REALTOR® Safety Week Tip #3: Evaluate Your Surroundings Using the 10-Second Rule

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The other day I was backing out of a parking lot and was quite surprised to notice a car parked next to mine as I made my way in reverse. It’s not that the car magically appeared without my knowing it, it’s just that I was too preoccupied to take time to evaluate my surroundings before taking action.

I’m sure everyone’s been guilty of this at some point; we’re all busy and often trying to accomplish multiple tasks at one time. But one of the most common reasons that people find themselves in dangerous situations is because they weren’t paying attention. If you follow the 10-second rule, you’ll go a long way toward making sure you’re not putting yourself at risk.

Take 2 seconds when you arrive at your destination.

  • Is there any questionable activity in the area?
  • Are you parked in a well-lit, visible location?
  • Can you be blocked in the driveway by a prospect’s vehicle?

Take 2 seconds after you step out of your car.

  • Are there suspicious people around?
  • Do you know exactly where you’re going?

Take 2 seconds as you walk towards your destination.

  • Are people coming and going or is the area unusually quiet?
  • Do you observe any obstacles or hiding places in the parking lot or along the street?
  • Is anyone loitering in the area?

Take 2 seconds at the door.

  • Do you have an uneasy feeling as you’re walking in?
  • Is someone following you in?

Take 2 seconds as soon as you enter your destination.

  • Does anything seem out of place?
  • Is anyone present who shouldn’t be there or who isn’t expected?

That’s safety in just 10 seconds. It takes very little time to scope out your surroundings and spot and avoid danger. Make this “10-second scan” a habit in your everyday work as a REALTOR.® Then share it with someone else.

REALTOR® Safety Week Tip #2: Safety at Open Houses

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While we’d like to assume that all visitors to open houses are legitimate consumers researching homes for sale, these events also present an opportunity for would-be thieves to evaluate the property as a potential target. There have even been instances of agents being robbed while working at an open house or model home. Last year, an agent was robbed at gunpoint while working at a model home in Bartlett and the thief got away with several pieces of jewelry and her mobile phone.

When working at an open house or model home, take these steps to help protect yourself and the property:

  • If possible, always try to have at least one other person working with you at the open house.
  • Check your cell phone’s strength and signal prior to the open house. Have emergency numbers programmed on speed dial.
  • Upon entering a house for the first time, check all rooms and determine several “escape” routes. Make sure all deadbolt locks are unlocked to facilitate a faster escape.
  • Make sure that if you were to escape by the back door, you could escape from the backyard. Frequently, high fences surround yards that contain swimming pools or hot tubs.
  • Place one of your business cards, with the date and time written on the back, in a kitchen cabinet. Note on it if you were the first to arrive or if clients were waiting.
  • Have all open house visitors sign in. Ask for full name, address, phone number and e-mail.
  • When showing the house, always walk behind the prospect. Direct them; don’t lead them. Say, for example, “The kitchen is on your left,” and gesture for them to go ahead of you.
  • Avoid attics, basements, and getting trapped in small rooms.
  • Notify someone in your office, your answering service, a friend or a relative that you will be calling in every hour on the hour. And if you don’t call, they are to call you.
  • Inform a neighbor that you will be showing the house and ask if he or she would keep an eye and ear open for anything out of the ordinary.
  • Don’t assume that everyone has left the premises at the end of an open house. Check all of the rooms and the backyard prior to locking the doors. Be prepared to defend yourself, if necessary.

Posted by Scott Sherrin at 6:53 am

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REALTOR® Safety Week Tip #1: Vacant Properties

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This week the National Association of REALTORS® and associations across the country mark the sixth annual REALTOR® Safety Week. Because of the nature of their work, REALTORS® often find themselves in situations that could potentially pose a threat to their safety. From meeting new clients to hosting an open house, real risks exist that require REALTORS® to approach their daily work with a heightened sense of caution and awareness.

Each day this week MAAR will post various safety tips and resources to inform and remind members about the risks they face throughout the year.

