Monthly Archives: October 2015

Louisiana REALTORS® Preserve Rights to Choose Closing Partners

Home buyers and sellers will maintain their right to choose their preferred closing representatives, thanks to the Central Louisiana REALTORS® Association.

The Louisiana legislature had proposed Senate Bill 426, which would have required real estate sellers to use certain settlement providers in residential transactions.

The Central Louisiana REALTORS® Association spotted multiple problems with the proposal and worked to defeat the bill.

The Louisiana REALTORS® Association and the Louisiana Bankers Association also joined the fight against the proposal. This coordinated effort led to the bill’s defeat, 26-13, on the state Senate floor.

Had the bill passed, sellers would not have been allowed to choose their preferred closing attorneys; buyers and sellers alike would have lost the ability to negotiate important terms of their real estate contract; and the buyer’s ability to secure financing would have been limited by new compliance burdens.

REALTORS® recognized the proposed legislation would create higher costs and thus negatively impact the housing market in the state. The Central Louisiana REALTORS® Association always tracks proposed bills to identify laws that will impact real estate and consumer rights.

REALTORS® for Commuter Rail to Southeast Massachusetts

Commuter rail lines are essential to reducing traffic and connecting outlying areas to job opportunities. Because it makes more housing and employment opportunities available, rail service helps increase property values.

But while the Greater Boston area has an extensive commuter rail network, that convenience doesn’t extend to all the residents of Massachusetts: Southeast Massachusetts has not had a commuter rail station since 1958.

That’s why the Greater New Bedford Association of REALTORS® is working to return rail service to New Bedford, Fall River and Taunton. These are the only three cities within 50 miles of Boston without rail service.

The Greater New Bedford Association of REALTORS® has gathered community support as part of its grass-roots effort. It holds the co-chair of the South Coast Coalition, a task force recently formed to bring commuter rail service to the area.

With financial support from the National Association of REALTORS® and the Massachusetts Association of REALTORS®, the task force has hired a lobbyist and public relations firm to coordinate the mission.

Restoring rail service to Southeast Massachusetts has been a topic of discussion for 15 years. Residents are in favor of it, but politicians have not gotten the project off the ground.

It took a group of REALTORS® to make that happen: Funds for rail have been inserted into the 2014 transportation bill.

Delaware REALTORS® Help Inform First-Time Buyers

The Delaware Association of REALTORS® has teamed up with the Delaware State Housing Authority to inform first-time home buyers about the programs available to help them.

First-time home buyers in Delaware have various down-payment assistance and closing cost assistance programs to chose from. However, few know about these programs.

REALTORS® have taken on the mission of driving awareness among the public and strengthening communities through outreach.

Delaware REALTORS® are connecting with recent college graduates to let them know that buying might be a better alternative to renting. They also are providing rent-to-own program guidelines.

In addition, local REALTORS® are presenting home buyer education programs and helping buyers navigate the real estate market in Delaware: While many first-time buyers may not be able to afford a house in pricey coastal areas such as Lewes and Rehoboth Beach, they might well qualify for a house 20 miles inland.

Through these avenues, Delaware REALTORS® are working hard to make sure first-time buyers are not discouraged—and that they can find a place of their own to call home.

Massachusetts REALTORS® Provide Affordable Housing Resources

Finding affordable housing is a major challenge in Massachusetts, but the North Shore Association of REALTORS® is actively working to help lower-income buyers discover housing options.

Massachusetts is home to some of the country’s largest and most expensive single-family home lots: The median home price in Massachusetts is $398,000, compared with $209,000 nationally, according to the National Association of REALTORS®.

To help buyers realize the dream of homeownership, local REALTORS® participated in the National Association of REALTORS® Expanding Housing Opportunity training program. It then created a website, NorthShoreMAhomePrograms.com, to help buyers find a bevy of programs offering down-payment assistance and lending advice.

Some of the first-time buyer programs include the following options:

    li>The Lynn Soft Second provides a forgivable loan for 1.5% of the purchase price for down payment or closing costs. Properties purchased must be located within Lynn, MA, and family income cannot exceed $85,050.
  • The Danvers Down Payment Assistance Program provides 10% of the purchase price to families with a household income under $99,250.
  • The One Mortgage Program is a low down-payment mortgage program that offers discounted 30-year fixed-rate loans with no private mortgage insurance. This loan will provide up to 20% of the sale price, and it can be combined with other assistance programs. Income restrictions vary by community.
  • For first-time buyers in Massachusetts, there are fewer reasons not to purchase a home—thanks to the North Shore Association of REALTORS®.

