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The housing market

“The housing market plunged deeper into despair last month, with sales of new homes plummeting to their lowest level in more than 12 years. The slump worsened even more than most analysts expected, heightening fears that the country might be thrust into a recession. New-home sales tumbled 9 percent in November from October to a seasonally adjusted annual sales pace of 647,000, the Commerce Department reported Friday. That was the worst sales pace since April 1995.”

This was from our paper, the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle from the end of December, stating the national trend. Not the best of news at our year end.

The Rochester market seems to have fared a little better than the nation. In November, while closings were down 10.5% from October, the median sale price was up .4% from October to November and stayed unchanged from 2006 comparisons ($115,000). This price nationwide is slighly higher at $210,200 but this is down 3.3% from last year. Although monthly closings were down and number of homes listed for sale was down 31.6%, some of the metropolitan areas of the nation are much worse. (stats from the Greater Rochester Association of Realtors, Inc.)

There seems to be some glimmer of hope, so all we can do it hope for the best.

Interestingly enough, in our paper on January 1, 2008 there is some new information. They state that the NAR (National Association of Realtors) reported that sales of existing home rose 0.4% in November from October. The pace of sales was still the 2nd slowest since 1999.

A dip in the mortgage rates in November for a 30-year mortgage may help home sales slightly. This small boost may be a sign of market stabilization, but keep in mind that earlier signs of a stable market have all been dashed.

The housing market had 5 years of record breaking activity, so this slump is particularly hard. The credit problems and sub-prime mess has added fuel to the fire. More would-be buyers are having trouble securing financing.

Representing a builder and having clients who are interested in existing homes, I have been seeing both sides of the coin. While existing home sales have sagged, we have been busy with new builds, especially the patio/empty-nester homes that we have been focusing on. We have seen a steady market and have not experienced the lag that existing homes have seen.

2008 brings new hope, new resolutions and hopefully a new housing market!

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Rochester Top 100

We just had the Rochester Top 100 awards here. A very prestigious award, it recognizes the companies who have had the most growth over a three year period. Over 2200 people attended the event and I am happy to say that DiRisio Builders came in at number 35 on the list! And with only 2 employees, that is an amazing feat! So congratulations to Lou and Bill! Keep up the good work!

DiRisio Builders was the only home builder on the list.

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Universal Design: how it can work for all of us.

It has taken many years, but housing designers have found a way to create barrier-free homes, and make then attractive. It’s called “Universal Design.” Homes that have universal design features look like other homes, but they can sometimes be better than other homes because they are much easier to use and to live in. Universal design is getting popular. They look appealing. People with disabilities don’t feel like they are settling for a house that was retro-fitted with things that are necessary for them. The homes were designed specifically to meet their needs, but still keeping in mind the aesthetics that people want. People who don’t have disabilities think that universal homes look just as a “regular” home does.

But Universal Design is not just for the disabled! The Baby Boomers are planning for their future: retirement, smaller homes, etc. Universal Design is for them too! While it may not be a concern now, that house that a 50-something couple just bought will be their retirement home, their home to grow older in, their home to be in for the rest of their lives. They are active and mobile now, but who knows fifteen years from now? A one-story, easy-to-use home with amenities like a first floor laundry and wider hallways are nice now, but could be a necessity down the road.

Features for Today

What makes a home “universal“? It’s simple. Here are some of the more common universal design features:

* No-step entry. No one needs to use stairs to get into a universal home or into the home’s main rooms.
* One-story living (ranch homes or two-story with first floor master suite). Places to eat, use the bathroom and sleep are all located on one level, which is barrier-free.
* Wide doorways. Doorways that are 32-36 inches wide let wheelchairs pass through. They also make it easy to move big things in and out of the house.
* Wide hallways. Hallways should be 36-42 inches wide. That way, everyone and everything moves more easily from room to room.
* Extra floor space, open spaces. Everyone feel less cramped. And people in wheelchairs have more space to turn. Repositioning load-bearing walls to create open areas.

