Climate change and your housing budget

climate change
Climate change and your housing budget (infographic from energystar.gov)

Saving the planet and acting environmentally ethical is good.  But there is a truth that human behavior is unpredictable.  Even in the face of the speculative disastrous effects of climate change, consumer demand for housing in effected areas is resilient.  Rapti Gupta pointed this out when raising the alarm in his RealtyToday article (The Looming Global Warming Catastrophe and its Effect on Real Estate; realtytoday.com; November 11, 2013).

If consumers won’t embrace climate change, government will. Making your home “green” seems to be going to another level these days.  Home owners have responded by voluntarily upgrading and conserving to help according to their belief. And although it’s not the first time, there is a nationwide push for local climate change legislation that is likely to impact your housing budget.

It’s been ten years, but you probably forgot about the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009.  The bill, also referred to as the “cap and trade” bill, not only focused on commercial properties but residential properties as well.  The bill would have established National Energy Efficiency Building Codes for commercial and residential buildings.  Additionally, it intended to retrofit all existing buildings to meet new standards.  Enforcement would have been through regular government inspections.

Climate change, CCA’s and your energy bill

Since the bill (and others like it) was not enacted, local communities have picked up the ball to make their communities “greener” through Community Choice Aggregation programs.  Although CCA’s have been implemented in some states since the 1990’s, the idea is gaining steam in others.  Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich recently testified in support of CCA’s and the legislation (HB0730/SB0660) that is making its way through the Maryland General Assembly.

What is Community Choice Aggregation?  According to the EPA (epa.gov), “Community choice aggregation (CCA), also known as municipal aggregation, are programs that allow local governments to procure power on behalf of their residents, businesses, and municipal accounts from an alternative supplier while still receiving transmission and distribution service from their existing utility provider. CCAs are an attractive option for communities that want more local control over their electricity sources, more green power than is offered by the default utility, and/or lower electricity prices. By aggregating demand, communities gain leverage to negotiate better rates with competitive suppliers and choose greener power sources.

However, Severin Borenstein’s blog post for the Energy Institute at Haas (haas.berkeley.edu) points out the pros and cons of CCA’s (Is “Community Choice” Electric Supply a Solution or a Problem?).  Borenstein points out the local utility still does all the work of supplying and metering customers, and bills customers for their services. 

However, the CCA is contracting to purchase electricity on your behalf (supposedly from renewable sources), promising a better price.  But Borenstein points out that policy makers learned that “electricity is not always like other markets,” pricing and fees can be complicated.  He also pointed out that because of regulatory standards, the CCA buying of energy contracts from renewable sources doesn’t mean that the grid’s “total” green energy increases or that it will decrease greenhouse gases.  He states, “green energy claims deserve close scrutiny.

Borenstein concludes by saying that “Regulated investor-owned utilities are flawed organizations that operate under a distorted set of incentives. But local governments are also flawed organizations subject to their own set of distortions, a fact that is often less appreciated by the local government leaders who are promoting the CCA.  If your community is considering a CCA, you need to think about which organizational structure is most likely to have the sophistication and the incentives to serve you best.

Original located at https://dankrell.com/blog/2019/03/04/climate-change-housing-budget/

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.

Identity protection real estate

identity protection
Be proactive with identity protection (infographic from nsa.gov)

Even with precautions and laws to protect your sensitive data while conducting financial transactions, there can still be a weak link in the chain that can put your personal data at risk.  You may not have heard about the latest data breach, but it involved the potential leaking of over 24 million mortgage documents. Identity Protection during the real estate process takes awareness and vigilance. However, what do you do after the transaction is over?

The data breach to which I refer was discovered and reported by Bob Diachenko, Cyber Threat Intelligence Director of Security Discovery with the assistance of Zack Whitaker of Techcrunch.  This data breach was discovered by Diachenko just by searching public search engines.  According to Diachenko’s report (securitydiscovery.com/document-management-company-leaks-data-online), the unprotected database contained about 51 GB of credit and mortgages information.  The database potentially exposed more than 24 Million files.

