Monthly Archives: May 2019

Long-term mortgage rates slip – 4th week in a row

WASHINGTON (AP) – May 23, 2019 – U.S. long-term mortgage rates fell slightly this week, marking a fourth straight week of declines to lure prospective purchasers in the spring homebuying season.

Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac says the average rate on the 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage slipped to 4.06% from 4.07% last week. By contrast, a year ago the benchmark rate stood at 4.66%.

The average rate for 15-year, fixed-rate home loans declined this week to 3.51% from 3.53% last week.

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Who owns your customers?

NEW YORK – May 23, 2019 – You’ve got 20,000 followers for your small business on Facebook. You sell hundreds of products a month on Amazon. Your restaurant increased its sales by linking up with an online food delivery service.

This all seems good, right? Not so fast. Who owns your customers? That’s a critical question for you to answer if you want your business to survive.

Here’s the bottom line: If an intermediary controls the contact information of, and interaction with, customers and prospects, they control the future of your business. How well are you going to sleep at night knowing Mark Zuckerberg controls the future of your business?

If someone else – a social media site, a sales platform, a delivery service – controls the relationship with your customer, then you can’t market to these customers again, you can’t set prices, you can’t grow your company.

What do I mean that these services “own” your customer? A few examples:

  • You sell camping equipment in your brick-and-mortar store and have a website, but it’s tough to drive traffic to your site. Instead, you sell on Amazon. Amazon handles orders, shipping, customer service. Easy, peasy. But Amazon also keeps all the contact information of those who buy your products. You can’t communicate with them through email, snail mail or phone. You can’t reach customers to sell to them directly, you can’t sell them additional products or just keep your name in front of them.
  • You used to manage your Thai restaurant’s home delivery yourself. Your phone would ring, you’d take an order, and you had a few drivers making deliveries. But that was annoying and expensive. So you signed up to sell on the online delivery service, GrubHub. That’s made your life easier, and you’ve found some new “customers” this way. But in addition to all the fees you pay GrubHub, you never see the name or contact information of those who place orders.
  • You’ve spent a lot of time and resources building up your small company’s social media presence. In fact, you have a staff member whose part-time job is to create social media posts and respond to followers. Your numbers and engagement have grown. You’d like to use those channels to announce new products and discounts. But the only way to make sure you reach all those followers is to pay to boost your posts: you don’t have email addresses or other ways to reach even your most ardent fans.

Yes, in every case, someone else “owns” the customer relationship. You can’t reach your own customers directly. If that doesn’t make you nervous, consider this: These platforms can change their terms at any time. They can increase fees, lower your profit margins, place ads from your competitors in front of your customers. Worse, these platforms could – theoretically – disappear.

That’s why you must find ways to build your own marketing list and find ways to reach customers, prospects and fans without an intermediary.

Here are some ways to start:

  • Build your contact list. Ask for contact information as quickly as you can from any customer, fan, follower, prospect.
  • Give people a reason to give you their contact information. Provide a gift or bonus for giving you their name and email address. Ideally, this would be something you can deliver electronically, so your costs are minimal.
  • Create an email marketing mailing list and send an email “newsletter” at least once a month. An email “newsletter” (which can be as little as a notice of a sale or a tip related to your business) keeps your business name in front of customers and prospects.
  • Remember customers’ birthdays, anniversaries, etc. If you can get this information, use it.
  • Put your company name and contact information on everything you can, including products and meals sold or delivered by other parties.
  • Keep your best stuff. Sell only your least important items on sales platforms (such as Amazon) or make your restaurant available on food delivery systems only in lowest-demand times.
  • Pay for it. Yes, it’s going to cost you something to have your own newsletter, your own contact management system, your own freebie to give away. Marketing is a cost of doing business.

Whatever you do, make sure you own the customer in your small business. Otherwise, Jeff Bezos or Mark Zuckerberg owns them instead.

Copyright © 2019, USATODAY.com, USA TODAY. Rhonda Abrams is the author of “Six-Week Start-Up” and other books for small-business owners. The views and opinions expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect those of USA TODAY.

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April new-home sales drop 6.9%

WASHINGTON (AP) – May 23, 2019 – Sales of new U.S. homes sank 6.9% in April, driven by a decline in the sale of homes worth less than $300,000 that are generally bought by middle class and first-time buyers.

The Commerce Department said Thursday that new homes sold at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 673,000 in April, down from 723,000 in March.

Still, year-to-date home sales are running 6.7% above the pace set in 2018.

Buyers have been helped by lower mortgage rates and a solid job market. Yet higher prices and a lack of sales listings have been an obstacle this year for sales of new and existing homes, limiting the number of people who can afford to buy.

The median sales price of a new home jumped 8.8% from a year ago to $342,200.

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Census Bureau: City growth once hot – now not so much

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) – May 23, 2019 – Big cities in the U.S. aren’t growing like they used to.

Most of the nation’s largest cities last year grew by a fraction of the numbers they did earlier in the decade, according to population and housing unit estimates released Thursday by the U.S. Census Bureau.

The previous growth big cities had experienced in the first half of the decade was fueled by millennials who delayed home-buying in the suburbs after the recession and stuck it out in large cities, said William Frey, a senior fellow at The Brooking Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program.

The recession’s aftermath “stranded a lot of millennials in cities rather than their moving off to the suburbs,” Frey said.

The Census data released Thursday looked at changes in cities and towns from mid-2017 to mid-2018. The data don’t reflect changes in metropolitan areas comprising multiple cities, towns, suburbs and counties.

The weakening in growth appears to have started two years ago and accelerated last year.

Perhaps no other city offers as stark an example of the trend than New York City, the nation’s most populous city with just under 8.4 million residents last year. Even though the city has grown by 223,000 residents since 2010, the most of any city over the past eight years except Houston, most of the growth was in the early part of the decade. At its height, New York City grew by more than 82,000 residents in 2011, but it lost 39,000 residents last year.

Last month, when the U.S. Census Bureau released county-level data that showed identical population loss, New York City’s planners took umbrage with the federal agency’s methodology, saying international migrants were undercounted.

“While population growth has likely slowed, the Census Bureau’s methodology is not robust enough to precisely quantify the magnitude of these year-to-year changes,” the planners said on the city website.

With the exceptions of Phoenix and San Antonio, the phenomenon of slowing growth in the nation’s largest cities also has hit Sunbelt cities including Los Angeles, Houston and Dallas, where the populations grew, but at a fraction of their growth six years ago. San Jose, California, lost more than 2,000 residents last year.

“There is a growing moving away from cities,” Frey said. “The first part of the decade was an aberration. Cities were growing faster than suburbs. That is starting to turn around.”

AP Logo Copyright 2019 The Associated Press, Mike Schneider. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Freddie: Mortgage rates won’t go as high as we thought

WASHINGTON – May 23, 2019 – This year’s borrowing costs will likely be lower than originally predicted, according to an updated forecast from Freddie Mac.

The GSE recently downgraded its forecast for the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage, projecting it will average 4.3% in 2019 – below last year’s average of 4.5%.

In addition, Freddie Mac economists predict only a small average rate increase in 2020, with 30-year fixed rates averaging 4.5% next year.

“The combined positive impact of low mortgage rates, a strong labor market, low unemployment and modest wage growth supports our forecast for a steadily growing housing market in 2019,” Freddie Mac says in its May 2019 Forecast report.

The declining interest rates are expected to help reverse a decrease in mortgage originations that occurred in 2018. Freddie Mac researchers note this will “continue to provide an impetus to first-time homebuyers as well as homeowners looking to refinance.”

Freddie Mac projects that 2019 home sales will surpass 2018 levels and reach 5.98 million units, with most of the increase will come from existing-home sales. Freddie Mac’s forecast remains flat for housing starts this year, however, at 1.26 million units.

Source: “A Steadily Growing Housing Market,” Freddie Mac’s May 2019 Forecast (May 2019)

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NAHB pushing Congress to storm-protect older homes

WASHINGTON – May 23, 2019 – The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) called on Congress to focus on improving the older homes, structures and infrastructure that are less resilient to natural disasters because they were built before national model codes or following codes that are now outdated.

“Sound building codes are already in place in most communities and they are doing their job,” says Randy Noel, NAHB immediate past chairman, in testimony before a House hearing on disaster preparedness. He said that more stringent building codes for new homes would do little to ease disaster mitigation efforts in vulnerable communities – it would increase housing costs and ignore the root of the problem.

“Requiring the use of ‘latest published editions’ of certain codes or standards is too prescriptive,” says Noel. “New construction is built to more stringent codes and standards and is more resilient than older housing – a fact that FEMA and others have reported numerous times.”

According to NAHB, a lesson learned in the aftermath of the 2017 hurricane season and California wildfires is that properties that suffered the most damage were largely older housing stock. Almost 95% of the U.S. housing stocks was built before 2010, and therefore not subject to the modern building codes now in effect.

“Adopting more stringent and costly building and mitigation requirements would do very little to provide further protection from natural disasters,” says Noel. “What it would do is make new housing prohibitively expensive for hard-working families at a time when the nation is already suffering through a housing affordability crisis.”

NAHB also believes that state and local governments must have the ability to adopt location-appropriate building codes to fit the needs of their communities and protect their citizens. “What is best for Nevada is not necessarily best for North Carolina,” says Noel.

To mitigate the effects of future natural disasters, NAHB is urging Congress to focus on cost-effective, market-driven solutions that encourage greater resiliency in the nation’s housing stock while preserving housing affordability for both new and existing homes.

“Expanding mitigation opportunities and creating incentives to facilitate upgrades and improvements to older homes and structures would help to reduce risks and minimize losses from future catastrophes,” according to Noel.

© 2019 Florida Realtor  

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Gainesville: City eyes new hotel in Lot 10 deal

City commissioners are set to vote Thursday to sell a long-vacated lot for $2.3 million to developers with plans to build a hotel in its place.

