Q: I hear so much talk these days about foreclosures and programs for people who can't afford their home. What's being done to help the rest of us who are either regular homeowners who may want to move one day, or people who would like to buy their first home?
----Cheryl P., Las Vegas
A: That's a great question. In a housing market where banks are the sellers and investors are the buyers in about half of all local transactions, I can understand how the "silent majority" of current and prospective homeowners can feel forgotten.
I can't speak for everyone in our industry, but I can tell you that Realtors are working locally and nationally to address such issues. One high-profile example of our efforts to help first-time home buyers and all local homeowners rolled through Las Vegas last week.
On Tuesday, the National Association of Realtors brought its Home Ownership Matters Bus Tour to Southern Nevada. The 45-foot bus wrapped with the message that home ownership matters spent several hours at the Galleria at Sunset mall in Henderson and at the Boca Park shopping center near Summerlin.
We had leading local Realtors, elected officials and others there to hand out helpful materials and provide free advice to members of the public and of our profession. The main message driving the bus tour is that home ownership matters more than ever, especially here in Southern Nevada, where our home ownership rate has fallen in recent years and is now one of the lowest in the country.
Part of our goal in bringing the bus tour to town was to help local homeowners and prospective buyers understand how they can buy a home, and to explain the benefits. Through these and other ongoing educational efforts, we remind prospective buyers that it's a great time for people who are prepared and can afford to buy a home. Bargains abound. Mortgage interest rates have never been lower. And there are still plenty of homes on the market, though we're seeing the inventory of local homes for sale start to tighten.
In many cases, it's now less expensive to buy than rent a home today in Southern Nevada.
Nationally, NAR is working with government and industry leaders to combat efforts that could hurt and discourage home ownership. For example, Realtors are fighting to preserve that key part of the American dream as federal government officials are considering proposals to reduce or even eliminate the mortgage interest tax deduction.
As representatives of NAR, national homebuilders and other industry leaders pointed out during an Oct. 6 hearing of the U.S. Senate Finance Committee, our housing market is far too fragile to start cutting housing incentives, especially the mortgage interest deduction that helps millions of Americans and an estimated 340,000 Nevadans who deducted mortgage interest from their federal income taxes last year.
According to NAR, Nevada homeowners who benefited from the MID took an average of more than $15,000 per household in mortgage interest deductions. Cutting the MID would be like adding a new tax on homeowners. It would disrupt the housing market and could lead to lower home prices.
Much of the news coverage and public discussion about today's housing market focuses on foreclosures, short sales, cash buyers and investors. For now, these are the primary forces shaping the local housing market in these strange and challenging economic times. But it's also clear to me and other Realtors that we should not forget about "traditional" and first-time home buyers.
To learn more about NAR's bus tour, visit realtor.org/topics/bustour2011/multimedia or realtor.org/topics/homeownership.
Paul Bell is the president of the Greater Las Vegas Association of Realtors. To ask him a question, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information, visit lasvegasrealtor.com.