Monthly Archives: July 2011

Joyce’s Voice…Covington: Neighborhood of the week

Nearly everything in the retail core of Covington has been built in the last 10 years, and in fast-growing South King County‘s newest city, an “older home” was built in the 1960s or 1970s.

There’s no downtown, just a busy shopping area with City Hall sharing space in a modern building — with such tenants as a dental office and massage clinic — that is near a strip mall.

Quiet suburban cul-de-sacs right off the traffic roundabout near Costco and Fred Meyer, horse farms a few minutes up the road from Walmart, Kohl’s and Applebee’s and a background of evergreens and Mount Rainier behind the 272nd Avenue Southeast commercial district are oh-so-Covington.

“It a nice place to be, out of the rat race,” says local resident Kevin Holten, owner of a small, folksy garden-art store across the street from the huge Costco.

Affordable housing is the area’s big draw, with most homes in the $200,000 to mid-$300,000s price range, popular with young families and first-time homebuyers.  Most of the homes are single-family houses, many with large yards. There also are some high-density neighborhoods
with houses where “you can stick your arm out the window and touch the
house next door,” as one longtime resident said. Retail expansion and the building of new homes have continued in Covington despite the economic downturn of recent years. “Convenience is really a draw,
the combination of so many services and a relatively easy commute to Seattle
and the Eastside.”

Like many residents, Constantine praises the local schools and convenience to outdoor activities and rural areas. New home projects include Coho Creek
near Kentwood High School that’s sold about half its 117 homes, priced from
$255,000 to the $290,000s, since opening late last year.

Most houses in Covington were built in the 1980s or later, mainly in developments, with some large-acreage and high-end properties scattered throughout town.

The median value of all single-family houses in Covington, not just those that recently sold, was $219,700 in April, according to Seattle-based Zillow. That’s down 10.1 percent year-over-year, but up 0.8 percent from March, the Zillow Home Value Index shows.

Houses recently listed for sale in Covington ranged from a small, three-bedroom for $125,000; a three-bedroom, 1,490-square-foot house with a partial view of Mount Rainier for $199,950; a two-level, four-bedroom with large landscaped yard for $230,000; a five-bedroom home on a large lot for $334,900; and a large house on an acre for $599,950. Vacant lots and tracts are also
available. Like most of South King County, the area has become more diverse in
recent years, with ethnic eateries in local strip malls offering teriyaki and
pho in addition to area’s fast-food restaurants. Formerly an unincorporated area of Kent, Covington takes its name from an 1880s surveyor who helped logging
companies develop a railroad line in the area.

Incorporated in 1997, Covington has its own police, parks department, mayor  and city council; public schools are part of the Kent School District. The city is working on a pedestrian-oriented “Main Street” downtown with a public plaza, still in the planning and zoning stage. City amenities include parks and the popular Covington Aquatic Center indoor pool. Access to Covington is via Highway 167, accessible from Interstate 405, either through Kent on Southeast 272nd Street or via Highway 18. With the rapid growth in the area, many residents work in Southeast King County, along with those who commute to Seattle or the Eastside. Besides Metro Transit bus service,Kent Station provides commuter options including the Sounder trains to Seattle, Everett and Tacoma.

“This is a great place,”
says resident Troy Lightbody. “It’s small; everything’s so close, all the
stores, Lake Sawyer and Lake Meridian,” one of several locals who raves
about shopping convenience close to outdoor recreation. Erika Panzer, a resident and college student, praises Covington’s location “between Seattle and Tacoma, between the SuperMall and Southcenter, with good schools, short commutes to all kindsn of stores, restaurants and Green River Community College.” “I love it here,” Panzer says. “We’re in the middle of everywhere.”

By Madeline McKenzie Special to The Seattle Times

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Joyce’s Voice….Realtors® Offer Recommendations to Strengthen the Mortgage Origination Process

The National Association of Realtors® offered recommendations to Congress today about a number of issues affecting the mortgage origination process and the real estate and housing finance industry’s ability to facilitate home sales.

Testifying before the House Financial Service Committee’s Subcommittee on Insurance, Housing and Community Opportunity, NAR spokesperson Steve Brown, executive vice president, Crye-Leike Realtors® in Memphis, Tenn., identified several proposed regulations and existing rules that have exacerbated problems within the fragile real estate market and urged Congress and the administration to consider modifying the rules to help consumers purchase homes and the economy recover.

“As the leading advocate for home ownership, NAR believes that the pendulum has swung too far and now fewer qualified people are able to get a loan,” said Brown. “Congress and the administration need to reexamine the impact of many well-meaning laws and regulations that have come out of the financial and mortgage crisis to ensure that the still fragile housing recovery stays on track and the long-term value of home ownership in America is protected.”

