Real estate BS detector

real estate BS detector
Become a real estate BS detector (infographic from visual.ly)

DARPA issued a recent request for information seeking ideas about how to create automated capabilities to assign “Confidence Levels” to scientific studies, claims, hypotheses, conclusions, models, and/or theories.  In other words, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency wants to create a BS detector.  First reported by Adam Rogers for WIRED (Darpa Wants to Build a BS Detector for Science; wired.com; July 30, 2017), DARPA doesn’t look at it as rooting out “BS” but rather establishing the what, why, and how scientists know stuff. Imagine how this could be applied as a real estate BS detector!

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s stated mission on their website is “to make pivotal investments in breakthrough technologies for national security.”  So, chances are that if they are able to devise a real working BS detector, you won’t know about it.

When it comes to real estate, people sometimes bend the truth.  Additionally, real estate agents are known for “puffery” and are generally not trusted because of the salesy techniques they employ.  But having a real estate BS detector would be huge breakthrough!  Imagine being able to weed through the BS and nonsense that many real estate agents spout when they are clearly trying to sell.  Wouldn’t it be wonderful to check your real estate BS detector, when an agent is pontificating about a house or themselves, to know if the agent is wasting your time?  Unfortunately, the real estate BS detector is not a real device.  However, there are strategies to help you detect real estate BS.

“Luke, trust your feelings.”  Ok, there’s no such thing as a Jedi, but empirical research has demonstrated that intuition can be used to weed out lies.  Many say they rely on their gut instincts to protect themselves.  But the truth is that many ignore or don’t trust their intuition because the rational mind takes over and dominates.  Increasing your intuition could help you detect the real estate BS and prepare for (and maybe prevent) regretful situations.  Becoming more aware about your “gut feeling” can increase your intuition.

Being cynical can also help detect real estate BS.  Don’t be rude of course, but questioning what others say helps you clarify and understand them at a higher level.  It can also reveal untruths.  Question all claims and over-the-top statements.  For example, if you’re dealing with a real estate agent, ask for support to any assertion they make about themselves or their services.  Ask to speak to their references.  Also, ask for additional information that support their opinions on the housing market and deciding on a price to sell or buy a home.

Do your due diligence to discover real estate BS.  After asking questions, take what others say or do during the real estate transaction at face value and take it upon yourself to verify it.  It can save you a headache down the road.  It’s easy to verify many aspects of the real estate transaction, because many local jurisdictions have their databases online.  However, making a call or two to a helpful government employee is straightforward and can provide bonus information.  Verify licenses of real estate agents, loan officers, and even home contractors.  Verify permits of home improvements.  Verify the local schools and the home’s zoning.

Finally, don’t feel pressured to do anything.  The BS artist will make it seem as if you have to act immediately.  But if you are not comfortable with the situation or are not yet ready, take a pause.

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.

Self-driving cars and home buying

self-driving cars
Self-driving cars (infographic from crowdcompanies.com)

Technology has made homes more efficient and environmentally friendly, while also making them more comfortable.  Technology has made the business of real estate become increasingly easier through electronic communications and electronic signatures.  Technology has also made finding a home much easier too.  It’s obvious that the real estate industry has been greatly impacted by technology, but will the self-driving cars technology impact real estate?

A curious article that appeared in a recent issue of Appraisal Journal suggests that self-driving cars will eventually influence real estate (A Largely Unnoticed Impact on Real Estate-Self-Driven Vehicles; Appraisal Journal; Winter2017, Vol. 85, No.1, p51-59).  The authors, Levine, Segev, and Thode, discuss how self-driving cars will likely become a standard on our roads, as well as likely changing the way we think about where we live.  There is a suggestion that the wide spread adoption of self-driving cars could bring about a suburban renewal.  As self-driving cars become more abundant, some suggest that would influence some home buyers and their decisions on where they choose to live.  The concept of owning a self-driving car could make the choice a little easier to opt for the less expensive suburban home with more land.

