Speaking of Real Estate
No one ever gets up in the morning and says, “I want to buy a house today.”
Real estate is part of a journey that ebbs and flows with life as issues like debt payoff, confidence in the economy, and jobs allow for a purchase or sale. So for 2015, do something different and consider being life-centric in your marketing.
Look at the stats. Real estate buyers and sellers are starting their home research earlier and earlier, according to data from Google, which means that the lead-generation game is going to be even more prolonged in the future than it is now. Real estate search tends to happen – by and large – in January, which makes tons of sense. People have down time and are surrounded by family, all looking at houses online together as they plan for the coming year. A smart lifecycle-centric content strategy can help to take advantage of all that traffic.
Gather your year-end stats now and post them to your website. Scour your MLS and write about why the “Top 10” neighborhoods in your market performed the way they did. Write about why neighborhoods 11 through 20 will be hot in 2015. Get in the habit of exhibiting your expertise now so that you can capitalize on it when buyers and sellers start pulling their contact triggers as the season matures going into spring.
Third party websites aren’t your problem. No real estate portal will ever trump the number one real estate search site on the web: Google. Being relevant there should be your top priority. That involves answering two questions: Can people find you online? And once they do, is the information you’re sharing relevant and trustworthy? These questions can be answered separately but are best answered together as doing so will lead to sustainable business.
Ensure that you’ve nailed your online presence and reputation and do what your competition isn’t doing in your marketing to differentiate yourself in the sea-of-sameness that makes up the real estate web. Post a blank contract or HUD statement onto your website and demystify it line by line. Make sure your “Glossary of Real Estate Terms” and “25 Steps to Buy/Sell a House” is up to date. Get your raving fan clients to shoot you a 30-second video of why you were awesome for them. Be buzzworthy, be trustworthy, and give people something to browse, talk about, and share. In the online real estate battle, trust and value equal confidence and business.
Mobile rules all. Nothing has changed the way people live and work more than mobile technology. The time people spend browsing the web on mobile devices is now greater than the time they spend browsing from a desktop or laptop. “Mobile tech” can mean many things depending on your market, with handheld tools being more common in urban areas and car-centric larger devices in the ‘burbs, but it all boils down to this: As humans living in a connected world, we’re looking for short bursts of information, on-demand, wherever we happen to be at that moment. The on-demand relevance and trust factor you display can mean more here than at any other time in a client lifecycle.
Think “mobile” with everything you do in 2015, like making sure your website is optimized with some fantastic Google tools, for starters. Be short, sweet, and visual in your marketing to take advantage of the limited space on a mobile screen (tools like Canva.com are fantastic). If you have “buy versus rent” tools, mortgage calculators, or anything else optimized for mobile, market it as such. Even posting app links on your website to your (or better yet, your clients’) favorite mobile house hunt and research tools can go a long way toward making sense of the online noise for people.
Whether your next client is referred to you or stumbles onto your website, being life-centric — both short and long term — is the most sustainable business practice you can put in your arsenal today.
Here’s the thing about marijuana laws: Federal trumps state. So even though 23 states and the District of Columbia have legalized medicinal pot use — and four states have OK’d recreational use — the federal government still says marijuana is illegal. That means landlords and property managers in legal-pot states shouldn’t feel completely safe allowing tenants to smoke on the premises, NAR Senior Policy Representative Megan Booth said during the “Medical Marijuana and R.E.” session at the REALTORS® Conference & Expo in New Orleans.
“State marijuana laws haven’t been challenged at the Supreme Court yet,” Booth said. “That’s why they stand.”
She pointed out that federal law gives the government the right to seize finances and property that are connected to illegal activity, including drugs. So technically, landlords who let tenants grow weed in their apartments or smoke it on site for any purpose run the risk of having their real estate property taken from them.
The likelihood of that happening seems slim, as public opinion on marijuana shifts toward pro-legalization along with changing state laws. According to the Pew Research Center, the majority of Americans now believe marijuana should be legal, with 52 percent supportive. That’s up from only 12 percent in 1969.
Still, pressure is being applied to the federal government to act in accordance with federal law. “The U.S. has signed on to global treaties classifying marijuana as one of the heaviest controlled substances,” Booth said. “So there’s some outrage that the U.S. isn’t prosecuting marijuana users here as fiercely.” That pressure should signify to landlords and property managers that risk is present when accepting marijuana use on their properties.
As state marijuana laws change, multifamily properties and condos may need to add lease addenda specifically covering marijuana policies on the premises, Booth said. There also may be new disclosures that are required in the future when selling condos in pot-friendly buildings or homes near property that allow marijuana use, she added. For example, since the legalization of medical and recreational marijuana use in some states, there has been an increase in reports of explosions in properties where tenants are growing pot with sophisticated equipment. Smoke and odor could also have an impact on neighbors, and mold from the growing of marijuana — which requires a high level of humidity — could become an issue in multifamily buildings. For all those reasons, it may become necessary to disclose to buyers and renters when they are considering a condo or home in or near properties where marijuana use is allowed.
Don’t expect the new Congress of the next two years to get anything done, said Mark Halperin and John Heilemann, longtime political reporters and co-authors of Double Down: Game Change 2012, at Saturday’s “2014 Election Results: What They Mean for R.E.” session.
