February 29, 2012

Moving! Follow the Real Estate Wonk to new home

The Real Estate Wonk has moved -- fitting, for a blog about housing. You can tag along to the new location by going to

The new home is more fully integrated into the Baltimore Sun's main site. What I write from now on will be searchable there, something that wasn't possible before. Let me know what you like or don't like about the design so I can pass your thoughts on to the folks who will make blog nips and tucks in the future.

For the time being, at least, this former home will continue to exist as an archive so you can find and read old posts. I plan to keep linking back here. (Direct address, in case you'd like to save it:

Thanks for reading!

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 8:37 AM | | Comments (3)

February 28, 2012

Realtors to rally against proposed change affecting Md. mortgage-interest deduction

Realtors have kicked off a campaign to keep legislators from approving a budget proposal that would reduce the amount of itemized deductions higher-income Marylanders could claim on their state taxes, a move they say would effectively cap the mortgage-interest deduction.

They're running ads, posting pieces online and organizing a rally in Annapolis Wednesday -- with transportation provided from locations across the state -- that they hope will draw homeowners as well as agents.

The proposal, part of the consolidated budget bill submitted on behalf of Gov. Martin O'Malley, would reduce by 10 percent the amount of itemized deductions that individuals and couples can take if they have adjusted gross income of more than $100,000 but no more than $200,000. Those with adjusted gross income of more than $200,000 would see their itemized deductions reduced by 20 percent.

The Maryland Association of Realtors says this would effectively limit the mortgage-interest deduction, a big piece of what people typically itemize, as well as deductions for property taxes.

"We think it makes it harder for homeowners to own their homes and to stay in their homes," said Mark Feinroth, director of regulatory affairs with the trade group. "It's very bad tax policy."

But Raquel Guillory, a spokeswoman for O'Malley, said 10 states -- including Pennsylvania and West Virginia -- have no itemized deductions for personal income taxes. Five others, plus D.C., limit them for some filers, she said.

"Under this plan, 8 out of 10 Marylanders will see no change in their deductions," she said in an email.

Continue reading "Realtors to rally against proposed change affecting Md. mortgage-interest deduction" »

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 6:00 AM | | Comments (16)
Categories: Mortgages

February 27, 2012

Who's representing you?

If you're buying or selling a house, did your real estate agent explain the difference between a buyer's agent, a seller's agent, a cooperating agent and a dual agent?

No? Maybe?

It's the sort of thing that might sound like WSIGAC -- why should I give a carp -- but consumer advocates suggest paying attention. Agents in Maryland are supposed to give you a disclosure form to sign at your first appointment with them so you understand who they (and their bosses) are actually representing at the negotiating table.

Are they a seller's agent or a cooperating agent in the transaction? Then their "duty of loyalty" is to the seller alone, the state says. They can help someone else buy the house, but they're not representing that buyer -- surprising the heck out of some buyers.

If they're a buyer's agent in the transaction, they're representing the buyer and have a signed agreement from the buyer to show for it. A "presumed buyer's agent" is representing the buyer without a signed agreement and will need to get one before submitting any offers on property.

"Dual agency" happens when the buyer and seller in a single transaction end up being represented by agents working for the same real estate broker. Maryland law bars a single agent from representing both parties, but the agent's broker can do so, according to the Maryland Real Estate Commission.

John F. Sullivan, a Maryland agent who works only for buyers and thinks dual agency is fraught with conflicts of interest, is hoping the General Assembly passes a bill that would make the disclosure form disclose more -- bringing the state into a tug-of-war between a trade group for Realtors and the trade group for brokerages that represent buyers only.

He's planning to testify this week that "chronic misunderstandings about agent fiduciary responsibility have contributed to the foreclosure crisis both in Maryland and across the nation" -- namely that buyers weren't given good advice by agents about what they could actually afford, and thus did not have their best interests protected.

Continue reading "Who's representing you?" »

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 6:00 AM | | Comments (11)

February 24, 2012

'Severely' overburdened homeowners, renters

How many people spend more than half their income on housing costs? More than you might think.

