Archive for the ‘home sales’ 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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Can a Home Seller Be Sued for Contractor’s Knowledge of Problems?

Wednesday, November 1st, 2017

As a home seller it is imperative that you make sure you do everything you can to avoid lawsuits from your new buyers. Failure to disclose has been one of the most litigious causes of action in real estate law. Upon selling property, sellers must disclose all they know about the property according to state mandated forms – this usually includes past insurance claims, any upgrades or improvements, damage to the property, repairs, noise issues, and many other questions. Sellers must answer these questions to the best of their knowledge, and provide explanations and any necessary receipts to verify the claims. But what happens when other people who work on your home make a discovery that could render the home undesirable?

The most recent case, RSB Vineyards, LLC v. Bernard, was upheld by the California Court of Appeals. The court ruled that a seller must have had ACTUAL KNOWLEDGE to be held liable for non-disclosure, and a contractor’s knowledge is not imputed to the seller. In lay terms, this means that if a seller hires a contractor to do work, and the contractor discovers something about the property, the seller cannot be held liable unless the seller was made aware of the problem by the contractor.

In the lawsuit the contractor had converted a residence into a wine tasting room on vineyard property that was later found to be structurally unsound – the buyers found out after they purchased the home and had to demolish the structure. They sued the seller for failure to disclose. The contractor was found to have known about the problem but there was no “actual knowledge” by the sellers.

In many areas of disclosure here in California, the seller CAN be held liable for items about which they should have known. For example, if the sellers notice water stains on a ceiling of a room and do nothing about it, then have the ceiling painted prior to sale, without disclosing the stain…this would likely render the seller liable for failure to disclose, as the water stains obviously indicate some kind of problem. Note that had the seller disclosed the stain and not painted over it, s/he would not be liable. It would then be up to the buyer to investigate and ask for repairs if problems were discovered.

If you are selling a property it is very important to answer ALL questions on the disclosures to the best of your ability. Back up any claims with receipts, documentation, etc. I always tell my clients it is better to over-disclose. Put everything out there so that you do not have to worry about liability down the road. If you are made aware of any issues by a third party, make sure to include that in your disclosures so the buyer can look into it further.

If you are ever unsure of whether or not to disclose something, the rule of thumb is that you should do so. However, I suggest obtaining legal advice…or if your real estate agent happens to be an attorney that could help too 🙂

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Why NOW is the Time to Sell Your Home

Tuesday, October 17th, 2017

Many people have been on the fence about selling this past year, due to the fact that inventory is low and they are concerned they may not find replacement housing right away – I personally have been assisting multiple sellers with such concerns. That of course keeps the inventory stagnant and prices high – a perpetual Catch-22. However, there are some conditions that make the market right now the BEST time for sellers to sell…so if you are considering selling, consider the following:

Inventory is still low and prices high. Normally at this time we should see a 6 month inventory supply, but there is only a 4.2 month supply on the market according to the National Association of Realtors (this number has even dropped since this time last year). Although we have seen homes dropping prices quite often in the last few months here in San Diego County, as well as longer market times, it is still a great time to get the best price for the sale of your home as long as you are realistic. Homes that are not priced far above comparable value and offer positive qualities can still sell at strong (higher than average) prices. But this may not be the case as we head toward the end of the year and into the next year, depending on several factors.

Buyer Demand is Higher. Compared to this time last year, buyer demand for homes is higher. Historically low interest rates and sustained job creation fuel the demand, but inventory levels prevent many from finding the right home. How long these buyers will remain in the market is hard to say, but many have decided to rent because they could not find homes, thus taking them off the market for at least a year in most cases.

Natural Disasters Will Help Fuel Buyer Demand. Due to the recent wave of hurricanes in the south many homeowners have been displaced and may soon join the ranks of buyers in other areas, making the demand even higher, OR they could become renters and take rental inventory off many markets – causing purchases to become the only option for many looking for places to live. There is a possibility this could push prices up in some areas.

Proposed Tax Changes Could Effect Demand. There are several proposed tax changes that could effect the buyer demand levels, including changes to real estate deductions. If this happens there is the possibility that sellers may elect to stay rather than move up (to save money), OR buyers may decide to rent to avoid higher tax bills. This remains to be seen but it is something to consider.

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If you are considering selling it is important to get an idea of what is going on in your specific market area. Talk to a real estate area professional and crunch the numbers. As always, the real estate market will fluctuate with the ebb and flow of many factors, but if you want to get a high price for your home now is a great time to do your research and prepare to sell.