“There used to be liberal Republicans and conservative Democrats,” Heilemann said. “But in Congress today, Republicans are more conservative and Democrats more liberal than at any other point in our history.”
Halperin made a bet that Congress won’t move on the mortgage interest deduction in the next two years unless it’s bundled into a larger legislative package—but even that is unlikely to go anywhere. Both Halperin and Heilemann said they don’t see Congress touching tax reform anytime soon, primarily because President Barack Obama and soon-to-be Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) have made it clear they don’t intend to bow to each other’s agendas.
NAR has been vocal about protecting incentives for home owners in any tax reform measure, but it looks as though that won’t be on the table for a while, Halperin said. He is confident, though, that the federal Terrorism Risk Insurance Act, which creates the federal backstop that encourages private insurers to make terrorism insurance available and affordable for commercial properties, would be reauthorized before its expiration on Dec. 31. NAR is a strong proponent of the program, which is vital to commercial real estate and development throughout the country.
The speakers didn’t address the chances of tax measures NAR supports getting taken up in the lame-duck session, which is the brief period before the new Congress assembles and the outgoing Congress adjourns in which lawmakers can take up measures. NAR supports reauthorization of mortgage debt cancellation relief as soon as possible so owners don’t have to take a tax hit on forgiven debt when they sell their house in a short sale.
Heilemann said the road to 2016 looks more certain for Democrats than Republicans, with Hillary Clinton all but certain to become the Dems’ presidential candidate if she decides to run.
“There’s an old saying: Only damn fools stand in front of oncoming trains,” he said. “And she’s an oncoming train.”
Republicans, however, have no clear frontrunner for the 2016 presidential election, he said, and it appears the party could face a quagmire over who to choose for the race. That puts them at an initial disadvantage, Heilemann added, but Clinton could face a larger issue of crafting her message to a voter base that has become disillusioned with Obama.
On a portion of LaSalle Street in Central New Orleans, homes are boarded up or have been torn down, overshadowing and slowly peeling away at the history of a thriving musical scene in the early 1900s. But a change is slowly taking root, and REALTORS®, community leaders, and residents are paving the way to revitalize the section of the block into its former glory.
On Friday evening during the REALTOR® Conference & Expo, the New Orleans Metropolitan Association of REALTORS® helped to bring a national campaign, Better Block, to LaSalle centered on rebuilding and revitalizing the neighborhood. To help with its efforts, the association received a $15,000 smart growth grant from the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS® to host the kick-off event and help in creating a plan to restore neighborhood structures and the Dew Drop Inn Hotel, once a hot-spot for music in the late 1930s through 1960s.
With the Better Block campaign, communities across the country are working to fight blight and show the potential of a one-to-two block stretch in neighborhoods in need of revitalization. Better Block awareness programs have included launching pop-up businesses and repairing of homes and businesses.
On Friday evening, the New Orleans Association of REALTORS®, partnering with the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority (NORA), created a block party to celebrate LaSalle Street’s road to rebirth. Local bands played jazz and blues music while residents mingled and children played games. Kids also etched drawings on one side of a boarded-up house that community leaders hope will serve as an art installation to display the children’s dreams for the future and community.
“This is great community outreach and really helps to highlight REALTORS®’ work with the community,” says Kelli Walker, senior director of government affairs for the New Orleans Association. The city of New Orleans is approaching 10 years since Hurricane Katrina, “and while we’ve come a long way in our recovery, there is still work to be done.”
Friday’s event was also a chance to celebrate the recent opening of Harmony Oaks, a former public housing site on LaSalle that’s been transformed into a row of 55 for-sale apartments and homes geared to mixed-income buyers.
The next step for REALTORS® and community organizers is to bring quality, small-scale commercial space to LaSalle Street, Walker says. There’s headway on that score: A once vacant lot on the street has become home to a farmer’s market every Saturday, where local entrepreneurs sell everything from fresh food to jewelry.
But the backbone of the revitalization — and what some residents refer to as the “heartbeat of LaSalle” — is the restoration of the Dew Drop Inn, which has been stripped to the beams inside. However, on Friday night, banners hung from the exterior showing some of the legendary singers who once performed there, and a video displayed inside showing the former nightclub, hotel, and restaurant that once featured legendary entertainers like Ray Charles and Little Richard. The New Orleans Association, along with NORA and the owners of Dew Drop Inn, are helping with fundraising efforts to restore the historic structure.
“This is what the REALTOR® Party is all about,” said Chris Polychron, 2015 president of NAR, as he attended the block party. “We can make a big difference in neighborhoods, and build relationships with the community and REALTORS®. This is just one type of the project where we can have far-reaching [impact] through the REALTOR® Party Outreach Community Program.”
NAR’s outreach program assists local associations in getting involved in their communities, such as taking part in city revitalization projects, supporting land use regulations and decisions, and transforming unused or underused properties. Associations can apply for Smart Growth Action grants, which support state and local REALTOR® association community efforts.
Craig Lindvahl believes millennials are “the finest generation we’ve produced” and “the most effective way to grow your community.” But too often those born between 1982 and 2002 view their communities—especially small towns—as dead ends.