In the Baltimore area, one in five households with workers pulling down middle-income or lower-income wages fell into that pinched group in 2010, according to a new report by the Center for Housing Policy. That's nearly 85,000 households "severely burdened by their housing costs."

But it's not quite as bad as the nation overall, with nearly one in four of what the center dubs "working households" falling into that category.

The center, which looked at regions and states across the country, considered all renter and owner households with adults who made no more than 20 percent over their area's median income and worked at least 20 hours a week on average in 2010. That means retirees weren't part of the calculation -- and neither were those who were out of work or had their weekly hours cut below 20, a situation that plenty of Americans were stuck in that year.

Continue reading "'Severely' overburdened homeowners, renters" »

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 6:00 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Affordable housing, Housing stats, Renting, The economy

February 23, 2012

Water billing delay means bigger sum due

Micah Cohen got a nasty surprise recently when he opened the water bills for several of the Baltimore properties he rents out: They weren't for the usual three months. The charges stretched over half a year in some cases and nearly a year in others.

That meant much bigger payments than he and his tenants -- who reimburse him -- are used to making in one fell swoop. He sent as an example a bill for one of the homes, which came to $1,300 for eight months.

"How is anyone supposed to pay this?" Cohen wrote. "Are any other normal working people in the city being billed out-of-cycle like this (months and months of non-billing, then BAM! a huge multi-quarter bill!)?"

Yes -- along with other problems. Auditors looking at bills issued to 70,000 customers of the city's water system found that 65,000 were likely overcharged over the past three years, most of whom had not been made whole. The city said Wednesday that it is issuing refunds to 38,000 households in the city and Baltimore County, averaging more than $110 apiece.

More on that in this story by colleagues Julie Scharper and Luke Broadwater. (And check out @WaterBillWoman, the Twitter account of a city resident who's been insisting for quite some time that the system was in trouble.)

But what happened in Cohen's case? The city Department of Public Works looked into the bill he sent me -- covering nearly three full quarters rather than one -- when I inquired.

Continue reading "Water billing delay means bigger sum due" »

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 6:00 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Utility bills

February 22, 2012

A 'responsible homeowner' reward

You may have heard homeowners underwater on their mortgages but not behind on the payments ask, "So where's my bailout?" (You may in fact have said it yourself.)

Some companies are answering, "Right here."

About 20,000 homeowners nationwide, including 500 in Maryland, are enrolled in the Responsible Homeowner Reward program, which pays borrowers incentives to stay current on their mortgage. The homeowners were offered the future cash payments by their mortgage servicer, mortgage owner or private mortgage insurer -- about a dozen companies are participating all told.

Frank Pallotta, managing partner of the Rumson, N.J.-based Loan Value Group, which created and administers the Responsible Homeowner Reward program, says participants include the PMI Group and GMAC Mortgage.

The dollar amounts vary, but the basic idea is this: Stay current on your mortgage, get a cash payment at an agreed-upon time -- when you refinance or sell, for instance. The program aims to prevent "strategic default" -- where borrowers who can afford the payments decide they're throwing good money after bad and simply walk away -- by offsetting some of the lost value.

"For years and years, the mindset was, people pay their mortgage because it was the moral thing to do," Pallotta said. "Well, it might have been, people pay their mortgage because they have equity. Once that equity is gone, you need to replace it or you will experience a higher default rate."

A borrower who's never missed a payment but owes 50 percent more on his mortgage than the home is worth "is as much a risk to the owner of that loan" as a more modestly underwater borrower who's two months behind, he contends. "The question becomes, 'Why am I going to make this payment? I'm so far underwater,'" he said.

Continue reading "A 'responsible homeowner' reward" »

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 6:00 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Mortgages, The foreclosure mess, Underwater

February 21, 2012

Consumer advocates decry lending proposal

Industry players are calling it a technical clarification. Consumer advocates contend it's a much bigger and badder deal, weakening protections for mortgage borrowers.

