Monthly Archives: April 2018

Missouri Passes Bill To Create the First-Time Homebuyer’s Savings Plan

Missouri Piggy Bank

Every homeowner has a story to tell about their first home.

The stories always seem to begin with a wave of emotions. Excitement turned into anxiety which turned into stress when you applied for a loan, or when you first heard what kind of down payment was needed or what the closing costs and fees were going to be once they were added to your initial payment due.

Or, if you’ve never owned a home, is one of the reasons because the financials are so daunting that you never thought you could have the wherewithal to make it happen?

Well, we are one step closer here in Missouri to making some of those worries go away.

The House recently passed a bill to create the First-Time Homebuyer’s Savings Account Act that would allow first-time homebuyers, or those re-entering the housing market, to save money, tax free, toward the purchase of a home.

The bill is now being considered in the Senate, and if passed, and signed by the Governor, could allow for the savings to begin as soon as the calendar flips to 2019.

If adopted, the Missouri First-Time Homebuyer Initiative will open the door for first-time homebuyers and will help more Missourians achieve the dream of homeownership.

The plan would function as a dedicated, tax-free savings account program that would allow Missourians to:

  • Deposit up to 1,600($3,200 for couples) annually.
  • Parents and grandparents can set up an account for their children or grandchildren and even contribute money to the account.
  • Receive a state income tax deduction on the principal investment up to 50% of the maximum deposit.
  • All interest accrued in the account will be tax-free, expediting the time to purchase a first home.
  • Apply the savings and any earned interest toward the purchase or construction of a first home in Missouri, including closing costs, taxes and fees.

Missouri REALTORS® are supporting legislation that can make the Missouri First-Time Homebuyer Initiative a reality.

Your support today can make the difference for first-time homebuyers tomorrow.

And remember, this isn’t just a benefit to first-time home buyers. It’s a benefit to all of us, because home ownership helps improve neighborhoods, which in turn attracts businesses, which creates jobs and improves our local economy.

So, there’s a stake in this for all of us.

You should contact your state Senator to support the Missouri First-Time Homebuyer Initiative to help the next generation of Missourians save for their first home.Click To Tweet

Which is why you should contact your state Senator to support the Missouri First-Time Homebuyer Initiative to help the next generation of Missourians save for their first home. It’s a new idea to encourage personal saving so that prospective homebuyers can overcome the financial barriers to owning a home.

2018 Q1 New York Housing Market

With 25,192 closed sales across the Empire state in the first quarter, the housing market posted a strong start to 2018, even as it fell short of 2017’s record, according to the housing market report released by the New York State Association of REALTORS. The first quarter 2018 statewide median sales price of $260,000 represented an increase of 7.4 percent from a year ago.

Click on the arrows below the infographics for more statistics from the association’s annual housing market report.

NYSAR_Q1_Infographic_2
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Houston Housing Market Data – March 2018

For the latest sales information on single-family homes and condos in Houston, see these three infographics below.

Click on the arrows below the infographics for more statistics from the association’s annual housing market report.

Median Price
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A New Way to Save For a Home in Alabama Nearly a Reality

Alabama State House
Photo: Alabama State House. The legislature has passed the First-Time Homebuyer and Second-Chance Savings Account (FHSA) bill, or HB248

Do you remember how you felt when you bought your first home?

It was a wave of emotions, right? Excitement turned into anxiety which turned into stress when you applied for a loan, or when you first heard what kind of down payment was needed or the closing costs and fees were going to be once they were added to your initial payment due.

Or, if you’ve never owned a home, is one of the reasons because the financials are so daunting that you never thought you could have the wherewithal to make it happen?

Well those worries can start to subside now here in Alabama – and this is beneficial to all, even those that are current homeowners.

That’s because the Alabama House and Senate closed out the month of March with near-unanimous support of the First-Time Homebuyer and Second-Chance Savings Account (FHSA) bill, or HB248.

The FHSA bill provides for a tax-free savings account for persons who have never owned a home or those that are re-entering the housing market, if they have not owned a home within 10 years.

The savings from the account can be used to pay for a down payment and/or closing costs for a single-family dwelling. The bill states that deposits and earnings cannot exceed $50,000, and qualified expenditures must be made in five years from opening the account.