However, you should consider that owning a self-driving car might not make your suburban commute more convenient.  For many home buyers, a reason to move closer to an urban area is to reduce the commute time to their jobs.  For some, the thought of increasing their commute time even by ten to fifteen minutes (by virtue of an extra metro stop) is unacceptable.  Sitting in your self-driving car is not much different than sitting in a metro car or bus.  So the notion that owning a self-driving car could spawn suburban growth may not hold water.

Owning a self-driving car won’t make the suburban commute less expensive.  Many home buyers decide to live closer to their jobs to save money and energy.  The self-driving car is like any other car, such that there are operating costs.  Regardless whether your self-driving car is electric, gas or hybrid, there are fuel costs.  There will be maintenance costs too.  And of course, you need to a place to park it like any other car.

Even the value of commercial real estate may not necessarily be affected by self-driving cars.  These vehicles won’t reduce travel time to the store, nor would they make any business more convenient than another.

Let’s face it, self-driving cars isn’t the internet.  These vehicles are a convenient way to travel for sure, but they won’t change how we communicate.  Nor will they change the basic requirements we seek from our homes.

However, a government policy shift, much like the policies favoring designated car-pool vehicles and mass transit, could tip the scales in making the self-driving car the vehicle (no pun intended) to changing the real estate landscape.  Creating special lanes for self-driving vehicles could reduce commute times, thus reducing fuel costs.  Requiring dedicated parking for self-driving vehicles could also influence commercial real estate.  However, like the impact of designated car-pool vehicles, a major impact to our lifestyle is unlikely from self-driving cars.

Choosing where you live is a personal decision that is impacted by many external factors, including quality of life.  Of course the self-driving car is a technological advance that is surely to affect how you travel.  However, it is doubtful that owning a self-driving car will largely impact your quality of life and how you decide where to live.  In fact, the authors of the above mentioned article point to a 2016 Kelly Blue Book survey that indicates that a majority of Americans prefer “cars that are not fully autonomous and retain some ability for individual control.”

Copyright© Dan Krell
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Healthy home trend trumps green initiative

healthy home
Effects of Living in a Healthy Home (infographic from haywardhealthyhome.com)

Green building practices have been the trend for new homes over a decade.  Housing experts have touted the benefits of green building as environmentally friendly and money saving.  Health experts have also proclaimed the benefits of green home designs.  However, a revealing exposé in Remodeling Magazine discusses the health dangers of living in a green design and/or energy efficient home.  There is a healthy home trend that is trumping the green initiative.

The need for a healthy home

To describe how a green home’s air can become dangerous over time, Marisa Martinez uses the analogy of opening up the air-tight sealed bag of clothes from last summer and getting a whiff of the stale, plastic air (Breathing Easy: An Introduction to Healthy Homes; remodeling.hw.com; June 22, 2017).  Martinez discussed how builders and home owners have focused on reducing environmental impacts of their home and neglected the health effects from the new building directives.

Green building and efficient home designs focus on reducing system operating costs by increasing the structure efficiency, thus reducing the impact to the environment.  One of the outcomes of such a building design is having an air tight home.  The air-tight feature is to ensure that there is minimal energy loss from escaping air.  Owners and occupants of green homes are becoming ill because homes are air-tight.  The lack of proper ventilation and the decreased breathability of a home can make the inside air become stale.  And, over time, the buildup of interior pollutants can make the home toxic.

Increasing the awareness of green and efficient homes was a reason for the mandatory utility disclosures when selling a home in Montgomery County. This requirement was enacted in 2008 as a compromise from a proposed mandatory energy audit.

“According to Montgomery County Bill 31-07, enacted into Montgomery County Code Real Property 40-13b earlier this year, a home seller must provide potential home buyers the last twelve months of utility bills and information approved by the Montgomery County Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) about home efficiency improvements including the “benefit of conducting a home energy audit” before entering into a sales contract.”

