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Better lawns and gardens through science

Here’s something to pass on to your clients:

General Tso's soil sampleIf you really want a nice lawn and landscaping, you need to know what kind of soil you have. The Virginia Cooperative Extension, through Virginia Tech, offers soil testing for $10 — and in Henrico County at least, you can get a free voucher to pay for it.

Louisiana Realtors win big, end transfer taxes

Not content with winning battles over real estate transfer taxes every few years, the Louisiana Realtors Association decided to put an end to the possibility once and for all. They decided to try to amend the state constitution to prohibit the taxes, period.

Using funds and assistance from NAR’s My Rearltor® Party initiative (which is designed for just this sort of thing), LRA first convinced both chambers of its legislature to pass the measure, then — per the state’s constitution — turned to consumers to win their support and votes.

They needed 51 percent of voters to approve the “Stay Tax Free” amendment. They got 81 percent.

Update from HUD on FHA loan limits

On November 18, President Obama signed a bill re-establishing higher loan limits on FHA loans. Below are some of the particulars about what-qualifies-for-what, straight from HUD:

FHA buyers blocked from condos

Many condo communities in the state have lost their FHA certification, something buyers and sellers don’t realize until a contract is blocked. So if you have clients that are in any way connected with condo or townhouse communities — owners, managers, potential buyers — they need to be aware of this: FHA revoked its certification of every condo earlier this year. If the management hasn’t reapplied, units can’t be purchased with an FHA loan.

It used to be relatively easy for a condo complex (or “project” in FHA parlance) to get certified by the FHA, meaning the agency would loan money to qualified buyers of units there. But with the burst of the housing bubble, FHA realized that a lot of delinquent and foreclosed properties were condos. So it tightened its rules.

New Freddie Mac requirement looks to combat short-sale fraud

In an effort to cut down on the amount of fraud it’s finding in short sales, Freddie Mac has issued a new set of guidelines.

The problem: Working with an unethical agent, someone makes a low bid on a short sale and the agent doesn’t disclose any competing (higher) bids. When the sale goes through, the new owner turns around and sells the property to one of those higher bidders, pocketing the difference. The process is called “flopping.”

The solution: Making it clear on an affidavit to be signed by all parties that they are liable for any “negligent or intentional misrepresentations, but not those of other signatories to the affidavit.”

VICTORY!

Thanks to everyone who contacted their senators and representatives and who gave to RPAC. It made a difference — a big one.

The House of Representatives voted 292-121 and the Senate voted 70-30 to restore the higher conforming loan limits mortgages backed by the FHA, Fannie, and Freddie.

This is a major victory. It’s a perfect showcase for what Realtors can do when they work together, and it shows why we’re always asking you to invest in RPAC: Those dollars helped make us friends on Capitol Hill, opened doors for us, and gave us a louder voice in the discussion.

And it worked; President Obama who is expected to sign the bill today.

Builders making granny more welcome

Home builders know a good market when they see it, and what they see are “multigenerational” homes — houses designed for families with an extra body or two, e.g., a grandparent.

What makes them a bit different. Could be any number of amenities: A separate entrance, two kitchens, two master bedrooms, a “mother-in-law apartment,” and so on.

Says Bloomberg:

Those features may help lure buyers at a time when new homes are selling at a record slow pace and more Americans are living with extended families, said Megan McGrath, a homebuilding-industry analyst with MKM Partners LP.

U.S. foreclosures way down — or up — in October

According to RealtyTrac, October foreclosures in the country were down 31 percent from last year, but up seven percent from September. So you can spin the story whichever way you like:

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1.8 million already helped by federal housing programs

The latest progress report released by the Treasury Department finds that the government’s three “H” programs — HARP (Home Affordable Refinance Program), HAMP (Home Affordable Modification Program) and HAFA (Home Affordable Foreclosure Alternatives) — have helped about 1,777,000 Americans stay in their homes.

In the case of HAMP, the delinquency rate of mortgage holders taking part in the government program is much lower than that of people using private modification programs.

Read more at DSNews.com.

FHA loans drop 30% in FY2011

Loan originations by the Federal Housing Administration dropped almost 30% for the 2011 fiscal year (which ended September 30). Part of the drop is attributed to lower demand, but lenders also say that tighter lending standards have been a factor.

FHA loans are popular for many first-time buyers because of typically lower credit and down-payment requirements than at a traditional lender. (The FHA loan portfolio has performed very well; it’s one of the few government programs that generates revenue.)