Archive for the ‘buyer advice’ Category

Protect Yourself: What You May Not Know About Escrow Companies

Wednesday, November 15th, 2017

Most people know that escrow is the party that handles the money, paperwork and closing details of a transaction in California (and other states – the remaining states use attorneys for closings). But many do not know that escrow and escrow officers can fall under two regulatory categories, and that this could have an effect on their duty to remain a neutral party to both sides of a property sale.

2 Types of Escrow Companies in California

Independent or licensed escrow companies are independent companies that are licensed by the California Department of Business Oversight (DBO), which are governed by strict regulations designed to protect consumers.

Some of the requirements of independent escrow companies are that they are subject to management and bond requirements, are trust fund insured, are subject to annual financial and procedural audits and Department of Justice investigations of all employees, as well as escrow license requirements.

Controlled, or non-independent, escrow companies are nonlicensed businesses owned by third parties, such as real estate brokerages, attorneys, banks or title companies. These controlled companies are regulated by different licensing and regulatory authorities, which can vary amongst jurisdictions and are not governed as strictly as independent escrow companies.

Escrow officers have a difficult role in that they need to represent both parties in a property sale transaction while remaining neutral. An independent escrow company is the best choice, in my opinion, for real estate parties and clients, as there is more protection offered and there is not the threat of compromised neutrality.

 

 

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Working with One Agent vs. a Real Estate “Team”

Thursday, August 31st, 2017

I’ve seen a lot of changes in the real estate industry over the last 14 years, and one of the biggest has been the increase in the number of “teams.” A team is a group of real estate agents who work under one broker. For example, say John Smith works for Real Estate Company, and he forms a team of 10 agents. They all work for Real Estate Company, but they work together with John Smith as his team members; multiple agents may work together with a client during a home sale or purchase.

Many people wonder how a team can benefit them if they are a buyer or seller, and whether it makes more sense to hire a sole agent or a team. Needs and opinions will vary, but here are the reasons I feel that working with an experienced sole agent, rather than a team, can truly benefit buyers and sellers:

1.  Facts and details.  As a sole agent, my clients know they are working with ME. They will not have to deal with a slew of other agents, assistants, secretaries or other people. If they have a question, they will be able to reach ME. I always answer my phone and if I am with another client or in a meeting, I call back quickly. My clients love this, because I know what is going on at all times in regards to their sale or home search. In turn, it benefits me because I do not have to check in with someone else to find out what is going on before calling or visiting a client.

2.  Relationship. I have ALWAYS said the real estate is not just about selling property – it is about forming a relationship with the person who is entrusted to handle a legal transaction on your behalf. Buying or selling a home or investment property is fraught with legalities – you need to know that the person you select to help you truly has your back. I believe (and my clients confer) that it is easier to form a relationship with one person who is dedicated to serving you.

3.  Connections. Team members often claim that they provide superior service because they have a bevvy of “exterior” (not agents) experts – loan officers, escrow officers, title people, contractors, etc. Well, guess what? Sole agents have those too – in fact, I have a list with many kinds of referrals that I have compiled over the years, and my clients reap the benefits.

4.  Numbers game. As a sole agent my goal is to be there for my clients. I don’t focus on how many sales I can make, but rather on how I can best serve each individual to the best of my ability. If I cannot then I will not take on new clients. The key is dedicated service, not a numbers game.

People have different opinions on how their needs can best be served when it comes to real estate transactions, and that is great. If you are planning on buying or selling real estate, it is important to figure out what you expect from your relationship with your agent or team, and to make that clear up front. Most importantly, make sure you find an area expert who has experience selling homes. A large percentage of agents have secondary jobs and do not think of real estate as their career – find one who is a professional.

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Appraisals are Creating Issues…Again

Tuesday, May 16th, 2017

Appraisals are causing problems again for buyers and sellers for the first time in many years. Many appraisals are not coming in at value, despite comparables that support contract prices, leading to problems between buyers and sellers.

Prices have come up quite a bit in many areas in the last few years, San Diego County included. That means that when an agent goes to list a home there are usually comparables to support a higher price. But I keep hearing stories about homes that are not appraising, and it just happened to my buyers as well (even though the offer we wrote and had accepted had comps that supported our price).

So what is a buyer or seller to do if the appraisal does not come in at value?

1. Renegotiate. The first thing to do is to try and renegotiate the contract price. I had a home that appraised $8,000 under contract price (which was completely ridiculous given a smaller home had sold for more just months before). We tried to get the seller to drop the price to the appraised value, or at least meet us in the middle but he would not. He had received multiple offers and there were buyers waiting in the wings who would still move forward with the higher price.

