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  • San Diego Castles Realty
  • 12265 Scripps Poway Parkway, Suite 115
  • Poway, CA 92064
  • P: 858.530.2374
  • F: 858.876.1701
  • E: info (at) sandiegocastles.com
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Post time is approaching – California Home Buyer Credit

Unterwegs

And the horses are approaching the starting gate.

The State will begin accepting applications for the new home/first-time buyer tax credit on May 1st. For qualifying buyers, there is $10,000 at stake, so place your wagers early. When the money runs out, it’s gone.

Information on the program can be found at the Franchise Tax Board website. First-timers need to close escrow before making application, and rumors have it that June may be too late. But, for all of you new home buyers, be aware that you need only have signed your enforceable contract on or after May 1st, at which point you can make application to reserve your winnings. According to the FTB:

Reservations: Taxpayers who qualify for the New Home Credit may, but are not required to, reserve a tax credit prior to the close of escrow. Reservations will become important as we near the $100 million cap for homes that may not close escrow before the cap is reached, as a reservation will “hold the taxpayer’s place in line” until 2 weeks after escrow closes. To reserve a tax credit, the taxpayer and seller need to complete, sign, and fax to us a reservation request to certify that they have entered into an enforceable contract on or after May 1, 2010, and on or before December 31, 2010. A copy of the signed contract must be included with the reservation request. Taxpayers who reserve a tax credit still need to fax an application and a copy of the settlement statement within 2 weeks after the close of escrow. Taxpayers may not reserve a tax credit if the contract was entered into before May 1, 2010. We will post the reservation form and details about the process by May 1, 2010.

This got me thinking. We saw a boatload of strategic delays in closings on resale homes in April in order for already committed buyers to take advantage of the credit. Could we see new home buyers making similar pleas — for a fresh, new contract bearing the coveted May, 2010 time stamp for their committed purchases? Would the builders be willing to play ball?

Probably not, but nothing surprises me anymore.

Creative Commons License photo credit: CoreForce

Just sayin'. I give the customer credit.

I’ve orphaned my blog for a week or so — again — as duty called. Duty, this week, was a real estate conference in Scottsdale. More correctly, the conference was in Fort McDowell. And if you are unfamiliar with the area as I was, Fort McDowell is better known as “The Place to Which the Cab Ride from the Airport Costs More than the Flight.”

Back in one piece, I am mobilizing to commence Operation Catch-Up. But, before I do, I thought I would pop in to share my helpful home selling tips of the day. This blog short was inspired by real events but, rest assured, the identities of the perpetrators have been protected.

  1. It is not OK for your agent to take his own photos of your home for mass distribution to the big, ol’ online world of would-be buyers unless your agent is related to Ansel Adams through blood or marriage. There are people who do this (take photographs) for a living, and they are generally very, very good at it. They have expensive cameras. Your agent’s time is better spent being very, very good at representing you in the transaction.
  2. With very few exceptions (you have the perfectly quaffed house, Martha Stewart gets her real estate license and agrees to be your fiduciary), it is not OK for your agent to “stage” your home themselves. You are hiring your agent to do their job so you can remain focused on doing yours. This approach to out-sourcing is equally valid for the real estate agent.
  3. It is not OK for your agent to suggest that your home is so perfect “just like it is” that it does not require staging – not, unless, you are living in 2005. Our market is different, and the best agents are aware that the rules have changed and the playbook is different.
  4. It is not OK for your agent to embellish an opinion of value. The data is science; pricing is art. Yet, one is intrinsically related to the other. As in all things, if it is too good to be true, it is.  And the corollary is that, while no one is perfect (opinions are just that, and we all miss on occasion), if you suspect that an agent has bought your business with false promises of rainbows and pots of gold on the bet that you will price reduce over time, on his watch, do not reward him with loyalty. You have choices.
  5. You deserve a relationship based on trust, ethics, and integrity. You deserve excellence. Settling for less is a choice, and the price far outweighs any savings you may realize when Bob at the office is offering you a smoking deal.
  6. Having the most open house signs on the corner on Sunday or the biggest postcards in the bulk mail system does not make for a better agent. It makes for a more visible agent. They could be the same, or not. Do your due diligence so that you can know the difference.
  7. It is not OK for an agent to not return phone calls or be otherwise unavailable and inattentive throughout the process. Not only might this be an indication of how they are communicating with other agents and your potential buyers, ours is a service industry. If we can’t at least get that part right, we have big problems.
  8. It is not OK for an agent to earn your business by talking smack about other agents. This is not healthy competition; it is poor form and a character flaw. Just sayin’.