Brown said the treatment of home warranties under the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act, which prevents kickbacks for referrals among settlement service providers, is one of the issues facing real estate firms, home warranty companies and consumers. Since home warranties are not a requirement for a mortgage origination or home sale, NAR believes that including the optional insurance product as a settlement service stretches the meaning of RESPA. Brown urged the subcommittee to pass H.R. 2446, the RESPA Home Warranty Clarification Act of 2011 introduced by Reps. Judy Biggert (R-Ill.) and Lacy Clay (D-Mo.), that would clarify that home warranties are not subject to RESPA and would provide for appropriate consumer disclosure.

Another area of concern to the industry is the definition of points and fees in the Qualified Mortgage provision of the Dodd-Frank Act, which limits the total points and fees collected by lenders and their affiliates – such as title companies – to 3 percent of the loan amount. This limits many affiliated companies from offering full services to their clients to avoid violating the cap. NAR recommends that Congress restore an exemption for affiliates duly constituted under RESPA, so that consumers can fully benefit from greater competition between affiliated and unaffiliated mortgage lenders.

Brown also reiterated the importance of the Federal Housing Administration to the nation’s real estate recovery and called upon the panel to make permanent the current loan limits that are set to expire September 30, 2011. Allowing the loan limits to revert to previous limits would result in a significant decline in loan limits in 669 counties and 42 states and would dramatically impact liquidity across the country.

NAR has expressed strong support for H.R. 1754, the “Preserving Equal Access to Mortgage Finance Programs Act,” introduced by Reps. Gary Miller (R-Calif.) and Brad Sherman (D-Calif.), that would make the current loan limits for FHA and the government-sponsored enterprises permanent. NAR also advocates keeping the FHA down payment at 3.5 percent and loosening restrictions on condominium purchases.

“With housing markets struggling to recover, the last thing we need to do is to put an avoidable stumbling block in the path of a much needed housing recovery,” said Brown. “Without a housing recovery, the nation’s economy as a whole will struggle to recover its balance.”

For more information, contact:
Sara Wiskerchen 202/383-1013 swiskerchen@realtors.org

Joyce’s Voice…Stabilizing the Housing Market is Key to the Economic Recovery, Say Realtors

Washington, July 19, 2011

Stability in the housing market will lead to a quicker and greater economic recovery, according to the National Association of Realtors®. In a letter to Shaun Donovan, secretary of Housing and Urban Development; Timothy Geithner, secretary of the Treasury; and Gene Sperling, director of the National Economic Council, NAR offered its recommendations for helping stabilize and revitalize the housing industry and economy.

“As the nation’s leading advocate for homeownership and housing issues, NAR understands how integral homeownership is to the nation’s economy. A strong housing market recovery is essential to the nation’s economic strength,” said NAR President Ron Phipps, broker-president of Phipps Realty in Warwick, R.I. “The housing market is in a fragile recovery, and our goal is to ensure that regulatory or legislative changes help lead the way out of today’s economic struggles and not jeopardize the recovery.”

In its letter, NAR cautioned that recent proposals could make a near-term housing recovery almost impossible, not to mention making it harder for millions of hard-working families to own their own homes. Phipps said more regulations and legislation that tighten access to credit and affordable safe mortgages are not the solution to righting the housing market and economy.

“We want to make sure that any legislative and regulatory changes don’t jeopardize a housing and economic recovery, so that anyone who is able and willing to assume the responsibilities of owning a home has the opportunity to pursue that dream,” said Phipps.

NAR urged support for policies that ensure qualified borrowers can obtain safe and sound mortgage financing. NAR called on regulators to revise the unnecessarily high down payment requirements of the Qualified Residential Mortgage (QRM) exemption from risk retention requirements under the Dodd-Frank Act. A broad QRM definition will encourage sound lending and reduce future defaults without delaying or denying homeownership to millions of creditworthy borrowers.

NAR also asked regulators to reduce the overcorrection in underwriting standards for mortgages from the Federal Housing Administration and government-sponsored enterprises because the now-too-stringent standards are preventing qualified borrowers from getting loans.

“Mortgage availability remains a concern, and borrowers continue to find it increasingly difficult to find affordable mortgage options. Requiring a higher down payment does little to reduce default risk, and only strips home buyers of their savings and increases the number of borrowers who are unable to purchase a home,” said Phipps. “We cannot have a viable housing market and economic recovery until creditworthy borrowers are able to obtain mortgage financing.”

NAR also recommends extending the FHA and GSE mortgage loan limits, which are critical to providing liquidity in today’s housing market. Reverting to the statutory limits on October 1 would reduce limits in 669 counties and 42 states and territories the average decline in loan limits will be more than $68,000.

NAR also firmly believes that National Flood Insurance Program is essential to a properly functioning real estate market, and urges Congress to pass a long-term reauthorization of the program before it is set to expire on September 30 for the tenth time in two years. The program ensures access to affordable flood insurance for millions of homeowners.

“We look forward to working with Congress and the administration to not only preserve, but also strengthen the American dream for future generations,” said Phipps.

The National Association of Realtors®, “The Voice for Real Estate,” is America’s largest trade association, representing 1.1 million members involved in all aspects of the residential and commercial real estate industries.

For more information, contact:
Sara Wiskerchen 202/383-1013 swiskerchen@realtors.org