Mortgage Choice Act good or bad?

Mortgage Choice Act

Mortgage Choice Act
Choosing a lender (infographic from lender411.com)

Monday’s Reuters “exclusive” report about the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau dropping their investigation on the Equifax data breach caused quite a stir in DC (Exclusive: U.S. consumer protection official puts Equifax probe on ice – sources: reuters.com February 5, 2018).  The exclusive cited unnamed sources.  However, a spokesperson for Transunion (a credit repository) suggested that cybercrime is not within the jurisdiction of the CFPB.

Later that day, Reuters cited Democratic Senators’ concerns and outrage over the alleged investigation pullback (Senators urge Trump administration to resume Equifax probe; reuters.com February 6, 2018).

The next day, Reuters reported that Treasury Secretary Mnuchin desired to meet with CFPB’s Acting Director Mick Mulvaney, based on its initial reports of dropping the Equifax investigation (Treasury’s Mnuchin says he wants answers on Equifax breach; reuters.com February 6, 2018) .  In the same report, Reuters cited the CFPB’s spokesperson saying that the CFPB was working with other government agencies on the Equifax data breach.

The veracity of Reuters’ unnamed sources in the report is not clear.  However, there may be something to the fact that cybersecurity falls under the domain of the FBI and Homeland Security.  Additionally, there are many other agencies investigating the Equifax data breach, as Housing Wire reported on Monday (CFPB reportedly pulling back from Equifax data breach investigation: Reuters reports that bureau is not aggressively pursuing investigation; housingwire.com; February 5, 2018).  The FTC appeared to be the lead agency investigating the matter when the data breach became public news.  Additionally, the House and Senate Financial Committees, as well as all fifty states attorney generals are investigating.

Mortgage Choice Act goes under the radar…

News created drama, such as the Reuters’ CFPB story, allows real consumer issues to fly under the radar.  Consumers should take note that the once dead Mortgage Choice Act has come back to life.  Much like a scene out of Tin Men, the revived legislation is being promoted by the likes of the National Association of Realtors® under the guise of being good for the consumer.

According to the CBO (cbo.gov/publication/53497):

Under current law, a ‘qualified mortgage’ has certain characteristics that make it more affordable…To meet the qualified-mortgage definition, certain costs that are incidental to the loan and that are paid by the borrower…cannot exceed 3 percent of the total loan amount. Lenders offering “high-cost mortgages” (home mortgages with interest rates and fees that exceed certain thresholds) must make certain additional disclosures to borrowers and must comply with restrictions on the terms of such loans.”  The Mortgage Choice Act “…would exclude insurance premiums held in escrow and, under certain circumstances, fees paid to companies affiliated with the creditor from the costs that would be considered in determining whether a loan is a qualified mortgage or a high-cost mortgage.”

The NAR is urging support for this legislation, as well as issuing an open letter to Congress.  The NAR’s rationale is that the Mortgage Choice Act:

“… will enhance competition in the mortgage and title insurance markets, and ensure that consumers will be able to choose the lenders and title providers best suited for their home buying needs.”

This sounds virtuous, but in reality it’s a play to allow broker affiliated lenders and title insurers to charge consumers more without additional disclosures.  NAR says that lenders and title insurers would still be subject to RESPA (which prohibits steering and kickbacks).  But charging consumers excessive fees and affiliated businesses giving kickbacks are not mutually exclusive.  Meaning that a lender charges can be excessive independent of the lender providing a kickback to the broker.  (the CFPB has recently fined brokers and lenders for kickbacks).

Is NAR interested in building consumer trust?

The NAR has for years tried to influence public opinion of Realtors® and the industry.  The NAR Code of Ethics has been used as a focal point to increase positive sentiment towards Realtors®.  However, NAR’s desire to implement a Code of Excellence may have been a beginning shift towards building public trust.

The Code of Excellence, like the Code of Ethics, is a desire to increase competence and proficiency.  But 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).