After nearly a decade of failed negotiations, city officials may soon vote to sell a prime downtown lot to new developers who aim to build a $26 million, six-story hotel there.

At Thursday’s city meeting, commissioners are expected to sell the downtown parking lot, referred to as Lot 10, for $2.3 million to two Gainesville groups.

“It would be just another shot in the arm for the downtown, in terms of a project that has the ability to be a destination and add to the vibe and feeling of downtown,” said Erik Bredfeldt, the city’s economic development director. “It’s another piece in the puzzle.”

Lot 10 is directly in front Loosey’s Downtown Gainesville, on the corner of Southwest First Avenue and Second Street. It is one of very few undeveloped lots of that size in the downtown district.

City officials have been strung along by developers who promised a transformational project, only to it — for one reason or another — be abandoned months later.

The first project approved for the site was Gainesville Green, but that project folded because of the economic collapse. More recently, commissioners offered the site to Nim Patel, a developer in Atlanta, who planned to build a $56 million hotel with a conference center. However, after several missed deadlines to give the city $125,000 and to file needed paperwork, the city canceled the agreement.

The latest developers vow to start construction by April 2020 and finish in November 2021.

In January 2018, the city entered into negotiations with two groups, 1+1=3 of Gainesville and EDA Engineers-Surveyors-Planners Inc., to buy the land. Together, they will build the six-story, 136-room Hyatt Place hotel within two years.

According to the proposal, the development is expected to generate 189 full-time jobs once the hotel opens.

“I think the timing is right, and hopefully the market conditions are favorable,” Bredfeldt said.

A rendering of the structure details spaces for two restaurants, a rooftop restaurant or bar, three art installations and a meeting space of roughly 7,000 square feet. The developers are also considering adding on-street parking.

Bredfeldt said the developers will also negotiate a deal with developer Ken McGurn to purchase parking spaces in the adjacent garage. The city won’t be involved in those negotiations, Bredfeldt added.

If approved Thursday, there will be a 120-day due diligence period to complete the contract with developers ponying up a $50,000 refundable deposit in case the deal falls through. Similar to past negotiations, the city will have performance benchmarks that must be met by the buyer throughout the construction of the project.

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Governor announces more Hurricane Michael Housing relief

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – May 22, 2019 – Florida Governor Ron DeSantis announced the availability of two new homeownership loan programs that will provide additional affordable housing resources for Floridians impacted by Hurricane Michael.

The Florida Housing Finance Corporation (Florida Housing) officially began the rollout of the programs this week.

“When I first took office, I asked the Florida Housing Finance Corporation to come up with additional ways to assist counties devastated by recent hurricanes,” says DeSantis. “I’m pleased to report that the Florida Housing Finance Corporation is moving ahead with two new loan programs that will assist impacted counties and the victims who have been displaced by Hurricane Michael. Housing remains among the most serious concerns as Northwest Florida continues to rebuild and recover and my administration remains committed to the full recovery of these communities.”

“These homeownership and down payment assistance programs will help the rebuilding of these Panhandle communities and for families to achieve the American dream (of homeownership) affordably,” says Trey Price, executive director of the Florida Housing Finance Corporation.

Expected to launch in early June, the Homeownership Loan Program (HLP) will offer a favorable 30-year fixed rate first mortgage coupled with up to $15,000 in down payment (DPA) and closing cost assistance for qualifying homebuyers up to 140% AMI. DPA loans will be at zero percent interest, non-amortizing and forgivable at 20% per year over five years. The DPA loan is fully forgivable if an active duty serviceperson is officially reassigned and must sell the home.

A total of up to $5 million in DPA will be available and may be used in conjunction with a variety of first mortgage products, including Veterans Affairs (VA) loans. Those eligible do not have to be a first-time homebuyer to qualify for this program, though the home must be owner-occupied.

The Homeownership Pool (HOP) Program will also launch in June and will create a $1 million pool of federal (HOME) funds to be made available to Hurricane Michael impacted counties for new single-family housing. Homebuilders who participate in this program can use up to $35,000 in down payment and closing cost assistance loans (DPA) to assist homebuyers in qualifying to purchase these new homes. The DPA loans assist borrowers at 80% area median income (AMI) and below and are zero percent interest, non-amortizing and due on sale, refinance or non-owner occupancy.

Also, Florida Housing’s Board of Directors recently voted to approve funding to construct seven newly-constructed rental developments providing over 200 units of affordable housing. The more than $30 million investment will be made using federal Home Investment Partnerships Program (HOME) funding and include developments in Bay (3), Gulf (2), (1) Jackson and (1) Wakulla counties.

© 2019 Florida Realtors

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Tax reform hasn’t hurt the RE industry as some predicted

WASHINGTON – May 22, 2019 – A year ago, the new $10,000 cap on the federal deduction for state and local taxes prompted dire predictions for the real estate market, especially in expensive areas like New York and San Francisco.

In these and other high-tax places, local property taxes alone can cost more than $10,000 a year. Many finance experts warned that limiting what these residents could deduct from their local taxes would lower home values and hurt governments’ property tax revenue along with it.

As it turns out, those predictions were wrong – at least on a large scale.

“The actual response in the real estate market has [been] kind of all over the place,” says Rudy Salo, a public finance attorney at Nixon Peabody in Los Angeles. “In general, the effect has been less than all the doomsayers – and that includes myself – thought.”

The national real estate market was already slowing down before federal tax reform, so it’s difficult to isolate what activity is driven by the tax change. But the new limit on the state and local tax (SALT) deduction hasn’t led to a total real estate meltdown in high-tax markets.

Silicon Valley, San Francisco and Oakland, Calif., for example, are still among the most competitive housing markets in the country. They’ve experienced double-digit growth in sale prices over the past year, according to data from the National Association of Realtors.

Still, the SALT change has driven some people to make moves and may be slowing some markets.

A couple in Old Tappan, N.J., moved to a nearby town last year to reduce their tax bill by $10,000. Fairfield County, Conn., which has some of the highest property taxes in the nation, has seen a surge in homes going on the market over the last six months. In Florida, where many northeasterners have second homes, there’s been a rush to switch residency to the lower-tax state, says John R. Mousseau, director of fixed income for Cumberland Advisors in Sarasota.

“Almost anyone I talk to here who has a second home is looking to do that trade,” he says.

The luxury real estate market in high-tax states may be taking the biggest hit from federal tax reform, which generally increased what the wealthy owe.

In Brooklyn and Queens, sales of homes priced at more than $1 million have slowed, according to Mansion Global, which is reporting double-digit drops in the New York City boroughs. Meanwhile, luxury home sales have taken off in low-tax states. According to Redfin, three cities in Florida and Reno, Nev., were the fastest-growing markets for luxury home sales at the end of 2018. West Palm Beach topped the list with a 35 percent jump in prices.

In the longer term, most finance experts and local officials agree that local governments in high-tax states will be adversely affected by the SALT cap. That’s because the cap could make it harder for local governments to raise property taxes in the future if residents can’t write off that tax hike.

Instead, says Nassau County, N.Y., Comptroller Jack Schnirman, residents will likely be looking for tax relief. But lowering property taxes is “something that basically doesn’t happen,” he says. “In a world where fixed costs like health care and pensions are going up faster than inflation, local governments are looking at ways to cut costs just to keep pace.”

Schnirman fears that the SALT cap will make counties like Nassau, which have an aging population and a higher cost of living, even more unattractive to younger people. Without growth in the working population and in the tax base, the financial pressure on government would increase.

“Nassau County was America’s first suburb,” Schnirman says. “The deal used to be, you move out of New York City, you have good schools, you have a home, access to beaches, parks. We don’t want people to now be convinced that Charlotte or Austin or Florida is a better deal.”

© 2019 Governing, Liz Farmer. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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Some Fla. metros change zoning to allow more tiny homes

ORLANDO, Fla. – May 22, 2019 – The tiny home under construction at Cornerstone’s Longwood factory has room for a queen bed, an apartment refrigerator, a closet and even a washer and dryer hook-up.

But the biggest difference in the $68,000, 360-square-foot home model is the lack of wheels, meaning it isn’t technically a mobile home like other popular tiny homes. It’s meant to sit on a foundation for good.

“You can’t really buy a home in Seminole County for less than $200,000, so tiny homes appeal to those looking to own but can’t afford it,” said Cornerstone Tiny Homes CEO Brett Hiltbrand. “The problem is that you can’t really put tiny homes on an actual piece of land [you own], so you have to put it in a mobile home park and still pay rent.”

The dream of owning these minimalist and low-cost dwellings has bumped against market reality in the five years since tiny home shows became a mainstay on cable television reality shows such as Tiny Home Nation.

It’s difficult for buyers to get a loan on a non-traditional home that doesn’t have a permanent address, finding insurance can be difficult and many cities have restrictions on where tiny homes can be placed.

But tiny home owners and builders are pushing local governments to reform laws in the face of growing house prices and apartment rents.

In Central Florida, Longwood passed new rules for tiny homes in March, and Osceola County passed an ordinance last year to make way for tiny homes on permanent foundations, joining places such as Rockledge and Marion County in reforming housing laws.

Tiny home advocates say the changes are making tiny homes more appealing and giving owners a sense of legitimacy in the emerging market.

Longwood passed its new rules in March after a push from Hiltbrand and Cornerstone Tiny Homes, who hopes to build a tiny home community with a handful of model units.

“Living in Longwood, finding any home under $250,000 is hard,” said Longwood planning director Chris Kintner. “As a city you really have to take any kind of emerging housing seriously.”

Most municipalities have rules for minimum lot and home sizes. In Orange County, a permanent housing unit must be at least 500-square-feet, eliminating most tiny homes.

However, Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings and other leaders are open to modifying rules that would increase the availability of affordable housing, said county spokeswoman Doreen Overstreet.

Longwood already allowed “accessory dwelling units” to build a guest home in backyards. The new rules allow smaller lot sizes to go along with smaller homes in certain districts.

Residents did express some concerns over how tiny homes would fit into existing neighborhoods, said Longwood Mayor Matt Morgan.

“But people came from all over to say they were supportive of the idea,” Morgan said.

Osceola’s change isn’t as aggressive as Longwood’s, but does allow for tiny homes in backyards as guest houses.

Even with the push for regulations for tiny homes, they are still rare in Central Florida and only seen in a handful of RV parks.

Real estate broker and property developer Giovanni Fernandez planned for a tiny house community in the Hourglass District in east Orlando, but he has dropped plans because it was too difficult to comply with codes, he said.

Allowing permanent tiny homes also makes the dwelling units safer, said Robin Butler, CEO of the National Organization of Alternative Housing, a tiny home inspection service based in Orlando and Apopka.

“Now building departments will have to make sure tiny homes live up to certain standards,” Butler said. “Municipalities are getting some pressure on the local level to let tiny houses in. People want to live legally in their tiny home and too many have to live in someone’s backyard and worry about getting caught.”

Emily Lindahl Willix lived in a friend’s tiny house off Lake Fairview in Orlando in 2014 before deciding to build her own. She loved the concept so much she decided to build her own.

“The process of trying to find a place for the tiny home was an experience,” said the 32-year old. “Most RV parks didn’t even know what we meant.”

Her tiny home was featured on HGTV and she started a Facebook group called Florida Tiny House Enthusiasts that has more than 11,000 members.

But she got married in 2016 and moved onto a boat, which her husband describes as a tiny house on water. The six-month process of selling her tiny home was stressful, she said.

Willix still loves the tiny home community, but thinks there are too many complications for owners.

“A lot of young people liked the idea of a tiny home but then couldn’t get a loan because the banks didn’t want to put a mortgage on something that doesn’t have an address,” she said. “Right now it’s just too hard for a lot of people to own a tiny home. Hopefully, that is changing.”

© 2019 The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Fla.), Kyle Arnold. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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Fed’s interest rate position could boost commercial sales

WASHINGTON – May 22, 2019 – The current Goldilocks economy – not too hot and not too cold – is helping to keep the bears from emerging in the commercial real estate sector.

In a move aimed at holding on to that warmish balance, the Fed confirmed during its May 1 meeting that it would not change interest rates. That move is expected to fuel another strong year of transaction activity. At the same time, it is stirring speculation about what action the Fed might take in the fourth quarter.

The Fed has become more dovish on rates, essentially changing its policy from one where it was likely to raise rates two or three times in 2019 to a more neutral position, and capital markets have gained confidence from that shift. “December and January were tough months for the economy and the commercial real estate (CRE) business, because consumer confidence tanked and business confidence tanked along with the stock market,” says Spencer Levy, chairman of Americas research and senior economic advisor at real estate services firm CBRE.

The rebound in the stock market has strengthened both consumer and business confidence. “We would expect that as rates stay low, that confidence is going to remain,” adds Levy.

The Fed would like to keep raising rates in an environment where unemployment is extremely low and wage growth is accelerating. Yet core inflation is not moving.

On the other side, GDP and job growth put the economy in a strong position where the Fed doesn’t see the need to cut rates either, says Ryan Severino, chief economist at real estate services firm JLL. “So, they’re just sitting there for the time being looking for a little more clarity on either a more pronounced slowdown in the economy, or a re-acceleration in inflation,” he says.

Impact on CRE

Volatility and uncertainty on rates did weigh on investment activity during first quarter, with sales volume that dropped 11%, according to Real Capital Analytics, a New York City-based research firm. The latest Fed decision is giving commercial real estate investors more confidence in the economy. Underlying property fundamentals remain strong, the cost of capital remains low and investors still have a lot of capital that needs to be deployed.

“So, I would expect there to be a re-acceleration of transaction activity in the back half of the year,” says David Bitner, vice president, Americas head of capital markets research for real estate services firm Cushman & Wakefield.

The 10-year Treasury has dropped by nearly 75 basis points since November to hover between 2.45 and 2.55% this month. CBRE expects the 10-year Treasury to top out just shy of 3.00% this year.

“I think we’re going to have about the same amount of transactions this year as we had last year, because the capital markets remain deep and liquid,” says Levy. In addition, while certain parts of the commercial real estate market may be near the peak, there is still a lot of momentum and opportunities that exist in newer markets like Nashville, Tenn., Orlando, Fla., and Kansas City, notes Levy.

One question is how the Fed position on rates and the recent decline in the 10-year Treasury could impact cap rates. Overall, cap rates have been on a plateau for the past couple of years, moving only about 20 basis points. Even with the recent dip in the 10-year Treasury, there is not a lot of room for cap rates to move lower, notes Bitner. People generally don’t have the risk tolerance that would be needed for rates to compress further, he adds.

Will the Fed cut rates?

JLL’s outlook for this year is that the Fed will likely remain neutral on rates through 2019. Core inflation could accelerate a little as the year progresses, but likely not enough to trigger a rate increase, notes Severino.

“At the same time, I don’t see the economy deteriorating enough where the Fed would have to cut rates,” he says.

GDP growth improved to 3.2% in the first quarter and JLL is predicting that growth will slow throughout the year as stimulus from tax reform starts to fade to end the year at GDP growth around 2.0%. However, there are some factors that could push the Fed out of that neutral position, such as acceleration in core inflation, wage growth and other signs of overheating in the job market.

What is interesting is that the Fed Funds Futures market and the equity market both reacted negatively to the recent Fed decision as both expected the Fed to cut rates. Those expectations to cut rates don’t appear to make a lot of sense when the economy is growing at a rate that is above trend and unemployment is at a 50-year low, notes Severino.

“I think the Fed has been very dovish, but at the same time, they have been careful to make sure the market understands they are not immediately planning to cut rates,” says Bitner. However, that has not deterred growing sentiment that a rate cut may be in the cards for later in the year.

According to CME FedWatch, expectations for a Fed rate cut rise to 26% for the September meeting, 42.2% for October and 60.1% for the December meeting. Growing sentiment in favor of a rate cut is due to concerns about trade tariffs and elevated recession risk.

Looking out over the 12- to 18-month horizon, Severino believes it is more likely that the Fed will raise rates again before they make any moves to cut rates.

“I’m not saying they will raise rates necessarily; I just don’t see as much risk to the downside of the economy as I see a chance that the Fed think rates need to be higher going into the next downturn,” he says.

Either way, the Fed is likely close to the end of its tightening cycle, he adds.

© 2019 Penton Media, National Real Estate Investor. Beth Mattson-Teig

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Renters protected against discrimination by anyone

WASHINGTION – May 22, 2019 – Property managers can be held legally responsible for discrimination and harassment by contractors, such as maintenance workers. The same is true if one tenant is infringing on the rights of another tenant, according to experts who spoke at the National Association of Realtors® (NAR)’s recent meetings in Washington, D.C. It’s also true if one tenant’s guests are harassing another tenant.

Fred Underwood, director of diversity and inclusion at NAR, encouraged property managers to have policies in place regarding tenant-on-tenant and visitor harassment before an incident occurs.

“If you wait until it happens, you’re going to have lawyers coming to see you,” Underwood said.

Property managers have no legal entitlement to stay out of tenant disputes, according to John Relman, managing partner at civil rights law firm Relman, Dane & Colfax

“A lot of landlords say they don’t want to get involved in [personal] squabbles between tenants, but they routinely get involved when a tenant complains about loud music or odors, for example,” Relman said. However, property managers need to be aware that they have a similar responsibility to get involved in tenant-on-tenant discrimination and harassment claims.

Relman said he currently represents a black renter who was threatened and called racial epithets by a fellow tenant in his building. Relman’s client informed his management company about the harassment, but it took no action to stop it. The offending tenant eventually moved out of the building on his own accord, but Relman’s client sued the building owner and management company over their inaction. The case is still being adjudicated in the 2nd District Court of Appeals, but Relman said it’s already having an impact on the property management business.

“This case shows that if you are indifferent or don’t take steps to stop harassment in your building – no matter who it’s coming from – you can face legal consequences,” he said.

William P. Cannon III, principal and chair of the Landlord Representation Group at law firm Offit Kurman, offered some action steps property managers can take to comply with fair housing law in the case of tenant harassment. Chief among them: “Don’t do nothing” when you receive a complaint, Cannon said. Other steps include:

  • Make reasonable accommodations
    Property managers must show an attempt to accommodate a tenant’s request or mitigate their concerns. Cannon suggested having tenants fill out a request form so that you can evaluate their situations and complaints. Then, approach the owner of the building you manage and inform them of their obligations to tenant requests under fair housing law. “If your client [the owner] says they’re not going to do it, you might want to get a new client,” Cannon said.
  • Treat people fairly
    Use respectful language to show tenants that you care about their concerns, suggested Cannon. “Tenants want to make [their complaints] personal to you because it’s personal to them.”
  • Keep good records
    Create a paper trail, such as with tenant request forms, that demonstrates your support for tenants who make discrimination or harassment claims. “Most cases are won, lost or settled based on records,” Cannon said. Additionally, create work tickets and invoices for tenant maintenance requests to show you are responsive to their needs. “Some tenants may feel they are not getting the same level of service as other tenants,” Cannon added, “and good records can prove that to be false.”
  • Get advice
    “When tenants have a question that may have a fair housing component, it’s OK if you don’t know the answer,” Cannon said. Contact local fair housing organizations or legal hotlines when you are unsure of how to respond. “Many times, tenants will want you to know the answer right away. It’s much better to tell them you need to seek advice than give an incorrect answer that possibly violates the law.”

