Archive for category Real Estate

Joe Ferrara

image I had only met him a couple of times. I had only a few very friendly, but brief conversations with him. He was someone I had hoped to get to know better. Now that won’t happen.

But, I know Joe Ferrara. I know him because of his body of work. I know him because of the profound influence he had on those who have such a profound influence on me.

Many of those folks will converge on Yardley, Pennsylvania this evening to say goodbye. I will be there to join them, to pay my respects, to comfort my friends who are anguished by his loss, and to celebrate the life of a guy who shared so much passion and brought much joy to those privileged enough to spend time with him. But mostly I will be there as an expression of thanks for the enormous contribution he made to our industry. I know Joe Ferrara, and many more who have never met him will know him too.

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REALTORS®

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All REALTORS® are real estate agents. Not all real estate agents are REALTORS®.

“Yeah, so what?” you may ask.

Well, let me tell you why this could be important as you pick someone to help you buy or sell your home.

In order to become a REALTOR®, a real estate licensee must be a member of The National Association of REALTORS®. He will also probably be a member of a State Association, such as the the Pennsylvania Association of REALTORS®, and a local REALTOR® association. In Chester and Delaware Counties, the local association is called the Suburban West REALTOR® Association. In Montgomery County, the local association is called Montgomery County Association of REALTORS®.

There are currently 1.2 million members of the National Association of REALTORS® which makes it the largest trade organization in the country. The Pennsylvania State Association consists of over 30,000 members and the local Suburban West REALTORS® Association has over 4500 members, making it the largest local REALTOR® association in Pennsylvania.

You are probably still saying, “Yeah, so what?”

Well, First and foremost, the reason you ought to pick a REALTOR® to help you with your real estate transaction is our commitment and adherence to a very strict code of ethics. Our code sets the framework for the honest and ethical enterprise between the REALTOR® and their clients, the public, and other REALTORS®.

The Association has an elaborate structure and process in place to fairly mitigate grievances between parties, whether between a member and the public or between our membership. The associations are prepared to hear your grievances, mediate conflicts, and administer sanctions on members when necessary.

We are very concerned and interested in hearing about problems you encounter during your transaction or your association with one of our members. If you think you’ve been treated unfairly, you can be assured the association will act swiftly and thoroughly on any complaint or concern.

Secondly, it is a fact that trade organizations primary purpose is support the needs of their membership. The REALTOR® associations believe that the best way to support their members is support our clients, the consumer.

The fact that we are the largest trade organization in North America provides us with a substantial amount of influence in the local, state, and national legislatures. We use our influence in government to promote legislation that benefits and supports the sale, purchase, and private ownership of real estate. Whether it be home buyer tax credits at the federal level, sales tax legislation, real estate transfer taxes, reclamation of blighted communities at the state level, or local ordnances such as use and occupancy ordnances, zoning issues, and local transfer tax issues, the appropriate association of REALTORS® is diligently monitoring activities of the government and exerting influence in a meaningful and cooperative way to be sure that the interest of real estate services consumers are adequately protected.

All of the lobbying efforts at all government levels are funded through the personal donations of REALTORS® to RPAC, the REALTOR® Political Action Committee. We believe that our efforts to benefit you, the consumer, will make it easier and less expensive for you to sell or purchase a home, which will ultimately benefit our industry. We believe that what is good for you, the consumer, is also good for us.

Finally, REALTORS® are committed to increasing and improving their skills through continuous training and skills improvement. The local, state, and national associations are committed to education and offer hundreds of courses and continuing education opportunities to meet the ever changing conditions in the real estate industry. Whenever you see letters after the REALTOR’s®, it means they’ve committed themselves to specialized education so they may serve your needs more professionally. Ask your REALTOR® what those letters mean. I am sure she will be happy to explain what she had to do to earn them.

So, when you are considering what will probably be one of the most important and substantial personal financial transactions you may ever execute in your life, do you think you could use the assistance of a committed and professional with the knowledge, experience, and commitment to protect your interests in the arcane real estate process?

Consider hiring a REALTOR®. It may be the best decision you ever make.

