obamasignsAs expected, President Obama signed the bipartisan Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act on March 21, which extended government flood-insurance subsidies to people in flood zones. Because of the 2012 Biggert-Waters law, many of those people would have seen their flood insurance premiums skyrocket as they were adjusted to accurately reflect the flood risks.

The new law will limit flood insurance premium increases to 18 percent per year, grandfather in homes that complied with previous flood maps (so they won’t be hit with huge increases when new maps come out), and — perhaps most importantly for Realtors — no longer requires an immediate hike in premiums when a home changes ownership.

“As the leading advocate for home and property owners, NAR applauds this bill for the relief and protection it will bring to businesses and families nationwide,” said NAR President Steve Brown. “We believe this legislation will bring relief to property owners by ensuring a slow and steady phase in of risk-based increases.”

Click here to read the excellent New Orleans Times-Picayune article on the bill.

And click here to read NAR’s explanation of its position.


Housing market slow to thaw

The pace of Virginia homes sales increased in February, but only by 3.15% despite decreasing unemployment and mortgage interest rates. Prices remained fairly stable and days on the market continued to increase, indicating low demand rather than restricted supply. So what is holding back demand? Even though the market is not picking up as fast as it did last year (sales are down 7.55% from February 2013), many housing economists predict that 2014 will be the strongest sales year since the Great Recession. Since interest rates and employment are working in the market’s favor, winter weather seems like the main barrier for buyers and is certainly a barrier for builders. Although access to credit may be slowing the housing recovery to some degree, we expect to see better performance in the Virginia housing market once we are free of snow and ice. Long-term decreases in unemployment, stable interest rates, stable prices, and new inventory coming onto the market should all bode well for spring sales.

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

Cover Feb2014


Three things to know for Friday

Did you know that adjustable rate mortgages are “making a comeback”?

That’s what the Wall Street Journal says — but this time it’s different.

Now, though, financial executives say they are focusing on borrowers with strong credit who are using the loans to take out large “jumbo” mortgages—and not so-called subprime borrowers, who used the loans to stretch their buying power as far as it could go. [READ ALL ABOUT IT]

Did you know that Alexandria was named the fifth best downtown in America?

That’s what the folks at Livability said: “Cobblestone streets and century-old buildings evoke memories of the past, but anyone walking through Old Town will experience the area’s modern, hip vibe.” [READ ALL ABOUT IT]

Did you know that the wild winter weather made February one of the worst months for sales since 2012?

Says ABC News: “Sales of U.S. existing homes slipped in February to their lowest level since July 2012 as severe winter weather, rising prices and a tight supply of homes discouraged buyers.” [READ ALL ABOUT IT]

 Well you know it now — and remember: You heard it on VARbuzz!


Three things to know for Thursday

Did you know that NAR joined Move (operator of Realtor.com) in a lawsuit against Zillow?

After Errol Samuelson, former president of Realtor.com, “defected” to Zillow (to use Realtor magazine’s term), Move and NAR sued both Zillow and Samuelson for breach of contract, fiduciary duty, and misappropriation of trade secrets. [READ ALL ABOUT IT]

Did you know that a study found tight credit has resulted in 1.2 million fewer mortgages?

Here’s the kicker: That’s 1.2 million fewer loans than under 2001 standards — before restrictions were loosened and the sub-prime market began to inflate the housing bubble. [READ ALL ABOUT IT]

Did you know that Realtor.com found seller confidence rose significantly in February?

What that means is that more houses are going on the market. The National Housing Trend Report for February 2014 found 10.1 percent more were up for sale than the year before, “a sign of confidence in the gains sustained through the winter and an indication of a strong early beginning to the spring home buying season.” List prices were also up — 7.6 percent. [READ ALL ABOUT IT]

Now you know. (Remember: You heard it on VARbuzz!)


The New York Times has a very cool calculator up — it lets you see whether it makes more sense to buy or to rent. You input your rent, the price and down payment for the home you’re considering, your mortgage interest rate, and your property taxes.

Then you guess: You choose how much you think the property value will go up each year, and how much the rent will increase. The app will then show you how long you’d have to own a house for it to make financial sense:

(Click to enlarge.)

There’s some obvious guesswork — it’s hard to say how much property values will increase (although Case-Shiller found that, in general, it tracks inflation.) Still, it’s a clear and useful tool. Click here to test it out.

Oh, and if you’re not sure about some numbers, check out Realtor.com to get more information.


VAR is changing so we can do more for you and your business.

We are, after all, your association — it’s our job to be your advocate and to work to ensure Virginia has the best possible environment for doing the business of real estate.

We asked what you wanted, and thousands of members responded through surveys, e-mail, and phone calls. We heard you.

We’re fighting for you in Richmond

The number one benefit we provide is serving as the business advocate for real estate professionals in Virginia — you know it as advocacy: We work with lawmakers and regulators to help make and keep Virginia the best place for real estate business. That’s especially true as the state and federal governments propose new laws and regulations in the wake of the housing recession.

“We work hard on many fronts to protect both our members and Virginia property owners,” said VAR President Bradley J. Boland. “It’s our job to prevent any additional burdens being placed on real estate professionals or on homeowners. Realtors should know that we have their backs.”

We’re bringing the experts closer to home

Martin Johnson

To bolster our lobbying and policy efforts, we’re bringing the expertise in-house. As of April 1 we will have a familiar face back at VAR: Chief of Policy and Advocacy Martin Johnson who will spearhead those efforts. Since 2008, Johnson has been co-owner and partner at FutureLaw, a government relations and real estate consulting firm; before that he served as director of public policy and government relations for VAR, and as an assistant secretary of administration and as a special assistant for senate relations for Governor James Gilmore.

