7th May 2010

Breaking News – Charter Schools OK in Georgia

teacher-and-students

Judge Rules State Charter Schools are Constitutional
By D. Aileen Dodd
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
A Fulton County Superior Court judge ruled Friday that charter schools created by the state Georgia Charter Schools Commission are constitutional.
Judge Wendy L. Shoob’s quick decision came after listening closely to arguments presented by seven school districts that had complained money was being taken away from their students and given to charter schools they didn’t approve.

Shoob said Georgia law allows the schools to be approved and funded by the state. “It is not an independent school system,” Shoob said. “The General Assembly has provided sufficient guidelines.

Commission charter schools are not required to be under the control or managed by an elected board of education. The funding is constitutional.”

The news brought Nina Gilbert, head of school for Ivy Prep Academy, to tears. She left the courtroom and waited in a hallway, sobbing with relief. She then shared the good news with nine Ivy Prep students who had been ejected from the courtroom earlier.

“I am so overwhelmed and excited,” Gilbert said as she stood before her students. “This confirms we are doing the right thing and we are doing it for the right reason.
“All of our schools are constitutional. Now we can receive equal funding and our girls deserve that. We are so thankful for Judge Shoob.”

Students also were excited about the news. They huddled together smiling. “I feel extremely happy we finally got accepted to keep going,” Ivy Prep student Atiya Shaikh said.

Kathy Harwood, the head of school for the Charter Conservatory for Liberal Arts & Technology, or CCAT, said she and her students were heading home to Statesboro vindicated.

“It’s the best news I’ve heard in eight years of doing this,” she said. The day didn’t start the way some of the students had hoped, after Shoob ejected 14 of them before the proceedings began. Some of the children had traveled four hours to get a live lesson in social studies and law.

“The judge has a standing order in all cases that kids of school age should be at school, not at the courthouse,” said Bruce Brown, a lawyer representing the charter schools named in the lawsuit, CCAT, Ivy Prep in Norcross and Heron Bay Academy in Locust Grove.
The disappointed students, shoulders slumped, filed out of the courtroom respectfully. Some were angry. Some were frustrated.

The judge apparently didn’t understand the point of the courthouse field trip and the untraditional ways in which charter school students learn, said Zahra Juma, a sixth-grader at Ivy Prep.

“We want to know how court works,” Zahra said as she sat on a bench in the shadow of the courtroom. “We wanted to learn something. We have a right to be in court because we are the main reason why they are here.”

The Ivy Prep students did as they are empowered to do at school when they find fault with the way the government works: They spoke up. The girls sat quietly drafting letters of complaint to the court, checking their spelling and sentence structure. They were not intimidated by the views of the adults.

“Today nine Ivy Prep scholars were denied the opportunity to be present in a hearing concerning our school,” wrote Zoe Nuhfer, a seventh-grader who said she came to cover the trial for the Ivy Vine, the school’s newspaper.

“The judge and bailiff in the court said kids were not permitted in the courtroom. We asked for an exception and it was rejected. Our scholars are upset that we could not support our school. …”

Students from CCAT were also upset. They carpooled four hours on Thursday and slept overnight in Atlanta to get good seats for the hearing. They sat across from the Ivy Prep students waiting for word of what was going on behind the court’s closed doors.

“I love that school,” said Emily Reeves, who waited with her mother and brother. “I grew up there. They are like my family.”

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8th April 2010

New EPA Law Affects Owners & Work Performed In Pre 1978 Buildings

contractors1 This blog covers all metro Atlanta property owners, landlords, builders, realtors, investors, property managers,   contractors, electricians, plumbers and painters who engage in any level of renovation…even turn-key between tenants.

Any renovator, owner, landlord, contractor, painter or other workmen, who disturbs lead paint while working in a pre-1978 home, school or day care center, now must be Lead-Safe Certified. If you’re not, you can face tens of thousands of dollars in fines. Plus, you put the health of yourself, your workers and your children at risk, which could result in lawsuits.