Lindvahl, an educator, filmmaker, and author of Things You Wish You Knew Yesterday, encouraged practitioners attending the Commercial Caffeinated Breakfast during the REALTORS® Conference & Expo in New Orleans this weekend, to cultivate millennials’ entrepreneurial spirit so these kids have the reason and drive to invest and stay in their communities. “I’ve never been around people more charged up about life than these kids,” he said.
He believes real estate practitioners, can play a significant role in millennials’ development. “Your business is about building relationships” he said, and they need to understand that, because those relationships create roots. To connect kids and businesspeople, Lindvahl runs a leadership program called Creating Entrepreneurial Opportunities, which gives high school students around the country hands-on business experience that includes taking risks and learning from failure. The kids start, market, fund, and run their own business.
Why does the formula work? “If we combine you, our best resource, with millennials, our best hope, we can reinvigorate communities in a way [we] never thought possible.”
Does the technology you use maximize your time? There are new apps and gadgets being released all the time, but it can be hard to tell whether the ones you’re considering for your business are worth it. Juanita McDowell, a real estate technology instructor with InMotion Consulting LLC in Atlanta, highlighted her favorite tech tools during Friday’s “Gadgets and Gizmos” session.
Upload your photos and video clips to one of Animoto’s video templates to easily create a video slideshow of your listings. The best part, McDowell said, is that background music is included with each template, so you don’t have to source music yourself. Business plans start at $249 per year; animoto.com
Use this portable scanner to scan all your receipts on the go. All scanned documents are put into a database, and you can search for receipts by store name. You can create an expense report, track your expenses for tax time, and make PDF or Excel files. $179.95; neat.com
Attach this telephoto lens to your smartphone to shoot better-quality fisheye or wide-angle photos with better zoom capability. The downside, McDowell said, is that you have to take the case off your phone to attach the lens. “Who wants to carry around a naked phone?” she said. Prices vary depending on phone; olloclip.com
Stick this special memory card in your digital camera, and using your phone’s Wi-Fi connection, you can send the photos you take with your camera directly to your phone or tablet. Prices vary by plan; eyefi.com
A surveillance camera disguised as a keychain, this comes in handy when having conversations with clients that you want on record. It comes in handy if a client ever threatens to give you a bad review online, McDowell notes. Shop different models on amazon.com.
This app allows you to take notes while recording a meeting or conversation and sync the notes to the audio. So when you click on a specific word or phrase, the audio will play back at the point in the conversation where that word or phrase was used. $4.99 in the iTunes store.
Create a postcard using any photo on your phone, write a message, and have it mailed—all from your smartphone. Free to download in the iTunes store, 99 cents per postcard. sincerely.com/postagram
A tale of two cities plays out in New Orleans, separated by only three miles but appearing to be worlds apart. The French Quarter is awash in the neon lights of peep-show bars, alive with the shouts of overly indulgent partiers (even at one o’clock in the afternoon), and exalted by gentile bartenders who call you “baby” while shoving the second round of a two-for-one hurricane special (10 a.m. to 4 p.m.) in your face before you’re done with the first one. It’s the Southern decadence that always was and will be, as though there was never such a thing as Hurricane Katrina.
And then there’s the Ninth Ward, the neighborhood most devastated by the storm, a short drive away, where it looks like Katrina is the only thing that ever was. Destroyed homes, shuttered businesses, and shattered dreams line every street in this urban ghost town.
Or so the story goes.
The rebuilding and reopening of the French Quarter’s famous Bourbon Street stood as the crowning moment of a city determined to rise up again after nearly being wiped off the map. But the Ninth Ward, which headlines still called “bleak” six years after Katrina, has seemed frozen in time — at least in the media — as a place forever lost to the destructive forces of nature.
I wanted to see how much of that was true today, with Katrina now nine years removed. REALTORS® are back in town for the third time since the 2005 catastrophe, converging in New Orleans for this year’s REALTORS® Conference & Expo, and I hoped they’d see some improvement.
I found out that they won’t just see an improvement — they’ll see the beginning of a renaissance.
I convinced a cabbie to spend an hour taking me around the Ninth Ward on Wednesday so I could take a look at the state of the neighborhood. He seemed a little confused by my request at first, wondering why I wanted to go there. I assumed he was questioning why an out-of-towner would want to spend his time touring such a downtrodden part of town. But his response surprised me.
“It’s not what you’re expecting,” he said. “It’s not that bad anymore. It’s starting to get much better.”
He was right. It’s still obvious how far the Ninth Ward has yet to go, but it’s also obvious how far it’s come.
Make no mistake about it: The signs of devastation are still everywhere. Abandoned homes can be found on every street still bearing the “X”s that search-and-rescue crews spray painted on them to denote a home that had been checked for bodies. But in many more cases than I expected, next to those homes were other homes with fresh coats of paint and yards that are being maintained. This is more than the nearly 100 homes Brad Pitt built. From what I could tell, finding a place in decent shape in the Ninth Ward is getting to be as easy as finding a place that’s condemned.
What’s clearly not true anymore is that people aren’t coming back to the neighborhood.
