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BlogArizona Category: Taxes & Finances

This page contains all BlogArizona posts related to Taxes & Finances.   Read a specific post by clicking on a title below, or scroll further down the page to read through all posts in this category.
  • BlogArizona.com - An Arizona Real Estate Blog

  • Monday, October 19, 2009

    Extending or Expanding Tax Credit for First Time Homebuyers: Good for the Real Estate Market?

    Knowing that I'm a Realtor® and that much of my income is dependant upon the real estate market, you might be surprised as you read my opinion on extending and/or expanding the Homebuyer Tax Credit.  For starters, I'll say that I believe the free market can almost always solve problems better without government involvement.  Unfortunately, the real estate market has not been allowed to operate without government interference for some time.  I'll even go one step further and say that government interference caused the real estate market bubble and resulting crash, and the same idiots who created the problem should not be trusted to fix it.

    Politicians, who wanted to buy votes by forcing banks to give loans to people who could not afford to pay them back, are the primary cause of the real estate bubble and ultimate crash (which I believe also caused the current recession).  This effort was driven by bleeding-heart liberal Democrats, but many of the so-called conservative Republicans shamefully went along with it for many years and many administrations.  We all know what happens when banks are forced to lend money to people who can't afford to pay it back... eventually they don't pay it back and the banks lose money.  The banks then have to make up these losses somewhere else: either by charging good customers more, or by (the new trend of) getting billions in bailout dollars from taxpayers.  So either way, hard-working taxpayers lose when government forces businesses to make bad bets.

    But instead of recognizing that government is the problem, our brilliant bureaucrats instantly (and without any real thought) decided that more government is the answer.  So they offered $8,000 refundable tax credits (aka govt handouts) aimed at first time homebuyers who otherwise could not afford to buy a house.  HELLO?  These are the people whose loans are currently foreclosing at astronomical rates.  Incentivizing people who can't really afford a house into buying one anyway isn't going to fix the real estate market or the banking situation.  This is what caused the problem!  Repeating the same mistake will only prolong the agony and further stress the financial institutions that finance these properties.  Not to mention the fact that it's inherently unfair to ask some taxpayers to pay higher taxes so the government can give their money to others for a down-payment on a new house they can't really afford.  And then add insult to injury by forcing those same taxpayers to bail out the banks when these loans foreclose, as if it were not foreseeable (right!).

    So like cash-for-clunkers, I believe the First Time Homebuyer Tax Credit was a stupid idea, and therefore extending or expanding it will ultimately do more harm than good to the real estate market.  It may cause a short-lived spike in sales like cash-for-clunkers did (at the cost of future sales, by the way).  But do we really want manic ups and downs in the real estate market, or do we want a slower but sustainable growth?  I think anyone who owns real estate or works in the real estate industry would agree that a slow, sustained growth is better for all of us in the long run.  Some lawmakers and various Realtor® associations are pushing to increase the tax credit to $15,000 and extend it to more than just first time homebuyers, with a higher limit on the buyer's income.  To me, this is just the same dumb idea with longer lines of people taking the handout, and with a much higher price tag.

    So when will the real estate market start to recover if government stops interfering?  It's already started to recover, in Arizona at least.  Keep in mind that national statistics quoted in the news may not be applicable to Arizona's real estate market.  Real estate is local.  Arizona was one of the first and hardest hit areas of the country when the real estate bubble started to burst (for lack of a better term!).  And I think Arizona was also one of the first to start recovering, because Arizona real estate prices were driven down faster and lower than other areas.  And lower prices is what makes buyers start coming out.

    Don't get me wrong, the Arizona real estate market is not all sunshine and lolli-pops.  Not at all.  There are still tough times ahead, but people are buying despite the fact that banks aren't really lending like they should be (I guess it's more profitable for banks not to lend, and suck up taxpayer bailouts instead!).  But if the government just stays out of the way, the market will slowly recover on its own - without unnecessary, artificial government stimulation that really just wastes billions in taxpayer's money.

    Visit Shannon Hubbard's Home Page     Written By: Shannon Hubbard

    Great American Realty, Inc.

