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Monday Morning Cup of Coffee: Online home shopping surges; Mortgages tank

April 7, 2014
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Monday Morning Cup of Coffee takes a look at stories across the HousingWire news desk, with more coverage to come on bigger issues.

The Quicken Loans Billion Dollar Bracket with Yahoo Sports did not last long as America tunes in Monday night to watch the Connecticut Huskies play the Kentucky Wildcats.

Despite two major upsets busting majority of the brackets, there is still $2 million in guaranteed prize money up for grabs, with $100,000 going to the 20 best “imperfect” brackets in the contest.

“While we won’t be creating America’s next billionaire, we are excited that 20 people will still receive a life-changing check for $100,000.  That’s still a heck of a payday for filling out a bracket,” Jay Farner, president and chief marketing officer of Quicken Loans, said.

Online home shopping hit new records in March, with Zillow (Z) traffic rising by almost 7 million since the start of the year, an article from GeekWire reported.

In March, the Seattle based company soared to nearly 77 million unique users, an increase from 66 million in February, and a drastic jump from 50 million for the same period a year prior.   

But Zillow is not alone in its efforts.

The article explains that Zillow is in a serious battle for mindshare in the online real estate arena, competing with players such as Realtor.com and Trulia (TRLA). As part of that effort, both Trulia and Zillow are engaged in a multi-million dollar branding effort, with Trulia attracting about 38 million visitors per month at the end of 2013.

“We believe we have created a more authentic approach to our marketing efforts that will allow us to break through in the category. Most marketing in the space is sentiment-based and undifferentiated. We know that if we focus on building the best product and create a differentiated campaign we can drive all our key metrics,” Trulia said in the article.

The big banks are posting record low mortgage originations, as recently released data from Black Knight Financial Services confirms.

But, according to Quartz, things are looking pretty bad, numbers wise.

Mortgage originations are "26% down sequentially from the fourth quarter of 2013, and 60% down from the first quarter of 2013," the article states. "The origination numbers were the weakest seen in the first three months of the year since 2000, when total home loan volume for the quarter was $122 billion."

More economic reports are pointing to a warmer national housing market, an article in Reuters said. 

Between reports from homebuilders, mortgage insurers and brokers, it looks like demand in the residential housing market is picking up, opening the door for broader acceleration compared to the slow growth that has been pulling the economy.

“We also believe that most everything is pointing in the right direction,” said Rex Gordon, vice president of corporate land at The Drees Company, a privately held homebuilder based in Fort Mitchell, Kentucky that sold 1,648 homes last year.

“Yes, construction was hit real hard because of the weather, but from a sales standpoint we’ve been encouraged,” Gordon said. “The vibe is good; our sales people are happy. They’re all working with prospects all the time.”

And while some of the figures show that the housing recovery has been tepid, some of those conditions that undercut the recovery are disappearing.

Although mortgage rates are on the rise, they are growing from the lowest level in almost two decades.

The recent jobs report brought up good news: this recovery is better than most, a Calculated Risk article noted.

“Even though it took 6+ years to exceed the previous employment peak, this is actually better than most recoveries from a financial crisis,” the article said.

However, there were some wrong moves during the recovery.

The author adamantly disagreed with the housing tax credit since a key problem during the housing bust was the excess supply of vacant housing units, and incentivizing people to buy new homes (and add to the supply) made no sense at all.

But this was balanced out with positives for the recovery.

Luckily the track record of the Federal Reserve was better than for fiscal policy makers.  Although Bernanke was slow to recognize what was happening - and he underestimated the severity of the crisis (remember "contained to subprime"?) - when he finally understood what was happening, the Fed was very effective.   Bernanke's critics argued that his policies would lead to inflation (wrong) and a collapse in the dollar against other currencies (also wrong).

Overall, the article explained that the crisis was better compared to preceding ones.

The Federal Insurance Corp. reported no bank closing this week.

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