My little stream of consciousness was inspired by a conversation we were having at last week’s Conference in the Middle of Nowhere about raising the bar in the industry. On a panel discussion, I remarked that it will be the consumer who changes the real estate industry for the better– that they will ultimately, finally, demand excellence, and only those agents who can ante up will survive.

As my comment was “retweeted,” a colleague expressed doubt. I hope he’s wrong. We have operated under the shroud of an offline world and a secret MLS for so long, the revelation among buyers and sellers that they have the power to insist on better will be a process. But I firmly believe that it will happen. I cling to the notion that our customers will recognize the differences and demand the best we have to offer. I am certain that natural selection is in the hands of the customer, not a bloated industry incapable of self-policing on our grand scale, and the customer will make the wisest choices.

Please prove me right. In a business where you control the hiring and firing process, the power is yours.

California home buyer tax credits. Blink and you may miss them.

Monopoly money at Christmas
Creative Commons License photo credit: HowardLake

As reported by the California Association of Realtors (CAR):

The $100 million allocated for California’s first-time homebuyer tax credits may be depleted in about 10 to 20 days or sooner, according to C.A.R.’s Economics team.  California’s Franchise Tax Board (FTB) plans to begin accepting applications on May 1, 2010 for tax credits up to $10,000 for first-time homebuyers and for homes that have never been previously occupied.  However, the total tax credit allocation for all taxpayers is $100 million for first-time homebuyers and $100 million for new homes, both on a first-come, first-served basis.

C.A.R.’s forecast of 10 to 20 days to deplete the $100 million allocation for first-time home buyers is based on estimated May sales figures and other parameters.  It does not take into account the possibility that buyers scheduled to close escrow in April may delay closing until May to take advantage of the tax credit.  If a shift in closings from April to May occurs, the first-time homebuyer tax credits may be depleted even more quickly than indicated above.

Emphasis was added – by me. I touched on this last week, so I can’t say that I am surprised. As for the emphasis, watch out. We are seeing many “strategic delays” by buyers already committed to a purchase in order to take advantage of the free money. If you are one of them, you had better act fast. The state tax credits, it seems, are a very limited time offer.

Affiliates vs. Affiliations – Advantage Broker or Customer?

BFF Sterling Silver Charm
Creative Commons License photo credit: Dazzled Beader Designs

Surveys consistently show that the vast majority of home buyers and sellers prefer one-stop shopping for their real estate transactions. The big brokerages promote this heavily as an advantage only they can bring to the customer. Is that true?

One-stop shopping is the tie-in of the many ancillary services a buyer or seller may need to complete their transaction. In California, this would typically include escrow, title, home warranty and home financing services to name a few. These service providers, collectively, generate many billions of dollars of income nationally every year. In order to capitalize on this gold mine, many larger brokerages have formed their own separate companies to provide these services. These are called affiliates and, if you have ever worked for or done business with a large brokerage, you may be familiar with the concept. In fact, the use of affiliate services was probably promoted heavily to you in part because they represent a sizeable source of income for large brokerages, particularly given the downturn in real estate sales over the past five years.

Although the Real Estate Settlement and Procedures Act (RESPA) prohibits any brokerage from requiring their agents to use, or from forcing their clients to use, one or more of their affiliates, you can be sure they promote them to their agents on a regular basis. As an agent formerly with a large firm, I can tell you that we were reminded pretty much every week of the importance to the broker’s financial success, and therefore ours, of supporting the company’s partnering profit centers.