“We appreciate the overwhelming bi-partisan support this bill has received from legislators across the state,” Alabama REALTORS® CEO Jeremy Walker said. “Our legislators understand the obstacles first-time homebuyers face and took action toward providing a resource to help those individuals accomplish their dream of homeownership.”

But it’s not just a benefit to first-time or second-chance homebuyers.

Home ownership helps improve neighborhoods, which in turn attracts businesses, which creates jobs and improves our local economy.Click To Tweet

It’s a benefit to all of us, because home ownership helps improve neighborhoods, which in turn attracts businesses, which creates jobs and improves our local economy.

So, there’s a stake in this for all of us.

“Our members really rallied behind this bill and helped emphasize to legislators the positive impact this bill could have on Alabama’s housing market,” said Stacey Sanders, Alabama REALTORS® Public Policy Chair. “This bill not only benefits first-time buyers, but Alabama’s real estate industry as a whole. If signed into law, it would do a lot of good for a lot of people.”

Teacher Turned REALTOR Shares Her Unique Experience with Fair Housing

Firdaus Rahman and colleagues

When Firdaus Rahman arrived with her husband to Mobile, Alabama in the 1980s, she found out relatively quickly she could no longer be an English teacher.

Although she and her husband were educators – he a professor at the University of South Alabama – Rahman was finding that teaching English, something she had done for several years in her native Pakistan, was not going to bear much fruit in the deep south.

“People here were going to have a hard time learning English from someone as foreign-looking as I am,” Rahman said.

But Rahman was always good with people. She prided herself on being a strong communicator and her charismatic personality that is always willing to share a laugh or a smile was something she wanted to put to use in a community that probably wasn’t ready to be embraced by someone from her part of the world.

So, she decided to go into real estate.

Rahman worked hard. She studied tirelessly. So, forgive her if she felt no prouder moment than when she passed her exam and earned her real estate license.

She was incredibly excited to start her new career. Her exam score was so good that she assumed there would be agencies wrestling with one another to hire her.

Except that didn’t happen.

“There was a lot of skepticism and it was born from the fear of the unknown,” she said. “Every time I opened my mouth my accent was so different, everybody would stop what they were doing to turn around and look at me.”

On top of that, this was the 1980s. There were unique dress code rules at the time, and one big agency, whom Rahman did not want to identify, refused to hire her – likely because of her background – but used the dress code as a way to say no thanks – since Muslim women believe in keeping their bodies mostly covered and won’t wear skirts, or short dresses or anything without sleeves.

For the record, when Rahman arrived for the interview with the agency, she was wearing a pantsuit – something that is considered more than appropriate as professional business attire. However, the agency representative dismissed her without conducting the interview, telling her that office rules required women to wear dresses or skirt suits. But, looking back, Rahman doesn’t blame the agency.

“These weren’t bad people,” she said. “It was what it was at that time and they were doing what they thought was the right thing. Fair Housing wasn’t really a known thing at that time. Nobody was really talking about it.”

Which shows how long it took for the Fair Housing Act to really have an impact in some places in the country.

“I didn’t even know about it at first,” Rahman said. “So, I couldn’t even use it to help me get a job. So, I just kept trying and trying until someone finally took me.”

That someone was a woman named Carolyn Norman, who was with a real estate agency known as Better Homes and Gardens.

Norman saw promise in Rahman. She felt like Rahman had the right personality to be successful in real estate and brought her on board.

“It was a relief,” Rahman said. “I had studied hard and passed the exam and finally someone was going to give me a chance. I was fortunate to have found Carolyn because she was wonderful and taught me everything I know about real estate.”

Including all there was to know about the Fair Housing Act.

Firdaus Rahman and colleagues

Rahman stayed with Better Homes and Gardens for the next 13 years, making a name for herself in Mobile. Proving to the most ardent doubters in the area that a woman from a different culture could integrate well into an old-fashioned, southern community.

“I think it was personality,” she said. “I have a very friendly personality. I smile a lot. I laugh a lot. I was able to put people at ease right away. But it was a slow process. I earned their trust and confidence, but it took about five years to do that, so it wasn’t an easy go.”

Once she did earn that trust, Rahman’s stock soared. There were agencies – including the original big company – who wanted to hire her away from Better Homes and Gardens.