Beginning April 22, 2010, there are new Federal rules regarding how you perform any work that disturbs lead-based paint in homes, child-care facilities and schools built before 1978. You or your workers or contractors, now must be EPA certified and follow specific work practices to prevent lead contamination in pre 1978 properties. And, the EPA defines “disturbing lead” very broadly.

Failure to follow the new rules can result in federal fines of up to $32,500 per day or up to 5 years in federal prison, or both.

The EPA’s new regulations on lead paint take effect on April 22, 2010. The regulations are contained at Title 40, Part 745 of the Code of Federal Regulations. There are some very important highlights:

Effective April 22, no owner, firm, or individual may perform repairs or renovations in “target housing” without certification (40 CFR 745.81). Target housing means any housing constructed prior to 1978, so agents & brokers, landlords, owners and investors working in homes, apartments or condominiums built prior to 1978 should take this seriously.

There are only very limited exceptions, such as where a certified inspector has determined the project is free of lead paint beyond permitted levels (40 CFR 745.82). Private homes with no children or pregnant woman that are owner occupied may also qualify for excluding coverage, but only if the owner signs off that the firm is not required to meet the regulatory practices (40 CFR 745.82).

* Anyone performing renovations has extensive obligations to give disclosure and notice to building occupants in writing prior to renovation, including providing mandating EPA publications (40 CFR 745.84)
* The regulations further include specific work practice standards, so watch out for potential employee personal injury claims and OSHA inspections and violations as well (40 CFR 745.85)
* Even relatively minor work is included in the requirements: generally work disrupting more than 6 square feet of painted area is regulated. (40 CFR 745.80, 745.83) This includes most “turn-key” painting and touch-up unless extremely minor!
* Persons and firms performing work in this arena must provide their customers the EPA’s brochure, Renovate Right (40 CFR 745.81)(note: the publication requirement is already in effect, so if you are not doing that now, you need to start immediately!).

If you or your contractor own or work on pre 1978 properties, make sure you or they have taken and passed an EPA recognized course of instruction to become an “EPA CERTIFIED RENOVATOR”. These are typically one day courses and upon completion you will receive an EPA-approved color photo ID attesting to your certification. These certifications will be good for 5 years according to EPA rules.

For more detailed info on this new law, go to:

http://www.epa.gov/lead/pubs/renovation.htm

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3rd February 2010

Tax Credits Benefit Both First Time Buyers and Current Homeowners

cash-credits 

Closing deadline extended to June 30, repeat buyers offered up to $6,500

 

Lately, I am getting more and more calls and emails each week asking about the details and deadlines for the home buyer tax credits, so I thought it would be helpful to place a new post on both www.RobertWhitfield.com, and my blog, www.TheWhitfieldAdvantage.com to highlight the main points.  First time homebuyers aren’t the only ones who can claim a tax credit when they purchase a home –current homeowners can take advantage of the tax break as well.

Prospective buyers, both first time buyers, and current homeowners now have until June 30, 2010, to close on their purchase and will need to submit documentation such as their closing statement (HUD 1) along with their tax returns to claim the credit. Buyers can also file an amended return and get their cash even faster. Here are the details:

FIRST TIME BUYER CREDIT

Credit: Equal to 10 percent of the home’s purchase price, up to $8,000 (ie. buy a home costing at least $100Kand you get the whole $8000.)