What they're arguing over is legislation in the General Assembly about "table funding," a little-known -- and in Maryland, little-used -- type of mortgage lending.

Table-funded loans are made by mortgage-broker companies in their own name, rather than in the name of a lender, but are immediately sold to a lender who will provide the actual funding, according to HUD. That's different than typical mortgage brokering, where the loan is closed in the lender's name, and from cases where borrowers work directly with lenders that fund the loans themselves but sell them on the secondary market to Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac or others in the mortgage-backed securities business.

Marceline White, executive director of the Maryland Consumer Rights Coalition, said the state has long banned the practice of getting a mortgage broker "finder's fee" for table-funded loans. But legislation proposed in both the House and Senate would change that, she said.

Here's the Senate version, SB 451, and the House version, HB 674

"As a broker, you get a certain fee for finding a lender for the loan," White said. "But in this case, you're the lender. You shouldn't get a fee for finding yourself. ... There's an inherent conflict of interest if you're acting both as a broker and a lender. But the more alarming part is that it opens Maryland back up to table-funded mortgages, which really have not been happening as much in Maryland and have been really strongly linked to predatory lending."

Continue reading "Consumer advocates decry lending proposal" »

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 6:00 AM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Mortgages

February 20, 2012

9 months of housing-market supply -- for now

It would take nine months to sell all the homes on the market in the Baltimore region at the pace people are buying these days, in case you were wondering.

That's simple math. What's trickier -- naturally -- is knowing how long it will take to sell a particular house. Or whether the months' supply is headed up or down.

Six months of supply is usually the rule of thumb for a market balanced between buyers and sellers. Not surprising that it would be higher than that (advantage, buyers) in January, part of the slow season.

But the other factor at play is the temporary slump in foreclosures for sale -- something that's expected to reverse in the not-too-distant future, now that the bank settlement over robo-signing is done. The Mortgage Bankers Association says foreclosure processing could initially slow further as big mortgage servicers put settlement requirements into place, but that it should speed up afterward.

Continue reading "9 months of housing-market supply -- for now" »

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 6:00 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Housing stats

February 17, 2012

What the robo-signing settlement means for all borrowers

If you're not in trouble on a mortgage and didn't lose your home to foreclosure in the last few years, you might think the national settlement between state attorneys general and big mortgage servicers has nothing to do with you.

But the settlement includes a 42-page directive intended to broadly improve mortgage-servicing practices, which critics contend are the pits.

Though the settlement applies only to the big players that signed on (Wells Fargo, Bank of America, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase and Ally Financial/GMAC), the Maryland attorney general's office says the federal government could eventually make all federal institutions play by these servicing rules.

Here's a taste of what they require:

o Better handling of borrowers' payments. Servicers must "promptly" record payments and post them within two days. If a borrower makes almost all of a scheduled payment -- within $50 of the amount due -- then the servicer must apply it and at least one more such payment to the mortgage, rather than shunting it to a "suspense account" and letting interest and late fees mount.

Continue reading "What the robo-signing settlement means for all borrowers" »

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 6:00 AM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Mortgage servicing, Mortgages, The foreclosure mess

February 15, 2012

Crime, school and amenities data paired with real estate

Real estate search site Trulia now has neighborhood data on crime, schools and other things that aren't real estate but that homebuyers and prospective renters might like to know about before moving in.

The "Trulia Local" option -- here's Baltimore -- offers up a map showing you where violent and non-violent crimes happened, where the schools are (and how parents have rated them) and where you can find restaurants, banks, gas stations and grocery stores. Oh yeah, and the homes for sale along with the recently sold stuff.

What do you think? Does the information look useful? Accurate?

What do you really want to know before you buy or rent?

If you've seen other examples of neighborhood-level data, with or without housing details, please share in the comments.

Here's a link-fest of local resources for crime and school data, if you're in the market for more.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 6:00 AM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Real estate online

February 14, 2012

Company town

Pete from Highlandtown, one of my favorite commenters here (though I love you all), touched on a subject this week that everyone in the region should be giving some hard thought about: Are we a company town? And if so, are we going to go the way that all company towns eventually do?

