Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Realtors and Brokers’ Category

 2015 Early Market Update

This is the time of year for forecasts and market predictions.  What will 2015 bring?  Will the market improve?  What kind of year can we expect?

We are hearing cautious optimism of a solid to strong year in real estate.  Our very early numbers are consistent with this prediction, with Sales orders from December 1st through January 15th up 28% over the same time last year!

Interest rates continue to influence the market, again nearing historic lows.  Mortgages traditionally follow the movement of the bond market. On Friday, the 10-year Bond Yield dipped to 1.76%.  To put this in perspective, Bond rates have only dipped lower for a short time in 2012, when Mortgage rates hit their all time low (just under 3.5%).

bondsvmortgages

Indeed, local Mortgage Rates dropped from 3.8% at the beginning of the year to today’s 3.6%.  It is conceivable they could go lower. This is good news for home affordability (and a good thing for buyers to know when considering houses), but signals weakness in the economy and markets.  Despite the weak stock market, NAR, Freddie Mac, and the Mortgage Banker’s Association all predict robust growth in housing sales in 2015 and an even better 2016!

projections

Thank you to my friend Joe Long at Waterstone Mortgage for this graphic and information. It is significant and unusual that all three predictions match so closely.  Interest rates will likely rise by year end, and this could dampen the market.  Nevertheless, interest rates may not be as important as consumer confidence, especially confidence about Jobs.  If people feel secure in their jobs and confident in their ability keep employed, they buy houses. The national jobs numbers have been strong, with 2014 having the best rate of job creation since 1999.

All of this should translate into a solid 2015. And, so far, our numbers are consistent with this hopeful prediction.  Happy New Year and we hope you have a healthy and prosperous 2015!

Homestead Title Company

Read Full Post »

Schemes, Scams, & Frauds

It seems like fraud attempts have spiked in the last 3 months. We have seen each of these scams either sting us or Realtors with whom we work:

  1. Toner Scam: Your company gets a call from your copier service company confirming your correct copier ID and that your shipment of toner is late, but on the way. A week after the shipment arrives, the invoice will arrive. It is from Supply World, Inc., IDC Servco, or some other company and is for 10-15 times the price of your product. If you’re not careful someone will pay the invoice. The scam starts with an earlier call in which the scammer asks to confirm your copier ID number, make and model. They might call later and get more information, such as the name of the person in charge of orders. Now, the hook is set and they can call with all of the information that makes them appear to be your legitimate servicer.
  2. Phishing and Malware Attacks: These are all over the internet – emails with malicious links or files. The key is that they are so well targeted to your business or interests that it can be very hard to tell the scam from the real thing.
  3. Microsoft Hacker Scam:   A “Microsoft representative” calls to tell you’re your computer is signaling their servers that the updates are not running properly.  This is causing trouble on their end and slowing down your computer (your computer is running slow, who’s isn’t).  They provide the Microsoft Webpage, you log in and give access to your computer, and they’re off!  You just gave a hacker access to your computer.  The call was fake, the website an authentic mimic, and the hackers job too easy.
  4. Advertising Scam: A number of local service providers fell pray to a scam in which a company sells advertising space on a prominent Realtor’s marketing materials. For $1500, their company can advertise on the folders that the Realtor gives to customers and clients at closing. The catch: The Realtor never agreed to this, the company has no plans on printing real folders, and the whole operation is just a scam. The parties lost their money and the innocent Realtor’s reputation took a potential hit with angry business owners feeling burned.

To Avoid these and other scams, here are a few simple rules:

  • NEVER provide private information that is solicited over the phone or by email.  Credit Card Companies, Banks, and vendors will never ask for this information when they contact you.  If you call a trusted number, then it is ok to give information.  Examples:
    • Credit Card Fraud:  You may receive calls alerting you of fraud on your account. Do not link to the site in the email and do not call the number provided.  Call the number on the back of your card!
    • Bank Account Issues:  You may receive email of phone alerts about problems with your bank account. Often the emails are incredibly authentic.  Do not link to the email or open any attachments.  Call the number from your own records or your local representative.
    • Toner Scam:  The key to this scam are the first phone calls asking for seemingly harmless information.  Often, the first call is just to “confirm” the copier ID number or the make and model.  Do not give this out. More importantly, all staff should be aware of this scam and avoid agreeing over the phone to anything relating to toner or computer supplies and avoid sending payment for any questionable item.
  • Computer Scams:
    • Microsoft Update Scam:  NEVER give access to your computer to anyone other than a person you have chosen to hire. If they call you, don’t give any information, access to information and certainly don’t allow them remote access to your computer.
    • Phishing Scams:  Don’t open any attachments you are not expecting or links.  An email with nothing but a hyper-link is not linking to something “Awesome” or “Interesting” or anything else.  It’s a virus, malware, etc.  Be especially wary of .zip and .exe files.
  • Advertising Scam: This scam can often be avoided with a simple Google search. Before committing to contracts or payments with unknown parties, do your research. It is as easy as a Google search. If the first page of Google is filled with Ripoff Report.com; bbb.org; snopes.com and complaintsboard.com, your are likely the target of a scam.

