Are your clients in line with local and federal Non-Discrimination policies?

Guest blog by David Sparling, Diversity and Housing Initiatives Chair

"Every American deserves to live with dignity, regardless of who they love or who they are. HUD is committed to fighting unjust discrimination and to expanding housing opportunity for all. We believe there are no second-class citizens. And I will do every single thing that I can to make sure that everyone is protected."
- HUD Secretary Julián Castro

While the NAR Code of Ethics clearly prohibits discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation, local and federal housing policies are often unknown or unclear to the public. Protect your clients and make sure they understand current non-discrimination policies wherever they are in the Metroplex.

Working towards ending housing discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation is part of HUD’s ongoing mission to give every person and family access to a safe, secure and affordable home. Though the Fair Housing Act does not specifically include sexual orientation and gender identity as prohibited bases, HUD’s position is very clear: one may not discriminate based on gender identity or sexual orientation.

HUD believes the Fair Housing Act offers protection for people who do not conform to gender stereotypes. For example, a landlord may not discriminate against an individual because he believes the person acts in a manner that does not conform to his notion of how a person of a particular sex should act. In addition, HUD uses the Gender Identity Rule to further require that transgender persons and other persons who do not identify with the sex they were assigned at birth be given equal access to programs, benefits, services, and accommodations in accordance with their gender identity.

On the local level, Dallas, Fort Worth and Plano also have specific non-discrimination ordinances offering lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender residents protection against discrimination in housing and other environments.

Rules your clients should know:

It is prohibited for any landlord or housing provider who receives HUD or FHA funds to discriminate against a tenant on the basis of real or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity or marital status.

It is prohibited for a lender to deny an FHA-insured mortgage to any qualified applicant based on their sexual orientation, gender identity, or marital status.

It is illegal to deny housing because of someone's HIV/AIDS status under the Fair Housing Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

It is prohibited for homeless facilities to segregate or isolate transgender individuals solely based on their gender identity who are homeless and seeking shelter.

If you believe your clients have experienced (or are about to experience) housing discrimination, you may contact HUD's Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity for help at (800) 669-9777. You may also file a housing discrimination complaint online.

Additionally you may contact your local HUD office for assistance with alleged violations of HUD’s Equal Access Rule and other program regulations.

How about that Texas Market?

How long will this booming market last? Are we in a bubble? Is it a good time to buy or sell? These are questions we are all hearing a lot these days. Unfortunately, we haven’t been able to find a working crystal ball anywhere in the Metroplex. However, we do have something better. Hard data from the experts. The folks at the Texas A&M Real Estate Center regularly publish data about the Texas economy. Here are the highlights from their latest report, boiled down to facts you can use when answering questions from the public.

The Texas economy is robust. Employment is the state is strong and growing. More people are re-entering the job market. The biggest gains in employment recently have been in the services sectors, (financial services, education, health services, professional and business services) as well as in trade, leisure, and hospitality. Analyses of the business cycle and current economic activity point to positive trends in the state.

Texas housing sales appear to be accelerating. Demand for housing is strong in most areas, although Houston is lagging somewhat. Across the state, housing sales increased 7.8 percent in April. Austin, Dallas-Fort Worth, and San Antonio all experienced an increase in sales. Houston dropped 0.2 percent as the impact of the energy sector decline plays out in the Houston economy.

Home building activity is brisk. Houston and Dallas-Fort Worth led the nation in the number of single-family permits issued followed by Atlanta, Phoenix, and Austin in April. That said, Dallas-Fort Worth issued fewer permits than its peak rate in December 2015.

Inventory of available housing is low. Dallas-Fort Worth inventory levels were estimated at 2.2 months in both April and May, compared to 3.7 months statewide, and 5.6 months nationwide. Low inventory levels are contributing to rapid price growth in housing.

Incomes are not following pace with the housing price increase. In the Dallas-Fort Worth area, real earning levels have not increased above January 2007 levels.

Millennial Attitudes to Homebuying Varies by Region

Will Millennials ever decide to buy a home? The common perception is that they’re just not interested. However, new research indicates that attitudes toward home buying vary more by region than by generation.

Selfie or searching MLS?

According to a recent survey by the National Association of REALTORS, millennials both see the financial value in homeownership and want to own someday. And here in Texas, that attitude is especially prominent. In NAR’s quarterly survey, millennials in the South are most likely to believe homeownership is a part of their American dream (at 91 percent), followed by those in the West (at 90 percent). Millennials in the Northeast and the Midwest followed closely behind at 88 percent and 84 percent, respectively. As for homeownership being a good financial decision, the numbers were a little more even across regions—86 percent of millennials in the West agreed with that statement as did 85 percent in the South and 84 percent in both the Northeast and Midwest.