 

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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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Crazy Things Are Happening in Local Real Estate Markets

Friday, August 18th, 2017

The real estate market is going CRAZY…well, at least in my local area. After over a year of increased prices and low inventory, multiple offers and crazy shenanigans so that people can get into homes, there are some strange things going on all of a sudden – since the start of August.

Here is what I am seeing in the San Diego market:

Longer market times – Many homes are taking longer to sell compared to those that sold just within the last few months. Even neighborhoods where homes were literally receiving multiple offers on the first day on market are sitting now. Many eventually reduce and on the average I am seeing some homes take around 60 days just to go into escrow.

No more multiple offers in most cases – You would think that the continued lack of inventory would make multiple offers a common occurrence still, but many homes are sitting on the market and reducing prices before they finally go into contract.

Lots of price reductions – I am seeing this all across the board – from condos to single family homes to 2-4 unit income properties. Sellers continue to hit the market with high prices – at comparative sales value or higher – only to have to reduce after 30 days or so due to lack of offers.

Buyers are making low offers – This is for real folks, so if you are a seller be prepared! It is happening all over. I think buyers are tired of rising prices and competition for homes, and they are starting to feel that if a seller won’t take a lower offer, they won’t buy. This is also true with short sales, even though banks no longer accept crazy low offers like they once did years ago.

Escrows are cancelling – I have seen this first hand with my own listings and I have heard from other agents as well – buyers are cancelling escrows at what seems to be a higher rate than we have seen in a long time.

I have reached out to other agents and escrow officers and it seems I am not the only one who feels the market is in such an interesting place. Many agents feel that August has always been a slow month for real estate sales – the end of summer with last vacations prior to kids returning to school, visitors leaving the city, etc. (here in San Diego we have a LOT of summer visitors!)

But there are some who think that this change is indicative of what is to come. Many buyers who were unable to purchase homes due to lack of inventory and multiple offer situations, have decided to rent and wait until the market drops or until there is more inventory available (which really goes hand in hand with prices dropping or at least stabilizing).

I will reiterate my belief, as stated in many blogs, that I do not think we will have a bubble burst or a housing crisis in the near future, but I do think tides are changing. A buyer’s market is starting to blossom and at some point it will flourish. If inventory picks up it will only fuel the change.

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New Zillow Program Could Hurt Home Sellers, Agents

Monday, May 22nd, 2017

Today Zillow announced that it has test-launched a new program called Instant Offers, which it claims will help home sellers and agents. But upon close inspection this program is full of legal caveats for home sellers and agents alike.

The new program claims to offer options to home sellers so that they can avoid traditional marketing such as open houses and photographs. Here is how it works, according to what I read: a seller decides to use the program, which offers 3 options –

1. Sell directly to investor buyers: Without placing the home on the MLS it is offered to investors for purchase – almost like a For Sale by Owner listing. The investors can make an offer. At that point the homeowner can decide whether to take the offer or list on the MLS with an agent the traditional way (Zillow will recommend the agent). Zillow will benefit financially from the agent referral as more agents will want to advertise with Zillow). It is not clear how Zillow will benefit financially when sellers do not want to work with agents, but maybe there will be some kind of agreement between it and the investors.

2. Sell to investor buyers and use an agent recommended by Zillow to assist with the sale: If the homeowner wants to list their home Zillow will recommend one of it’s “Premier Agents.” These are agents who pay Zillow for advertising. Zillow wins here (like above) because 70% of its revenue comes from these agents who advertise.

3. Reject offers and list on the MLS with an agent: Zillow will of course recommend one of it’s Premier Agents (note that Zillow is NOT a broker, rather these agents achieve this status by paying Zillow money to advertise their names and services).

Ok…so you may think this is good – it gives home sellers options. But here are the other points to consider for all home sellers:

1. Potential lower sales price – investor buyers typically do not pay high prices – they offer a quick sale but the catch is that they want to save money. For those who have to sell quickly this could be a good thing, but for those who want to realize top dollar this is not the answer. If you have a home that is a true fixer upper an investor buyer is great as well, but there may be competing investor buyers out there on the open market and you could end up getting more if you have multiple offers, so choosing the Zillow program really puts your back against the proverbial wall.

