Transforming real estate – whom do agents really represent?

transforming real estate
Real estate transformation over time (infographic from movoto.com)

The continuously transforming real estate industry continues to change because of two forces, consumers and real estate professionals.  It would seem intuitive that the forces should be complimentary, but a deeper analysis might suggest conflicting interests between consumers and real estate agents. Whom do agents really represent?

Efficiency, although not openly stated, is a main goal of both home sellers and real estate agents.  Home sellers want to sell their homes efficiently (as quick as possible and for the most money); while the real estate agent may be focused on collecting the most commission in the least amount of time.  A.W. Jenkins’ ground breaking research looked into why consumers continued to use brokers in a transforming real estate environment as a means of buying and selling a home.  Jenkins determined that the only reason why consumers did not use a more efficient “used house dealer” is because they don’t exist (Home, Sweet Home: Real Estate Brokerage in Canada, Vancouver, Canada: The Fraser Institute, 1989).  Jenkins discussed the incentive for consumers to sign commission based broker agreements, even when there are more efficient means of buying and selling a home; including a used house dealer, sell the house on their own, or even pay a flat listing fee.

Anglin & Arnott furthered Jenkins’ line of questioning and came to the conclusion that although a used house dealership (like the used car dealership) may be the most efficient means of buying and selling a home for the consumer, it is not an efficient business model for residential real estate professionals (Residential real estate brokerage as a principal-agent problem; The Journal of Real Estate Finance and Economics; 1991, vol 4, no 2, pp 99–125).  The cost of maintaining a used house inventory for the dealer is prohibitive because home resale usually takes longer than reselling an automobile.  Another reason for non-existent used house dealers is government regulation: The sale of residential real estate by individuals other than the owner is highly regulated and sets standards for real estate brokerage.

Furthermore, they hypothesize that there may be broker “collusion” in maintaining existing business models:

…Collusion, we argued, is particularly easy to sustain and enforce in the residential real estate market because transactions require cooperation between the buying and selling broker…

As the transforming real estate industry continues its journey, the notion of efficiency has taken a substantial turn in favor of the real estate agent.  The advent of buyer agency and dual agency has allowed agents to leverage their name and reputation to other agents through a “team.”  Much like the medical office business model of luring patients through someone’s name and reputation, only to see the lower techs; the real estate team has become a popular business mode because an agent can leverage their time by having other agents do their work.  To further the confusion, in some cases there are teams within teams. But to understand the structure of the real estate team concept, think of a Russian nesting doll.  The team is a smaller nesting doll which is embedded in the larger nesting doll (the broker); and the team members are even smaller nesting dolls embedded within the team nesting doll.  To be fair, there are various team models in use today; some are better than others with respect to transparency.  The transforming real estate industry has moved towards real estate teams, which essentially operate as a brokerage within a brokerage.

Real estate team advertising and disclosure have become the focus of regulation in recent years, but has not entirely thwarted unscrupulous advertising that intends to mislead the consumer.  Furthermore, agents who are independent contractors and sub-contractors of brokers and other agents, can not only muddy the waters of agency, but can further distance the agent’s incentive and duty to their client.

In his article about the dual agency controversy (From subagency to non-agency: a history; inman.com; Feb 27, 2012), Matt Carter reminded us about a 1993 treatise by the former National Association of Realtors general counsel William North titled “Agency, Facilitation and the Realtor.”  The essay was written at a time when transforming real estate was about acknowledging buyer agency.  Agency relationships between Realtors and their clients were under scrutiny.  North was questioning whom agents really represent and if agents actually knew their role.  To make it easier for agents to know to whom they have a duty, North made an argument for eliminating the independent contractor status that prevails throughout the industry.  He stated:

An approach more difficult of acceptance by NAR membership would be the abandonment of the independent contractor status…The prevailing independent contractor relationship between broker and salesperson encourages “quantity” over “quality…It is clear from the letters which have been received by Realtor News on the Agency issue that far too many Realtors and Realtor Associations simply have no concept of what an agent is, does or cannot do or that their status as an “independent contractor” vis-à-vis their broker has nothing to do with their obligations, as an agent, to the seller or the buyer.  It only compounds the public confusion as to the status of a Realtor when Realtors themselves do not understand who and what they are.

Copyright © Dan Krell
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Disclaimer. This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. Readers should not rely solely on the information contained herein, as it does not purport to be comprehensive or render specific advice. Readers should consult with an attorney regarding local real estate laws and customs as they vary by state and jurisdiction. Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws.