Value, along with quality and price,  has much higher regard than ethics in a consumer’s mind.  This was demonstrated by Carrigan & Attalla’s ground breaking consumer research (The myth of the ethical consumer – do ethics matter in purchase behaviour? The Journal of Consumer Marketing. 2001.. 18(7),560-577.)

If the NAR is truly interested in building consumer trust, the NAR leadership should get on the correct side of this issue and provide value to consumers instead of giving lip service.

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.

Consumers are devolving real estate

Consumers choose their agents
Consumers directing real estate industry (infographic from househuntnetwork.com)

The National Association of Realtors annual Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers (nar.realtor) reveals insight into consumer real estate trends.  It provides an understanding into home buyers’ and sellers’ experiences and what they want.  One aspect of focus from the Profile is how consumers choose their real estate agent.  The survey consistently indicates that a referral from a friend, neighbor or relative plays a big part in their choice.  But how do buyers and sellers view real estate brands?

There are reams of research about the relationship between brands and consumers.  However, recent data regarding millennials suggest that brand loyalty may be changing.  Jeff Fromm’s article for Forbes (Why Label Transparency Matters When It Comes To Millennial Brand Loyalty; forbes.com; December 13, 2017) points out what consumers are looking for and what they deem important.  Fromm states

If the brand doesn’t provide the information they need, millennials will look elsewhere… when millennials make purchase decisions, they’re considering more than the traditional drivers of taste, price and convenience.  They value authenticity, and make decisions based on the way they perceive brands to impact their quality of life, society as a whole, and how that brand may be contributing positively to the world.”

Real estate brokers and agents should pay close attention to the new consumer research.

This evolution of brand loyalty and how consumers perceive brands may explain the growth of independent brokers.  A 2015 Special Report by Inman Select (inman.com) The Shift Toward Independent Brokerages indicates that the number of real estate agents affiliating with independent brokerages (not affiliated with corporate or franchise real estate companies) grew significantly over the last decade.  The percentage of agents affiliating with independent brokers jumped from about 45 percent in 2006 to about 55 percent in 2015.  About 80 percent of real estate brokerages are independent.  And the trend is expected to continue.

According to the Special Report, the major advantage cited for affiliating with a brand name brokerage is brand awareness.  However, there may be a limit to the influence of a real estate brand.  Unlike retail brands, real estate brands do not have total control over the consistency and quality of the services provided.  That is left to the individual agent.  Independents, on the other hand, cite the ability to quickly adjust to consumers’ needs and being focused on the local real estate market as an advantage.

Yes, the real estate industry appears to be devolving.  Another example of the devolution is a decreasing reliance on the MLS for home listings.  It’s not to say that home sellers are not listing their homes with agents, because an increasing number of sellers are looking to agents for their expertise.  However, brokers and agents are maintaining control over their inventories through alternative means of selling homes, such as pocket listings.  An increasing number of brokers are also restricting their listings from internet syndication to increase the quality of information provided to consumers.  Although it may sound counter-intuitive to not widely broadcast a home for sale on the MLS or internet, however, a lack of transparency remains a problem for some real estate aggregator portals.

Are real estate brokers and agents listening?  The business of real estate is changing and devolving.  Control over the industry has slowly been transferred to real estate consumers.  Real estate consumers are savvy and intelligent.  They know if a broker/agent is really focused on revenue streams, gimmicks and salesy techniques.  Real estate consumers want agents and brokers who are authentic, transparent, and provide a quality service.

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.

Industry disruptors changing real estate

Reat estate industry disruptors
Reat estate industry disruptors (infographic from nar.realtor)

Buying and selling homes hasn’t really changed much over the years.  It still requires a buyer and a seller.  Getting them together often requires a real estate agent or broker.  Sure, technology has changed the brokerage relationship dramatically.  It has also forced players in the real estate industry to change or get out of the business.  A new trend of real estate brokers are embracing technology like never before.  Will these real estate industry disruptors change how real estate services will be provided in the future?  Will these industry disruptors drive a new enthusiasm for “real estate technology brokers“?