    Cell: (480) 695-6672
    Email me

    Posted by Shannon Hubbard, AZ Realtor & Computer Guru on October 19, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (8)

    Is the Phoenix, Arizona Real Estate Market Recovering?

    Here's a snapshot of the current Phoenix metro area real estate market, as I see it:

    At the end of last year, the real estate market in the Phoenix metropolitan area started to pick up...  not because of any government program, but because the free market works.  When prices came down to a certain level, the investors came out to play.  Some of those who were sitting on the sidelines waiting decided it was time.  And people started buying again... not in huge droves like a few years back when people were fighting each other for houses.  But then again, who wants that, really?  (I was taught that slow and steady wins the race!).

    Since then, I've seen a steady flow of buyers into the market, and many banks/real estate agents are even creating bidding wars again.  Of course, these bidding wars are driven by totally fabricated demand.  The bank has a real estate agent list the house for a super low price to attract multiple offers.  Then instead of rejecting any of the offers, they entice all of the propsective buyers into a bidding war and tell them to make their "highest and best offer".  None of the buyers know what the other bids are, so they often times end up bidding higher than they should because they get sucked into the emotion of 'wanting to win the bid' rather than rationally determining what the house is worth without that emotion present.  I always tell buyers to avoid bidding situations, even in a sellers market.  But especially in the current buyer's market... there are still way too many houses available for sale right now to get into a bidding war.  Go find a seller who appreciates your offer more and is willing to negotiate under your terms.  In a buyer's market, the buyer should feel like they're driving the terms of the deal, not the seller.

    But realize that Arizona's residential real estate market still faces significant foreclosures, and this will continue for some time.  Supply is good for buyers and you shouldn't let uncertainty scare you away from the market if you're buying an owner-occupied home that you plan to keep for at least 3-5 years.  However, I would advise inexperienced investors to be very careful buying Arizona real estate right now, especially if you plan to do a short-term flip.  There's money to be made, but you can also lose a bunch so just know what you're doing.

    In my opinion, Arizona's real estate market is recovering, but is not out of the woods yet.  The biggest danger to this recovery (other than government interference) is the commercial real estate market.  I'm not sure why nobody is talking about it, but the commercial market could create huge problems in the coming years, especially if banking problems are not addressed.  Commercial real estate market trends lag the residential market, and I don't think we've even started to see the real impact of the commercial market yet.  Here's why: Many commerical real estate mortgages are 5-year or 10-year interest-only loans with balloon payments due at the end of the term.  So as those commercial loans made at the height of the real estate bubble start to come due (as they currently are), the property owner (probably a small business owner) will have only a few choices.  They either have to pay off the entire balance, which is unlikely for most businesses since they're probably already struggling to make ends meet.  Or they'll have to re-finance the loan, which is also unlikely because 1) property values are much lower now and the property is probably not worth the loan amount anymore, and 2) lending standards are tighter and commercial loans are very hard to get.  So if these loans can't be re-financed or paid off, the only other option is to sell the property before the loan is due.  Many property owners will wait too long, not realizing how long it takes to sell a commercial property in today's market and will consequently face foreclosure.  For this reason, I believe the commercial market could be the next big real estate crisis.

    Of course, I don't have a crystal ball, and nobody really knows for sure what tomorrow will bring.  Everybody with an opinion on the future of the real estate market is really just guessing :)  So my advice is guess carefully, and as always, buyer beware!

    Visit Shannon Hubbard's Home Page     Written By: Shannon Hubbard

    Great American Realty, Inc.

    Cell: (480) 695-6672
    Email me

    Posted by Shannon Hubbard, AZ Realtor & Computer Guru on October 19, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

    Wednesday, July 15, 2009

    Wells Fargo Sues Itself In Mortgage Foreclosure Case

    Okay, just when you thought things in the mortgage industry couldn't get any more insane... Wells Fargo files a lawsuit against itself.  That's right, Wells Fargo Bank NA v. Wells Fargo Bank NA.

    Apparently, the lawsuit is related to a mortgage foreclosure case in Hillsborough County, Florida.  Wells Fargo spokesman, Kevin Waetke reportedly said, "The primary reason is to clear title and ownership interest in a property to prepare it for sale".

