Poll: These are the biggest first-time homebuyer mistakes

Poll: These are the biggest first-time homebuyer mistakes

And the biggest piece of reader advice: ‘Listen to your real estate agent!’

PUBLISHED ON NOV 2, 2016

  • We asked Inman readers about the biggest mistakes they’ve seen first-time homebuyers make.
  • These were the top three: not talking to a lender first, waiting too long to make an offer and offering too little for properties.
  • The resounding piece of advice readers offered was: “Listen to your agent!”

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 BY CAREYBOT

As with many things in 2016, the housing market has been plagued with various issues: plummeting inventory, skyrocketing home prices and affordability problems that are keeping some buyers still. However, the National Association of Realtors’ September existing-home sales reportrevealed a promising silver lining — first-time homebuyers.

First-timers accounted for 34 percent of all buyers and helped drive one of the best months NAR has seen yet.

But as our latest poll showed, it takes a lot of coaching and patience to reap the rewards of this plucky bunch.

Money is the root of all…buying problems?

chart_q1_161101

The biggest mistakes first-time homebuyers are related to a lack of financial wherewithal — not talking to a lender first took the top spot, with 61.1 percent of Inman readers saying this was a problem they’d encountered and 18.04 percent of respondents saying it was the biggest problem they encounter.Waiting too long to make an offer and offering too little for properties rounded out the top three mistakes, with 17.18 percent and 15.46 percent of respondents saying this was the biggest mistake buyers make and 59.62 percent and 57.73 percent of respondents saying they had encountered this mistake before, respectively.

chart_q2_161101

Prepare thyself

A home is one of the biggest purchases anyone will make in his or her lifetime and, according to readers, first-time buyers seem to be grossly unprepared for the process — which includes getting pre-qualified.

“They want to look at houses before they are pre-qualified or ready to buy. This sets them up to be disappointed or wasting their time if they end up not qualifying for what they want or qualify for more than what they thought,” said a survey-taker.

Furthermore, the same survey-taker noted, newbies rely too much on online resources to get a loan rather than asking their agent for trusted local loan officers.

In addition to delaying the pre-qualification process, respondents said some first-time buyers don’t know their actual financial status, which includes an accurate credit score, the amount of money they have in their savings and checking accounts, and robust financial planning for future homeowningcosts.

To help first-time buyers avoid these pitfalls, readers suggested hosting a buyers’ workshop or having in-depth one-on-one buyer consultations before looking at listings.

“I’ve tried to avoid these mistakes (and I’ve made most all of them) by having a very thorough buyer consultation before I ever take them out looking,” a respondent said.

“I talk about all of these items and add further advice and guidance in my ‘buyer book’ that I give them — a binder full of everything they will need to know to buy a house in NC.”

Once buying newbies get over the lending hurdle, survey-takers said the next obstacles are waiting too long to make an offer — and when they do, making low-ball offers.

Simply put: “Buyers think that it’s always a buyers’ market,” says a survey taker.

This assertion is especially problematic right now, when the housing market has struggled to overcome tight inventory and skyrocketing home prices that can give a seller the upper hand.

“I work in the Colorado Springs market, and buyers kept wanting deals. Deals aren’t happening in 2016,” noted one respondent.

“Buyers under the $200K price point are lucky if they can even get an offer accepted. You are not going to get a house offering $10,000 under asking.”

Mother, HGTV and portals don’t know best

What’s the issue with second opinions? Respondents said the culprit is the preponderance of online information, false realities sold by television shows and well-meaning advice from family and friends.

“Buyers [are] looking at properties on the internet and getting angry when they can’t see them. When told they are under contract, they get upset that websites don’t keep their sites up-to-date,” said a survey-taker.

Beyond listing issues, online home valuations — such as Zillow’s Zestimate or the Redfin Estimate — seem to be causing headaches when it comes to negotiating prices.

“I’m experiencing buyers placing too much emphasis” on online valuations, said one reader.

Apart from portals, agents are having a hard time battling the “HGTV experience,” which paints a much prettier (and much-edited) picture of the homebuying process.