We’re raising funds to help us fight

Kathy Diradour

To be sure we have the loudest voice possible when we’re acting as your advocate on Capitol Square, we’ve added a dedicated RPAC fundraising director and political field representative to our staff — former Realtor and VAR political field representative Kathy Diradour — and we’ve enlisted a group of volunteers: the RPAC Fundraising and Broker Involvement committee, or “RPAC FBI,”  to help get the word out about how important RPAC is to building our advocacy relationships, supporting REALTOR®-friendly candidates for election and laying a strong foundation for your business success.

We’re helping protect you while you do business

Jim Hopper and Jay DeBoer join VAR’s legal team.

VAR needs to have the experts in Virginia real estate law so we can help Realtors stay legal and ethical, and to best advise our organization. VAR is pleased to announce two major additions to our legal department that will help keep REALTOR® members well informed, as well as supporting our policy writing and analysis efforts.

Joining the staff is new in-house general counsel Jim Hopper, and a familiar face: longtime VAR colleague Jay DeBoer.

Hopper has a strong background not only in real estate law, but in working with the legislative and executive branches. A former cabinet secretary with the governor, he also served in the office of the attorney general, where he supervised the legal counsel to the Department of Professional and Occupational Regulation, the Virginia Real Estate Board, and served as legal counsel to the State Board of Elections.

Jay DeBoer, besides his previous experience with VAR, was a 20-year member of the Virginia General Assembly and served as chief of both the Department of Professional and Occupational Regulation and the Department of Aging. He comes to VAR as adjunct counsel and will assist in regulatory oversight and legal education to the local associations.

Hopper heads VAR legal department’s experienced team of Deputy General Counsel Blake Hegeman, Legal Consultant Jay DeBoer, and Director of Professional Standards and Legal Affairs Erika Almstead.

We’re reaching out to members more, and to more members

VAR staff have embarked on a new program called “Out and About. We visit local associations to work together on projects, learn from one another, and help out where we’re needed.

“Real change begins with individuals,” said VAR CEO Terrie Suit. “We want to use the power of thousands of Realtor voices to make Virginia a great place to do business.”

We’ve remade our RealtorsChoose.com website to make it easy to keep up with our policy efforts, track bills, learn our priorities, and see the value of your RPAC contributions.

And we’ve redesigned Commonwealth magazine to keep you better informed on issues impacting your business, how VAR is working for you, and what your peers are up to around the state. We’re also increasing our social media presence so we can connect to more members in more ways. (Be sure to look for us on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter.)

This is not the end of our changes. This is part of an ongoing process to be sure we do the best job possible representing the interests of Virginia’s Realtor’s. We welcome your feedback, today and any day — tell us what you like, what you want to see more of, and how we can serve you better.



Watch for it. A special edition of our Commonwealth Online e-newsletter will include important information for Virginia REALTORS®.

  • The General Assembly: What happened this year, and how it is going to affect your business.
  • Special staff announcement: VAR has made lots of changes, including strengthening our voice on Capitol Square..
  • Federal policy fight: VAR’s president Bradley J. Boland sends a strongly worded letter to the Federal Housing Authority — see why he did it, and why it’s important for you.

All this, plus more news and information to help you and your business, coming to your inbox.


Virginia Association of REALTORS® President Bradley J. Boland sent a message to the Federal Housing Finance Administration, weighing in on the FHFA’s plan to reduce the loan limits for mortgages that could be purchased or insured by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac.

Reducing those limits would mean that many potential home buyers would not be eligible for a mortgage because the property value would be too high to qualify. While it’s particularly an issue in the more expensive areas of the state, reducing the loan limits would have an effect on the entire Virginia real estate market.

“We urge you to NOT change the existing loan limits,” Boland wrote, “as it has been critical in restoring stability to local housing markets across the our state.”

He explained that, while the housing market has certainly been improving, it’s still a challenge for many potential home buyers to find available credit.

It is crucial that the federal government act to maintain market stability, not add disruptive and unnecessary changes at this critical time in the nation’s economic recovery. While the housing market continues to experience a nascent recovery, data reflects that it remains fragile.

Click here to read the full letter from President Boland to the FHFA.


VAR Out & About: New River Valley

VAR Legal Counsel Blake Hegeman travelled to the New River Valley Association of REALTORS® as part of our Professionalism Road Show. Here he is, teaching the association’s members:


Senate passes flood insurance bill

The U.S Senate voted 72-22 to approve a bill that would continue government subsidies for flood insurance for people in flood zones, protecting them from often-significant rate hikes that were going into effect.

The Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act, which had bipartisan support, was in response to the 2012 Biggert-Waters law. As REALTOR® magazine explained, Biggert-Waters

set out to gradually phase out flood insurance subsidies as a way to make up for the National Flood Insurance Program’s $24 billion debt. As a result, home owners who had received federal aid to pay for flood insurance were being faced with tens of thousands of dollars a year in flood insurance hikes.

“As the leading advocate for home and property owners, NAR applauds this bill for the relief and protection it will bring to businesses and families nationwide.  We believe this legislation will bring relief to property owners by ensuring a slow and steady phase in of risk-based increases,” said NAR President Steve Brown.

The House had previously passed its version of the bill, and President Obama is expected to sign it.


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