Who Qualifies for First Time Buyer Credit:

·                     Those who haven’t owned property in the last three years

·                     Those with income up to $225,000 for couples and $125,000 for individuals (credit phases out for people who make more than these amounts)

·                     Must be at least 18 years of age to claim credit

·                     Purchase price must be $800,000 or less

Important Deadlines:

·                     Buyer have until April 30, 2010, to enter into an accepted (binding) contract for a home purchase

·                     Buyer have until June 30, 2010, to close on the purchase

CURRENT HOMEOWNER CREDIT

Credit: Equal to 10 percent of the home’s purchase price, up to $6,500

Who Qualifies for Current Homeowner Credit:

·                     Those who have owned and lived in their principal residence for at least five consecutive years during the past eight years

·                     Those with income up to $225,000 for couples and $125,000 for individuals (credit phases out for people who make more than these amounts)

·                     Must be at least 18 years of age to claim credit

·                     Purchase price must be $800,000 or less

Important Deadlines: (Same as for first time buyers)

·                     Buyers have until April 30, 2010, to enter into binding (accepted) contract for a home purchase

·                     Buyers have until June 30, 2010, to close on the purchase

In addition, buyers have another year to take advantage of the higher loan limit for mortgages backed by the Federal Housing Administration, Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac — set at 125 percent of local median home sales prices, up to a maximum of $729,750 in high-cost housing markets. The Atlanta MSA is NOT considered a high-cost market – we are a normal market. The limit in normal markets will remain $271,050 for FHA and $417,000 for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

What this all means is that if you’re even remotely considering buying a home, now’s the time to do it.

Contact Robert Whitfield at 678-585-9691 for more information about these great Buyer Bonuses, as well as other bonuses offered by various metro Atlanta counties for those who qualify, and various Atlanta homebuilder bonuses as well. To learn about our unmatched client level assistance for Buyers – Direct Broker Representation and the Wise Buyer Program, visit: www.TheHomeBuyersRep.com and click Compare Services – this program provides buyers far more benefits, diligent services, and protections than the “industry standard services’ offered by any other agent/realtor in metro Atlanta.

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26th January 2010

Leaving 2009…Whats Ahead In 2010 For Atlanta Real Estate…

2010 versus 2009

Experts see a mixed bag for 2010, which we will detail in this post, however, one thing is unmistakably clear…if you have a reasonably secure job, and ever wanted to buy your first home, or you are a current homeowner who wants to change homes or buy a  move up home, you better get off the fence and go for it soon!  Now is the time to buy!

Some of the strongest incentives ever to purchase a home exist right now: down payment assistance programs like the Georgia Dream Homeownership Program (I can refer a lender trained and experienced with this program – if you use the wrong lender, trust me, it won’t happen), our current historically low interest rates,  a good selection of bargain properties in almost all areas and price ranges, an $8000 tax credit for first time buyers, plus a $6500 tax credit to existing homeowners who are move-up buyers are all awesome. Its still a strong buyers market and these incentives have heated up the market over the last few months, but… the tax credits are set to expire, and the lending rates are expected to move upward after March 2010.

Significant Trends to Expect in 2010:

More Buyers Entering the Market – Home Buyer Tax Credits End April 30, 2010

In 2009, the federal government’s $8,000 tax credit for first-time homebuyers was a huge topic in the real estate world. The National Association of Realtors, estimates 350,000 homes nationwide were sold to first-time buyers who probably wouldn’t have bought a home if not for the credit. The group also reports that about 47 percent of all home sales in 2009 will be to first-time homebuyers, up from 41 percent in 2008.

Hoping to spur the housing market’s recovery, the federal government extended the tax credit — which was set to expire on Nov. 30 — and gave buyers until April 30, 2010, to secure a purchase contract. The credit was also expanded to include existing homeowners, plus buyers with higher incomes. If the original tax credit brought more first-time buyers into the market, the expanded credit should motivate current homeowners to trade up.

Lending Standards Still Tight

According to the Federal Reserve, fewer banks tightened their lending standards in the third quarter of 2009. However, that doesn’t mean lending standards have gotten looser, either. In 2010, banks will continue to keep the subprime mortgage debacle in mind and require extensive documentation and stellar credit from borrowers looking for the best rates. If you plan on applying for a loan in 2010, take steps to get your finances in order as soon as possible and boost your credit score. FHA is still a very good option if your score is at least 580 – you can still get a loan with only 3.5% down payment.

