A guide to home seller etiquette

CHICAGO – Jan. 27, 2016 – What etiquette rules should home sellers follow when showing their home to potential buyers? Realtor.com recently highlighted a few:

1. Don’t stay for showings. Homeowners who lurk around during an open house or showing can unnerve buyers. “Buyers don’t feel as comfortable when the owner is at the home watching their every move,” says Nicholas Kensington, a real estate professional with Scottsdale Real Estate. “Get out of their way so that they can start to picture themselves living there instead of being spied on.”

2. Keep cars out of the way. “Make it easy for visitors to park and view the home,” Kensington notes. “No one likes parking issues. Having them is a sure way to get a viewing off to a bad start.”

3. Take pets with you. Not everyone likes pets. What’s more, some homebuyers have allergies and a pet could make them sick. “Imagine, as a buyer, having the background music set to ‘barking dog’ while you are trying to take in the home’s nuances that you, as the seller, have worked so hard to hone,” says Brenda Hayward, a real estate professional with Coldwell Banker.

4. Display important documents. “Leaving necessary documents in an easy-to-find spot isn’t just good for selling, it’s also good selling etiquette,” says Kensington. “Put out the home inspection report, appraisal, home warranty, monthly bill information – gas, oil, electric – and proof of any major repairs. They’re all good things to let people look through when they are considering buying your home.”

5. Have refreshments available. “Putting out a few small bottled waters in a small bowl of ice is always appreciated, along with some light, easy grab-and-go sort of refreshments like mints or cookies,” says Cara Ameer, a real estate professional with Coldwell Banker.

6. Don’t be stubborn. Sellers unwilling to negotiate will likely see their home linger on the market. “Focusing on your bottom line is always important, but greed can lead to disaster,” Josh Myler, a real estate professional with The Agency, told realtor.com. “Remember a little of something is better than a lot of nothing. Generosity will lead you to your promised land.”

Source: “8 Unwritten Etiquette Rules Every Home Seller Should Know,” realtor.com® (Jan. 25, 2016)

© Copyright 2016 INFORMATION, INC. Bethesda, MD (301) 215-4688

Fla. is the best state for retirement: 6 reasons

MIAMI – Jan. 27, 2016 – Sunshine, beaches and a laid-back lifestyle have made Florida one of the top destinations for retirees looking to live out their golden years in peace and comfort.

Now a new study from WalletHub.com has named the Sunshine State the best place in the U.S. to retire based on its affordability, quality of life and healthcare. The website pointed out that nearly a third of non-retirees have no retirement savings or pension and said it made its choices to help retirees find the states that offered the most bang for their buck.

Rounding out the top five for 2016 after Florida were Wyoming, South Dakota, South Carolina and Colorado.

At the bottom? Vermont, Connecticut, Hawaii, Washington D.C. and Rhode Island.

Here are the top six reasons why Florida is the best place to retire, according to WalletHub.

Hole in one!
From Seminole Golf Course in Juno Beach (the state’s top ranked links, according to GolfDigest) to Trump National Doral, Florida has the most golf courses per capita in the nation.

Looking for new friends? You won’t be lonely in the Sunshine State, which has the highest percentage of people aged 65 or over of any state.

Out on the town
It’s not Broadway, but theatergoers in Florida have more and better options than ever before. The state has the sixth-most theaters per capita in the U.S.

Help at home
The cost of hiring a nurse and other in-home help can break the bank for many seniors. But Florida has the eighth-lowest cost of in-home services of any state.

Low taxes
Many retirees don’t realize they may need to pay federal and state taxes on Social Security income and withdrawals from IRA and 401(k) funds. Florida’s low taxes make it the 10th-best state for retirees come tax season, according to WalletHub.

A night at the museum
Miami’s burgeoning cultural scene means locals don’t have to travel to New York for their museum fix. From the Pérez Art Museum Miami to the under-construction Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science to HistoryMiami, South Florida museums are on the upswing. Nationwide, Florida has the 15th-most museums per capita.

So what are you waiting for? Florida is calling.

Copyright © 2016 Miami Herald, Nicholas Nehamas. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Average rate on 30-year mortgage falls to 3.81%

WASHINGTON (AP) – Jan. 21, 2016 – Average long-term U.S. mortgage rates fell this week for a third straight week as global stock markets continued to be pounded by falling oil prices and worries over economic growth.

Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac said Thursday the average rate on a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage declined to 3.81 percent from 3.92 percent a week earlier. That was its lowest level in three months. The rate has increased from its 3.63 percent average a year ago but remains well below its historic average of 6 percent.

The average rate on 15-year fixed-rate mortgages dipped to 3.10 percent from 3.19 percent.

