GIVING THE FINGERPRINT: NEW POLICY RAISES PRIVACY CONCERNS – CBS2CHICAGO.COM

Check out this article, then come on back:

Giving The Fingerprint: New Policy Raises Privacy Concerns – cbs2chicago.com

Well, this does not really affect the world of real estate here in Lancaster, but I can’t imagine I am the only one who sees this as problematic.  Check out the link to the article.  Home sellers in Chicago will now be required to provide a thumbprint when selling, in order to prove they are the seller.

While I am all for preventing fraud, is this really necessary?  I am involved in hundreds of transactions and the process is pretty specific, it seems to me that the type of fraud they are having issues with could be addressed without the need to compile a database of fingerprints.  I am never in favor of intrusive government oversight.  It seems to me that a court case for infringing on people civil liberties will be popping up in short order.  Your thoughts?

HELP FOR OUR SERVICE MEN AND WOMEN AFFECTED BY POOR HOUSING MARKETS

The US Department of Defense, in conjunction with the Army Corps of Engineers, recently announced the Homeowner Assistance Program (HAP).  The program is designed to “assist eligible homeowners who face financial loss when selling their primary residence homes in areas where real estate values have declined because of a base closure or realignment announcement.”  The program can benefit civilian personnel in some cases as well.  Here are some of the basics taken directly from the website established as a resource for affected individuals:

PRIVATE SALE

Eligible applicants may be compensated for the difference between 95% of the appraised fair market value of the property prior to the announcement date, and the appraised value of the property at the time of sale, or the sales price, whichever is greater. Closing costs are reimbursed for private sales.

GOVERNMENT PURCHASE

An eligible applicant may elect to sell the property to the government and receive, as the purchase price, an amount not to exceed 75% of the appraised fair market value prior to the date of the announcement, or the current total amount of outstanding mortgages, whichever is greater.

FORECLOSURE ASSISTANCE

If foreclosure proceedings have commenced, an applicant may elect to receive foreclosure benefits or private sale benefits. Foreclosure benefits may be paid directly to the applicant to reimburse for foreclosure costs paid by the applicant, or paid to third parties on the applicant’s behalf. NOTE: Eligible HAP applicants who work at overseas installations announced for closure or realignment may receive only private sale benefits. Government purchase benefits are not available at overseas installations.

HOW HAP ASSISTS YOU

HAP provides assistance in four ways. For eligible applicants, the Government may:

  1. Reimburse you for part of your loss from selling your home.
  2. Assist you, if you don’t have funds from the sale of your home to pay-off your mortgage.
  3. Purchase your home by paying off the mortgage.
  4. Help, if you default on your mortgage.

For more information on this program visit http://hap.usace.army.mil/homepage.html

As always, you can call me Direct at 717-371-0557 or at the Office 717-490-8999, email me atJason@JasonsHomes.com or send me a text message using the tool to the right of this post!

Your Friend in Real Estate,
Jason

Search for Lancaster County Homes for sale by clicking here!

IF IT SOUNDS TO GOOD TO BE TRUE……

I was perusing some online info the other day and came across this article on the new York Daily News Site:

RADIO ‘FORECLOSURE SPECIALIST’ LAVETTE BILLS HELD IN $800G MORTGAGE CON

BY Melissa Grace and Edgar Sandoval
DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITERS  Thursday, March 19th 2009, 10:16 PM

A Bronx real estate broker who hosted a radio show on WBLS and WLIB inviting distressed homeowners to contact her for help was charged Thursday with ripping them off instead.  Lavette Bills, head of MTC Real Estate, was charged along with Kirk Lacey, a Jamaican who lives in Florida, in a brazen $800,000 mortgage fraud scheme that allegedly preyed on people fearful of foreclosure.  In one case, Bills, 36, persuaded a Bronx homeowner who had called the show for help to put Bills’ name on the deed to her house on Tinton Ave. by promising to get the homeowner a loan to pay off the $38,000 mortgage. Bills sold the home to a straw buyer, according to the U.S. attorney’s office and the FBI. Bills allegedly made $150,000 on the crooked deal, including taking a $50,000 broker’s fee for the bogus sale. The homeowner, who just wanted to pay off the small mortgage, is now in foreclosure. Thanks to Bills, the new mortgage on the house totals $337,500, prosecutors said.  Antoine Brown, 34, the homeowner’s grandson, said he was unaware of the pair’s arrest, but was glad other people would not fall victim to their scheme. He first learned about the pair in a radio commercial. Bills’ business cards describe her as a “foreclosure specialist,” and she hosted a program on WBLS (107.5 FM) and WLIB (1190 AM) in 2007 on which she discussed mortgages and foreclosures, prosecutors said. Her Web site warns customers who go elsewhere “you have a right to feel cheated.” Bills and Lacey, 36, were each charged with conspiracy to commit bank fraud and face 30 years in prison and $1 million in fines. At an arraignment in federal court, Bills was freed on $250,000 bond. Lacey was freed on $150,000 bond and was ordered to surrender his passport and handgun.

