Refinance Demand Up as Mortgage Interest Rates Maintain Low Levels, by Rosemary Rugnetta,

September 2, 2010 ( – As mortgage interest rates continue to maintain low levels, refinance demand continues to increase across the nation. According to the Mortgage Banker’s Association, refinances have reached a 15 month high, the highest point since May of 2009. Rates are at the lowest point than any other time since Freddie Mac began keeping track in 1971. Mortgage applications rose for the fourth straight week with refinances accounting for the bulk of the demand. This is due to mortgage interest rates that continue to remain low with the 30 year fixed rate at 4.125% and the 15 years fixed rate at 3.625%.

The current refinance demand is not surprising considering the record low mortgage rates that have continued for the past several weeks. After a slow start, these low mortgage rates are finally spurring home owner interest. Unfortunately, not all home owners can refinance with these historic rates. Those who are underwater due to the depressed housing market and those whose credit has been compromised will not be able to take advantage of the market’s record low interest rates. On the other hand, for others, especially those who have refinanced within the past two years, it is a great time to do it again. In addition, those home owners who currently have adjustable rate mortgages that are about to reset, could benefit from refinancing at this time into a fixed rate mortgage.

The demand for refinances, which has continued to increase each week, could also be a positive sign for the weak economy. The current low mortgage interest rates have made it possible for home owners to refinance into a better interest rate loan or a shorter length loan. Many with higher interest 30 year loans are finding that, at today’s rates, it is in their best interest to refinance into a 15 year mortgage which is, in many circumstances, cheaper. By putting extra cash in consumers hands, they are able to pay off outstanding debts, money can be saved or just put back into the economy through spending. Although it is not certain if this refinance boom will do anything to stimulate the economy, this just might be the boost that the sluggish economy is in need of.

It is anyone’s guess at which way mortgage rates will go from here. If mortgage interest rates maintain these low levels or drop even lower, refinance demand should go up with more home owners deciding to refinance during the fall months just in time for the Holiday season. In the meantime, home owners probably should not wait for rates to go much lower since anything can happen with such a volatile market.

Foreclosures Heavey Toll on Health, Suzanne Bohan, Contra Costa Times

Maria Ramirez is one of the fortunate ones. She’s lived for more than 10 years with her family in ZIP code 94621 in Oakland, one the East Bay neighborhoods hardest hit by home foreclosures. But she fought back when Wachovia Bank began foreclosing on her house in 2009, and won an affordable loan modification.

Her victory doesn’t only secure stable housing for Ramirez and her family. In a little-discussed aspect of the foreclosure crisis gripping the nation, it also protects the Ramirez’s long-term mental and physical health.

Nearly one in 10 American households with a mortgage are behind on their payments, according the Mortgage Bankers Association. In Oakland, the numbers are even worse: Between 2006 and 2009, one in 4 homeowners with a mortgage entered into foreclosure.

And a first-of-its kind report released today by the Alameda County Public Health Department and Causa Justa :: Just Cause warns of the looming health consequences of widespread home foreclosures, while also detailing steps to mitigate those harmful effects.

“We’re trying to get people to understand this is a public health issue,” said Sandra Witt, deputy director of the Alameda County Public Health Department.

Last year, the health department released a preliminary report on the link between health and foreclosures, and the new report is the most comprehensive yet published on the topic.

In a door-to-door survey of 388 East Oakland and West Oakland homes

in the summer of 2009, workers with Causa Justa :: Just Cause, a community action group, conducted an in-depth look at the health effects of home foreclosures on these hard-hit communities. They found that 38 percent of those coping with foreclosure threats reported declining health during the past two years, compared with 24 percent of those unconcerned about foreclosures.

Mental health also deteriorated.

Almost a third of those dealing with home foreclosure threats reported that their mental and emotional health had worsened during the past two years, compared with only 16 percent of those in stable housing.

“This is really about the stress that one feels,” Witt said. The stress also increased the likelihood of developing hypertension and a host of other health conditions, and increases visits to emergency departments.

The report noted the survey doesn’t establish direct links between foreclosure risk and health outcomes, but “suggests associations.” The report, titled “Rebuilding Neighborhoods, Restoring Health,” is available on the county health department’s website at

These health declines also portend an increasing demand for medical care. “It will absolutely create a demand for more services, both health services and mental health services,” Witt said.

The new report, however, includes a long list of remedies to mitigate the potential health harms from the stress of facing foreclosure and coping with eviction.

Those include state and federal policies to promote home loan modifications by banks, as well as foreclosure relief. These remedies are tough to enact, however, as demonstrated by the failure in the state Assembly on Monday of legislation that would protect homeowners from eviction while they’re pursing more lenient loan terms. The bill was supported by consumer groups but opposed by the banking industry.

But other laws on the books can sometimes help distressed homeowners. And the report urges community groups to join together to educate those facing foreclosures about their rights, as well as strategies for securing loan modifications.

