Buyer Beware!!! – $8,000 Tax Credit?

UPDATE: signed and passed 2/17 at $8,000. See more details here.

Original post below does not indicate the change to “must not have owned a home during the last 3 years” which was added to the final bill before it was passed.

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If you are currently in the process of buying a house, be aware that there is a $15,000  ($8,000) Tax Credit in the new stimulus bill which may, or may not, pass tonight. Then it has to be signed, hopefully by President’s Day they are saying.  Then we have to watch the effective date closely “for homes closed on or after ?” Likely that will be on or after the day the bill is signed, which presumably will be some time during the month of February.

Just a day or so ago an RCG reader asked if she could take the old credit on this return, and she bought ONE DAY too early to get the credit!  Aaaargh…you don’t want that to be you, especially since this credit in this stimulus package is not a loan and is doubled (as of last night) to $15,000 as it stands right now!

That’s a lot of moolah to forfeit by closing one day too early!

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There are a lot of discussions all over the internet, the news and Twitter about the pros and cons of this, but very few warning buyers who are currently in escrow or looking at houses today!  Watch this closely, and sellers should be prepared to move the close date a day or two, if needed.  NO ONE wants to be responsible for a buyer losing out on a $15,000 (an $8,000) credit!

This is like every SELLER getting a $15,000 (an $8,000) price reduction, complements of Uncle Sam and President Obama!  Big NEWS for both buyers AND sellers of homes. Watch the news VERY closely in the coming days.

2009 $8,000 "1st time" buyer credit

IMPORTANT UPDATE!  Bill signed on 2/17/2009.

Original post below:

Back in October, I wrote this post about the repayment feature of the 2008 $7,500 1st time buyer “credit”, including this link to more information as to who qualifies, and the terms of the “credit”.

Yesterday on Twitter I noticed Ryan Hukill’s post referencing Kenneth Harney’s article suggesting that:

“… Congress might be on the verge of transforming it into a true tax credit — one that never has to be paid back…” for purchases made on or after 1/1/2009.

I personally don’t see how changing the repayment terms for people who bought houses last year can be part of a “stimulus” package.   Posting this so that people who are eligible for the credit are aware that there may be a change in the repayment feature. (update: Apparently Obama agreed with me, as there does not appear to be a change in the repayment feature for homes bought from 4/9/08 through 12/31/08 and the 2008 $7,500 Loan/Credit.)

Next Week on Rain City Radio: Tim Ellis

Seattle Bubble ScreenshotFresh off an great conversation with Tracy Record of the West Seattle Blog, I’m really excited to have Tim on our show next week!   I’m sure we’ll talk about all things Seattle bubble as well as Tim’s great new parody project: Naked Loon.

Please set aside Tuesday, July 1st at 4pm to join us!   And if you have some suggested topics you’d like us to cover in the conversation, then please let me know in the comments!

A lesson in the dangers of distressed property purchases…

A friend of mine contacted me the other day about a property investment opportunity that her brother-in-law (BIL) was placing in front of her and her husband. The property in question is located in the city and state where the BIL lives – and it’s far from the Seattle area at roughly halfway across the country. The house reportedly, and confirmed in the report I read, has a major mold issue that has attacked even the underlayment of the floors. (if you want to see some gross mold photos, check out this site) The buyer’s agent and BIL (who agent represents) are attempting to state that the water damage was caused by the former owner having a drug problem and not cleaning up after himself or perhaps because of a water leak in the bathrooms and from a leaking dishwasher. Hmmmmm…..

The house is supposedly being offered off-market at a lowball price of $400k for this tony neighborhood where $550k-800k is the common price points for various sized homes. Even the listing agent is nervous about selling the house with the mold issue but the owner is now deceased and the family can’t afford the home or to fix the home. This tells me that there is likely no insurance money to fix the problem especially if the insurance company deemed it to be failure of the owner to maintain the property. BTW – did most of you know that this is a common disclaimer in most insurance policies? If an insurer can point to an owner’s failure to maintain (ie. ignoring a leak) they can deny coverage. Also, as I’m learning, this particular state has had a rash of insurance companies choosing to deny the option of mold coverage in their policies at all… period because of prior mold problems that required huge insurance payouts.

Now, the price point initially sounds good but my personal concerns surround the mold issue, the fact that it has not been specifically identified in the mold specialist/inspection results, and the amount of work that actually needs to be done to get this house back in to the condition that this neighborhood typically expects. We are getting conflicting reports about the source of the mold and no one has sent my friend photos of the subject property to review. Also, there is the stigma associated with trying to sell a house that has HAD mold – and note I say “HAD” mold because frequently the average consumer can’t get past… well, the past. Agents are required to disclose known material defects, and so are homeowners (at least in WA State), so you’d have to tell a prospective buyer about the issue, even if it was fixed.