    Personally, I've never found it necessary to sue myself in order to prepare a property for sale.  But then I've also never been dumb enough to give both a first mortgage and second mortgage to the same person on the same house either.  So I guess it makes perfect sense if you're a "too big to fail" lending institution like Wells Fargo.  You know, the kind where the right hand doesn't know what the left hand is doing so they end up hiring lawyers to sue themselves, and then have to hire lawyers to defend themselves too.  Who knows, it might be a brilliant legal strategy because even if Wells Fargo loses, they also win!  But then even if they win, they also lose. 

    The biggest losers here are the taxpayers who bailed this company out thinking it was "too big to fail".  Sometimes stupidity needs to be allowed to fail.  If Wells Fargo has nothing better to do with the BILLIONS of taxpayer dollars they received under the recent government bailout (TARP), why don't they just pay it all back?

    Visit Shannon Hubbard's Home Page     Written By: Shannon Hubbard

    Great American Realty, Inc.

    Cell: (480) 695-6672
    Email me

    Posted by Shannon Hubbard, AZ Realtor & Computer Guru on July 15, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (17)

    Sunday, July 05, 2009

    Federal Reserve Keeps Interest Rates Low... No Worries About Inflation

    I'm really sick of looking at this really old post about the Federal Reserve and interest rates so I'm posting an update!  At the end of June, the Federal Reserve met and decided to keep the federal funds rate the same at 0 - 0.25%.  The federal funds rate is the rate banks charge each other.  This was really no big surprise, as most economists expected the Fed to leave the rate alone.  It hasn't changed since December 2008 and isn't likely to increase anytime soon.  The Fed says that the pace of economic contraction is slowing and there's evidence of household spending stabilizing, but inflation does not seem to be a worry to the Fed right now.

    Visit Shannon Hubbard's Home Page     Written By: Shannon Hubbard

    Great American Realty, Inc.

    Cell: (480) 695-6672
    Email me

    Posted by BlogArizona BlogMaster on July 5, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (5)

    Tuesday, August 05, 2008

    Federal Reserve Leaves Interest Rates Alone

    Earlier today, the Federal Reserve decided to keep its main interest rate the same.  The federal funds rate, which is the rate banks charge each other, will remain at 2.0%.  This was really no big surprise, as most economists expected the Fed to leave rates alone during today's meeting.  In fact, even despite fears of inflation, many believe the federal funds rate will remain unchanged for the remainder of the year.  Keep in mind that the federal funds rate does not immediately affect long term mortgage rates, but the Fed's decisions can affect consumer confidence in the real estate market right away.  Wall Street investors sure loved today's news, and the stock markets went crazy!

    Although inflation is becoming a very real worry, the Fed obviously thinks the fear of economic slow down is greater.  I tend to agree (not that any economists care what I think!).  But the housing and mortgage markets really need to improve before the Fed starts raising interest rates again.  Higher rates could really hurt an already slow real estate market.

    Visit Shannon Hubbard's Home Page     Written By: Shannon Hubbard

    Great American Realty, Inc.

    Cell: (480) 695-6672
    Email me

    Posted by Shannon Hubbard, AZ Realtor & Computer Guru on August 5, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (27) | TrackBack

    Saturday, March 08, 2008

    Recent Changes to the FHA Loan Program

    It seems like the FHA Loan program is being looked to by government leaders, consumers, lenders and anyone in between to save the housing market. As a result there has been a lot of changes to this program within the past few months.

    1. FHA Loan Limits Increased: The loan limit has been raised across the entire country. For Maricopa and Pinal County (which includes all the major cities in the Phoenix Metro area) the new limits are as follows:

    • One-Family is now $346,250 (was $263,150) = $83,100 increase
    • Two-Family is now $443,250 (was $296,390) = $146,890 increase
    • Three-Family is now $535,800 (was $360,100) = $175,700 increase
    • Four-Family is now $665,850 (was $415,500) = $250,350 increase

    2. Down payment Assistance Programs: While this is not a direct FHA feature, one of the major reasons to use the FHA program is because it allows third-parties to contribute towards a buyer’s down payment. The FHA loan limit is 97% of the value of the property but it allows the remaining 3% to be gifted from such non-profits as AmeriDream, Nehemiah etc. Recently HUD (which oversees FHA) challenged the legality of such gifts and threatened to shut them down. The down-payment programs fought back and recently won in court.