Vacants and Vagrants – Be On the Lookout and Stay Safe

When approaching a vacant property, don’t risk being surprised by uninvited inhabitants who may be up to no good.  Many times vagrants, drug addicts or dealers, or other suspicious and unpredictable characters break into vacant properties and use them for their own purposes.  Heed this advice of Commander A.J. Gwyn, chief instructor of the Southern Crime Prevention Task Force, and stay safe:

  • Before entering a vacant property, always walk the perimeter.
  • Look for signs that someone may have entered the property uninvited (i.e. trash, broken glass or a window or door ajar).
  • If it looks safe, check the door.  If it is closed, but unlocked, DO NOT ENTER!
  • If you suspect someone is in the property, or may have recently been in the property but is no longer there – go back to your car, call the police and do not enter!  Do not enter even if you think the suspects are gone – they may be back soon, or may be waiting for you to go inside where you can easily be victimized.
  • Do not wait for the police at the property – this jeopardizes your safety.  Instead, meet them at the nearest public space (i.e. gas station, coffee shop, grocery store, etc.)

A police officer will be happy to check the property for you, so never hesitate to call if you suspect someone is on the premises.  When possible, bring a fellow team member with you when checking on a vacant property – there is safety in numbers.  By following these basic tips and being prepared, you will increase your chances of avoiding a potentially unsafe situation at a vacant property.

Posted by Scott Sherrin at 6:00 am

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Mortgage Rates Sink Following Frannie, Freddie Takeover

Mortgage Lending, News No Comments »

Once the federal government took control of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac last week, many expected a significant drop in mortgage rates, at least for the near-term. As expected rates did fall considerably, with Freddie Mac’s Primary Mortgage Survey showing a .42 point drop in the 30-year rate to 5.93%. With rates falling below 6% we’re likely to see some renewed consumer interest in both new purchases and refinancing.

Just how long the rates stay low is up for debate, as NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun discussed in his most recent commentary piece:

Mortgage rates will trend down over the short run. But how much of a decline will depend on how actively the government - more specifically the Treasury Department and the FHFA - loosens their mortgage liquidity spigot. For over the next 12 months at least, the FHFA has the authority to purchase more than the normal amount of mortgages from lenders to put into their portfolio holdings. That means all conforming loans, including the newly conforming jumbo loans up to $625,000, will qualify for purchase by the FHFA. That will help drive down mortgage rates. In about two year time, when the housing recovery is assumed to be well underway, the government will trim its mortgage portfolio. Then Fannie and Freddie will be completely restructured. It will be up to the next administration and Congress to determine that structure in for which NAR will make our 1.3 million voices heard.

Now it appears the financial markets are heading for some more turbulence, with some of the biggest players continuing to see fallout from their mortgage-related assets. Just what impact these most recent developments have on overall markets remains to be seen.

Freddie Mac Increases Incentives for Helping Borrowers Avoid Foreclosure

Mortgage Lending, News 1 Comment »

Mortgage servicers who handle Freddie Mac-owned mortgages just got more incentive to help those borrowers who might be facing foreclosure.

Freddie announced yesterday that it is doubling the incentive it pays to servicers for each workout that helps keep a delinquent Freddie-owned mortgage out of foreclosure. Freddie will also begin reimbursing servicers for the cost of door-to-door outreach programs and offer more time to negotiate workouts in those states with fast foreclosure processes, including Tennessee, where the average time to complete a non-judicial foreclosure is 60 days.

Beginning today, servicers will be allowed up to 10 months from the due date of the last payment until a foreclosure sale will occur to seek aggressive and sustainable workout solutions for borrowers.

Posted by Scott Sherrin at 2:08 pm

New Housing Law Offers Relief, Benefits to Home Buyers

Community, Governmental Affairs, Market Statistics/Performance, Mortgage Lending, News 3 Comments »

This morning, President Bush signed into law the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008, legislation aimed at shoring up the housing market in the United States and offering current homeowners with troubled mortgages and potential homeowners with significant assistance.

