the media is paying very close attention to housing and commercial sales.

If you combine your market expertise with solid public relations techniques, the news media and the public will seek out your opinion – and, in turn, you will get more leads from the free publicity. You can share your insights through a mix of online commentary, news releases, guest columns, media appearances, social media, and participation in trade groups. This mix will increase your contacts, boost your reputation as an expert in real estate, and convince buyers and sellers that they want to work with you.

Here are five ways to reach a bigger audience and build more business.

Focus Your Expertise

Chances are you’re already fluent in several specific areas of real estate. You may know a little bit about everything, but stressing overall knowledge doesn’t let you stand out from the crowd.

Instead, consider your unique interests and experience. For instance, everyone’s concerned about energy efficiency these days; maybe you have a stronger interest than most in green home trends. Or perhaps you’re attracted to historic homes, or to modern design.

Look at your business and calculate where most of your transactions come from. Is it suburban homes, downtown condos and apartments, retail or industrial space, vacation properties, or something else? What’s the mix of your clients, and where do you have the most success? Are your buyers mostly looking for first homes, or are they established families upgrading their lifestyle? What are the lifestyles of the geographic areas you serve? The appeal and features of location are, of course, part of the dream people are looking to buy, and you should have the “insider” information about the unique and even overlooked benefits of specific locales.

In essence, what is it about real estate that attracts you and gets your juices going? Do a strong and precise evaluation of what you know best, what you wish to know more about, and what will get traction in your area. Then focus on those issues that come out at or near the top of the list.

Blog What You Know

Think of the blog as the 21st century newsletter. It’s a written conversation with the public and potential clients about your thoughts on real estate and what they should know as a seller or buyer. Don’t make it sound like an ad: Your blogs should be conversational in tone and informational in content. The more a reader of your blog learns about real estate, the more readily they will give you a call.

Your blogs should be as specific as practical about the areas of expertise you’ve chosen. A blog on how to buy a new home is too general to stand out in an Internet search. A blog on what to look for when buying historic homes in the Midwest will bring in readers who are really interested in just those types of homes, while identifying you as an expert guide. The more you write on the specifics of your market, the more you attract people with the motivation to enter that market.

Also, be consistent. Writing once a week is a good target, but you don’t have to write long. Breaking up topics into a series of two or three blog posts helps bring people back to your site. Continue this way, and your archive becomes a ready resource for new clients.

On the technical side, use a blog service such as WordPress and Movable Type that automate the formatting, layout, archiving, and indexing of your blogs so you don’t have to be a Web wizard to publish online or be found by search engines. You should focus on the content of your blog, not the technological minutiae.

Get Active in Trade Groups

Serving at a high level for a national trade group such as the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS® brings instant credibility. But there’s a just few positions like that for approximately 1.1 million members.

Still, associations at the local, state, and national level are often practically begging members to be on committees and boards. And don’t think of strictly real estate trade groups, either. If your interest is in environmental building standards, historical preservation, downtown redevelopment, or another area of real estate, you may have many groups in which you could become active. Active involvement in even one group gives news media an identifying phrase to attach to your name that adds to your credibility and brings you ready fodder for news releases and blogs.

Know Your Local Media

Get to know the business editors and reporters of print, broadcast, and online media in your markets. Get to know the features editors, too. What you’re selling is lifestyle, and that’s the features editors’ business. Read or listen to their stories to find out the specific interests and coverage priorities of each of these journalists. Find out their deadlines and how they want news releases delivered. Make sure any news release you send is about real news. Ask why someone outside your real estate office would care about the story. If you can’t find the answer, it’s not news.

Follow these approaches to get noticed by the local press:

Respond to the news. Journalists are always looking to localize state and national stories. If a story affects your market, send a short and timely release with your comments about the local impact. Editors eat that stuff up, providing it isn’t fluff. Any release should be straightforward, in a news article style, with any opinions kept in quotes.

Let the media know you’re writing a blog. Reporters constantly look for news tidbits for columns and story leads, and if your blog is a good source, they’ll pay attention and quote your blog. Online media will link to it.

Send tips to reporters about stories that aren’t about you and your business. If you send a tip about a great new architect in town, the story will be all about the architect, but you’ll be quoted as someone who knows and appreciates good building design. Your credibility in the eyes of journalists and potential clients will go up another notch.

Know Your Legislators and Local Officials

Don’t shun a government official because you don’t like his or her party. All politics is local, and legislators will listen to you on specific issues dealing with real estate. Position yourself as someone who can be called for public hearings, and when you are, send press a release on what you said.

Gaining a reputation as an expert in your field isn’t as much about knowing more than anyone else as it is about making people aware of what you know. It takes work, but the payoff is a reputation that brings more business through the door.

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