Additional potential hazards can be encountered when renovating a green designed home because the air-tight feature can cause air pollutants to accumulate inside the home.  Materials in new carpets, flooring (finished wood or vinyl), and paints can produce toxic off-gases that are not ventilated out of the home.  Dust from drywall and other building materials pose a health hazard as well.

Martinez’s exposé flies in the face of research hyping the health benefits of green homes.  One of the flaws of the these studies is that the health outcome comparisons of occupants of conventional built homes and green designated homes typically focused on new homes.  The air quality issue that Martinez points out should be studied in older green and efficient homes, where the indoor air has had time to “mature.”

The green home movement was supposed to give us environmentally friendly, efficient homes that were also supposed keep us healthy.  But the trend from green and efficient building is now transforming to a focus more on healthy home environments with an emphasis on good indoor air quality.  Martinez stated that the good indoor air quality can be achieved by continuously exchanging the indoor air with conditioned outdoor air.  There are physical and environmental benefits of a healthy home, which include increased emotional well being and reduced respiratory distress.

Leading the effort to educate the housing industry and consumers on healthy home environments is Bill Hayward.  In an interview in Builder Magazine (Advocating for Fresh Air in Homes; builderonline.com; September 29, 2016) he discussed his journey in creating Hayward Healthy Homes after realizing his home was making his family ill.  Hayward stated “Thirty percent of the population has allergies and is physically affected by the indoor air quality. The worst air that Americans breath right now is the air within their house.” More information and a free guide on creating a healthy home can be obtained from Hayward Healthy Home (haywardhealthyhome.com).

Copyright© Dan Krell
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Homeownership crisis?

homeownership crisis
Homeownership Crisis? (infographic from keepingcurrentmatters.com)

The housing market made significant strides last year with regard to home sales and home prices.  However, even with housing’s good news, the homeownership rate continues to be at generational lows.  Economists and real estate professionals are stumped. Is there a homeownership crisis?

The homeownership rate for the first quarter of 2017, reported by the U.S. Census Bureau (census.gov), was 63.6 percent.  This is a slight improvement from homeownership rate recorded in 2016.  However, in their analysis, the Census Bureau stated that when the rate is adjusted for “seasonal variation,” there was no statistical difference from the 63.5 percent rate recorded in the last quarter of 2016.

homeownership
Homeownership Rate (historical data from census.gov)

The homeownership rate peaked at 69.2 percent in 2005, but has steadily declined since the Great Recession. Industry experts have been flummoxed as to why there have not been more home buyers taking advantage of historically low interest rates in an upward economy. (Freddie Mac reported last week that the national average interest rate for a 30 year fixed rate mortgage was 3.94 percent; freddiemac.com). Even mortgage lending has become looser, as some mortgage companies have rolled out low and no-down payment programs in recent months.

A homeownership crisis in the making, why is there lack of interest in homeownership?  A recent study co-sponsored by the Fisher Center for Real Estate and Urban Economics, UC Berkley and the Rosen consulting Group (Hurdles to Homeownership: Understanding the Barriers; June 2017) asserted to have the answer to this question.  According to a NAR press release (realtor.org), the study was announced this month in honor of National Homeownership Month, and presented at the National Association of Realtors Sustainable Homeownership Conference.

The authors discussed regulatory issues that has hindered housing and mortgage lending.  They also identified issues affecting would-be home buyers, which include: student debt; availability of mortgages; housing affordability; low home sale inventory; and “post-foreclosure stress disorder.”

You may already have heard much about regulatory issues, consumer debt, mortgages, affordability, and low housing inventory.  But, what is “post-foreclosure stress disorder?”  The Rosen Consulting Group coined the phrase to give a name to the concept of perceived home buying risks derived from a financial crisis.

Even though a number of consumer surveys continue to indicate a strong positive sentiment towards homeownership, the authors point to post-foreclosure stress disorder as a major influence on home buying decisions.  They believe that many individuals have been directly and indirectly affected by the Great Recession, and therefore have changed their behaviors based on perceived financial risks.  And the greater the financial risk, the greater the caution exercised.  They claim this is confirmed by a Federal Reserve survey where 80 percent of respondents indicated they would like to own a home someday, but only one in six who were financially able to purchase a home felt that renting was the best choice for now.  The authors stated that although the trauma of the Great Recession will fade over time, they assert the need to rebuild confidence in homeownership benefits.