    3. FHA Secure: This was an initiate from the White House designed to help subprime borrowers refinance into a FHA loan program. It is targeted to those on adjustable rate mortgages facing abrupt increases to their monthly housing payment. The HUD website  has addition information, but here are some high points on how you may qualify for FHASecure:

    1. A history of on-time mortgage payments before the borrower's teaser rates expired and loans reset;
    2. Interest rates must have or will reset between June 2005 and December 2008;
    3. Three percent cash or equity in the home;
    4. A sustained history of employment; and
    5. Sufficient income to make the mortgage payment.

    There are further changes coming to the FHA program. Congress is working on a FHA Modernization bill which will decrease the down payment requirement but add risk based insurance (higher insurance for lower credit scores).

    So, stay tuned, nothing stays the same in today’s mortgage market.

    Shailesh & Aimee Ghimire of CTX Mortgage in Arizona - Your Mortgage Team for Life!Shailesh Ghimire
    CTX Mortgage Co.
    (480) 516-1851 / (480) 516-1819
    Email me

    Posted by Shailesh Ghimire, AZ Mortgage Guru on March 8, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

    Monday, February 25, 2008

    AZ Home Inspector Licensing Board going away?

    Arizona Home Inspectors need your help!

    Arizona's home inspector licensing agency, the AZ Board of Technical Registration (BTR) is inefficient, expensive and allegedly corrupt.  In fact, Arizona lawmakers are thinking about eliminating the BTR altogether (SB1171), and moving home inspector licensing to the Registrar of Contractors (ROC).

    As most of my readers already know, I'm co-owner of Homewerx Home Inspections, one of the Valley's leading home inspection companies since 1999.  As such, I sincerely appreciate your support on this matter.

    While I do NOT support eliminating the BTR, it definitely needs some change - starting at the top with the guy in charge.  It's unfortunate, but AZ home inspector licensing seems to be alot more about money and power and industry organizations than it is about quality home inspections.  There are some real problems and conflicts of interest that have just been ignored at the BTR, and we all know that problems don't just go away when they're ignored...they get worse!  Now, the BTR is so inefficient and lacking accountability that I think the whole idea of protecting homebuyers got lost somewhere along the line.  Home Inspectors don't trust the BTR, consumers kind of laugh at them.

    And the cost of inefficient government regulation is real... look at how much it costs to be a home inspector in Arizona compared to other professionals licensed by the same agency.  And look at how much Arizona home inspectors pay compared to home inspectors in other states.  "Wow" is all I can say!  Home Inspection companies inevitably pass these ridiculous costs onto the homebuying consumer, who is already strapped for cash in case the BTR hasn't heard.  And a home inspection is an out-of-pocket expense - those are the ones that really hurt and will be a deal-breaker alot quicker than borrowed money will.

    So please Help support the 'little guy', and you will help keep Arizona home inspection prices down plus eliminate government incompetence at the same time.

    Thank you again for your support!

    Visit Shannon Hubbard's Home Page     Written By: Shannon Hubbard

    Great American Realty, Inc.

    Cell: (480) 695-6672
    Email me

    Posted by Shannon Hubbard, AZ Realtor & Computer Guru on February 25, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

    Tuesday, January 22, 2008

    Subprime Mortgage Problem Goes Global: Federal Reserve Makes 'Emergency' Interest Rate Cut

    Ben Bernanke and the Federal Reserve made an 'emergency' rate cut to the key interest rate this morning, rather than waiting until their next planned meeting at the end of January.  The .75 basis point reduction in interest rates comes amid global economic fears.  The Asian markets have been down sharply in recent days, and European markets have followed (although they're not down as much as the Asian markets).  The fear is that America's subprime mortgage problem is now damaging the global economy.

    Fortunately, the US stock markets were not trading yesterday due to the Martin Luther King holiday.  But DOW futures were down over 500 points until the announcement of the Fed's rate cut early this morning.  The DOW (futures) has since recovered by a couple hundred points, but it still looks like today will be a bad day for the stock market (which is already down for the year).  I guess we'll see when the markets open in a few minutes.