In August 2011, just three years ago but still six years after Katrina, the Associated Press reported that the area “still looks like a ghost town.” Well, three years makes a difference.
I saw people out and about all over the neighborhood: a mother pushing her infant in a stroller down the street; runners jogging past shoppers at a corner store; two men unloading groceries from their car; bikers riding along a main drag parallel to the levees that had failed nine years ago; and a couple painting the side of a house. There were plenty of signs of life — a sign outside one home imploring people to vote in Tuesday’s midterm election, and a ladder and paint buckets outside another — that seemed to be almost totally absent a few years ago.
“People are coming from all over the U.S. to move here,” my cabbie said. “What it is is that people are taking these abandoned homes and fixing them up.”
He noted that since New Orleans’ population plummeted after the storm, the people he sees coming to the city today aren’t born and raised here. Most are people moving from other parts of the country.
What I found most fascinating was the diversity of the people I saw in the Ninth Ward. The historically predominantly black area looked like a melting pot of sorts: whites, Hispanics, blacks, and Asians. I didn’t notice that one race had more of a presence than another.
A local named Gerald, a young black man who said he grew up in the Ninth Ward, told me that the face of the neighborhood has changed dramatically.
“It diversified a lot after the storm,” he said. “Cheap land has brought a lot of new folks into the neighborhood. I like the diversity.”
After spending some time there, it was clear to me that the Ninth Ward, no matter how much it may still be struggling, seems to have found a path forward. It might be at the beginning, but it’s taking it one step at a time.
Here are some other photos that show the darker side of my visit to the Ninth Ward:
Hope you’ve got your Mardi Gras masks and some beads because the party is starting in New Orleans for this year’s REALTORS® Conference & Expo!
We’re expecting about 17,000 attendees to flood the Morial Convention Center in the Big Easy this week; 400 exhibitors on the expo floor; and 100 education sessions to help you further your business. Everything officially kicks off Friday, but REALTOR® Magazine is popping in early to get coverage of the convention started so you know what’s going on as you arrive.
We already have a ton of talking points you might want to catch up on before you land in New Orleans. There are a wealth of heavy-hitting speakers that will be on hand, plus the REALTORS® Relief Foundation will be holding a silent auction on site, and, of course, our esteemed 2014 Good Neighbor Award winners — this is the 15th year for the awards program — will be honored. Take a look at all our pre-conference coverage.Meet the Very Special Guests
On the Other Side of Adversity
Kelly always assumed his career was riskier than his wife’s. Today, he and Gabrielle Giffords, the former Arizona congresswoman who was critically injured in a shooting spree three and a half years ago, are triumphing in the face of the unthinkable.
Going Home to Inspire
Though she retired from athletic competition in 2000, Joyner-Kersee, a six-time Olympic medalist, is still all about winning. The former track-and-field superstar is focused on helping young people in her long-struggling hometown of East St. Louis, Ill., be the best they can be, regardless of the obstacles. She recalls her own hurdles vividly.
Stirring the Dreams of a Community
Chang’s public art projects solicit community interaction and commentary on civic issues. Her 2010 “I Wish This Was” project gave New Orleans residents the chance to use fill-in-the-blank stickers and place them on vacant storefronts. Messages read: I wish this was a home, a community garden, a safe place for my kids to play, a bike shop, a grocery. Chang has advice for real estate pros who want to influence how public spaces develop.
One Meal at a Time
After Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005, restaurant maverick and chef Besh had his doubts about the city’s revival. Slowly but surely, the damage and suffering receded, and a commercial and cultural revitalization is now in full swing. Today the city has 500 more restaurants than before the storm, and six are owned by Besh. He is proud of the role he’s played in the turnaround, which extends far beyond his entrepreneurial successes.
Know Your Online Audience
In a world that puts increasing value on provocative posts that could be characterized as “click bait,” Critchfield is busting myths about what makes successful online content. Critchfield, the editorial director of Upworthy, a media company with the mission of curating and sharing content that addresses social and civic issues, says it has a lot less to do with punchy headlines and short videos and more to do with providing relevant information that’s interesting to viewers.
If you’re in the same boat as we are, it’s probably going to be a long flight from home to New Orleans. We have great suggestions for reading material to pack for the trip — things that will also get you more informed about the people you’ll be seeing at the conference. So here’s a list of a few of books written by authors who will be presenting, along with a link to where they’ll be appearing in NOLA. (That way you can go pester them to autograph your copy.)Do Good for the World While in New Orleans
When tornadoes, earthquakes, and wildfires shatter communities, onlookers wrestle with the terrifying images and stories. But those disasters can also appeal to the best impulses in humankind, triggering America’s caring sprit and igniting action. The REALTORS® Relief Foundation stands ready to provide help in a crisis, but it depends on the generosity of REALTORS® to continue that mission. During the REALTORS® Conference & Expo, RRF is holding its second annual silent auction to raise funds and increase awareness about its efforts.Celebrate Good Neighbors
Get inspired by the amazing work this year’s Good Neighbor Award winners do for their communities. (And don’t forget to congratulate them in person when you see them at the General Session.)
Carlisle-Northcutt makes sure that financial barriers do not keep children from receiving the health care they need.
