If you're like me, and believe the internet is lacking in places to anonymously voice your concerns, or if you have ever wanted to complain but just didn't have the time to pull over on the turnpike to find an internet café, fear no more: HUD's got you covered. HUD added to its ever growing wireless apps with their launch of "Fair Housing Complain Application". Compliments to Buckley Sandler LLP for including this in a recent update, "On February 28, HUD launched a mobile application for iPhone and iPad that will allow the public to learn about their housing rights and file housing discrimination complaints. The application will also inform the housing industry of its responsibilities under the FHA. HUD expects the application to assist fair housing groups and other civil rights advocacy organizations seeking to enforce fair housing rights. Adaptive mobile pages will also allow web content to display properly on all smartphone and tablet brands, and for fair housing complaints to be completed and submitted in Spanish."

In their newsletter, HUD notes "In addition to facilitating real-time delivery of housing discrimination complaints to HUD, the app can be used by individuals researching their housing rights after a natural disaster, when power outages make the iPhone/iPad one of the few ways to access the Internet. The official HUD release can be found here. The app is currently downloadable at the Apple Store, and is easily found by searching for 'HUD Housing Discrimination'.

Peoples Bank, and FDIC community bank which had 2012 residential production of $1.9 billion, is searching for a Director of Mortgage Production - a new position created due to growth. The candidate will be responsible for recruiting, hiring and retaining high performing profitable retail loan officers, and designing, implementing, and managing efficient and compliant LO and branch manager compensation & marketing plans. The person will also oversee and work in cooperation with experienced partners in Direct-to-Consumer Call Center branches allowing DTC Branch Managers entrepreneurial flexibility in sales within bank standards for quality and profitability. Opportunity for advancement to President, Mortgage Division. Peoples Bank is headquartered in Overland Park, Kansas, and currently has sales centers in 8 states. Relocation to Overland Park preferred but will consider other locations. For more information or to send confidential inquiries and resumes, contact Marcia Robertson at mrobertson@bankingunusual .com.

Located in Southern California, a national mortgage lender & servicer is seeking a Capital Markets Leader. This position will be responsible for managing the capital markets function and should be a seasoned mortgage professional with in-depth secondary experience in all facets of capital markets from origination, hedging, securitization, analytics and trading.  This person will be a key member of an entrepreneurial senior management team with the opportunity to expand nationally utilizing best in class technology and best practices.  Interested parties should send their confidential resumes to me at rchrisman@robchrisman .com.

I am visiting Pennsylvania this week, from where I coincidentally received this note from a Realtor: "Rob, what's the scoop on Blackstone?" I think that the average person can't understand the impact that Blackstone is having on the markets - or maybe they can, and I am below average. In Sacramento alone, for example, it rumored to now own over 1,300 units. It is currently buying properties at the rate of $100 million per week nationwide. One title officer told me that often they don't even look at the house, but instead rely on modeling and valuation software during the buying decision. Blackstone and other funds are not in business for their health, or to help the Federal Reserve keep our economy stable. The company, like other firms buying houses, are in it to make money, and if management can make more money over a given time horizon by being a landlord and renting units & homes, it will. But if it believes the returns are higher by selling units, it will do that instead. And this is all cash, with the cash coming from large investment bank loans.

Of course, what that has done is to cause rents for single-family homes to rise more slowly than property prices. The supply of homes for others to purchase is dropping whereas Blackstone and other companies like Colony Capital are flooding the rental markets with places to lease. Trulia's research for the Phoenix area last month, for example, indicated rents had gone up less than 2% but for-sale asking prices were up 25%. Las Vegas saw asking prices jump 18% and rents actually decline 2%.

Ask any Realtor and they will tell you that the number of homes for sale is down from this time last year. In the top 100 major metropolitan areas, there has been a drop in for-sale inventory overall, as well as the reduction within three different price tiers (top third, middle third and bottom third). The supply of homes for sale across the nation is down 17% from late February last year with the greatest inventory reductions among top-tier properties (21% lower), followed by middle-tier homes (17% lower) and then bottom-tier homes (9% lower).  Only 14 metropolitan areas covered in this analysis showed the opposite pattern. Prominent metros in this group include Los Angeles (-46% overall; -57% among the bottom tier), Sacramento (-48% overall; -62% among the bottom tier), San Francisco (-41% overall; -51% among the bottom tier), Phoenix (-26% overall; -42% among the bottom tier), and Atlanta (-32% overall; -44% among the bottom tier). All 11 California metros Zillow examined are among the 20 metros with the greatest overall drop in homes for sale from February of last year. The metros that exhibit the largest drop in bottom-tier inventory are also among the metros that have seen heavy investor activity.

