Archive for the ‘Home seller advice’ Category
Monday, December 11th, 2017
If you are a future home seller the new tax plan will affect your taxes, so pay attention. Both the House and Senate bills plan to extend the tax benefit that home sellers receive, and this can hurt your bottom line.
The current law allows home owners a tax break upon resale of their property – primary residences only– if they lived in the home for at least 2 of 5 years. Both new plans will increase that to 5 of 8 years. The House and Senate plan to straighten out the differences in their respective plans by the end of the year, and new laws will likely take effect January 1, 2018. Even if the changes are not made until after the first of the year they will likely be retroactive to January 1.
What this means is that sellers who are thinking of selling their primary residence home in 2018, who have not lived there at least 5 years, will not be able to obtain the current tax benefits allowed to those same sellers who have lived in the home at least 2 years.
If you are thinking of selling your primary residence in 2018 and have not lived there at least 5 years, it is advisable to speak with your accountant to find out how much you will need to pay in taxes. Your adviser may need to wait until the plan is approved in order to calculate this number.
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 â€“ 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.Â Facts and details.Â 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.Â 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.Â 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.Â 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.
Tuesday, May 30th, 2017
People are always asking me how they can save money on home purchases and sales, and legislation under California Propositions 60 and 90 is one of the best ways to do just that. BUT, you have to meet certain qualifications.
Proposition 60 and 90 help home sellers transfer their current residential tax base to the purchase of a new home, saving potentially thousands of dollars in taxes. Proposition 60 is for intra-county transfers (between the counties of San Diego, Orange Los Angeles, Riverside, Alameda, El Dorado, San Bernardino, Santa Clara, San Mateo, Tuolumne and Ventura. Proposition 90 allows for the same advantage with inter-county transfers.
This all sounds great, right? Here is the fine print…in order to qualify:
1. The home owner (only one of them) must be at least 55 years of age. Co-owners cannot both qualify.
2. The home being sold must be a principal residence
3. The present home must be sold and the new home must be equal or lesser market value to the original property
4. If the property is held in a trust the seller will need to be the beneficial owner of the trust, not merely the trustee
5. The replacement property must be purchased or built within 2 years (before or after) of the sale of the current property.
6. “Your original property must have been eligible for the homeowners’ or disabled veterans’ exemption either at the time it was sold or within two years of the purchase or construction of the replacement property.”
As an example let’s say you purchased your home many years ago for $400,000 and it’s current market value is $800,000. If you sell this home and purchase a home that is $800,000 or less, should you qualify under Proposition 60 or 90 you will be able to take your current tax basis (tax on the $400,000 home plus the increases that have accrued over the years) to a replacement home that is purchased for $800,000 or less. This is a huge savings because most counties tax about 1-1.25% on real estate purchases.
For more details on eligibility requirements to take advantage of Prop 60 or 90, click here.
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.Â 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.
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.Â 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.
Monday, August 8th, 2016
It is common knowledge that upgrades and improvements add value to homes, and of course most people know that there are some upgrades and improvements that add more value than others, such as upgrading kitchen counters and appliances, or bathrooms. But some improvements do not truly add value in the sense that they will increase your sale price potential. Let’s take a look at some of these.
1.Â Pool: Pools can be highly desirable or completely undesirable (for example, if the buyers have babies or small children they may be seen as a danger). If you have a pool then of course you will attract buyers who want one, and if you do not have one but have a yard that will accommodate one you may attract buyers who are interested in adding one. But if you do not have one, adding a pool will not usually help resale value (there may be an exception if your home is located in a very warm environment like the desert, where pools are coveted and oftentimes expected). Speak with your agent if you are considering adding a pool and know you will be selling down the road.
2.Â Yard improvements: These can be tricky. There are some improvements to yards that can actually add value, and some that may be a waste of money that sellers will never see at selling time (although they may make the home more appealing). For example, if you have a yard that is merely dirt and has no landscaping, it may make sense to put in sod and an inexpensive border with some greenery. But going overboard – fully landscaping and hardscaping – may not bring dollars to your pocketbook. There are ways to make yards look nice that do not involve spending lots of money.