Much of this is easier said than done. Scammers are sophisticated and constantly adjusting to appear legitimate. Simply being aware of the scams will keep your radar up for red flags. Be skeptical and curious, do your research, and be cautious of these scams and you have a better chance of avoiding them.

Finally, don’t be embarrassed and don’t hide your story.  Share it with others in your organization and elsewhere.  Knowledge and awareness is the best way to shut these scams down.


Read Full Post »

Wisconsin Passes New Privacy Law Affecting Closings

A new state law may make the closing process slightly more difficult. The law makes it harder to order water bills for real estate closings. Being aware of the new law can avoid delay and help ease concerns when the title company asks for information or signatures.

Act 25 And Municipal Water Bills

When a home owner sells a house, they must assure that the water bill is paid in full as of closing. Title companies take care of this by ordering the Seller’s final water bill from the municipality. This is typically the only utility that the title company will handle because it is listed on the offer to purchase and can become a lien against the property if not paid.

Wisconsin Act 25 now prohibits a municipality from releasing customer information to any person (including a title company) without the home owner’s consent. This means, title companies need a written authorization and consent from every seller in order to request the water bill.

While this might seem like a minor detail, it adds time and complication to an already rushed and complicated process. Many sellers are nervous about the process and are skeptical and hesitant to give information and authorization to a title company that they hardly know.

The Wisconsin Realtor’s Association has advised all Wisconsin Realtors to include the following authorization on their listing contract:

The Seller authorizes the Broker and/or the title company Seller anticipates will close the transaction, to obtain any municipal utility customer information relating to the Property, including but not limited to customer usage or account information.

Homestead Title has already revised our Authorization (used for mortgage payoffs) to include any municipal utilities.

Homestead’s mission and passion is to make the closing process easier. By providing education and helping Realtors and Sellers understand the process, we make the process more enjoyable, less stressful, and smooth for everyone involved.

 

Read Full Post »

Too Much Money is a Red Flag!

Realtors, attorneys, and home sellers should be alert to red flags that indicate fraud, scams, or troubled deals. One major red flag is when a buyer offers too much money. Sellers should beware of any offer with a purchase price that is far higher than expected or earnest money that is far more than customary in the market.

Common Scams

Foreign Buyer Blindly Purchasing Home

One common scam involves foreign buyers emailing Realtors asking for help purchasing a home. After a few emails, the buyer (usually from China, England, or Canada) will make a full price offer on a home the he has never seen. He will then send earnest money in a certified check. If the red flags weren’t waiving already, they should be when the Earnest Money is way too high. For instance, in Madison, Wisconsin, earnest money typically ranges from $1,000 – $3,000. The foreign buyer will send $100,000 or more in earnest money. They will then ask for a return of the excess money. If you return the funds via wire, as requested, you will soon find yourself in a bind when the certified check bounces. It was fake.

Too much earnest money is a red flag!

For more information on this, common scam: Link here.

Local Buyer Seeking Occupancy

Another potential scam occurs when a buyer seeks to purchase property with an extended, pre-closing occupancy. In this case, we have seen buyers offer substantial earnest money (10-20 times the typical amount) and request occupancy for many months prior to closing. The buyer then moves in, fails to close and refuses to leave. The seller must file an eviction proceeding to remove the buyer.

Again, too much earnest money raises red flags. In additions, extended, pre-closing occupancy should raise a red flag worthy of retaining an attorney.  Interestingly, one of the ways to mitigate the risk of an extended occupancy period is to ask for an unusually high amount of earnest money.  Thus, red flags don’t always lead to fraud.  But they can indicate additional risks.

Unrealistic Purchase Price

Any time a buyer offers far more than the reasonable value of a home, it is a red flag for fraud. In some cases, this kind of fraud can benefit both buyer and seller. But, it may be fraud nonetheless and can expose the Realtor or other professionals to liability and harm.