The BIL is a contractor and thinks he can replace the floors for about $20k and the only other item he thinks he needs to fix is a broken bathtub. Again, hmmmmmm……. Somehow I don’t think that this will be all that needs to be done.

His (BIL) expectation is that someone else will come in with the money to buy the property and he’ll do the labor and then they’ll split profits. I’m telling my friend/client that there is a lot more that needs to be sorted out and specified in a contract between the parties of the financial investor and the contractor (BIL). Thankfully, she agrees. On top of this issue there are questions of whether or not the house can be purchased with financing (likely not), what type of financing (preferably a renovation loan) is available, can it get insured, will it require oversight (it seems so based on the mold report) and by which entities (city, inspector, insurance, bank? most likely all of the above) and what it will cost to have re-testing done (what if it doesn’t pass?).

After even more phone calls today to the agent I have now learned that the listing agent is actually his secretary who has just gotten her license 2 months ago and that this is her first deal – ever. On top of this news, I also ferret out that the house is in foreclosure so we’re in a short sale position IF the $400k is even accepted. Wait, let’s recount the issues in a quick rundown….

1. mold problems that may or may not have had the water issue fixed.

2. foreclosure with short sale with proposed sale price at 80% of owed amount.

3. estate sale with unknown additional liens, taxes, etc. owed or owing. If the guy was truly a cocaine addict as desribed to us then there could be a lot more outstanding. Also unknown is who is actually selling the house: the widow, the attorney, the lender? Since it’s not yet foreclosed it’s likely the widow or attorney.

4. listing agent that works for the guy trying to be the buyer’s agent (MAJOR conflict of interest and not initially disclosed)

5. 1st time listing agent that has no other sales or negotiating experience working with a guy who has little, if no, experience in short sales.

6. unknown actual costs of repairs

7. no current photos available for review by prospective buyer (yet)

8. unknown lending environment for a distressed and damaged property

9. unknown insurance liability and potential to be an uninsurable property

I know what I think about this deal (a potential disaster) but I’d be curious to hear from others. What are your opinions? Would you go for it, and why? If you wouldn’t touch it, I’d love to hear your comments too.

Bribery to Work with the Builder’s Preferred Lender

When ever I’m working with a home buyer who may be considering new construction, I know I might lose them to the builder’s in house lender.   Often times the builder will offer an enticing credit to the buyer’s closing costs only if they obtain their financing from the builder’s preferred lender.   

How can having a Loan Originator (in this case, they are a retail sales mortgage person, or what ever Jillayne refers to them as  🙂  since they wait to be fed from the builder, often sitting at the construction site) who’s livelihood is supported by the Seller (i.e. the Builder) be in the Buyer’s best interest?    Who is looking out for whom?  How do you know the Loan Originator will not disclose the Buyer’s private information to the Builder if pressed?

Enough of my questions…here are some of my recent dealings with the Builder credit when working with the preferred lender.

The builder offered a $4000 closing costs credit when working with their lender.   After reviewing the builder’s lender (BL) good faith estimate (GFE), it was easy to see how they were doing this.    The rate being quoted for a 30 year fixed was 6.125% at a 1% origination and a 0.125% discount.   The actual current 30 year fixed rate that I would have quoted on that day was 5.875%.   The BL was getting over 1 point (over $2000) on the backend of the transaction.   Since the BL is a bank, the $2000 on the back did not show on the GFE.   My client did not have the Truth in Lending to provide me, so I don’t know if there was additional padding with any prepayment penalties to credit the lender.   If not, I am certain that the builder just increased his sales price by $2000 to fund the difference of the “buyer closing costs

Please review the Resale Certificate

[photopress:cancelled.jpg,thumb,alignright]My client and I reviewed the Resale Certificate and cancelled his purchase today.

When you buy a condo, or condo-townhome, you do not know everything there is to know before you make an offer.

After you are in escrow, after the contract is “signed around”, you get a resale certificate within ten days. I’m not talking about new properties here, but resale properties. It’s amazing how many agents just hand that big packet over to the buyer and then hope and pray for five days that the buyer won’t open it.

Sit down with your agent and go through that resale certificate. Don’t rely on verbal representations made prior to receiving the resale certificate. I was told by the listing agent that the Association had money in reserves. She volunteered that information, as I would never expect an agent to know that. The Resale Certificate comes and it says ZERO in reserves.

How could anyone have a balance of Zero anyway? Did you ever have a Zero Balance in your bank account? It’s either $2.00 or it’s overdrawn…but flat out ZERO?! Is that even possible? Oh and the “Good News” is that the monthly HOA dues were being decreased beginning 1/1/07. No reserves, so let’s reduce the monthy dues…that’s ripe!