2. Buyer contributes the cash difference. This means that the sales price will remain the same, and the buyer will have to put the difference between it and the appraised value on the table (come up with more money) in order to close. The bank will only lend on the appraised value, but this option allows the buyer to move forward and purchase the home.

3. Challenge the appraisal. This can be done only when there is information that the appraiser did not take into consideration that could alter the evaluation, such as comparable homes that were not reviewed, or maybe a comparable sale that closed immediately after the appraisal was issued which had a higher price, or a sale that closed which was not on the MLS. Or, there may be upgrades to the home of which the appraiser was not made aware. But a challenge needs validation, so the fact that parties do not agree with the appraisal is not a reason for a challenge.

4. Cancel the contract. This is the buyer’s right when an appraisal does not come in at contract value. However, it is important to take into consideration the status of the market – if inventory is low and there is a lot of competition it may be smart to stick with the sale, since getting another contract accepted could be difficult and the buyer could wind up paying even more money for the next opportunity.

In my buyers’ situation they decided to stick with the contract price (after the seller would not negotiate) and pay the cash difference. Since it was only an $8,000 difference this was the smart choice, as they ended up with a beautiful home that likely would have sold for even higher than their contract price had they canceled.

It is important to discuss options with your real estate agent and tax adviser or financial planner if needed. Every situation is different and buyers have to feel comfortable in their decision. But it is tough out there in certain price ranges for buyers right now, and inventory is low, so oftentimes it makes sense to stay the course.

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Home Buyers May Not See All Active Listings Online

Tuesday, April 25th, 2017

If you are a home buyer or plan to buy or sell in the future, and if you are using a third party website online to look at inventory: Beware. Zillow and Trulia, two of the biggest third party consumer property websites in the industry, have recently changed their policies. This means that there are listings that may not ever show up on their sites – bad news for buyers, sellers and real estate agents.

Zillow announced to all agents that effective May 1 agents will no longer be able to manually upload listings to their sites (Zillow and Trulia). Since many MLSs around the country do not have agreements with Zillow to automatically transfer listing data (Sandicor, the San Diego MLS, included), the only way for listings to get on Zillow/Trulia after May 1 will be for each brokerage to have an agreement with the company. With so many brokerages many may not pursue such agreements.

This could hurt buyers worst of all, as those who are not working with real estate agents (who rely on the MLS for property data – the best and original source) may miss out on new listings. In a market with low inventory and multiple offer situations popping up, a buyer could lose out on purchasing homes.

Although this new rule is supposed to roll out on May 1, Zillow seems to not have waited that long. I had a listing that disappeared from the sites last week. I had to apply to my MLS to provide me with a number I can share with Zillow that will allow it to capture my future listings. But the process can take 7-10 business days – just enough time for a buyer to completely lose out on seeing and making an offer on a great home, and there are likely agents who do not realize their listings will or have disappeared.

My advice to buyers it to use only MLS sites – this means having an agent set up a search for you directly from the MLS. You can access that search and do a reverse search, which will allow you to see other listings. If you must use a third party site, I recommend Redfin, as they somehow pull from MLSs, and their data is updated almost instantly. They also provide more accurate value estimates on properties, in my opinion.

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Home Buyers: Purchase Now or Wait Until Prices Drop?

Friday, March 10th, 2017

This seems to be the million dollar question right now as home buyers survey the lack of inventory and multiple offer situations present in many markets. A strong seller’s market and high prices make some buyers nervous. So is it better to buy now or wait?

There are a few very good reasons why now is the time to make that home purchase:

Interest rates are rising – We have already seen this happen and word is they will do so again this year, likely several times. This affects mortgage payments and down payments, so jumping in and securing that lower rate now could be smart. It is also important to note that some lenders are charging a lot more for interest rate lock extensions, so that is something to think about if you have a long escrow period or are pursuing a short sale.

Lack of inventory – Inventory in many markets is still very low – San Diego County included. Many buyers cannot find properties to purchase and when they do there are often multiple offers, especially in the $650,000 and under price range. Cash buyers are out in force as well in many lower range markets, making it even harder for first time home buyers. Being picky is getting more and more difficult – right now is a good time to be preapproved and ready to write an offer once you find a home that meets your criteria. See the home as soon as it comes on the market and submit your best offer right away.

Prices are not dropping as we head into the “busy season” – Lack of inventory is making it difficult as demand outpaces supply. Unless this changes we will not likely see price drops in the busy Spring and Summer months to come. The buyer who decides to wait this period out may find herself down the road with still low inventory and higher interest rates.