Renaissance Woman of the Lowcountry
Locke saw few local charities in her South Carolina community. So began her legacy of multitalented service, now stretching into its third decade.
A Place to Call Home
A two-time kidney transplant recipient, Pompeian has dedicated his life to creating a home away from home for Mayo Clinic transplant patients.
Rosemary Tran Lauer
Bridging the Child Care Gap
When she immigrated to the United States in the 1970s, Tran Lauer struggled to pay for child care. Today, she’s helping others break the cycle of poverty.
Hearts Running on Full
Wilson created an ultramarathon to benefit sick children after his own son was near death, and now his effort is saving lives.
Much of what NAR does in Washington is defensive: it works with Congress to prevent curbs to the mortgage interest deduction or to prevent elimination of federal backing of conforming mortgage loans. The qualified residential mortgage (QRM) rule that federal regulators released last week falls into this category in some respects, because regulators at first wanted to require a qualified mortgage to come with a 20 percent downpayment, among other things.
NAR worked with 50 other organizations to show that such a requirement would put homneownership out of reach for a big chunk of the market, because on average it would take first-time buyers and others who don’t have equity to draw on 16 years to save up enough money to make a downpayment. Later, regulators were talking about upping that to a 30 percent down payment.
For that reason, when the rule came out with no down payment requirement, industry and consumer groups rightly called the rule a victory. There were other defensive moves as well, because in its original form the rule included very specific credit standards borrowers would have to meet, and those were also taken out and replaced with a broad rule that gives lenders flexibility in how they meet the rule’s intent, which is to create a class of safe loans that borrowers have a reasonable expectation of paying back. (Under QRM, if the loan meets the standards, it’s considered safe, so lenders can sell 100 percent of the loan to investors rather than hold back 5 percent of the loan amount on their books.)
As positive as this is for homebuyers, what the rule doesn’t do is get lenders to open up their lending processes more. Only lenders can do that, and right now they’re still taking a fairly conservative approach, most notably by putting credit overlays on loans backed by FHA and the two secondary mortgage market companies, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. QRM will certainly help, because it provides clarity lenders have been asking for on the rules of the road for residential loans. But by itself the rule doesn’t address all the things that’s keeping lenders from easing their restrictions that go beyond what FHA, Fannie, and Freddie require.
What’s more, in about six years, Fannie and Freddie will come under the QRM standard (right now they’re exempt), and when that happens, a small but important percentage of borrowers that Fannie and Freddie now serve won’t be able to meet the standard, even without the lack of downpayment requirement. As a result, unless other things happen, credit availability will become more of a challenge down the road for at least some borrowers. That’s why NAR is looking at other factors that are holding back credit.
In short, the QRM rule is a victory, but it’s not a solution in and of itself to the credit availability problem many households are still experiencing. It keeps things from getting worse, but more needs to be done.
In the video above, NAR Research and Government Affairs analysts talk about the impact of the rule and what’s ahead.
The latest in a number of high-profile fines for illegal kickbacks in real estate was announced a few weeks ago. A title company had allegedly entered into agreements with real estate practitioners and others in the industry for marketing their title services. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) says the agreements amounted to a cover for referral fees.
Real estate practitioners entering into marketing agreements with real estate settlement service providers is well-established in the industry, and this latest enforcement action doesn’t take aim at that; it takes aim at agreements that the CFPB thinks are really something else in disguise.
How do you ensure a marketing agreement you enter into is appropriate under federal anti-kickback rules? Well, you can’t go wrong clearing it first with an attorney who’s familiar with the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act, or RESPA. For a general idea, though, there are two tests you can apply:
1.Is the marketing fee you receive based on the number of referrals you make to the company, whether it’s a title company, a lender, or another service provider? If the fee corresponds to the number of referrals, you could be inviting a close look by the CFPB.
2. If you have an arrangement to split costs on a joint project, like a newspaper ad, is the split reflective of what each of you get in return? For example, if you and the title company are splitting the cost of the ad down the middle, then half the ad should go to the title company and half should go to you. If the title company is covering 75 percent of the cost of the ad but only taking up 25 percent of the space, that split makes it look like the company is subsidizing 50 percent of the ad cost. Again, you could be inviting a close look by the CFPB.
The video also looks at a law that was just enacted that could be helpful if you sell new condos. Practitioners have had a particular problem in recent years with buyers purchasing a unit while the condo project is still under development and then backing out of their purchase contract as the project nears completion. It’s not that hard for them to do that because there’s a disclosure provision in federal law (the Interstate Land Sales Full Disclosure Act) that let’s them rescind their contract if the condo project isn’t exactly the way it was earlier disclosed by the developer. Small differences in what was earlier disclosed and what actually gets built are typically numerous in a new project, because it’s hard if not impossible for the developer to anticipate every variable while the project is still in its early stages. This disclosure issue opens the door for buyers to use what amounts to a technicality to rescind their contract.
The new law simply aligns the disclosure requirement for new projects with those that apply to existing projects, for which disclosures are less detailed. That makes it more difficult for buyers to back out at the last minute on the basis of a technicality.
