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With the mixed messages being put forth by today’s media, it’s no wonder consumers are wary. One report tells us interest rates are at record lows and that it’s a great time to buy, while another tells us foreclosure rates continue to rise. No matter what the real state of the housing market is, the bottom line is that consumer confidence remains at an all-time low, and without a restoration of consumer confidence, the real estate market will continue to flounder. Ted Rusinoff, president of recently launched EquityLock, believes his firm offers a viable solution—one that will give home buyers the comfort level they’ve been looking for while simultaneously increasing home values across the country.

Maria Patterson: First of all, please explain what the EquityLock solution is.
Ted Rusinoff: In an effort to help consumers protect the value of their homes, EquityLock launched Home Price ProtectionTM nationwide. Home Price Protection™ helps protect the value of the typical family’s largest asset: the equity in their home. No longer will homeowners have to be subject to the ups and downs of the housing market; the equity in their home is now protected by our company. The Home Price Protection transaction is structured as a contract, not as an insurance policy; therefore, a payment is made to the homeowner if the market index falls when it comes time to sell their home, regardless of whether they sell it for more or less than they paid for it.

MP: When did EquityLock officially hit the market?
TR: One of our founders was working through a number of commercial real estate deals that required a price adjustment based on market index movements, and he began to apply this idea to the residential market. When he introduced this idea to us 18 months ago, we began building a product that every homeowner could access and include on their home. We officially launched nationwide in May 2011 and have already established great traction in several states across the country.

MP: I understand there are similar products starting to pop up—how is EquityLock different?
TR: There’s actually a significant structural difference between EquityLock and other, more insurance-oriented products. Other products use the price consumers purchased their home for as the determining factor. For example, say you bought your home for $300,000. When you go to sell your home five years from now, if local market values have gone down, you can make a claim. But over that five-year period, the value of your home may have increased beyond $300,000—maybe you updated the kitchen, added a deck, or enhanced the landscaping so that your home is now worth $350,000. Even if the market around you has gone down a bit, you might still be able to sell that home for $320,000. EquityLock takes that into consideration—even if you end up selling your home for a profit, if the local market index has gone down, you still receive a payment. Insurance-oriented products base their payout on the index going down AND your values going down below the original purchase price – with no credit for any of the improvements or updates you have made to your home over the time you lived there.

MP: It seems like the EquityLock approach actually encourages homeowners to improve their homes, knowing that the investment in those improvements would be covered, at least in part, through their EquityLock plan. Is that valid?
TR: Yes. We like to see homeowners doing things to improve their properties…replacing shrubs, fixing sidewalks or updating a bathroom…doing what it takes to maintain or increase the home’s value…because this, in turn, improves the overall value of our communities. If your home value goes up, then the value of homes around you goes up. This is huge in helping to restore real estate values and consumer confidence in real estate around the country. Products that protect only the original purchase price of your home are actually disincentivizing homeowners to make home improvements, which severely hinders the overall rebound of the real estate market and, therefore, our economy at large.

MP: That would explain why you’ve already garnered such strong support from the real estate community…
TR: Exactly. We’ve already partnered with such real estate giants as RE/MAX and Real Living. We are also a Preferred Supplier with Prudential Real Estate. These industry leaders obviously recognize the benefit that EquityLock’s Home Price Protection plan brings their agents who can use it to allay the concerns of wary and reluctant home buyers, but they also realize the far-reaching effects this can have in restoring real estate consumer confidence, which is necessary to spark an overall economic rebound. That’s why we are pursuing distribution through as many verticals as possible, including home builders all over the country, the insurance industry, and the financial planning community.

MP: Is the EquityLock product expensive, comparatively speaking?
TR: While our payment structure is different than insurance-based products, when all is said and done, we are generally 20% less expensive, totaling right around 2% of the home value nationwide.

MP: I know EquityLock was featured on CNBC earlier this year and I understand you recently piqued the attention of Bloomberg News. I imagine this story will garner a lot of attention in the media and really resonate with a public who’s been hit hard by the real estate downturn.
TR: Yes, the Bloomberg report should be airing soon—we’re very excited to get this message out there. It’s great to finally be able to offer some positive news about real estate. We’ve been contacted by more than 300 media outlets who are interested in our story.

MP: Will Home Price Protection still be a desirable product once the market has officially bottomed out?
TR: Whether the real estate market is at the bottom or not is less important than what this product can do to help real estate consumers feel like they’re protected. We can speculate all day about whether the market has bottomed out or not; plus, as we know, all real estate is local, so home values will continue to vary from region to region, neighborhood to neighborhood. It’s an extremely granular issue. What really matters is how consumers are behaving…and that’s not always based on the facts. We have to manage the risks as they exist in the mindset of homeowners and home buyers and help people feel comfortable moving forward with their real estate decisions. They want to know they’re not going to get burned on either side—that the change they’re making is a positive one. The more people start having that mindset, the sooner we’ll climb out of this decline. Imagine if everyone always felt confident about their home values…think about the impact that would have on creating a healthy, sustainable and growing economy.

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