Given the continually strong rental market, investors have been purchasing and converting low-end properties to for-rent units. Most inventory increases are driven by bottom- and middle-tier categories. In 14 metros the number of bottom-tier homes for sale has actually increased from last year. In 12 metro, an increase is seen among middle-tier homes. In only two metros is the inventory of top-tier homes higher than last year. This is potentially due to the slow, but steady stream of REOs that are being released. Even though the number of available homes is down from last year, there is evidence of market adjustment. Inventory tightness in many areas has contributed to increases in home values. Yet as home values rise, the negative equity held by homeowners decreases, freeing some and allowing them to finally sell their homes and recover more than the mortgage owed. Other drivers of the increase in available inventory likely include REOs exiting the foreclosure pipeline and increased confidence in the overall housing market.

Finishing with this topic, recently RealtyTrac released its Q4 and Year-End 2012 U.S. Foreclosure & Short Sales Report, which shows a total of 947,995 U.S. properties in some stage of foreclosure or real estate-owned (REO) were sold during the year, a decrease of 6% from 2011 and down 11% from 2010. These foreclosure-related sales accounted for 21% of all U.S. residential sales during the year, down from 23% of all sales in 2011 and down from 28% of all sales in 2010. Properties not in foreclosure that sold as short sales in 2012 accounted for an estimated 22% of all residential sales-bringing the total share of distressed sales to 43% including both foreclosure-related sales and non-foreclosure short sales. Pre-foreclosure sales in 2012 increased from the previous year in 28 states and outnumbered REO sales in 12 states, including Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Maryland, New Jersey and New York. And despite the decrease nationwide, REO sales in 2012 increased from the previous year in 26 states and still outnumbered pre-foreclosure sales in 38 states, including Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota and Nevada. "Although foreclosure-related sales represent a shrinking share of total sales, primarily because of fewer bank-owned purchases, distressed sales are still a disproportionately high portion of the overall housing market," said Daren Blomquist, vice president of RealtyTrac. "And while distressed properties - whether bank-owned, pre-foreclosure or short sales not in foreclosure - are still selling at a significant discount compared to non-distressed properties, average distressed property prices are increasing in many markets thanks to strong demand and limited inventory."

Last week the market was focused on the Federal Open Market Committee meeting (really much ado about nothing - are we going to go through this several times for the rest of the year?) and Cyprus (reminding us that the problems in Europe are still problems). As expected, the FOMC kept rates unchanged, but much of the uncertainty has been centered on the Fed's open-ended purchases of mortgage-backed securities and U.S. Treasuries. Although the statement did not provide explicit guidance on when purchases will begin to taper off, the policy paragraph did hint there was robust discussion. Jobs and housing, housing and jobs...Despite the modest retreat in builder confidence, existing home sales also improved on the month. And lenders are watching all-cash transactions, preferred by investors, continue to rise as many take advantage of discounted properties that are still on the market. Much of the investor activity is taking place in hard-hit areas of the country where the share of foreclosures and short sales are the highest.

Moving the markets this morning is a "resolution" to the bank problem in Cyprus. Or is it just delaying the inevitable? Eurogroup officials (late Sun night) agreed to a resolution of the Cypriot crisis, avoiding a full economic and financial crisis in the country.  Deposit accounts worth under EU100K will be spared while the country's two biggest banks will be materially shrunk (and deposit accounts at both institutions worth >EU100K will suffer material losses). Other than Cyprus, the weekend was a very quiet one.

In this country, there is no scheduled economic news today. But the pace picks up tomorrow with Durable Goods, the Case-Shiller Index (with its two month lag), Consumer Confidence, and New Home Sales. Wednesday is Pending Home Sales (not a real market mover), and Thursday is Jobless Claims, GDP, and the Chicago PMI - and an early close for the bond market. Friday the bond & stock markets are closed due to Good Friday (watch the prices on anyone producing a rate sheet!) but we have Personal Income, Consumption, and a University of Michigan Sentiment Survey. In the early going the 10-yr has slid up to 1.96% and MBS prices are worse about .125 due to the lower-risk news out of Cyprus.


Every year, English teachers from across the USA can submit their collections of actual analogies and metaphors found in high school essays. Here are recent winners.
13. The hailstones leaped from the pavement, just like maggots when you fry them in hot grease.
14. Long separated by cruel fate, the star-crossed lovers raced across the grassy field toward each other like two freight trains, one having left Cleveland at 6:36 p.m. traveling at 55 mph, the other from Topeka at 4:19 p.m. at a speed of 35 mph.
15. They lived in a typical suburban neighborhood with picket fences that resembled Nancy Kerrigan's teeth.
16. John and Mary had never met. They were like two hummingbirds who had also never met.
17. He fell for her like his heart was a mob informant, and she was the East River.
18. Even in his last years, Granddad had a mind like a steel trap, only one that had been left out so long, it had rusted shut.
19. Shots rang out, as shots are wont to do.
20. The plan was simple, like my brother-in-law Phil. But unlike Phil, this plan just might work.
21. The young fighter had a hungry look, the kind you get from not eating for a while.
22. He was as lame as a duck. Not the metaphorical lame duck, either, but a real duck that was actually lame, maybe from stepping on a land mine or something.
23. The ballerina rose gracefully en Pointe and extended one slender leg behind her, like a dog at a fire hydrant.
24. It was an American tradition, like fathers chasing kids around with power tools.