Poll: Most see housing downturn worsening
About three out of four Americans think the housing crisis has not reached its worst point, but nearly half think conditions will improve once a new president is elected, according to a Harris Interactive poll commissioned by Move Inc. Among prospective home buyers, 81 percent said they face barriers to buying in the current market. High home prices, money for a down payment and lack of confidence in the economy were the most often cited barriers. Only one in 100 current homeowners plans to buy a home in the next six months, compared with 2 percent of renters. About 4 percent of current homeowners say they plan to buy a home in the next 12 months, and 7 percent of renters.

The greatest barrier to home ownership, cited by 31 percent of the 2,462 adults surveyed, was high home prices. That concern was higher in the West (39 percent) than in the South (27 percent) or Midwest (26 percent). The second-greatest barrier keeping buyers out of the current market is coming up with the money for a down payment (28 percent), with lack of confidence in the economy (26 percent) ranking third. The most important characteristics in choosing a place to live were crime rates (56 percent), proximity to daily conveniences like stores and services (47 percent), and property taxes (46 percent).

Only 38 percent of those polled had never visited an online real estate Web site, but only one in five had visited a real estate Web site such as Move.com, Zillow.com and Trulia.com in the last 12 months. An equal number — 20 percent of those surveyed — said they’d used local newspaper listings to obtain information about real estate in the last 12 months.

Countrywide settles allegations of improper late fees
Countrywide Home Loans has agreed to pay $325,000 to the division of the Justice Department that oversees bankruptcies in western Pennsylvania as part of a settlement resolving allegations that the lender failed to properly credit mortgage payments received from bankrupt borrowers, overestimated what they owed, and made unfounded demands for payment. Countrywide, which was acquired this month by Bank of America Corp., disputed the allegations but agreed to settle the case on June 18, the New York Times reported. The settlement must be approved by Judge Thomas Agresti of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania. It requires Countrywide to reconcile the amounts it claimed were owed by about 300 borrowers with records compiled by the Office of the U.S. Trustee, which claimed Countrywide lost or destroyed payments from borrowers and then charged them improper late fees and legal costs (see story).

Builder confidence hits record low
Builder confidence in the market for newly built single-family homes fell for a third consecutive month in July, according to a report released today. The National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index fell below its previous record low of 18 in June to a new record low of 16 in July, with each of its three component indexes also hitting new lows.

The index gauging current sales conditions declined one point to 16; the index gauging sales expectations in the next months fell four points to 23; and the index gauging traffic of prospective buyers also receded four points, to 12. Any score over 50 indicates that more builders view sales conditions as good than poor.

By region, the Midwest declined six points to 10, its lowest HMI score since the regional detail was introduced in December of 2004, while the West matched a record low set in January 2008 with its three-point decline to 13. The South posted a one-point decline to 20. The Northeast was the only region to post a gain in July’s HMI, rising two points to 14 from the previous month’s record low of 12.

A housing stimulus bill now being considered in Congress would provide a temporary tax credit of up to $8,000 for first-time home buyers, helping to stimulate sales, reduce the inventory of unsold homes on the market, stabilize house prices and arrest the rapid deterioration of mortgage credit quality, according to the builders group.

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