Rising Mortgage Rates

In 2009, the Federal Reserve bought up a massive amount of mortgage-backed securities, keeping mortgage rates at historic lows for much of the year. However, the Fed is scheduled to end those efforts in March 2010, meaning mortgage rates could jump as much as a full percentage point next year. If you’re considering buying a home, now is the time to take advantage of historically low interest rates. If you’re a current homeowner thinking about refinancing, act now.

Stabilizing Home Values — Prices Expected to Rise in Some Places

According to the Standard & Poors/Case-Shiller Home Price Index released in November 2009, U.S. home prices have improved for two quarters in a row. The national index rose 3.1 percent from the second quarter to the third quarter of 2009. Likewise, the National Association of Realtors recently reported that median home prices have risen for two consecutive quarters. NAR’s chief economist, Lawrence Yun, also predicted that home prices will grow 4 percent in 2010. Some local US markets have farther to go than others to acheive stability, but Atlanta has by various respected indexes shown favorable results compared to many metro areas around the country and local market trackers have shown price increase in some areas – its safe to expect Atlanta Home Prices will follow the overall national trend and rise some more in 2010.

Feel free to contact Robert Whitfield at 678-585-9691 for more information on Metro Atlanta and North Georgia Real Estate and Housing Markets.

 

 

 

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26th January 2010

Temporary HUD Waiver Should Speed Sales of Foreclosures

hud-logo

Hud has announced a “temporary waiver” of what is known as thier 90 Day No Flipping Rule. This waiver will allow quick resale of foreclosure and other properties owned less than 90 days by the seller, help excess inventory move off the market, and, keep buyers with FHA insured loans from being **shut out of certain great homebuying opportunities – for example those in which an owner has acquired a home from a deceased family member (estate sale) or an investor who bought an investment property and did a nice rehab and where both simply want to resell the property. In such cases, without the New Hud Waiver, a buyer could not buy either home with an FHA loan if the seller had not owned the property for at least 90 days. FHA buyers lost out because these deals were only available to cash buyers or buyers with conventional loans.

**This actually happened to a first time home buyer client of mine not long ago – we put an offer on a great well rehabbed home that I had evaluated and found to be in great structural and mechanical condition. We got our offer accepted on what we thought was a standard resale property only to find out later that the owner was an investor who had acquired the property as a foreclosure only a few weeks prior. This meant my client would have to resubmit her offer some 75+ days later (offers from FHA borrowers cant be accepted by a seller until they have owned the property for at least 90 days) and store furniture for around 1oo – 120 days and move into a temporary apartment while taking the risk of something not closing over that long period of time. This also meant she would risk loosing out on the other great opportunities we had found if this deal did not go through – she (wisely) decided to let that home go and I crafted a legal termination notice to the sellers agent. Not long after, I found her a better property in a completly different and better area – in her case it was meant to be. In many other cases, however, FHA buyers have simply lost out on great deals because of what I have always considered to be a poorly conceived federal “NO FLIPPING” rule that only hurts honest sellers, investors, and buyers.**

Details of the HUD 90 Day Rule and the New Waiver set to take place starting February 1, 2010 and expected to last about 1 year:

Prior to this waiver going into effect, and with certain exceptions, FHA has for some time prohibited insuring a mortgage on a home owned by the seller for less than 90 days. HUD has approved a waiver to this policy in order to give FHA borrowers access to a broader array of recently foreclosed properties.

“This change in policy is temporary and will have very strict conditions and guidelines to assure that predatory practices are not allowed,” said HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan.

 

The policy change will permit buyers to use FHA-insured financing to purchase HUD-owned properties, bank-owned properties, or properties resold through private sales. This will allow homes to resell as quickly as possible, helping to stabilize real estate prices and to revitalize neighborhoods and communities.

