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Local Address: March 15, 2009 - March 21, 2009

Nudge Turns to Shove

This was the week when federal officials showed just how serious they are about stirring up the housing market. If an $8,000 tax credit for first-time buyers wasn't enough to draw buyers off the sidelines, the Federal Reserve announced it would throw another trillion (plus a couple billion) more dollars into the bond markets to drive interest rates even lower. Lenders started quoting 30-year mortgage rates around 4.5 percent almost immediately. If this doesn't shoot some adrenaline into the market, it's hard to imagine what will. Also this week, the feds unveiled a handy Web site to help consumers find their way toward a government-assisted refinance, a loan modification or a credit counseling session. It's a good clearinghouse of calculators, interactive worksheets and links. (You may also want to try the interactive guide to the homeowners bailout plan put together by my colleague Renae Merle, which has better news for...

By Elizabeth Razzi  |  March 20, 2009; 6:00 AM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (2)
Categories:  The economy , The market  
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Department of Hopeful News

Stories of people giving their time, money, brains and muscle to people in need never grow tiresome, and we could use them now more than ever. I would like to bring more of them to you in this space in the new Department of Hopeful News. Call it DHN, considering that this is Washington and that's how we're expected to talk around here. The first volunteer effort in the spotlight is a big home-rehabilitation blitz planned for March 21-22 in Northeast D.C., to fix safety hazards and boost wheelchair accessibility in the home of a disabled Vietnam War veteran. It's a pilot project being undertaken by the American Society of Interior Designers Foundation and the charity Rebuilding Together, whose work includes veterans' housing program. Interior designers, engineers and construction workers, including volunteers from Bolling Air Force Base, will overhaul the gentleman's main bathroom, installing a new roll-in shower for easier...

By Elizabeth Razzi  |  March 19, 2009; 6:00 AM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (0)
 
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More New Homes?

My favorite, most reliable economic indicator may be the overheard conversation. People aren't spinning you when they're chatting with a friend who just happens to be within my earshot. Despite all the layoff announcements recently, I am definitely hearing more chatter about home buying, mostly from (still-employed) first-timers who stand to benefit from the new $8,000 tax credit. So, I was disheartened to hear that builders started work on 22 percent more homes in February than in the month before. Were builders going to pounce on the first faint glimmer of buyer activity and start building again? I was reassured, though, to learn that most of the increase came from construction of new apartments, and that these numbers tend to jump around a lot in any given month, anyway. Odds are high that the number is a fluke. There's no surge of new single-family houses on the way yet, and...

By Elizabeth Razzi  |  March 18, 2009; 6:00 AM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (1)
Categories:  The market  
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Free Tax Help Saturday

Free tax preparation will be available for people earning $42,000 or less this Saturday, March 21, straight from the source itself, the Internal Revenue Service. Such help could be especially valuable for new homeowners -- often buying a home moves you from the simple Form 1040-EZ to the much more complex Form 1040. And this year, tax credits for new buyers could add an additional layer of paperwork. You can get assistance from more than 250 local IRS offices, which usually don't work weekends, plus about 1,000 community tax-prep volunteer partners. Go to the IRS Web site to find an office near you. IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman, in a printed statement, also urged taxpayers in financial trouble to seek help from the IRS, regardless of their income. "If you think you owe taxes and can't pay, please come in and talk to us about it. There are steps we can...

By Elizabeth Razzi  |  March 17, 2009; 6:00 AM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (0)
Categories:  Taxes  
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How Many Foreclosed or Homeless?

One of the biggest frustrations in trying to report about this housing crisis and recession is the lack of reliable numbers on two of its most dire outcomes: foreclosures and homelessness. There are numbers out there; they just aren't very reliable or, especially with regard to homelessness, up-to-date. It's hard to count people as they fall off the map. Like most major media outlets, The Post reports foreclosure numbers from RealtyTrac each month, mostly because there's no other source that's better. But I don't know anyone who uses those numbers, including reputable economists, who isn't frustrated by the fact that the same home often gets counted more than once in their statistics. They count all the steps that lead to the actual foreclosure, from default notices to auction sales, so a single address that goes into foreclosure adds to the statistics several times. And it's important to remember that RealtyTrac...

By Elizabeth Razzi  |  March 16, 2009; 6:00 AM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (1)
Categories:  Foreclosure , The economy  
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