Monday
December 22, 2014

Speaking of Real Estate

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Updated: 32 min 58 sec ago

A Year-End Meeting With a Tax Advisor Can Yield Big Dividends (VIDEO)

Fri, 12/19/2014 - 17:49

With the holiday season upon us and America deep in shopping mode, now is a good time to consider whether buying equipment or supplies for your real estate business might help lower your taxes for 2014. The federal tax code allows you to immediately deduct the cost of business-related purchases, which could help you reduce your taxable income—but to decide whether it pays to buy those things now or wait until next year, you need a clear understanding of your tax situation. This is one reason why it’s a good idea to meet with a tax advisor for a final meeting before 2015 begins.

NAR tax analyst Evan Liddiard recently sat down with Peter G. Baker, CPA, of Business Planning Group in Washington, D.C., to talk about the benefits for real estate agents of a year-end meeting with a tax professional. In addition to discussing how incurring business-related expenses can help improve your tax picture, Baker talks about the importance of knowing what your commissions for the year will be, the value of keeping good records and how the self-employment tax differs from income tax.

Information from the IRS for self-employed individuals

Past tax-related videos:
Home Office Tax Safe Harbor
New Taxes for Higher-Income Households

NAR Shows It’s a Safety Stallion

Mon, 12/08/2014 - 14:50

NAR’s horse sculpture dedicated to fallen Chicago police officer William R. Mooney (Credit: NAR)

On the second day of the new year in 1908, Officer William R. Mooney, a Chicago policeman, lost his life while protecting his community. A 16-year veteran of Chicago’s finest, Mooney, 45, was shot in a gun battle with three robbery suspects. He was rushed to the hospital, where he later confronted his attacker after the man was apprehended by police and brought to Mooney’s hospital room. The last thing Mooney did before he died was identify the man who killed him.

That’s the story of the hero, according to archived accounts from the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Police Memorial Foundation. The memory of Mooney — along with more than 500 Windy City police officers who have died in the line of duty over the years — lives on, and the National Association of REALTORS® made sure his death wasn’t in vain, even to this day.

Artist Rich Lo adds final touches to NAR’s horse. (Credit: NAR)

NAR, which is headquartered in Chicago, participated in Horses of Honor, a public art installation honoring the Chicago Police Department’s fallen comrades and benefiting the CPMF. The installation featured 90 life-size replicas of horses in the CPD’s Mounted Patrol Unit, each dedicated to an officer who was killed on the job. The horses were placed in various locations around the city. NAR sponsored one of the horses, hiring artist Rich Lo to paint a deconstructed American flag on the sculpture, which spoke to its theme of “The A-MARE-ICAN Dream of Home Ownership.” NAR dedicated its horse, which stood outside its Chicago office, to Mooney, who died the same year the REALTORS® association was founded.

“NAR’s sponsorship is in keeping with our support of community, safety, first-responders, and fallen officers,” says Bob Goldberg, NAR’s senior vice president of sales and marketing.

Fifteen of the 90 horses garnering the most votes on Facebook, including NAR’s, were chosen for auction to raise funds for the CPMF. NAR’s horse pulled in a $2,000 winning bid — the third-highest amount of the auction.

NAR’s display of dedication to its community moved many, including former Chicago police officer Linda Vidmar and her daughter, Lindsey.

“This project holds a special place in my heart,” Linda Vidmar writes in a letter to Lo and NAR. “So many CPD families have and will benefit from this amazing project. You have inspired and touched people in so many ways, including my family. Your particular piece is my daughter’s favorite. She actually sketched out what her horse would look like if we were to sponsor one, and it looks similar to yours. She, too, is an artist. So after seeing your horse, we contacted Horses of Honor to locate and visit your horse. It truly is beautiful! Not only did you help CPD families and make our city look amazing, but most importantly, you showed a young artist how art can benefit everyone. It’s a gift that keeps giving.”

Make Your 2015 Marketing Life-centric

Mon, 11/24/2014 - 16:06

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 go up from December to 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.

State Marijuana Laws Don’t Protect Your Property

Sun, 11/09/2014 - 13:12

NAR Senior Policy Representative Megan Booth presents during the “Medical Marijuana and R.E.” session at the REALTORS® Conference & Expo in New Orleans.

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.

In Congress, Expect More of the Same

Sun, 11/09/2014 - 06:00

“I don’t think in his heart of hearts that Obama believes it is possible to get things done with a Republican Congress,” said John Heilemann, left, during a talk about the midterm election alongside Mark Halperin during the REALTORS® Conference & Expo.

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.

Rebuilding Neighborhoods: One Block at a Time

Sat, 11/08/2014 - 17:36

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.

Reinvigorate Communities Through Generational Partnerships

Sat, 11/08/2014 - 12:53

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.”

—By Christina Hoffmann

7 Gadgets You Should Try

Fri, 11/07/2014 - 18:28

Juanita McDowell, right, shows an audience member a Siri shortcut during the “Gadgets and Gizmos” session at the REALTORS® Conference & Expo in New Orleans on Friday.

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.

Animoto

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

Neat Receipts

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

Olloclip

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

Eyefi

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

RemoteCam

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.

AudioNote

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.

Postagram

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

In New Orleans’ Ninth Ward, a Future Peeks Through the Past

Thu, 11/06/2014 - 06:00

An abandoned building sits at an intersection in the Ninth Ward, still a common site in the neighborhood. (Photos by Graham Wood)

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.

Nearly every street I toured in the heart of the Ninth Ward had at least a couple of rebuilt homes — most had several — with signs of active owners, such as this home with a political sign in support of Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu.

The Ninth Ward shows an artistic side with this home’s mosaic patio.

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.

Colorful homes, some of which were built or rehabbed by community organizations, can be found in many parts of the Ninth Ward.

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 paint the side of a home in the Ninth Ward.

A sign outside a Ninth Ward home calls attention to the midterm election held earlier this week.

A woman pushes a stroller down a Ninth Ward street marked with as many destroyed homes as newly rebuilt homes.

A ladder and paint buckets sit outside a home in the Ninth Ward, a sign it will get some TLC soon.

“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:

Getting Into Full Swing in New Orleans

Tue, 11/04/2014 - 06:00

Morguefile.com

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

Mark Kelly
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.

Jackie Joyner-Kersee
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.

Candy Chang
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.

John Besh
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.

Sara Critchfield
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.

What to Pack for NOLA

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.)

Tricia Carlisle-Northcutt
Restoring Smiles
Carlisle-Northcutt makes sure that financial barriers do not keep children from receiving the health care they need.

Jane Locke
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.

Edward Pompeian
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.

Paul Wilson
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.

Why QRM is Such a Big Win for Real Estate

Mon, 11/03/2014 - 09:37

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.

More on QRM.
Past QRM blog coverage.