Monthly Archives: April 2015

Greater Tulsa REALTORS® Make a Difference in Kids’ Lives

The Greater Tulsa Association of REALTORS® is making a difference in the lives of hundreds of children in the metropolitan Tulsa area through its nonprofit GTAR Foundation.

The GTAR Foundation runs the REALTORS® association’s Backpacks for Kids program, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year. The project is much more than what its name implies: It is not a program to gather school supplies for children, but rather a year-long project spearheaded by the association’s 3,600 member REALTORS®.

The project begins each year with a list of children’s names provided by Tulsa’s Family & Children’s Services. REALTORS® partner with Wal-Mart to completely outfit each of those children for school. Backpacks for Kids distributes approximately 350 full backpacks. Stuffing the backpacks is a week-long project that the REALTORS® begin in July. Along with a brand new backpack, each child is given school clothes — including pants, shirts, underwear and socks — and toiletries such as toothbrushes and toothpaste. Diapers and baby formula are provided for families with infants.

The culmination of the project occurs the week before school starts when the REALTORS® host a Backpacks for Kids Pizza Party. The party is a community affair and frequently includes programs from the fire department, the police department, and local hospitals. Pizza is served, games are played, and each child leaves with a personalized stuffed backpack.

Since the program started in 2005, the REALTORS® have raised over $120,000 for Backpacks for Kids. The initial yearly fundraising goal was $15,000. The current goal is $25,000.

Tulsa REALTORS® are proud that the GTAR Foundation has zero administrative costs. Every penny collected by the association is used for charitable purposes. The Greater Tulsa Association of REALTORS® not only provides the money for the foundation’s good works, but member REALTORS® also provide all of the manpower needed for its projects.

According to Mike Cotrill, CEO of the Greater Tulsa Association of REALTORS®, this year alone the REALTORS® Association has already collected $11,958 through donations and a wine-pull event. The REALTORS® Association is currently preparing for its second-annual golf tournament, which has already raised over $14,000.

The Greater Tulsa Association of REALTORS® is making the Tulsa metropolitan area a better place for children in need.

Utah REALTORS® Work to Preserve Air Quality, Protect Homeowners

LA-Sidewalk

UAR worked with the Utah Clean Air Partnership to issue grants to homeowners that would be used to upgrade wood-burning fireplaces to clean-air models, or to purchase alternatives.

The Utah Association of REALTORS® is working towards preserving clean air in the state while protecting homeowners from undue government regulations.

Last year, Utah’s Department of Environmental Quality proposed a regulation that would have required homeowners with a wood-burning stove or fireplace to either render the unit inoperable or replace the unit with a clean-air model before the home could be sold. The regulation would also have required that government inspectors verify those conditions had been met prior to the sale.

The regulation was couched as a purely environmental proposal but the Utah Association of REALTORS® recognized that the regulation would actually constitute an unfair burden on homebuyers and sellers. Only about 5 percent of homes in Utah are sold each year. Placing the entire burden of improving air quality on these homeowners would have been unfair and ineffective.

Another concern was that the regulation could have caused home-sale agreements to fall through. It was not clear whether government inspectors would have been able to complete all of the required inspections within the deadlines required in home-sale contracts. Also, the cost of replacing or retrofitting a fireplace can run into the thousands of dollars, and this added expense could have made homeownership impossible for some.

Although opposed to fireplace inspections at the time of a home sale, the REALTORS® association wants clean air to be an important component of the quality of life in Utah. In support of this goal, the REALTORS® Association has worked with the Utah Clean Air Partnership to issue grants to homeowners that would be used to upgrade wood-burning fireplaces to clean-air models, or to purchase alternatives. Many of the homeowners who use wood-burning fireplaces do so because they cannot afford other options. The grants help these individuals, rather than penalizing them, as the legislation would have done.

To date, 12 wood-burning stoves and fireplaces have been replaced through the grant program. The air quality improvement as a result of these replacements is the equivalent of taking 1,080 sport utility vehicles off the road.

Working for reasonable, workable measures that support clean air shows the commitment the Utah Association of REALTORS® has to improving the quality of life in their state.