3.Â New construction landscaping: Most newly built homes do not come with landscaped backyards, and often also come without landscaped front yards. It is always a question whether to landscape if the home has to be sold prior to any being completed. Many buyers will not want to pay top dollar for dirt front and back yards. BUT one has to be very careful when landscaping, as it can become very personal and if a potential buyer comes along who doesn’t have the same taste and feels the need to rip everything out and start over it can actually be a detriment to the sale, rather than a benefit. It is important to speak with a knowledgeable real estate agent who can take into consideration the neighborhood, prices and other factors. If it is decided that some type of landscaping is a good idea, try to keep it simple in case the new buyer wants to add more (built-in BBQ, firepit, hardscape, etc.) Keep in mind that just because you spend the money, it does not mean you will get it back at sale time – in fact, you likely will not…BUT having a completed yard could also make your home more marketable (I know that is confusing so speak with an experience local agent if you will be selling soon after purchase).
4.Â Garage conversions: These typically are on my “do not do” list, and if they exist I recommend converting them back prior to selling. Garage conversions require permits for one thing, and many people (at least in my years of experience showing these types of homes) do not obtain them. Most buyers want the garage space so unless there are many spaces in the garage if you have a 2 or 3 car garage it is preferable to NOT have one converted to a room. Most buyers will see it as something they have to “deal with” and may write your home off their possibility list.
5.Â Room additions: This is a tricky one because it all depends on the home, lot and what is being added. If you live in a tract neighborhood and want to add a room it could be ok if you have a large enough lot such that you are not making the outdoor space smaller. If your addition makes your home the most expensive one on the block you need to beware, as most buyers do not want to own the highest priced home in a neighborhood. There is a lot to take into consideration when adding a room, so speak with an experienced agent if you are planning to sell down the road and are contemplating an addition.
6. Other improvements: There are many other improvements that could add value to a sale. I suggest inviting an experienced local area agent over to discuss any potential improvements prior to sale. Adding a new furnace or water heater is great if the ones you have are old – that will add some value an peace of mind for new buyers. New windows may be good in an older home as they help with insulation. New flooring could be a charm under the right circumstances, and paint – often the cheapest and best way to make a difference – is a great improvement. What you “should” improve will really depend on many factors, so consult with an expert agent in your area before spending any money.
Friday, June 17th, 2016
There seem to be a a slurry of lockbox break-ins and subsequent home break-ins or attempts lately in the San Diego County area, so if you have a home for sale or are a listing agent, please read on so you can be informed and safe.
Several agents – including myself – have reported lockbox break-ins or attempted break-ins within the last few months. One agent group to which I belong had multiple agents telling stories of lockbox thefts, with subsequent break-ins or attempts. It seems there is a pattern: the thieves come in the middle of the night and use power tools to break the lockbox off doors or pipes. They then take it and return with the key the following day to attempt home robbery.
One agent reported that her seller noticed in the morning as he was leaving for work that that lockbox had been cut. He stayed home and had a locksmith come immediately to change the locks – the thief/thieves returned later that day and attempted to access the home, but luckily were unable to do so – they decided not to use another lockbox.
Another agent said her lockbox had been cut and the thieves returned and stole an oven from the home.
Last month my sellers heard someone tampering with their lockbox between 2-3 AM (Mrs. Seller happened to be up nursing the baby); when Mr. Seller ran to the door and opened it the thief jumped in his waiting car and sped away. We removed the lockbox.
I spoke with the Carlsbad Police Department and they have not had any reports of this from agents or homeowners. I encouraged my clients to report their incident when it happened, but they did not get a description of the man, nor could they tell the make or model of the vehicle or license plate number – it all happened so fast – so they did not report it. The police department recommended not using lockboxes.
After reading the other agent stories a few days ago I removed a lockbox from a listing of mine and made showings by appointment only. Obviously this is an inconvenience for buyer agents, because they and I have to find mutually available times to meet, but it is better that my sellers are protected.
Keep in mind that real estate lockboxes are very well-made and are supposed to be break-in proof, according to the local Realtor association, but with battery operated power tools it is obvious that this is not the case. Never use contractor lockboxes, as these are much more flimsy and easier to break open. Either way, if you are a listing agent or seller you may want to consider this information and decide how to proceed.
If you are an agent please let me know if you have a similar story to share – and please report it to your local police department. This effects our business and our clients…hopefully there will be a way to stop it from happening that will not inconvenience home sellers and agents.