    Just remember, it's only a paper loss until you cash out!

    Visit Shannon Hubbard's Home Page     Written By: Shannon Hubbard

    Great American Realty, Inc.

    Cell: (480) 695-6672
    Email me

    Posted by Shannon Hubbard, AZ Realtor & Computer Guru on January 22, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack

    Wednesday, December 12, 2007

    Fed Lowers Interest Rates Again - Investors Upset

    The Federal Reserve met yesterday and lowered its benchmark interest rate again, in hopes of alleviating some of the economic pain caused by the current mortgage crisis and slow housing market.  The federal funds rate was lowered by a quarter point (to 4.25%), and the discount rate was also cut by a quarter point (to 4.75%).  The discount rate is the cost of direct loans from the central bank.  The federal funds rate is now at its lowest level since January 2006.

    But apparently the rate cut was not enough to satisfy some Wall Street investors.  Since most stock market investors had hoped for a .50% rate cut, many were disappointed by the .25% rate cut.  As a result, the Dow Jones dropped about 300 points after the rate cut was announced.  Today however, investors seem to have gotten over it since the Dow, NASDAQ and S&P500 are all up quite a bit (so far).

    Perhaps investors are comforted by the fact that the Fed also indicated a willingness to make additional future rate cuts if necessary.  I think Bernanke is just being cautious after seeing his predecessor, Alan Greenspan, criticized for dropping rates too much, too fast.  Besides, the most immediate positive effect of a rate cut is not lower mortgage rates, it's the boost it gives to consumer confidence.  Therefore, maybe making smaller rate cuts more frequently is a better strategy than making bigger rate cuts all at once.  Only time will tell!

    Visit Shannon Hubbard's Home Page     Written By: Shannon Hubbard

    Great American Realty, Inc.

    Cell: (480) 695-6672
    Email me

    Related articles:
    "Subprime Mortgage Interest Rate Freeze..." (Dec 2007)
    "Sub-Prime Mortgage Crisis Causes Fed to Lower Discount Rate" (Aug 2007)
    "Homebuyers & Investors Hope for Interest Rate Decrease"  (Aug 2007)
    "Fed Says No Increase in Interest Rates Today"  (Oct 2006)

    Posted by Shannon Hubbard, AZ Realtor & Computer Guru on December 12, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

    Friday, December 07, 2007

    Subprime Mortgage Interest Rate Freeze - Private Sector Solution or Government Bailout?

    Yesterday, President Bush announced a plan to address the current mortgage crisis.  The plan, which includes a 5-year freeze on certain subprime mortgage interest rates, was a result of the Hope Now Alliance.  According to the President, "Hope Now is an example of government bringing together members of the private sector to voluntarily address a national challenge without government subsidies and without government mandates".

    The freeze is not a government mandate - it's an agreement by many mortgage industry leaders to freeze the interest rates on certain subprime mortgages for 5 years.  The hope is that during those 5 years, real estate sales and values will increase allowing these borrowers to sell or refinance their homes.  Not all mortgage companies are onboard, but many of the major players in the industry are involved.  And not all distressed borrowers will benefit from the program.  In order to qualify, the borrower must meet the following minimum criteria:

    • Home must be owner-occupied
    • Cannot have missed any mortgage payments
    • Loan must have been taken out between 2005 and July 30, 2007
    • Interest rate must be scheduled to increase in 2008 and 2009

    But there's more to the plan than just a subprime rate freeze for a few lucky borrowers.  Bush also announced:

    1. The Federal Reserve intends to tighten lending standards
    2. The federal government is taking regulatory actions "to make the mortgage industry more transparent, reliable and fair."
    3. FHA is launching a program called FHA Secure (announced earlier this year), intended to help borrowers refinance existing loans (ARMs which are going up), and enable FHA to be more flexible in how to offset the refinancing
    4. Congress should modernize FHA to enable government sponsored enterprises such as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to move more liquidity into the market
    5. Congress should temporarily reform the tax code so homeowners do not have to pay taxes on the portions of their mortgages which are forgiven (which is usually treated as taxable income)

    Many criticize the President's plan as a "bailout", but the President insists his plan is a private-sector solution.  I agree this freeze on interest rates is not a government bailout.  And although I'm a real estate agent, I can even applaud the idea of tighter lending standards and a more transparent mortgage industry (but personally I think the 20+ pages of disclosures already given to borrowers is quite sufficient as long as they read them - and adding more disclosures would probably make borrowers even LESS likely to read the fine print). 