Features for Comfort

Some universal design features just make good sense. Once you bring them into your home, you’ll wonder how you ever lived without them. For example:

* Floors and bathtubs with non-slip surfaces help everyone stay on their feet. They’re not just for people who are frail. The same goes for handrails on steps and grab bars in bathrooms.
* Thresholds that are flush with the floor make it easy for a wheelchair to get through a doorway. They also keep others from tripping.
* Good lighting helps people with poor vision. And it helps everyone else see better, too.
* Lever door handles and rocker light switches are great for people with poor hand strength. But others like them too. Try using these devices when your arms are full of packages. You’ll never go back to knobs or standard switches.

Features for Later

Universal design gives you great home feature you can enjoy now. It also helps you plan for the future. Take closets for example: when you build a closet, add some adjustable brackets. Later on, you can use those brackets to move clothing rods and shelves to a better height. This tiny investment helps a closet grow along with a child and it also means you can use the closet even if you start using a wheelchair. This kind of planning can help you make sure every part of your home will adapt to your changing needs.

(Excerpts taken from: http://www.aarp.org/families/home_design/universaldesign/a2004-03-23-whatis_univdesign.html)

Being married to a home builder, we are always looking at the “next” home. Our next home, ideally, will be built using many UD features. This is a must for us as I have MS. But that is not the only reason. We want to utilize UD to make living that much easier: A sprawling ranch. Wider doorways and stairs. No barrier shower. An area for a small elevator if it is to be a 2-story home. Wider areas between the sink and island in the kitchen. All of these things, plus many more make the home more “livable”, and not just for someone with a disability.

Fixing Hard-to-Use Homes

You may have your own ideas about universal design features that could help you. Take a good look around your home. Make a list of the things that bug you. Tired of bending to plug in the iron? Sick of stretching to reach your favorite platter? Can’t stand carrying laundry to the basement? Talk to some contractors to see if there are some UD options to help you.

For someone like me, I can definitely see the need for Universal Design. I have MS. I am still mobile, I still get around without the use of a wheelchair or even a cane. But I can see down the road how some of the features of UD may be beneficial for me. Wider doorways and staircases are necessary for a wheelchair, but they are also nice to have when carrying a laundry basket. So some of the features that are necessities for some are also a luxury for others.

From the MS Society Website:

“Universal Design enables everybody-not just people with disabilities-to navigate, manipulate, and appreciate our world. Non-slip flooring: It’s safer for all sorts of feet. Curb cuts make things easier whether you’re pushing a stroller or a wheelchair. Think of a grab bar in the shower. It’s seen by many as a “disabled” thing, but who wouldn’t want one when their eyes are full of shampoo?

Universal Design makes products, communications, and the built environment not only aesthetically pleasing but also more usable by more people-at little or no extra cost. There’s just one little problem: Universal Design is not exactly universal. Not yet. If it were, many special accommodations for people with disabilities would disappear. They wouldn’t be needed.

Thankfully, product and space designers, heeding the needs of people with disabilities as well as a population with an increasing number of older people, are slowly beginning to solve problems using the principles of Universal Design. New technologies augment their efforts. Examples slowly entering the marketplace include adjustable kitchen sinks and vehicles with more power assistance.” http://www.nationalmssociety.org/site/PageServer?pagename=HOM_LIB_imsoct04_universaldesign

Other Resources

Meet a Universal Design Architect
Because of a genetic disorder, Architect Karen L. Braitmayer uses a wheelchair. Her disability has shaped her career.

BabyBoomers and Universal Design
This article, published by Realty Times, suggests that demand from Baby Boomers is making Universal Design more popular.

Books

Find this book online at www.barnesandnoble.com:

The Accessible Home: Updating Your Home for Changing PhysicalNeeds, Bryan Trandem (Editor), Creative PublishingInternational, Inc., January 2003.

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Agent attitude, or lack thereof?

OK. I post this out of curiousity. I am interested to hear what others have to say on this topic.

