Archive for September, 2017

How the New Tax Reform Could Effect Real Estate

Thursday, September 28th, 2017

If you own a home or are thinking about purchasing one, you need to be aware of how the new proposed tax reforms could effect you and the effect they may have on the real estate market. Here are some of the proposed changes:

Tax Increases/Doubling of the Standard Deduction. Taxes could increase for hundreds of thousands of California homeowners, and this will hit the middle class hard. It would also put homeownership out of reach for many buyers.

Recently the National Association of Realtors stated that increasing the standard deduction and erasing others would “effectively nullify the current tax benefits of owning a home” for the majority of people. This could reduce housing demand and home values.

Elimination of State and Local Tax Deductions. These deductions make home ownership more affordable. This could include property taxes, and if implemented homeowners could see a rise of up to $3000 annually, leading to plummeting home values. Potential buyers may not be able to afford property tax increases, pushing them into lower price ranges. Homeowner equity would suffer.

If these new tax laws are implemented it will be a big hit to the housing market, with home purchases slowing  or even grinding to a halt; more importantly, we could face large foreclosures waves heading into the future, which of course could have big implications for the mortgage and banking industries.

Hopefully we will soon see some clarification regarding these proposed changes. Write your Congressional representatives and express your views on the new tax laws. Unless you exist in the 1% of the uber-wealthy you will not likely benefit from the expected changes.

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Why Flat Fee Brokerages May Not Benefit Sellers

Wednesday, September 20th, 2017

Flat fee brokerages have been around for a long time, and recently there have been a few additions to the real estate flat fee brokerage world. For those who do not know about these companies, they attract home sellers by promising to list homes for a set fee that is lower than what the average real estate agent will charge for the same work. This sounds great right? Many sellers agree and sign listing agreements excitedly, without considering the facts.

Here are some reasons to truly investigate flat fee brokerages prior to signing on the dotted line:


1.Service. There are new flat fee brokerages out there that promise to provide the same great service as traditional agents who charge more commission to do the same work. Make sure you understand what you are getting for the price you pay.

Flat fee agents tend to have a LOT of listings. I know from much personal experience that one listing alone requires a lot of my attention and availability. Personally servicing multiple listings will jeopardize service.

Also keep in mind that flat fee agents do not get paid much per listing – they make up for that in volume. Will that lead to lack of attention to your listing? You need to figure that out.

2. Paperwork. Many flat fee brokerages charge such low fees because they do not actually handle paperwork or showings. There are those who promise full service, but MAKE SURE you get an explanation of exactly what that means – if you have it in writing and the agent cannot deliver you should be able to fire him or her (see number 3).

3. Check the contract thoroughly. Many flat fee brokerages have clauses in their contracts that sellers may not understand, such as agreements to purchase replacement property only with the brokerage (remember, flat fee brokers make more money from buyer sales than from listings since they get paid full commissions for those), to only use affiliated mortgage companies, or to forfeit money if you cancel the contract. Be careful and make sure you fully understand what you are signing. It is also very important to make sure that you can fire your agent/brokerage if you are not satisfied – at any time – without being penalized or trapped in a contract. If you need help deciphering these contracts, seek legal counsel.

4. Check the brokerage client satisfaction history. It is always important to check testimonials and stories from clients who have used the services of any broker. Spend time researching not only the broker’s own site and third party sites (like Zillow or Yelp), but also check news stories online. You may be surprised at some of the negative press you find on the brokerage.

5. Legalities. Keep in mind that selling a home is a legal transaction – if you do not have someone to guide you it could be dangerous. In order to avoid being sued it is always a smart idea to work with a real estate agent who can help you with paperwork and deadlines, as there are many of both in every real estate transaction. Not to mention, brokerages have insurance to protect against many issues that may arise, IF they were representing you. Flat fee brokerages that just list your home on the MLS and have you do all the work may set up situations that are ripe for breaches of contract and non-disclosure issues, among others. Make sure you have someone guiding through the sales process, or hire an attorney to look over all your paperwork.

There are some new flat fee brokerages out there that are trying to change the way the flat fee business is handled by promising stellar service. This is a great intention, but if you are a seller make sure that you understand the contract you sign, as well as your rights. You may want to speak with traditional agents to compare services.

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The bottom line is that commissions are not set in stone, but you do get what you pay for in most cases so make sure you understand to what services you are entitled for what you are paying. If you are not happy, you should be able to fire the agent.

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Mortgage Payments Too High? Here is What You Need to Do

Friday, September 8th, 2017

Believe it or not, there are MANY homeowners who are underwater, still, years after the mortgage meltdown. According to Core Logic, 6.1% – 3.1 millions homes – of all mortgaged CA homes have negative equity, as of the first quarter of 2017. Short sales are also increasing recently as many variable mortgages that were obtained back in the heyday before the crash recently reset.

If you are underwater, delinquent with your mortgage payments, or about to be, or if you are making payment on a loan(s) that reset and the increased payments or rates are a struggle, you need to be proactive, and act sooner rather than later.

Here are some options to help you start thinking and researching:

1. Call your lender(s). If you are late on payments or are about to be, you need to call your lender asap. They can help you figure out a plan. They likely will start with the possibility of a loan modification, where your payments can be reduced if you qualify.

Note here that depending on how much your payments are and how deeply underwater you may be, a loan modification may not make sense, but it is still important to go through the motions as a first step to try options.

2. Refinance. This is great in theory but if you are underwater and there is no equity in your home it is not possible. If there is at least 10% equity in your home then definitely find a good mortgage professional (call me if you need a referral) and go this route.

3. Sell the house if you have enough equity. This will allow you to move on and make a smart purchase that fits into your budget, or rent. Of course if you are underwater chances are you do not have equity in your home so this would not be an option for you. But if you can sell your home and make a little money to pay down some debt and get into a rental or inexpensive replacement property, it is best to do that sooner rather than later.

4. Short sale. This is a great option if you are underwater and the loan modification does not work or provide enough financial relief. It will effect your credit but not as badly as a foreclosure. Make sure you speak with a real estate agent who is familiar with short sales and knows how to negotiate with the bank(s), and that you really understand the process and consequences – click here for more information on short sales. There is a timeline for short sales that can help you figure out how long it might take before you would have to move out – click here to access the timeline for California.

4. Other options. If a short sale is not right for you for whatever reason, there may be other options (such as a deed in lieu of foreclosure and possible lender or government programs – there are also specific programs for military members and possibly others so you need to do thorough research) that could work depending on your circumstances. Again, it is important to find an expert who can provide appropriate counsel that will allow you to make informed decisions.

4. Foreclosure. This is a final option if you have exhausted others and there is no relief in sight for getting out of your mortgage obligations. Make sure that before you go down this road you have investigated other options that may apply to you. Foreclosures can seriously affect your credit scores for years.

6. Credit counseling. If your debt issues extend to other areas or credit, such as high credit card balances or trouble paying bills, you should seek counseling to help you get back on track so you can pay down your debt and move on. Don’t focus on the trouble you have, but on improving it so you can be sure not to make the same mistakes again down the road. There are some amazing credit counseling programs and helpers out there – I know of a wonderful attorney who handles this so let me know if you need the referral.

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The bottom line is that if you are in trouble with your mortgage and other debt, do not wait until it is too late. The door for other options could close on you, forcing you to foreclose on your home. If you act early you can usually come to a better solution that will allow you to move on without taking such a hard hit to your credit score.

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