Essentially, the over 24 million unprotected records (24,349,524 according to Diachenko) that existed on the database were likely scanned (OCR) from original documents.  Diachenko stated, “These documents contained highly sensitive data, such as social security numbers, names, phones, addresses, credit history, and other details which are usually part of a mortgage or credit report. This information would be a gold mine for cyber criminals who would have everything they need to steal identities, file false tax returns, get loans or credit cards.” 

Diachenko and Whitaker tracked down the owner of the database and found that the exposed database belonged to a third party.  After the database was secured, however, Diachenko found a second vulnerable server that contained original documents.

How is consumer identity protection handled through through institutional real estate transactions?

According to Whitaker, the documents date as far back to 2008, possibly further.  The documents concerned “correspondence from several major financial and lending institutions” including government entities such as HUD.  Whitaker stated that not all data was “sensitive,” however the database included: names, addresses, birth dates, Social Security numbers, bank and checking account numbers.  They also found some documents that contained other “sensitive financial information,” such as bankruptcy and tax documents, including W-2 forms. 

To understand the broader implications of identity protection in a real estate transaction, read Diachenko and Whitaker’s first (techcrunch.com/2019/01/23/financial-files) and second (techcrunch.com/2019/01/24/mortgage-loan-leak-gets-worse) report. The reporting of Diachenko and Whitaker is significant because it exposes how your identity and sensitive information can be mishandled in the broader financial transactional process that occurs between entities.  Even though direct correspondence with you may be encrypted and secure, security lapses can occur during the institutional transaction process (such selling and/or transferring a mortgage)

The moral of the story is that once your information is out of your hands, you cannot assume it’s 100 percent secure.  Even blockchain technology, which has been touted as a safe means of digital data management, has weaknesses.  And as governments and financial institutions are looking to blockchain as the “answer” to data security, there are reports of “attacks” of increasing sophistication according to James Risberg (Yes, the Blockchain Can Be Hacked; coincentral.com; May 7, 2018). 

Take your identity protection seriously when buying and selling a home

Be vigilant and proactive to protect your identity and sensitive information.  Be wary of unsolicited requests for information, even if it appears to be from someone with whom you are conducting business. Always make a call to confirm the request. Consider a credit freeze to prevent fraudsters from opening credit accounts in your name.  Check your credit report regularly and dispute errors.  If you’ve been a victim of identity theft, the FTC’s IdentityTheft.gov site can help you report it and create a recovery plan.  You can learn more about protecting yourself from identity theft from the FTC (consumer.ftc.gov) and the Federal Reserve (federalreserveconsumerhelp.gov).

Original located at https://dankrell.com/blog/identity-protection-real-estate

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.

Home market value

home market value
Home Market Value (infographic from keepingcurrentmatters.com)

It’s normal for homeowners to wonder about their home market value. After all, home sales and prices have been making headlines for well over a decade.  But you certainly can’t get a home market value from a headline, nor can you assume it from a neighbor’s sale.  The reality is that your home market value could vary depending on whom and when you ask.

A timely and important review article by Michael Sanders recently published in the Appraisal Journal asks the question “what does Market Value Mean?”  (Market Value: What Does It Really Mean?; Appraisal Journal. Summer2018, 86:3, p206-218).  The article correctly points out that determining “market value” can realize different results depending on the scope and purpose of the appraisal.  You can see how this might be problematic if you’re trying to determine a home’s value when divorcing or trying to sell an estate property.  Some mortgage lenders even have different value criteria depending on the loan product and purpose.

Sanders suggests that “market value” undergoes scrutiny when valuations are difficult and appraisals are questioned (e.g., during a recession).  However, having a discussion about the meaning of “market value” now, when there is relative market stability, is probably meaningful for the industry and consumers.  Interestingly, the semantics of “market value” have changed through the years, and ultimately depends on the application.  He points out at least twelve similar but different legal definitions of “market value.”

Sanders suggests that Richard Radcliff, an appraisal pioneer of the 1960’s, was ahead of his time by advocated for most probable price valuations.  An ongoing debate in appraisal circles is whether “market value” is the highest price or probable price.  However, it wasn’t until the 1980’s when appraisal articles academically contemplated the association of “probable sale price” and “market value.”