This past weekend I was doing an open house on a new build (I represent the builder). A couple came in loved the house, and want to meet again to discuss building. I asked if they had an agent they were working with. They looked at each other and said, “Well, we have someone we have been working with, but he really hasn’t done much with us. He showed us a few pre-existing homes, but we couldn’t find anything we liked, so he gave us a list of ranches to go look at on our own. We have been driving around on our own for a few weeks. We decided to stop here and we love it! He is a friend, but to be honest, he has not done anything for us except give us a sheet of paper with a few addresses on it.”

I told them that they were still working with him, regardless if he was with them that day or not. One thing with being a builder’s rep, I am always very careful to immediately ask if potential buyers are working with anyone.  We get numerous people through open houses who are just driving through or live in the neighborhood, and I always clear the air with that question first. (When agents come through, I always have them register).

But let me give another example:

There is another realtor who came through one of our open houses a few months ago, to preview it for potential clients. He then proceeded to bring some clients to us who ended up building. We don’t require an agent to be present at all of the meetings pertaining to the building process, but they are welcome to attend. Most do not, knowing that we will be handling the details on our end, and we are fine with this. We keep them posted of pertinent dates, etc.  This agent was very interested and asked that if he couldn’t be there, could we fax him notes from the meetings. Just so he could stay informed on the progress and be there if his clients had any questions or concerns. They built a lovely home and their agent was fantastic to work with. Last week I got a call from this same agent and he had another couple he is bringing our way. They came through open house (with the agent) and they are also very interested in building.

The difference I am seeing: the complacent agent who just hands off a handful of pages printed off the MLS to his clients and they are on their own versus the hands-on agent who is there every step of the way. This is not the first time I have seen this. Is it because we are new builds and agents don’t feel the need to be there? Assuming that I can and will help their clients? Or is this a trend on existing homes as well?

I look forward to some insights on this.

HG

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Raining cats and dogs (but mostly dogs)

This weekend the local animal shelter here in Rochester, NY had its annual Barktober Fest. Yes, you guessed it. It is a dog extravaganza. I don’t have a dog, but promised my son I would take him there. They had bouncy houses, doggie dress-up,you name it. I get my son all organized, we drive down the road toward the shelter as I watch the sky getting blacker and blacker. Now, the shelter, Lollypop Farm is about 3 miles from where i live. As I am approaching the turn-off into the parking lot (which is filled with about 200 cars), the skies open. And I mean waaaay open. It is the worst rain I have ever seen. And then the lightning. The thunder. I told my son, “We aren’t stopping. This is unbelievable.” So I drive past as I watch about 400 people running, with dogs of every size and shape, and too many kids to count toward their cars. I turned the corner to go about and head toward home. I realize there are cars parked for about a mile down that way too! It was utter chaos!The rain subsided about an hour later and we went back. Most of the dogs were gone, so I guess you could say the day went to the dogs!

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Real Estate and Technology

I’ll admit it. I am a computer geek. From my days as a graphic designer, I always had to have the latest and greatest, the fastest and the slickest machine. And yes, I am a Mac lover. As designers, we all used Macs. I cannot switch over to the Dark Side and use a PC. I do when I have to, kicking and screaming all the way, but now that I am not doing much design anymore, I am definitely in the minority.

I attended a couple of great classes over the last few days. They were taught by the same woman, Amy Chorew. She was fantastic. We talked alot about the role that technology plays in real estate, and how under utilized it is by agents. The ironic part is our audience, our clients, they are using it at an ever-increasing rate.

These were some interesting stats that Amy shared with us from the 2006 National Association of REALTORS© Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers:

51% of first time buyers are between the ages of 25 & 34 years old
85% of buyers used a real estate professional
84% of first time buyers used the Internet to search for homes (compared to 79% of repeat buyers)
81% rated their real estate agent as very useful in the process
Median age of sellers: 46 years
Typical home is on the market for 6 weeks

These are some interesting numbers. It is good to hear that alot of buyers are using agents and realizing the importance of a good agent! But the Internet is a powerful tool and as agents, we need to grasp its potential.

