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June 29, 2011

REALTORS® Support Legislation to Make FHA, GSE Loan Limits Permanent  

A bill filed in the U.S. House of Representatives to make permanent the current loan limits for FHA and the nation’s two government-sponsored enterprises (GSEs), Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, is drawing strong support from the REALTOR® organization. The loan limits, which were last increased to their current levels in 2009, are scheduled to return to statutory limits on October 1, 2011. If that occurs, the resulting reduction in mortgage liquidity will increase costs to home buyers and leave many credit-worthy borrowers without access to affordable financing. That’s why the National Association of REALTORS® is urging passage of H.R. 1754 and asking all members to participate in a new Legislative Call-to-Action issued this past week by sending a pre-drafted letter to their elected federal lawmakers in Washington.

Without passage of this legislation, the new limits will be lowered to 115% of the local area median home price (currently they are set at 125% of the local median home price) and capped at $625,500 nationally. In high-cost markets like metropolitan Boston the impact is likely to be even greater, with the ceiling on FHA, Fannie and Freddie loan limits capped at $465,750, which is down from the current loan ceiling of $523,750 in place in eastern Massachusetts (Essex, Middlesex, Norfolk, Plymouth and Suffolk counties.) Nationwide, 669 counties in 42 state and territories would be negatively impacted by the pending loan limit change due to take place at the end of September, according to data published by HUD and the Federal Housing Finance Agency. With the current lack of private investment in the housing market, FHA and GSE mortgages constitute the majority of home loans available today, making it particularly critical that the current loan limits be extended, assert NAR officials. To help communicate this message to Congress, we ask that you please respond to NAR’s Legislative Call-for-Action if you have not yet done so.

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Take the GBAR Membership Survey - You Could Win an iPad 2 or Free Local Dues

In an effort to measure your awareness and attitudes about the Greater Boston Association of REALTORS® and the member benefits and service we provide, we invite all members to participate in the membership survey currently being conducted by the Loyalty Research Center. This survey, which is modeled after a similar one conducted three years ago that provided baseline member satisfaction results, will be used to revise our association’s strategic plan, implement the annual budget, and prioritize the delivery of new and enhanced programs over the next three years.

The larger the response rate, the more substantial and meaningful the feedback we receive will be, so we encourage you to find the time to complete the survey. You can benefit from your own participation in the survey as well, that’s because every member who completes the survey in its entirety by July 4 will be entered into a drawing for one of three prizes, which include an iPAD 2, a waiver of local REALTOR® dues for 2012 (a $200 value), and $100 in pre-paid gas cards.

All members should have received an e-mail announcement about the 2011 GBAR Membership Survey on June 20 as well as a reminder notice on June 27 via “GBAR Communications.” If you did not receive this notice, please check your e-mail spam filter or contact kspillson@loyaltyresearch.com.

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REALTORS®, Federal Lawmakers Urge Regulators to Reconsider QRM Proposal

The National Association of REALTORS®, along with 48 U.S Senators and 282 members of the U.S. House of Representatives (including Bay State Congressmen Michael Capuano (D-Somerville), Barney Frank (D-Newton), Stephen Lynch (D-Boston), Edward Markey (D-Malden) and U.S. Senators Scott Brown and John Kerry), have recently submitted comments or signed onto letters expressing opposition to a proposal to impose a 20 percent down payment requirement and strict debt-to-income ratio requirements on any loans broadly defined as a qualified residential mortgage (QRM). A QRM refers to safe, well-underwritten mortgages that would be exempt from the risk retention provisions of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform & Consumer Protection Act, which require lenders to retain 5 percent of value of the loans they securitize on their books as a means to promote responsible lending practices.

