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At a recent gathering of commissioners, strong support for the Federal Housing Administration was expressed.

Lawmakers in Congress who are raising alarms about the FHA needing a bailout and supporting legislation to change the way it does business are missing the indispensable role it played in protecting the housing market from a far worse collapse during the downturn, stated a report published by the National Association of Realtors.

FHA Commissioner Carole Galante said the agency took its first "mandatory draw" on U.S. Treasury funds a month ago because of bad loans it insured during the downturn, a policy decision made at the time to shore up the mortgage market when no other entity was making loans in any significant amount. "We did what we needed to do," she explained.

That first-ever drawdown was for $1.7 billion, which will be added to a reserve account that is already flush with $48 billion, far more than the FHA needs to pay claims. But the agency is required to keep 30 years' worth of reserves for all the insurance it has in force, plus another 2 percent as a buffer.

"We don't need the draw to pay claims," Galante said. "The money fills the reserve account."

Questions from readers

Question: What city now has the most expensive homes?

Answer: Malibu, Calif., now takes the top-price cake. It beats San Francisco and New York City as the most expensive city in the country, according to the annual Coldwell Banker 2013 Real Estate Home Listing Report.

Cleveland, Ohio, was ranked as the most affordable real estate market. Coldwell Banker's apples-to-apples comparison of homes in more than 1,900 U.S. real estate markets found a more than $2 million difference between the listing prices of a four-bedroom, two-bathroom home in Malibu and Cleveland.

Q: How much will home prices increase this year?

A: The National Association of Realtors chief economist Lawrence Yun predicted steadiness in existing-home sales over the next year as prices continue to ascend.

He expects existing-home sales to rise by about 10 percent in 2013, reaching 5.13 million. The national median existing-home price this year is projected at about $197,000, 11 percent higher than in 2012.

Q: What's being done to assure the accuracy of appraisals?

A: A recent bulletin from the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency recommends new guidelines for national banks and federal savings institutions regarding their third party vendors, including appraisal-management companies. Banks and mortgage lenders are cautioned to choose their appraisers and other vendors wisely, as regulators will hold lenders accountable for the quality and accuracy of their vendors' work.

Q: Are many homeowners still refinancing their homes?

A: Despite a steady climb in mortgage interest rates since May, borrowers continued to take advantage of low rates to refinance into lower monthly payments, Freddie Mac reported.

According to the results of the company's latest quarterly refinance analysis, the average interest rate reduction among those who refinanced during the third quarter was about 1.8 percentage points, representing a savings of about 30 percent ($3,500 over 12 months on a $200,000 loan).

Q: Are applications for new homes increasing?

A: Survey data for October 2013 show that mortgage applications for new home purchases increased by 11 percent relative to the previous month, stated a report by the Mortgage Bankers Association.

This change does not include any adjustment for typical seasonal patterns, it was also noted. By product type, conventional loans comprised 67.5 percent of loan applications, and FHA loans, 17.8 percent. The average loan size of new homes increased from $289,650 in September to $294,480 in October.

Q: Is it true that home sales are lowering?

A: It's been a mixed bag recently. Home sales continue to seesaw -- while levels increased from the previous year, they dipped from the previous month in October, according to the latest market report from RE/MAX.

Following historic seasonal trends, October home sales edged 2.8 percent lower than September, but still pushed

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