"In my opinion, much of the 1995-2008 gentrification in Canton/Fed Hill/etc., was due to our proximity to DC," said Pete, who sees neighborhood change at an up-close-and-personal level doing interior demolition and basement excavations for rehabbers. "Im sure that most of your readers know people that commute to DC (or its suburbs) every day. In many ways we have become a suburb of DC. There is nothing wrong with using our proximity to DC to our advantage. But we are very vulnerable to gas price increases, and Federal Budget cuts."

He's sure that if Washington wasn't carved out of Maryland and Virginia in the 18th century, Baltimore's situation would be much more dire, and he's worried about the outcome when the spiraling federal deficit is finally attacked in a real way. He's hardly alone.

Continue reading "Company town" »

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 6:00 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: The economy

February 13, 2012

Few bedrooms, big price

You'd be forgiven for thinking that pricey homes always have a lot of bedrooms. They so often do.

Take this seven-bedroom spread in Annapolis. Or this 12-bedroom, 19-bathroom mansion (who's using all these bathrooms?) in New Jersey. Or, heck, this 30-bedroom house near Orlando with an entrance designed to look like the opulent Palace of Versailles. Thirty bedrooms!

But one house selling in the Baltimore region last month in the $600,000 to $799,999 category has two bedrooms at most, according to the newest sales statistics from Metropolitan Regional Information Systems.

I don't know much about this place, except that it's in Anne Arundel County and so is probably well-above-average in price thanks to waterfront. To give you an idea of how unusual this is, there wasn't another one- or two-bedroom single-family house in the entire Baltimore region that sold for more than $400,000 last month.

Average price of a two-bed-or-less house in the Baltimore area last month: $148,000. Almost half sold for less than $100,000.

Continue reading "Few bedrooms, big price" »

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 6:00 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Housing stats

February 9, 2012

Md. foreclosures since 2006: Almost 50,000

Mortgage firms have foreclosed on about 49,600 homes in Maryland since the final days of the inflating housing bubble in January 2006, real estate data firm CoreLogic says. That's about 23 homes per day.

Just over 20,000 of those completed foreclosures were on homes in the Baltimore metro area, the company says. (National numbers here.)

It's difficult to get good statistics on the number of done-deal foreclosures. The Mortgage Bankers Association's quarterly survey of delinquent mortgages tracks most of the market, but only to the point of the foreclosure process pre-auction. Not every homeowner who starts down the road to foreclosure ends up losing his or her property. And sometimes homes go in and out of that process several times.

Factoid: Mortgage servicers foreclosed on 3,400 homes statewide last year, about 1,400 of them in the Baltimore region. That's well under the six-year average -- not surprising. We've seen the effects of slowdowns in the wake of the robo-signing revelations in a variety of different measures. This is just the latest.

Speaking of robo-signing: Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler decided to sign on to the settlement with banks over such practices, a deal that gives Maryland nearly $1 billion for various purposes -- including principal reduction -- but means his office cannot pursue civil liability claims involving mortgage origination or servicing misconduct.

More in Hanah Cho's story here. (Many thanks to Hanah for handling this while I'm out.)

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 8:05 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: The foreclosure mess

February 7, 2012

Renting by default or by choice

As the homeownership rate drops, the renter ranks swell. Some are renting because it's the only option, except possibly crashing with family, but others could buy and have decided against it -- either for now or indefinitely.

So, tenants, which group are you in? 

Take a quick poll to share the top reason (realizing you might have a bunch) that you're renting:

I'm taking a much-needed week off, by the way. So please forgive the short posts.

Talk amongst yourselves, OK?

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 6:00 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Renting

February 6, 2012

Proposal would help state keep banks from getting homeowner tax breaks

A reader wrote in the other day because she discovered that her former neighbor's house, foreclosed on several years ago, is still listed in public records as if he owns it and lives there. She wondered whether the foreclosing bank has been reaping property tax breaks all this time because the home is on the books as owner-occupied.