Oklahoma REALTORS® Score Victory With ‘Protect Property Rights Act’

Oklahoma’s new Protect Property Rights Act is the latest victory for the Oklahoma Association of REALTORS® and its advocacy on behalf of the state’s private-property owners.

It all started when Oklahoma City thought of a new way of raising revenue. The city enacted an ordinance that required vacant or abandoned property to be registered with the city and for the property owner to pay a registration fee. The owner was also required to pay for a city inspection of the property, even if the land was well maintained or merely vacant. After Oklahoma City’s ordinance was enacted, other cities in Oklahoma prepared to enact similar ordinances as revenue sources.

According to Matt Robison, vice president and government affairs director for the REALTORS® association, the Oklahoma City ordinance opened a Pandora’s box of problems for property owners. Homes or land may be vacant for a number of reasons:

  • Homeowners may have been transferred out of town for work
  • The homeowner may be in the hospital or may have died
  • The property may be tied up in probate
  • Renovations may be underway.

Under the ordinance, any of those events could trigger a registration fee and an inspection, so long as the home on the property was unoccupied. In addition, according to Robison, a public document listing vacant homes is guaranteed to cause mischief. Any thief would love a listing of vacant homes.

In response to the Oklahoma City ordinance, the Oklahoma Association of REALTORS® drafted legislation to prohibit fee-based registration of property. Aided by a grant from the National Association of REALTORS®, the Oklahoma association was able to develop a website educating the public about the effect of the ordinance on private property rights.

The Oklahoma REALTORS® Association also spearheaded the formation of a coalition of entities affected by the ordinance. The members of the coalition included the Bankers Association, Credit Union Association, Homebuilders Association, Land Title Association and the National Federation of Independent Businesses.

As a result of the REALTORS® association’s efforts, and the efforts of the coalition, the Protect Property Rights Act was signed into law on May 23, 2014. The act prohibits municipalities in Oklahoma from mandating fee-based registries, and bars municipalities from treating vacant and well-maintained property the same as neglected and abandoned property.

By defeating the fee-based registration ordinances before they could be enacted, the Oklahoma Association of REALTORS® has ensured that a new burden would not be placed on property owners.

Texas Association of REALTORS® Promotes Tax Relief in the Legislature

The Texas Association of REALTORS® has been working diligently with members of the state Legislature to support private property rights in regard to issues such as real estate transfer fees.

Its most recent advocacy effort has been involved with the Senate Finance Committee’s decision to support SJR1 — the Tax Relief Bill — which proposes a constitutional amendment that would prohibit the Legislature or local governments from imposing transfer taxes on real estate sales and transactions. Without transfer taxes, real estate buyers and sellers can know up front what the taxes will be when they enter into negotiations and closings, allowing them to freely negotiate who will be responsible for the taxes without any surprise costs arising when the closing and transfer occur.

SJR 1 passed the state Senate on March 25, 2015 and will now be considered in the House.

The REALTORS® association is also encouraging the Legislature to seek other sources of tax revenue that do not affect real estate property and property ownership rights.

The Texas Association of REALTORS® is making great strides in its advocacy efforts to ensure tax savings for property owners, and it hopes to continue advocating for and protecting the real estate market and property ownership.

Idaho REALTORS® Fight to Keep State Moving in Right Direction

Boise

One in four roads in Idaho is in poor condition.

Idaho’s roads and bridges are in bad shape, and the Idaho Association of REALTORS® is focusing its efforts on advocating for urgently needed maintenance and repairs.

More than 700 of Idaho’s bridges are deficient, and that number is expected to reach 1,000 by 2021 if no new measures are taken. The American Society of Civil Engineers gave Idaho’s bridges a D+ grade. In addition, one in four roads in the state is in poor condition.

Bad roads and bridges are not only dangerous, they pose a threat to the state’s economy, which is dependent upon transportation, with billions of dollars worth of freight moving through the state every year. A poor infrastructure also hampers the state’s ability to draw in new residents and provide for its current residents, most of whom drive to work. Fixing Idaho’s bridges and roads will lead to fewer accidents and deaths, and it will help provide more jobs.