Source: Realtor Magazine, Graham Wood

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Dated designs can sink home sales – what not to do

NEW YORK – May 22, 2019 – Home trends come and go, but which are most prime for falling out of favor? Apartment Therapy recently took a look at the unfiltered opinions of some 2,400 posts to a question on Reddit about home trends that people will most likely regret in 20 years.

Here are a few of the most popular responses:

  • Barn doors: The hanging, refurbished barn door over the interior of a doorway is starting to look dated, commenters said.
  • Floating shelves: Open floating shelves in the kitchen in lieu of cabinets was another trend frequently cited. Commenters said the trend was unrealistic in keeping shelves always tidy for everyday use, and you would need gorgeous, matching dishes to pull the look off.
  • Pallet wood walls: Shiplap also may be losing fans. “It will be the equivalent of wood paneling of the 70s,” one Reddit poster commented.
  • Doorless glass showers: Walk-in showers without doors are growing more popular, particularly in the luxury sector. But commenters said the space needs to be closed up for practical reasons – to keep the heat in.
  • Word art: Wooden signs meant to inspire – “Live. Love. Laugh” – or that just state the obvious – “family” or “eat” – are a popular home accessory over the past few years. But homeowners may be growing tired of reading all the word art decorating walls.
  • Too much white and gray: Reddit commenters also showed some white and gray backlash, calling the look overdone. They took offense to rooms where everything is white – white-on-white kitchens, white walls and white countertops. Also, they said that the popularity of gray is tiring out. Instead, they called for more colorful interiors.

Source: Reddit and “Here Are the Home Trends Reddit Thinks You’ll Regret,” Apartment Therapy (May 2019)

© Copyright 2019 INFORMATION INC., Bethesda, MD (301) 215-4688

 

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NAR: U.S. home sales decline slightly in April

WASHINGTON – May 21, 2019 – Existing-home sales declined slightly in April after a drop the month earlier, according to the National Association of Realtors® (NAR). Two of the four major U.S. regions saw a slight dip in sales, while the West saw growth and the Midwest stayed the same.

Total existing-home sales – completed transactions that include single-family homes, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops – fell 0.4% from March to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.19 million in April. Total sales are down 4.4% from a year ago (5.43 million in April 2018).

Lawrence Yun, NAR’s chief economist, isn’t overly concerned about the 0.4% dip in sales and expects moderate growth very soon.

“First, we are seeing historically low mortgage rates combined with a pent-up demand to buy, so buyers will look to take advantage of these conditions,” he says. “Also, job creation is improving, causing wage growth to align with home price growth, which helps affordability and will help spur more home sales.”

The median existing-home price for all housing types in April was $267,300, up 3.6% from April 2018 ($257,900). April’s price increase marks the 86th straight month of year-over-year gains.

Total housing inventory at the end of April increased to 1.83 million, up from 1.67 million existing homes available for sale in March and a 1.7% increase from 1.80 million a year ago. Unsold inventory is at a 4.2-month supply at the current sales pace, up from 3.8 months in March and up from 4.0 months in April 2018.

“We see that the inventory totals have steadily improved and will provide more choices for those looking to buy a home,” Yun says, and sellers have to realize that price growth has moderated. “When placing their home on the market, home sellers need to be very realistic and aware of the current conditions.”

Properties remained on the market for an average of 24 days in April, down from 36 days in March and down from 26 days a year ago; 53% of homes sold in April were on the market for less than a month.

Yun says that college student debt continues to hinder millennial homebuyers. “Given the record high job openings in the construction sector, some may want to take a gap year to work there and save, and thereby lessen the student debt burden.”

According to Freddie Mac, the average commitment rate for a 30-year, conventional, fixed-rate mortgage decreased to 4.14% in April from 4.27% in March. The average commitment rate across all of 2018 was 4.54%.

“I think the market had a bit of a slow start in the Fall, but Realtors all over the country have been telling me that April was a nice rebound. We’re hopeful and expect that this will continue heading into the summer,” says NAR President John Smaby. “Homes over the last month sold quickly, which is not only a win-win for buyers and sellers, but it’s also great for the real estate industry.”

First-time buyers were responsible for 32% of sales in April, down from the 33% reported last month and one year ago.

All-cash sales accounted for 20% of transactions in April, down from March and a year ago (21% in both cases). Individual investors, who account for many cash sales, purchased 16% of homes in April, down from March’s 18%, but up from a year ago (14%).

Distressed sales – foreclosures and short sales – represented 3% of sales in April, equal to the 3% in March and down from 4% in April 2018. One percent of April 2019 sales were short sales.

Single-family and condo/co-op sales
Single-family home sales sat at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.62 million in April, down from 4.67 million in March and down 4.0% from 4.81 million a year ago. The median existing single-family home price was $269,300 in April, up 3.7% from April 2018.

Existing condominium and co-op sales were recorded at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 570,000 units in April, up 5.6% from the prior month and down 8.1% from a year ago. The median existing condo price was $251,000 in April, which is up 3.4% from a year ago.

Regional breakdown
April existing-home sales numbers in the Northeast decreased 4.5% to an annual rate of 640,000 – 4.5% below a year ago. The median price in the Northeast was $277,700, up 0.9% from April 2018.

In the Midwest, existing-home sales saw relatively no percentage change from the month prior, as the annual rate remained 1.17 million – 7.9% below April 2018 levels. The median price in the Midwest was $210,500, an increase of 5.5% from a year ago.

Existing-home sales in the South modestly dropped 0.4% to an annual rate of 2.27 million in April, down 1.7% from a year ago. The median price in the South was $236,800, up 4.4% from a year ago.

Existing-home sales in the West grew 1.8% to an annual rate of 1.11 million in April, 5.9% below a year ago. The median price in the West was $395,100, up 1.3% from April 2018.

© 2019 Florida Realtors

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The future of the RE market? 3 predictions – all good

WASHINGTON – May 21, 2019 – According to speakers at the National Association of Realtors®‘ (NAR) recent meetings, continued economic expansion, rising home sales and an increase in wage growth on par with home price growth are expected for the second half of 2019.

Three economic experts offered insights, including Dr. Lawrence Yun, chief economist at the National Association of Realtors, Danielle Hale, chief economist at realtor.com and Dr. Johannes Stroebel, associate professor of finance at New York University.

Yun predicts changing future migration patterns as buyers search for more affordable markets. Inventory in the U.S. has grown for eight straight months on a year-over-year basis, and Yun expects that to continue.

“Home sales should be much stronger based on the economic fundamentals of jobs, interest rates, population and consumer confidence,” says Yun.

After several years of home price growth outpacing wage growth, both are more closely aligned this year as average hourly wages accelerate.

“With strong job creation, wages are growing at a faster pace,” he adds. “Finally, wages and home prices are aligning. This is good news for employees.” He says this shift is a healthy development toward keeping housing affordability stable.

That said, Yun notes some other influences on the real estate market. Because of significant differences in home prices between metro markets, he says there may be a steady shift in the relocation of people and companies into more affordable regions of the country. Housing affordability had been falling according to NAR’s Housing Affordability Index.

“While affordability has been sliding, it is still better than we saw in the year 2000. This is due to much lower mortgage interest rates today,” Yun says.

Hale projects that year-over-year inventory growth will be moderate nationwide, noting that realtor.com saw listing prices rise 6.9% year-over-year in April. The Realtors Affordability Distribution Curve and Score produced by NAR and realtor.com shows that higher income households have more access to available inventory.

“We used to see home price growth only around the coasts, but now we’re seeing it throughout the country,” Hale says. “Nationwide, there are not enough affordable homes on the market, and those numbers have been declining.”

Stroebel discussed a recently developed paper on behavioral economics and housing, and his analysis went beyond data on jobs and home prices. His research evaluated how Facebook data and individual beliefs about the local housing market can influence friends’ purchase choices.

Is buying a house a good investment? According to Stroebel, people’s beliefs about whether buying a house is a good investment are driven by the house-price experiences of their friends. “Friends’ experiences are fundamentally related to personal beliefs of the housing market investments and influence personal behavior.”

According to Stroebel, having Facebook friends who experience a 5% increase in home prices over the past two years can increase the probability that a renter buys a home over the next two years by 3%. “Individuals do discuss property value with their friends, and this changes behavior,” he says.

Positive experiences were even shown to increase size of the home individuals purchased. “When home prices in socially-connected counties go up, it causes a reaction that changes home prices locally.”

© 2019 Florida Realtors

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FHA working on plan to approve more condo mortgages

WASHINGTON – May 21, 2019 – Realtors® in Washington last week met with Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Acting Deputy Secretary and Federal Housing Commissioner Brian Montgomery. During that meeting, Montgomery told them about a Federal Housing Administration (FHA) effort to finalize a new rule surrounding condominium policies.

The National Association of Realtors® (NAR) supports changes because it will open up more affordable housing opportunities to first-time buyers and others. The regulation currently in the works would allow owner-occupancy level determination on a case-by-case basis, up to 45% commercial space without documentation, and a five-year approval period for project certification.

“As you all know, one opportunity is condominiums, which have been traditionally a mainstay of affordable housing for both first-time homeowners and seniors,” Montgomery said. “We’ve been in the process of revising our condominium project approval requirements to get to a final rule and update our policies.

“We anticipate that the updated regulations will be more flexible, less prescriptive and more reflective of the current market than existing provisions. It may also include single-unit approvals for loans that meet HUD standards for unapproved projects, allowing HUD to set the specific percentage.”

The final rule is currently under review by the Office of Management and Budget, but Montgomery believes the end of the process is in sight.

Housing affordability

Montgomery spoke at length about current U.S. affordable housing problems.