With the age range of first time buyers between 25 and 34, this generation is what is driving the housing market. Generation X (and the fringe of Generation Y) is computer savvy, busy with jobs and families. They want to sit down at night after the kids are asleep and surf around and see what grabs them. They know how to find sites with homes and they know how to cull the information down to suit their needs. Don’t get me wrong, agents are still needed. We are necessary to point out some of the features, desirable and not-so-desirable of homes they may see on the Internet. I had a client and he and his fiancée were looking to buy. They were constantly sending me links to homes they found. One home they were particularly hot on and wanted to see it that day. I looked at the link and the first thing I noticed was it was septic. I immediately called my client and told him. He said, “Oh. I didn’t know what that meant on the website. We definitely don’t want to look at that one.”

We as agents definitely need to embrace the technology, but we also need to impress on our clients what we bring to the party as people, too.

HG

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Agency Agreement

Do you know what “Agency Agreement” is?

As a buyer or a seller of a home and you are working with a real estate agent, you should have discussed agency agreement. What is that, you ask? It is a fancy term for an agreement that tells you who your agent works for, and what they will do for you. Your potential agent is required to discuss agency with you at their first substantial meeting with you. If your agent hasn’t mentioned how they will be representing you, you should be hearing warning bells, seeing red flags, etc., etc! You should be presented with a disclosure and you sign your name to it. This protects your best interests and insures that the agent will be acting for your interests and following NYS law.

The two main ways to be represented are by a Single Agent or a Dual Agent.

Let’s start with some definitions.

An Agent:

  • Is a person who represents someone. This person is called their client.
  • Must follow the client’s instructions and act in the client’s best interests, unless they violate law.
  • Has Fiduciary Duties to their client.
    “As a fiduciary, a real estate broker is held by law to owe specific duties to his/her principal (the person who they are representing), in addition to duties or obligations set forth in a listing agreement, buyer representation agreement, or other contract of employment. Subagents of the broker also owe the same fiduciary duties to the broker’s principal. These specific fiduciary duties include:

Obedience-agents must obey their clients within the law.
Loyalty-client’s interests are placed first.
Disclosure of Information-an agent must disclose defects and other pertinent information to his or her client.
Confidentiality-remains in effect for an indefinite period of time.
Accountability-agents are responsible for all monies exchanged in a transaction (earnest money)
Reasonable Care, Skill and Diligence-an agent must be knowledgeable and perform to and withhold the high standards set by the real estate profession.

A single agent represents one party: either a Buyer or a Seller, but not both. The agent has fiduciary duties to their client, and must deal honestly with all other parties. Let’s say you hire Keli DiRisio of Realty 3, LLC as your agent to help you purchase a home in Pittsford. I represent you and your interests ONLY. It doesn’t matter who the seller is. YOU are my concern. Same situation if you hire me to list and sell your home. I am only representing YOU, not whoever the buyer is. I only represent ONE party.

A dual agent either represents both the Buyer and Seller, or both the Buyer and Seller are represented by different agents from the same Brokerage. There’s two different scenarios here to work through. Either way, you can only be represented by a Dual Agent with explicit written permission from YOU.

In one example, I have a house listed to sell with Sally Seller. She has my fiduciary duty as my client. I get a phone call from Barry Wantstobuy. He does not have an agent but he drove by Sally’s house and saw my sign. I show him the house and he decides he loves it and must have it. He asks me to represent him and write an offer. It is my job to ask if he will accept Dual Agency. If he says yes, he is now represented by a Dual Agent. What this means is that I can’t tell Sally Seller that Barry would accept a higher purchase price, just as I can’t tell Barry what Sally is thinking as an acceptable offer. There is the possibility of conflicts with fiduciary duties, but if both parties are OK with the situation, there should be no problems.

In another example, Stan Seller hired me from Realty 3, LLC to sell her house. My broker has a client and he has a buyer, Betty Buynow and she submits an offer on Stan’s house. In a way, we are both Dual Agents, but I don’t know the confidentail information about Betty, and my broker knows nothing about Stan. The transaction continues as if it were any transaction between a buyer and seller.

