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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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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32 Truths for Mature Adults

This made me chuckle and I thought I would share them with you too.

Thanks to Amy Stuart for sharing these with my wife Dora. Enjoy!


1. I think part of a best friend’s job should be to immediately clear your computer history if you die.

2. Nothing sucks more than that moment during an argument when you realize you’re wrong.

3. I totally take back all those times I didn’t want to nap when I was younger.

4. There is great need for a sarcasm font.

5. How the hell are you supposed to fold a fitted sheet?

6. Was learning cursive really necessary?

7. Map Quest really needs to start their directions on # 5. I’m pretty sure I know how to get out of my neighborhood.

9. I can’t remember the last time I wasn’t at least kind of tired.

10. Bad decisions make good stories.

11. You never know when it will strike, but there comes a moment at work when you know that you just aren’t going to do anything productive for the rest of the day.

12. Can we all just agree to ignore whatever comes after Blue Ray? I don’t want to have to restart my collection…again.

13. I’m always slightly terrified when I exit out of Word and it asks me if I want to save any changes to my ten-page technical report that I swear I did not make any changes to.

14. "Do not machine wash or tumble dry" means I will never wash this – ever.

15. I hate when I just miss a call by the last ring (Hello? Hello? Damn it!), but when I immediately call back, it rings nine times and goes to voice mail. What did you do after I didn’t answer? Drop the phone and run away?

16. I hate leaving my house confident and looking good and then not seeing anyone of importance the entire day. What a waste.

17. I keep some people’s phone numbers in my phone just so I know not to answer when they call.

18. I think the freezer deserves a light as well.

19. I disagree with Kay Jewelers. I would bet on any given Friday or Saturday night more kisses begin with Miller Lite than Kay.

20. I wish Google Maps had an "Avoid Bad Neighborhood" routing option.

21. Sometimes, I’ll watch a movie that I watched when I was younger and suddenly realize I had no idea what the heck was going on when I first saw it.

22. I would rather try to carry 10 over-loaded plastic bags in each hand than take 2 trips to bring my groceries in.

23. The only time I look forward to a red light is when I’m trying to finish a text.

24. I have a hard time deciphering the fine line between boredom and hunger.

25. How many times is it appropriate to say "What?" before you just nod and smile because you still didn’t hear or understand a word they said?

26. I love the sense of camaraderie when an entire line of cars team up to prevent a jerk from cutting in at the front. Stay strong, brothers and sisters!

27. Shirts get dirty. Underwear gets dirty. Pants? Pants never get dirty, and you can wear them forever.

28. Is it just me or do high school kids get dumber and dumber every year?

29. There’s no worse feeling than that millisecond you’re sure you are going to die after leaning your chair back a little too far.

30. As a driver I hate pedestrians, and as a pedestrian I hate drivers, but no matter what the mode of transportation, I always hate bicyclists.

31. Sometimes I’ll look down at my watch 3 consecutive times and still not know what time it is.

32. Even under ideal conditions people have trouble locating their car keys in a pocket, finding their cell phone, and Pinning the Tail on the Donkey – but I’d bet my ass everyone can find and push the snooze button from 3 feet away, in about 1.7 seconds, eyes closed, first time, every time!


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 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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Rights and Responsibilities

Seth Godin speaks about rights and responsibilities. Nothing I can add to this. He is an incredible thinker.

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Mothers Fighting for Others

Rocky and Sarah

About a year ago, I became interested and involved in the Social Media culture of the real estate industry, now commonly known as the I’ve made some really great friends and have had some very rewarding experiences through my associations. None have been as rewarding as the opportunity to support the’s pet charity, Mothers Fighting for Others.

Mother’s Fighting for Others, also known in twitterland as #MFFO, was founded by Rocky Turner (aka @headmutha). You can read her story of how and why she founded #MFFO here.

I don’t know Rocky personally but her husband, Jeff Turner (@respres), is a personality in I did have an opportunity to meet Jeff in Philadelphia last year at REBarcamp Philly.

Anyway, as time went on, I became interested in the work of #MFFO and threw them a few bucks from time to Agnes time when I had some to spare. The sponsored some charity events. At one barcamp, they collected women’s underwear to send to the girls in Kenya. That seems like a simple thing most people take for granted but apparently women’s underwear is precious in Kenya.

Earlier this week, my good friend Maya Paveza (aka @mayaREguru) made a challenge. Maya has incorporated twitter not only as a business tool but as part of her lifestyle. She has many, many twitter friends and followers and is a prolific contributor. Maya is close to posting her 50,000th tweet. She wanted to commemorate the auspicious event by raising $5,000 for #MFFO. During a chat with Rocky, Rocky said she wished 10 people would do it. They need to raise $50,000 to build a new orphanage.

So, this video is Maya in her own words, explaining this ambitious fund raising effort. If Maya doesn’t achieve the $50K goal by April 20th, she will retire her twitter handle, never to be heard from again. For Maya, this is probably the supreme sacrifice. It would equate to me giving up cheeseburgers for the rest of my life.

In addition to writing a check for a hundred ducats, I have also pledged to wear a Boston Red Sox cap for every waMary Kariukiking hour of every day, no matter where I am, for a month (excluding shower time, of course). Now, you might think this is a pretty lame sacrifice, but I am 55 years old and have been a NY Yankee fan since 1960. Believe me, this is pretty serious stuff. But, I am willing to take one for the team. :)

It is very difficult for me to ask people to donate their hard earned money. I don’t think I’ve ever done it, EVER. but those young girls in Kenya really need this money. They really need this orphanage. So please, no donation is too small.

Thank you so much for your attention to this post. There is a widget in the sidebar to the right where you can make a secure donation. You can also make donations here. You will have my enduring gratitude.


All Photo Credits

Video Credit

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There’s Still Time to Qualify for the Tax Credit


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…”


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: / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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There is Something for Everyone

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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Pinewood Derby

I’ve entered my block of wood into a few Pinewood Derbies back in the day. Never had a winner though.

Congratulations to Paul Weitzel, Pack 599 in Wyomissing, PA.

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