2. High Fees – People always complain about high fees for selling homes. This program appears to charge a 9% service fee to those who choose to sell to one of the Zillow partner investors.  Rather than pay such a high fee for a likely lower net sales price, it’s better to interview professional skilled area agents. Standard commission rates in CA are around 5% but commissions are negotiable.

3. THE LEGALITIES – Selling a home is a legal transaction, with contracts, paperwork and deadlines that are imperative to get right in order to prevent a lawsuit down the road. Although Zillow says it will recommend the seller work with an agent to get through the paperwork process with the new program, sellers have the option to forgo this. This is problematic, to put it mildly.

If I can give you one piece of advice only when it comes to selling your home, it would be this: have a lawyer review all your paperwork, including seller disclosures. If you do not want to hire a lawyer, make sure your agent has a good broker and have that broker review all your paperwork (or better yet, find an agent/Broker who IS an attorney). There are also many highly skilled agents who know what they are doing – find one.

4. Errors and Omissions insurance and lawsuits – Every broker (at least here in CA) must carry errors and omissions (E&O for short) insurance. It protects them in the event of a lawsuit brought by a party to a real estate transaction. Here’s the biggest problem with Zillow’s new program – Zillow is NOT a broker. If a home seller opts into the program and elects not to work with an agent, who is going to assume liability for contractual paperwork? What happens if disclosures are not filled out correctly, or if there is a problem with the home that is discovered after closing? The seller is put in a very bad position.

Agents could be hurt by this new program if they do not advertise with Zillow, as they will not be recommended by the company program. This is a lose-lose for hard-working professional agents everywhere who do not choose to pay money to Zillow, as home sellers in their areas may not even come across those skilled agents if they opt for the Zillow recommended agent.

These and many other questions do not have clear answers and as an attorney I say this program is fraught with potential problems for home sellers. So while Zillow may think the Instant Offer program is a great new “thing,” in my opinion, or until I see otherwise, sellers should steer clear. This program is in a test phase right now and is only available in Las Vegas NV and Orlando, FL.

For more information on the legalities of selling your home please contact a skilled attorney or broker in your area, or feel free to contact me with any questions by responding to this post.

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The Best Time To Sell a House Starts May 1!

Tuesday, April 18th, 2017

Sellers get ready! Not only are we about to embark on the busy Spring/Summer selling season in real estate – which actually seems to be well under way – but according to Zillow we are entering the best 2 weeks out of the entire year to sell a home.

Zillow reports that the period between May 1-15 is the BEST time of the year in which to sell a home. The study found that homes which sell during this time sell on average 18.5 days faster and for more money (1% more than the average listing).

It is important to note that some areas may have different results, so I suggest contacting an experienced agent in your neighborhood/surrounding areas to find out when the best time to list your home may be, and how the market is doing.

In Carlsbad CA for example, the market is currently very hot. Many homes are getting multiple offers and inventory is historically low, so desirable homes are selling quickly.  Buyers are waiting for homes to pop up in certain neighborhoods; I get many phone calls from agents asking if I know of any upcoming sales in a neighborhood in which I have sold many houses.

The bottom line is that if you are considering selling your home, now is one of the best times to do so. There is a healthy buyer pool out there so contact an experienced agent and find out what you need to do to be sale-ready.

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The Unwritten Rule All Listing Agents Need to Follow (Sellers: Take Note)

Thursday, April 13th, 2017

If you are a listing agent or a seller who has hired an agent to sell your home, this is an important rule that is often ignored by agents – and it can cost home sellers a sale. It is not written down anywhere and is not required, but it is necessary in order to assure smooth closings. What is this rule? Listing agents must prepare reports for appraisers.

As long as I have been listing properties I have been preparing reports for appraisers. The appraiser, who is sent out by the buyer’s lender to evaluate a property that is in escrow, may not know the neighborhood well or even be from the immediate area. He or she also may not understand why a similar home sold for more or for less. Since the buyer’s agent is not allowed to communicate with the appraiser it is in the best interest of both parties that the listing agent take this advice to heart and come prepared.

I have had many appraisers tell me that they did not need me to meet them at the property or prepare anything, but I still do both and I have to say that almost all of them end up spending at least a few moments at the end going through my report with me.

Here is what I include in my appraiser reports:

1. A brief but concise analysis of all comparable sold properties – usually within the last 6 months, comparing and contrasting them to the subject property. I also let the appraiser know if there were multiple offers, as this can attest to the fact that many thought the property value was accurate.