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Tax Appeal Season Starts Soon

3884570701_a11181115e_o Beginning May 1st and through the first business day of August, Chester County Board of Assessment Appeals opens the window once again for the citizens of Chester County, PA to appeal their real estate tax assessments. This is a potential opportunity for people who own homes in Chester County to reduce the annual cost of home ownership through the reduction of their property taxes.

How Taxes are Calculated

Tax assessments in Pennsylvania are calculated as a ratio to fair market value. The ratio is called the Common Level Ratio (CLR) and is determined by the Pennsylvania State Tax Equalization Board. The CLR varies by county and is adjusted and published annually at the end of June. The CLR for Chester County for tax year 2008 is 53.0%. Applying the CLR to the fair market value of real estate results in the Assessed Value.

County, Municipal governments and local School Boards determine taxes by applying millage rates to the assessed values. For example, I live in North Coventry Township. The 2009 millage rates for the County Tax is 3.9650, The Township Tax is 1.6000 and the Owen J. Roberts School Tax is 25.5000. Add this all up and the total millage for my township is 31.0650. Multiply the millage to the assessed value of your and divide by 1000. The result for my home is a total annual property tax of $7147.

Who Will Benefit from a Tax Appeal

Anyone may appeal their property tax appraisal. There is a minimal cost associated with the appeal so you may first want to determine if you will benefit from a tax appeal.

It’s no secret. The housing boom is over. If you purchased a home during the height of the boom, it is pretty likely that the fair market value of your house is less than what it was when you bought it. The question is, when was your last tax assessment? If your home was assessed in the height of the boom, and since assessed value is a function of fair market value, you are probably over assessed. So, here are a few guidelines:

  • If you purchased new construction in the last 10 years and never appealed your tax assessment, you are probably over assessed.
  • If you appealed your tax assessment during the height of the housing boom, the fair market value of your home is probably less than it was when you appealed so you are probably over assessed.
  • If your home was interim assessed during the height of the housing boom due to a home improvement project you may have performed, you could be over assessed.
So, Should YOU Appeal your Taxes?

If you live somewhere other than Chester County, please contact your local county government offices for instructions specific to your county.

You should first determine the fair market value of your home. Many real estate agents will perform a Comparative Market Analysis of your home for free. This will give you an idea of approximate fair market value. The assessed value of your home is easily available through Government public records. Your agent should have access to the public records and should be able find that out as well.  Apply the Common Level Ration for your county to the fair market value of your home. If the result is less than the assessed value, you are over assessed. The percentage difference between your result and the assessed value in public records roughly corresponds to the percentage of savings on your annual tax bill. You can decide at this point if the savings is worth the time, cost, and effort to proceed.

If you live in Chester County and you are unable to find an agent to help you with this, call me at (484) 948-0936 or email jsheehan@chestercountychronicles.com with your address, phone number and a convenient time for me to call and I’ll help you.

How to Appeal Your Taxes

The process of appealing your tax assessment involves the filing of a notice of intention to appeal with a non-refundable filing fee of $25.00. This filing will result in a hearing with the board of tax assessment to show evidence that your assessment should be adjusted. There are two types of assessments but both processes are very similar.

Interim Tax Appeal

An Interim Appeal results from a change in the assessment based on some type of new construction or improvement. The construction could be anything from the addition of a deck to the construction of a new house. An interim assessment notice can be received at anytime in the year and if the homeowner wishes to appeal, he has 40 days from notification of the assessment change notice. After filing the appeal, you will be notified of the hearing date. You should make 3 copies of the HUD-1 Settlement sheet and bring that to the hearing along with pictures of all four sides of the house. The appeal board will review the document, ask any questions they may have (usually none), and thank you for appearing. You’ll hear from them soon after with the new assessment value of your property and your taxes will be adjusted immediately.

Annual Tax Appeal

The Real Estate Professional who helped you with the Comparative Market Analysis may be but probably isn’t a licensed real estate appraiser. The CMA data may be adequate evidence that your home is over assessed but a bona fide real estate appraisal prepared by a licensed real estate appraiser will carry a great deal more weight with the tax appeal board. So, I recommend you engage a licensed real estate appraiser to prepare an official report for the appeal. The cost will probably range from $350 – $500 for an appraisal. The appraiser should be current, I recommend that it be prepared within the past 6 months.