Yet another example is the client that comes to a builder to build a new home. I respresent a builder, DiRisio Builders. Ned and Nicole Newbuild came to me to build a new home and they are not represented by an agent. I immediately present them with a Dual Agency Disclosure form, explaining to them that while I represent the builder as the Seller, I now represent them as the Buyer. The building process is slightly different than the buying/selling of an exisiting home, so there is not as much negotiating. But the clients must be made aware of the relationships.

It’s good to have questions and concerns and ask your agent to clarify anything you are confused about. Just remember: your agent is representing your best interests.

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Subprime Lending, a Definition

Subprime loans seem to be the new buzz-word in real estate. We are hearing more and more about this new trend, and it is causing fear in financial institutions across the nation. Borrowers with bad credit are able to obtain a mortgage, and when the rates change, they are unable to make their payments, they go into default, and their property goes into forclosure.

Wikipedia definition of Subprime lending: , also called B-paper, near-prime, or second chance lending, is the practice of making loans to borrowers who do not qualify for the best market interest rates because of their deficient credit history. The term also refers to paper taken on property that cannot be sold on the primary market, including loans on certain types of investment properties and certain types of self-employed individuals. Subprime lending is risky for both lenders and borrowers due to the combination of high interest rates, poor credit history, and murky financial situations often associated with subprime applicants. A subprime loan is offered at a rate higher than A-paper loans due to the increased risk.

Subprime lending encompasses a variety of credit instruments, including subprime mortgages, subprime car loans, and subprime credit cards, among others. The term “subprime” refers to the credit status of the borrower (being less than ideal), not the interest rate on the loan itself.

Subprime lending is highly controversial. Opponents have alleged that the subprime lending companies engage in predatory lending practices such as deliberately lending to borrowers who could never meet the terms of their loans, thus leading to default, seizure of collateral, and foreclosure. Proponents of the subprime lending maintain that the practice extends credit to people who would otherwise not have access to the credit market.

The controversy surrounding subprime lending has expanded as the result of an ongoing lending and credit crisis both in the subprime industry and in the greater financial markets which began in the United States. This phenomenon has been described as a financial contagion which has led to a restriction on the availability of credit in world financial markets. Hundreds of thousands of borrowers have been forced to default and several major subprime lenders have filed for bankruptcy.

From the Forbes.com website: “The survey of 1,700 mortgage brokers sponsored by trade publication Inside Mortgage Finance comes as numerous lenders that catered to subprime borrowers with weak credit close down and lenders back away from riskier lending practices common in recent years. That has led to many borrowers being stuck without a loan as they prepare to settle.” Read the complete article on sub-prime loans: http://www.forbes.com/feeds/ap/2007/09/05/ap4086046.html

From the National Association of Realtors (9/7/08): Bush Announces FHA-Secure Plan to Assist Subprime Borrowers
On August 31, 2007, President Bush announced a new initiative called FHASecure, which will give the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) flexibility to help more families keep their homes in light of the decline of the subprime market and impending interest rate adjustments affecting numerous borrowers in both the subprime and Alt-A markets. The FHASecure program will help people who have not made all of their payments on time because of rising mortgage payments but who otherwise have good credit. NAR applauded President Bush’s statement of support for giving homeowners greater flexibility to refinance their loans through the FHA. At a white house conference call on the initiative, the administration specifically signaled out NAR for our timely support of the initiative. NAR has been advocating regulatory changes to the FHA program. On April 9, 2007, NAR sent a letter to Alphonso Jackson, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, asking that FHA waive the requirement that a homeowner’s mortgage be current to refinance into an FHA loan product. NAR also supports legislation that would give FHA greater flexibility by increasing loan limits, eliminating the statutory 3 percent minimum cash down payment, allowing FHA flexibility to provide risk-based pricing, and revising the condominium program.