“You all know better than most that affordability is an enormous challenge in many markets around the country,” Montgomery said. “Large constraints on the housing market by regulations have exacerbated the shortage for hard-working families who are employed and willing to buy but continue to be priced out. The good news is that in today’s economy, we have job growth, low unemployment and wage gains that have provided an additional shot in the arm.”

Montgomery said that overregulation and misguided zoning laws have helped contribute to the housing affordability and accessibility issues facing many U.S. markets.

“The combination of regulatory overreach and an aging housing stock has meant not enough affordable units are left – or worse, being built,” he said. “Zoning, environmental and sometimes labor restrictions have made it more difficult for areas across the country to meet the growing [housing] demand. We will need continued wage and economic growth and regulatory reform to mitigate affordability constraints. This will also require that not just HUD, but states and localities ease the regulatory burden and other impediments to development.”

© 2019 Florida Realtors

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Down to the WIRE: ‘Women in Real Estate’ pre-registration

Only a few seats remain for Florida Realtors Women in Real Estate (WIRE) conference on June 5, and pre-registration ends on May 29 – one week from today. Be inspired.

 

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Florida Realtors names Danielle Scoggins VP of public policy

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – May 21, 2019 – Florida Realtors® named Danielle Scoggins as its new vice president of public policy.

“Danielle has proven herself to be an invaluable part of the public policy efforts of Florida Realtors where she has delivered a multitude of key legislative victories since joining the team,” says Florida Realtors CEO Margy Grant. “She has shown true leadership within our public policy office, and I am confident she will bring even more success to our organization and our industry in her new role as vice president.”

The vice president of public policy oversees the government affairs team as well as the Realtor Political Action Committee (RPAC). In addition to day-to-day operations of the public policy office in Tallahassee, the vice president of public policy oversees all initiatives related to Florida Realtors’ legislative agenda, fundraising and political activities of RPAC, and coordinating member involvement in Florida Realtors’ public policy-related matters.

Scoggins joined Florida Realtors in 2015 as a senior public policy representative. Prior to that, she was the director of legislative and cabinet services for the Florida Department of Revenue (DOR) where she advocated for the department’s legislative priorities and worked with members of the Florida Cabinet.

Before joining DOR, she served in multiple roles within state government, including deputy legislative affairs director for the Executive Office of the Governor and policy chief in the Office of Policy and Budget.

Scoggins earned her bachelor’s degree in Management Information Systems (MIS) and master’s degree in Applied American Politics and Policy (MAAPP) from Florida State University.

© 2019 Florida Realtors

 

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Online estimates more accurate but still just estimates

NEW YORK – May 21, 2019 – The conversation happens almost every day. And it often starts the same way.

“‘Zillow says,’ ‘Trulia says,'” Re-Max real estate agent Mike Bernadyn hears from clients trying to settle on a listing price. “It’s almost nails on a chalkboard for us.”

Because one way or another, there’s usually a disappointment – at first.

In the information-overload age, the proliferation of online estimates of millions of homes both on and off market puts the real estate agent in a variety of awkward or advantageous positions, depending on one’s perspective. It’s a key to an educated public, a tool in the agent’s trade, or the thorn in their side that makes them justify their own estimates.

In Bernadyn’s experience, online estimates from listing sites often value homes too high.

“Folks are like, ‘Are you kidding me, that’s it?'” when he tells them his suggested price, he said.

There’s no choice but to make light of the situation, even laugh it off, he said. It’s now a fact of a real estate agent’s life.

A generation ago, the Multiple Listing Service – the holy grail of data on home listings, market trends and forecasts – came in a thick three-ring binder exclusively to the offices of real estate brokers, sending agents in a mad dash about every two weeks between the massive catalog and the copy machine.

They held the key to that information. Now, thanks to websites such as Zillow, Redfin and Trulia, everyone has a copy.

“They do the industry a big favor by helping us distribute that information out there more effectively than we could before,” said Craig Sachse, a Keller Williams real estate agent in Allentown, Pennsylvania. “But like any great thing, it’s a double-sided coin.”

On the other side is a clientele armed with computer-generated estimates: prebaked expectations of what their homes should sell for put up against their local agent’s calculation, which is almost always different.

The developers of these tools call them a conversation starter. Real estate agents have mixed feelings about the conversation.

Origins of the online estimate

Power to the people – that’s Zillow’s whole shtick, company senior economist Skylar Olsen says.

The Zestimate – an estimate of a home’s market value based on data points encompassing the home’s dimensions and its neighbors, among hundreds of others – predates the Zillow of today, where agents pay top dollar to advertise listings or snag potential clients. It was born in 2006 on the premise of the democratization of previously protected MLS data, Olsen said. That it ruffles feathers comes as no surprise.

“We were aware it would be provocative,” she said.

In the early days, it was a hurdle to overcome in a new agent-homeowner relationship, said Sean LaSalle, an associate broker with Berkshire Hathaway. People took the website estimates as gold.

“In the beginning it was, ‘This is what my house is worth,'” he said.

In reality, home value estimations that appear on these websites are automated valuation models: computer-generated formulas based on data from the MLS. The floodgates opened after a 2014 decision by the National Association of Realtors® to require Multiple Listing Services to make their data available to any broker that wants to use it to create an automated valuation model, which provides property values using comparable properties, through a third party.

Redfin, which started as a brokerage, jumped in on the action and created the Redfin Estimate in 2015. The extent of what Redfin spokeswoman Rachel Musiker can say about the Redfin Estimate is that it takes into account hundreds of data points, including data it collects from its local real estate agents.

Plenty of brokers run their own automated valuation models. LaSalle uses his as a launching point before going on a listing appointment. The tough part of the conversation is urging the client away from basing their offers solely on them.

“Under no circumstances do I look at them and say this is the value of a house,” LaSalle said.

The box conundrum

Zillow thinks of homes as boxes, Olsen explains: boxes with three bedrooms, two bathrooms and 1,600 square feet.

That’s the sticking point for local agents: The computer models cannot look inside a home. A finished basement, for example, could add $12,000 to $15,000 to the value of a home, LaSalle said. Or the neighbor down the street with a nearly identical exterior and floor plan could have foreclosed.

The box paradigm is less of a problem in cookie-cutter neighborhoods where Zillow can draw data from transactions happening at neighbors’ similar houses. But the fewer neighbors one has, the tougher a job the algorithm has.

In the Lehigh Valley, which has a mixture of densely and not-so-densely populated areas, agents say it is not uncommon for online estimates from a host of websites to be 10-20% off.

Take Bernadyn’s former listing on Newport Avenue in Northampton, for example. Zillow places it at $123,000. Redfin is even higher: Its estimate is $129,000, but its estimated range goes up to $136,000.

The house sold for $116,000.

Even smaller disparities in price throw off the marketing of the home, particularly when it’s priced too high, he said.

In Emmaus, LaSalle listed a five-bedroom house on Westminster Drive a month ago for $740,000. In those 30 days, the Zestimate increased by more than $32,000, landing at $761,000 and moving further away from the target.

The larger the list price, typically, the larger the estimated range online platforms provide. The Westminster Drive home could be anywhere between $715,000 and $799,000, according to Zillow.

“If I provided that kind of range, no one would list with me,” LaSalle said.

And then there’s the rare case that defies explanation, like Sachse’s $6 million listing overlooking Hawk Mountain, a 13,800-square-foot mansion dubbed Blue Mountain Estate.

Zillow’s estimate of $424,000 even has its own robot confused. The listing notes: “The list price and Zestimate for this home are very different, so we might be missing something.”

“It certainly doesn’t help to have an estimate up there one-12th of what you’re asking,” Sachse said.

Secluded and “unique” homes like the Blue Mountain Estate are prone to inaccuracies in the Zestimate, Zillow acknowledges in its online FAQ.

For these homes, Olsen said, “a box doesn’t cut it.”

Hitting the mark

Zillow’s first sample of 75 million homes carried a median error rate of 13%, meaning half of Zestimates came within 13% of what the homes actually sold for, and half landed outside the 13% window, Olsen said. Now, with 110 million homes assessed, that window has closed to 4.5%, she said.

The Redfin Estimate launched in 2015 with a median error rate of nearly 2% for homes on the market and just over 6% for homes off the market, according to the company. It says the current median error rate for homes for sale is 1.73%.

Zillow also breaks down its error rate by city and county. Lehigh County’s is 4.7%; Northampton’s is 5.2%.

With the improvements in the algorithm and the gift of time, LaSalle said, public understanding that the estimate is just that – an estimate – has also mildly improved.

Though the exact formula for its estimates are trade secrets, Zillow has made public its efforts to expand it.

The company has crowd-sourced ideas for data points over the last couple years, Olsen said, including road noise, rent data and a factor called “view shed”: how much of a view your home has and how many nice things are in it.

And they may soon fight back against the adage that they do not consider the inside feel of a home. Zillow is testing algorithms for predicting quality from indoor photos posted to its website.

“That’s not yet – that’s down the road,” Olsen said.

Zillow and Redfin emphasize in their online materials that their estimates are not appraisals, but starting points, dedicating FAQ entries that defer to the local knowledge of a real estate agent.

“As with most fine print, consumers don’t always look at it that way,” Sachse said. “People put a lot of faith in those models.”

In many cases, the public has the freedom to help change estimates on their homes. On both Zillow and Redfin, a homeowner or their agent can update the facts on their home and request the companies consider these updated facts in a recalculation of the estimate. Last year, Redfin launched an “owner estimate” tool for homeowners to come up with their own estimation to display alongside Redfin’s estimation.

On Redfin, only the owners or agents of homes for sale can request the estimate be taken down, Musiker said. The Zestimate never gets taken down, Olsen said, but her team constantly uses feedback to adjust the algorithm.

That’s tough, Bernadyn says, when small subdivisions can behave like entirely different neighborhoods.