Annual appeals are accepted between the first of May and the first business day of August. YOU MUST FILE YOUR NOTICE OF INTENTION TO APPEAL BETWEEN THESE DATES OR YOU WILL MISS THE OPPORTUNITY UNTIL NEXT YEAR. NO EXCEPTIONS!

Soon after you have filed your intention to appeal, you will receive notice of your hearing. You must appear at your hearing, THEY WILL NOT RESCHEDULE IF YOU MISS YOUR DATE. If you can’t make it, you can authorize in writing for someone to appear in your stead.

Make at least 3 copies of the appraisal, one for each board member. The appraiser should have included photos in his report so won’t need more pictures. At the hearing, the board members will review your evidence, ask any questions (usually none) and thank you for appearing. A few weeks later you will receive notice of the result of your appeal.

Good Luck

The hearings are pretty informal. The appeal board are nice folks. No need to be nervous. You should be in and out in about 10 minutes.

If you have a legitimate reason for the appeal, you should have no problem and the result should be favorable to you.

Because of falling real estate values and the fact that we purchased our home at the peak of the market, I have personally saved thousands of dollars annually in taxes through the appeal process. I have helped friends and neighbors through the process and they have had similar results.

I wish you all the best, feel free to comment or ask questions here on this blog post, or contact me directly if I can be of assistance. For more information, you can also visit the Chester County website.

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There’s Still Time to Qualify for the Tax Credit

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I had a conversation yesterday with one of my seller clients. He was concerned. The home he is selling is a perfect opportunity for a first time home buyer but he was worried that he and his yet unknown buyer would be unable to settle the transaction before the April 30th deadline for the home buyer tax credit.

Well, to qualify for the home buyer tax credit the deadline is under contract by April 30, 2010 with a settlement date by June 30, 2010.

If you are a home buyer who thinks that you have missed the opportunity, I have good news. Time is getting short, but there is still time to get under contract by April 30th, 2010. Call your real estate professional today!

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“I Thought the Seller Pays the Commission…”

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This is a question that came up in one of the online forums this week. I thought I would take a moment to explain this aspect of the Pennsylvania Association of Realtors Business Relationship Between Broker and Buyer, also known as the Exclusive Buyer Agency Agreement.

Paragraph 1 of the agreement discusses the term of the agreement. This sets the Starting Date and the Ending Date of the agreement.

Paragraph 2 of the agreement discusses the Broker Fee.

The first thing this paragraph establishes is that no Association of REALTORS® has set or recommended a Broker’s fee. This means there is no fixed industry-wide price for services and that the fee could be established through negotiation.

The second major point states that your broker will accept compensation from the listing broker. However, if the compensation offered by the listing broker is less than that negotiated between the buyer and his broker, the buyer will be responsible for the difference.

The third major point is the same as the second only it pertains to sellers who are unrepresented by a real estate professional.

Lastly, paragraph 2 of the agreement states that if the buyer enters into a sale of a home that resulted from the Broker’s actions during the term of the contract OR the property was seen during the term of the contract AND the buyer is not under an exclusive agency contract with another broker at the time of the Buyer enters into a sale contract.

So, how does one avoid having to pay a commission to their buyer agent from their own funds? Here are a few things to keep in mind.

  • Ask your agent to inform you when properties of interest are not offering compensation to satisfy your buyer agency agreement.
  • Ask your agent to accept the amount offered by the listing broker.
  • Your agent can ask the listing broker to make up the difference.
  • You could make a term in the agreement of sale that the seller should compensate you for the difference. Note that this solution must be acceptable to your lender under the terms of the mortgage agreement.
  • REALTORS® are bound by the National Association of REALTORS® Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice to  “cooperate with other brokers except when cooperation is not in the client’s best interest.” A REALTOR® may not withhold listings from you that meet your specified needs, requirements, and criteria, unless you request not to be shown properties that would require you to compensate your agent from your own funds.
  • Finally, and very importantly, is the issue of what is called procuring cause. If your broker’s action during the term of the contract results in your purchase of a home, your original broker is the procuring cause. If you have entered into an agreement with another broker, you may have to pay the commission twice! Make sure you explain to your new agent about homes you looked at during your previous relationship with the previous agent. It will allow your new agent to resolve problems before they happen. It could save everyone, especially you, some major headaches when you actually buy the home.

