Archive for August, 2013

Top 10 reasons to hire a REALTOR®

Top 10 Reasons thumbThe good folks at Jensen & Company REALTORS® and the KCM Crew put out a great graphic today that’s making the rounds. Now we all know there tons of great reasons to hire a REALTOR®, but here’s their top 10 list:

  1. Education and experience
  2. Agents are buffers
  3. Neighborhood knowledge
  4. Price guidance
  5. Market conditions information
  6. Professional networking
  7. Negotiation skills & confidentiality
  8. Handling volumes of paperwork
  9. Develop relationships for future business
  10. Answer questions after closing

What are some other great reasons to use a REALTOR®?

CLICK HERE to see an enlarged graphic.

Steady as she goes

Virginia’s housing market recovery is holding steady despite being “tested” by increasing unemployment and interest rates this summer. Last summer we experienced lower 30-year mortgage interest rates and very little change in unemployment. This summer unemployment has increased steadily, reversing the trend we witnessed through the first quarter of 2013 and most of the second quarter. Further, interest rates are increasing as the Federal Reserve Board deems the economy stabilized.

Nonetheless, the Virginia housing market seems to be holding steady and that is a good sign. Seasonal decreases are muted compared to last year. In 2012 we experienced a 12.64% drop in volume transferred. This year, we experience a modest 8.47% drop. Further, the total volume of real estate transferred in Virginia during July 2013 ($3.3B) is a significant 23% year-over-year increase. We hope to see volume increase in August, but more importantly we hope to see this trend of stability and continued market recovery hold throughout the next year.


Analysis and commentary by Ted Koebel, Senior Research Associate, and Mel Jones, Research Associate of the Virginia Center for Housing Research at Virginia Tech.

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Dr. Ralph Northam addresses the Virginia RPAC Trustees

Two more endorsements were announced today by the Virginia Association of REALTORS® through the Virginia REALTOR® Political Action Committee: State Senators Ralph Northam for Lieutenant Governor and Mark Herring for Attorney General. On August 20-21, 2013, candidates for statewide office appeared before the RPAC Board of Trustees for separate and extensive candidate interviews. Further, each candidate submitted written responses to questionnaires developed for this race.

Following these interviews and an evaluation of all responses received, the Trustees voted to recommend endorsements of Dr. Northam and Mr. Herring, on the basis of their understanding of real estate issues in the Commonwealth as well as their history of support for the real estate industry in the General Assembly. The Virginia RPAC Board of Trustees is composed exclusively of Realtor members, and all candidates are judged and endorsed based on their record related to real estate-specific issues.

Below is the press release for Dr. Ralph Northam‘s endorsement:

The Virginia Association of Realtors® has announced its endorsement of state Senator Ralph Northam for Lieutenant Governor today. The VAR, comprised of nearly 29,000 members, has supported both Republicans and Democrats in recent elections.

I am honored to have bipartisan pro-business support from across the Commonwealth. Any Realtor will tell you that world-class school, an efficient transportation network, and safe streets are necessities for all Virginians,” said Doctor Ralph Northam. “Virginians count on a strong and predictable housing market for their family’s economic security. As Lieutenant Governor, I will continue working on those important issues with Democrats, Republicans, and Independents to move our Commonwealth forward.”

Doctor Northam was endorsed because of his bipartisan approach to solving Virginia’s challenges and his pro-business record. In the Senate, Northam has supported policies to strengthen Virginia’s real estate market.

Ralph Northam has a solid understanding of Realtor issues as well as those faced by property owners in Virginia,” said Mary Dykstra, President of Virginia Association of Realtors.  “He will continue working to make the Commonwealth the best place not only for homeownership, but also business, and we are proud to endorse him for Lieutenant Governor.”


Mark Herring addresses Virginia RPAC Trustees

And the release for Mark Herring’s endorsement:

The Virginia Association of Realtors®, through its Realtor Political Action Committee, has endorsed Senator Mark Herring for Attorney General. The association cited Herring’s long support of a transportation compromise, and focus in the Senate on creating an economic environment that attracts new businesses and creates jobs in Virginia as reasons for supporting Herring.

“Mark Herring is a strong supporter of homeownership, and he knows that housing is critical to the Commonwealth’s economy,” said Mary Dykstra, President of the Virginia Association of Realtors. “We are pleased to endorse him for Attorney General for his commitment to a strong housing market and the real estate industry.”