Here is an example: A house that currently sells for $766,000 with an interest rate of 4.75% and a 20% down payment would yield a payment of a little over $4000 a month. To get that same payment down the road with a home price drop to $727,000, assuming a higher 5.125% interest rate increase, the buyer would be losing $1585 over 3 years. So even if prices drop 5% and rates increase 3/8th  of a percent, the buyer who purchases with a lower rate now will be ahead in the long run.

Uncertainty – Worry about the future and economy is still prevalent among home buyers. Uncertainty about taxes and home write offs, as well as the expected rise in interest rates, make some buyers hesitate to make big purchases. The real estate market, like any market, is cyclical. If you are buying a home with a long term commitment then it is a great time to do so, before there are more rate hikes.

Before you decide whether it is best for you to purchase now or wait, it is important to discuss your scenario with you accountant or financial adviser, an experienced real estate agent in your area and your mortgage professional. Information is power.

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Still on the Fence? U.S. Home Prices are Still Rising

Tuesday, January 31st, 2017

The new housing report was released yesterday by Case-Shiller, indicating that U.S. home prices are still rising. Of course this is really area dependent, but if you are a potential buyer or seller you might feel worried, and justifiably so. Keep reading for important information and advice.

The report covers major metropolitan cities and states that prices in these areas rose by 5.27% in November – above expectations of economists, and also up from the previous month of 5.1%. What does this mean for buyers and sellers? Let’s take a look at some important considerations.

Local markets: Of course these studies are general and tend to focus on big cities, so it is important that you contact an experienced real estate agent in your local market to see what is going on in the area. But, the thing to take away from this data is that prices are not easing up. Combine that with the next factor…

Inventory is still very low: Again, your local market must be studied to get an accurate glimpse and set expectations (your real estate agent can help with this), but using my local North San Diego market as an example I know that this is painfully true. I have buyers who simply cannot find homes, and multiple offer situations in some categories – like properties under $600,000 – are still the norm. With low inventory and prices staying put or rising, a buyer does not benefit from waiting to purchase, especially considering the next factor…

Springtime is coming: Traditionally the “hot” season for housing, spring and summer are just around the corner. But in my view we are already in the heat of things. Hopefully more inventory will pop up as we head into that “busy” season, but honestly I think the entire last year and especially this Fall and Winter, can be considered busy in housing – at least here in San Diego. Waiting until Spring could put buyers in even more of a quandry, bringing an  increase in the buyer pool: more competition can drive prices up again.

The National Home Price Index also rose by 5.6% annually – up from 5.5% the previous month. High demand is causing these prices to continue on an upward trend. It is important to note, as some doubters or “bubble-talkers” as I call them, may believe, that these trends are NOT similar to those that occurred prior to the last housing crisis in the early 2000s.

How is this market different than that prior to the last crash?

1. Factors driving prices are not the same. Prior to the crash people were driven by speculation and anticipation of growth. Instead, healthy market factors like a strong job market and low mortgage rates are driving this market.

2. Lending is stricter. Lending requirements are not as loose as they were during the time prior to the last housing crash, so not everyone can qualify for a loan.

3. Demand is high but supply is not. Prior to the last market crash, there is a much lower supply of inventory in most areas. It is not so easy to find property to purchase. Many would-be sellers are afraid to sell, as they don’t know where they will move if there is such low supply and so much demand – so it’s a great time to be a seller if you have the time to wait it out on a subsequent purchase.

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The moral of all this information is that if you are a potential seller you are in a great position. But if you have to buy after selling you need to have a “plan B” in place – e.g. stay in a furnished month to month apartment or temporarily move in with a relative or friend will put these people in ideal situations to sell and wait for the right home. But buyers have it a bit tougher – the best advice I can give is to BE PREPARED. Get preapproved, start looking at everything in your price range and desired area – even those homes that may not be as upgraded as you like or in the exact neighborhood you wanted. Do your homework and be ready to pounce once you find that “right” home.

 

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4 Ways to Make Your Home Purchase Less Scary

Monday, December 5th, 2016

I read an interesting fact today: 44% of consumers find the homebuying process scary or intimidating. That is a staggering number of people who are unsure of the process and need guidance. The good news is that today it is easy to make finding your next home a fun and positive experience. checklist

Here is my advice on how to make the process not so scary:

Hire a great agent – Yes, there are many real estate professionals out there, and yes, some will make promises to the moon and back, maybe even tell you they will give you back some of their commission if you choose to work with them. But that does not make one a great agent. Here is what does: experience, local knowledge, intelligence, familiarity with the homebuying process, strong negotiation skills, great referrals.