On Wall Street Wednesday, stocks tumbled as the price of oil suffered its worst one-day drop since September. The Dow Jones industrial average dropped more than 500 points during the day. The market clawed back much of the decline but still ended sharply lower with a loss of 249.28 points, or 1.6 percent.

The continuing tumult in stock markets around the world has pushed up prices of U.S. government bonds as investors seek safety. That has depressed the yields on the bonds, which mortgage rates track.

The yield on the 10-year Treasury bond dropped to 1.98 percent Wednesday – its lowest level since October – from 2.09 percent a week earlier. The yield slipped further to 1.97 percent Thursday morning.

The benchmark yield has fallen sharply since the start of the year amid the stock market turbulence. At the end of 2015, it stood at 2.30 percent.

To calculate average mortgage rates, Freddie Mac surveys lenders across the country at the beginning of each week. The average doesn’t include extra fees, known as points, which most borrowers must pay to get the lowest rates. One point equals 1 percent of the loan amount.

The average fee for a 30-year mortgage was unchanged from last week at 0.6 point. The fee for a 15-year loan remained at 0.5 point.

The average rate on five-year adjustable-rate mortgages dipped to 2.91 percent from 3.01 percent; the fee rose to 0.5 point from 0.4 point.

AP Logo Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Fla.’s home, condo median prices rise in Dec.

ORLANDO, Fla. – Jan. 22, 2016 – Florida’s housing market reported higher median prices, fewer days on the market and a tightening inventory in December, according to the latest housing data released by Florida Realtors®. Closed sales of single-family homes statewide totaled 23,056 last month, up 2.9 percent over the December 2014 figure.

“Florida’s housing market continues to show strength,” says 2016 Florida Realtors President Matey H. Veissi, broker and co-owner of Veissi Associates in Miami. “December marked over four years – 49 months – of consecutive gains in statewide median sales prices, year-over-year, for both single-family homes and for townhouse-condo properties. Mortgage rates remain low, which is encouraging many buyers to make their move now to enter the housing market.

“Properties also are taking less time to sell, which is a trend of interest to sellers as well as buyers,” says Veissi. “In December, the median days on market (the midpoint of the number of days it took for a property to sell that month) was 47 days for single-family homes and 49 days for townhouses and condos. That means 50 percent of homes on the market in Florida sell in less than two months.”

The statewide median sales price for single-family existing homes last month was $206,500, up 11.6 percent from the previous year, according to data from Florida Realtors Industry Data and Analysis department in partnership with local Realtor boards/associations. Thestatewide median price for townhouse-condo properties in December was $156,500, up 5 percent over the year-ago figure. The median is the midpoint; half the homes sold for more, half for less.

Looking at Florida’s townhouse-condo market, statewide closed sales totaled 9,357 last month, down slightly (1.2 percent), compared to December 2014.

However, the closed sales data reflected fewer short sales and cash-only sales in December: Traditional sales in Florida rose 16.3 percent for single-family homes and 7.5 percent for condo-townhouse properties. Closed sales typically occur 30 to 90 days after sales contracts are written.

“Florida’s real estate markets remained quite healthy in December,” says Florida Realtors Chief Economist Dr. Brad O’Connor. “Closed sales remain strong and prices continue to rise. Inventory levels of single-family homes dropped to an annual low for 2015 at the end of December to just under 100,000 active listings.

“Months’ supply of inventory likewise came in low, at 4.3-months supply for single-family homes and 5.4 months for condos and townhomes. At the state level, these figures would imply a seller’s market for single family homes and a balanced market for condos and townhomes.”

According to Freddie Mac, the interest rate for a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage averaged 3.96 percent in December 2015, up from the 3.86 percent average recorded during the same month a year earlier.

To see the full statewide housing activity reports, go to Florida Realtors Media Center at and look under Latest Releases, or download the December 2015 data report PDFs under Market Data. Realtors also have access to local market stats (password protected) on Florida Realtors website.

New rules go into effect for visa waiver visitors

WASHINGTON – Jan. 22, 2016 – Tighter U.S. travel rules went into effect on Thursday in a bid to keep out potential terrorists, requiring some travellers who normally do not require a visa to obtain the document.

The changes to the U.S. visa waiver program will require nationals of the 38 visa waiver countries to get a visa to travel to the U.S. if they have been to Iran, Iraq, Sudan or Syria in the last five years, or if they are dual-citizens of those countries and a visa waiver country.

An estimated 20 million people, or about 40 percent of all overseas visitors, use the program annually to enter the U.S. without a visa for business or pleasure for up to 90 days.

Concerns had risen that terrorists could take advantage of the program to travel to the U.S. without additional scrutiny.

