For folks who like paper and documentation, in 2015 nearby Iowa (I am in Kansas for a few days) will become the first state to offer an official app from the state's Department of Transportation that can serve as your driver's license and ID. Perhaps we're destined for a more convenient, wallet-free future - we'll have implanted chips, right? Smartphones won't be replacing driver's licenses in Iowa since not everyone has a phone. Instead, Iowa DOT director Paul Trombino says that the state will offer "an identity vault app" to supplement citizens' physical driver's license cards. The app will be secured with a PIN for now and will complement the electronic proof of insurance that's already allowed in Iowa and over 30 more states.

The latest quarterly results of home builders Toll Brothers Inc. and Hovnanian Enterprises Inc. provide minimal optimism for the new-home market going into 2015, as consumers remain reticent and builders use more incentives to bolster sales. The Wall Street Journal reports that, "Toll notched a 10% gain in sales contracts in its fiscal fourth quarter ended Oct. 31, signaling that luxury buyers are continuing their three-year trend of strong home-buying activity. Toll added that its sales in November and the first half of this month are up 16% from the same period a year ago, but it characterized the housing recovery as "extended and uneven." However, builders' recent results have come against comparatively weak numbers from a year ago, when sales suffered as buyers reeled from a rapid, 1-percentage-point rise in interest rates.

In addition, the bottom half of the market remains constrained. For example, Hovnanian, which caters to move-up buyers purchasing their second-generation house as well as some first-time buyers, registered an 8% gain in sales contracts for its quarter ended Oct. 31, falling short of analysts' expectations. Hovnanian added that it relied more heavily on sales incentives to boost its sales, which caused its gross margin to decline to 19.3% from 22.6% a year earlier. Incentives typically entail offering buyers free upgrades or financial assistance such as covering closing costs. Overall, Hovnanian called 2014 "disappointing" for itself and the broader housing industry. Across the U.S., sales of newly built homes are up by only 1% in the first 10 months of this year from the same period last year."

And Zelman & Associates Land Development Survey indicates strong development activity which will assist future lot supply. The land development index increased to 63.3 from 62.9 a month earlier and on average, it takes 15 months for raw land to be developed into finished lots. Finished lot demand decreased for the seventh consecutive month to 67 but finished lot value is up 13% YoY. Demand ratings for finished lots, raw land, builder appetite and investor appetite all declined in October due to irregular homebuyer demand the past few months. Whereas the absolute land acquisition demand score of 67.7 is above the 50-point threshold representative of a typical demand environment.

Along those lines Zelman & Associates released a report that focused on home builder trends. The analysis reported an improvement in the home building sector as seasonally adjusted order trends bounced back in October from a month prior and order growth jumped to 22% YoY, leading to a 30% increase for the public builders. Unfortunately, the pricing outlook was more negative than in previous months due to disappointing results and guidance from public builders during earnings season. The price appreciation over next year is 4.2% and net order price is up 3.7% YoY. Overall, construction costs have increased 3.5% YoY and margins have declined, indicating that incremental pricing power is not enough to counter higher land and construction costs.

Cash is king, right? Out of Old Greenwich, not to be confused with New Greenwich, comes news that Ellington Financial LLC has made a subordinated debt investment in Skyline Financial Corporation, a multi-channel mortgage lender (Skyline Home Loans, NewLeaf Wholesale, and NewLeaf Funding). Skyline is looking to expand its retail, wholesale and direct-to-consumer businesses. Bill Dallas, CEO of Skyline, notes, "Our company has built an intelligent, data-driven digital mortgage platform (iMP) designed to create a simple, easy-to-understand transparent loan process that puts the customer in control." For its part Ellington Financial LLC is a specialty finance company that primarily acquires and manages mortgage-related assets, including residential mortgage-backed securities, residential mortgage loans, commercial mortgage-backed securities, commercial mortgage loans and other commercial real estate debt, real property and mortgage-related derivatives.

There are deals that "look ahead", such as the one that is noted above, but companies continue to deal with legacy issues. Citibank said it will set aside $2.7 billion in legal costs (investigations into FX, Libor and compliance) and $800mm in repositioning charges in Q4. Darn it! Why didn't I go to law school?

Speaking of looking ahead, let's take a quick look at some upcoming events and training...

New Penn Financial has upcoming Home Key Webinars Tuesday December 16th (sorry I missed that one) and today, Wednesday December 17th. This product is a market leading option for borrowers looking for a fresh start who have suffered a mortgage credit event such as bankruptcy, foreclosure, or short sale just after one year. These informative sessions will include topics such as: product summary, Borrowers included in the target market and how to find them, tools and resources available, required documents, and product eligibility. All of the tools and resources regarding the Home Key product as well as registration information can be found on its Home Key Overview Page.

If you're near Denver on January 12th you should check out the 1st Annual 2015 Colorado Mortgage and Real Estate Sales Summit. Three special presentations by Mortgage and Real Estate experts Ken Perry, Dan Cooper, and me. The admission is free although one must pre-register at "Understand the issues, changing laws and forecasts for 2015, communicate with the largest single market in the U.S. (bigger than Baby Boomers, Generation X and the Homeland Generation), learn innovative strategies/tactics to increase your business in 2015, speak one-on-one with real estate/mortgage litigation attorneys."