Find a professional mortgage officer – This is another of those “must haves” when searching for a home that could either make or break a purchase. You need to find a great mortgage officer PRIOR to searching for homes. That person should have all of your data and necessary paperwork so he or she can issue a preapproval – this is important for two reasons: 1. it will tell you how much you can afford, and 2. You will have a higher chance of getting an offer accepted if you are preapproved.

Choosing a mortgage professional is similar to selecting a real estate agent – there are many who will talk the talk and even make promises, but you need to feel comfortable with that person – yes, it’s about getting a great loan but it’s also about making sure the lender can close your loan. If you do not know where to start it is often good to ask those you trust, including that great real estate agent!

Get educated and start your search way early -I tell ALL buyers that it is never too early to start getting ready to purchase a home. If you plan to buy in a year, two years that means you need to get educated and you should start now. Learn about different neighborhoods, their amenities, positives and negatives. If you have children look up local schools and see how they rate – talk to neighbors in potential areas you like and ask about the neighborhood, schools and anything else that may be important.

Most importantly, start looking at homes way before you are ready to buy! Most people hear this and ask me why, so I tell them that you will learn a lot about different areas, floorplans and so much more. When it does come time to buy you will know more about the areas in which you want (and don’t care) to focus, which will make the homebuying process way less scary! So get out there and visit open houses, schedule appointments with your agent and start learning.

It is also important to note that you can learn a lot about homes online – with so many informative real estate sites available at your fingertips you can learn about amenities and so much more.

Stay Organized: Use all the above tools to your advantage and create a folder so you can categorize those areas and even floorplans that have potential. If you are not planning to purchase immediately you will likely forget all the things you learn along the way.

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How to “Win” That Home in a Tough Market

Monday, November 28th, 2016

If you have been looking for a home recently you may realize that doing so has become tougher: there is less inventory out there and when a great home lists there are often multiple offers. So how does a buyer get ahead to secure a home when many others are in the same situation? Here are some tips. home-wrapped

Hire a great real estate agent. This is above all the number one way to find a home in a tough market. Not only can your agent give you advice about what price and terms may get you that house you love, but they are also locally connected, which can make all the difference in the world.

Here is an example – After losing out on a few multiple offer situations I found buyers a home through my connections with other local agents – one that had not gone on the MLS yet. In another situation, I notified buyers of a home that was about to come on the market (they lost out on purchasing my listing in the same neighborhood), and they got into contract prior to the home going on the MLS. Some say this is unfair for the other buyers out there as they never had a chance to see or bid on the home, but many real estate sales work this way. Those of us who work particular areas often stay in touch and know when there is a listing coming up. Having that on your side as you search for a home is priceless.

Be Paperwork Ready: There is no better advice than to be ready to make an offer. This means you need to be preapproved with a lender (the lender should have all your paperwork so s/he is ready to go once you write an offer, and you should have a preapproval letter). Have a copy of your latest bank or investment statement showing proof of funds for your downpayment, in order to submit with your offer. Your offer should be as strong as possible so speak with your agent to determine what needs to be in there and what may be left out in order to avoid a multiple offer situation.

Know what you want: Often this is difficult when one is focusing on multiple areas or neighborhoods, but if you really know those you prefer, including floorplans and other amenities, you will be able to act quickly to see the home and make and offer. Even if multiple offers do come in, being first to present can often be helpful. Start looking at areas and homes before you are ready to purchase – the more information you have the better and more prepared you will be when the time to buy is right.

All in all, buying a home in a low inventory market can be tough. With interest rates rising every day counts – if you can lock in a rate prior to another rate increase that is great – and it just means you need to be ready when that right home becomes available. Of all the above tips, having a great buyer’s agent is the best advice I can provide. Many people think they can find a home without an agent, but a good agent is worth her weight in gold when it comes to finding the right home.

Happy home shopping!

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3 Reasons Why You Need a Realtor When Buying a New Construction Home

Wednesday, August 31st, 2016

A good real estate agent is golden when it comes to assuring that all your needs are met as a buyer – from searching for the right home to negotiating, to making sure all obligations are met as a buyer and that everything needed from the seller has been provided. It not just about getting to the close of escrow, but also about protecting your legal rights as a buyer and making sure there are no surprises once you do close escrow. house_shoppingcart

When it comes to the purchase of a new construction home many buyers end up using builder sales representatives, partly because they are there on site and make it easy, and partly because buyers do not know why this can actually be detrimental when it comes to their rights. Here are the top reasons why working with your own real estate agent can help you when purchasing new construction:

1. Dual agency dilemma: When you work with a builder representative, their first allegiance is to the builder. Once they represent you as well then dual agency comes into play. If you are a frequent blog reader you know how I feel about dual agency (click here to read more), and the dangers it brings. In the alternative, it is better if you have your own representation so that the allegiance is only to you – that person can look our for ONLY your best interests.

