Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Repeal Dodd-Frank NOW

Read THIS ARTICLE. This is very well written, no matter what you think of Newt. I like Newt; perhaps not as my President, but as a solid commentator. I have long complained of the Dodd-Frank Act (and it's 'friend' HVCC) and its repeal would do wonders for our country! That important? YES!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

A mixed bag: Unemployment "Down" in GA

I suppose any drop is a good thing, but since we're still at 9.9% unemployment, it's tough to get super excited! March numbers reported 10% so a .1% drop is small, but I doubt the 30,100 people who found jobs would complain at all! Most of the jobs were added in hospitality, services, trade, educational and health services and (so it is reported) construction (construction? really?). It's also important to note that we were sitting at 10.1% unemployment a year ago (April) so again, this is a good thing, but the last time it was below 10 was in June of 2009 when unemployment was reportedly 9.8%--and all the while we've been running above the national average. BUT, it's the third consecutive month of gains to "Way to go, Georgia!"

Friday, May 13, 2011

Friday the 13--Feeling lucky today, punk?

In case you've been under a rock today, it's Friday the 13th! And yes, that's a "Dirty Harry" reference (for those of you who are too young to know the movie, Google it and see what Clint Eastwood looked like as a "youngster"). Yes, some people will be extra nervous today, expecting something horrible to happen (or some horror movie reject jumping out of a dark corner with a chainsaw or an axe). Me? I'm more worried about the economy and business to fear Friday the 13th (actually, I have always liked the number 13). So what's going on? Lots!

Are you more upbeat today? According to a recent poll, 2 of 5 people believe the US economy will get better. No, that's not a ringing endorsement but it's still better than last month's poll (each randomly sampled over 1,000 people). Believe it or not, the death of Osama was one factor for the positive outlook but other news items are also helping to fuel the positives--job creation and sales data among them. Current pricing for commodities are dropping (silver, sugar, natural gas, and even OIL) and the dollar is strengthening (which allows the US to spend less to buy more!). This may be a temporary dip as it seems everything costs more (have you been grocery shopping lately???) and many of those increases have been due to higher fuel costs. Still, I am amazed that gas prices are over a dollar more expensive than last year. So much unrest in oil producing countries as well as supply demands, factored in with the switch to expensive 'summer blends' of gas have pushed up prices BUT expect prices to drop a bit as people changed their habits (drove less, traded gas guzzlers) and now supplies are up/consumption down so we're hoping to see $3.50/gallon again soon.

Despite gasoline cutting into our wallets, April retail sales were up-the 10th straight month of increases! Why? Earnings are growing (more jobs, higher wages, more hours worked), and people stepped back and paid down debt during the crisis (so now there is more disposable wealth on the sidelines). Sales are expected to keep rising in the months to come!

Recent employment reports are a mixed bag. Claims for unemployment fell last week by 44K, dropping to a seasonally adjusted 434,000 average. While any drop is great, it must be mentioned that 375,000 is the level generally accepted as being consistent with sustainable job growth so we're not there yet. Again, employers added more than 200,000 jobs in April for the third straight month. Various sectors were represented--retailers, factories, financial companies, education and health care-even construction! One source noted that Fed/state/local governments actually cut jobs (which may not be a bad thing for taxpayers as there tends to be overlap and waste in that area). So if gas prices are so bad, looks like employers are ignoring that and hiring more people!

The Fed is not ignoring the fact that despite commodities taking a breather of late, their last official statement noted "inflation has picked up in recent months." For now, they will hold the Federal Funds rate near zero, as has been the case for the last year or so. However, if inflation continues to take hold, they will have no choice but to raise rates (which would in turn raise other short-term rates like the Prime Rate, which will hurt many equity line holders as well as anyone carrying a credit card balance). If you further dissect their comments, in March they said labor markets "appear" to be improving; in April they noted they "are" improving gradually. What a difference a few words can make, eh? With that being noted, they talked about a few positive gains (household spending, business purchases) but they noted "the housing sector continues to be depressed." Gee, ya think? So what's going on with housing?

My view from the frontlines notes that yes, we're seeing more activity. However, we are still seeing a LOT of foreclosures, short-sales and investor purchases. As I've said before, if you have some cash, it's a buyer's market, baby! In late March, it was reported that new home sales were up (great!) but there is SO much inventory out there of existing homes, many of which are 'almost new' and all seem to be selling at deep discounts due to foreclosures and short sales (bad!). ATL home prices dropped below 2000 levels and hit a 3rd monthly low per S&P/Case-Shiller index. We're not alone--the U.S. as a whole is back to 2003 price levels. BUT, the Atlanta Board of Realtors reported sales were up 5% in February and median sales prices were up over 7% in March and foreclosures dropped a bit. So pricing remains a problem as well as credit--but again, who knew that rates would remain under 5% so long? That's great, but if you can't get a loan due to stupid laws and incredible restrictions on credit, what good is that? Likewise, these underwriting conditions are hurting entry-level buyers quite a bit and 'move-up' buyers are underwater or cannot hit the down-payment requirements for a new mortgage so looks like we're going to see a lot more renters for the short-term (Boo!). I hope that some common sense underwriting will return to our industry soon (repeal Frank-Dodd act?); it's still a great time to purchase a home--if you can. Good luck to all of you; thanks for reading and keep in touch! Remember--if you need a closing attorney, choose us! I'll be in touch again soon!

Rent vs. Buy: The New York Times perspective

See this article from the New York Times to see what the fuss is all about. Also, read this from the Atlanta Business Chronicle for ATL specific info. Rates are great; go buy now : )

Friday, April 22, 2011

Interesting article on how to retire a Millionaire!

