The “B” Word Surfaces, Congress Actually Passes Something, Gondolas and Ugly Houses

Housing Market News

The “B” Word Surfaces, Congress Actually Passes Something, Gondolas and Ugly Houses

Your weekly roundup of the housing market and other fun stuff

Last week we had some football and some job creation and some debating. This week: Janet Yellen speaks, Obama releases his budget, China looks dicey and New Hampshire votes. Finally: What to do with all those extra trees?

Who says Congress can’t get along? The House voted unanimously to pass a bill that improves rental assistance to the poor, elderly and disabled. And it saves money! Well done.

Uh-oh, the “B” word. As in bubble. Fitch Ratings says Bay Area home prices are overvalued by about 16 percent. In fact, homes in most major metros in California, Florida and Texas are “currently overpriced.”

Green gets ugly. Congress is weighing a bill to loosen mortgage credit standards if a house is energy efficient. But if green is worth anything, it should be reflected in the home price, according to the libertarian-leaning Cato Institute. No need to make the mortgage reflect it, too. “Borrowers could easily leave the closing table devoting over half their income to their mortgage,” Cato’s Mark Calabria writes.  

Speaking of ugly. Parasite homes. C’mon, architects, you can do better.

Weather watch: California’s war on drought is only at halftime.

Gondolas swing to the rescue. Oft-gridlocked Washington, D.C, might build a gondola.

Amen! Thirty-three states give tax breaks to developers who rescue old churches (and add them to the tax rolls). Win-win-win.

Are you underwater? If you haven’t refinanced because you think you can’t, think again. Nearly 370,000 homeowners are eligible for low-interest loans even if they have little or no equity. Details on the HARP program are here. (Chicago residents in particular should click that link.) HARP has worked so well that some people are now unHARPing.

Should homeowners pay capital gains taxes? Pay attention. More and more, policymakers and activists are talking about dismantling tax subsidies for homeowners. What do you think?

Wal-Mart closing, Part II. Two weeks ago we alerted you to a Bloomberg story about Wal-Mart pulling up stakes. This week, the Washington Post reports that a big share of those store closings were in communities that could least afford the loss.

Economic roundup: Fewer people reported an increase in income, pushing Fannie Mae’s Home Purchase Sentiment Index down last month. Mortgages were harder to get in January even though rates continue to fall. Job growth was so-so. Are you having trouble getting a loan? Drop me an email with your story.

Bad-guy roundup. HSBC will pay $131 million in fines for foreclosure and mortgage servicing failures.  

Austria has too many forests. So it’s building the world’s tallest wood high-rise. HoHo!

Speaking of trees. They can make your wait at the bus stop shorter. No, seriously.

Save the date. Brookings and Neel Kashkari ponder the financial collapse on Feb. 16, and Redfin & Friends ponder Seattle’s Future on Feb. 24. Tune into On Point today as it ponders #$%! high rents.

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