For additional resources on avoiding Real Estate Scams, check out the following links:

Various Real Estate Scams: http://realtormag.realtor.org/law-and-ethics/law/article/2010/08/5-real-estate-scams-you-need-know-about

Foreign Buyer Scam: https://homesteadtitle.wordpress.com/2010/06/15/real-estate-scam-warning/

Corporate Records Scam: https://homesteadtitle.wordpress.com/2013/02/01/scam-alert-annual-minutes-requirements/

Deed Copy Scam: https://homesteadtitle.wordpress.com/2012/07/20/deed-copy-scam-alert/

Better Business Bureau False Complaint:
https://homesteadtitle.wordpress.com/2012/01/20/better-business-bureau-false-complaint/

 

Read Full Post »

Up, Up, and Away

Rates on the Rise, But Sales Remain HOT

Mortgage rates spiked over the last two weeks. In fact, since the end of April, the average rate on a 30-year fixed rate mortgage increased by nearly 25%.

Pressure From The Fed Kept Rates Low

The Fed had helped keep mortgage rates low through a bond purchase program called Quantitative Easing (QE for short). But, recent announcements by Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke signaling a slow down or end to QE spooked the market.

Mortgage rates jumped and have continued to rise since those announcements.

Real Estate Market Continues Hot Streak

Despite rising rates, the real estate market remains hot. Realtors continue to be overwhelmed with activity and many sellers are seeing multiple offers near or at asking price.  Homestead’s numbers are no different. After an incredible year of growth in 2012, we have seen a 30% year over year increase in closings. And, despite the jump in interest rates from April to June, our new orders have not slowed.

Homestead’s growth is both a function of a strong market and of our strong commitment and passion to making the closing process easier for our customers and clients. Our values of caring, empathy, flexibility, loyalty and a hands-on, education based approach have cemented a loyal following of Realtors and do-it-yourself sellers.

Read Full Post »

Reading Title Commitments For Better Closings

Q: What is the most common mistake Realtors (and FSBO parties) make in reviewing a title insurance commitment?

A: They don’t review or read it at all!

Most Realtors are trained not to act as attorney’s or give any legal advice. The Title Commitment is a legal document and advising a client on it could constitute legal advice. In addition, many Realtors and FSBO parties simply don’t know what to look for and, therefore, don’t read the document.

Title Commitments Provide Critical Information

All Realtors should be reviewing the title commitment for certain, important information. A title commitment has three sections or schedules: Schedule A, Schedule B-I Requirements, and Schedule B-II Exceptions. At a minimum, Realtors should be reviewing the following:

Schedule A

The first part of the title commitment provides the names of the proposed insured. This should be your buyers. If it is not, call the title company right away – they might be missing an Amendment or their might be an error in your paperwork.

The Policy Amount should match your purchase price.

The name of the seller should be listed in paragraph 3 as the “fee simple” owner. If the name is different, there may be a title issue such as a deceased individual or spouse that still owns the property, a trust or LLC that has an interest in the property, or some other issue that requires attention.

The land referred to in the policy should match the land being sold. It will be a legal description, not a postal address. Review to make sure it looks right, especially if the property is a Condominium or includes multiple lots.

Schedule B-I Requirements

This portion of the title commitment provides a list of requirements that must be met in order to close. The requirements will call out any unusual issues that must be dealt with at closing. For instance, if the seller is deceased, the Requirements might require a valid Personal Representative to be appointed to sign on behalf of the estate.

In addition, most title companies will include any loan payoffs, taxes, or other liens that must be paid at closing. Some title companies, however, will show those liens in Schedule B-II.

Schedule B-II Exceptions

This section shows all of the title “issues” that are excepted from coverage – in other words, the title company will not insure for these issues. They are usually things like covenants, restrictions and easements. But, at some title companies, seller mortgages and liens will appear in this section. Therefore, it is important to review.

Reviewing is not Advising

Although Realtors should review the title commitment, they should not advise their clients about the legal meaning and effect of this document. That would constitute legal advice and is prohibited under Wisconsin Law. Nevertheless, if the Realtor spots a problem (the wrong seller or buyer or too many Mortgages), that should be brought to the client’s attention with the advice to seek legal counsel.

The title commitment is a critical document that provides all parties and their agents with notice of the current state of title. While Realtors should not make a “legal” review of this document, they should make a thorough review to avoid any closing problems.

