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Proposal would end door-to-door US Mail service

imageCongressman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) is proposing that the U.S Postal Service end door-to-door delivery in favor of neighborhood "cluster boxes" — the kind you might see in a condo complex.

Issa says the change could save the Post Office $4.5 billion a year.

(Contrary to popular belief, the USPS does not receive federal funding. All its money comes from postage and delivery sales and services.)

Cordray confirmed to head CFPB

Back in February we told you not to worry about Richard Cordray’s appointment to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. (There was some concern that if wasn’t confirmed, we’d be back in limbo in terms of mortgage requirements, and that would play havoc with the housing recovery.)

Call for action: Tax reform is in the works

There’s a big deal going on in the Senate regarding tax reform.

The Senate Finance Committee has decided that the easiest way to change the tax code is to start with a blank slate — that is, start with no deductions at all, then add in the ones that are most important.

Unfortunately, in the post-Citizens United era, "most important" could easily become "what most big businesses want," rather than "what’s best for the country." Which is why NAR wants to be sure that tax incentives for homeowners — notably the mortgage interest deduction, property tax deduction, and capital gains exclusions — are at the top of the list.

Virginia slips to #5 on "Top States for Business" list

CNBC’s annual list of "America’s Top States for Business" is out, and Virginia has slipped further — now we’re down to number five (tied with Utah). After finishing first for three years (2007, 2009, and 2011), we dropped to third place last year, and dropped further in 2013.

  1. South Dakota
  2. Texas
  3. North Dakota
  4. Nebraska
  5. Utah, Virginia

Why? CNBC ranked the states by a number of criteria, essentially boiling down to "where is it cheapest and easiest to have a business." So "cost of doing business" — taxes, utilities, wages, and real estate — is high on the list, and that was our first big stumbling block.

"Unsustainable" price rises won’t be sustained

Home prices can’t keep rising this quickly forever. That’s what Realtor magazine is reporting that CNBC is reporting that NAR has said. (I know, right?)

Here’s the deal: In May, NAR reported that home prices were up 15.4 percent from the year before. And that marked six months of those kind of double-digit price jumps. Said NAR’s chief economist Lawrence Yun, "[I]t cannot continue."

Which, of course, makes perfect sense, and (hopefully) no one is expecting it to continue. Prices are shooting up for several reasons, none of which will apply forever.

The most powerful lobbyers in DC

File this under "got your back": Check out who’s spending the most money lobbying on Capitol Hill, courtesy of OpenSecrets.org:

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That’s $8.5 million so far this year. In 2012, NAR spent a total of $41.5 million (and was also the number-two lobbying organization behind the US Chamber).

Is there a new housing bubble forming?

Once upon a time there were two shamans in a tribe. They both tried to predict how bad the upcoming winter would be. One threw rabbit bones and predicted a harsh winter. The other threw squirrel bones and predicted a mild winter.

The winter was mild, thus proving that throwing squirrel bones was a more accurate way of predicting the weather.

In an unrelated note, there is some speculation that we might be starting to inflate a new housing bubble, as prices are rising more quickly than is typical.

So, are we? Is there a bubble growing?

There are people who insist either yes or no, and have the bones data to prove it. I’m not going down that road. But it’s worth considering the

Buy a greener home, qualify for a better mortgage?

There are a handful of tax breaks for homeowners who improve the energy efficiency of their homes — essentially, the government reduces your taxes if you make your house greener.

Now a bill introduced in the Senate by senators Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) and Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) would give a different kind of incentive — it would require lenders to take into account the energy-efficient features of a home when calculating a borrower’s income/expense ratio.

Essentially, it would allow buyers to qualify for a larger loan or a better rate if a home is energy efficient.

Government will subsidize flood insurance for another year

The National Flood Insurance Program was in the black until Hurricane Katrina; since then it’s been in debt to the tune of about $20 billion. (Which, of course, illustrates why it’s a government program and not offered by private insurers.)

So in 2012 Congress reformed the program to try to keep it from bleeding money.

For example, homes built before 1968 — when the NFIP started — were given lower, "grandfathered" rates. Those are going to be phased out. And homeowners living where the danger of flooding is so extreme that insurance is unaffordable were given subsidies to pay for it. (Yes, that’s correct. People living in the most-flood prone areas were given lower insurance rates.) Those subsidies are also going to be removed.

Administration extends HAMP and HARP programs two years

The Obama administration has extended its Making Home Affordable program, which includes two sub-programs designed to help homeowners refinance so they can stay in their homes.

Making Home Affordable includes the Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP) and the Home Affordable Refinance Program (HARP). It was set to expire at the end of the year, but homeowners now have until December 31, 2015 to apply for modifications.

HAMP: Lenders are giving incentives from the federal government to modify homeowners’ mortgages.