Part of that may have to do with age. The oldest Millennials are now 34, have largely completed their education and are likely several years or more into their careers. It would make sense that they are now more inclined to settle down, buy a house and build equity. Here in Texas, 66 percent of them feel like now is a good time to buy. While that figure is significantly less than the 77 percent of Gen Xers who feel like it’s a good time to buy, it’s still a sign of shifting attitudes among younger professionals. And if you have a look around at all of the construction cranes, you’ll see that Millennials are very interested in buying both in urban and suburban areas, and are largely leaving rural areas behind.

If you’re looking to expand your pipeline to reach first time buyers, make sure you know how to communicate with Millennials effectively. Take some classes here at MetroTex to modernize your toolbox. For example, the DISC personality profile class will teach you how to read personalities and adapt your communication style to work better with them. Our technology classes will show you both how to become more efficient in your work and how to reach Millennials where they already are. Check out our course calendar at mymetrotex.com and register today.

Avoiding Scams

Among the legislative sweep going on in Austin this week is House Bill 2590, a bill which would impose significant penalties on scammers who are claiming vacant houses that don’t belong to them through fraudulent adverse possession claims often known as “squatter’s rights.”

Unfortunately, there are a number of other housing schemes happening around the country right now. With prices on the rise and houses in short supply, the Dallas area could also become a target for these scams.

So what are these scams and how can you protect yourself and your loved ones from becoming a victim? First and foremost, whenever you enter into a real estate transaction, consult a MetroTex REALTOR. Aside from being licensed professionals, REALTORS use standardized contracts which protect both buyers and sellers. Further, REALTORS will advise their clients to use title companies to help ensure that the property is actually owned by the seller without disputes or claims on the title from third parties. If you aren’t sure whether the person selling the house is a REALTOR, you can check for licensee information online at trec.state.tx.us. Remember, the reason we have REALTORS is largely to protect consumers against unscrupulous real estate bandits.

The FBI warns about a number of scams currently being reported across the country. Here’s a run down of the most common schemes and specific steps you can take to protect yourself.

Reverse Mortgage Scams

Reverse Mortgages can be a legitimate option for senior citizens to benefit from equity in their homes without having to move or sell. Legitimate reverse mortgages are insured by the FHA and have specific age, residency and mortgage balance requirements.

Unfortunately, fraudsters are using the legitimate programs as a springboard for some very unscrupulous practices. Basically, they either steal the equity from property of unsuspecting seniors, or use seniors’ good credit and identities to steal equity from other properties. In many cases, people are offered fake foreclosure or refinance help, free homes, or shady investment opportunities.

FBI Tips for Avoiding Reverse Mortgage Scams:

  • Do not respond to unsolicited advertisements.
  • Be suspicious of anyone claiming that you can own a home with no down payment, unless it is a specifically insured mortgage program, like USDA or VA.
  • Do not sign anything that you do not fully understand.
  • Do not accept payment from individuals for a home you did not purchase.
  • Seek out your own licensed reverse mortgage counselor.

Phony Online Rental Ads

Online ads for finding rentals can lead to consumers losing thousands of dollars and ending up without a place to live. In these scams, people will post a classified ad with a great looking house most often at a relatively low rent. The landlord –who is leaving the country quickly, often for business or on a mission trip - will accept your application and will ask you to wire a couple of month’s rent to his account. But when you show up at the house to move in, the house isn’t available and the owners have nothing to do with your agreement. Not only are you out two months’ rent, you might also find that your identity has been stolen.

FBI Tips to Avoid Rental Scams:

  • Only deal with landlords or renters who are local;
  • Be suspicious if you’re asked to only use a wire transfer service;
  • Beware of e-mail correspondence from the “landlord” that’s written in poor or broken English;
  • Research the average rental rates in that area and be suspicious if the rate is significantly lower;
  • Don’t agree to accept a larger payment than is needed and refund the remaining balance.

Foreclosure Fraud

Unfortunately, scammers find a big target in people who are desperate to stay in their homes. Distressed homeowners can be presented with offers that allow them to stay in their homes at half their current mortgage payment so long as they sign over title to their homes and pay an upfront fee. In reality, these schemes are run by people who never pay off the existing loans, instead pocketing the money for themselves and causing the unwitting homeowners to ruin their credit and eventually wind up evicted from their homes.

FTC Tips to Avoid Foreclosure Help Fraud

  • Avoid offers that guarantee to get you a loan modification or stop the foreclosure process;
  • Only use people who advise you to contact your lender, lawyer, or a housing counselor;
  • Deny requests for upfront fees before providing you with any services;
  • Do not transfer your property deed or title to others;
  • Be suspicious of people who only accept payments by cashier’s check or wire transfer
  • Don’t sign anything you haven’t read or don’t understand.