 

Read Full Post »

“Refer A Friend” Program Likely Violates Federal Law

A Realtor recently asked me about an interesting incentive program. In hopes of increasing business, the agent would like to consider a “refer-a-friend” program, providing raffle prizes to former clients who refer listings or buyers to the Licensee. She suspected that this might not be legal. Her legal intuition is correct. A “refer a friend” program with raffle tickets and prizes likely violates RESPA Section 8 and Wisconsin State licensing law. Incentives-for-Referral programs should probably be avoided.

RESPA Prohibits Giving Value in Exchange for Referrals

A referral program that provides anything of value to the referring party likely violates State and Federal law.  The Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA), Section 8 prohibits the giving of “any thing of value” in exchange for a referral of real estate services or the splitting of fees where one party performs no services (a referral is not a service). This prohibition includes the giving of raffle tickets, prizes, or other non-monetary consideration.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has addressed similar programs in the past.  In February 2004, HUD entered into a settlement agreement with Integrity Home Funding LLC over a “Refer a Friend” program.  Under this program, a mortgage broker provided raffle tickets and the opportunity to win prizes to any former client that referred business to the broker.  HUD determined that the “Refer a Friend Program” violated Section 8 of RESPA because it provided a thing of value for referring business.  The broker entered a settlement agreement with HUD, agreeing to pay $1,500 in penalties and an additional $20,000 if he was found to have later violated the agreement. 

Wisconsin Law Limits Referral Fees to Licensed Agents

In addition, Wisconsin State law prohibits the payment of any fee, commission, or referral fee to a non-licensed individual:

Wisconsin Statute 452.19 Fee-splitting. No licensed broker may pay a fee or a commission . . . for a referral or as a finder’s fee to any person who is not licensed . . . .

This prohibition would also likely apply to providing prizes in exchange for referrals.

Moral of the Story – Don’t offer prizes for referrals:

Refer a Friend Programs or raffles tickets in exchange for referrals are almost certainly prohibited under state and Federal law.

 

DISCLAIMER: This post should not be used for, and is not intended as, legal advice. Please consult an attorney regarding the specific facts and circumstances of your situation and never rely upon any blog as legal advice!

Read Full Post »

Photo Tips For Real Estate

Homestead Title Company provides a unique touch at closings table, showing slide-shows of the homes being sold. We see some beautiful photos. A quick survey of the MLS and FSBO sites, however, will show some dismal listing photos.

As an avid, amateur photographer, I am sometimes dismayed at the quality listing photos. Realtors and FSBO sellers often post some terrible photos and do themselves and their hopes of selling a disservice. The following tips are compiled from great Realtors, some great photographers we’ve worked with, and materials listed below.

  1. Understand the photo’s purpose: The purpose of a real estate photo is to sell real estate. Buyer’s viewing the picture should be drawn in and want to see more. Focus on parts of the property that will sell and do not photograph parts of the property that are less desirable.
  2. Simplify! Simplify your photos by removing everything from the picture that distracts from your purpose of making the home look attractive. Particularly avoid including chair backs, door frames, pets, people, toilets, and clutter in photos. The photographer should keep an eye out for things that can be done to improve the photo. Sweep floors and patios and remove clutter. If you use a stager or professional cleaner, try to take photos immediately after they complete their work.
  3. Use a wide-angle lens to shoot interiors: If possible, use at least a 24mm equivalent lens – anything higher than 28mm is not wide enough. Few off-the-shelf or point-and-shoot digital cameras come with lenses that are wide enough to truly, effectively shoot interiors. Consider hiring a professional or investing in a digital SLR camera with a good wide-angle lens
  4. Shoot Bright Interiors: Bright interiors are more attractive to buyers than dark moody ones. Use a flash, interior lights, and window lighting to brighten the photos.
  5. Don’t let bright windows distract:
    Bright is better.  But, windows can be hundreds of times brighter than other parts of interiors, causing them to appear completely white or “burned-out.”  Avoid this by using a flash, shooting at twilight when the light level outside is near the inside light level or using photo-editing techniques to darken the windows.

  6. More is better. Home buyers want to see more than just the front of the house. Buyers also want to get a look at the living room, kitchen, dining room, family room, master bedroom/bathroom and the backyard. For condos, consider shots of attractive common elements.
  7. Change With The Weather. Out-dated photos send the message that this is an out-dated listing. Don’t include snow pictures in spring and summer, or summer pictures in winter. Also, be aware of the mood of the scene. A gray, cloudy day offers great lighting conditions, but may convey gloom and despair in outdoor photos. New fallen snow can be beautiful (and difficult to photograph) but will obviously convey a chilly feeling. Include warm interior photos along side such pictures (fireplace or a bright room with warm colors).
  8. Go Pro. Professionals are surprisingly affordable and should provide much higher quality, sharper, properly lit images. They will often also provide other services, including virtual tours and web-ready photos).
  9. Invest In Good Equipment:
    If you insist on doing it yourself, invest in good equipment. Professionals use SLR cameras (single lens reflex camera with interchangeable lenses), a tripod, and an external flash unit. This equipment is expensive, but worth the investment. Consider that a Cannon or Nikon DSLR with a wide angle lens, a tripod and flash will cost under $1,000. Paying a professional for 10 listings will likely cost more. In other words, you could pay for your investment in less than a year.