The U.S. Congress had included the new measures in a spending bill passed last month, and the White House had also tightened the program’s security checks.

The new rules do not apply to diplomats or members of the military, and U.S. officials can offer waivers to some travellers who visited Iraq, Iran, Syria or Sudan because they work for aid groups, as journalists or have other legitimate business travel.

The State Department stressed that most travellers will be able to easily obtain a visa, and that the new rules are not a travel ban.

The 38 countries in the visa waiver program are Andorra, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Britain, Brunei, Chile, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Monaco, Malta, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, San Marino, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and Taiwan.

Copyright © dpa Alliance News

Source: New rules go into effect for visa waiver visitors

Foreign sellers: FIRPTA withholding increases to 15%

WASHINGTON – Jan. 19, 2016 – Congress recently made changes to the U.S. Foreign Investment in Real Property Tax Act of 1980 (FIRPTA). While two changes should benefit the real estate community, a third will impact foreign sellers of certain properties.

On the positive side, new FIRPTA rules will make U.S. commercial property more attractive to foreign investors, according to Ralph W. Holmen, associate general counsel for the National Association of Realtors® (NAR). The law doubles the maximum amount of stock ownership a foreign investor may have in a U.S. publicly-traded real estate investment trust (REIT), bumping it up from the current 5 percent to 10 percent. It also permits certain foreign pension funds to invest in real estate investment trusts (REITs) without having FIRPTA treatment apply.

On the other hand, the new FIRPTA rules increase the withholding tax paid by foreign sellers of certain properties effective Feb. 17, 2016.

“The recently enacted Protecting American Taxpayers from Tax Hikes (PATH) Act (H.R. 2029) includes two very positive FIRPTA provisions that are conservatively estimated to boost foreign investment in U.S. commercial real estate by $20-$30 billion per year,” writes Holmen. “However, as part of a package of tax changes to ‘pay for’ the two provisions, Congress also included an increase in the FIRPTA withholding rate from 10 percent to 15 percent.”

How new withholding works

The law considers three levels of property purchases: A personal residence of $300,000 or less; a personal residence worth more than $300,000 but less than $1 million; and properties valued at $1 million or more:

$300,000: Foreign sellers currently pay no FIRPTA tax, and this doesn’t change under the new rule, providing the property will be used as a residence
$300,000-$1 million: The current 10 percent FIRPTA tax does not change under the new rule, providing the property will be used as a residence
$1 million-plus: The FIRPTA tax goes up from the current 10 percent to 15 percent after Feb. 16. In this $1 million-plus category, it doesn’t matter whether the property will be used as a residence or not
What is FIRPTA?

Congress created FIRPTA based on reports that foreign investors were purchasing U.S. real estate and then selling it at a profit without paying any U.S. taxes. Consequently, FIRPTA created a requirement forcing buyers to withhold 10 percent of the purchase price and remit it to the Internal Revenue Service at the time of closing, subject to a few exceptions.

“Usually, the settlement agent is the party that withholds and remits the funds to the IRS, but the buyer is legally responsible,” writes Holmen. “In certain circumstances, the buyer’s agent can also be held liable.”

Florida Realtors contracts

The current version of Florida Realtors/Florida Bar forms and the CRSP-14a FIRPTA addendum contain language that refers to a 10 percent withholding. Since that 10 percent requirement changes for some transactions after Feb. 16, 2016, the association is currently working on changes that reflect the higher 15 percent for $1 million-plus property purchases.

Once forms have been updated, a notice will run in Florida Realtors News announcing the changes.

© 2016 Florida Realtors®

More Americans say it’s a good time to sell

WASHINGTON – Jan. 17, 2016 – An improving financial picture prompted more consumers to say it’s a good time to sell a home, according to Fannie Mae’s latest Home Purchase Sentiment Index, which capped off its strongest year so far. The share of consumers who said their income was significantly higher than it was 12 months ago rose nine percentage points on net in December.

“Consumers ended the year on an improved note with regard to their income, job security and overall economic outlook,” says Doug Duncan, Fannie Mae’s chief economist. “Brightening economic prospects, if sustained, should stimulate demand for homeownership. However, continuing upward pressure on rental prices and constrained housing supply, particularly for starter homes, may mean prospective first-time homebuyers could face affordability constraints.”

Fannie Mae says that that 40 percent of 1,000 respondents surveyed said they are confident home prices will rise this year.

Also, respondent’s personal financial picture is improving. Eighty-five percent said they’re not concerned about losing their job, which ties an all-time survey high. And the number of respondents who said their household income is significantly higher than it was 12 months ago increased 9 percentage points to 15 percent.