Of most interest to people who do not own a home but have been thinking about it is a $7,500 tax credit to qualified first-time home buyers who purchase a home between April 9, 2008, and June 30, 2009. That’s a tax credit, meaning those who qualify will receive a dollar-for-dollar reduction in what they owe the year the credit is taken against their income taxes. The credit does have to be repaid, but it is done over 15 years and payments don’t start until tax returns files two years after the credit is taken.

In the Memphis-area market first-time buyers make up a larger share of all buyers than the national average, which means a larger number of people locally stand to benefit from the credit. Add to that the affordability of Memphis-area real estate and it adds up to an outstanding opportunity for first-time buyers.

Here’s the fine print:

  • The credit amount can be 10 percent of the cost of the home purchased, not to exceed $7,500.
  • Any single-family property (including condos) that will be used as a primary residence is eligible.
  • The full amount of the credit is available for individuals with adjusted gross income of no more than $75,000 ($150,000 for joint filers). The amount of credit available gradually phases out as adjusted gross income reaches $95,000 for a single filer and $170,000 for joint filers.
  • The credit is repayable over 15 years (without interest) in equal installments of 6.67% of the credit or when the owners sell the home, assuming there is sufficient capital gain from the sale. Repayment does not begin until two years after the credit is claimed.

More detailed information on the tax credit, including FAQs and answers, is available at this site created by the National Association of Home Builders.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted by Scott Sherrin at 12:49 pm

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Keeping the ‘Crisis’ in Perspective

Ethics/Professionalism, Governmental Affairs, Market Statistics/Performance, News No Comments »

A little over a week ago, Dennis Kneale commented on CNBC about whether the housing “crisis” is really a crisis at all, or just a smaller problem blown out of proportion. From Kneale’s perspective it all comes down to the numbers, which reveal homeowners most affected by the supposed “crisis” is a much smaller percentage than what you might believe.

Direct link to the video is:

Posted by Scott Sherrin at 8:13 am

Short Sales and Foreclosures: Still a Hot Topic

Education, Events, News No Comments »

With all the news (or is it hype?) about foreclosures and short sales, it’s not surprising the topic generated a lot of interest from MAAR members with more than 100 attending a panel discussion today in the MAAR Education Center. The panel - made up some local experts on both topics includeing Jeff Burress of Crye-Leike, Bonnie Garrison of Magna Bank, Kim Hairrell of Crye-Leike, and Joe Kirsch of the Law Office of Shapiro & Kirsch - spent more than an hour and a half discussing issues and answering questions related to short sales and foreclosures.

While foreclosure statistics seem to be a hot topic of debate, according to MAARdata numbers there were 2,198 foreclosure sales recorded in Shelby County during the first four months of 2008, a 12.1% increase from the same period in 2007.

The panelists covered a lot of material; here are some of the highlights:

  • When working with a seller who might be in a short sale situation, find out as early as possible in the process. The seller’s lender must agree to a short sale and that process takes time.
  • When a lender has a agreed to a short sale, the listing agent should consider any MLS rules that might apply and consider getting the seller’s permission to disclose the potential short sale in the REALTOR® remarks section of the MLS listing.
  • It’s often more difficult to complete a short sale on a home with a second mortgage. In those cases not only one but two lenders have to agree to take less than what they’re owed.
  • When working as a buyer’s agent on a short sale or foreclosure, it can take longer to get an offer accepted as it requires the bank’s approval. Bank personnel are often working with hundreds of cases at once so don’t assume yours is their first priority.
  • In cases where mortgage insurance is involved, a deal can fall through even when the lender agrees because the mortgage insurer won’t accept the terms of the sale.
  • Banks are not like other sellers - they’re not likely to negotiate on offers that are much below the dollar amount that they must net in the sale.
  • Cash buyers are not necessarily more attractive to a bank in a short sale or foreclosure situation - don’t assume they can offer much less just because they’re paying cash. The banks don’t care where the money is coming from.
  • Working with foreclosures requires a big investment of the listing agent’s time and money - they act as property managers and any maintenance expenses come out of their pocket up front.
  • In a foreclosure auction, the opening bid is always from the bank or investor who owns the property.