The Idaho Association of REALTORS® has joined a statewide coalition dedicated to the infrastructure issue, and to educating the public about its importance. REALTORS® and other members of the coalition are taking an active role in working with legislative leaders to develop a plan to address the $262 million shortfall for roads.

There is reason to be optimistic. REALTORS® have been working with legislators who have prioritized the issue. A funding package that would be in the $100 million to $150 million range is in the works. This package would allow substantial maintenance and repairs to begin.

Over 92 percent of real estate licensees in Idaho are members of the Idaho Association of REALTORS®. It’s an active association that has had success on a diverse range of issues, such as preventing passage of a state real estate transfer tax, and protecting homeowners from substantial fines when they forget to call the “dig line” before doing work that requires digging.

Working for better transportation infrastructure is part of the advocacy tradition of the Idaho Association of REALTORS®.

Tennessee REALTORS® Work for Sinkhole Disclosure

With Tennessee ranked the fifth-riskiest state for sinkholes, the Tennessee Association of REALTORS® is working to protect homebuyers from the often devastating losses caused by them.

Sinkholes are a problem in many parts of the United States. They are safety hazards and can cause extensive damage to houses and other buildings. A lot of publicity has been given to occurrences of sinkholes in Florida, Kentucky and other states.

Most sinkholes are caused by geological conditions. In Tennessee, much of the rock just below the surface is limestone, which is easily eroded by groundwater. When the limestone erodes, the ground collapses and a sinkhole forms.

No one can prevent these naturally occurring sinkholes, but forewarned is forearmed. The Tennessee Association of REALTORS® is supporting a bill in the General Assembly that would require sellers of property to disclose the presence of sinkholes. The bill, HB 796, states that sellers would have to make written disclosure of a known sinkhole on the property and would also have to obtain a receipt for the disclosure. If enacted, the disclosure requirement would be effective July 1, 2015, and would apply to contracts for the sale of property entered into on or after that date.

REALTORS® support the disclosure of sinkholes for the simple reason that the more a potential homebuyer knows about a property they are considering, the better off every party in the transaction will be. Disclosure gives a buyer the opportunity to make an informed decision about the purchase, and to plan ahead for the potential of serious property damage.

The Tennessee Association of REALTORS® is working hard as an advocate for homebuyers and property owners throughout the state.

San Diego REALTORS® Help Shape City’s Climate-Change Policy

The Greater San Diego Association of REALTORS® has taken a leading role in shaping the city’s comprehensive Climate Action Plan, and in the process it has helped to keep costly point-of-sale mandates out of the plan.

The city developed the Climate Action Plan as part of its effort to implement state and federal environmental mandates and establish San Diego as a leader in sustainability. Early drafts of the plan distributed by the City Council and the interim mayor included point-of-sale mandates that would have required homeowners selling or substantially renovating their homes to make retrofits that would reduce water and energy consumption.

The point-of-sale requirements were one of the most expensive proposals in the plan but they would have had only a nominal impact on the environment. Compliance with the mandates would have cost as much as $3,000 per home. To put that figure in perspective, in California every $1,000 increase in the price of a home disqualifies 20,000 households from achieving homeownership. Thus, the mandates would have taken away the life-changing opportunity of homeownership from many Californians.

The REALTORS® association was able to galvanize its membership and successfully oppose these point-of-sale mandates. As an alternative, the REALTORS® association recommended a plan that would provide homeowners with incentives for making upgrades. REALTORS® got their position before the public by testifying at City Council meetings, developing policy briefs and educating consumers. The updated Climate Action Plan proposed by the new mayor does not include point-of-sale requirements, but instead relies upon incentive-based programs, like the ones recommended by the REALTORS® association.

The Greater San Diego Association of REALTORS® is proud of its success in this area. It is also proud of the invitation it received to serve on the mayor’s transition committee, showing the respect that REALTORS® have garnered in the community.