 

This waiver is limited to those sales meeting the following general conditions:

  • All transactions must be arms-length, with no identity of interest between the buyer and seller or other parties participating in the sales transaction.
  • In cases in which the sales price of the property is 20 percent or more above the seller’s acquisition cost, the waiver will only apply if the lender meets specific conditions.
  • The waiver is limited to forward mortgages, and does not apply to the Home Equity Conversion Mortgage (HECM) for purchase program.

Feel free to contact Robert Whitfield at 678-585-9691 for more information on HUD and FHA regulations impacting buyers as well as information about buying REO, Foreclosure, and other properties.

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25th January 2010

Advantage Realtors Joins GA MLS

gamls_jpgAdvantage Realtors joined Georgia MLS on Friday January 22, 2010 and are now members of both of the big main Multiple Listing Services in Georgia – GA MLS & FMLS. This means Advantage Realtors clients and the general public can go to the Advantage Realtors Homescanner Search Engine on any of the company or agent websites and see virtually every home listed by every real estate agent and firm in Georgia. This also means Advantage Realtors listings will now have a much wider exposure to more agents in Georgia working with buyers. To compensate for not being a GAMLS member, Advantage Realtors targeted advertising to various GAMLS agent offices to advertise thier northside listings to those southside offices – sometimes at considerable expense – now its all done automatically and at significantly less cost.

While Advantage agents always had manual access to GAMLS listings for thier clients, visitors to the Advantage Realtors websites did not have this same access – visitors were seeing primarily FMLS listings which cover 20+ counties around Atlanta.  FMLS and GAMLS have always overlapped, however among industry users such as realtors, FMLS has always been associated with listings in In-Town and Downtown Atlanta and the Greater North Atlanta area. GAMLS has always been associated with southside and outerlying counties including most other counties all over GA. While that still largly holds true, both MLS’s have expanded thier listings into each others “historical” coverage area and all over Georgia as well.

Broker/Owner, Robert Whitfield said the move to join GAMLS was a good one and will help every area of the companies business, as more buyers and sellers from outside of the metro Atlanta area seek to do business with the company.

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6th November 2009

New Homebuyer Tax Credit Extension Waiting for Presidents Signature!

obama-signs-stimulus-bill    Both the House and Senate have passed the extension to the Homebuyer Tax Credit and it is on the way to the Presidents desk to be signed, possibly as early as today. The bill will extend the Tax Credit to buyers who have a home under contract as of April 30, 2010, and can close by July 1, 2010. There are significant improvements and additions to the bill, including increased income limits for buyers, and now a Tax Credit of $6500 is available for CURRENT HOMEOWERS as well , who want to purchase a new home – as long a they have lived in thier current Primary Home for at least 5 out of the last 8 years!

Who Qualifies for the Extended Homebuyer Tax Credit?

·     First-time home buyers who purchase homes between the date the bill is signed by President Obama and April 30, 2010.

·     Current home owners purchasing a home between the date the bill is signed by President Obama and April 30, 2010, who have used the home being sold or vacated as a principal residence for five consecutive years within the last eight.

To qualify as a “first-time home buyer” the purchaser or his/her spouse may not have owned a residence during the three years prior to the purchase.

Which Properties Are Eligible?

The Extended Home Buyer Tax Credit may be applied to primary residences, including: single-family homes, condos, townhomes, and co-ops.

How Much Is Available?

The maximum allowable credit for first-time home buyers is $8,000.

The maximum credit allowed for current homeowners is $6,500.

How is a Buyer’s Credit Amount Determined?

Each home buyer’s tax credit is determined by two additional factors:

1.            The price of the home.

2.            The buyer’s income.

Price

Under the Extended Home Buyer Tax Credit, credit may only be awarded on homes purchased for $800,000 or less.

Buyer Income

Under the Extended Home Buyer Tax Credit which is effective on the date the bill is signed by President Obama single buyers with incomes up to $125,000 and married couples with incomes up to $225,000—may receive the maximum tax credit.