The three authors of the QRM section of the Dodd-Frank Act – Senators Mary Landrieu (D-LA.), Johnny Isakson (R-GA.), and Kay Hagan (D-N.C.) – have said the proposed QRM rule is “extreme” and contradictory to congressional intent, and last week called upon the six federal agencies (the Federal Housing Finance Agency, Federal Reserve Board, FDIC, HUD, Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, and Securities & Exchange Commission) that drafted the rule to reconsider the unnecessarily high down payment requirement. Notably, the Dodd-Frank measure made no reference to down payments, but rather instructed regulators to create a QRM standard using criteria such as loan structures (i.e. no balloon, interest-only or negative amortization loans), full documentation and verification of a borrower’s ability to repay, and credit enhancements (i.e. private mortgage insurance.)

NAR, in its comments to regulators, notes that weak underwriting and toxic loans have been the main cause of mortgage defaults, not well-written mortgages with affordable down payments. “As written, the proposed QRM rule . . . makes home ownership more expensive for millions of responsible consumers and jeopardizes the fragile housing recovery,” said NAR President Ron Phipps in prepared remarks.

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Joint GBAR, MAR Response to Op-ed Column: Homeownership Matters

A recent op-ed article (“Homeownership needn’t be for all”) that appeared in the Boston Herald on June 10 drew a swift and strong response from the leadership of the Greater Boston and Massachusetts Associations of REALTORS®. In a joint letter to the editor, GBAR President Deborah Heffernan and MAR President Laurie Cadigan noted that the intrinsic values associated with owning a home – sense of security, pride of ownership, financial and tax benefits – not only account for substantially greater net worth among property owners, but also help strengthen and enrich our local communities.

Notably, you can also share the benefits of homeownership with consumers through the distribution of recent news articles, such as the one entitled “Why It’s Time to Buy” which appeared in The Wall Street Journal on June 4; commentaries, like the Economic Outlook from NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun entitled “Rent or Buy”; and informational pamphlets, such as the NAR-produced brochures “It’s a Great Time to Buy” and “Why Rent When You Can Buy”.

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Record Turnout for REALTOR® Day on Beacon Hill

Earlier this month REALTORS® from across the Bay State marched on Beacon Hill, filling the Massachusetts State House’s Great Hall of Flags to capacity to publicly tout the organization’s legislative agenda for 2011. Tops on the agenda is passage of legislation, (H.123), which would increase from 12 to 20 the number of hours of continuing education (CE) instruction agents and brokers must receive to renew their real estate license. Participants at REALTOR® Day on the Hill also urged state lawmakers to pass legislation that would provide communities the option of selling municipally-owned vacant and abandoned properties on the open market through the use of real estate brokers, an initiative that would not only create new business opportunities for REALTORS® but provide a more efficient and cost-effective process for getting properties in the hands of buyers and thereby generating property tax revenues.

Over 300 REALTORS®, including more than 60 GBAR members, attended the program, which featured remarks by Massachusetts Lt. Gov. Tim Murray, and a luncheon at the GBAR offices attended by Senator James Eldridge (D-Acton), and Rep. Denise Garlick (D-Needham) and Rep. John Lawn (D-Watertown).

From REALTOR Day on the Hill 2011

As part of the REALTOR® organization’s long-standing objection to transfer taxes as inequitable and discriminatory tax policy, association members voiced opposition to H.3313, which would authorize a transfer tax on the sale of property in Provincetown. In addition, REALTORS® spoke out against S.1698, a bill that proposes mandatory energy audits for homes through a requirement that all homeowners provide prospective buyers with a completed energy evaluation as a condition of sale/transfer.

To learn more about these legislative priorities and others, and to view photos from REALTOR® Day on Beacon Hill visit the program event page on gbar.org.

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Home, condo sales dip in May, but pending sales climb in Greater Boston

Sales of detached single-family homes and condominiums each declined steadily for a fifth consecutive month in May, with single-family home sales off 14 percent from the same month last year and condo sales down 18.4 percent compared to May 2010. With home values still soft in many communities, no easing in mortgage lending requirements, and this year’s heavy snowfall requiring many sellers to take more time to prepare their home for sale, many buyers remain on the fence lacking the confidence or financial means to enter the housing market.