Pending Home Sales Lose Further Steam in September

pending-home-sales

“There continues to be a dearth of available listings in the lower end of the market for first–time buyers,” says Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist.

Pending home sales cooled in September for the second straight month and to their second lowest index reading in 2015, according to the National Association of Realtors®.

The Pending Home Sales Index declined 2.3 percent to 106.8 in September from a slightly downwardly revised 109.3 in August but is still 3.0 percent above September 2014 (103.7). With last month’s decline, the index is now at its second lowest level of the year (103.7 in January), but has still increased year–over–year for 13 straight months.

Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, says a combination of factors likely led to September’s dip in contract signings. “There continues to be a dearth of available listings in the lower end of the market for first–time buyers, and Realtors® in many areas are reporting stronger competition than what’s normal this time of year because of stubbornly–low inventory conditions,” he said. “Additionally, the rockiness in the financial markets at the end of the summer and signs of a slowing U.S. economy may be causing some prospective buyers to take a wait–and–see approach.”

Despite contract activity softening from the more robust levels seen earlier this year, Yun believes the housing market will still likely be one of the brighter spots in the economy in coming months.

“With interest rates hovering around 4 percent, rents rising at a near 8–year high, and job growth holding strong — albeit at a more modest pace than earlier this year — the overall demand for buying should stay at a healthy level despite some weakness in the overall economy.”

Realtors Help To Make New Orleans A Safer Place For Homeowners

The New Orleans Metropolitan Association of REALTORS® (NOMAR) recently secured $15,000 to support an innovative public-private program that makes neighborhoods safer in New Orleans with privately funded surveillance cameras. These cameras help provide the New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) with critical insight during criminal investigations. And because the police often share stills and video with the media, the footage is also beneficial for neighborhood watch programs that keep a close eye out for their community. “Simply put, visible security cameras can help prevent and solve crime,” said NOPD Chief Michael Harrison at a recent press conference.

New Orleans’s first attempt to install citywide cameras in 2004 did not end well with millions being spent and only around 200 cameras actually being installed. Mayor Mitch Landrieu ended the taxpayer-funded program in 2010, leaving the city open to undocumented criminal activity.
ProjectNOLA, a nonprofit organization founded by criminologist Bryan Lagarde, was the first to step up by funding and installing an estimated 1,500 cameras that provide citywide surveillance. Recently, a new program called SafeCam NOLA was developed by the NOPD and the Police and Justice Foundation with the goal of further increasing the number of cameras in high crime areas.

Like ProjectNOLA, SafeCam surveillance cameras are privately funded so they place no additional burden on New Orleans’ taxpayers. However, the program is unique in that it requires that all cameras be registered with SafeCam. This registration helps police to have a full understanding of the surveillance resources available to them, as well as assessing the need for additional cameras.

The Millennial Spirits of NOLA, a nonprofit run by the city’s young residents, helped to launch SafeCam with a $16,000 donation. Those funds went towards the program’s startup cost, including placing 38 registered cameras on private properties throughout the central city.

NOMAR is now playing a large part in keeping the program’s momentum going. After attending a community forum where the need for more surveillance cameras was discussed, NOMAR reached out to the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR) to talk about the issue. NAR agreed that neighborhood safety was crucial for the future of homeownership and provided a $15,000 grant so that NOMAR could actively support SafeCam.

NOMAR believes that SafeCam will empower homeowners with the ability to safeguard their community by installing cameras that provide police surveillance. The association will be using the funding to pay for more SafeCam camera installations, promote the program to homeowners and to lead additional fundraising efforts. “There is a direct link between crime rates and property values, so it was obvious to us that our association and members needed to get involved in the effort to provide additional resources for our hardworking NOPD officers and detectives,” said NOMAR Senior Governmental Affairs Director Kelli Walker.

To date, more than 2,500 private surveillance cameras are currently registered with SafeCam NOLA and the program continues to grow thanks to the support of residents, nonprofits and the REALTORS® of New Orleans. NOMAR President Mary Vastola is happy to be part of this initiative: “Our partnership with NOPD and the Police and Justice Foundation has just begun, but we’re looking forward to seeing the impact REALTORS® and residents will have by working together to create a safer New Orleans.”

Existing-home Sales Rebounded Strongly in September

Existing Home Sales September 2015

“Despite persistent inventory shortages, the housing market has made great strides this year,” says Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist.

Existing-home sales rebounded strongly in September following August’s decline and have now increased year-over-year for 12 consecutive months, according to the National Association of REALTORS®.