These income limits have changed from the 2009 First-Time Home Buyer Tax Credit limits, and will now allow home buyers with higher incomes to qualify for the credit.

If the Buyer(s)’ Income Exceeds These Limits, Can He/She Still Get a Credit?

Yes, some buyers may still be eligible for the credit.

The credit decreases for buyers who earn between $125,000 and $145,000 for single buyers and between $225,000 and $245,000 for home buyers filing jointly. The amount of the tax credit decreases as his/her income approaches the maximum limit. Home buyers earning more than the maximum qualifying income—over $145,000 for singles and over $245,000 for couples are not eligible for the credit.

Can a Buyer Still Qualify If He/She Closes After April 30, 2010?

Under the Extended Home Buyer Tax Credit, as long as a written binding contract to purchase is in effect on April 30, 2010, the purchaser will have until July 1, 2010 to close.

Will the Tax Credit Need to Be Repaid?

No. The buyer does not need to repay the tax credit, if he/she occupies the home for three years or more. However, if the property is sold during this three-year period, the full amount credit will be recouped on the sale.

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21st July 2009

Foreclosures Slow Down, Short-Sales and Deed-in-Lieu Numbers Jump!

just-reduced-graphic

By Robert Whitfield

Update: Foreclosures, Short Sales and Deed in Lieu Actions

As foreclosure moratoriums provided temporary relief to troubled borrowers earlier this year, two other kinds of home forfeiture–short sales and deed-in-lieu-of-foreclosure actions — rose sharply.

In a mortgage study released in early July, federal financial regulators reported a 176% jump in short sales and deed-in-lieu proceedings from the first quarter of 2008 to the first quarter this year.

Short sales and deed-in-lieu actions require borrowers to forfeit their homes to eradicate their mortgage debts, usually for less than the full amount owed. Both these actions require the lenders approval.

Selling a home or handing it back to the bank in this manner does less damage to a borrower’s credit rating than a foreclosure, and is less of a hassle for the lender.

Year-over-year first-quarter short sales jumped from 5,523 to 17,036, according to the report from the Comptroller of the Currency and Office of Thrift Supervision, the U.S. Treasury Department agencies that oversee banks and S&Ls.
Quarterly deed-in-lieu actions (voluntarily giving your home back to the lender to avoid foreclosure action) edged up from 1,065 to 1,158.

Completed foreclosures still far outnumbered the alternate forfeitures. They totaled 78,936, up from 76,548 in the year-earlier quarter but far below the high of 126,266 in the third quarter of 2008.

But things are NOT getting better. In fact, they will probably get worse.

Foreclosure statistics are expected to spike again soon as federal, state, local and lender-imposed moratoriums expire.
The regulators said their report covered 64% of current home loans in the United States. Astonishingly, they noted that most of the short sales involved borrowers with prime loans, not subprime or alt-A mortgages!

Whether you’re an investor, second home buyer, or a first time home buyer, you don’t need a Doctorate in Economics to see this market is a golden opportunity! Now is the time to buy real estate – and because of the new first time buyer $8500 tax credit (which does not have to be paid back) on home purchases through the end of 2009, now may be the best opportunity first time buyers will ever see to get into a home.

We are not just talking about deals – there are literally Steals out there in all price ranges and property categories – if you know where and how to look. This opportunity includes starter homes, residential and commercial investment properties, luxury homes, second and retirement homes in costal and mountain resort areas and everything in between.

Those who can take advantage of the market now will reap great rewards for years to come as they simply ride the tide of rising values over time – and the market will come back and values will rise as it always has after every economic downturn in history.

I can help you buy your next Atlanta Home, Atlanta Luxury Home, Atlanta Investment Property, and now even Costal and Mountain Resort Properties (more in a future blog) – give me a call to learn more!