Interesting article, eh?  Just proves the point that if it sounds to good to be true it is.  There is an entire industry of investors and scammers out there who focus on “distressed” homeowners for the sole purpose of separating a homeowner from their equity.  I had a case once where one of these “investors” offered the seller a great deal, they would catch up her mortgage payments and when they found a buyer pay her $1,000 and she got to walk away clean (oh, and she got to live in the house till it sold).  She thought it was awesome, until I did a CMA and marketing plan and at the end of my efforts to sell she walked away with about $12,000.  So, this so called investor who was going to save her was actually just taking away $11,000 of her money.  See all those handwritten signs and ads that say something like “we buy houses”?  Why do you think they are buying houses?  It is to make a profit, not for the goodness of their souls,

Don’t get me wrong, these people are not all evil and there is nothing wrong with making a profit.  I just believe payments for services rendered do not have to include taking advantage of poorly educated homeowners in distress.  Here’s what to do if you are behind on your mortgage and thinking of selling:  Call up a reputable real estate agent.  As a matter of fact, call 3 or 4 of them.  Get competing opinions.  Compare their service, compare their ideas, compare their estimates of the market value of your house.  If you want to, call up those investors to.  Some of them actually do a nice job, with a positive resolution for the homeowner.  Above all else, COMPARE and GET SECOND OPINIONS!  Remember, the activities of real estate agents are regulated by law, by ethics rules, by broker policies, etc.  Who is regulating the investors preying on the distressed homeowner?

As always, you can call me Direct at 717-371-0557 or at the Office 717-490-8999, email me atJason@JasonsHomes.com or send me a text message using the tool to the right of this post!

Your Friend in Real Estate,
Jason

Search for Lancaster County Homes for sale by clicking here!

FANNIE MAE SAYS NO TO LENDERS WHO WANT TO CUT YOUR COMMISSION IN SHORT SALE SITUATIONS!

Fannie Mae released a new rule in their lender servicing guide published February 24, 2009. Part VII, Section 504.02 states:

“Effective March 1, 2009, closing of preforeclosure sales may not be conditioned upon a reduction of the total commission to be paid to real estate agents to a level below what was negotiated by the listing agent with the borrower, unless the fee exceeds 6 percent of the sales price of the property in aggregate. Servicers are reminded that they must continue to obtain any approvals that may be required by interested third parties in connection with preforeclosure sales.”

While I must point out that in accordance with state law all commissions are negotiable between sellers and brokers individually and in no way set by a fixed standard, it is welcome news that Fannie Mae is requiring servicers to honor our contracts with our clients. I have always found it troubling that lenders feel it is necessary to cut our commissions in a short sale situation. After all, the agents are usually doing a herculean amount of work just to push these things through. Loan servicers should be thanking us, not trying to punish us!

This rule should help put an end to this unreasonable and unnecessary practice. On the other hand, there are certainly a large number of short sales that are not Fannie Mae loans. In those cases, I was thinking about this and struggling with a way to express my thoughts in a way you could use to make lenders understand why this is, in my opinion, an unacceptable practice. I came across a blog posting by Walter Sanford (www.WalterSanford.com/blog) that articulates a suitable response fairly well, so with attributing the following text italicized in quotations to Mr. Sanford, here you go:

This is the letter that I would send:

Date

Name
Company
Address
City, ST  ZIP

Name:

Today, I received your request to lower the commission I require my sellers to pay for my help in determining whether a short sale will solve or mitigate damage toward achieving their goals.  I also have presented a marketing plan and determined value.  I have made suggestions to enhance value in addition to marketing and showing the property to buyers who I develop from my marketing.  My sellers are happy with this arrangement.  I will not adjust my commission.

