With so much uncertainty in the housing market, it's a good time to seek insight from real estate leaders who have boots on the ground and their fingers on the pulse of their local market.
We recently sat down in a question-and-answer session with the Quincy Virgilio, the 2009 president of the Santa Clara County Association of Realtors (SCCAOR) in San Jose, the capital of Silicon Valley.
Virgilio is also broker and owner of Realty World -- California Property Network, and the Mortgage Network (MyMLSHunt.com) in San Jose and has more than two decades of experience, a half decade of service with the association and 800 closed transactions under his belt.
Here's what he had to say.
The housing crisis is on the minds of everyone, especially homeowners who are struggling to pay their mortgages, potential home buyers and those who want to sell their home.
Q: What advice do you think home sellers need most in the current housing market?
A. First, if you do not have to sell your home, don't. Now is not the time to test the market. Second, get accurate information from a reliable Realtor about what the market is saying. Remember, Realtors do not set the price at which your home will sell. The market does. Finally, be realistic when you price you home. Properly priced properties will sell quickly.
Q: What advice do you think home buyers need most in the current housing market?
A. You make your money when you buy your house. Buy right. Remember buying a home is a long term investment and, more importantly, buying a home is creating an asset that will grow over time. Take advantage of getting the lowest interest rate possible. That's the true cost of owning a home. With the current inventory levels, the right home is out there. Be sure to get professional help from a Realtor.
Q: What advice do you think homeowners most need in the current housing market?
A. Real estate is cyclical, and appreciation will return. If possible, pay down the principal balance on your existing mortgage and improve your equity position. Pay attention to what is going on in your neighborhood, and stay informed. Call your Realtor for reliable, accurate information. They'll be glad to help.
Q: The Obama administration's "Homeowner Affordability and Stability Plan" was scheduled for a March 4 rollout. The $275 Billion Plan includes:
• A refinancing program for "responsible" borrowers who haven't missed payments and whose loans are larger than the value of their homes.
• A loan modification provision with incentives for lenders to modify certain mortgages.
• A change to bankruptcy rules to allow judicial mortgage modifications designed to reduce mortgage balances to fair market value.
How will these provisions play in Silicon Valley?.
A. We must wait after the details are announced to determine the impact. Preliminary information reveals many of our homeowners may not qualify for help offered by the plan. Additional help eventually may be included for our higher cost area.
The reduction of mortgage balances by bankruptcy judges is a bad plan, one that will further hurt the recovery of the housing sector and stall the lending crisis. Lenders will have to factor this possibility into the price we pay for money, thereby raising interest rates to cover the potential losses incurred by the write downs. It's just a bad plan at the worst time.
One way everyone could be helped would be by allowing everyone to modify the terms of their loans to a 4 percent interest rate. If that does not help our economy, then I'm confused. If every homeowner could reduce their mortgage payments across the board, I think the money saved on mortgage payments would show up in consumer purchases.
Q: There have been some complaints from the real estate industry that the media is not fair in its coverage of the housing crisis. How can the media assist the association and the public in terms of reporting about the crisis and other housing issues?
A. Another goal for our association is to increase, with the media, the relevance and importance of our association and members. We are meeting with reporters and media sources to help them understand the importance of reporting accurate information. We are meeting with them to show that there are great opportunities coming out of the challenges we face. Now I know that good news simply does not sell, but I believe that being responsible and reporting the good news is going to go far with the readers, viewers and listeners. All media can help by contacting our association for the facts and reliable, accurate information prior to presenting a story.
Q: Are there any comments you'd like to make to your constituency, consumers or the public at large?
A. I would encourage everyone to get involved. There's a lot going on in (every) community and, now more than ever, we need everyone to be pushing in the same direction.