Now, the many different real estate professionals implement this in many different ways. Some agents don’t use buyer agency at all. As always, you should make sure you understand what it is your agreeing to before signing anything.

I personally think that suing my current or past clients is bad for business. I am also flexible in my compensation expectations on a case-by-case basis. I think you will find that most REALTORS® operate that way.

There are some though who will hold you to the letter of your agreements. Be sure to ask questions, make sure you understand what your obligations will before you make your offer. By law, your real estate professional is required to give you an estimate of your costs before you make an offer on a home. Make sure you get that estimate and make sure you understand each line item.

I wish you all the best. Good hunting!

Photo Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/julishannon/ / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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There is Something for Everyone

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I think back to some of the places I have lived. Strange and scary places indeed! I shared my first apartment with five other beer guzzling, pizza eating, college students. We could barely scrape the rent and utilities together each month. There was nothing left to pay the cleaning lady to come in. You can imagine what that place looked like. On the other hand, maybe you can’t.
My first wife and I lived in an apartment above a pharmacy in the downtown area of a NYC suburb. This place defined the term “deferred maintenance”. One day, one of the windows over the street actually fell out of the window frame and crashed to the sidewalk below. Thankfully, no one was hurt.
In the past 35 years, I have probably moved 10 times. I have purchased a few homes in my life and I think I have become a little more conventional in my taste.
I love my job as a REALTOR® and have shown a few homes in my career. Sometimes it’s difficult for me to believe what I am seeing. What the heck were the homeowner’s thinking?!? When I turn around and look, the first-time home buyers I am guiding through the process are walking around this house, hand-in-hand, with a starry look in their eyes. They are not even seeing the same house I am looking at. There is nothing they don’t like about this place. They turn to me and say “We love it, we’ll take it”.
It’s very important for real estate professionals to keep an objective eye open for issues and problems that may make the difference between a nice house and a disaster waiting to happen. It’s equally important that we hold our tongue because we don’t like the mauve carpet or the lime green kitchen fixtures. That beauty is truly in the eye of the beholder. Everyone defines their own happiness.
The guy who conducted my pre-license courses when I got into the business told me that if he only sold houses he likes, he wouldn’t sell many houses. I know what he means.

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The Pursuit of Happiness

3931122112_3f5583d358 I had coffee with a friend the other day and we were discussing those things that motivate us. I was trying to put into the words what it is about the real estate business that makes me get out of bed each morning.

The technical nuts and bolts of the real estate transaction is interesting at times but it certainly is not very inspirational. If it was the hope of accumulating a vast fortune, I’d have been better off picking a different vocation, especially considering the recent market conditions. No, my “why” goes much deeper than that.

After considering it for a while, I was able to put into words where my passion comes from. It is the pursuit of happiness. I get really charged up when I am in the midst of happiness. Probably the most important ingredients to one’s happiness is the establishment of a safe and secure home for themselves and their family. It is only natural that my pursuit of happiness would take me to an activity that results in the happiness of those I help to achieve that goal.

I love helping others achieve happiness. It is what makes me the happiest.

Now, I am not a Pollyanna. I have no delusions that life is just one big Disneyland. But, I have chosen to focus on the happy occasions and to provide the service to my clients so they might pursue their own happiness.

I am a real estate professional. I will continue to provide information that will help explain what is going on in the real estate world both locally and nationally. I will answer questions you might have, feel free to ask them. I will respond to your comments. And if I earn your trust, I will help you pursue your happiness.

You will also find here the things that are making happy. Hopefully some of them will lift your spirits too. I hereby dedicate this blog to my passion: The Pursuit of Happiness!

I wish you all a very Happy and Prosperous New Year.

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Chester County Real Estate Statistics – November 29, 2009

As of this November 29, 2009

What do these statistics mean?