Post-foreclosure stress disorder may account for a decline in the homeownership rate, but this is not a homeownership crisis.  It is shift in values and a major shift in lifestyles. Surveys have indicated that millennials are expected to be the largest group of homebuyers, but many millennials don’t want to be anchored by owning a home. They want to be able to take advantage of global opportunities without the burden of having to sell a home.  There is a shift away from the old standard of being house-centric to mobility.

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.

Mortgage modification future

mortgage modification
Mortgage Relief (infographic from HARP.gov)

CoreLogic’s (corlogic.com) latest monthly foreclosure report indicated a continued downward trend.  In fact, July’s national foreclosure inventory rate of 0.91% was the 57th consecutive month (almost 5 years) with a lower number of foreclosures nationwide.  Even the current 2.9% national rate of home owners considered “seriously delinquent” is also lower from last July.  (Maryland’s foreclosure inventory and seriously delinquent rates are higher than the national average at 1.2% and 4.1% respectively.) All thanks to mortgage modification and foreclosure alternatives.

Frank Nothaft, chief economist at CoreLogic, contributed the decline of foreclosure inventory to a combination of loan modification, foreclosures, and a strong housing market.  Additionally, he stated that “The U.S. Treasury’s making home affordable program has contributed to the decline through permanent modifications, forbearance and foreclosure alternatives which have assisted 2.5 million home owners with first mortgages at risk since 2009.”

In the immediate aftershock of the foreclosure and subsequent financial crises, which began almost nine years ago, the government stepped in to help out at risk home owners.  The rollout of HAFA, HARP, and HAMP was bumpy and it took time for the programs to work efficiently.  Of course, these programs were not intended to continue on forever, and in fact were supposed to end several years ago.  Fortunately, Congress, the Treasury and the FHFA have recognized the need for continued assistance and extended the programs.  Providing foreclosure alternatives and mortgage modification reduces vacant homes, bolsters communities, and helps maintain a healthy housing market.

Although these mortgage assistance programs were intended to be temporary, it’s clear that a permanent solution is necessary.  The notion that a foreclosure crisis won’t or can’t happen again is naïve.  Historically, housing downturns and recessions are cyclical.  And when an economic decline occurs, a home owner assistance program should be available to provide borrowers with alternatives to foreclosure.

The Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA.gov) announced in an August 25th press release that HARP will be extended through September 2017.  But that will be the end of Home Affordable Refinance Program (HARP) as we know it, because a new program is slated to begin October 2017.  The new program is to be a streamlined version that will also allow those whose mortgages exceed Fannie and Freddie’s loan limits to refinance.

FHFA stated that specifics for the HARP replacement will be released as the rollout date approaches.  However, it is anticipated that the program will not require a minimum credit score; will not place limits on the borrower’s debt-to-income ratio; nor will it limit the mortgage to a maximum loan-to-value.  And unlike many refinance programs, an appraisal may not be required.  And improving from the HARP program, there won’t be cut off dates, and borrowers can use the program multiple times.

The Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP) unfortunately is slated to conclude at the end of the year without a viable replacement.  However, the Mortgage Bankers Association have stepped in to create a streamlined solution to fill the gap.  A September 23rd press release (MBA.org) announced its successor to HAMP: “One Mod: Principles for Post-HAMP Loan Modifications.”

J. David Motley, CMB Vice-Chairman of the Mortgage Bankers Association, stated, “With Treasury’s HAMP program soon coming to an end, we all recognized that investors, borrowers, and servicers need a replacement program that provides clarity and simplicity to homeowners experiencing difficulty maintaining their mortgage paymentsOne Mod could meet that challenge by providing affordable and sustainable payment structures that improve the likelihood of success for participating borrowers.

Copyright © Dan Krell

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