Homeownership has long been indirectly linked to health and wellness. The federal push to promote home buying began in the early 20th century. And in 1921, then-Commerce Secretary Herbert Hoover, elected President in 1928, held that homeownership “may change the very physical, mental and moral fiber of one’s own children.”

The new report, conversely, points to marked deterioration in health among homeowners and tenants facing eviction due to foreclosures.

Suzanne Bohan covers science. Contact her at 510-262-2789. Follow her at

HUD announces new REO purchase program,

U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Shaun Donovan has announced an agreement with the nation’s top mortgage lenders to offer selected state and local governments, and non-profit organizations a “first look” or right of first refusal to purchase foreclosed homes before making these properties available to private investors. The National First Look Program is a first-ever public-private partnership agreement between HUD and the National Community Stabilization Trust (Stabilization Trust). In collaboration with national servicers, Fannie Mae, and Freddie Mac, the First Look program is intended to give communities participating in HUD’s Neighborhood Stabilization Program (NSP) a brief exclusive opportunity to purchase bank-owned properties in certain neighborhoods so these homes can either be rehabilitated, rented, resold or demolished.

“This groundbreaking agreement will help rebuild neighborhoods that have been struggling with blight and declining home values due to foreclosures,” said HUD Secretary Donovan. “Local communities will now get an exclusive option to buy foreclosed properties in targeted neighborhoods so they can turn the homes into affordable housing or, in some cases, tear them down. This agreement helps us level the playing field to give communities a better chance to stabilize these neighborhoods.”

“The Stabilization Trust is delighted to be working with HUD Secretary Donovan on the National First Look Program,” said Craig Nickerson, President of the NCST. “By serving as the operations ‘engine’ behind the First Look Program, the Stabilization Trust can facilitate the transfer of more foreclosed property for participating financial institutions to local community buyers, thereby accelerating the road to neighborhood recovery.”

HUD’s NSP grantees, which include state and local governments and non-profit organizations, often find themselves competing with private investors for real estate-owned (REO) properties, which can hinder their efforts to stabilize neighborhoods with high foreclosure activity. With today’s announcement, HUD and the Stabilization Trust, working with national servicers, Fannie Mae, and Freddie Mac, will standardize the acquisition process for NSP grantees, giving them an exclusive option to purchase foreclosed upon homes in certain targeted neighborhoods.

The Stabilization Trust pioneered the ‘First Look’ model to create a transparent and streamlined process to facilitate the transfer of foreclosed and abandoned properties from key financial institutions to local government housing providers. First piloted in 2008, the model has gained recognition as a critical tool for positively tipping the scale in neighborhoods hard hit by foreclosures.

NSP grantees will also be aided by REOMatch, a Web-based mapping and acquisition management tool developed by the Stabilization Trust. REOMatch will assist NSP grantees easily identify REO properties and make more strategic decisions about which properties to acquire, based on real-time data on an interactive mapping platform.

The nation’s leading financial institutions are participating in the National First Look Program, representing approximately 75 percent of the REO marketplace. Participating institutions include: Bank of America, Chase, Citi, Deutsche Bank, GMAC, Nationstar Mortgage, Ocwen Financial Corporation, Saxon Mortgage Services, U.S. Bank, Wells Fargo, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and the Federal Housing Administration (FHA).

►The National First Look Program will allow NSP grantees the exclusive opportunity to purchase available REO properties located within the defined boundaries of NSP target areas. NSP grantees will be immediately notified when a property becomes available and will have 24-48 hours to express interest in pursuing a specific property. Furthermore, these institutions will provide NSP purchasers with the opportunity to purchase REO properties at a discount their appraised value, reflecting the cost savings of a quick sale. NSP grantees may acquire these properties with the assistance of NSP funds for any eligible use.

►After expressing interest in a property, the First Look Period will last approximately five to 12 business days during which the NSP Grantee will conduct inspections and establish costs to repair in anticipation of the financial institution’s price offer. In the event that no NSP grantee exercises its preference to purchase an REO property during the First Look period, the financial institution will follow its normal process to sell the home on the open market.

►Currently, the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) offers a complementary pilot program in which NSP grantees receive an exclusive option to purchase so-called ‘HUD Homes’ at a discount prior to those homes being made available to the investor community. The FHA pilot, alongside today’s agreement expands the opportunity for NSP grantees to gain access to REO properties through a national first-look standard option.

HUD’s Neighborhood Stabilization Program was created to address the housing crisis, create jobs, and grow local economies by providing communities with the resources to purchase and rehabilitate vacant homes. NSP grants are helping state and local governments, as well as non-profit developers, acquire land and property; demolish or rehabilitate abandoned properties; and/or offer downpayment and closing cost assistance to low- to middle-income homebuyers. Grantees can also stabilize neighborhoods by creating “land banks” to assemble, temporarily manage, and dispose of foreclosed homes. To date, HUD has allocated nearly $6 billion in funding to state and local governments and non-profit housing developments. In the coming weeks, HUD will allocate an additional $1 billion in NSP funding, which was provided through the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act.

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