This is not an unusual problem. State officials say mortgage servicers are taking months, sometimes years, to take title to foreclosed property, leaving it in a sort of limbo that makes it difficult for neighbors and officials to determine who's actually responsible for the property.

But I don't think anyone knows just how many times this has happened -- or how much money local jurisdictions have lost as a result of Homestead Property Tax Credits doled out after the homeowner who qualified became a former homeowner. The state Department of Assessments and Taxation relies on title transfers to strip the credits from properties.

State Sen. Richard F. Colburn, an Eastern Shore Republican, tried last year to require deed recordation within 60 days after a foreclosure is ratified by the court, but the bill died in committee.

Now legislation before the Senate judicial proceedings committee would give the assessments agency another way to figure out which homes aren't homestead-eligible because they've been foreclosed on.

Continue reading "Proposal would help state keep banks from getting homeowner tax breaks" »

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 6:00 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Property taxes, The foreclosure mess

February 3, 2012

Where Baltimore-area residents would rather be

Real estate search site Trulia says the Baltimore region is seventh on the list of metro areas with the weakest demand among the online search crowd -- specifically, more renters and homeowners looking to move out than in.

For every search on Trulia by someone outside the region checking out places for sale or rent here, there are two (or more specifically 2.2) searches by people in our area looking somewhere else. The company, which ranked the 100 largest metro areas on search demand, says big regions tend to have more people looking to leave than to arrive.

Maryland overall has seen more going than coming in recent years, starting at the height of the housing boom and continuing in a bigger way afterward, according to the state Department of Planning's analysis of IRS migration data.

That doesn't mean the population dropped, though -- it grew. As a planning agency chart in an earlier analysis shows, births outnumber deaths and international migration is also adding to the mix, even as state-to-state migration subtracts.

Trulia says Baltimore-area residents searching online for apartments and homes outside the region are most frequently checking out these places:

1. The Washington area

2. The Bethesda-Rockville-Frederick mini-metro area (usually lumped in with the D.C. area, but not always)

3. The York-Hanover area in Pennsylvania

4. New York City and environs (an area that reaches New Jersey)

5. The Philadelphia area

But what about the people who live elsewhere and are checking us out? Trulia's list made me go "whaa?" -- here's why:

Continue reading "Where Baltimore-area residents would rather be" »

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 6:00 AM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Housing stats

February 2, 2012

Having trouble finding a Baltimore foreclosure to buy? Here's why

If you're trying to buy a foreclosure in the city and feel like your choices aren't what they were a year ago, it's not your imagination. While there were more short sales on the market last year than in 2010, bank-owned homes for sale (the purple line in the graph below) took a steep drop:




The data comes from Metropolitan Regional Information Systems' stats arm, RealEstate Business Intelligence. Though it probably won't come as a complete shock to anyone following the news about robo-signing, it's a striking chart nonetheless.

Here's the change in actual sales of distress properties:

Continue reading "Having trouble finding a Baltimore foreclosure to buy? Here's why" »

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 6:00 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Distress sales, The foreclosure mess

February 1, 2012

Deadline to appeal new property assessments: Feb. 10

If your home or other Maryland property was recently reassessed, your deadline to appeal is fast approaching.

Paperwork must be in by Feb. 10 for the one-third of property owners whose reassessment notices were mailed in late December. The state Department of Assessments and Taxation lays out a brief how-to here, noting that you can request your assessment worksheet to check it for accuracy and suggesting you find sales of comparable properties to make your case for a different valuation. (Here's the state's property look-up site, which gives you an option to search for sales.)

If you weren't just reassessed but are buying a home in the first six months of this year, you too can appeal to try to change the bill you'll get in July. That's called an "appeal upon purchase," and you have 60 days to file after settlement.

It's too late to appeal for the upcoming tax year if you aren't in one of those two groups. You can send in a "petition for review" anytime between now and Jan. 1 (or the first business day after Jan. 1, generally), but it won't have a chance of affecting your bill until July 1, 2013.