Subprime loans are increasing in volume and value, particularly in densely-populated states like California and New York. Nationwide, subprimes account for about 10% of all mortages. Share of mortgage loans in 2003 that are subprime:
Rhode Island

14%

California

13.3%

Nevada

12.9%

Florida

12.8%

Tennessee

12.6%

Texas

12.3%

Utah

12.2%

New York

11.5%

Oklahoma

11.2%

Maine

10.6%

Delaware

10.5%

Connecticut

10.2%

Mississippi

10.2%

Alabama

9.9%

Arizona

9.9%

Nation

9.9%

New Hampshire

9.6%

Missouri

9.5%

Ohio

9.5%

South Carolina

9.3%

Indiana

9.1%

North Carolina

9.1%

Louisiana

9.0%

Oregon

9.0%

Colorado

8.9%

Georgia

8.9%

Kentucky

8.9%

Hawaii

8.7%

Illinois

8.4%

Kansas

8.3%

Michigan

8.3%

Pennsylvania

8.2%

Maryland

8.1%

New Mexico

8.1%

Massachusetts

8.0%

Minnesota

8.0%

Nebraska

8.0%

New Jersey

7.9%

Idaho

7.7%

Washington

7.7%

Wyoming

7.5%

Iowa

7.2%

Virginia

7.2%

Montana

7.1%

West Virginia

6.6%

Arkansas

6.4%

South Dakota

5.3%

North Dakota

5.2%

Wisconsin

4.6%

Alaska

4.5%

District of Columbia

4.5%

Vermont

4.5%

Puerto Rico

2.8%

Source: Mortgage Bankers Association

Another good article regarding subprime lending is on USAToday.com: http://www.usatoday.com/money/perfi/housing/2004-12-07-subprime-day-2-usat_x.htm

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Clients and agents – whose taste is it?

I think one of the most interesting parts of being an agent is working with people. Yeah, I know, that sounds so cliché. But what I like about it is kind of similar to my past life as a designer. When I designed a logo or a website, as much as I wanted to do what I wanted (and knew was the best solution), I always had to take into account what my client wanted. Now don’t get me wrong, I didn’t just blindly do what the client asked. I pointed out to him why what he wanted was NOT the best solution, or we don’t use the color blue just because that is his favorite color. I broke down the design, explaining how the elements represented the company or product, and how the identity being established would appeal to the audience. But I did listen, and if he insisted on having a dog in his logo, I would find someway to make it work.

Real estate is not quite that easy. When a buyer tells me what they are looking for in a home, it is up to me to interpret what they want and need and find the best homes for them to view. The choices are endless, and yes, price plays into it, but there are many other features in a home that I know would appeal (or would definitely NOT appeal) to a client. But I need to listen to what they want. I may have a client that absolutely has to have a lap pool in their basement. Nothing I would want, nor would I find it very practical, but they want it and it is my job to find it for them. Just like if I have a client who has five kids and three dogs, looking at a house with no backyard is pointless, in my opinion.  I still show them their options, and they may love the house, but it is my job to keep it all in perspective. (See comment and my reply regarding this-HG) While it is true it may not be the best fit for them, I do show these houses to the buyer, as they may still love  the house and are willing to make sacrifices to make it work for them (i.e. taking the kids and dogs to the park to play.) While it is my job to point out the shortcomings, it is also my job to listen to my client and let them make the decision for themselves.

Same to be said for sellers. It is my job to make sure that their house shows to its full potential, and that I can point out the key features to any prospective buyers. That seller may love their doll collection, but I need to point out (in a very diplomatic way) to them that people coming to look at the house don’t really want to see dolls. They want to see the HOUSE. Or that lap pool in the basement may not be for everyone, but I can point out the benefits to having it right at your disposal. Maintenance is easy and you can exercise all winter!

But the most important thing I need to do with buyers or sellers is LISTEN. Because my tastes may not be their tastes, and my ideas of practical may not be their ideas. It is my job to find out exactly what they want and need and be able to deliver.

So real estate is alot like design. It is delivering an end product that is useful and appeals to the market. Kind of like dating: there is something (or someone) for everyone.

HG

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