With the winter holidays approaching, it seems like an obvious time to talk about some of the items you might want to give those buyers, sellers, real estate agents, and mortgage lenders nearest and dearest to your heart.

Home Buyers
The last time home buyers got what they wanted – a slow market, desperate sellers, and reasonable prices – it was the front part of this decade.

This year, more than 5 million existing homes will be sold. In this decade, the national levels of homeownership have risen to record highs. Interest rates since 1995 have generally stayed below 8 percent, allowing millions of first-time home buyers to achieve their homeownership dreams.

But as we move into 2001, the economic boom appears to be slowing. Already, some sellers are waiting weeks or even months to receive offers from cautiously savvy home buyers. This year, home buyers may not have to worry about home prices escalating so quickly they get shut out of their neighborhood of choice.

Gift Suggestions: Because a little information is never enough, give your favorite home buyer the gift of information. Steer them to hundreds of top quality web sites (not to mention thousands of poor ones) that specialize in real estate and finance information.

Today’s top sites for home buyers include Realtor.com, HomeAdvisor.com, Yahoo.com, iOwn.com, HomeStore.com, HUD.gov (Department of Housing and Urban Development), FannieMae.com and point for the more than 500,000 real estate-related web sites on the Internet.

In addition, there are several excellent books at your local library or bookstore that will steer your home buyer through the real estate maze. Magazines and the real estate section of your local newspaper can help fill in the holes.

Home Sellers
In the past couple of years, sellers have received everything on their wish lists. The Tax Reform Act of 1997 allows each home seller to keep up to $250,000 (up to $500,000 for married couples) in capital gains profits from the sale of their home tax free. The hot market of the last few years has meant bidding wars, larger numbers of homeowners selling on their own (thus saving the hefty sales commission), and a lot less stress from shortened listing periods.

The problem with hot markets is that sellers think they have died and gone to heaven – until they turn around and try to buy something.

But the tide is already turning. Today’s homeowners who hope to sell for at least what their neighbor received six months ago may be out of luck.

Gift Suggestions: Send the home seller on your list to the first web site geared specifically to home sellers. HomeGain.com allows home sellers to electronically interview many agents in their area and ask each to send them via the Web a marketing proposal. Homeowners can also look up the market value of their property and use a new tool that will help them gauge how much they’ll get out of a major or minor renovation.

You might also gift-wrap a bit of history: Real estate runs in cycles and what’s hot today might not be tomorrow. Also, markets can turn on a dime, and often do. Rising interest rates in the last year and a half have started to soften the economy. If the economy has a hard landing, sellers could find the value of their inflated property sink like a stone.

For home sellers who have a bit of work to do in their home, a gift certificate from the local home improvement store or a cleaning service might be just the ticket.

Real Estate Agents and Brokers.
It’s been the best of times and the worst of times. Top real estate agents have seen their annual sales figures and income skyrocket this year. Unfortunately, instead of moving up on the office list, everyone is keeping their same place. It’s emotionally wrenching to sell $20 million in real estate and still not make it into the top ten in sales volume.

But as more sellers have sold by owner, real estate agents have felt a bit put out. The truth is, their services have more value in a market that is more balanced – that is to say, when a seller doesn’t receive 5 offers, all above list, just by hanging a sign in the window for 24 hours.

Gift Suggestions: From the consumer’s point of view, super-busy agents don’t always have enough time to give some buyers or sellers the hand-holding they need. Consider giving the real estate agent or broker on your list a time management tool or book to help them find time for you – not to mention, their own families.

Real estate agents might consider giving their buyers Teddy Bears or a month’s subscription to an online service provider to help them get through long nights of buyer’s remorse. For sellers who have a hard time keeping their home clean, you might try a gift certificate to a local cleaning service.

Mortgage Lenders.
The last year of the century has proved to be the biggest ever for mortgage lenders. Investments in technology are allowing lenders to approve loans in minutes, rather than months.

That speed hasn’t generated the kinds of loan volume some Internet lenders were hoping for, however. Several web lenders have gone out of business. Others are right on the edge. Internet lenders are learning that it isn’t enough that 70 percent of home buyers go to the web for information, if only 2 percent actually close loans online.

Gift Suggestions: Technology that works as well as its billing would be a good start for many lenders. Even better, it would be good to see lenders use price to drive folks to their web sites.

For lenders who work in areas where blacks are routinely rejected twice as often as whites for their home loans, you might offer a pair of glasses, so short-sighted lenders see that redlining and discrimination are not the right way to do business in the 21st century.