And with every offer, she politely declined until the late 1990s, when she couldn’t pass up an offer to join Re/Max.

“I’m like the queen over here,” she joked. “But really, they treat me so well. But I’ve had to earn it.”

Rahman has been with Re/Max for 20 years now. She has even seen an influx of other REALTORS® in Alabama who are from her native Pakistan or from India who are succeeding. The South may have been a little late to the party, but they have progressed well in accepting people of differing cultures.

But there’s still room to grow even more.

“People know me now,” Rahman said. “But even now, every time I meet a new buyer or seller, there’s that curtain I have to draw to kind of put people at ease. I think it will always be there a little bit, especially in a community that isn’t as culturally diverse as some others.”

Yes, she’s successful. She’s found a niche. She loves the people she works with. But there is something that still bothers her – and it stems from an incident a few years back.

While giving a speech at a REALTOR® gathering in another Alabama city, (Rahman again asked not to identify it), she was talking about fair housing and cultural diversity as part of Fair Housing Month in April.

And while speaking on the topic, Rahman delved into something else. Something important to her. Religious diversity.

It wasn’t a religious sales pitch by any means. But rather, a comment that people of different religions would be best served in listening and understanding one another rather than being dismissive of one another.

“I was going through each of the protective classes, and when I got to religion, I said, ‘All religions lead to the same ending. It’s like five different roads that all lead to the airport and we’re all going to get to the same destination, just taking a different road,’” Rahman said.

There was dead silence in the room.

“When I finished speaking, these seven or eight women surrounded me and basically said, ‘Don’t you ever say that again. There is only one road and one road only,’” she remembered. “I realized what had just happened. I said ‘Yes, Ma’am’ and they escorted me to the car. They were angry with me. They wanted to make sure I high-tailed it out of town.

“I have some friends who told me that I shouldn’t talk about religion, but I feel very strongly about this. Because we don’t talk about it is why there is such a great misunderstanding about religion and a great intolerance for religion. It is the silent killer of the Fair Housing Act. Not race. It’s religion. Everyone is scared to talk about religion.”

She continued, “Give me an opportunity to tell you what my religion is about. No one gives me that opportunity – even to this day. In the South, no one really wants to talk about it. It’s something that hasn’t really progressed in this part of the country.”

The thing is, Rahman knows it’s not intentional. It’s part of the fabric of the community she lives in. It’s why she still gets that nervous look when first meeting a buyer or seller.

People are trying, she said. Her co-workers and fellow REALTORS® are also aware enough to let her know if something they ordered for lunch or something being served at an event has pork in it so she doesn’t eat it because it’s against her religious beliefs.

But that doesn’t change the fact that the societal norm in her community is to not really acknowledge religious practices, beliefs or celebrations outside of that of the majority.

“There has been some progress and people have realized the differences between religions a little bit,” Rahman said. “But, still, I am expected to celebrate Christmas with everyone and exchange gifts with them, which I do and really enjoy. But even though everyone is aware of my holidays, I don’t even get a happy wish.

“We (Muslims) are the underdogs right now. The Muslim religion is such a loving religion, and no one wants to believe that. They only focus on extremist views, because of 9/11, and that’s it. They don’t want to hear or know anything else.”

Yet despite that, Rahman wouldn’t change the end result. She said it’s been really good, despite everything. She said she’s made some great friends in the business and really loves the people in her community where she has made a home for more than three decades.

But, if at any time, something comes up in her business that doesn’t feel right, something that seems like an intolerance because of her nationality or her religion, Rahman knows she can lean on the Fair Housing Act for support, because the Fair Housing Act definitely makes us stronger.

“If we know the laws, they are not there to ‘get us’ but rather they are there to protect us,” Rahman said. “People think that laws are meant to ‘get us’ or ‘catch us’ or ‘chastise us.’ But these laws are really a protection for not only the buyers and sellers but for us also, the REALTORS® in this business.

“We are able to do our work much more successfully and professionally because of these laws that are in place.”

West Virginia REALTORS Join City’s “Open to All” Anti-Discrimination Campaign

Real Estate Central in Huntington, West Virginia
Photo: REALTORS® from Real Estate Central in Huntington, West Virginia

The timing couldn’t have been more perfect.