Maybe the lawyers can answer this one. I haven’t seen the Reserve Study Summary in many of these packets and have to hunt it down. It really is not possible to know if the monthly dues are adequate, or if the amount in reserves are adequate, without having a copy of the Reserve Study Summary page. Is that not required here in Washington? If not, someone needs to fix that. How do I help make it mandatory that this vital info be included with/in the Resale Certificate? Who do I call? Who do I write?

Well luckily, in this case, I didn’t need to look at the Reserve Study to know that ZERO wasn’t good enough. The agent kept telling me how much BETTER things were NOW than they USED TO BE. That may in fact be true. But better than it used to be is not necessarily, good enough.

Zillow's Free Advertising – A Consumer Perspective

[photopress:warning.jpg,thumb,alignright] Before everyone jumps into the pool, every agent and owner must “LOOK before they LEAP”.

The Zillow Zestimate WILL appear, of course, in the same space as your “Property For Sale” listing. The printed data is also picking up the erroneous square footage info and number of bedrooms and baths from the tax records. So far it would appear that the owner can edit this data, but not the agent for the owner. Still playing with that.

Clearly, no agent should be listing a home where the Zestimate is less than the Asking Price, without first consulting with the owner, as I did last night BEFORE 9 p.m., having seen the proto-type last week. I am not particularly alarmed by this variance, but clearly the Zestimate being higher, rather than lower, would be a PLUS! 🙂 Attempting to turn a blind eye to the Zestimate, by not posting your home for sale there is no answer. Not here in the Seattle area where 82% of the buying public is likely to have seen the Zestimate, whether you invite them to do so or not. Seattle PI: “The company’s internal numbers (Zillow’s) indicate that 3.2 million people visited the site in November and that 82 percent of all homes in King County (WA) have been viewed on Zillow in the last 10 months.”

It is quite possible that the whole valuation process will pull in the direction of Zestimates, particularly in areas like ours with so many tech savvy buyers. In fact, I am already seeing a move in that direction for many properties on market and ones sold recently.

Whether or not you choose to post your home for sale on Zillow.com, these are issues facing everyone involved in real estate transactions. Buyers are making offers with the Zestimate price. Sellers and Agent’s for sellers will need to learn how to calculate the variance with some level of credible accuracy.

One of the reason’s David G. and Jeff, of Zillow, my parter Kim and I, met last week to review the new product, was to view first hand some of these potential pitfalls. While I did notice the Zestimate vs. Sale Price issue, the square footage discrepancy did not pop out at me during the presentation.

“Supporting New Business Models” and being an “Agent for Change” requires that someone jump in first to test the waters and assist with these little blips from the getgo, and not without the owner’s permission to do so.

To Galen, who notes that it is difficult to simply load up listings en masse, perhaps this is fair warning that adding a home for sale should NOT be done en masse. Every agent and every owner must consider the potential consequences of showing the Zestimate price side by side against their Asking Price, and be prepared to justify the basis for the differences between the two with regard to square footage, number of bedrooms and bathrooms, finished vs. unfinished space, etc. and price.

This “FREE ADVERTISING” and the info contained “in the AD” is not entirely editable by the owner and the owner’s agent…so far anyway. I’m still working on it. Not a small matter, and one that must be addressed rather quickly if Zillow’s erroneous data is going to show side by side the owner’s “corrected” data.

So what did I forget to ask David G. last week? Did Pearl Harbor Day come up in any conversations concerning Zillow’s choice of unveiling the new upgrade? Did unveiling it at 9 p.m. on the 6th, camouflage any refererence to December 7th, when most would be waking up to see “God-Zillow” in their sheets with the morning paper?

Does It Really Matter….?

Ardell’s recent post on FSBOs was courageous as you won’t see many agents talk about how one might sell a property without listing it. While it may be a bit counter intuitive to some agents, one reading the post should come away feeling that Ardell (and others like her) are not in the business of providing self-serving advice.

In her post, Ardell said, “[T]here are several companies that offer this service, and while it is true that some agents may boycott you and not show your house, if you have one of those houses that will “sell itself

Buying wisely in any market

[photopress:seg.gif,thumb,alignright]I find that most people who track countywide stats, looking for bubbles and market trends, are not people who are buying and selling property. Anyone who is actually buying or selling property knows, that countywide stats tell you both everything and nothing. It is in the small subsections of any given market that you will find the information you need to make wiser choices.

For instance, can you really compare ramblers built in the 60s to newer housing choices? Can you compare “too small for anyone” condos of 400 square feet, to the saleability of 2 bedroom 2 bath condos? Lumping everything together tells you nothing. Houses on busy roads, for example, will not sell as well, and will sell worse at times like this when buyers are being more cautious. I think of houses on busy roads when I hear comments like, “The market is getting weak! I see more and more for sale signs every day while driving to work!” Well let’s assume that most people do not drive on quiet 25 mi. per hour residential streets when driving to work. So what they are seeing is the weakness of properties situated on busy roads, not the market in general.