Despite the drop in sales volume, the median selling price for both detached single-family homes and condominiums rose last month, with the median price for single-family homes climbing nearly 7 percent over the past 12 months to $465,000 this May, and the median condo price up 11 percent to $365,000. The increase reflects a shift in market activity over the past year, as the number of entry-level starter homes priced under $400,000 decreased 23 percent this May versus the same month last year, and the number of condo units priced under $300,000 fell by more than one-third (38%) during the same period.

Buyer interest and sales activity has shown signs of strengthening over the past several weeks this spring, and that has translated to modest gains in pending home sales activity during May. In the single-family home market, pending sales increased 5 percent last month over the comparable month a year ago, marking the first increase since January. Additionally, in the condo market, pending sales improved for the first time in 12 months, increasing 8 percent this May as compared to the same month last year.

To view all of last month’s data and to get a more detailed analysis on the housing market in Greater Boston, visit the Monthly Housing Reports page on gbar.org.

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Nomination Deadline for 2011 GBAR Member Recognition Awards is July 1

Do you know a deserving colleague or affiliate member whose professionalism and volunteer service to the REALTOR® association and the local community or charitable causes sets them apart from others? If so, why not nominate him or her for one of this year’s GBAR member recognition awards? Nominations are being sought for Affiliate Member of the Year, the Andrew F. Hickey Distinguished Service Award, Good Neighbor Award, Greater Boston REALTOR® of the Year, GBAR Good Neighbor, and REALTOR® Spirit Award.

Members may be nominated for one or more of the above awards. The entry deadline for nominations is July 1, 2011. Winners will be announced at the GBAR Professional Awards Dinner to be held at the Dedham Country Club on September 14. For more information, including the purpose and criteria for each award, as well as nomination forms, visit gbar.org to download for the GBAR Awards Nomination packet.

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GBAR Donates $5,000 to Aid Tornado Victims in Western Mass. 

At its meeting earlier this month, the Greater Boston Association of REALTORS® Board of Directors approved a $5,000 grant to assist property owners and others affected by the tornados to hit western Massachusetts on June 1. The funds approved by the GBAR Directors will be sent to the REALTOR® Association of Pioneer Valley (RAPV) Charitable Foundation, which will use the funds to provide financial assistance to REALTORS® and affiliate members of the RAPV who were directly impacted by the tornados and either lost a home or car or had a residential or business property that was heavily damaged from the storms. If you’d like to make your own financial donation or contribute through the donation of goods or volunteer time to aid fellow REALTORS® and other Bay State residents impacted by the tornados you may do so by writing and sending a check made payable to the MAR Charitable Foundation, 256 Second Avenue, Waltham, MA 02451 (please note Tornado Relief on the memo line), or visit the RAPV website to learn how you can donate money or otherwise assist residents of individual cities and towns in the relief and recovery efforts.

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Apply Now to Become a REALTOR® Leader for 2012

Would you like to have an active voice in setting policy and being a decision-maker for the REALTOR® organization on the local and/or state level in the coming year? Or, do you know a well-qualified colleague who should be considered for a leadership role in the association? If so, we invite you to submit a nomination form for yourself or a fellow REALTOR® to serve in one or more of the following elected positions: officer or director of the Greater Boston Association of REALTORS® (GBAR); director of the Greater Boston Real Estate Board; regional vice president or state director with the Massachusetts Association of REALTORS® (MAR); or director of the National Association of REALTORS® in 2012.

Nominations are being accepted until August 1, 2011. For detailed descriptions of the responsibilities of each elected office and qualification criteria, you may download the GBAR Nomination Packet from gbar.org. All candidates meeting the qualifications of the office or position they seek to hold in 2012 will be carefully considered by the GBAR Nominating Committee later this summer, with a formal slate to be noticed in September, and subsequently presented to the GBAR Board of Directors for vote in October.

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