  • Inventory Units = Total homes for sale in Chester County, PA
  • Average Sold/Month = Average number of homes sold over a 12 month period in Chester County, PA per month in the corresponding price range
  • Months of Inventory = Inventory Units divided by Average Sold/Month

When Months of Inventory is greater than 6, it’s a buyer’s market.

When Months of Inventory is between 3 and 6, it is a neutral market.

When Months of Inventory is less than 3, it’s a seller’s market.

 

Active Listings

Listings sold last 12 months

Average sold/month

Months on Hand

0-200K

479

971

80.92

5.9

200-300

802

1631

135.92

5.9

300-400

733

946

78.83

9.3

400-500

463

527

43.92

10.5

500-600

245

245

20.42

12.0

600-800

296

177

14.75

20.1

800-1000

179

64

5.33

33.6

1000-1250

74

29

2.42

30.6

1250-1500

70

18

1.50

46.7

1500-2000

68

14

1.17

58.3

2000+

71

4

0.33

213.0

All

3480

4626

385.50

9.0

Overall Inventory decrease of 39 units and an increase in sales of 36 units account for an overall improvement on inventory velocity by .2 months over last week. Net decrease in inventory in the 0-400K account for most of the improvement. My outlook for this range of inventory is positive but I expect the market to slow through the holiday season.

With the extension of the federal tax credit and weakness in prices I expect a moderate to strong spring market.

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The Personal Side of the Real Estate Business

3148690493_1bffcaaaeb Today is Thanksgiving day, and as I have been doing for the last 35 years or so, I will go to visit my Mother. This year, we won’t be having Thanksgiving dinner at Mom’s house, we’ll be going to a relatives home and enjoying the feast with the extended family. For all but a handful of my 54 years, Mom put the Thanksgiving feast on the table. The clan converged on that tiny little house and 20 of us would squeeze around the table that was only designed to seat 10. Of course, the kids would sit at the card table in the living room and their mom’s would keep an eye on them. I sat at that card table myself when I was a boy.

I lost my Dad in May of this year. My sister and I are trying to help my Mom decide what to do with that tiny house that they lived in since I was 6 months old. Still in the door jambs are the pencil marks that measure our height as my sister and I grew up. Inside of the closet door of the back bedroom is my sister’s crayon masterpiece. The outside of that door was repainted a long time ago but no one looks at the inside of the door, right? That cabinet door under the kitchen sink still comes off the hinges when you pull it open. It’s done that for over 40 years, since I was a 12 year old running through the kitchen and ripped it off it’s hinges because I wasn’t watching where I was going.

And there, in the dining room, is that rickety old dining room table, where so many thanksgiving dinners had been served in years past.

Is selling a house personal? You betcha it is.

I urge my colleagues to remember their own family histories when they visit their clients. Yes, one must be rational, one must offer the home at a price that will allow the seller to reach what could be a very difficult conclusion. Just do it with tact, love, and sensitivity. It may be a business to you but that house is somebody’s living, breathing home. All those little defects don’t add any value to my Mom’s house but they make that it priceless in her (and my) eyes.

Please, remember where you came from.

Peace.

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Trusted Advisors

 

imageIn the course of my real estate practice, I have come in contact with many excellent service providers and tradesman, people who I have referred to my clients with the full confidence that they will do a great job. In order to become a trusted advisor on my team, there are a few requirements:

  • You must always put the needs of the client first.
  • You must charge a fair price for your services.
  • You must be dependable.
  • You must not be influenced by any outside factors.
  • Did I mention you must put the needs of the client first?

I have found that most people are happy to work with professionals that I recommend to them. You will make very important decisions about your real estate transaction based on the advice you receive. Here are some things you can do to help you choose a trusted advisor.

  • If your real estate pro recommends an advisor, ask for more than one referral. Your agent should have several to choose from.
  • Call them and ask them what you can expect from their service.
  • Ask them for references and check them if you feel it’s necessary.
  • Raise any concerns you may have with your real estate professional. A good agent has your interest first and will reconcile any issues.

I wish you the best of luck. If you wish to contribute to the conversation, please feel free to comment here.

Peace.

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