8 Year Later, Still No Private Money; Fannie & Freddie Running on Fumes

It’s been eight years since the sub-prime mortgage shutdown in 2007. Overall, the market seems to be doing fairly well, and while the U.S. economy may still not be firing on all cylinders, it’s certainly pointed in the right direction. But this belies a dirty little secret: the mortgage industry is still backed by the tax payer. There has been no meaningful injection of capital from private markets back into mortgages, and while Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac paid back the treasury department (i.e., us, the taxpayers) a little over a year ago, they’re currently sitting on precious little capital to back any losses on the $5 trillion on their balance sheets.

Homeownership vs. Household Formation

Everyone is familiar with the concept of homeownership, but you may be less familiar with the economic indicator, “household formation” — and it’s something to which you should pay attention if you’re not buying or selling right now, but planning to do in the future. As the Wall Street Journal explains, “When the economy stumbles and joblessness rises, more people tend to move in with family or double up with roommates. When the economy expands, the opposite takes place as people strike out on their own.” That’s household formation. Yesterday, Reuters reported the latest figures on homeownership and household formation. Check out the article for better insight into the future of housing prices, housing starts, and rental rates.

Angie’s List, Craig’s List, …Amazon?

You never want to ignore when Amazon enters a new business: and they just have. If you’re looking for home repair, or any other general labor, Amazon may be the place you go in the future. Amazon Home Services is their new offering, covering over 700 different categories, and already live in 40 states. The Search Engine Journal covers in more detail why Amazon may be the next layer in local services: from their Happiness Guarantee to the ability to order products and services at the same time, it looks like they’re about to give Angie’s List a run for their money.

Interest Rates Staying Low; Rent- Not So Much

With inflation remaining well below their target rate, experts are predicting that this week’s meeting of the Fed will move away from any notion of raising interest rates in June. But while the overall interest rate may be below the point the Fed is targeting, that’s not the case for rent prices. According to the labor department, rent prices were up 3.5% in March from a year earlier. For more detailed financial analysis and explanation, see the original story in the Wall Street Journal. But, in the short term, you can read this news as, it’s still a good time to buy.

Spring Housing Market Stifled By Herd Behavior

A healthy housing market, balanced between buyers and sellers, is considered to be one with about 6 months of inventory. Today, there is just a 4.6 month supply, but at the same time, many homes on the market aren’t moving — they’re going stale (where “stale” is considered anything that’s been on the market longer than a month). According to CNBC  two things are driving this, both artifacts of the housing bubble and bust. First, everyone is more data driven, and data is more widely available. Second, the housing market is now seeing the kind of herd mentality we’re used to seeing in the stock market. Are you missing an opportunity, on either side of the buy–sell equation, because you’re caught up following the herd?

Let Your Watch Find Your Next Home

The Apple Watch has been all the news the last few weeks, and it’s unsurprising, given that smart watch sales are expected to grow from 4.6 million units last year to 28.1 million units this year. What does that have to do with real estate, you ask? Yesterday, Trulia announced they now have a version of their app for the Apple Watch, which extends the functionality of their iPhone app. If the Apple Watch is anywhere near as successful as one would predict, then this trend will only continue, with other real estate location services creating apps both for the Apple Watch and other, Android-based smart watches.

Did Your Home Come with A Maintenance Checklist?

Of course, the title is kind of a joke — it would be more than a little surprising if it had. But wouldn’t it be nice if it had? “A stitch in time saves nine” is a proverb that homeowners would do well to heed, because those proverbial stitches can become quite costly when we’re talking about home maintenance. If you want to keep your home functioning its best, and keep your long-term maintenance costs to a minimum, then a comprehensive maintenance checklist could be quite handy. Thankfully, Amanda Ballin has distilled out just such a list for those items you should consider every spring. And if you want the year long list, she provides a handy link to the comprehensive HUD recommendations.

The Week for Wonks in Mortgage

If you’re the sort of person who loves following the thoughts of a good policy wonk, and you’re interested in the mortgage industry, then this is the big week for you. The annual American Mortgage Conference is taking place this week, in Raleigh, NC. If there were a cabal controlling the mortgage industry, this would be it. Bankers, credit officers, and government policy makers get together to discuss the future of the industry. One of the big topics this year? The 15-year Wealth Builder Loan for new home buyers — a reworking of the original 15-year loan, focused on quicker pay-down of equity.

Have You Started Cleaning?

Spring cleaning is a tried-and-true tradition — but that doesn’t make it any more pleasant. We’re already one month past the Vernal Equinox, and if you haven’t yet started your spring cleaning, you’re probably not alone. Thankfully for all of us who dread this annual task, LifeHacker has put together 10 ways to ease the burden. From using your dishwasher and bathtub to clean things you may never have considered putting in them, to magic tips for removing pet hair and cleaning those hard-to-clean items (think shower heads, ovens).

Tax Deduction and Home Renovation

One of the great benefits of home ownership is the ability to take tax deductions unavailable to those who are renting. And that’s not just limited to your interest payment — you can often get great tax benefits from home improvements. But in order to do so, you need to understand the difference between what the IRS counts as home repairs and home improvements. Generally speaking, repairs, maintenance and upkeep, and even renovations don’t help much. But home improvements might. Don’t Mess With Taxes wrote a pretty good article covering the basics. Of course, as always, you’ll want to consult with your tax advisor before making any specific plans.