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Housing issues await new leaders

President-elect George W. Bush already knows where he'll be living when he moves to Washington, D.C., next month. That doesn't mean real estate won't be on his mind or on the legislative agenda in Congress.

Part of that agenda likely will be, "Don't mess this up." Housing remains one of the healthiest sectors of the economy. Home ownership is at an all-time high of 67.7 percent. Existing home sales in 2000 were expected to total almost 5-million units for only the second time in history, the National Association of Realtors reports.

Still, there are issues and concerns that NAR says the real-estate industry and home buyers will be watching:

+ Land use. What will Christine Todd Whitman, named to head the EPA, do about redevelopment of brownfields (toxic urban land) and smart-growth concerns?

+ Housing affordability. Often this means supporting low-cost housing for low-income buyers, but there's another side to it. The conforming-loan limit for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will increase in the new year to $275,000, but that doesn't help buyers in inflated markets like the West Coast. The median home price in the San Francisco Bay area in the third quarter of 2000 was $452,300.

"Consumer demand could fuel closer scrutiny of the assumptions that underlie how mortgage-loan limits are determined for conventional mortgage markets," the NAR predicts in its current Real Estate Outlook newsletter.

+ Financial services. Look for action on consumer-related issues such as predatory lending, disclosure of credit scoring and settlement procedures.

+ Interest rates. Currently they hover between 7.8 and 8.3 percent. The Federal Reserve may take steps to lower rates to keep the economy moving at a comfortable level and provide cushioning for a soft landing.

Redesign the White House

Speaking of Things Presidential and Things Residential, let's redesign the White House.

That's what Dwell magazine, an upscale shelter publication, invites architects, interior designers, artists and concerned citizens to do.

The White House, with 132 rooms in 67,200 square feet, was first occupied by President John Adams 200 years ago. Given that much has changed since his administration, Dwell is soliciting new designs, with these concepts in mind:

+ How do we use architecture to express abstract concepts such as freedom and democracy? Do we still need to rely on the architectural vocabulary of ancient Greece, or are there fresher ways?

+ How do we apply what we've learned about living and working at home to the life and the work of the most powerful man or woman on earth?

+ How do we delineate public and private space without using velvet ropes and armed guards?

+ Does the White House have to be so white?

Judges include Ron Reagan Jr., son of the former president; Lee Bey, architecture critic of the Chicago Sun-Times; and architect Sarah Susanka, author of The Not So Big House.

The grand prize is $1,000 and publication of the winning design in an upcoming issue of Dwell.

For information and an official application form, visit the Web site at http:// The deadline is March 1, and the winning design will be announced March 31. No guarantee the winning design will be built.

Who's the boss?

Thinking of buying a new home, remodeling or redecorating in the new year? The question that often pops up when the client is a couple is, "Who's really in charge here?"

Denver interior designer Maril Wilson told the Rocky Mountain News: "A Realtor told me if you want to know who's going to make the decisions, put them in your car and see who sits in the front seat with you. There's always one person who makes the final decision."