The contract that I have with the sellers is in writing.  It has been dated and signed.  Substantial monies have been expended by my company to execute my promises.

As you must know, you have no right to interfere in my listing contract, because you are not a party to it.  You are the lender, and we have offered you a reduced amount on your payoff in return for a full reconveyance.  This has been necessitated due to the market and poor lending practices.

Your interference in my contract in tortuous interference in the relationship that I have with my seller, and I request you cease and desist in any further attempts to modify the existing contract between my seller and me.

After taking into consideration the market indicators that I have sent to you and if you find that you need more money, please request more money.  Please do not try to modify a contract with which you have interest.

Sincerely,

Name
Company Name

***As always, this is my opinion.  If you want a green light on implementation, go see your attorney.”

So there you go, Walter says it better than I could have. He is correct; the lender has no business sticking their nose into your contract. It is, in my opinion, a suitable response to a ridiculous request. It may work, it may not, but next time I am involved in a short sale I am going to take Mr. Sanford’s advice!

PUTTING YESTERDAY’S HEADLINES INTO PERSPECTIVE

Amidst all the excitement over the end of 2008, the local paper published some articles that you may not have seen.  Well, alright, you probably saw them, 2 of them were pretty big headlines, at the top of the page.  The morning paper had the headline “Jobless rate here hits 5%, highest since September ’92”.  The evening paper ran the headline “Home sales here hit 25 year low”.  Buried in the business section of the morning paper was an article titled “Consumer confidence at an all time low”, right beside another titled “It’s time for vacation – unpaid that is”.

Tough stuff.  Sounds awful.  So, what does it mean for us, in real estate.  Let’s take these things one at a time, shall we?

We’ll start with the home sales.  It’s true, for the month of November, the number of closed sales posted (281) was down 35% from last year (I saw that one coming from the pending sales forecast, watch for more of that from me in the future, December won’t be any prettier) and that level is probably the lowest single month since 1983.  The total number of transactions is overall lower than it has been in at least 8 years.  So, we have less people buying homes here, but we also have less home coming on the market, as new listings were also down about 17%.  Sometimes we have to remember the right perspective.  If we had a ton of new listings coming on the market at the same time activity is going down, we would be in really bad shape, but if the number of new listings keeps falling in conjunction with the number of sales, the lines track each other nicely and add up to a fairly healthy inventory.  I did an graph last month to show the trend I am mentioning here, it is interesting how the new listing volume (green) tracks so closely to the sales volume (red).

Prices bear discussing as well and they are fairly stable, partly because we never had the huge run up in prices other areas have seen. Here in Lancaster, the MLS does not yet reflect all the year end closings and probably won’t for another couple of weeks, so expect this to change, but the average residential sales price appears to be $187,449, down about 3 percent from last years average sales price of $194,507.  When you compare us against market like California, where prices dropped 25% to 30%, we look pretty darn good.  The year will end here in Lancaster with sales volume down about 24%.

To understand this phenomenon, why we have less activity while prices remain stable, interest rates are super low (5%), yet buyers and sellers aren’t jumping in, we need to look at the rest of those articles I mentioned.

Jobs.  Will your job be there next week?  That’s what many of you are wondering.  Lancaster County has lost some jobs recently, some larger employers have closed down or downsized and while we aren’t anywhere near the tough times people in the midwest are seeing, if you lose your job it hurts. Our unemployment rate is at 5% because of those changes, but it’s still the third lowest in the state.  There is a growing trend in the business world of furloughing employees, just telling them to take a few unpaid weeks off until business picks up.  So, while you still have your job, you just lost those weeks of pay. We also have a number of workers whose hours get cut back on a regular basis, from 40 to 30, or overtime just disappeared, many people in Central PA are having to do more with less.

Is it different here than anywhere else?  Actually yes, it is, it’s better.  Despite all of the bad news, it is better here than most of the country, numerous financial publications have consistently ranked Lancaster County as one of the best economies and housing markets in the nation.  Cold comfort if you are one of the ones hurting but we should be happy with what we have.