Joshua McGrath, owner of Real Estate Central in Huntington, West Virginia – an agency with five different locations and 105 licensees –  had just finished watching a video from the National Association of REALTORS® talking about the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Fair Housing Act.

“I challenged [the licensees] to come up with something that we can do, to show how it’s right to be treating everyone equally.”

That’s when Bobby Eschbacher, a REALTOR® in McGrath’s Barboursville office, saw the City of Huntington was relaunching its “Open to All” anti-discrimination campaign.

It didn’t take much for Eschbacher to put two and two together.

He brought the idea to McGrath, and Real Estate Central became one of the local businesses championing the Open to All campaign, which fits perfectly within the spirit of the Fair Housing Act.

“We are the second largest real estate firm in the area,” McGrath said. “Originally we were just going to do some ads in the local Real Estate guide geared toward the celebration of fair housing, but now we’re going to do so much more.”

McGrath and his team will be taking part in the Charleston Multicultural Festival in the fall. They are also working on the creation of a program to help mentally and physically challenged adults be able to rent or own their own homes.

Real Estate Central is in the early phases of the process that they are undertaking for this initiative, but another thing McGrath is committed to advocating against is bullying that is rooted in race, gender and sexual orientation.

“We’re in rural West Virginia,” McGrath said. “Diversity has always been a little on the back end.”

Real Estate Central in Huntington, West Virginia
Photo: Joshua McGrath

McGrath was bullied mercilessly as a kid for a variety of reasons, including the fact that he is openly gay. He said dealing with the bullying only made him stronger, but that so many friends of his couldn’t handle it and took far more drastic steps to end the bullying.

“They’re not with us anymore,” he said somberly.

But the bullying doesn’t stop in adulthood.

McGrath ran for the West Virginia House of Delegates in 2014 and after winning the Primary, lost the General election. He said his opposition targeted the fact that he was gay as a negative, saying it was a reason to not vote for him.

“It was eye-opening and a learning experience,” McGrath said. “It was a great experience. I really enjoyed it. My lifestyle is what it is. I don’t throw it at people. If I’m asked I talk about it, but it doesn’t define me.

“I’m gay, but that’s not important. I run the second largest real estate company in the market. I have probably the most diverse agency when it comes to age, race, sexual orientation and religion. I’m proud that we can put all these people in the same room together and work together and that ultimately we respect each other’s views.”

“I’m proud that we can put all these people in the same room together and work together and that ultimately we respect each other’s views.” - Joshua McGrathClick To Tweet

Organizations, such as Real Estate Central, who have taken the “Open to All” pledge, publicly display the movement’s decal in the window of their businesses and become members of the diversity campaign. If they choose, they can take the voluntary next step into the “One Hundred Club,” which includes free educational workshops, publicity and inclusion in special events.

According to the Huntington Herald-Dispatch, Huntington received a score of 95 on a 100-point scale and was also one of 41 cities to earn an “All Star” designation for advancing LGBTQ equality without relying on state law as part of the Human Rights Campaign’s 2017 Municipal Equality Index.

The index ranks 506 U.S. cities of varying sizes on a number of factors, including nondiscrimination laws, municipal employment policies, inclusiveness of city services, law enforcement with regard to LGBTQ people and municipal leadership on matters of equality.

Interestingly enough, while Huntington is one of 11 cities and towns in West Virginia that has added LGBTQ non-discrimination ordinances to their statutes, the state’s human rights act and hate crime laws do not include protections based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

“I would love to think we can be part of starting a trend that others follow that is geared toward respect of fellow man,” McGrath said. “Our country is so divided because everyone feels they have to be so starkly on one side or the other – I don’t believe that – as long as we respect each other there’s room for middle ground.”

And one of the first steps McGrath and his team can take in being those trendsetters, is by promoting fair housing and being “Open to all.”

After all, Fair Housing, he said, makes us stronger.

“It does because it opens the door of inclusion, diversity and other possibilities that are out there,” he said. “The more diverse a community is, the more culture people in that community has exposure to. And why not? That’s what America is all about. We are a melting pot. Having a community that is stronger means we are not divided. United we stand, divided we fall. It’s that simple.”