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More Short Sales Expected

A march Housing Wire piece (housingwire.com) indicated that CoreLogic recently reported that there were 11.1 million home owners who owed more on their mortgages than what their home is worth, which roughly translates to 22.8% of all mortgages being underwater. At one time, most home sellers applying for a short sale were experiencing hardships and foreclosure. However, as the housing market continues to recover- an increasing number of short sale listings are from sellers who are current on their mortgage and are not experiencing hardships.

For home owners who are experiencing financial difficulty, there are a number of options available to keep your home; however often a last resort- the short sale is one alternative to losing your home to foreclosure. However, home owners who need to sell their homes (because of a job transfer, divorce, or other reason), but are not otherwise experiencing a financial difficulty nor hardship, are also turning to the short sale process because of depressed home sale prices.

Although short sale horror stories still circulate, much has changed and many lenders have attempted to “streamline” their short sale process. Still, this has not prevented Congress from attempting to force lenders to provide speedy short sale decisions. In 2010, H.R. 6133 H.R.: Prompt Decision for Qualification of Short Sale Act of 2010 was introduced to require a 45 day response from lenders, however it “died” in committee. A recent form of this legislation was introduced in 2011 (H.R. 1498: Prompt Decision for Qualification of Short Sale Act of 2011), but GovTrack (govtrack.us) gives the bill an 8% chance of becoming law. Another bill, S. 2120: Prompt Notification of Short Sales Act, was introduced in February; GovTrack gives that a 2% chance of being enacted.

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The State Court rules on Pit Bulls

It is rare that Maryland’s highest court in a case decides to change the common law applicable to the issues before it, but last week the Court of Appeals did precisely that in a case called Tracey v. Solesky. The case involved a claim for serious issues caused to a boy attached by a pit bull, and the Court by a 4-3 vote declared pit bull or “cross-bred” pit bulls inherently dangerous.
The majority opinion starts by reciting the history of cases in the Maryland appellate courts over the years involving bites or attacks by pit bulls, noting at least 7 reported opinions. These included cases with dogs called “Trouble” and “Rampage”, the latter of which held that a landlord who had knowledge of the viciousness of the dog but did not enforce the “no pets” clause in the lease could be legally held negligent if the dog injured someone who came to the premises. The common law of Maryland from these cases also established that owners of dogs could be liable if their dog had previously bitten or showed vicious propensities, or for negligent acts such as violating a leash law.
The case before the court involved a dog named Clifford, but which according to the majority had “the same aggressive and vicious characteristics” as other pit bulls. The dog had escaped his too small enclosure and bitten two boys the same day, including inflicting life threatening injuries that led to the suit against the landlord of the property from where he escaped. The trial judge dismissed the case under the current law, since there was no evidence the landlord had knowledge of Clifford’s propensities.
The majority announced its decision to change the law, for this case and claims arising after this opinion, holding that “because of its aggressive and vicious nature and its capacity to inflict serious and sometime fatal injuries, pit bulls and cross-bred pit bulls are inherently dangerous.” Therefore, owners and landlords who know about the presence of a pit bull or pit bull mixed dog are strictly liable for any injuries caused by the dog.
The dissenting opinion in very strong language accused the majority of deciding on its own that pit bulls are inherently dangerous, without expert or other evidence in the record of the case to support that. It also notes that the ruling leaves dog owners “entirely in the dark” as to how one determines what is a mixed breed pit bull. This is the type of ruling that will likely lead to further efforts to expand it to other breeds and situations as lawyers and trial judges try to predict where the Court might go next.

Stringfellow's String Theory is a Lepton

By Tom Ryan

Legal writing is often, even to lawyers, rather dry. Sometimes, however, legal writing can be just as good as any the reader may find. This is illustrated by the majority opinion filed this week by Judge Harrell in the Maryland Court of Appeal’s case called State v. Stringfellow.

The case involved yet another variation on the “CSI” defense.  Mr. Stringfellow was allegedly spotted by police officers holding a handgun, which he dropped to the ground.  He was then arrested and charged with illegal possession of the weapon. The State was worried that no fingerprints were taken from the gun, and asked the trial judge to ask the prospective jury panel during the “voir dire” questioning in jury selection whether they felt the State was required to used specific scientific techniques like fingerprints to prove its case. Defense counsel objected, but later told the Court he accepted the jury as selected without again raising his objection.