Andy Santana, a Keller Williams agent serving the Lehigh Valley, said he uses the conversation about online estimates as an opportunity to gain rapport with his clients and show the more nuanced aspects of the pricing that only he knows. This, Olsen says, would be the ideal outcome.

“Democratizing this information changes the value proposition of an agent, but I don’t think we’re removing the value of the agent,” she said.

Not even for the senior economist at Zillow, who said when she’s ready to sell, she calls her agent.

© 2019 The Morning Call (Allentown, Pa.), Kayla Dwyer, The Morning Call (Allentown, Pa.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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Fla.’s housing market: Sales, median prices rise in April

ORLANDO, Fla. – May 21, 2019 – Florida’s housing market reported more sales, higher median prices and increased inventory (active listings) in April compared to a year ago, according to the latest housing data released by Florida Realtors®. Sales of single-family homes statewide totaled 26,992 last month, up 6.2% over April 2018.

Still-low mortgage interest rates and a strong jobs outlook are positive trends for Florida’s housing market,”says 2019 Florida Realtors President Eric Sain,

In April, statewide median sales prices for both single-family homes and condo-townhouse properties rose year-over-year for the 88th consecutive month. The statewide median sales price for single-family existing homes was $259,470, up 2.6% from the previous year, according to data from Florida Realtors Research Department in partnership with local Realtor boards/associations. Last month’sstatewide median price for condo-townhouse units was $194,050, up 2.1% over the year-ago figure. The median is the midpoint; half the homes sold for more, half for less.

According to the National Association of Realtors (NAR), the national median sales price for existing single-family homes in March 2019 was $261,100, up 3.8% from the previous year; the national median existing condo price was $565,880; in Massachusetts, it was $390,000; in Maryland, it was $285,000; and in New York, it was $270,000.

Looking at Florida’s condo-townhouse market in April, statewide closed sales totaled 11,817, up 3.2% compared to a year ago. Closed sales may occur from 30- to 90-plus days after sales contracts are written.

April was easily the strongest month we’ve seen so far this year for home sales in the Sunshine State,” says Florida Realtors Chief Economist Dr. Brad O’Connor. “Prior to April, single-family closed sales for 2019 were actually down year-over-year, but with April’s little surge (up 6.2%), sales in 2019 are now up by 1% compared to where we were through the first four months of 2018.

“The statewide inventory of active listings continued to rise on a year-over-year basis in April, but the rate of this growth continues to slow somewhat. As of the end of April, there were about 95,000 single-family homes listed in Florida’s MLSs (Multiple Listing Services) or 6.6% more than were listed at the same time last year. The total of active listings of condos and townhouses was closer to about 58,500, up 6.4% compared to last year.”

According to Freddie Mac, the interest rate for a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage averaged 4.47 percent in April 2019, compared to the 4.14 percent averaged during the same month a year earlier.

To see the full statewide housing activity reports, go to Florida Realtors Research & Statistics section on floridarealtors.org. Realtors also have access to local market stats (password protected) on Florida Realtors’ website.

© 2019 Florida Realtors®

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A home has tons of amenities – which do you list first?

NEW YORK – May 20, 2019 – Homeowners are sometimes hesitant to upgrade when it’s time to sell. After all, you won’t be living there much longer, and most home remodeling efforts only increase home values by 50%-80% of the average project’s costs, according to Remodeling magazine’s 2019 Cost vs. Value report. For example, the average cost of a mid-range bathroom remodel is $20,420. You’d recoup about $13,717 (67.2%) of that amount during a resale.

While you may not want to spend the extra cash, the cost of inaction can be far greater than the small loss you’ll incur on any home-improvement projects.

“Making small upgrades over time serves a seller immensely,” says Brian Lewis, a real estate broker with New York City-based realty firm Compass. These don’t have to be break-the-bank alterations, either. Even merely keeping the color palette up-to-date will go a long way.

“Getting stuck in time with your home isn’t a smart move and is rarely rewarded financially at sale time,” he adds. In fact, it may cause your house to linger on the market longer. As a result, you’ll likely have to pay ongoing mortgage, maintenance and staging costs.

To make the most of your remodeling budget, focus on features that most homebuyers really want to see.

Home features most coveted by today’s buyers

Laundry room
Percentage of buyers who want this feature: 91%
Cost to install: $1,000 to $5,000 for a small-scale project

More than anything else, homeowners want a room other than the guest bedroom to stack all the clean laundry in until it finally gets put away. A separate laundry room tops the National Association of Home Builders’ (NAHB) list of most-wanted home features by buyers.

“Having a separate room [to use for things such as folding or ironing clothes] helps to keep the mess out of your living space … Potential buyers will see it as a huge benefit,” says Paul Sullivan, founder and president of the Sullivan Company, a Newton, Mass., remodeling and custom-building firm.

If you don’t have an existing laundry room and want to add one, the basement is usually the easiest (and cheapest) place to put it, Sullivan advises. The utility lines are already there, and in many cases the basement is unfinished, so you won’t have to demolish anything first. Adding a laundry room in the basement can cost as little as $1,000, he says.

However, homeowners who prefer a laundry room or laundry closet (which fits just a washer and dryer) closer to the bedroom can expect installation to cost around $5,000, Sullivan notes. The cost of a full laundry room complete with a sink and storage cabinets could easily surpass $10,000, he says.

Energy efficiencies (appliances and windows)
Percentage of buyers who want this feature: 89%
Cost to install: Varies by appliance

Would-be buyers looking to limit utility bills will likely be drawn to properties with energy efficiencies, such as Energy Star-qualified windows and appliances. “Buyers are most impressed with smart, energy-efficient choices that in no way limit their comfort, but in every way save them money in the long run,” Compass’s Lewis says. Sellers should be sure to play up these features in their home listings.

Energy-efficient windows can trim heating and cooling costs by 12%, while individual appliances, such as an Energy Star-certified washing machine ($528 to $1,800 at Home Depot), can save homeowners $45 a year or more on their utility bills. Replacing an existing clothes dryer with an energy-efficient version could save as much as $245 over the appliance’s lifetime.

Energy Star-qualified windows have an invisible glass coating, vacuum-sealed spaces filled with inert gas between panes, sturdier weather stripping than regular windows and improved framing materials – all of which reduce undesirable heat gain and loss in the home. An Energy Star-certified dishwasher (ranging in price from $230 to $1,709 at Home Depot) uses soil sensors to assess how dirty your dishes are to minimize water use.

Patio
Percentage of buyers who want this feature: 87%
Cost to install: $963 per 120 square feet for a concrete patio

It’s important for homeowners not to neglect the backyard area when prepping for resale, says Mike McGrew, former treasurer of the National Association of Realtors and CEO of McGrew Real Estate, a Lawrence, Kansas-based realty firm. In today’s housing market, outdoor living spaces have become the most coveted outdoor home feature.

“When most buyers see a house with a really nice backyard, they start to envision themselves sitting outdoors with friends having drinks,” McGrew adds. Outdoor areas offer more living space without the cost of a large-scale home addition.

Thanks to the popularity of backyard renovation TV shows, such as HGTV’s Going Yard, DIY Network’s Yard Attack! And Bravo’s Backyard Envy, buyers now envision everything from a traditional ground-level patio to an elevated deck to a backyard kitchen area.

Ceiling fan
Percentage of buyers who want this feature: 85%
Cost to install: $466 per fixture with light kit and remote control

In addition to improving a home’s aesthetic, energy-efficient ceiling fans (ranging in price from $69 to $1,300 at Lowe’s) can also help lower cooling costs when used in conjunction with an air conditioner during the warmer months.

Ceiling fans create a wind-chill effect that helps cool the people sitting in the room. Homeowners should be able to raise the thermostat level by four degrees without a reduction in comfort while the fan is in use, according to Energy.gov.

Energy.gov recommends that ceiling fans only be used in rooms with a ceiling height of at least eight feet. The fans work best at that height and when they’re hanging 10 to 12 inches below the ceiling.

Garage storage space
Percentage of buyers who want this feature: 85%
Cost to install: $2,025 – $2,363 for 380 square feet

Buyers with growing families need lots of storage space. Sellers should keep in mind that “streamlined living equates to more dollars in your pocket at sale time,” Compass’s Lewis says. Carving out some space in your garage to help keep clutter out of the main living area could help your bottom line. “Make sure the bonus space is easily accessible and wonderfully organized,” he adds.

Unlike an attic or a backyard shed, the garage is accessible – generally, just a few steps away from the rest of the house – making it easier to transport items such as tools, patio chairs or boxes to and from other parts of the house.

The installation cost includes adding cabinetry and shelving, peg wall boards for tool storage, overhead lighting and additional electrical circuits.

Exterior lighting
Percentage of buyers who want this feature: 85%
Cost to install: $65 per fixture

Illuminating a well-manicured lawn with exterior lighting can help grab potential buyers’ attention before they even set foot in the front door. In fact, exterior lighting is the second most-wanted outdoor feature (patio was first), according to the NAHB. Options include spotlights, walkway lights and pendant lights.

Aesthetics aside, exterior lighting also serves as an added safety feature for your home, says Daniel Hurst, owner and general manager of Hurst Design-Build-Remodel, a Middleburg Heights, Ohio-based home remodeling company. Motion-sensor lights, for example, turn on automatically whenever there is movement outside your house.

Walk-in pantry
Percentage of buyers who want this feature: 83%
Cost to install: Varies based on design

Home buyers with families know that the kitchen can quickly become overcrowded when there’s not enough space to store the essentials (think: canned goods, condiments and food storage containers). That’s why many are including a walk-in pantry on their must-have list for potential homes. In fact, it was the most-wanted kitchen feature among buyers polled in the NAHB’s report.

