11/29/2011 03:02 pm ET Updated Jan 29, 2012

What They're Saying About Real Estate Today, And HARP for Those Underwater

Below you will find a couple links to recent articles on residential real estate. There are some bright spots and still some dark spots, and depending on what you read or who you trust, you'll hear stories of doom and gloom as well as stories that portray a brighter future.

I'd first like to make a couple points. I know there are a lot of people out there who are struggling with underwater mortgages, those who face foreclosure, and those who have been foreclosed upon. I have relatives, colleagues, and friends who make up all of these constituencies. And, still the many projections about the future of the economy and the future of real estate investments cover a wide ranging spectrum.

And, while this post includes stories to help those who are underwater in their mortgage, I'd like to also focus on those who are still considering buying a home for the first time, getting back into the market, and to those looking to make smart investments for their future.

I suggest that you don't get too caught up in whether the market is up or down today or tomorrow, but rather ask yourself, "Can I afford this mortgage payment today and likely tomorrow? And, is that payment reasonable or even better than what I would be paying in rent?"

I believe that the combination of the lowest interest rates in over a half century and many depressed markets around the country together could make for a great investment(s) over the long run.

One of the core goals of The Cribline is to help readers see the opportunities with real estate investing, and to learn ways to help moderate risks and help build wealth over the longer-term.

Many homes featured in the section of The Cribline's House Pick of the Week show how under certain circumstances and good planning, even a million-dollar home, for example, can cost less than many one-bedroom apartments in the city. See the posts from September 25
and October 2, for example.

While realistic about the current state of the economy, I am optimistic about the future, and I hope to pass along some of the lessons I've learned from some of the mistakes I've made in real estate.

So take a look at some of the stories highlighted below. This is one of The Cribline's efforts to help spread better knowledge of the market and show how the American dream is still alive.

Check out this story "Not Every Real Estate Market Is Struggling." The story highlights a survey of the 1,000 largest cities nationwide by online real estate marketplace Zillow for It identified the markets with the biggest gains and losses in home value, ranking Weston, FL (near Ft. Lauderdale) the best-performing city since Obama took office. In contrast, the U.S. median home value fell by 9.9 percent over the same period.

Five out of 10 best performing housing markets under this index are in Washington, D.C.

Check out this article from the Washington Post about the updated Home Affordable Refinance Program (HARP) from last month... and what you need to know:

- To be eligible, you must have a mortgage owned or guaranteed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, sold to those agencies on or before May 31, 2009.

- The current loan-to-value ratio on the mortgage must be greater than 80 percent.

- Having a mortgage that was previously refinanced under the program disqualifies you from the program.

- Borrowers cannot not have missed any mortgage payments in the past six months and cannot have had more than one missed payment in the past 12 months.

According to a recent LA Times article, mortgage refinancing should get easier under the revised HARP program, and it could help one million to two million people get significantly lower monthly payments in hopes of stabilizing the real estate market. The story also notes that "... Federal Reserve officials have hinted in recent days that they could launch another program to buy up mortgage-backed bonds in an effort to pull home loan rates lower."

For more information on D.C. real estate, go to