The Virginia Association of Realtors is the largest trade association in Virginia, with nearly 29,000 members. Herring was proud to receive their support.

“I’m honored to receive this endorsement from the Virginia Association of Realtors. I’ve made it a priority during my time in the Senate to cultivate economic growth that fosters a strong housing market in Virginia, and to work with all sides to deliver real results for Virginians,” Herring said. “As Attorney General, I will continue advocating for a balanced economic approach that brings businesses to the Commonwealth, creates real jobs for all Virginians, and keeps our economy and our state moving forward.”

McAuliffe-croppedIn a press release sent out today, the Virginia Association of Realtors® through the Virginia Realtors® Political Action Committee (RPAC) announced their endorsement of Terry McAuliffe for Governor of Virginia. On August 20-21, 2013, both Mr. McAuliffe and Virginia Attorney General Kenneth Cuccinelli appeared before the RPAC Board of Trustees for separate and extensive candidate interviews. Further, each candidate submitted written responses to questionnaires developed for this race.

Following these interviews and an evaluation of all responses received, the Trustees voted to recommend endorsement of Mr. McAuliffe, on the basis of his strong understanding of and focus on issues critical to the health of the real estate industry in Virginia. The Virginia RPAC Board of Trustees is composed exclusively of Realtor members.

Below is the full copy of the press release:

Realtors® Endorse McAuliffe for Bipartisanship, Focus on Economy

The Virginia Association of Realtors, through its Realtor Political Action Committee endorsed Terry McAuliffe for Governor because of his focus on growing Virginia’s economy. The Virginia Association of Realtors® is the largest trade association in Virginia, with nearly 29,000 members.

“Having a strong housing sector is vital to ensure that Virginia’s middle class families can build financial security and I’m honored to have the support of the Virginia Association of Realtors,” said McAuliffe. “Working with both parties, I am committed to finding mainstream solutions to support the housing industry, improve transportation, strengthen education and make Virginia the best state for business.”

“Terry McAuliffe understands how important Virginia’s housing industry is to growing and strengthening the Commonwealth’s economy, and we endorse him for governor,” said Mary Dykstra, President of the Virginia Association of Realtors. “He promises to support policies that will make Virginia the best place to live and work, and we look forward to working with him to make sure that housing remains a vibrant industry in the Commonwealth.”

The group interviewed McAuliffe and Ken Cuccinelli prior to making the endorsement and thoroughly reviewed their policy positions.

A year ago, before the bandwagon was even built, we told you about what we called "shadow consumers" (who have since been dubbed "boomerang buyers") — people who lost their homes to foreclosure but who would re-enter the housing market as soon as they could.

Depending on their circumstances, that could take three, seven, or 10 years.

FHA won’t give a loan until three years have passed from a foreclosure. And foreclosures and short sales typically stay on your credit report for seven years. (Bankruptcies last for 10.)

We’re seeing those people enter the market now, and they might be one reason inventory has been so low.

Now FHA is cutting its ‘waiting period’ from three years to one year — at least for some borrowers. The idea is that FHA realizes that "their credit histories may not fully reflect their true ability or propensity to repay a mortgage." In other words, it wasn’t entirely their fault. Ergo, it’s probably safe to give them a (reasonable) mortgage.

That doesn’t mean everyone who was foreclosed on can get an FHA loan within a year, of course — only those whose hardship was related to the recession.

Quoth the Chicago Tribune:

Borrowers must be able to show their household income fell by 20 percent or more for at least six months and was  tied to unemployment or another event beyond their control. They also must prove they have had at least one hour of approved housing counseling and, among other things, have had 12 months of on-time housing payments.

The new rules, er, guidance is for people who apply for a loan between August 15, 2013 and September 30, 2016.

Fannie Mae may back fewer low-down-payment loans

The Wall Street Journal says that Fannie Mae is considering reducing the number of low-down-payment loans it purchases.

You might not have known this: Even with higher mortgage standards (by law or by market forces), Fannie Mae would still purchase loans that had only three percent down payments. Of course, there weren’t many of them around — the catch was that Fannie required mortgage insurance on those loans, which wasn’t easy to come by.

But now, the Journal reports, Fannie is seeing more of those three-percent-down loans, and is considering limiting its purchase of them. (Freddie Mac requires a five percent down payment to buy or insure a loan.)