    But the FHA Secure program has me totally baffled.  I just don't get how helping (risky) borrowers to refinance loans they couldn't afford to begin with is going to help anybody...except the subprime lenders who get to pass these risky loans off to the taxpayers.  You see, when these loans get refinanced as FHA loans, they'll be government insured and then the taxpayers will eat the losses when these borrowers foreclose.  And many of these borrowers will foreclose eventually - FHA Secure will simply prolong the agony and shift the financial burden of these foreclosures from the subprime lender, to the American taxpayer.  I'm especially confused by the idea that FHA Secure is supposed to "enable FHA to be more flexible in how to offset the refinancing".  So in other words, our government is planning to help these borrowers by using the very same type of "creative financing" that got these borrowers into trouble in the first place?  At least the lenders who originally made these risky loans stood some chance of making a profit.  But what do American taxpayers get in return for guaranteeing these risky loans?  We get nothing, except possibly higher taxes to pay for the bureaucracy and resulting foreclosures.

    As far as "reforming FHA" goes, does that mean changing the rules so the government can guarantee even more risky loans?  I can definitely agree that maximum FHA loan amounts need to be modernized after the recent run up of real estate prices, but I'm very skeptical of other potential FHA reforms.  I also totally disagree that these borrowers who get out of paying part of their mortgage should also get out of paying taxes on the forgiven amounts.  If someone gives you free money, the least you can do is pay the taxes on it.  If nothing else, these borrowers should be paying a fee to the government for negotiating them such a good deal.  And if these borrowers who benefit from the plan are getting tax breaks, who's going to pay for the cost of this mess?  Should the 98.5% of American homeowners who are NOT in foreclosure be the ones to pay?

    Life is not fair, and we have to take the good with the bad.  So I guess the term, "lesser of two evils" comes to mind here.  I don't feel it's the government's responsibility to help homeowners escape loan payments they agreed to pay, nor is it the government's job to help homeowners keep real estate they can't afford.  But I also don't believe in cutting off my nose to spite my face.  If the problem is ignored, the mortgage fallout and its affects on both real estate and Wall Street could put the entire U.S. economy into a recession.  Obviously, then we would all suffer.

    I'm generally leery of any government interference in the free market, but the President has negotiated a voluntary plan with leaders of the mortgage industry who realize it's better to get paid less interest on a loan, than to have the loan foreclose and get nothing at all.  Quite frankly, I haven't heard any better ideas and while I disagree with parts of the plan, I'm optimistic it will help some borrowers.  But more importantly, I think it will improve consumer confidence in both the mortgage industry and the real estate market.

    The President acknowledges "there is no perfect solution" to the mortgage problem, and this problem will require a multi-faceted solution.  I definitely give the President credit for taking action and attempting to resolve the subprime meltdown, especially during this extremely political season when President Bush is being attacked from every direction, for everything he does or says.

    On a lighter note, when announcing this plan, the President accidentally gave out the wrong phone number for the mortgage help hotline - he even repeated the wrong number twice!  You gotta love a guy who has good intentions, but constantly gets tripped up on the little details!  The incorrect phone number announced by the President actually belongs to the Freedom Christian Academy in Texas, who were apparently good sports about the mix up!   Hopefully, BlogArizona readers don't need to call the mortgage help hotline, but just in case, the correct number is 1-888-995-HOPE.

    Visit Shannon Hubbard's Home Page     Written By: Shannon Hubbard

    Great American Realty, Inc.

    Cell: (480) 695-6672
    Email me

    Related article from August 31, 2007: "President Says Reform FHA & Fannie Mae - Is there a Mortgage Bailout Coming?"

    Posted by Shannon Hubbard, AZ Realtor & Computer Guru on December 7, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack


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