NAR should promote Realtor Authenticity

Realtor Authenticity
Rules of Authenticity (infographic from MarketingWeek.com “How to be an Authentic Brand”

Several years ago I told you about the National Association of Realtors’ attempt in shifting consumer attitude towards Realtors.  They are pivoting away from selling Realtor integrity, to selling Realtor value.  In 2014, the NAR voted on creating a Code of Excellence to demonstrate competency.  It wasn’t until this past November that the NAR approved a framework of competencies for agents to achieve.  The eagerly anticipated implementation will allow Realtors to assess and grow their skills and knowledge in many aspects of the business of real estate.  But this Commitment to Excellence, as it is named, may help Realtors increase their competency; but in the end, just like being proficient in the Code of Ethics, it will likely fall short in building consumer trust.  The NAR should promote on Realtor authenticity.

Having agents commit to more training is a good idea in building competency among real estate practitioners.  However, research has demonstrated that showing off accolades and awards doesn’t instill value, nor does it increase sales (Valsesia, Nunes, & Ordanini: What Wins Awards Is Not Always What I Buy: How Creative Control Affects Authenticity and Thus Recognition (But Not Liking). Journal of Consumer Research. Apr2016, Vol. 42 Issue 6, p897-914).

Realtors have a trust gap.  And a badge indicating competency and a Commitment to Excellence won’t bridge that gap.  The business of residential real estate is likened to a game of smoke and mirrors.  Instead of encouraging Realtor authenticity, agents are often taught techniques of persuasion to increase sales.  Many agents devise gimmicks and expensive marketing materials to entice you to do business with them.  Even before you meet with a real estate agent, they are likely scheming how to gain your trust.  Whether or not they earn it is an entirely different matter.

Instead of creating another Realtor badge, designation or code, the NAR should consult with James Gilmour and Joseph Pine II (of the Strategic Horizons LLP).  The title of their 2007 groundbreaking book sums it up nicely: “Authenticity: What Consumers Really Want.”  Realtor authenticity is sorely lacking in the industry, and it’s not just the NAR; it stems from the brokers who train real estate agents as well.  In order for Realtors to build trust, they need to be authentic.

A brief 2004 article by Michael Angier (Authenticity Matters: Are you the real McCoy; Sales & Service Excellence Essentials. Vol. 4 Issue 9, p10) highlighted the necessity for authenticity in the sales environment.  He stated that “People like to do business with people they like. And they like people who are like themselves… Buyers today are savvy. They have more choices. And they can tell whether the company and the people in it are congruent. They seek out, resonate with and tend to be loyal to companies that are authentic. Your uniqueness and the things you’re best at doing are part of your differentiating position. It’s who you are—your identity. It’s what people can relate to. If there’s anything false, made up or covered over, your prospects will sense it. And they can’t even tell you why they didn’t buy…”  Realtor authenticity would certainly positively affect client satisfaction.

Realtor authenticity will not only build trust but can also increase sales.  And indeed, a 2006 research article by Allen Schaefer and Charles Pettijohn (The Relevance Of Authenticity In Personal Selling: Is Genuineness An Asset Or Liability? Journal of Marketing Theory & Practice. Vol. 14 Issue 1, p25-35) confirms that authenticity is related to sales performance.  Their results indicated that salespeople who felt more authentic in their roles performed at higher levels and had a higher commitment to “personal selling.”

What do you think?  Below is the framework of the Commitment to Excellence Program as adopted by the NAR is below (from nar.realtor/policy/commitment-to-excellence). It seems to me that Realtors should already be striving to be competent in these areas:

1) Being current and knowledgeable about the laws, regulations and legislation affecting the real estate disciplines the REALTOR® engages in, and about real estate in their community generally.

2) Understanding the Code of Ethics is a living document, and keeping themselves informed about its duties and obligations on an ongoing basis.

3) Providing equal professional services to all consistent with Article 10 of the Code of Ethics.

4) Advocating for property ownership rights in their community, state and nation.

5) Acknowledging and valuing that honesty and integrity are fundamental and essential to REALTORS® being known as consumers’ trusted advisors.

6) Becoming and remaining proficient in the use of technology tools to provide the highest levels of service to clients, customers and the public, and facilitating cooperation by sharing accurate, current information with consumers and with other real estate professionals.

7) Keeping up-to-date on laws and regulations governing data privacy and data security, and taking necessary and appropriate steps to safeguard the privacy and integrity of information entrusted to them.

8) Committing themselves to enhancing their knowledge and skills in the real estate areas of practice they engage in on an ongoing basis.

9) Providing superior customer service.

10) Appreciating that courtesy, timely communication and cooperation are fundamental to facilitating successful real estate transactions, and to building and maintaining an impeccable professional reputation.

