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A blog about the economy and the Sacramento-area real estate market.

September 29, 2008
Thoughts and interviews on an historic day in world finance

Mercy! What a day this has been. We business staffers started full-tilt this morning toward a story on what the rescue bill might mean for struggling homeowners in the Sacramento area - and then, poof, the bill didn't pass. And then the stock market dived 777points! We switched gears and made calls to people in the region's financial community to check their pulse and see who might be on the ledge.

I went for a walk outside for 20 minutes and felt just overwhelmed with the rush of history. Every day brings something even more intense than the day before, a day when it felt like stomachs could not get any tighter. With the national election thrown in there are enough amazing developments every day to fill a month in ordinary times.

I then had a phone interview this afternoon with senior loan consultant Vicky Henderson at Vitek Mortgage. She talked about the incongruity of an explosive financial crisis at the very time that lenders have been closing deals like crazy.

"We had one of our biggest funding days ever on Friday," she said. Some of that rush comes as September ends and borrowers hurry to close escrow before the expiration of seller-funded down payment assistance. Henderson estimated that 40 percent of loans in the region use the assistance banned as of Oct. 1 by an omnibus national housing bill passed last summer

 That rush seems to say there is money out there for people who qualify for it. At Tri Counties Bank, COO Rick Hagstrom said the same by phone: He said we have money to lend, money that we want to lend, but there is a lack of demand because people just aren't sure yet. They are lacking in confidence about the future. Mike McGee, owner of  Winchester McGee Real Estate and Loans said the same Monday: he thinks this will be his biggest week in a couple of months as people come out of the woodwork to buy or refinance houses.

So....is it all true that the economy is frozen up and no one can get a loan for almost anything until Congress passes this rescue bill? I heard three area voices say there seems to be lots of options for those with clean credit histories.

I got a kick out of a story Henderson told about the uncertainty in borrowers' eyes.

"People that are putting something down are afraid they'll never get it back again. Home values continue to fall and they're concerned about that. They're also concerned if the mortgage company they're with will be around."

She said a customer came in to sign final documents and discovered that the lender was Countrywide. The borrower said, "But Countrywide doesn't exist anymore!"

  The loan agent explained to a rattled borrower that it was part of Bank of America now and was going to keep the name a while longer. The loan terms wouldn't change. It wouldn't really have any effect.  Yet I can only imagine how I'd react to that kind of surprise. I'd want to go outside, take a deep breath and think it through how this might be a trick of some kind. No one likes surprises at one of the biggest financial moments in your life.

That's the world we inhabit as the third quarter of this eventful 2008 drifts to an end.

And who can say what tomorrow will bring - to make today look like a walk in the park.



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