House Stealing

This scam is a variation of the adverse possession schemes being addressed by the Texas Legislature. Basically, scammers steal your identity, forge sales documents and register deed transfer paperwork with the county. Then they claim to own the house and sell it. This often happens with unoccupied or vacation homes. Untangling this mess can be costly and difficult.

Avoid House Stealing

  • Check your property records. When you get your tax bill for the year, verify information pertaining to your property. If you see any changes to title or names you don’t recognize, ask for more information from the deeds office.
  • If you receive correspondence or a payment book from a mortgage company that’s not yours, whether your name is on the envelope or not, don’t throw it away. Read it and if seems suspicious or you don’t understand what it means, follow up with the company that sent it.

For more information on buying or selling a home in Texas, visit dfwrealestate.com

Buyers Agents! Are you doing everything you can for your Buyers?

Capture the buyers’ market and earn both referrals and customers for life.

Are you going the extra mile for your buyers after you close? Are you employing all of the best strategies for actually getting them to close in the first place?

Sometimes the best way to give your clients the best possible service is the small gestures you make after the sale. An offer to arrange for a babysitter or a dog walker in the first day or two of moving if they’re new to the area goes a long way to helping out without getting in the way. Or, send them a link to their neighborhood online newsgroup (NextDoor is a popular choice) gets your clients into the loop. A month or so after they’ve settled in is the best time write a thank you note with a little extra thrown in, like a lottery ticket or a gift card to a local restaurant, nursery or pet groomer.

Little touches show you care and reinforce the relationship you’ve formed with your clients.

Want more? MetroTex offers a suite of classes just for buyers’ agents. In fact, there are several on the calendar in May. So come on out and find out how to become your very best with MetroTex! Want to know what class to take next? Call our CE Sleuth hotline at 214-540-2716 and ask Amy.

Register online at mymetrotex.com

Here is a sample of just some of the classes we’re offering in May:

Business Development:

·         5/17/2016        8:30am - 5pm     Senior Real Estate Specialist

·         5/18/2016        11:30am - 12:30pm   Buy & Hold Real Estate

·         5/19/2016        8:30am - 5pm  Generate Buyer & Seller Leads

·         5/24/2016        9:00 AM -  1:00 PM  Secrets of Top Buyers’ Agents

Understanding the Industry:

·         5/10/2016        10am - 12pm   New Construction: Porch-Patio

·         5/14/2016        1:30pm - 5:30pm   From Sold to Close

·         5/14/2016        8:30am -12:30pm   Write it Right

Tech Tools to Increase Efficiency:

·         5/10/2016        1pm - 4pm      Introduction to RPR

·         5/12/2016        9am - 12pm    MLS-Accessing PropertyTax Info

·         5/12/2016        1pm - 4pm      MLS-ZipForm On Line

·         5/13/2016        1pm - 4pm       MLS Advance Matrix

·         5/18/2016        1pm - 4pm        MLS-NTREIS Find

·         5/31/2016        11:30am - 1:30pm   iPad for Buyers' Agent

Tax Deductions For Real Estate Agents And Brokers

As the tax filing deadline looms, don’t forget to review all of the possible deductions that are available for real estate agents. Remember, as a self-employed individual, you could shave quite a bit off your 2015 tax bill. 

First, take a look at your health insurance premiums. If you provide your own (and don’t rely on an employer or a spouse’s employer’s plan) your premiums could be 100% deductible.

Next, consider your accounting fees. If they’re connected with your business or if you’ve installed a new accounting system, they could be deductible. Similarly, attorney’s fees related to your business may also apply.

If you’ve spent money advertising your business, bought business cards, spent money to create presentations or hold open houses, you might be able to add those into your calculations. Small business gifts (under $25) and website fees are eligible.

Your car can be a big source for deductions as well. You can only deduct that portion which was used for business, so If you use your car 50% of the time on your business, you can deduct 50% of your expenses related to your car . Remember, this includes things like taxes, insurance, maintenance, mileage, gas, interest, car washes, and parking. Pretty much anything you spend money on in relation to your car for business.

Speaking of travel, if you’ve spent time at a convention, or done other business travel, consider adding lodging and travel expenses to the pot. Meals, entertainment, newspapers, and magazines may all be deducted. And while you’re thinking about that great TAR meeting from last fall, don’t forget to deduct professional memberships to your associations and chambers of commerce.

Once you’ve returned home, make sure to look at your office expenses. From rent to utilities, supplies, cleaning and maintenance may all be legitimate claims. So can phone, security and interest expenses. 