But some Baltimore homeowners might get a lowered bill this July without appealing -- because someone else did it for them.

Rockville-based Property Tax Pros, which offers an online appeal service for owners of houses, townhouses and rowhouses in large Maryland jurisdictions, filed pro-bono, out-of-the-blue appeals of 100 city homes' property assessments in January.

Larry Giammo, the company's co-founder and a former Rockville mayor, said he and his team picked modest homes -- assessed at about $70,000 to $120,000 -- that they believe are far overvalued now, about a year after they were last assessed. (Each property in the state is reassessed once every three years.)

Continue reading "Deadline to appeal new property assessments: Feb. 10" »

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 6:00 AM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Property taxes

January 31, 2012

Decent income, little savings?

Maryland is a high-income state. But it's also got a big share of defaulted mortgages, delinquent loans of all sorts and outsized credit-card debt, according to a new study by the Corporation for Enterprise Development.

What gives? Some of it is probably housing costs. Two-thirds of states have a smaller percentage of "house poor" homeowners, people spending 30 percent or more of their before-tax income on their mortgage, property taxes and other ownership expenses.

But we could probably do better. Sure, if you're between jobs, it's awfully hard to save. And if you've already locked in a high mortgage payment that strains your budget, your options might seem limited. Still, chances are there's something you can do.

Continue reading "Decent income, little savings?" »

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 6:00 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Savings/downpayment, The foreclosure mess

January 30, 2012

More incentives for principal reduction

The Treasury Department is trying to get more mortgage servicers to reduce the principal of struggling borrowers by tripling the incentive it pays for such a move -- and offering to pay financiers Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, too.

Fannie and Freddie are essentially government-owned. As you can imagine, this new twist strikes some as the equivalent of Uncle Sam tossing money from his left hand to his right.

Of course, calls by Congressional Democrats for more principal reduction have so far had no effect on Fannie and Freddie, never mind their ownership status. Their independent oversight agency insisted shortly before last week's Treasury announcement that "principal reduction never serves the long-term interest of the taxpayer when compared to foreclosure." (The Federal Housing Finance Agency said Friday that it will do another analysis to account for the new payments.)

The deal being offered: For every dollar knocked off a borrower's principal, Treasury will fork over between 18 and 63 cents.

A state task force recently recommended principal reductions in which homeowners, in exchange for no longer being underwater, would agree to share any profits if they sell or refinance during the following nine years. Shortly before Treasury made its announcement, I chatted with a local loan officer who thinks the financial industry will have to move in that direction.

Continue reading "More incentives for principal reduction" »

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 6:00 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Mortgages, The foreclosure mess

January 27, 2012

Fast home sales, slow home sales


Above: The homes that sold in the Baltimore region in December, organized by how quickly -- or slowly -- they went from listed to under contract.

The breakdowns come from Metropolitan Regional Information Systems' stats arm, RealEstate Business Intelligence, which notes that yes, some homes really do come on the multiple-listing service as already sold -- hence the 34 properties in December in the "zero days" category.

But it's rare that someone had to have the house so badly that they snagged it from the owners before they were even thinking of selling. It more likely was for sale but not on the MLS -- a new home, say, or a for-sale-by-owner -- and an agent entered it into the system afterward.

So let's ignore the zeros. If you add up everything from one day to 30, that's almost 400 homes, close to a quarter of all (non-zero-day) sales that month. That's by far the most common period for a home to sell, comparing just 30-day stretches.

Continue reading "Fast home sales, slow home sales" »

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 6:00 AM | | Comments (7)
Categories: For sale, Housing stats

January 26, 2012

New proposal for ground-rent registry

For those of you with a vested interest in (or just curiosity about) ground rent: The newest twist in the saga is a bill aimed at the registry.

Fourteen state delegates have proposed that owners who don't register their leases with the state can't collect payments on them.

Here's a short piece about the bill, which comes after an appeals court ruling left the registry intact but struck down the penalty for not getting on the state's list by the 2010 deadline -- the ground rent ceased to exist. (That piece of the law was unconstitutional, Maryland's Court of Appeals ruled, and thus the leases popped back to life.) 