Unlike reach-in closet pantries with sliding doors that offer limited space, walk-in versions allow homeowners to store larger quantities of non-perishable food items and other kitchen essentials just steps away from the food prep area, suggests Neil Parsons, project designer for Move or Improve, a Matawan, N.J.-based home design firm. This can be especially helpful for those who like to shop in bulk at warehouse clubs.

Walk-in pantries are typically 5 x 5 feet and have U-shaped open shelves or cabinets with a countertop. Make sure the pantry is situated somewhere that is cool and dry.

Hardwood floors
Percentage of buyers who want this feature: 83%
Cost to install: $999 per 120 square feet of red oak flooring

Hardwood flooring offers a cleaner look, is easier to maintain and is more durable than carpet, which needs to be replaced every eight to 10 years. “Hardwood can be refinished periodically and lasts a lifetime,” Sullivan says.

Sellers on a budget may want to buy engineered wood flooring (which is a hardwood veneer wrapped around several layers of plywood, fiberboard and hardwood). The cost to install 120 square feet of engineered wood flooring is $858 – nearly 15% cheaper than pure hardwood flooring.

Walk-in closet (master bedroom)
Cost to install: Varies based on design

While walk-in closets aren’t among the top demands of all homebuyers, they’re quickly gaining in popularity among first- and second-time homebuyers, according to a 2018 NAHB survey that focused on new buyers. A walk-in closet in the master bedroom ranked among their top five features.

If you live in an older dwelling with a reach-in closet, you may want to consider revamping it, suggests Maria Zamora, a realtor associate with Realty Consultants Network in Addison, Tex. Couples generally want a closet with more space because they’ll be sharing it. Singles desire the flexibility of being able to store their personal belongings – from clothes and shoes to jewelry and other accessories – in one place, while keeping them organized.

“Homes without a walk-in-closet in the master bedroom are more of a challenge to sell and will attract less buyers,” Zamora adds.

If you live in an older home with less space, a full closet renovation in the master bedroom may not be practical. However, you still have options that will help make your property more appealing. Update an existing reach-in closet by installing an organization system complete with shelving units and hanging rods for clothes. You can purchase a prefabricated system from Ikea, which range in price from $155 to $2,077. Go the DIY route or have an Ikea professional install the unit for an additional fee.

You can also hire a consultant from a custom closet design firm, such as The Closet Factory, to come to your home and design an organization system that fits your space. The cost will vary based on your requirements.

If you’re an empty-nester, you could even turn a nearby smaller room into a custom walk-in closet. Depending on the quality of the materials used (for example, solid wood shelving vs. wooden veneer shelving), this type of project could range in price from $1,000 to $6,500, according to HomeAdvisor.com.

Eat-in kitchen
Cost to install: $1,000 – $10,000

Eat-in kitchens are also a must-have among first- and second-time home buyers. They’re especially attractive to families with children. It’s a space where they can congregate in the morning for breakfast before the kids head off to school and parents to work, or in the evening for dinner so everyone can share highlights from their day.

Removing a non-load-bearing wall to create space for a small table and chairs in your kitchen is relatively inexpensive (as little as $1,000), but that price can quickly escalate if your demolition reveals plumbing, duct work and electrical wiring that needs to be removed, Move or Improve’s Parsons says.

If you’re on a tight budget and can’t afford to knock out a wall to create more space for a table and chairs, consider adding a center island with room for bar stools, he suggests. You can purchase prefabricated kitchen islands with space for seating at Home Depot (starting at $540) and Lowe’s (starting at $464).

Dining room
Cost to install: $1,000 – $6,000 to add ceiling fixtures or structural columns to open floor plan

In recent years, formal dining rooms (and closed floor plans) have taken a backseat to open floor concepts in today’s home models. While open floor concepts help maximize space when entertaining, there are still home buyers who desire a separate dining area distinct from the kitchen. In fact, a separate dining room is among the top 10 essentials for first- and second-time home buyers in the NAHB survey.

“A meal in the dining room creates a sense of importance … It makes people feel special, whether it’s for holiday gatherings or a quiet sit-down dinner with your family,” says Shannon Lynch, a Realtor with Savvy + Co. Real Estate, a Charlotte, N.C.-based realty firm.

If your home has an open floor plan, there are still ways to create a dining space that’s distinct and will attract buyers who desire such a feature. You can add an over-the-table lighting fixture or incorporate a tray ceiling to help define a particular area of the main living level – perhaps just off the kitchen. Another option: Install decorative columns instead of a solid wall. Adding the tray ceiling or decorative columns would skew on the higher end of installation costs and includes materials and labor, Parsons notes.

For those with older homes that have a closed floor plan, it may be time to reexamine your dining room. The cost of a small-scale remodel to a 190-square-foot space ranges in price from $5,832 to $6,804, according to HomeWyse.com. This includes installing new flooring, doors, switch plates, decorative hardware and recessed lighting.

Copyright © 2019 The Kiplinger Washington Editors, Andrea Browne Taylor, online editor

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AI won’t replace Realtors – but prepare for a change

WASHINGTON – May 20, 2019 – From chat bots that talk to your clients on your behalf to voice technology that can guide you through your workday, artificial intelligence is changing the way real estate professionals work.

Speakers at the National Association of Realtors®’ (NAR) Emerging Business Issues & Technology Forum on Thursday briefed attendees on how AI is evolving to help automate real estate professionals’ tasks, and why it’s so important to stay ahead of the trends.

“We can automate anything, but we have to be prepared for what the consequences are to that, and make sure that automation doesn’t do more damage than good,” said Jeff Turner, entrepreneur-in-residence with Second Century Ventures, the strategic investment arm of NAR.

“Your biggest decision for the future could be: How will you distinguish yourself from a chat bot? How are you going to create more value than a chat bot?” Turner said during NAR’s recent meetings in Washington.

Real estate is embracing more AI tech tools to automate routine tasks, such as responding to basic home buyer questions in a pre-search of homes or a community.

“AI is being used to generate stronger leads, establish meaningful client relationships through warm transfers, nurture home buyers at any stage in the search process, and increase successful transaction rates,” said Amy Chorew, vice president of learning at Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate.

Bots/personal assistants
This AI tool communicates through conversational chats. Chorew said BHGRE uses Ojolabs, which can help groom online leads that come in through your website. A visitor comes to the website and the Ojo bot pops up to ask: “Can I help you?” The bot’s question prompts and responds to customers’ questions and learns more about their home search and preferences. When they’re ready to look for properties, users are instantly transferred to an agent for the human, personal touch.

“We’ve been able to increase transactions and closings with this,” Chorew said. She showed a timeline of one example in which a customer first connected with the Ojo bot – presented to the client as a “digital real estate agent” – on Nov. 22. The customer inquired about a certain property and was soon transferred to an agent for instant follow-up. By Feb. 21, the customer closed on a property.

Property image recognition
These AI tools allow you to more easily search photos using AI tools, such as calling up images of properties for-sale featuring white kitchens. Chorew gave an example of restb.ai, which uses AI to scan listings and provide detailed information through image recognition analysis. Property photos can be called up by architectural design or certain home features and offer similar home styles – without the agent having to input the information themselves.

Voice assistants
Alexa, Google Assistant and other voice-powered assistants are experiencing explosive growth with the public, while serving plenty of business uses, too.

“Brokers and MLSs can capitalize and be leaders in the voice space, such as with listing searches, AVM delivery, real-time business intelligence for agents, training and information delivery,” Chorew said. BHGRE uses Agent X, a voice assistant for Realogy-brand agents that uses the Amazon Alexa platform to help agents in a variety of ways, providing performance scorecards, real estate news, listing details, calendar appointments and more. Voiceter Pro’s voice-activated tools can be branded for your brokerage in offering home search listing tools.

As AI becomes mainstream, are your relationships with clients at risk? Technology will never fully replace the real estate professional’s importance, speakers said.

“Those who connect with others are going to become more valuable, not less,” Turner said. “Emotional intelligence is going to be way more important than actual intelligence.” The technology can be used to free up some of agents’ time, allowing you to focus on more high-level tasks to completing a transaction.

“You add value that cannot be replaced,” Turner said. “But I also think a dismissiveness to this technology is dangerous. It’s important for the real estate community to know what is possible with technology and then educate yourself on it and create specific skillsets and value that are added only by being human.”

Source: Realtor Magazine, Melissa Dittmann Tracey

© 2019 Florida Realtors

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Pres. Trump addresses Realtors in Washington last week

WASHINGTON – May 20, 2019 – President Donald Trump spoke before 2,000 Realtors® Friday in Washington, D.C., during the Realtors Legislative Meetings & Trade Expo. Meeting attendees who didn’t get into the ballroom were directed to overflow rooms or to watch the event via a live stream.

From the 20% pass-through tax deduction for independent contractors to the promise of opportunity zones to revitalize struggling communities, Trump extolled the impact of an array of achievements that have benefited real estate practitioners.

“Deregulation may be the biggest of our successes over the past two-and-a-half years – maybe bigger than the tax cuts,” Trump said during the speech, which ran a little over an hour. “There’s truly never been a better time, in my opinion, to build or break ground in America.”

The president spoke about real estate, the economy and tax cuts. He’s the first U.S. president to address the National Association of Realtors while in office since President George W. Bush’s appearance at the Washington meetings in May 2005.

“I’m here today because Realtors play a special role in the economy,” Trump said. “When a young family needs room to grow; when a new job sparks a new adventure in a brand-new, beautiful city; when parents want to find the right neighborhood and schools for their children, Americans put our trust in you.”

A longtime real estate developer who said he is simply taking a “hiatus” from the business, Trump highlighted the professional passion that he and his audience members share.

“It’s in our blood, right? I feel like home. I love the business,” he said, adding that “there’s nothing like a great broker. It’s no different than a great surgeon.”