Salt Lake REALTORS® Work to Protect Affordable Housing

Salt Lake City

Salt Lake City REALTORS® recently commissioned two studies to help its promotion of affordable housing

Affordable housing brings the benefits of homeownership to a wide range of families. The Salt Lake Board of REALTORS® believes that housing options should be available to families at all income levels, and it is working to make them a reality.

The Board of REALTORS® recently commissioned two studies to help its promotion of affordable housing: a study on area impact fees, and a study on moderate-income housing plans and updates. Impact fees, imposed on new developments by local governments, are levied to offset the cost of providing public services such as sewers, water and power, and fire protection. Although these fees are levied against developers, they are usually added to the prices of homes. Under Utah law, municipalities and counties must incorporate moderate-income housing plans into their General Plans for developing their communities. These plans directly impact the availability and affordability of housing.

The results of the two studies by the Board of REALTORS® were mixed. Some municipalities in the Greater Salt Lake City area had done an exceptional job of helping to ensure the availability of affordable housing options by maintaining fairly low impact fees, and by updating their moderate-income housing plans to meet current conditions. Other municipalities, however, had allowed significant increases in their impact fees, and their housing plans were outdated. The Board of REALTORS® used the results of these studies to open a dialogue with local governments about affordable housing.

Board of REALTORS® members held a forum to discuss the results of the studies and to advise local officials on best practices for establishing and maintaining affordable housing in the region. They have also been meeting with elected officials to discuss the results of the studies and to float ideas specific to each community that would ensure affordable housing. Board of REALTORS® members have made meetings with officials a priority in areas with the highest impact fees and the most outdated or ineffective housing plans.

The forum and meetings have successfully raised awareness of the issues. Many officials were surprised to learn the results of the studies. Some were unaware that their moderate-income housing plans were out of date, or that their impact fees were markedly higher than those in surrounding areas.

The Salt Lake Board of REALTORS® is confident that, by continuing to work with local governments, the availability of affordable housing in the area will continue to improve.

How the Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act helps home owners avoid foreclosure

Fast Fact: Millions of homeowners avoided foreclosure because of the Mortgage Foregiveness Debt Relief Act. Millions more still need help. Tell Congress to renew the Act and protect our home values.

tax-matters

In the early months of the housing crisis, Congress did something that made a huge difference for millions of homeowners. It passed the Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act of 2007.

Since then, that Act has helped millions of homeowners avoid foreclosure, while preventing further declines in all our home values.

But today’s distressed homeowners don’t have that help. Congress let the Act expire at the end of 2014, putting our neighborhoods and home values at risk.

WHY THE ACT WORKS

The federal government includes “debt forgiveness” as taxable income. Short sales and loan modifications that reduce mortgage principal are considered “debt forgiveness” and, therefore, taxable.

The Act freed homeowners from that potential tax liability, making short sales and loan modifications viable options — options that millions of homeowners still need today.

Many of the same hardships, struggles,and risks to neighborhoods that led to the creation of the Act in 2007 still exist today.

HOW CAN YOU HELP?
New legislation called the Mortgage Forgiveness Tax Relief Act of 2015 was recently introduced which would essentially extend the Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act of 2007. Tell Congress to pass this legislation and extend the Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act or e-mail your thoughts and questions at asktheexpert@shariolefson.com.

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Florida REALTORS® Make Homelessness a Priority Issue

Sherri Meadows, the 2014 president of Florida REALTORS®, made homelessness a priority last year, and the association advocated for legislation that will fund local homeless coalitions to provide housing for extremely low-income and homeless persons.

Leading REALTORS® spent two months traveling the state, meeting with members of Florida REALTORS® and getting their thoughts on homelessness issues.

The Florida legislature passed and signed into law HB 979 / SB 1090, which established challenge grants to provide training and technical assistance for local coalitions, nonprofits and other agencies that assist homeless persons. The 2014-2015 state budget earmarked $4 million for homeless programs.

Details about the yearlong homelessness program can be found on the Florida REALTORS® website.

Meanwhile, progress on homeless is being made. Compared with 2007, Florida now has 6,320 fewer homeless people, according to an annual count conducted by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Florida REALTORS® are making a difference in their communities on this critical issue, and are community leaders in finding solutions.