The law is mainly of importance to practitioners who sell units in large-scale condo projects, particularly in once-hot markets where a lot of projects were started during the housing boom only to see prices fall in the downturn. In some cases, prices have yet to return to the level at which some units were bought. But the law shows that Congress can work together and get things done when the issue is bipartisan, as real estate matters generally are.
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With safety issues still top of mind for real estate professionals across the country since the tragic death of Arkansas agent Beverly Carter in September, we’ve received tons of emails from readers who speak heroically about their own harrowing tales of facing danger in the field. But one in particular touched our hearts: Celeste Barr, GRI, ABR, an agent with Keller Williams Success Realty in Barrington, Ill., wrote to us in response to our blog post about Carter, and she told us of an attack she luckily escaped back in 1991. Barr spoke of the shame she felt as a result of her attack and her long journey to self-empowerment in the years following. She has an important message for all REALTORS® who aim to be safer on the job.
Here’s her full letter:
Back when I was a newer agent in 1991 — I had only been in the business for two years — I, too, was attacked. A “buyer” attacked me in the basement of a home. I got away. I was one of the lucky ones.
For years, I felt ashamed, and, at the time, I didn’t tell anyone what happened. I thought I had done something wrong that gave him permission to do what he did. But I didn’t. I thought I should have seen this coming and that I was to blame. I didn’t, and I wasn’t. I finally shared my story with a family member and learned it wasn’t my fault. The “buyer” was going to find someone to attack, whether it was me or someone else.
If I were to give any advice to anyone in our community of REALTORS®, it would be to listen to your gut more. We’re all so eager to get the next deal; we’re not listening. Even as our gut is screaming, we think it won’t be us.
If a buyer is giving you more attention than is comfortable to you, assume there is a reason. Plan ahead and have a way out, even if all you have is a lame excuse to leave. You really need to keep a safe zone between you and the client. Have a way out! Keep an open door for YOU!
Being physically attacked creates a myriad of emotions, just like a death does. In my experience, anger has been one of the hardest feelings to overcome — anger at myself for being so stupid and vulnerable. It’s not a rational emotion, but it is real. It allows me now to be prepared before I meet with the public and speak with authority, and to not be a victim.
Do you know what consumers want from a real estate agent? Sure, you might have a pretty good idea — but why not take it from them?
Mike Reff, broker-associate at Madison & Company Properties in Denver, wanted his team, The Knoll Team, to hear directly from consumers about what their needs are. They were already producing a Web video series, so they decided to hit the streets with their camera and microphone, and ask people point blank: What do you want from your agent?
“We always want to find out as much as we can from the public, our customers,” Reff says of his team. “We felt that the only way to strive to provide the best possible service as real estate professionals is just to ask the public what they want. So that’s what we did.”
Once he was out there doing man-on-the-street interviews, Reff says he was surprised by the variety of answers he got from consumers on the question of what they want from their agents. “It just really goes to show that no two clients are the same,” he adds. “Everyone has their own unique expectations and desires for what they want from a practitioner. We expected the standard ‘good communication, looking out for our best interest,’ but I think we were pleased to see some people touch on the relationship aspect.
“The biggest takeaway for anyone who watches the video is really to know your customers,” Reff says. “Know what they want. There is no standard that will work across the board. As real estate professionals, we have to adapt to our clients’ needs.”
Check out the video below.
News Corp’s announced acquisition of Move Inc., which operates NAR’s consumer-facing website, realtor.com®, is about making listings and other REALTOR®-focused content easily accessible via the 500 million consumer page views that the media company generates every month, Move CEO Steve Berkowitz says in an interview with REALTOR® Magazine.
News Corp owns some of the most well-known business publications in the United States, including The Wall Street Journal and MarketWatch, and the consumers who access this content are a prime target for real estate brands, says Berkowitz. “Those customers, we know, are most likely the right audience for real estate brands to reach,” he says.
Berkowitz says the acquisition is about “opportunity and innovation and creativity,” and he contrasted that with another recent merger, which he said was about cost-cutting. Berkowitz didn’t identify the other merger, but two other national listing sites, Zillow and Trulia, announced merger plans a month ago. The News Corp acquisition, he says, is “not a deal that’s focused on cost-cutting, as the other deal is. It’s not about taking the same consumers and just selling them with one sales rep. This is about introducing new audiences to the brand on both sides.”
Berkowitz says his focus remains on increasing the value of realtor.com® to members. Among other Move improvements is a new and more robust profile page, which is in beta testing. REALTORS® can use it across online platforms, including their social media accounts, and in conjunction with the new .REALTOR domain when that takes effect.
What won’t change, he says, is the core agreement with NAR, under which REALTORS® remain at the center of the transaction. That goal is also “supported by News Corp,” Berkowitz says. “There’s a change-of-control clause that sits in the operating agreement [with NAR], and [the association] worked very closely with News Corp to make sure that the goals of News Corp [and of NAR] are aligned.”
The deal must be reviewed by the federal government under what’s known as a Hart Scott Rodino anti-trust filing, and Berkowitz says he expects no issues to arise there.
REALTOR® Magazine interviewed Berkowitz on Wednesday, one day after the announced acquisition. The $950 million acquisition is expected to be completed by the end of 2014 and is expected to turbo-charge the momentum that’s been taking place at Move since July 2013, when NAR altered its operating agreement with the company to improve its ability to compete. We asked Berkowitz to talk about how the acquisition will affect realtor.com® and REALTORS®.