Acknowledging the important trust built between real estate professionals and their clients, he said, “In what other business can you go away for three weeks, put a key under the mat [and let your agent have access to the home]? You can only trust a great [agent] to do that.”

The strong economy was another theme of the address, including record low unemployment – 3.6% recorded in April. “More people are working today than at any time in the history of our country. Many of those people will go out and buy a house,” said Trump, spurring a roar of applause.

He spoke of asking federal agencies to speed up the approval process for building new roads and bridges and the need for federal housing finance reform. “We don’t want the taxpayers to be on the hook if another crash happens,” he said. “We need to protect taxpayers and preserve homeownership for years to come.”

Trump welcomed Tennessee Realtor Bob Turner, a land broker with 40 years of experience, to the stage. Turner is investing in an opportunity zone in his market, building apartments and single-family homes, which he expects will amount to $40 million in economic development.

He also introduced Teresa McKee, CEO of Nevada Realtors, who noted that more than 1,000 Realtors in her state have been able to obtain quality, affordable health insurance through association health plans offered by the state association and the Greater Las Vegas Association of Realtors since the beginning of the year. Nearly 27% of those insured under the association’s programs had not had insurance coverage prior to enrolling in the Nevada plans.

Introducing the president to the attendees, NAR President John Smaby noted, “I can think of no better way to wrap up our time in Washington than by sharing our Realtor story with our nation’s chief executive. A longtime real estate developer, President Donald Trump knows how real estate drives economic growth, creates jobs, and benefits the country as a whole.”

Every year, the association invites the sitting president to its legislative meetings. Trump’s attendance does not constitute a political endorsement, however, since NAR doesn’t endorse presidential candidates.

Source: Realtor Magazine, Wendy Cole

© 2019 Florida Realtors

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NAR’s board meets, make changes

WASHINGTON – May 20, 2019 – The National Association of Realtors® (NAR) Board of Directors met Saturday and approved a three-year extension of the $35-per-member annual special assessment to fund its national ad campaign through 2022. In its first 60 days, the “That’s Who We R” campaign garnered more than 676 million impressions and earned 47.5 million social media engagements.

In an independent research study, 80% of consumers said the campaign makes them more likely to use a Realtor, and NAR member research found that 86% of members support additional advertising in the future.

“‘That’s Who We R’ is our foundational story,” Tiffanie Mai-Ganske, chair of NAR’s Consumer Communications Committee, told directors Saturday during the Realtors Legislative Meetings & Trade Expo in Washington, D.C.

The board also approved the 2020 NAR budget with no dues increase, as well as a Finance Committee recommendation that NAR return to a more prudent 50% reserve requirement of gross operating expense (from the current 40%) and that NAR target a 75% reserve. The 2019 budget adds $11.5 million back to NAR’s reserves.

For 2020, membership is budgeted at 1,340,000, and annual dues remain at $150.

Other measures the board approved

  • Code of Ethics: Amending Code of Ethics Standards of Practice 1-7, stating that Realtor will continue to submit offers on a property to the seller until the transaction closes. The amendment requires listing brokers to notify cooperating brokers “as soon as practically possible” that an offer has been submitted. The change takes effect Jan. 1, 2020.
  • Disaster policy: NAR will develop a national disaster policy that includes emergency financial assistance to affected regions but also emphasizes pre-disaster planning for members and clients. NAR will also promote the benefits of a private insurance market for flood and other disasters.
  • MLS policy: Adopt an MLS policy allowing association-owned MLSs to charge differentiated fees based on association membership, as long as the difference reasonably reflects the cost of delivering service.

2020 officers elected
Board members elected New Jersey broker Charlie Oppler as 2020 president-elect and Texas broker-associate Leslie Rouda Smith as NAR’s 2020 first vice president. Declaring her gratitude to supporters after the board vote that put her on the path to the NAR presidency in 2022, Rouda Smith said, “It takes a village to do this. I look forward to serving you, our members, and this awesome Leadership Team that we have.”

Rouda Smith was a NAR regional vice president in 2017 and chair of the Texas Realtors in 2016. She also served as an appointed vice president of NAR in 2013 under President Gary Thomas of California. She’s the daughter of the late Harley Rouda of Columbus, Ohio, who served as NAR president in 1991.

She’ll be the fifth NAR leader from the state of Texas.

Commitment to Excellence (C2EX) gains traction
Commitment to Excellence Chair Hagan Stone provided an update on adoption of the program. The online program, available at no additional cost to members, empowers Realtors to demonstrate their professionalism and commitment to conducting business at the highest standards.

More than 23,000 Realtors have begun the C2EX program, and 900 have completed it, earning the C2EX endorsement, Stone said. The program includes 10 elements of professionalism for agents and 11 for brokers. The top three completed competency areas so far are advocacy, technology and the Code of Ethics Article 10.

A second phase of the program is expected to be rolled out at the Realtors Conference & Expo in San Francisco in November.

Realtors Property Resource (RPR)
RPR COO and General Manager Jeff Young and RPR and Vice President of Member Experience Emily Line provided an update on the service, saying RPR has reached record growth, with an average of 300,000 users per quarter and 2.1 million mobile user sessions so far this year. In addition, new features are being added to RPR’s interface, including an “experience layer,” which highlights action items for users. RPR costs about $13.50 per member annually, Young said.

Realtor.com
From Suzanne Mueller, senior vice president of industry relations at realtor.com: The relationship between NAR and Move Inc., which operates realtor.com, remains strong, and realtor.com’s brand awareness is at an all-time high, increasing 86% from a year ago. Additionally, realtor.com has posted a 48% increase in social media impressions.

The website has added features to “deepen the local real estate experience,” Mueller said. “We truly believe in making buying homes easier and more rewarding for everyone – and that means both consumers and professionals.”

Realtors Information Network
Ken Burlington, chief operating officer for the Realtors Information Network, closed the board meeting with stats about NAR’s top-level domains, .realtor and .realestate, saying they’re ranked as the No. 1 and No. 2 most visible top-level domains related to real estate in online search results.

See a complete rundown of board actions.

Source: Realtor Magazine, Graham Wood

© 2019 Florida Realtors

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U.S. House OKs bill giving LGBTQ fair housing protection

WASHINGTON – May 20, 2019 – The U.S. House of Representatives took a step on Friday that sought to stop housing discrimination based on sexual orientation. It’s a move that several housing groups, including the National Association of Realtors® (NAR), have long advocated.

The House voted 236-173 to approve the Equality Act, H.R. 5, which would prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in housing, credit, employment, public education, federal funding, and the jury system. The bill will now move to the Senate for consideration.

The Equality Act would amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by expanding its antidiscrimination protections to the LGBTQ community.

“For more than 50 years, fair housing has protected the American dream for millions of people in this country, breaking down walls of discrimination that restricted the fundamental right of property ownership for far too long,” NAR President John Smaby said. “Today, lawmakers continue considering new ways to strengthen the landmark Fair Housing Act. … This bill will prohibit all forms of housing discrimination against the LGBT community.”

The National Association of Realtors is one of nearly 500 major associations to support the Equality Act, as well as about 200 major U.S. firms, including numerous real estate and mortgage firms. In 2009, NAR amended its Code of Ethics to extend antidiscrimination protections in housing to the LGBTQ community.

“This is a monumental step for the LGBTQ community in our continued fight for equality,” says Jeff Berger, founder of the National Association of Gay and Lesbian Real Estate Professionals (NAGLREP), about the bill’s passage. “It has been gratifying to see so many in our industry publicly support the bill.”

Earlier this year, NAGLREP conducted a survey of about 2,000 people who identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender about their housing experiences, and 46% of respondents said they fear discrimination in their future homebuying process. NAGLREP says it believes that is a reason LGBT homeownership rates continue to lag behind national averages – 49% versus 64%, respectively.

Also, in the survey, 44% of LGBTQ respondents said they would be anxious about how welcoming potential neighbors and the community would be of them; 36% expressed caution about hiring the right professionals to help them in the buying process.

NAGLREP, NAR and other housing groups vowed Friday to continue to advocate for the bill’s final passage.

“Although much work towards this goal remains, NAR continues to engage with policymakers and Congressional leaders in our effort to secure the strongest, most inclusive, and most economically viable real estate industry possible,” Smaby said.

Source: Realtor Magazine, Melissa Dittmann Tracey

© 2019 Florida Realtors

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The easiest way to protect yourself from legal risks?

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Thinking about running an Airbnb? You must offer this

NEW YORK – May 20, 2019 – Short-term housing rental companies are allowing property owners to turn their homes into investment properties and giving hotels some serious competition.

But short-term renters seek specific amenities, according to a survey from IPX1031, a firm that provides exchange services. They survey asked 2,000 consumers what they look for when they rent an Airbnb.

Four items were considered most important by over 50% of respondents each:

  • Wi-Fi – 74%
  • Kitchen – 66%
  • Private bathroom – 60%
  • Air conditioning – 58%

However, five amenities were considered important by less than 20% of respondents:

  • Netflix/Hulu/streaming – 20%
  • Dishwasher – 18%
  • Hot tub – 16%
  • Free snacks – 12%
  • Hair dryer – 12%

Some of the other factors that consumers said prompted them to choose an Airbnb over a hotel were privacy, uniqueness of rental, free parking and pet friendliness. Survey respondents also said that Airbnb rentals were more accommodating when traveling in groups for events, such as weddings or family reunions.

With a short-term rental, hosts may offer to rent out just a room, a guest house or an entire house. But more than half of renters say they prefer to rent the entire house without the host being on the premises when they’re there, according to the survey.

Several characteristics can also be a big turnoff on Airbnb listings. The survey found the top gripes were deceiving photos, slow or no Wi-Fi, an unresponsive host, and a long list of “house rules.”

Source: “Survey: What Guests Want in an Airbnb,” IPX1031 (April 25, 2019)

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