What happened? On the one hand, FHA raised its insurance premiums for low-down-payment mortgages. On the other hand, private mortgage insurers have removed some restrictions and begun offering better rates — and that’s made it possible for private lenders to begin offering low-down-payment loans again.

Oh, just go and read the story yourself.

New-home communities now on is now offering searches of new-home communities, using data from Builders Digital Experience.

Back in July, NAR’s board recommended opening to more and different listings. This is the the first "enhancement" since then.

That is all.


Screenshot. Boring

How safe is that neighborhood?

Trulia has a nifty little data visualization tool available that color-codes a map to show how likely certain natural hazards are in a particular location.

For example, if you search on Virginia Beach and choose flooding, you’ll see that — not surprisingly –  a lot of the area is in danger (click to enlarge):


Ditto for hurricanes, although earthquakes aren’t high on the list of things to worry about there.

You can choose from five natural hazards: the aforementioned floods, hurricanes, and earthquakes, as well as wildfires and tornados. ("Plague of locusts" is not yet on the list.)

Trulia uses Google Maps as a base, then pulls in data from — depending on the hazard in question — the US Geological Survey, the National Weather Service, FEMA and the National Flood Insurance Program, the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration, the USDA Fire Service, and more.

It’s a cool way to see just how safe an area is… or isn’t. An option for the tornado and hurricane data is to show the tracks of recent storms, so you know exactly what was hit.

Click here to check it out — just enter a ZIP code or city name.

I need your help: Realtors, driving, and cell phones

I’m working on a story about how brokers can be held liable if a Realtor is in a car accident while using a cell phone (talking or texting).

I’d like your help with something.

Take these two pieces of info:

1. The idea that it’s not safe to use a phone while in a car (even hands-free) is slowly sinking in across the country.

2. Realtors often live in their cars, and cell phones are a fact of life.

Here’s my question: What are you doing to reduce your time using your phone while driving?

  • Do you pull into a McDonald’s parking lot to take advantage of Wi-fi?
  • Do you stop at a Starbucks every few hours?
  • Do you tell your clients up front, "I may not be able to talk right away, but I promise I’ll get back to you within an hour"?

I’m looking for anecdotes and best practices — things like, "When I leave a client, I use the time before I hit the road to catch up on phone calls," or any other suggestions I can pass along to readers.

How do you balance the reality of the job and client expectations?

Thanks for any ideas you can share in comments or by e-mail!

Maryland, MARS, and short sales

If you do business in Maryland — or know someone who does — read up. Maryland has a different rule regarding short sales, and it’s one you need to know about.

Quick background: Back in 2011, the Federal Trade Commission said that anyone who gave advice on short sales was providing “mortgage assistance relief services” or MARS, and thus had to make certain disclosures. (They’re to protect consumers from fraudulent loan-modification companies.)

That seemed to apply to Realtors as well, and it meant extra forms for clients and yet more laws to worry about, which wasn’t the FTC’s intent. So after some chatting with the folks there, we got a clarification: The FTC wouldn’t require Realtors who offered short-sale advice to follow all its MARS rules under most circumstances. Yay.

But Maryland has a different twist.

In July, Maryland’s own version of the MARS rules went into effect. And the state’s Commissioner of Financial Regulations has said that its rules for Realtors are a bit tighter than the FTC’s.

Real estate agents in Maryland will have to comply with the state’s MARS Act — which means at least some additional disclosures — if they.

  • collect any money beyond the customary commission;
  • assist a seller in negotiating with the lender to obtain approval of a short sale;
  • represent to the public that they are “experts” in short sales;
  • make representations that they can obtain a short sale;
  • provide advice regarding the benefits of a strategic default; or
  • make predictions with regard to the likelihood of a deficiency or the payment of relocation costs involved in a short sale.

I bolded two of those bullets for a reason. If you’re a typical Virginia Realtor, you probably aren’t getting paid as a foreclosure counselor or short-sale negotiator. But what if your website touts your short-sale expertise? Or what if you say, “I think you can work with your bank and get a short sale”?

In either case — were you in Maryland — you might be subject to its MARS Act. In that case, its Real Estate Commission might be interested in what you’re up to.

Our advice: If you’re working with a short-sale in Maryland, check out the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing, and Regulation’s site, “Guidelines for Licensees in Short-Sale Transactions,” talk to your broker, and — if necessary (and you’re a MAR member) — contact the MAR Legal Hotline.