Read the full interview:
REALTOR® Magazine: Will consumers see changes to realtor.com as a result of the acquisition?
Steve Berkowitz: The clear answer is yes. Consumers are really happy with what they’re seeing on realtor.com®, and they’ll be happier as we work together with News Corp. Consumers will continue to see the tremendous improvements in the user experience we’ve been making, both on the Web and in mobile. And they’ll see us accelerate the release of new user-experience features.
RM: How will the change in ownership affect REALTORS®?
SB: It’s going to be very additive to what realtor.com® has been doing. Members should see this as a one-plus-one-equals-five outcome. We’re going to work with News Corp to allow REALTOR® listings to be placed in front of the huge audience of media consumers that sits on The Wall Street Journal network [which News Corp owns]. And those customers, we know, are most likely the right audience for real estate brands to reach. Our whole “Accuracy Matters” advertising campaign is not a campaign just geared to making consumers come to realtor.com®. It’s about making consumers understand that REALTORS® are all about accuracy. So, with the combination with News Corp, consumers are going to continue to build a better trust of the REALTOR® brand. That benefits every single REALTOR® member, because it means consumers could build that relationship sooner in their house-hunting endeavors.
RM: How will the acquisition help realtor.com® become more competitive with other national listing sites?
SB: News Corp has a very robust media platform. They have over 500 million monthly page views across their network, and we’re going to be able to access that audience with realtor.com® information. So, what I think you’re going to see here is, the realtor.com® site itself will continue to become more competitive, as we find more ways to bring some of the content over from all these media sites, whether it be MarketWatch or The Wall Street Journal or Dow Jones. They’re just a great editorial content machine, and we can enrich the experience on realtor.com®. They also can enrich their consumer experiences by allowing consumers to access listings wherever they like through Realtor.com®. So it really is a strong deal that’s focused on opportunity and innovation and creativity. It’s not a deal that’s focused on cost-cutting, as the other [Zillow-Trulia] deal is. It’s not about taking the same consumers and just selling them with one sales rep. This is about introducing new audiences to the brand on both sides. We get to introduce our audience to some of the News Corp brands, and they get a chance to educate their consumers on the value of REALTORS® and the REALTOR® brand.
RM: Will realtor.com® pricing change?
SB: There are no plans for us to change any of our business practices. However, we are always looking at new and better ways to add value to members. So our investment in our profile pages, our investment in putting the listing agent on all listings, which includes a free transfer over to their profile page — these are ways we continue to offer the best value exchange for members, who allow us to use their content, with permission, and to do the things they want us to do. In addition, the mobile presence that we can offer REALTORS® is really important. Even the new profile system and page, which we’re beta testing, is mobile-enabled. So we’re just going to continue to deliver lots of benefits to REALTOR® members as we do today: free tools, both through realtor.com® and some of our other businesses.
RM: Will this acquisition require regulatory approval?
SB: Yes, this has to go through the normal Hart Scott Rodino [anti-trust] filing. We don’t anticipate anything, because one of the huge advantages to the membership and to the industry is that the News Corp media business is a business that does not overlap with what we do at realtor.com®. It actually enhances what we do.
RM: Does the core agreement with NAR remain in place?
SB: Yes. Not only does the goal of keeping the REALTOR® in the center of the transaction not change but it’s supported by News Corp. There’s a change-of-control clause that sits in the operating agreement [with NAR], and [the association] worked very closely with News Corp to make sure that the goals of News Corp, and what they see as the role of the REALTOR® in the transaction, and what NAR sees as the role of the REALTOR® in the transaction are aligned. And if you listen to the last part of [News Corp Chief Executive] Robert Thompson’s investor call yesterday morning, you’ll hear his support for NAR and the excitement about working with the No. 1 trade organization in the world in real estate. I can’t speak for the NAR Leadership Team, but I believe they see this as a real opportunity to build the REALTOR® brand with a company that understands the importance of the role of the REALTOR® in the transaction.
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The day Beverly Carter disappeared after meeting a supposed prospective buyer at a vacant home in rural Scott, Ark., will be remembered by REALTORS® around the nation as a horrible one — a day when the real estate industry lost a star in its constellation.
But Susan Vaught chooses to remember what was good about that day — a day full of joy for Carter, 49, who was expecting to have one of her grandchildren visit for the weekend. It was around 3:30 p.m. Thursday, just hours before Carter’s fateful showing, when she and Vaught, whose offices were side-by-side at brokerage Crye-Leike’s North Little Rock branch, were talking about family.
Get the resources you need to stay safe on the job at REALTOR.org.
“She was talking about how excited she was,” recalls Vaught, executive broker of Carter’s Crye-Leike office. “Her grandchildren were the highlight of her life. … It was a happy day. [Carter] had won $100 at an open house raffle — it was just a good day.”