11) As a broker-owner or principal of a real estate company, being committed to creating and maintaining an environment that promotes excellent customer service consistent with these standards.

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Unpacking is part of the buying process

unpacking tips
Unpacking tips (infographic from visual.ly)

People don’t really give it much thought until they’ve already moved.  Maybe that’s the reason for a lack of information and guidance about unpacking.  I estimate that for every six articles about packing and moving, there’s probably one about unpacking.  And like buying a home and moving; there should be more thought to unpacking because it’s the first activity that makes your new digs feel like home.

Unlike packing for a move and decluttering, unpacking seems to get left out of the home buying process.  Many believe that you instinctively come home after settlement (or signing a lease) and just unload all the boxes and just begin living as you did in your previous home.  But the reality is that unpacking can be just as, if not more, overwhelming than the move itself.   And this applies to whether you’ve hired a moving company or concierge service to unpack for you, or you do it on your own.

That’s correct, you can hire someone to unpack for you.  However, just like packing house, it can get expensive.  Of course, charges vary.  However, if this is the way you decide to go – get multiple estimates from insured and bonded companies.  Once the service unpacks for you, consider taking the time to review where they stored items.  This will save you time later when you need to find something in a hurry.

Unpacking a house on your own may seem overwhelming (even with the help of friends), but don’t give in to procrastination.  Extreme procrastination can lead you to living out of moving boxes for a prolonged period.  Instead, make a simple unpacking plan and prioritize.  Although the chore of unpacking seems to be the physical aspect of unloading boxes; there can be an emotional drain of deciding where to best place and store items.

When packing your previous home, you most likely packed each room and labeled each moving box for their destination room.  And although unpacking each room in sequence may seem logical, you most likely won’t get it all done in one day.  The result can leave you frantically digging through boxes searching for items you use on a daily basis.

To avoid this trap, consider unpacking essential items first.  Having the essentials put away first will help you feel as if there is continuity.  You will find it easier going about your daily routine without disruption – even if you don’t unpack all the boxes.  Of course, it helps if you’ve marked the boxes containing essential items when you packed.  However, if you didn’t, that’s ok too.

If you’ve unpacked the essentials first, you’ll notice that you’ve become aware of the available storage spaces.  As a result, you’ve set the tone for each room, and the entire unpacking process becomes easier.  You’ll be able to go through your room priority list quicker and get through storing items where they belong with less deliberation and angst.

When unpacking essentials, focus on the kitchen and bathrooms first.  Chances are that you will need to use these rooms throughout the day as you unpack.  Then go through your priority list of rooms, unpacking the essentials.

Once the essentials are put away, you may feel at ease and in control.  You can then unpack rooms in sequence or as prioritized.  You may also decide to go through the remaining boxes at a leisurely pace.

Copyright © Dan Krell
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FHA mortgage insurance premium facts

FHA mortgage insurance premium facts
FHA mortgage insurance premium (infographic from www.heritage.org)

There’s been a lot of reporting on FHA mortgages lately, creating some confusion.  Of course I’m referring to the controversy surrounding FHA’s annual mortgage insurance premium (also known as MIP).  Many were surprised to hear that one of the outgoing directives of the Obama administration was to lower the FHA MIP.  And, eleven days later, many were just as surprised to hear that the new Trump administration reversed that directive.  So what are the FHA Mortgage Insurance Premium Facts?

FHA Mortgage Insurance Premium Facts

Mortgagee Letter 2017-01, dated January 9, 2017 described revisions to the annual MIP for “certain” FHA loans.  The effective date of the revisions was to be January 27th.  Meaning, that FHA mortgages that closed and/or disbursed on or after January 27th would have had the lower MIP.  Although the general reporting was that borrowers would save an average of $500 per year (an average of about $41 per month), the actual savings would have depended on the amount borrowed, term of loan and loan-to-value (percentage of loan amount to home value).

Additionally, the lower MIP would have been on new loans that were to have been disbursed (closed) on or after January 27th.  Contrary to some reporting (and more reporting and more reporting) and social media postings, existing FHA loans would not have benefited from the lowered the MIP.  Also, the reduction was suspended before the effective date, so MIP did not increase for new mortgages.

The rational stated in Mortgagee Letter 2017-01 (Purpose and Background sections) for the lower MIP was that FHA has met the obligation to its Mutual Mortgage Insurance Fund (MMIF).  The MMIF covers lender losses on FHA mortgages.  Historically, HUD has adjusted the MIP (by increasing or decreasing MIP) as needed to meet the MMIF mandated requirements.  HUD’s last FHA MIP reduction occurred in 2015.  The November 15, 2016 Federal Housing Administration Annual Report to Congress reported that the MMIF increased from the previous year and the Fund’s capital ratio was 2.32 percent (above the 2 percent minimum capital reserve requirement).  The Report did not signal any impending reduction to the MIP this year.