This article from Clark Howard is a pretty clear example expressing the time value of money. Pretty sobering to know that $14K invested at an early age can = $1M over time and how long (and how much money!) you'd need to effectively "catch up" later in life. So get motivated and get those kids out there saving money! (Note-I am unsure how they take into account inflation, but it's still a great idea to start early and contribute often!) Cheers, Bo

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Witness-only closings are a threat to you and your home...!

I answer general questions from an attorney referral website from time to time. The scenario at the bottom (look for the link) REALLY struck a chord with me as this is a huge problem for citizens in Georgia. I must be honest that yes, my answers are self-serving as I would like only attorneys to close loans in Georgia. However, it's not just protecting myself and my business--it truly protects the consumer as well. These attorneys who show up at your house to be a witness for these out of state companies are not helping you out. Yes, it's convenient (and I do mobile closings from time to time--I happened to close a refi at a coffee shop with a good friend/loan officer this morning) but is it truly helping you? Let's look at the differences.

So we closed at a coffee shop. As a GA attorney, we ran title here in GA (using an attorney-certified title abstractor). We processed the file in our office; a licensed attorney (ME : ) with E&O coverage closed this file along with a witness (and I am a GA notary). I processed this file and we will fund it using a GA IOLTA account (Interest On Lawyers Trust Account--required by the State Bar, and it funds indigent defense among other things). I wrote title on a GA licensed Title Agency, which will in turn cut a check to the proper oversight agency here in GA. If the customer has an issue with their closing, who will they call? ME. Who will pick up their phone (or call back within 24 hours)? ME. Who is liable for any mistakes on that file? ME. Period.

Let's contrast that with a witness-only attorney who closed with their 'customer'-they received a file from an out of state company, showed up at the mutually agreed upon time and location and pulled out their notary stamp and pointed to where the customer needed to sign. When they were finished, they sealed up the FEDEX and sent it back to the out of state company/lender. NO taxes were collected in GA, no fees were generated in GA, no liability (so they think!) for the GA "attorney". So who does the customer call? GOOD LUCK PAL! And do you think that customer saved any money? From most HUD-1 Settlement Statements I have seen, the fees are more costly than a GA attorney's fees! Even if not, they are only slightly cheaper.

Is losing your house worth saving $50? Read this article and see if you think it is....

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Georgia Economic 'Snapshots'

When I first read the headline noting ATL is the #31 destination for movers according to U-Haul I was thinking 'cool, this is good for us!'. Unfortunately, when I read the article we were #1 in 2008 and #6 in 2009. People, Georgia is lagging! It's not just the data from 1.4M rentals by U-Haul--it's our water issues, our schools and our transportation problems. MARTA rail? Forget it... for a city our size we have the fewest miles of rail (compare us to Washington DC). We need to have a regional entity to make ATL competitive on that front. Many other topics but that's just one bugging me right now. The top 5 cities per U-Haul? 1-Houston (Houston?); 2-Orlando; 3-Vegas; 4-Chicago; 5-Portland. Oh what the heck-- 6-San Antonio; 7-Austin; 8-Brooklyn; 9-Sacramento and 10-Kansas City, MO (huh?).

We're also #8 for "financial distress". We scored 61.3 on CredAbility's Financial Distress Index--a score below 70 indicates a state of financial distress. A score of 60 or less is considered an emergency crisis. We are unfortunately in "good company". The top-10 in order are: Michigan, Mississippi, Nevada, Alabama, Florida, South Carolina, Indiana, Georgia, North Carolina and California. The 'punchline' in this story is that these 10 states produce over 33% of the country's GDP (no, it's not really a punchline, more like a punch in the gut). In essence, economic indicators are looking up; it's just that individual bottom lines have not fully recovered. Give it time; hang on fellow Georgians! Who knows--maybe we'll be able to vote on Sunday sales sometime soon; wouldn't that be a novel concept!

Losing to gain...?

There was an interesting article in the AJC today talking about a couple that 'bit the bullet' and lost money on the sale of their townhome in order to purchase a new home for a pretty solid discount. That may well be our 'new normal' for quite some time with values continuing to drop (or remaining stagnant). This is a difficult mindset to overcome (to 'break even' or even lose money on a sale) and an even more difficult situation if a seller has to write a check to sell their home--how will they pay for their new home?
There are more positive signs that the economy as a whole is looking up. Unfortunately, one of the indicators is somewhat misleading for us in Georgia. While unemployment has dipped to 9% in the US, the unemployment rate actually rose to 10.2% in Georgia. What is happening? Unfortunately, many of our lost jobs were tied to construction, be it commercial or residential. As we all know, neither area has bounced back solidly. I read an article in the Atlanta Business Chronicle and I think it actually said that there are NO commercial projects over 20 stories being built at this time and we all see the vacant strip malls and empty 'big box' stores all over metro Atlanta.
So what's next for us? We still have several bright spots out there. The port in Savannah is growing like gangbusters (cross your fingers for money to deepen the harbor); the ATL airport is still the busiest in the world and Kia has expanded their plant already (and I believe they are expanding again!) down in West Point and there are other producers out there (though the new Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga didn't hire any Georgia workers--no wonder they chose 'the dark side' for their Super Bowl commercial). All in all, real estate is at or nearing the bottom. Prices are great; rates are great--no news there. The only change that needs to happen is to get people out there buying. Unfortunately, we need to get more people employed to make that happen. With that being said, consumers are out shopping again; my hope is that we'll see Home shoppers out there again soon!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

So you want to go to law school...

This is an entertaining YouTube video : ) Have fun! Click HERE for the video