Here's the proposal itself.

If you're trying to find out whether a ground rent has been registered on a particular property, go to the state Department of Assessments and Taxation's property look-up site, type in the address and then click on the "ground rent registration" link in the upper right-hand corner. The registry is supposed to provide the owner's name and contact information.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 6:30 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Ground rent

'Stealing Trust' screening event in Baltimore

If you haven't had your recommended daily dose of outrage, here's an upcoming source: The Maryland Consumer Rights Coalition is showing its "Stealing Trust" documentary at the Enoch Pratt Free Library's Central location in downtown Baltimore next Wednesday, Feb. 1.

The group's film focuses on local residents who lost their homes, savings "and even their capacity to trust others" through abusive financial practices. Some fought back.

The free screening, co-sponsored by St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center, the Baltimore Homeownership Preservation Coalition and the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development, will include new details about foreclosure-prevention efforts and offer homeowners a chance to ask questions about the foreclosure crisis.

The event is scheduled for 6 p.m. The library is at 400 Cathedral St.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 6:00 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Mortgage fraud/scams, The foreclosure mess

January 24, 2012

What N.Y., Del. and a few other states are doing about mortgage misconduct

State attorneys general gathered in Chicago or by conference call Monday to go over possible terms for a deal with large banks over foreclosure wrongdoing, but several states are pursuing their own courses -- to the cheers of liberal groups and consumers who want bankers to be sued rather than settled with.

Here's a quick rundown:

New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman launched his own mortgage probe. In an opinion piece he wrote with Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden in November, the two men said that what was needed is "a more comprehensive investigation before the financial institutions at the heart of the crisis are granted broad releases from liability." It's not just about foreclosures or the housing market, they said, but also about the way mortgages were securitized.

"Any real effort to repair the damage caused by the collapse of the housing bubble must address the injury in both sectors," they wrote in the Politico piece. "Tens of millions of homeowners and millions of investors — including retirees with money in pension and mutual funds — were devastated by this manmade catastrophe."

Biden, the Delaware AG, had just filed suit against the mortgage registrar MERS when the piece appeared. Here's the press release announcing the lawsuit, and here's the complaint itself. MERS contends there's no merit to the suit, which alleges deceptive practices.

Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley, meanwhile, sued five banks in December for "their roles in allegedly pursuing illegal foreclosures." (Complaint here.)

Continue reading "What N.Y., Del. and a few other states are doing about mortgage misconduct" »

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 8:14 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: The foreclosure mess

January 23, 2012

Youngest homeowners least satisfied with homeownership


If you're a dissatisfied homeowner, chances are you're young.

That's the takeaway from real estate search site HomeGain's latest survey, which asked Americans whether they were happy with homeownership.

Least happy are homeowners in the 18-to-25 crowd. That's the only age group where more than half (55 percent) said they're not satisfied with homeownership. The share of satisfied homeowners goes up from there almost in lockstep with age. (Slightly more 26-to-35-year-olds are satisfied than 36-to-45-year-olds, though it rounds to two-thirds in each case.)

Those most likely to be satisfied are 55-plus, people who are also the most likely to have lived in their homes the longest and -- assuming they didn't pull a lot of equity out during the bubble years -- to owe little or nothing on a mortgage. So it makes sense, just as it's understandable that young homeowners who have seen nothing but depreciation aren't wild about the idea.

But here's something surprising:

Continue reading "Youngest homeowners least satisfied with homeownership" »

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 6:00 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Housing stats, Survey says ...
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About Jamie Smith Hopkins
Jamie Smith Hopkins, a Baltimore Sun reporter since 1999, writes about the regional economy. Her reporting on the housing market has won national and local awards. Hopkins is a Columbia native and has lived in Maryland all her life, save for 10 months spent covering schools in Ames, Iowa.
She trained to become a wonk by spending large chunks of time as a geek and an insufferable know-it-all.
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