Robert Whitfield

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19th July 2009

Social Networking Helps Seniors Get Back In The Swing

“Some of us have elder parents who are losing their friends and family. Depression can become a problem in these situations. Social Networking has proven to be a wonderful way to get Seniors back into life! Click on this link to read this article on how Social Networking is giving Seniors a reason to get up in the morning! ” – Robert

Click Here

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3rd November 2008

Despite Market Mess – Mortgages Are Freely Available

WASHINGTON – Credit squeeze, credit freeze, credit system seizures: Everybody knows how severe and painful the global financial breakdown has been – with banks unwilling to lend even to other banks.

But what about mortgages and real estate? Can you still get a home loan with less than a 20 percent or 30 percent down payment? Or with a credit score below 720?
Absolutely. It would be a big stretch to label housing the sunny side of the market at the moment, but there’s a lot more light there than in most other financial sectors. Consider these facts:

• There is no shortage of money available for home mortgages, no freezing of credit to purchase or refinance a house. Why? Because the American mortgage market has been federalized – at least for the time being. More than 90 percent of new loans now are being made through FHA, the Federal Housing Administration insurance program, plus Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. FHA is owned by the federal government, and Fannie and Freddie are operating under federal conservatorship. All three have unfettered access to global capital markets at rock-bottom costs because their borrowings are fully guaranteed by the Treasury.

• Loan terms and credit underwriting standards have been toughened up, but you can still put down 3 percent (3.5 percent after Jan. 1) on an FHA-insured mortgage and 5 percent on certain Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac loan programs with private mortgage insurance. FHA’s credit standards are generous and forgiving – the agency exists to help people with less-than-spotless credit histories. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have raised their credit score requirements over the past year, but buyers and refinancers with scores in the upper 600s can still qualify for loans carrying reasonable rates and fees.

• Despite the global financial system’s quakes, mortgage rates not only remain low by historical standards, but for the week ended October 30, 2008 while 30 year fixed rates ticked up to 6.46% from 6.04% a week earlier – that is still among the lowest rates for a 30 year mortgage in the last 25 years!

• Maximum “jumbo” loan amounts through FHA, Fannie and Freddie in high-cost local markets on the West and East coasts continue to be $729,750 through December. In January, the high-cost maximum is projected to dip to approximately $625,000.

• Home prices – pushed by foreclosures and short sales – have rolled back to 2003 and 2004 levels or lower in many of the former boom markets. As a result, growing numbers of buyers are coming off the sidelines, making offers and writing contracts. The pending home sales index jumped by 7.4 percent based on purchase contracts signed in August, according to the National Association of Realtors. The heaviest increases – pointing to higher closed sales in the coming two to three months – were in California, Florida, Nevada and the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area.

Housing and mortgage leaders say consumer worries about the stock market have obscured positive developments under way in real estate, where pricing pain and downsizing have been facts of the life for the past two and a half years.

David G. Kittle, president and CEO of Principle Wholesale Lending Inc. and incoming chairman of the Mortgage Bankers Association, says “the mortgage market has never shut down” despite the global financial crisis. Money is “clearly available as long as you can qualify for it” with at least a modest down payment and decent credit history.

On the front lines, mortgage company owner Jeff Lipes, president of Family Choice Mortgage near Hartford, Conn., says “I don’t think consumers really know how free-flowing capital is right now in the residential mortgage market. There are no shortages, no breakdowns. People ought to be aware of that.”

Bottom line: Scary as the news has been about stocks and banks, this is not the case for mortgages. Besides shopping at large national lenders, check in with local banks and credit unions who may be originating loans for their own portfolios – not for Fannie, Freddie or FHA. Many of them are healthy, have plenty of cash to lend, and may be surprisingly competitive on terms and rates compared with the big boys.

Contact Robert Whitfield at Advantage Realtors if you need a good source for home equity lines – we have a local North Atlanta lender with more relaxed underwriting guidelines and better rates than the big national banks.

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