So, if we are better off, if our unemployment rate is among the lowest in the state, if our economy is relatively stable, why the lack of action.  Well, in a word, it’s fear.  Consumer confidence is at an all time low.  People have been bombarded with negativity, so it’s no wonder.  How many giant headlines about lost jobs and tough times can you read before it becomes a self perpetuating cycle of fear?  It’s not just the headlines, it is the reality, the staggering arrogance and greed of finance leaders and CEO’s who bet your savings on their own profits, who mismanaged your money and then when their actions pushed your nest egg down by thousands of dollars, went to the government and said that without a hand out they would go under.  So, they get the handout, the market tanks anyway and they have the audacity to say the “decline to disclose what they are doing with the bailout money”!  It’s no wonder people are angry, frustrated and scared!

Fear is keeping people from moving forward.  The 2008 National Association of Realtors Survey of Buyers and Sellers listed some interesting statistics.  I thought the most interesting of all was that out of the 10,000+ responses they received, 62% of the buyers bought because it was “the right time” to buy.  Not because of interest rates, not because of the right home being available, but because it was the “right time”.

If you needed any more proof that humans make buying decisions, especially big ones like buying home, based more on emotion than logic, I don’t know where to find it.  Fear is why no one is moving in Lancaster County.  It keeps sellers from listing their homes, buyers from buying, it makes people want to hide in their living rooms until “things get better”.  Don’t believe me?  Next time you meet someone who talks about buying or selling in the future, ask them why they aren’t doing it now.  The answer will most likely be because they are waiting until things “get better”.

I for one am looking forward to 2009, a year where fear does not rule people any longer.  Things are changing, changing for the better.  I’ll leave you with two thoughts, one from Nobel peace prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi who said “Fear is not the natural state of civilized people”.  We cannot exist in a state of fear forever.  I am not downplaying the realities here, but if it is fear, fear of making a mistake, fear of doing the wrong thing, fear of change that prevents you doing what you want in life, then ask yourself how long fear is going to rule your life, how long will fear hold you back, delaying the inevitable?

The last thought is a piece from Shel Silverstein:

“The hens they all cackle, the roosters all beg,
But I will not hatch, I will not hatch.
For I hear all the talk of pollution and war
As the people all shout and the airplane roar,
So I’m staying in here where it’s safe and it’s warm,
And I WILL NOT HATCH!”

No matter how much the chick wants to wait, hatching is inevitable.  As always, if you are ready to hatch, you can call me Direct at 717-371-0557 or at the Office 717-490-8999, email me at Jason@JasonsHomes.com or send me a text message using the tool to the right of this post!  Happy 2009!

Your Friend in Real Estate,
Jason

Search for Lancaster County Homes for sale by clicking here!

FINALLY, AN EASY TO USE OPEN HOUSE INTERFACE FOR CONSUMERS IN LANCASTER COUNTY!

Here at Weichert, we have been at the forefront of open house marketing for a long time.  Our websites [ www.JasonsHomes.com , www.WeichertEH.com & www.Weichert.com ] have always featured all of our open houses information online, with photos, customizable tours, printable brochures, mortgage info, you name it.

Unfortunately, while consumers benefited from this, if they wanted to see open house listings from other brokers, they had to wait until Sunday to look at the paper.  Oh, sure, we have listings from all the brokers on our sites, you can search that info anytime, but due to the nature of the technology we simply couldn’t host all the open houses.

Well, that is all changing now.  On January 1st there will be a new website for consumers to search open houses in real time, “24/7”!   Consumers can go online and search for upcoming open houses by any member of the Lancaster Association of Realtors (LCAR).  Any home that is listed in the MLS and being held open on any day of the week will be here.  Consumers can search by price, by area, by date, they can get maps and directions, see multiple photos, it’s all there!

The new site is www.LancasterOpenHouses.com and LCAR is beginning a multimedia campaign in the next week or so featuring signs, billboards, print and online ads.  So, when you are planning your open house visits for this week, stop by the website and check this easy to use resource for buyers and sellers in Lancaster County!  If you don’t want to shop open houses and want to visit homes for sale on your schedule, you can always call me, I’ll be happy to help!

As always, you can call me Direct at 717-371-0557 or at the Office 717-490-8999, email me at Jason@JasonsHomes.com or send me a text message using the tool to the right of this post!

Your Friend in Real Estate,
Jason

Search for Lancaster County Homes for sale by clicking here!