© 2016 Glen Rock Gazette, North Jersey Media Group, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Is rent-to-own a solution to the rental crisis?

NEW YORK – Jan. 17, 2016 – Rents are skyrocketing across the U.S., and an increasing number of renters devote more than half their paychecks to covering rental costs. It’s not just a family burden: Those escalating rent costs have been cited as a major hindrance preventing renters from saving enough for a home purchase downpayment.

But some housing analysts are pointing to rent-to-own agreements as a solution for families who are stuck paying rent but longing for homeownership.

A report from Moody’s Investors Service singles out a program called Home Partners of America that helps potential buyers with credit problems or not enough money for a downpayment. One of the unique aspects of the program – compared to other single-family rent-to-own programs – is that the buyers select a property they would like to purchase, and then Home Partners of America buys it, providing it meets the program’s qualifications. It then sets up an agreement to rent the property to the would-be buyer. The end goal, however, is that Home Partners of America will eventually sell the property to the renter later on.

The buyer-chosen properties are likely to be “higher quality and in more desirable locations [such as those with better school districts]” than properties that are purchased through foreclosure sales, according to Moody’s.

Under the rent-to-own agreement and during the lease term, the tenant would be able to purchase the home at a pre-set price. The lease term generally runs between three to five years. The longer they wait to buy, the higher the purchase price will rise – usually 3.5 percent to 5 percent per year during the term of the lease.

“Furthermore, the strategy could benefit property recovery values because renters with purchase options are incentivized to maintain their properties well,” Moody’s report notes.

Moody’s report shows that the average value of properties under the program is $247,483 in comparison to rental homes offered by Invitation Home sand American Homes 4 Rent that average $167,631 and $143,066.

Source: “Is Rent-to-Own the Future of Housing?” HousingWire (Jan. 14, 2016)

© Copyright 2016 INFORMATION, INC. Bethesda, MD (301) 215-4688

Rent hikes stress single-family renters

NEW YORK – Jan. 12, 2016 – Rising rents for single-family rental homes are stressing the budgets for many households.

“There may not be as much room to raise rents going forward. We are starting to see affordability become an issue,” says Daren Blomquist, vice president with data firm RealtyTrac, which tracks foreclosures.

Demand for single-family rental homes is high with very few empty homes. That’s one reason rents are rising quickly. But as rents rise faster than wages in many parts of the country, many households already struggle to keep up. Though these households may have few other options, affordability may make it more difficult for institutional investors to raise rents.

High demand for single-family rentals

The nation’s inventory of single-family rental homes is nearly fully occupied. Just 3.1 percent of single-family homes not occupied by owners are currently vacant, according to the latest data from the U.S. Post Office, which keeps data on homes where mail is not being picked up or forwarded. “Everything we are hearing shows that vacancy rates are very low,” says Blomquist. “It’s still going to be a good rental market going forward.”

The median rent for a three-bedroom home rose 3 percent over the last year, according to the latest Fair Market Rent report from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, released in December 2015. Though this data includes apartments, the vast majority of the three-bedroom rental units in HUD’s sample are likely to be single-family rental houses, simply because most rental apartments have fewer bedrooms.

The rising rental cost of a single-family home is creating stress for tenants since the average income in the U.S. is not high enough to afford these houses. “On average, you are going to be spending 33 percent of your income to rent,” says Blomquist.

Of the 12 million renter households living in detached single-family homes, 5.4 million now pay more than 31 percent of their income towards rent, according to an analysis of Census data from the National Low-Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC). That’s 45 percent of these households. Nearly a quarter of households, or 24 percent, pay more than half of their income towards rent. These renters may struggle to keep up with rent increases.

Wages likely to grow

Wages grew just 2.2 percent over the year ending in the first quarter of 2015. That growth was above the rate of overall inflation, but not as fast the increase in the cost of housing, including the cost of renting a single-family house.

Many economists expect wages to continue to grow in 2016, including the leaders of the U.S. Federal Reserve. In December, the Fed raised its benchmark interest rate for the first time since the financial crisis, partly because of the improving labor market.

“There are some signs that wages are beginning to pick up,” says Blomquist.

Several metro areas are doing significantly better that the nationwide average increase of 2.2 percent. In Cook County, Ill., including the city of Chicago, average wages rose 20 percent over the year ending in the first quarter of 2015. Other top counties for wage growth include Harris County, Texas, where Houston is located, with 18 percent; Orange County, Calif., with 16 percent; and Miami-Dade County, Fla., with 10 percent.

“If you’re in one of those markets where they are doing very well with regard to jobs, you do have more of a ceiling to raise rents,” says Blomquist.

© 2016 Penton Media, Bendix Anderson