One the largest players in the real estate industry is Zillow.  Although Zillow has a number of services that can bring home buyers and sellers together, they are mostly a technology company that serves to provide consumers information.  The company generates revenue by selling services to real estate brokers and agents, as well as mortgage companies and loan officers.  Many consumers visit Zillow’s websites to view information about homes for sale or rent that are listed with brokers or the homes’ owners.  Consumers don’t pay Zillow a fee or commission for the service.

Over the years, many have talked about how Zillow’s technological influence will predict the real estate industry’s future.  Those real estate prophets foretold a time when home buyers and sellers will be able to do business on the internet without a real estate agent or broker.  But in reality, Zillow’s influence only cemented the necessity of a broker or agent to facilitate the transaction.  Zillow’s success has generated millions of dollars in revenue, but the company has struggled to post an annual net profit.

Redfin is another real estate company that has a significant internet presence.  Some think of Redfin as a technology firm offering real estate services.  But the reality is that it is a real estate brokerage built around technology.  Redfin has built its brand, and went public this year.  Although the company generates millions in revenue, the Seattle Times reported that Redfin’s IPO offering indicated that the company has yet to post an annual net profit and has accumulated losses of $613.3 million (Seattle real estate company Redfin files to go public; seattletimes.com; June 30, 2017).

Companies like Zillow and Redfin are not the only players in real estate know for technology, but they may be the most well-known.  These companies are part of a new generation of companies that strive for a huge internet footprint to drive business.  But Zillow and Redfin demonstrate that technology in and of itself is not a guarantee of profitability, nor has it been an absolute “game changer” for the real estate industry.  Instead, technology has been the catalyst for change.

Industry disruptors and real estate

Consumers probably don’t realize the subtleties, but the rapid changes in real estate technology has forced real estate agents and brokers to change how they engage their clients.  Since companies like Zillow and other real estate aggregator sites have propagated the internet, the role of the real estate agent and broker has shifted away from being the source of information to being the source of a meaningful analysis.  Agents and brokers have also shifted their roles from information keepers to transaction managers.

What better way to be a real estate change agent and industry disruptor than to build a business around technology.   Redfin is probably the most poised to make major impact to how consumers are served in the real estate industry.  With all of its tech goodness, Redfin’s contribution to the industry hasn’t been as much technological than financial.  The brand will likely be known for being instrumental in reducing real estate commissions.  In markets where Redfin has been successful in establishing its brand, agents have been under significant pressure to lower listing commissions and/or offer buyer rebates.

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.

Real Estate Expert

Real estate expert
Real estate expert (infographic from infographicportal.com)

When I began my real estate career, every budding agent was taught that we should farm neighborhoods to become the local expert.  Agents would (and many still do) farm neighborhoods by spending a small fortune on mailings and other promotional marketing about themselves just to tell you how smart they are about your neighborhood.  The notion that only one agent is “the expert” on selling homes in your neighborhood has become antiquated.  The demise of  this long standing rite is approaching as consumers become increasingly savvy. Enter “The Real Estate Expert.”

Before the MLS, real estate was a local business, where real estate brokers set up their offices in neighborhoods and became the “local experts.”  The neighborhood broker guided home sales and prices because they were the expert.  Home buyers and sellers went directly to these agents if they wanted to buy or sell a home.

However, the advent of the MLS opened up the marketplace and created “market experts.”  Not having prior knowledge about a neighborhood was no longer a problem for real estate agents.  The MLS provided agents the data and home information to become the local housing trends expert.  The MLS essentially allowed agents to sell more homes in the broader regional area.

The internet changed all that, of course, by providing data and home information to anyone connected.  Everyone is a neighborhood expert thanks to the internet!  However, there is downside to having an unlimited stream of figures, statistics and trivia without a filter.  Home buyers are on information overload.  They are inundated with information about a home’s history, as well as advice about buying and selling.  Buyers and sellers have so much information, they are overthinking every aspect about the home buying and selling process.  They are getting in their own way and potentially sabotaging their own transactions.