Later that evening, Carter went missing and didn’t show for two other appointments she had scheduled. A massive search involving hundreds of volunteers ensued for four days, only to end in tragedy Tuesday morning when Carter’s body was found in a shallow grave in a rural area outside Little Rock. Arron Lewis, 33, a suspect in Carter’s death, reportedly admitted to police that he kidnapped Carter from the home she was showing him on Thursday. However, he did not admit to killing her and pleaded not guilty to capital murder charges in court. He told reporters that Carter was targeted because she was a “rich broker” and a “woman who worked alone.” If he is found guilty in Carter’s death, Lewis faces the death penalty.
“We have a very empty feeling in our hearts,” Vaught says of Carter’s colleagues, friends, and family. “We carry with us her memory, her love, everything she was to us.”
A Love for Real Estate
Vaught remembers Carter as one of the most highly skilled real estate professionals she had ever known. Carter came to the business 10 years ago, delving into it as a means to move on from the death of one of her three sons, who was killed in a car accident one year prior.
“Real estate was the avenue for her to get busy,” Vaught says. “But her faith as a Christian woman was her rock.”
Carter quickly became a top producer in her office, Vaught adds, calling her “the epitome of a REALTOR®.”
“She was very caring and very, very professional in dealing with every client, every colleague, every affiliate,” Vaught says. “This is a job that she loved — it wasn’t work to her. When she got to know a client, they really knew her. It was a lasting relationship that carried on for years. It was forever.”
She became very successful in real estate and was known as “the one to beat” in the office, Vaught says. “We all idolized her. Her secret was that warm, friendly person that she was.”
Despite the circumstances surrounding the end of her life, Carter took the safety of agents seriously, Vaught says. She remembers a sales meeting years ago where Carter told everyone, “Never, ever, ever get in a prospective client’s vehicle.”
“Safety is the No. 1 thing in our office, and we are always looking out for each other,” Vaught says. “Whatever happened to [Carter], it wasn’t because she wasn’t being careful.”
‘A Smile for Everyone’
John Cohen, a former neighbor of Carter’s, knew her for 24 years, and she was the first to welcome him to the neighborhood when he moved to the small town of Sardis, Ark. (Carter’s family has since moved.) He remembers parties in their front yard where they would talk about their children.
“Beverly was an angel on earth,” Cohen says. “She always had kind words for everybody and a smile for everyone. … The only way we’ve been able to cope with this is to know that she’s not in any pain anymore and she’s with her son now.
“The way that she treated her children — those boys grew up to be great young men,” Cohen continues. “She was always doting on those boys.”
Though Cohen says he didn’t know much about her professional life, he says that it was clear her personality was the key to her success in real estate.
“You automatically wanted to trust her, and you knew she wanted to do the best for you,” Cohen says. He adds that he never knew Carter to be weary or afraid of any circumstances she faced in the field. “I never knew her to be scared of anything. She trusted everybody. I guess she never really thought there was evil in people.”
Death Not in Vain
Carter’s death has sparked a nationwide debate among real estate professionals about how to be safer on the job. Several commenters on a REALTOR® Magazine story about Carter relayed concerns about current practices and even told of their own personal cautionary tales.
“After reading this news, I understand what happened to me at an open house this past Saturday,” writes Maribell Cruz, an agent with Watson Realty Corp in Kissimmee, Fla. “I went to the second floor to close the windows and forgot to lock the front door. I hear somebody calling, and when I start going downstairs, I see this guy blocking my pathway at the end of the stairs. I got so scared, and he started saying, ‘Why do you leave your stuff on top of the counter alone with the door open? Do you know that you can be kidnapped? Do you have a firearm with you?’ And then he said, ‘You are lucky. I am just a home inspector who wants to leave you my information.’ He was giving me a lesson.”
The news of Carter’s death prompted Jeff Keehfuss, SRS, broker-owner of Montrose Real Estate Group in Montrose, Colo., to rewrite his firm’s safety procedures.
“When this all happened, I spent my morning updating the policy,” he says. “We had a sort of boilerplate policy that said, you know, be careful, notify someone else about where you’re going — it was pretty standard language that would be in most people’s policies. But after the Beverly Carter case, we realized that we had to be much more specific in the language.”
His new policy instructs all agents to conduct the first in-person meeting with a prospective client in the office, where agents should make copies of the clients’ photo IDs and document the make, model, and license plate numbers of their cars. The policy also directs agents to use their own vehicles when going out on showings and to call the office when arriving and leaving listings using certain safety code phrases. For example, saying “I am having a problem getting in the house” would be the code phrase to indicate to office personnel that they should call authorities.
“We need to be overly cautious to start out,” Keehfuss says. “Everybody’s going to have to change the way they do things. We can all do right by Beverly by playing it safer when we’re on the job.”
Vaught says her and Carter’s local board, the North Pulaski Board of REALTORS®, is drawing up new safety procedures for members in light of Carter’s death. The Arkansas Association of REALTORS® also says on its website that it will be implementing statewide safety procedures in the coming weeks.
“It’s got to be a big, loud voice so that never, ever, ever will Beverly Carter have died in vain,” Vaught says. “We won’t be Pop-Tarts anymore. Practitioners need to do things more from an ‘on-my-schedule’ kind of way, and John Q. Public is just going to have to understand that.
“We want to carry the torch on for Beverly. She was a landmark.”