A la mode Modern Appraiser Roadshow is coming to San Diego. You can pick your preferred date: January 22nd- 24th. This isn't your typical appraisal training, its valuable Continuing Education-based training you'll use daily and actually see results from. Learn more about the road and registration by clicking the registration link.

Starting in January, the national MBA along with the American Land Title Association (ALTA) will hit the road with a new set of MBA Compliance Essentials RESPA-TILA Integration Forums.

New Mexico Lenders Association's partnership with MBA, brings you special pricing on this series of important events. This second wave of Forums puts you in execution mode and provides guidance on how to best proceed with implementation. These one-day Forums include legal, title, technology and operation experts; and provide attendees an opportunity to get answers to burning questions in facilitated Q&A sessions. Savings are available in all cities with early registration.

The FHA is offering free webinars:

Thursday, December 18, 2014 is an overview of Mortgagee Letter 2014-24, "Increasing Use of FHA's Claims without Conveyance of Title (CWCOT)" (National Servicing Center) and its impact on foreclosure processes for FHA Single Family forward mortgages. Click the link for information on registration.

Today, Wednesday, December 17, 2014 Webinar IV: Neighborhood Watch System - Servicer Tools, FHA's National Servicing Center will provide an overview of how FHA-approved Servicers can utilize HUD's Neighborhood Watch system. Click the link for registration information on neighborhood watch.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015, Webinar V.1: SFDMS - Reporting Basics in which FHA's National Servicing Center will provide guidance to FHA-approved Servicers covering the basics of reporting information on defaulted FHA loans to HUD through the Single Family Default Monitoring System (SFDMS). Topics will include: Deadlines, EDI files vs. manual reporting, reporting resources.  For registration information, click here.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015, Webinar V.3: SFDMS - Errors, FHA's National Servicing Center will provide FHA-approved Servicers the opportunity to review what causes fatal and non-fatal errors in SFDMS reporting, and what can be done to prevent or fix the problems. Servicers will also learn how SFDMS reporting affects their TRS II score. Click the link SFDMS for registration.

What does the Congressional Budget Office think of moving Fannie and Freddie? Here is the latest: "Transitioning to Alternative Structures in Housing Finance." "CBO expects that the role of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in the secondary mortgage market will shrink over the next decade under current policy. If policymakers wanted to reduce that role further and lessen the advantages given to the two GSEs, they could use various mechanisms..."

Look at this market! The 10-yr T-note sitting at 2.07% at the close on Tuesday has investors worried about refinances paying off their MBS holdings - until they realize just how much it costs borrowers to fund a loan these days due to lender costs. Still, MBS prices improved again relative to Treasury prices and 30-yr agency securities closed out the day at or near the highs from earlier improving .250-.375.

For news today we've had the MBA's application numbers for last week and we will also have the Consumer Price Index. Applications for U.S. home mortgages fell last week and interest rates declined to their lowest level since May 2013, per the MBA. The seasonally adjusted index of mortgage application activity, which includes both refinancing and home purchase demand, fell 3.3 percent in the week ended Dec. 12. Refinancing applications were unchanged, while the gauge of loan requests for home purchases, a leading indicator of home sales, fell 6.9 percent.

(Read More: Lower Rates Fail to Stir Mortgage Applications)

But the media seems most focused on this afternoon's conclusion of the Federal Open Market Committee meeting at 1PM CST, and the meaning of every little word and punctuation. After that will be Chairwoman Yellen's press conference to follow at 1:30PM CST. So far, in the very early going, we're at 2.10% on the 10-yr and agency MBS prices are worse a shade.


Jobs and Announcements

For jobs du jour, Citibank, N.A. is searching for experienced, high-performing Home Lending Officers (HLOs) in key Citibank retail markets including New York, Boston, Washington, D.C., S. Florida, Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco.  HLOs work with customers to offer lending solutions that meet their home financing needs and promote Citi and its financial services.  HLOs work as a team with bank branch staff to drive mortgage originations and will develop key referral relationships with Realtors, Builders, etc. to develop self-sourced business. "Ideal candidates will have expert knowledge of lending products, services and pricing alternatives and the ability to explain them to clients and referral sources. Citibank offers the best of both worlds - an established global brand with a 200-year history that operates in many ways like a small local lender - and has exclusive products and relationship pricing discounts and offers one of the best retail branch partnership models in the industry."  To learn more about Citibank and this opportunity apply today here.

Supreme Lending would like to thank associates and business partners for their unwavering commitment and teamwork after being recognized as the ninth fastest growing company in the Dallas 100TM awards. "We attribute our continued growth and success to the exceptional talent of our 1,100 associates across the country," Rick Hogle, Chief Strategic Officer at Supreme, stated regarding the award. Dale Petrillo, a tenured associate of Supreme and successful Branch Manager at their Denver office, talks more about the commitment and dedication that makes Supreme stand out in their industry in this video.