“They think they’re experts because they watch HGTV,” lamented one respondent. “They expect the process to go smoothly and are not prepared for the unexpected occurrences that pop up in the contract negotiations.”

Finally, first-time buyers often look to family and friends for advice — advice that can hold up the search process and derail an offer.

Trust your agent!

Outside of financial issues and faulty advice, survey-takers noted that first-time buyers need to come to the table with a firm understanding on the kind of home they need, the neighborhood they’d like to live in, and they should be able to explain how owning a home fits into future plans — for example, “do you plan to move in five years or stay forever?”

But the one overarching theme from respondents was the lack of trust first-time buyers have for their agents, whether it be because of outside knowledge that makes them feel like an expert or the fact they didn’t vet an agent before signing on.

Readers suggested that first-time buyers throughly research agents rather than choosing the first one they see on Zillow, social media or on a billboard.

And, once they’ve chosen an agent, readers said: “Listen to your Realtor’s advice — whether it is about lenders, price, offers.

“It’s what we do, and we do it every day. Trust us.”

Analyst Predicts Judge Will Punish Zillow for Evidence Destruction

Now that archrivals Zillow and Move Inc. have faced off in the courtroom, a Washington state judge will decide whether the two fight an even bigger battle.

Over the course of six days, a King County Superior Court judge heard arguments for and against imposing sanctions on Zillow and two of its executives for what Move and its co-plaintiff, the National Association of Realtors (NAR), allege constituted “massive” evidence destruction in a trade secrets lawsuit originally filed in March 2014.

Move and NAR contend the executives — Errol Samuelson and Curt Beardsley, Zillow Group’s top representatives to the real estate industry — destroyed, or “spoliated,” so much critical evidence in the case that a fair trial may no longer be possible.

Therefore, they are asking the court to issue a ruling deciding the case in their favor without a trial — a “terminating sanction” — or, if the case does go to trial, that the court give an “adverse inference” instruction to the jury telling them to presume the destroyed evidence would have shown the execs stole Move’s information to take to Zillow.

The spoliation hearing wrapped up on Monday. The judge, Judge Sean O’Donnell, has asked the parties to submit additional briefs by May 2, and a decision is likely to come one to two weeks later.

One litigation analyst predicts Zillow will emerge bruised from the hearing, but live to defend itself and plead its own case at the upcoming June 6 trial.

Sanctions

Thomas Claps, a litigation analyst from Susquehanna Financial Group (SFG), believes “there is a significant risk to Zillow” in the case and O’Donnell is likely to impose some type of sanction — though not a terminating sanction.

In a research note at the end of the hearing Claps said that an adverse inference jury instruction could be “a crippling blow to Zillow’s defenses” at trial, but that SFG believes “substantial evidence” presented at the hearing could justify such a sanction.

Litigation analyst: Judge could impose ‘crippling’ sanction on Zillow

“[N]ote that the Judge does have discretion to craft the language of an adverse inference instruction in a manner that would be less harmful to Zillow; however, this would still be a significant setback for Zillow in this case,” Claps said.

Claps told Inman the adverse inference jury instruction would definitely be a “severe” sanction, “which is why I think the court has spent so much time and attention on this matter.”

Spending six days on a sanctions hearing is fairly unusual given the proximity of the trial, according to Claps.

“At the very least, we expect some form of monetary fine to be imposed against Zillow (e.g., reimbursing Move for the legal/forensic expenses incurred in addressing the destruction of evidence issues),” he said.

Settlement possible?

While settlement is always a possibility in any case, there hasn’t been any indication that Move and Zillow are close to a settlement, either from the judge or the public record, Claps said.

Move and NAR’s $1.77 billion damages claim in the case is so high that it makes settlement more difficult, he added.

SFG believes the demand is “inflated.”

“Two billion dollars in a trade secrets case like this just seems to be an extremely high number,” Claps said.

“However, we’re not going to get the full picture of damages until the experts testify at trial and present their model for how they arrive at the $2 billion number. We’ll get the strength of damages model once that portion of the trial begins.”

In a research summary before the hearing, Claps noted that due to the size of the claim, “Zillow may be forced to increase its settlement offer in order to avoid a trial.”