And these points are just the tip of the iceberg. The National Association of REALTORS® offers several resources for members online, and a good starting point is the Field Guide to Short Sales and Field Guide to Foreclosures. MAAR is also offering a class specifically on short sales on Friday, August 8, from 9 a.m. to noon.

Posted by Scott Sherrin at 3:47 pm

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REALTORS® Converge on Washington, DC

Governmental Affairs, News No Comments »

I am in Washington, DC at the National Association of REALTORS® Midyear meeting. The electricity of politics is in the air, and although this is one of my favorite tourist towns, instead of spending half a day tomorrow in the Air and Space Museum, I will join my fellow REALTORS® on Capitol hill lobbying our Senators and Representatives. Major talking points:

  1. FHA Reform
  2. GSE (Government Sponsored Enterprises) Reform - You have heard of our quasi-governmental cousins Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, of course
  3. Homebuyer Tax Credits
  4. National Flood Insurance Program
  5. Affordable Property and Casualty Insurance
  6. Small Business Health Insurance

More details, and tourist pictures later… I have to go deep into the ground to catch a quiet, fast train.

Posted by Joe Spake at 6:31 am


What Higher Gas Prices Mean for the Suburbs

Community, Market Statistics/Performance, News, Trends No Comments »

Do higher gas prices have anything to do with a decline in real estate sales prices? According to this report from CEOs for Cities, they do have an impact, especially on homes in outlying suburbs and in metro areas with weak central cities.

In the report, Driven to the Brink: How the Gas Price Spike Popped the Housing Bubble and Devalued the Suburbs, Joseph Cortright lays out how the run up in gas prices in the past few years corresponded with the popping of the housing bubble.

Between 1990 and 2004 the price of gas was essentially unchanged in inflation-adjusted terms, making a longer commute from your new home in the suburbs a non-issue, at least from a financial standpoint. Today’s gas prices averaging more than $3.50 a gallon is pinching all consumers, but likely weighs more heavily on those metropolitan areas and suburbs where people have to drive the farthest.

As such, the report found that while there is overall weakness in housing prices, price declines are generally more severe in cities and neighborhoods that require lengthy commutes and provide few transportation alternatives to driving your own vehicle.

Looking at housing values in five cities in both close-in and distant neighborhoods, the researchers found that in each case, housing prices fared worse in the more distant neighborhood. In Portland, the price of an average house in the 97202 ZIP code (3 miles from the central business district downtown) increased 7.7% from the fourth quarter 2006 to the fourth quarter 2007. During the same period, the average house in suburban Vancouver, Ore. (13.6 miles from the central business district) saw a price decline of 8.4%.

In concluding his report, Cortright offers five policy implications for leaders in all communities:

  • The relative decline in prices in sprawling suburbs is likely to persist because of the continued high price of gas, and governments should plan accordingly.
  • The market for higher density and redevelopment in close-in neighborhoods is likely to grow stronger, and local land use plans should accommodate this shift.
  • Government can help families save money by making it easy and convenient to live in mixed-use, close-in neighborhoods served by transit.
  • Reducing vehicle miles traveled not only saves families money, households that drive less have more to spend on other things, stimulating the local economy. Additionally, reducing oil consumption not only cuts greenhouse gas emissions but lowers the trade deficit.
  • Many distant exurban developments may no longer be economical, and propping up building and homeownership in these areas encourages unsustainable settlement that makes families even more vulnerable to future gas price increases.

Considering that gas prices aren’t likely to fall soon, if ever, this report’s findings have some striking implications, not only for Memphis-area real estate, but the future economic success of our city.

Posted by Scott Sherrin at 1:31 pm

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