Of course, you’ll want to have a professional tax preparer go over all of these items with you (and more). And don’t forget to sign up for the class Your Taxes and You, offered twice a year at MetroTex. Just like all of our CE classes, it’s tax deductible!

 

Selling a Home? Be sure to Play Your Part

Want to sell your home fast and for the best possible price? Getting your house ready for market - and keeping it that way - should be your top priority. The good news is, our simple tips won’t break the bank and will help ensure your house sells quickly. Maintaining your property in ready-to-show condition takes some effort, but it’s well worth the results.

Staging and Maintenance before the sale:

The key with staging is to remove distractions. Your goal should be to make the house welcoming and as neutral as possible. Think of a hotel lobby.  It’s welcoming, but doesn’t say much about the personality of the owner. Your prized miniatures collection may be amazing, but you want shoppers picturing themselves in your home, not admiring the things that aren’t going to be there when they move in. Now is a great time to pack away family photos and mementos. You’ll have to pack them eventually, anyway, and the home will photograph and show better without them.

Address the clutter. Both inside and out, make sure everything has a place. Clear out any trash, pick up old newspapers, and put away tools, toys or leftover building materials. Pick up after pets.

Keep the lawn mowed and edged. Trim hedges and shrubs and replace or dig up old plants and freshen the mulch in the flower beds. Add color with flowers and potted plants. Power wash the driveway if there are grease or oil spots.

Park vehicles in the garage or on the street; leaving the driveway clear.

Scrape away peeling paint and replace rotted trim, then freshen up with a new coat of paint. Peeling paint on your exterior doesn’t present well and will make people question how well-maintained the home is. Inside, freshen with a neutral paint color or at the very least, dust and wash the walls, removing any smudges or marks.

Shampoo carpets or replace them if they’re too worn, and have drapes dry cleaned.

Have the windows washed and steam clean the grout in kitchen and baths.

Do your best to eliminate pet and smoking odors, but don’t overdo it with air fresheners. Any overpowering scents will be a distraction.

On showing day, make the beds, do the dishes, empty wastebaskets and put away laundry. Set the thermostat to a comfortable temperature and turn on some soft music. Do quick vacuuming and dusting. Set out “show towels” in baths.

When you list with your MetroTex Realtor, make sure to let them install a professional grade lock box and key. An electronic key box can only be accessed by licensed professionals and leaves a time stamp record whenever the property is accessed. Leave the key box on through inspections and final walk-through.

Try to be flexible in the scheduling of showings. Yes, you lead a busy life and your life will be interrupted for showings. A lot. But if you turn down showings, that potential buyer may not try again. They probably also have busy schedules or may be coming from out of town and may not have the opportunity to reschedule. Do your best to allow showings as much as possible so you have the opportunity to get the most feedback and offers in as short of time as possible.

If approached directly by a buyer who is not represented by a real estate professional, please contact your MetroTex Realtor. Do not allow strangers into your property unescorted. Just because your house is on the market doesn’t mean you should let anyone into your home without an appointment.

Leasing & Property Management Series - Money Matters

Money matters.  Before preparing a lease for signature, you’ll want to have a conversation with your client about money.  You want to have clear communication in the written lease about when, where and in what form payments should be made and what fees will be charged for late or returned payments.

First, determine what forms of payment your client will accept.  Accepting cash payments for rent and providing a receipt is required, unless the lease specifically states that rent must be paid in another form.  If the tenant’s payment is returned, will your client pass on to their tenant the bank’s fee?  Fees for returned payments must be addressed in the written lease.

Security deposits and pet deposits must be held in a separate bank account for your client’s tenant.  Deposits are refundable at the end of a lease with an accounting made of any damages deposit funds were used to mitigate with receipts provided.  Your client must not comingle tenant deposits with personal funds under any circumstance.

Your client may choose to charge a cleaning fee or pet fee instead of a pet deposit.  Fees are not refundable and no accounting is required at move out, but they must be specifically stated in the written lease.

Decide when rent becomes late.  Texas Property Code says you must give 1 full day after the due date before you can begin charging late fees.  Many Landlords allow their tenants to be late with rent for a few days.  Late fees cannot be charged at all if they are not specifically addressed in a written lease.

State in the lease where the tenant should pay rent.  Some Landlords visit their properties each month to collect rent in person.  Others prefer their tenant mail the rent payment to their home or a P.O. Box.  Either way is acceptable, but must be addressed in the written lease.

A Professional Property Manager can handle money matters for your client.  The Property Manager collects all funds, protecting your client’s income and their privacy.  Property Managers have the training to prepare a lease that protects your client’s income through adherence to Property Code and best practices regarding the money matters of the lease.

Guest contributor Marye Davenport, Property Management Director 3G Properties