  10. Consider Leveraging Your Talents:
    If you have good photography equipment, a little talent, and time to prospect, offer your services to FSBO Sellers. Take a look at FSBOMADISON.COM for an example of hundreds if not thousands of horrible real estate photos. Offering free photo services allows you to spend a lot of time with prospects while selling your services and building incredible good will.

     

Good Photography Resources:

 

The Digital Photography Book, By Scott Kelby

Excellent, easy to read book with outstanding and understandable advice for amateurs.

The Ditigal SLR Book, by Jon Canfield

Good book with good information for all levels of experience

http://www.bhphotovideo.com

Best, low-cost outlet for all things photography

http://photographyforrealestate.net

Photography resource for Realtors and the source for much of this publications

http://www.all-things-photography.com

Resource for professional photographers, but may have some helpful links and ideas

http://www.squidoo.com 

Good Educational content posted by blogger/readers

The Camera Company

Excellent, local (Madison, WI) source of equipment and expertise.

 

Finally, if you really want to see some AWFUL pictures, check out:
https://www.facebook.com/BadMLSPhotos

Read Full Post »

There is a new scam targeting Wisconsin small businesses. A company called Corporate Records Services is sending out very official looking forms that request information about the company, the submission of an Annual Minutes Form, and the submission of $125. The form appears to be required by state statute. Businesses are not required to fill out this form. In fact, it is difficult to see what, if any, services this company provides.

The Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions has issued and official statement cautioning business owners against this scam:

http://www.wdfi.org/newsroom/press/2013/AnnualMinutesFormAlert.pdf

Other states, including Illinois, New York, Maine, Indiana, and Tennessee have also issued warnings against this scam.

Wisconsin business owners who have questions about this form are urged to contact the Department of Financial Institutions (DFI) at 608-266-1622.

 

Thank you to the WRA for alerting the Real Estate industry, many members of which have been targeted by this scam.

Read Full Post »

CYA Letters and Better Communication

Real Estate Agents would be well served to learn a lawyer’s trick of the trade – the CYA letter. Short for “Cover Your A$&,” these letters serve an important function both for limiting liability and improving communication. Rather than viewing these as obnoxious, overly legal annoyances, Realtors should view CYA letters as tools to better serve their clients.

Scenario

Buyer:        I like the work the seller did in the basement. But I worry about whether it’s up to code. Can you find out?

Realtor:    I don’t know. You would need to ask an inspector and maybe an attorney. We can ask the Seller’s Realtor about permits and whether all the work meets code, but the ultimate determination is a legal question and I’m not an attorney.

This might be a good, safe answer that does not delve into legal advice. But, without more, there is still a risk of being sued or having a licensing or ethics complaint filed against you. A buyer who later has costly problems because of code violations may lash out at anyone and everyone, including the Realtor. The Buyer might misremember the conversation or even fabricate what was said. All of this can be avoided with a simple, follow up letter – a CYA letter.

CYA Letters are Good Customer Service

Anytime a Realtor is asked for legal advice, they should both decline and follow up with an email or letter. This creates a written record that the Realtor did their job and complied with the law (Wisconsin law prohibits Realtors from offering any legal advice – REEB 24.06). More importantly, it is great customer service and provides a clear communication to the client. A good, CYA letter might read as follows:

I want to follow up on our conversation about the basement. As I said, I don’t know whether there might be code violations. I did ask the Seller’s Realtor and we’ll see what she says. I’m not an attorney and can’t offer anything on this kind of question. An inspector or attorney could help you answer this question and I have some great referrals, if you need them. Thanks!

Following up in writing shows a level of professionalism and assures a clarity of communication. And it covers your tail.

By Attorney Peter Zarov. Mr. Zarov is a Wisconsin attorney who represents many Realtors and Brokers.

This post is not intended as legal advice. Realtors, Brokers and other individuals should consult an attorney regarding their specific issues and questions.

Read Full Post »

« Newer Posts