Money Minute: What's Behind the Stagnant Housing Market?

The housing crisis ended several years ago, but millions of Americans are still stuck in homes they can't unload.

Nearly 10 million homeowners are still "underwater" -- meaning their mortgage debt is greater than the value of their homes. Online real estate company Zillow (Z) says the number is well below the peak level, but it's a major drag on the overall housing market. In addition to those who have negative equity, another 10 million or so haven't built up enough home equity to pay the costs of moving up to a new home, so they're stuck in place. As a result, the inventory of homes for sale is very low, and that's creating a stagnant housing market.

%VIRTUAL-article-sponsoredlinks%Millions of Americans have signed up for the do not call list, but we all know it's a far from perfect system for avoiding annoying phone solicitations. But the government is cracking down on one big violator. Sprint (S) has agreed to pay a record $7.5 million fine for failing to honor consumers' request to leave them alone. The company paid a $400,000 fine three years ago for a similar violation. We'll see if the stiffer penalty is a more effective enforcement tool.

Banking-giant Credit Suisse (CS) has agreed to plead guilty to criminal charges in the U.S. It's the first bank to do so in more than a decade -- as prosecutors try to show that banks aren't "too big to jail." The company will pay a $2.6 billion fine after admitting that it conspired to help wealthy Americans hide assets and evade U.S. taxes.

Here on Wall Street on Monday, the Dow Jones industrial average (^DJI) gained 20 points, the Standard & Poor's 500 index (^GPSC) added 7, and the Nasdaq composite (^IXIC) rose 35 points.

Win or lose, California Chrome is set to cash in. After winning the first two legs of horseracing's Triple Crown, the thoroughbred could collect millions of dollars in stud fees. Experts say he's likely earn $25,000 for each foal produced, and he could father as many as 120 a year. After the Belmont Stakes next month, again win or lose, California Chrome is likely to retire from racing to avoid an injury that could jeopardize his next career as a stud.

-Produced by Drew Trachtenberg.

12 Purchases You Should Always Negotiate On
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Money Minute: What's Behind the Stagnant Housing Market?
Car dealerships, unlike many other retailers, expect you to haggle. It's built into their price tags. So if you pay the sticker price for any new or used vehicle, basically ever, you're getting hoodwinked. When you walk into a dealership, prepare to haggle over just about everything -- the trade-in value of your car, the price of the car and extras like warranties. You'll have more leverage if you have more cash, but even cash-strapped buyers can and should negotiate.

Real estate agents expect some negotiation. But when buying a home, negotiation doesn't have to be all about price. If the seller isn't willing to come down on the price, ask for extras. For instance, ask that the seller pay more closing costs (which basically amounts to a cheaper deal for you). Or ask that the seller take care of some maintenance issues you found when you had the home inspected.

Mortgage companies will quote you a rate when you ask, but that doesn't mean you need to stick to that rate. If your credit is good (find out if it is, first) or you have a big down payment, you have plenty of leverage to negotiate a lower rate. And if you can't straight-up negotiate for a lower rate, you may be able to save by paying for points. This basically means you put more cash down for a lower rate, and, in some cases, it can save you a lot of money.
If you're renting from a landlord for the first time, rent may not be as negotiable. But if you're getting ready to renew your lease, don't just accept the now-higher rental price you're quoted. Keep in mind that it's a pain for rental companies and landlords to get you moved out, prep the property and move someone new in. Unless you're living in the hottest area in town, they'll likely lose money looking for a new renter. This means they may be more willing than you'd think to negotiate pricing.
Insurance companies usually get special rates from doctors' offices and hospitals. But those rates don't automatically apply to uninsured individuals -- or those who haven't yet hit their deductibles. If a medical bill isn't going through your insurance company, negotiate it. Often times, the doctor's office or hospital will come down on the price, so that it's closer to (or if you're lucky, even less than) what your insurer might pay.
If you're in good standing on your credit card account, you have plenty of negotiating power. You can negotiate lower rates, annual fees and higher credit limits. Even if you aren't in good standing, credit card companies can help you come up with a payment plan if you can't afford the minimum payments. You just need to ask.
When hiring someone to maintain your lawn, re-roof your home or pop out a dormer window on your second story, always get at least three quotes. And once you have those quotes, negotiate for a better price or a better deal. As with buying a home, you don't just have to negotiate for a lower price. Some service providers and contractors won't bring down the price, but they will often add in extra services for the same price -- or at least for a discount.
If you've recently gotten away from your cable or Internet company's promotional pricing, you may be in for a shock. Most of us fail to read the fine print that says just how much the service will cost after the promotional period. Before you call the company, look at the promotional offers other services in town are offering. Then, tell them you're considering switching so you can get a better deal. You may not talk them all the way back down to the promo price, but you can get pretty close.
Any time you buy big-ticket items like furniture or appliances, you should negotiate the price. This is especially true if you're buying in quantity -- for example, if you're purchasing both a washer and a dryer or an entire living room set. If the salesperson won't negotiate with you, ask to talk to the manager.
As with credit card companies, if you're in good standing with your insurance company, you may be able to negotiate for better rates. At minimum, you should ask about bundling your insurance policies to see how much that could save you. And if you notice your insurance company is running a new promotional deal that you're not in on, ask about it. The company may sign you up just for asking.
Collections calls are never fun, but they can be productive if you look at them the right way. Once an account of yours has gone to collections, that means the company has paid pennies on the dollar for the account. In other words, your $5,000 debt may have cost them $200 to take over from the original company. So a collections company may accept $1,000 for a $5,000 debt -- or possibly even less. 
Whether you're shopping at a thrift store or a garage sale, you should always negotiate the price of used stuff. You can usually buy two or three things at once to get a better deal, or just negotiate for a better price on a single, bigger-ticket item.
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