Top Of Mind Stuff

*Top of Mind Stuff*
**By Lew Sichelman**

LewS***Paul Muolo, my friend and former colleague at a publication that shall remain nameless, sure stirred up a hornet’s nest when he wrote late last moth that the Federal Housing Finance Agency is contemplating a big change – read that DROP – in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac’s loan limits. He and others who quickly jumped on the bandwagon have pressed the FHFA about when the big announcement would be coming, and the agency responded that it would do so in due time. But what’s the big deal, here?

****Like clockwork, announcements about changes in the limits – currently $417,000 in most places but $625,500 in high cost markets  – have always come during Thanksgiving week, never before and rarely after. So hold your horses, guys. Unless somebody spills something to Wikileaks, it’s going to be a few more weeks before we know anything for certain.

***** * * *

****I have no issue whatsoever with the roughly $300 million settlement with JPMorgan Chase over force-placed insurance. After all, the big bank has been helping itself to a big share of the ungodly premiums insurers are slapping borrowers who, for one reason or another, don’t carry their own home owners’ policies.

****But I do wonder how much of all that will actually make its way back to the some 1.3 million people who were actually harmed by the practice of forcing borrowers to pay unjustified premiums and then taking a big share of the loot in kickbacks? My bet is, not much. My bet is, the attorneys are in for a big payday, not their clients.

****And if I’m right, isn’t that just as egregious as force-placed insurance? Maybe Shakespeare had it right when he wrote, “The first thing we do is kill all the lawyers.”

***** * * *

****With Halloween just around the corner, you are likely to run across articles or programs about haunted houses and how well they sell – or not. But they are all late to the party.

****I wrote my first piece about the topic in the late 1970s at the Washington Star. And two places I wrote about are still top-of-mind: One was a place in Bowie, Md., where two young men conspired to kill each other’s wives. After one was murdered, but before the other dastardly deed took place, the guys were apprehended.

****The house where the woman was killed was later sold to an investor, who rented it out. But what is still unnerving to this day has to do with the family that rented the place. The wife had the first name as the woman who was killed, and the daughter had the same name as the woman’s child.

****One of the other houses I discussed belonged to Bradford Bishop, the foreign service officer who bludgeoned his family to death with a sledgehammer. After he learned he was being passed over for a promotion, Bishop bought the aforementioned murder weapon, went home to his Bethesda house and hammered his wife, mother and three sleeping children. Bishop, who was trained as a spy and speaks several languages, is still a fugitive.

****Anyway, the buyer of that fateful place had no idea what had gone on there, and his realty agent saw no need to tell him. (Nowadays, the law requires the disclosure of such information). But shortly before closing, a neighbor told him of the murderous events, and he was able to renegotiate the price. Down, of course.

Lew Sichelman has been covering the housing and mortgage markets for more years then he cares to remember, starting as real estate editor at the long defunct Washington Daily News and Washington Star newspapers and finishing with a three-decade stint with National Mortgage News. His weekly column, The Housing Scene, is syndicated to newspapers throughout the country.