The ever-improving technology and the proliferation of information has changed the business of real estate, which has made the “neighborhood real estate expert” a thing of the past.  Sure, there are many agents who still market themselves as the neighborhood expert, but does that make them more qualified to sell your home?  Agents hyping themselves to know more about your neighborhood can also potentially sabotage your transaction if they make it personal.  They may be able to tell you about what makes your neighborhood special, as well as share trivia.  But so can your neighbor.  Does that make your neighbor qualified to sell your home?

Enter “The Real Estate Expert.”  The Real Estate Expert is a professional who follows the housing market and can interpret the data about your neighborhood in a meaningful way.  They can compile information to provide you with a detailed and meaningful market analysis to assist you in deciding on a sale price without personal bias.  The Real Estate Expert knows how to market your home in the current economic environment.  They understand what home buyers want in a home, and they can prepare and present your home to promote it to grab home buyers’ attention.

Real Estate Experts are trending away from marketing themselves, and leaning towards being attentive to their clients.  Real Estate Experts also understand the nuances of negotiation, and are current on legislation that can affect their client’s rights and obligations.  They also know how to facilitate a transaction, so as to protect their client’s best interest without regard to their commission.

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.

Consumers changing real estate agent commissions

real estate agent commissions
Real estate agent commissions (infographic from visual.ly)

Consumers have most likely complained about real estate agent commissions since the advent of real estate brokerage.  However, before the turn of this century, most did not question the real estate agent commissions they paid because they chalked it up to the cost of selling a home.  Times have changed, such that having a conversation about commissions and compensation is a common topic when agents and consumers first meet.

Real estate agent compensation is evolving as fast as the industry.  The US Bureau of Labor Statistics (bls.gov) reports the median annual wage for real estate sales agents was $44,090 in May 2016 (The lowest 10 percent earned less than $22,230, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $112,570). The BLS states:

“An agent’s income, therefore, often depends on economic conditions, the agent’s individual motivation, and the types of property available. Income usually increases as agents become better and more experienced at sales. Earnings can be irregular, especially for beginners, and agents sometimes go weeks or months without a sale. “

Before the turn of this century, there was more conformity in real estate agent commissions because most agents were not negotiable in the compensation they charged.  However, modern agents have adjusted their business models and are open to negotiate how much they will be paid.

There are also many real estate broker compensation structures from which you can choose.  Some brokers offer limited services, and some offer fee-for services, which includes a MLS placement service.  Some fee for service brokers offer à la carte services, where you can choose specific services for which you want to pay.  Most “full service” agents still charge a percentage, but the percentage can vary from agent to agent.  Full service agents can also vary on the extent of the “full” service they provide; however, many will be open to negotiate their commission rate.  Regardless of model, get the agent’s services in writing and hold your agent accountable.

The increased market pressure on agent compensation is actually good for the consumer.  It doesn’t only lower the cost of the real estate transaction, but it also increases the quality of services.  This was the finding of an empirical study by Panle Jia Barwick and Parag A. Pathak (The costs of free entry: an empirical study of real estate agents in Greater Boston; The RAND Journal of Economics; Vol 46, No. 1, Spring 2015, p.103–145).  Their study investigated three scenarios that are chipping away at the traditional real estate agent compensation models: lower commissions, commissions based on break-even costs, and improved information about agents’ past performance.

Barwick and Pathak found some interesting outcomes from their research.  Besides concluding that there are consequences for fixed real estate agent commissions, they also discovered that the easy entry into the industry (i.e., the ease of getting a real estate license) reduces the quality of service.  Furthermore, the increased competition among real estate agents caused by easy entry into the industry is not beneficial to a home selling or time on market.  They also concluded that

“…lower commissions reduce transaction costs, which might lead to a more liquid housing market, improved asset allocation, and better housing consumption. Flexible commissions also provide a channel for consumers to choose services tailored to their preferences.”

Their results suggest

“…that a 50% cut in commissions would result in 40% fewer agents, social savings that amount to 23% of industry revenue, and 73% more transactions for the average agent.”

Realtors should embrace the discussion about compensation and real estate agent commissions with their clients.  It offers the agent an opportunity to demonstrate their accountability.  It also promotes transparency and the services we Realtors provide, and builds the trust that is lacking in the industry.

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.