On the surface, this big brokerage one-stop shopping seems reasonable and convenient, which is why so many people like it. However, as a consumer, there are several things to be aware of. For starters, are you getting the best pricing? Of equal importance, are you getting the highest level of expertise, professionalism and service?

As a smaller, independent brokerage, we are under no pressure to use affiliates (as we have no financial relationships with ancillary service providers).  We work with many, some being associated with the larger brokerages while many others are independent. The important distinction is this – Our clients still enjoy one-stop shopping. But, rather than having affiliates, we have affiliations.

What’s the difference between affiliates and affiliations?  A lot, actually. Because there is no pressure for us as agents to use a “partner” company’s services, nor is there a temptation for us as brokers to promote one service provider over another because it would be beneficial to our profitability, our agents are free to shop and use any ancillary service provider of their and their client’s choosing. Absent the pressure to recommend the guy who shares the anchor suite or the table at the management retreats, we are left only to recommend the companies providing the best value and greatest competence. Having affiliations versus affiliates removes bias, and the client benefits.

This is not to say that big brokerage affiliates are inferior. To the contrary, there are some we actually prefer, especially when it comes to lenders. One of our favorite mortgage brokers works for a big brokerage affiliate, and we recommend him regularly to our buyer clients. Rather, it’s the total freedom to advise our clients honestly and without prejudice about the choices they have, based on the experiences we have had and the relationships we have built over our many years of representing home buyers and sellers. They are relationships measured by performance, by both cost and benefit to our clients, not by potential benefit to our corporate bottom line.

If you are a seller interviewing agents to list your home or a buyer interviewing agents to represent you in your purchase, you undoubtedly consider all aspects of that agent’s capabilities and strike a balance between cost, quality and experience. Similarly, you should do the same when agreeing to the various other service providers who will be assisting in your transaction. One-stop shopping is an enormous convenience, and a great one-stop shopping experience can be delivered to you by any agent regardless of the size of their company or the nature of their third-party relationships.

But, often, you may find that the choices offered by the agents who are unshackled of affiliates but who simply have solid, tested affiliations are far greater. A broker’s own escrow company may be the best thing since sliced bread – or not. It’s not that affiliates are bad, but that affiliations are what matter. In the end, it should always, only be about what is best for you, the client.

No programmers on payroll? Mapping home sales on a shoestring.

It’s another beautiful San Diego morning, and I should be going for a run — or closing out a couple of transaction files. Instead, I had this sudden urge to make maps.

I have used MapAList in the past. It’s a rather addictive little tool that allows you to take any spreadsheet and map the results. It has been handy for plotting our closed sales to create this very compelling visual. (Sorry, new agents, I haven’t updated the data to reflect all of your own hard work in the Scripps Ranch ‘hood, but that will happen eventually.)

This morning, when I arguably had better things to do, I got a bee in my bonnet to replace the old, crusty tabular sold statistics on our web site with a map-based version using this tool. Alas, I am not Zillow or Redfin with large sums of venture capital and rooms full of full-time programmers, so this is a rudimentary manual method of providing data. However, for our more locally focused site, it works.

And maps make my happy.

Here is what the sales of detached homes in Scripps Ranch look like for March:

You will notice if you click on any of the markers that I really got my geek on. MapAList allows two fields to appear in the “bubble,” but with a little spreadsheet magic (and a quick trip to their FAQs), I was able to get all of the vitals to appear. I did the same for attached sales, which you can see here.

The only question remaining is whether or not I dutifully update these on a regular basis. That’s the plan. Wish me luck.

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Office Location

  • San Diego Castles Realty
  • 12265 Scripps Poway Parkway, Suite 115
  • Poway, CA 92064
  • P: 858.530.2374
  • F: 858.876.1701
  • E: info (at) sandiegocastles.com
  • CA BRE# 01853496

Broker Information

  • Kris Berg, Broker
  • CA BRE #01241572