Some have pointed to budget juggling and over projecting to make the MMIF appear solvent.  Consider that the MMIF pre-crisis reserve ratio was well above the minimum 2 percent but needed about $1.7 billion to replenish reserves after the crisis.  When the FHA MIP was reduced in 2015, many testified to congress about the potential risks.  Douglas Holtz-Eakin, President of the American Action Forum provided such testimony February 26, 2015 to the United States House of Representatives Committee on Financial Services Subcommittee on Housing and Insurance “The Future of Housing in America: Oversight of the Federal Housing Administration, Part II.”  Holtz-Eakin provided data stating:

Adding to concern surrounding premium reductions, FHA’s recent history has been plagued by missed projections. These missed projections enhance the perception that FHA downplays risks borne by taxpayers and cast doubt on the assumption that FHA will continually improve as projected despite cutting annual premiums. Since FY 2009, FHA’s capital ratio has been below the 2 percent minimum mandated by Congress. FHA has repeatedly projected marked improvement only to miss its targets…
In every actuarial review since 2003, the economic value of FHA’s MMIF has come in lower than what was projected the previous year …While FHA has in the past pointed to programs like home equity conversion mortgages (HECM) or the prevalence of seller-funded down payment assistance for losses greater than anticipated, erroneous economic assumptions and volume forecasts are more frequently to blame.
Following the dramatic fall in FHA’s economic value shown in Table 1, legislative attempts to reform FHA in the last Congress would have raised its mandated capital ratio even higher. Reform proposals have included a new capital ratio of either 3 percent or 4 percent, levels FHA’s MMIF is not expected to reach until 2018 and 2019 respectively before factoring in the effects of premium reductions.  FHA’s capital buffer is meant to protect taxpayers in an economic downturn while preserving FHA’s ability to fulfill its mission; its restoration is critical. Furthermore, many rightly worry that FHA’s current economic value is overstated due to the influx of money from major mortgage‐related legal settlements and the one-time appropriation of $1.7 billion from the Treasury Department ..

An example of budgetary juggling is hinted by HUD Secretary Julián Castro in his July 13, 2016 oral testimony to the U.S. House Committee on Financial Services Hearing on “HUD Accountability.”  In his statement earlier this year, he attributed the health of FHA’s MMIF to HUD’s Distressed Asset Stabilization Program (The DASP was put into place to help troubled home owners who were at risk of default, as well as dealing with delinquent and defaulted mortgages):

“…And when you consider that DASP has contributed more than $2 billion to the MMI Fund above what would’ve otherwise been collected, it’s clear this innovative program is a significant reason why the Fund’s capital reserve ratio is now above its 2 percent requirement.”

Of course, changes to DASP would most likely reduce contributions to the MMIF.  A HUD press release outlines those changes (FHA Announces Most Significant Improvements to Date for Distressed Notes Sales Program; June 30, 2016):

In addition, FHA’s latest enhancements prohibit investors from abandoning low-value properties in high-foreclosure neighborhoods to prevent blight. FHA is also offering greater opportunity for non-profit organizations, local governments and other governmental entities to participate in DASP. Loans are not eligible to be sold through DASP unless and until all FHA loss mitigation efforts are exhausted. On average, mortgages sold through this sales program are 29 months delinquent at the time of the auction.

FHA is supposed to be self-funded through its MMIF.  Suspending the MIP reduction may be to assure the longevity of FHA to future home buyers.  In suspending the MIP reduction, Mortgagee Letter 2017-07 stated (Background section): “FHA is committed to ensuring its mortgage insurance programs remains viable and effective in the long term for all parties involved, especially our taxpayers. As such, more analysis and research are deemed necessary to assess future adjustments while also considering potential market conditions …

Copyright © Dan Krell
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Disclaimer. This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. Readers should not rely solely on the information contained herein, as it does not purport to be comprehensive or render specific advice. Readers should consult with an attorney regarding local real estate laws and customs as they vary by state and jurisdiction. Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws.

Credit report reforms

credit report
Credit report (infographic from dollarcents.org)

One of the main reasons you’re likely to be declined for a mortgage is your credit report.  More specifically, derogatory information contained therein.  Unfortunately, many of us are still not proactive when it comes to our credit report.  And for many, erroneous information that is foisted upon them without their knowledge affect their daily lives.