2. A list of any upgrades or improvements in the subject property

3. Analysis of any pending sales, including prices I can usually obtain from the listing agents to help

4. A comparative market analysis sheet that lists all the comps and the pending subject property

5. All relevant listing sheets (for each property analyzed)

6. Any relevant sales statistics graphs for the area, and

7. A listing flyer

I have never had a listing that did not appraise.

Every listing agent should be sure to include this report as one of their duties. It is the duty of a listing agent to represent their sellers to the best of their abilities, and this simple step – which usually takes about an hour (more for tricky comparable listings) could make a difference in getting the buyer and seller to closing.

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5 Changes to Real Estate Markets That May Be on the Horizon

Thursday, March 16th, 2017

As many in the real estate industry anticipated, the mortgage interest rate has been raised, and predictions are that rates will go up again, possibly multiple times this year. What does that mean for home buyers, sellers and the real estate market in general?

1. Inventory will likely remain low. Since inventory in most markets is already low the rise in rates could keep it that way. That is because home sellers who were considering selling may choose to stay in their homes. Those who have low mortgage rates currently may decide not to make a  move if their new rates will be higher – it will all depend on numbers for many sellers. OR – there is always a chance that rising rates may cause some to sell quickly in order to prevent being locked into their homes for potentially years to come…it will remain to be seen.

2. People may be priced out of markets. If there are fewer homes on the market then home buyers will have a more difficult time finding homes due to high demand and low supply, which normally creates higher prices. As competition heats up, some buyers – likely many first time home buyers – will be priced out of the housing markets in many areas. Unless home builders supply the market with new inventory there could be a stall ahead.

3. Cash buyers will continue to play a role. In many markets, especially condo and townhome markets priced at $650,000 and under, I believe cash buyers will continue to be out in force snatching up these properties. Many first time buyers will have to contend with these cash buyers, and usually that is a losing game for the buyer who is getting a loan (since cash buyers do not require appraisals and can close more quickly; not having to rely on a lender to get the sale closed is a plus to many home sellers).

4. Rental market will continue to be saturated. If the above holds true then the already saturated rental market will continue to be busy – landlords will be able to make good money and raise rents because there will be plenty of renters needing homes who will pay the higher prices if current tenants cannot. This point correlates with the increase in cash buyers that we have seen lately in the “lower end” markets – many of them have been purchasing the lower priced properties for income potential, and it is a great time to make money in the rental market.

5. Real estate industry could see changes. With less inventory real estate brokers and agents could see a big change in the industry. Much like the exodus of sales people during the foreclosure crisis of 2008-2011, I predict many agents will again leave the business because they will not be able to survive in such a tight market. I also predict agent commissions will go down if there are fewer homes which sell faster.

The bottom line is that the real estate market in many areas, at least here in San Diego County and others in California, is still “hot,” but it is getting more difficult for people to get into it. This could affect future home ownership rates and the real estate industry as a whole.

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Carlsbad Real Estate Market News

Sunday, February 19th, 2017

The real estate market in Carlsbad is strong but there is still a shortage of inventory. Although Zillow reports that market is currently a buyers’ market, I do not agree (at least not in certain price ranges), as we are still seeing multiple offers in some ranges. Higher priced homes seem to be accruing slightly longer market times than “starter” homes (condos and townhomes from about $650,000 and under).

Condos/Townhomes:

The median attached home list price in Carlsbad is currently just over $549,000. Home sellers are in a great position at this time, as the market still favors a strong seller advantage, with no change in average asking price per square foot (average of $379).  Average market time was 76 days and 22% of properties had a price decrease last week. From my position in the trenches with buyers I am finding though that many properties under $650,000 are literally going into contract in a matter of days, often with multiple offers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Single Family Homes:

The median list price for single family homes is currently $1,049,900, and the 199 homes in Carlsbad (as of last week) have been on the market an average of 90 days. Pricier homes (those over about $1 million) seem to take longer to sell than those under $800,000 – one Carlsbad neighborhood that typically sells in the high $700,000-low $800,000 range can’t keep inventory on the market more than a week, and homes are selling over asking price with multiple offers in days. Although inventory and market action has been trending downward, inventory is sufficiently low to keep the market labeled a seller’s market.

 

 

Sale values have risen in some Carlsbad markets 7.5% over the last year and are predicted to rise 2.7% in the next year, according to a study by Zillow, making it a great time to be a seller.

 

 

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