Sanders quotes Richard Ratcliff saying, “appraisal is largely the predicting of human behavior under given market conditions.”  Sanders quips about an “ideal world”, where “appraisers would apply market value definitions using a relatively consistent and objective standard, and reflect conditions in the market as they exist, rather than how others might wish them to be.

Although the accepted dictionary definition of “market value” is the price a buyer is willing to pay for your home, market value and sale price could be different (and often is).  And according to Sanders, an appraised “market value” isn’t necessarily the price for which your home may sell.

At this point you may be asking yourself, “how much is my home really worth?”  For the answer, you may have to ask a Realtor.

Realtors use market data to prepare comparative market analyses (CMA) that can help buyers and sellers decide on a sale price.  Although a CMA is not an appraisal, it is a technical and methodical professional analysis that provides a snapshot of the market.  The CMA is typically more refined in scope than an appraisal, such that it is usually limited to a neighborhood and home criteria.  Additionally, depending on the location and availability of comparable sales, it can provide a 30, 60, and 90-day probable sale price range based on market trends.

If you’re planning a home sale, a Realtor’s CMA may be your best source of information to decide on a listing price.  Even mortgage lenders have relied on Realtor CMA’s, in the form of Broker Price Opinions, to help decide on sale prices for short sales and bank owned homes.

Original published at https://dankrell.com/blog

Copyright© Dan Krell
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Civil asset forfeiture

civil asset forfeiture
Home Buyer Sanpshot (infographic from nar.realtor)

Can your home be seized through civil asset forfeiture? Consider the ongoing and expanded effort to identify cash purchases of residential real estate to catch criminals.

An imminent Supreme Court decision on Timbs v. Indiana could have implications on your home and property. Although the case is about excessive fines brought on by a state, it highlights the issue of due process in civil asset forfeiture. To bring you up to speed, the case is about the seizure of an Indiana resident’s $42,000 Land Rover by the state of Indiana, although his drug related fine was only $10,000. The Land Rover was allegedly purchased from cash obtained from an insurance policy, instead of illicit monies.

Civil asset forfeit is a when the government (federal, state, or local) confiscates your property when you are suspected of a crime. You don’t necessarily have to be charged or convicted of the crime. Civil libertarians criticize governments and law enforcement agencies for abusing civil asset forfeiture for profit. Maryland is one of the many states that have recently passed legislation reforming civil asset forfeiture. However, Congress has yet to pass a civil asset forfeiture reform bill.

In their effort to fight money laundering and mortgage fraud, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (fincen.gov) recently stated that their Geographic Targeting Orders (GTOs) program has “provided valuable data on the purchase of residential real estate by persons implicated, or allegedly involved, in various illicit enterprises including foreign corruption, organized crime, fraud, narcotics trafficking, and other violations. Reissuing the GTOs will further assist in tracking illicit funds and other criminal or illicit activity…”

Previous GTO’s required title companies to report all-cash transactions that met specific criteria. The purpose was to track and identify individuals who mask their identity behind shell companies. FinCen found that the GTO program provided “valuable data on the purchase of residential real estate by persons implicated, or allegedly involved, in various illicit enterprises including foreign corruption, organized crime, fraud, narcotics trafficking, and other violations.” So much so, that A November 15th press release revealed expanded reporting criteria and metro coverage. FinCen believes that the “reissued GTO” will assist in “tracking illicit activity.”

FinCen’s targets were previously limited to suspected foreign entities purchasing luxury properties. However, FinCen is becoming increasingly aggressive to include more transactions and individuals in their reporting criteria.

Two years ago, I reported on the expansion of the FinCen’s interest in fighting mortgage fraud and money laundering through residential real estate transactions. A January 13th 2016 FinCen release stated their intention in expanding their anti-money-laundering efforts to cash purchases of luxury real estate. The GTO was supposed to help learn about the risk posed by “corrupt foreign officials, or transnational criminals” who were suspected of “secretly” buying of luxury real estate in certain metropolitan areas.