2. Extra set of eyes and problem solver: Once again, if you have your own representative Realtor to look over the new construction contract then s/he may point some things out to you that you might be able to alter to suit you better. For example, including items that do not come with the home, or extending deposit dates. A good real estate agent is there to assist you and make sure that you benefit. The builder does not care to whom it pays the commission – they just want to get the home sold. Even if you the builder uses its own contract (as opposed to state or local real estate association documents), your agent can still be with you while the documents are presented and help you decipher them.

3. No extra cost to you: Many buyers make the mistake of believing that if they work directly with a builder sales representative, they will save money on the purchase of their new home. This is not true – the builder takes into account the commissions when setting home prices. The builder wants to sell the home, and while it may  (key word – “may”) pay out less commission to an on-site sales rep, most builders do cooperate with brokers and advertise such. A buyer is not going to gain anything by working with an on-site sales rep versus an outside agent. In fact, an outside agent who is a good negotiator may be able to help negotiate perks and price adjustments on your behalf. Either way the builder is going to pay a commission, so why not take advantage of independent representation – someone who has ONLY your interests in mind and not those of the builder. There is no cost to you as a buyer.

When looking at the possibility of purchasing a new construction home, make sure you are well represented. Your interests should be first and foremost.

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Will Lack of Home Inventory Curtail Spring Selling Season? Buyers: Prepare

Thursday, March 24th, 2016

Many agents and home buyers are aware of the current shortage of homes for sale in many areas. In California there is currently a 4 month supply of homes, where 6 months is the norm and heading into the Spring it usually is higher. When desirable listings do come onto the market there is a rush of activity and often a quick sale. What will happen to the normally busy Spring selling season if inventory levels do not grow? http://www.dreamstime.com/-image27659734

With interest rates still low and inventory levels down, it is more important than ever for buyers to be as prepared as possible to write a successful offer. Before buyers even start looking at homes, it is important to make sure to do the following:

1. Get preapproved. This is essential. You need to speak with a mortgage professional and get preapproved – not just prequalified – so that you know exactly how much of a loan you can afford and what you will need for a downpayment. There are different products out there so make sure you know which loans will work best for your circumstances. Talk to a qualified mortgage professional and get the preapproval letter before you start home shopping so you are ready to make an offer.

2. Find a good real estate agent. It is great to look at homes yourself online – in fact I always encourage doing so – but to have a skilled agent on your side provides you with an edge. Local area agents often hear of listings before they hit the market, or may even have “pocket” listings (contracted upcoming listings that are not yet on the MLS) themselves. Also, when a listing is on the MLS there may be important confidential agent remarks listed (that only MLS subscribers can see) that could help you prepare in writing an offer. Finally, some third party real estate sites do not list new properties immediately because they don’t sync directly with MLSs, so you may miss out on new listings that other buyers have already seen – even a day can make a difference in a tight inventory market.

3. Write the strongest offer possible. Depending on the circumstances you need to be ready to write the best “on-paper” offer possible, especially in situations where there are multiple offers on a property. Of course, you may not be able to compete with some things (for example, if another buyer is a cash buyer or offers over asking price when you are not qualified to do so), but it is still important to make the offer look as good as it can. This is another reason to have a strong agent on your side – she or he will advise you of the best tactics after assessing the situation, the comparable sold properties, the market and speaking with the listing agent. Your offer still may not be chosen, but there is a chance the one that is chosen could fall through, so you want to be the next best.

4. Be Ready! Make sure you are accessible by phone/text and email, and that you are able to view properties as soon as possible once they list. If a property lists on a Thursday and it looks like a home that meets all your criteria, waiting until the weekend to view it may increase the competition. Even in cases where the seller wants to wait the weekend to evaluate offers, getting yours in first could put you in a better position.

5. Keep an open mind. Check out homes that you may not necessarily find appealing on line, or may not be in your preferred neighborhood. Sometimes buyers reject seeing a listed property, only to later realize that it could have been a great home for them. Pictures can be deceiving, and for the right price a home that needed something to make it “perfect” – like a little updating, could be a great home for you at the right price. The same goes for a home outside of your desired neighborhood.

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