Stringfellow was found guilty, and appealed. The majority of the high Court found that the objection had been waived, and that asking the question was harmless in any event in this case. Two judges felt he had not waived the issue, but joined in the result. Judge Harrell’s opinion, remembering that Stringfellow was the name of the defendant, included this introduction:

“String theory is a scientific framework that describes the smallest, most basic particles-those building blocks of the universe so small they cannot be comprised of other particles-as indistinguishable segments of a string. These infinitesimally small particles vibrate like the plucked strings of a subatomic particle. How they vibrate determines whether they are leptons or quarks, which form atoms, which form elements, and so forth. ….theState… and Mr. Stringfellow disagree whether Stringfellow’s objection was a lepton or a quark. That is, the State argues that Stringfellow’s unsuccessful objection to the question went to the composition of the jury, which he waived…Stringfellow counters…that notwithstanding his acceptance of the jury, his objection is preserved…”

The majority agreed the objection was a lepton, and affirmed the conviction. Good stuff.

How will real estate fare in next recession?

By Dan Krell

Some say that the world will end December 21st, 2012.  However, rather than the world ending, some say that we will only see increased financial and social upheaval.  Divination may be fine for some, but many economic and financial experts are resolve to figure out solutions to current economic issues.

So, as these financial and economic professionals argue how make the economy better, along comes Jim Rogers.  (If you’ve never heard of Jim Rogers, he is described as an investor and economic commentator who is often featured in frequently featured in Time, The Washington Post, The New York Times, Barron’s, Forbes, Fortune, The Wall Street Journal, The Financial Times, and other economic and financial publications; jimrogers-investments.blogspot.com.)   Prophetic, forward thinking Jim Rogers drops a bombshell: economic slowdowns occur in the United States every 4 to 6 years, which has been happening since the country was founded – and 2013 will be 6 years from the technical beginning of the most recent recession that began in 2007.

Don’t get too excited yet, Rogers has been talking about recession/economic slowdown for several years.  And although he hasn’t provided any specific dates, his most recent comments seem to be saying that we’re overdue.

But some would argue that the housing industry continues to struggle and has not yet emerged from the most recent recession.  Even when recent initial annual reports attempt to instill optimism, we have been disappointed by lackluster midyear sales numbers.  This year will be no different.

Consider that the National Association of Realtor® (realtor.org) recently announced that existing home sales in March 2012 declined 2.6 percent from February.  However, even though March sales declined from the previous month, the report makes a point to say that home sales increased 5.2% compared to the same time last year.

However, local housing stats may be more telling.  The Greater Capital Area Association of Realtors® (gcaar.com) reports Montgomery County single family home sales for March 2012 decreased 4% compared to the same time last year; and decreased 3.9 percent year to date 2012 compared to the same time last year.  And although pending sales (homes under contract) have increased 5.2 percent year to date 2012 compared to the same time last year; the inventory of homes for sale has decreased 12.6 percent per year to date 2012 compared to the same time last year - not leaving much choice for home buyers (data compiled from Metropolitan Regional Information Systems, Inc.).

Additionally, the most recent S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Index (reported April 24th, 2012) indicated that February home prices “improved”-  to an annual decline of 3.6 percent  for the 10 City Composite; home prices in the Washington DC region remained relatively the same (standardandpoors.com).  The Home Price Index, reported by the Federal Housing Finance Agency (fhfa.gov), indicated that home prices for the last quarter of 2011 decreased 1.1percent.

Since decreased consumer sentiment and spending are associated with a recession; we could possibly see a temporary decrease in home sales, not unlike the post-financial-crisis sales of 2008/2009, if we experience a recession next year.  As a result, home prices could also suffer.

However, as the housing market lumbers along, it becomes increasingly clear that the practical aspects of home sale figures have recently become less a function of the overall economy; rather, housing has become a function of a shifting perception of home ownership.

Dan Krell is a Realtor® with Gerlach Real Estate, Inc. in Chevy Chase, MD. You can access more information at www.DanKrell.com.

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