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Posts Tagged ‘realtor’

Welcome Amy Gervasi

We are excited to announce that Amy Gervasi has joined Homestead Title as our newest closing officer. Amy has over 20 years of real estate experience as a Realtor, lender, and closing officer. She has developed strong relationships and friendships with past clients and colleagues from her experience in the real estate and lending fields. Amy is passionate about home ownership and loves helping people achieve that goal. This passion shows in her commitment to making each client feel like they have a friend who cares about their purchase, sale, or transaction.

Amy grew up in Madison, graduating from Memorial High School. She attended college in Atlanta, GA and finished her education at UW Madison. During college, she was hooked by the Real Estate bug and has been in the field ever since. She lives in Verona and is married to Dwight, an IT geek with a great sense of humor, for almost 20 years. They have 4 kids that keep her hopping between sports, school events, and sleepovers.

Those who have worked with Amy know her to be an outstanding, caring, professional who makes Homestead Title an even better place to close. We are proud to welcome Amy into our Homestead family!

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“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!

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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

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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.

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 Question: What are the Tax implications when a lender forgives debt in a foreclosure or short sale?

Answer: The short answer – Ask an accountant! The long answer is that the forgiven debt may or may not be taxable. Normally, debt that is forgiven or cancelled by a lender must be included as income on a tax return. But the Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act allows owners to exclude certain cancelled debt on their principal residence from income. It only applies to “qualified principal residences,” and the law expires at the end of 2012. So, if the bank forecloses or agrees to a short sale and forgives debt, and the owner lives in the home as his principle residence, the IRS suggests that the debt will likely not be taxable. For more information, go to the IRS website or IRS Publication 4681.
 

Question: Why are some banks taking so long to approve Short Sales?

Answer: Lenders are completely overwhelmed and understaffed. The foreclosure crisis struck quickly and grew at a staggering pace – too fast for lenders to keep up. There were nearly 2 MILLION foreclosure filings in the first half of 2009 alone. A large lender may have a few hundred loss mitigators. Dane County saw over 1,400 foreclosures in 2009. That is one relatively small county out of thousands nationwide. Lenders simply can’t keep up. At the same time, they can’t keep up with defaults and late payments. It is taking lenders longer than ever to deal with customers in default, start the foreclosure process, and push the foreclosures to completion.

Question: If a Realtor hires a third-party negotiator, can the Agent be held liable for that negotiator’s actions?

Answer: Probably. Third-party negotiators often charge their fee from the agent’s commission. Some go further and contract only with the agent for their services. In this case, the negotiator is essentially a sub-agent of the Realtor and the Realtor may very well be liable for the negotiator’s actions. This is a question for the Realtor’s broker or legal counsel.

Question: Are agents allowed to hold offers, if the bank hasn’t looked at them yet, and play offers against each other until the bank examines the offers?

 Answer: An agent can delay submission of an accepted offer, but doing so is not likely in the client’s best interest. By delaying submission, the Agent would be delaying initiation of the short sale process. In addition, a seller cannot accept multiple primary offers.  Only one offer can be accepted and any other offers would be in secondary position. Thus, there should be little reason to delay submission. There is some disagreement as to whether agents should submit secondary offers.  Many experienced agents suggest submitting only one offer and suggest that submitting multiple offers only slows the process.  Other agents suggest that the secondary offer, if better, improves your chances on two levels: one, it is a better offer, and it also shows sincere marketing efforts.   

Question: Short Sale are high risk, take incredible effort and long hours, often result in reduced commission, and often involve angry sellers. Why would any sane Realtor touch one of these?


 Answer:
Short Sales, Foreclosures and REOs comprise anywhere from 20-30% of the sales market in Dane County and will continue to be a large part of the market for quite some time to come. Distressed properties are hard, but they are also a fantastic opportunity.  Realtors who commit to this are having their best years ever.  Those agents are careful about which short sales they will take and avoid those that will just be impossible to close.  And they develop systems and shortcuts that make the overwhelming work manageable.  Agents can do more than survive, while truly helping sellers and buyers. The key is to stay educated, develop efficient systems, and work with a team of experts. The most important member of your team is a nimble, experienced title company, like Homestead Title.

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