A good example is tracking newer townhomes, in the $300,000 to $500,000 range, within 3 miles of Microsoft. This is a market segment that is driven by its own forces and outperforms the market in general. In the last six months there were only 21 townhomes sold, built since 1990 and within 3 miles of Microsoft, between $300,000 and $500,000. Of these 21, 16 sold AT or better than full price in less than 30 days. Several in less than 10 days and most in less than 20 days. At the moment there are only 3 available, all on market less than 15 days and two at less than 5 days on market and there are 3 in escrow.

So of the total six month inventory, you can expect four to sell per month and there are only 3 on market, two of which have only been on for two days and three days, respectively. Those are some pretty strong market stats. What are the odds that these will start dwindling on market for excessive periods of time or go down in price? Slim to none. Making offers on this product, based on what you are reading about the King County market in general, would make no sense whatsoever.

So Chicken Little, maybe the sky IS falling for older ramblers built on busy roads with only one bathroom. But conversely the sky is still the limit in newer townhomes for sale within close proximity to Microsoft. There’s a whole lot of varied stats in between. Make sure you are making your choices based on the product and market segment that YOU are considering buying. Buying the biggest “bargain” on market, could lead you into buying in that segment of the market that will not appreciate, and will be difficult to sell later for at or more than what you paid.

Woohoo!! Merv's got it DOWN!!

[photopress:sc.jpg,thumb,alignright]At first glance it might appear that Greg Swan and I are like-minded when it comes to commission issues. but not so. Greg and I do agree that the buyer should not be led around thinking they are getting a free ride compliments of the seller, and we are both part of a growing minority in that regard. We do in many ways lead the cause of buyers controlling their side of the fence, though sometimes Greg goes a little over the net on that one.

But Merv has got it DOWN!!! Agents like Merv and I are running the test cases that will prove to be the real answer to all of this. No One Size Fits All commissions. A range of prices for various scenarios. A range of prices based on a collaborative effort of determining the client’s needs…a collaboration between the agent and the consumer.

Merv, I am totally with you on this one, and I too have case studies, though by and large, and specifically as to commission negotiations, I was not planning to unveil mine until Jaunary 2007. You GO BOY! Woohoo! The agent and the client TOGETHER determine the services and advices that the client both wants and needs. The agent cannot participate in the consumer cutting themselves short of what they need, to be successful in the client’s goals. Nor should the agent build everything around a total package of high fee services, that always leads to a win for the agent, by including more than the client needs.

For instance, just closed one where the buyer represented himself, after first trying a “full service”/full fee agent. The seller and I gave the buyer the FULL 3% buyer agent fee. Buyer just moved into his new home and is thrilled! Seller is happy and has moved on, after unsuccessfully trying a full stripped down mls only version, before hiring me. Total fees paid in that transaction – 2%. In another instance, on a different property, a buyer called and said she was going to represent herself. I asked her a few questions and she knew absolutely nothing about what I was talking about and was missing several key details needed to represent herself. Seller and I said NO, you can’t represent yourself, you just don’t have the background of knowledge needed, in this particular case, on this particular property. Total fees paid in that transaction (different fully represented first time buyer) – 6% split 3% to me and 3% to buyer’s agent. Portion of my fee used to make repairs to property. I made more on the one where the seller paid 2%, than I did on the one where the seller paid 6%. So much for percentages…they are truly irrelevant.

The agent needs to be involved in determining whether or not the buyer or seller’s wants and choices, fits the consumer’s objectives AND abilities. The consumer in turn has to be realistic about what they can do themselves, and what they can’t do themselves. It’s a collaboration with neither party “dictating” to the other.

THIS is the model of the future. Just as you can hire an attorney to fully represent you, or to partially represent you to save some money, you should also be able to hire a real estate agent to fully represent you or to partially represent you. But no attorney is going to get into the middle of partial representation unless he makes the judgment call that the client is fully capable of handling a portion of the duties. No agent should hand over responsibility to someone without making the judgment call that they know what they are doing, with regard to the services selected and not selected.

A buyer who assumes responsibility for selection of property, via the internet or other means, should not pay the same fee as one who needs agent advices. A buyer who just can’t assume full responsibility for all lender issues, should not pay the same fee as one who needs no assistance with the lending issues whatsoever. A seller who has everything ready when you walk in the door, should not pay the same as someone who needs the agent to help with getting the property ready for market. A seller who can’t read the contract, should not be able to purchase a service that says “all offers to be submitted to the seller direct”, nor should an attorney/owner pay a real estate agent to explain a contract.

No one size fits all commission! No trading in one “one size fits all” for another “one size fits all”! That’s where Greg and I part ways. I love that Merv…and Pam. Get Merv’s blog on your MUST READ list today!