Previous GTO’s focused on the cash purchases of luxury homes (over $1 million) in limited metro areas. However, in their November 15th revision, FinCen lowers the reporting threshold of cash purchases to $300,000. Additionally, the metro areas of interest have been expanded to include certain counties Boston, Chicago, Dallas-Fort Worth, Honolulu, Las Vegas. Los Angeles, Miami, New York City, San Antonio, San Diego, San Francisco, and Seattle. Additionally, title companies in those metro areas are also to report “natural persons” behind shell companies used in all-cash purchases of residential real estate, as well as virtual currency purchases.

Original published at https://dankrell.com

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.

Home sale renovations

home sale renovations
Interior Home Sale Renovations (infographic from nar.realtor)

According to the National Association of Realtors (nar.realtor), the average time a homeowner stays in their home is ten years.  This is higher than the seven-year average prior to the great recession (but is less than the thirteen-year average immediately following the recession).  Needless to say, many homeowners are approaching (or have exceeded) their ten-year stint, and are likely selling their home during the spring and will likely be doing home sale renovations.

Any home sale preparation in today’s housing market should include some home sale renovations.  If you haven’t replaced the home’s systems (such as the roof or HVAC) while you lived in your home, there’s a good chance that they are approaching or have exceeded their average life expectancy.

Additionally, the décor and fixtures in your home are likely outdated.  The home sellers who make the mistake of not updating or renovating before they list inevitably face home inspection issues.  They ultimately find that the home takes longer to sell at a reduced price.

Let’s face it, remodeling can be expensive and overwhelming, especially when it’s for home sale renovations.  According to the NAR’s 2017 Remodeling Impact Report, about $340 billion was spent on remodeling projects in 2015.  Although a majority of homeowners would remodel their home themselves, thirty-five percent would prefer to move instead of remodeling their home.

The Report cited functionality and livability as the top reasons for home sale renovations.  It’s a no-brainer that home buyers prefer homes that are functional, comfortable, and sustainable.  Aesthetics is not enough for a home to be appealing to today’s home buyer, it has to fit their life style.  Additionally, home buyers want efficient systems in their new homes that can help save on utility costs.

Home sale renovations should focus on functionality and livability

What projects will get buyers who will pay top dollar into your home?  It should be no surprise that the number one interior project, listed by the 2017 Remodeling Impact Report, is a complete kitchen renovation.  Other essential interior projects include renovating bathrooms, installing new wood flooring, creating a new master suite, replacing the HVAC system, and finishing a basement or attic.

It also shouldn’t be a surprise that the Report listed replacing the roof as the top exterior project. Other exterior projects in high demand include new windows, new garage door, new siding, and installing a new front door.

If you want to add value to your home, even if it’s not for home sale renovations, check the 2018 Cost vs. Value report (costvsvalue.com).  The report can give you insight to which remodeling projects are the most popular, and estimates how much of the cost you can potentially reclaim when you sell your home.

There’s no doubt that renovating your home can be expensive.  Although the costs of home sale renovations can tempt you to cut corners, don’t.  Cutting corners on renovation projects can actually cost you more.  You may have to repair, or even re-do the project if not finished adequately.  Home buyers are savvy, and can spot low quality materials and poor workmanship.

Also, make sure to get permits when required.  If the home buyer doesn’t ask you, the home inspector will likely recommend that the home buyer check for permits.

Although many homeowners don’t mind a DIY project, many hire home improvement professionals.  When hiring home improvement professionals, check with the Maryland Home Improvement Commission (dllr.state.md.us/license/mhic) to ensure they are licensed contractors.  You should also ask for proof of their insurance, including Workman’s Comp insurance, in case there is an accident on your property while completing the project.

If you hire a contractor who will accept payment when the house sells, read your contract carefully and thoroughly. Do your due diligence.  There may be provisions in your contract that you may not be aware of, such as added costs, charging interest, and setting/lowering the sale price.

Original article is published at https://dankrell.com/blog/2018/11/17/home-sale-renovations

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.