Total existing-home sales increased 4.7 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.55 million in September from a slightly downwardly revised 5.30 million in August, and are now 8.8 percent above a year ago (5.10 million).

Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, says a slight moderation in home prices in some markets and mortgage rates remaining below 4 percent gave more households the confidence to close on a home last month.

“September home sales bounced back solidly after slowing in August and are now at their second highest pace since February 2007 (5.79 million),” he said. “While current price growth around 6 percent is still roughly double the pace of wages, affordability has slightly improved since the spring and is helping to keep demand at a strong and sustained pace.”

The median existing-home price for all housing types in September was $221,900, which is 6.1 percent above September 2014 ($209,100). September’s price increase marks the 43rd consecutive month of year-over-year gains.

Total housing inventory at the end of September decreased 2.6 percent to 2.21 million existing homes available for sale, and is now 3.1 percent lower than a year ago (2.28 million). Unsold inventory is at a 4.8-month supply at the current sales pace, down from 5.1 months in August.

“Despite persistent inventory shortages, the housing market has made great strides this year, backed by an increasing share of pent-up sellers realizing the increased equity they’ve gained from rising home prices and using it towards trading up or moving into a smaller home,” says Yun.

Brevard County Realtors Help Lead The Way To An Economic Recovery

Florida’s Brevard County REALTORS are determined to see their community thrive despite multiple economic challenges. When the area first began to show signs of struggle during the 2009 economic downturn, county commissioners instituted an impact fee moratorium in order to attract developers to the area.

Brevard County impact fees are typically collected during new residential and commercial construction. The fees go towards the road expansions and infrastructure improvements that become necessary as a community grows. Despite the financial impact the waiver had on city services, the economic boost and job creation new construction would bring made it a necessary step towards recovery.

However, when the Kennedy Space Center laid off more than 10,000 workers in 2012, it became clear that Brevard County was going to need more time to cycle through this difficult period. The Space Coast Association of Realtors (SCAR) stepped up, leading the charge to extend the impact fee moratorium. “We knew that it was up to us to help the housing recovery and adding impact fees at that time would only have hurt,” said 2014 SCAR President Mitch Ribak.

SCAR joined forces with several building industry organizations, hiring an attorney and a lobbyist to request an extension on the moratorium. SCAR also provided numerous studies and reports that demonstrated the negative impact ending the moratorium would have on area homeowners. “These reports helped us to show the county commissioners that Brevard had not yet healed from the devastation of years prior,” said Tammie Watts, SCAR’s Government Affairs Director.

SCAR’s ability to quickly provide solid evidence to the county commissioners played a large part in their decision to extend the impact moratorium for an additional two years. SCAR will continue to stay involved with county issues, educating commissioners on the health of the real estate market as well as advocating for homeowners. “It’s amazing what we as Realtors can accomplish as a group.” said Ribak.

New Vacation Rental Ordinance Could Damage The Florida Rental Market

Rental Property

In the city of Anna Maria, 60% of the property is dedicated to vacation rentals.

Florida property owners are concerned following the adoption of a Vacation Rental Ordinance within the city of Anna Maria, FL. Effective January 1, tighter restrictions will be placed on vacation property owners, vacation rental agents and guests who rent Anna Maria vacation properties.

The ordinance restricts occupancy levels and increases strict enforcement protocols. Failure to follow these restrictions would create serious consequences ranging from a citation to loss of licenses and the ability to continue renting property.

Like many popular Florida destinations, the city of Anna Maria is dependent upon rental income, with 60% of their property dedicated exclusively to vacation rentals. The potential loss of income the ordinance may bring could deliver a serious hit to the Florida rental market, especially if similar rental markets follow suit.

The REALTOR® Association of Sarasota and Manatee (RASM) got involved over concerns of property right infringements. Following a meeting with more than 50 REALTORS®, RASM had their members email elected city officials and request they meet with RASM in order to open up dialogue. The association is not against the reasons behind the ordinance and respect the desire to maintain the integrity of the City of Anna Maria. Their efforts are to shed light on the future and the unintended consequences that will stem from this ordinance.

The effort was successful and within 24 hours RASM representatives met with the Mayor to discuss the terms of the ordinance. RASM hopes their efforts will help to shape an ordinance that is accepted by all parties involved.  RASM is also working with the law firm Robinson & Cole, who are reviewing the ordinance and the impact it will have on vacation rentals and ownership in Anna Maria. RASM will share facts from the study with elected city officials.