Flawed data has been a long standing issue in the credit industry.  A 2012 study conducted by the Federal Trade Commission (ftc.gov) found that “one in five consumers” disputed and corrected an error that was reported to a credit reporting agency (CRA).  A follow-up study conducted in 2015 found that “Most consumers [almost 70 percent] who previously reported an unresolved error on one of their three major credit reports believe that at least one piece of disputed information on their report is still inaccurate.”  The follow-up study recommended that CRA’s “review and improve” the dispute process, as well as increase consumer education efforts. From the FTC report:

The follow-up study announced today focuses on 121 consumers who had at least one unresolved dispute from the 2012 study and participated in a follow-up survey. It finds that 37 of the consumers (31 percent) stated that they now accepted the original disputed information on their reports as correct. However, 84 of these consumers (nearly 70 percent) continue to believe that at least some of the disputed information is inaccurate.  Of those 84 consumers, 38 of them (45 percent) said they plan to continue their dispute, and 42 (50 percent) plan to abandon their dispute, while four consumers are undecided.

The final study also examined whether consumers from the 2012 study who had their credit reports modified after disputing information on their credit reports had any of the negative information that had been removed subsequently reappear on their reports. The study found two instances of this, representing about 1 percent of these consumers.

On March 9, 2015, New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman announced an agreement that was worked out with the three credit repositories (Experian, Equifax, And Transunion).  The agencies agreed to seek improvements to the credit report dispute resolution process, as well as increasing protections for consumers from false claims and reporting paid debt (such as medical bills).

As A.G. Scheiderman’s statement was released, the Consumer Data Industry Association (the trade association for the consumer data industry) announced the creation of the National Consumer Assistance Plan.  The roll-out of The Plan is to be over three years, and includes a website (nationalconsumerassistanceplan.com) where consumers and the CRAs are to interface about credit reporting news and information.  Stuart Pratt, President and CEO of the Consumer Data Industry Association, stated in a press release:

“…The nationwide consumer credit reporting companies are making important changes to their procedures that will improve their ability to collect accurate information, and we want to make sure consumers know about the new options available to them…”

Additionally, the press release included highlights of the National Consumer Assistance Plan:

Consumers visiting www.annualcreditreport.com, the website that allows consumers to obtain a free credit report once a year will see expanded educational material.

Consumers who obtain their free annual credit report and dispute information resulting in modification of the disputed item will be able to obtain another free annual report without waiting a year.

Consumers who dispute items on their credit reports will receive additional information from the credit reporting agencies along with the results of their dispute, including a description of what they can do if they are not satisfied with the outcome of their dispute.

The credit reporting agencies (CRAs) are focusing on an enhanced dispute resolution process for victims of identity theft and fraud, as well as those who may have credit information belonging to another consumer on their file, commonly called a “mixed file.”

Medical debts won’t be reported until after a 180-day “waiting period” to allow insurance payments to be applied. The CRAs will also remove from credit reports previously reported medical collections that have been or are being paid by insurance.

Consistent standards will be reinforced by the credit bureaus to lenders and others that submit data for inclusion in a credit report (data furnishers).

Data furnishers will be prohibited from reporting authorized users without a date of birth and the CRAs will reject data that does not comply with this requirement.

The CRAs will eliminate the reporting of debts that did not arise from a contract or agreement by the consumer to pay, such as traffic tickets or fines.

A multi-company working group of the nationwide consumer credit reporting companies has been formed to regularly review and help ensure consistency and uniformity in the data submitted by data furnishers for inclusion in a consumer’s credit report.

An improved credit reporting industry was to take another leap forward with the introduction of H.R. 5282 – Comprehensive Consumer Credit Reporting Reform Act of 2016 (congress.gov).  Introduced in Congress May 19, 2016, the bill is a comprehensive restructuring of the credit reporting process.  Among the many details, the bill also: calls for a new dispute process; “meaningful” disclosures about resulting investigations; limits credit reports for employment purposes; requires removal of items that were a result of identity theft, fraud and other crimes; and transfers authority from the FTC to the CFPB on “procedures for reporting identity theft, fraud, and other related crime.”  The bill was referred to committee, where it appears to have stalled.

Your credit report has become akin to your “financial soul.”  Some of its uses include assisting entities in deciding whether to employ you, lend to you, or extend you credit.  It has even become vogue for individuals to check someone’s credit report before going out on a date!

Financial experts and government agencies recommend you become proactive and check your credit report annually, and dispute inaccurate information.  Annualcreditreport.com is the only “authorized” website where you can receive a free credit report annually from the three repositories.  The site also contains information on protecting your identity, and links to the FTC and CFPB for topics such as how to maintain good credit, and credit repair.

Copyright © Dan Krell
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