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Taking your calls now: Obama sells housing agenda via Zillow

Wednesday, 7 Aug 2013 | 3:59 PM ET
Obama: State of America's housing
Wednesday, 7 Aug 2013 | 2:25 PM ET
CNBC's Diana Olick reviews the president's thoughts on the U.S. housing market after his live Q&A with Zillow.com.

It is unusual, if not unprecedented, for a president to sit down with the CEO of a publicly traded company to be interviewed in an open forum, but that is exactly what happened Wednesday on Zillow, an online real estate sales and data company.

Zillow billed it as a "A Better Bargain for Responsible Homeowners: President Obama Answers Your Questions." The questions, however, were submitted beforehand and selected by Zillow. They also followed, nearly to the letter, the housing agenda that the president laid out Tuesday in Phoenix.

(Read more: Obama calls for housing reform)

Obama was first asked about rising mortgage rates, which increased again last week, to 4.61 percent for the 30-year fixed conforming loan, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association.

"We've seen rates now tick up. So far at least, though, the housing market continued to be fairly robust," he told Zillow CEO Spencer Rascoff.

The interview, which streamed live on the company's website, included questions "submitted by Zillow's users and [the] social media community" through Zillow and other platforms, according to a company release.

Another question was about the Phoenix market, which Obama had just visited, and one question was from a graduate burdened with student loan debt and still living with his parents. All played into the president's agenda.

(Read more: Map: Tracking the US real estate recovery)

Rascoff, however, did most of the questioning, asking what the president thought of all the investors swooping in buy, rehabilitate and rent distressed homes. Obama, who once blamed investors for the housing crash, seemed to turn the corner, praising not just the economics of the trade but their contribution to the housing recovery.

"That can be good business sense for them but just as importantly, or more importantly, for those middle-class families," he said. "They saw these property values drop. Having that kind of stabilization can really make a difference."

Obama's push for housing reform
President Barack Obama and Zillow CEO Spencer Rascoff are hosting a virtual roundtable on housing reform. Paul Bishop of the National Association of Realtors and CNBC's Diana Olick discuss the president's plans.

The 30-minute interview touched on refinancing, reforming the mortgage market, including the dismantling of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and helping low-income people who want to be homeowners. It seemed almost scripted by White House staffers, although a White House spokeswoman said they did not vet the questions.

She also added that the president was part of a LinkedIn town hall meeting with CEO Jeff Weiner and a Facebook chat with CEO Mark Zuckerburg, although those were not specifically about social media companies but about the broader economy.

(Read more: Higher mortgage rates, easier credit?)

Zillow employees have contributed to the campaigns of several Democrats, including Obama, although the company does not have a PAC, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Rascoff, in an interview on CNBC's "Squawkbox," said the interview makes "perfect sense" and is part of Zillow's mission to empower its users, which now number 60 million.

"It's an unprecedented opportunity to connect our audience at Zillow directly with the president," he said. "We are a fantastic platform to connect directly with consumers."

By CNBC's Diana Olick. Follow her on Twitter @Diana_Olick.

Questions?Comments? facebook.com/DianaOlickCNBC

Editor's note: Posts from Zillowblog.com are sometimes republished on NBCNews.com.

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  • Diana Olick serves as CNBC's real estate correspondent as well as the editor of the Realty Check section on CNBC.com.

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