Closing arguments

Claps noted O’Donnell questioned both sides during closing arguments but “seemed more probing and critical” of Zillow and its defenses.

“For example, the Judge stated that there was a lot ‘smoke’ regarding messages between Samuelson and Beardsley in this case — for example, Samuelson’s message to Beardsley telling him not to discuss Zillow in emails — and asked if this would allow an inference that similar messages existed,” Claps said.

“At another point, the Judge called these messages ‘inculpatory’ — i.e. evidence that helps to establish Move’s claims in the hearing/case. The Judge’s questions towards Move did not seem as critical.”

A transcript of the closing arguments is available here. But here is summary of each side’s position:

Move and NAR:

Plaintiffs’ lawyer David Singer argued that Samuelson, Beardsley and Zillow had a duty to preserve evidence when they knew or reasonably should have known that evidence may be relevant to pending or future litigation, which in this case was well before a complaint was filed.

Singer noted that Beardsley had received a litigation hold notice directing him not to delete anything related to Samuelson the day after Samuelson resigned and was told not to erase anything from his Move devices when he himself resigned — but Beardsley allegedly ignored both.

Samuelson reset his Move iPhone and iPad to factory settings and attempted to clone the hard drive on his Move Dell laptop — with some data not copied over — in order to return the laptop with clone rather the original.
Curt Beardsley
Singer highlighted several missing, destroyed or wiped devices in the case and Beardsley using the overwriting software Cipher 17 times on his devices.

He emphasized plaintiffs had “gotten lucky” finding some “incriminating” documents and text messages that the defendants had attempted to delete but that these were just “the tip of the iceberg.”

He checked off several actions by the defendants that allegedly demonstrate they destroyed evidence in “bad faith” and questioned the credibility of both executives.

He also stressed that the evidence destruction happened “under Zillow’s watch.” He alleged Zillow waited a “beyond negligent” amount of time to image Samuelson and Beardsley’s computers after the lawsuit was filed, waited a year and a half to discipline anyone in connection with the case and that “big discipline” turned out to be an unpaid two-week suspension that cost Beardsley $10,000 but didn’t affect the bonus and additional stock options he later received.

When asked by the judge if there is a Move document Zillow had to have had in order to take a particular step, Singer did not point to a specific one, but said the question goes to “prejudice” as a result of the evidence destruction in the case.

Instead of being able to present to the jury several documents that would have proved their case, the plaintiffs are left with some documents they were able to obtain through “luck” and Samuelson and Beardsley’s word that they have produced all of the documents and messages relevant to the case, according to Singer.

Zillow

Zillow’s lawyer Joe McMillan said the plaintiffs had failed to meet the standard for spoliation sanctions — prejudice and bad faith — and emphasized that, despite plaintiffs’ claims, there was a “huge quantity of existing evidence” that “does not support evil intent or bad faith.”

McMillan also argued that plaintiffs had made “no effort whatsoever” to meet the requirement that there be a “nexus” between the missing data and the trade secret claims in the case.

McMillan asserted the plaintiffs haven’t show what the destroyed evidence is and failed to prove its relevance to their claims.

He acknowledged that some messages may have been deleted and unrecoverable, but that “[w]ithout some evidence, direct or circumstantial, of the unfavorable content of the deleted emails, the Court simply cannot justify giving that adverse inference.”

When O’Donnell asked on what date Zillow had a duty to preserve evidence in the case, McMillan said it was the date the complaint was filed — March 17, 2014 — for all defendants.

Samuelson

Samuelson’s lawyer, Michael Fandel, said Samuelson’s story in regards to his actions upon leaving Move has “never wavered” and that his data deletions were all a result of him wanting to avoid exposing his personal information.
Errol Samuelson
He argued that there’s no evidence that “anything of any import” is missing.

“There’s no Move documents; there’s no email of any kind; there’s no texts with Zillow; and there’s really no reason to conclude that any texts with Mr. Beardsley that would make any difference to this case are gone,” Fandel said.

“So the very basis of spoliation that we’ve lost some evidence I think has not been established in this case.

“And there’s no evidence of any documents of any import that would be the crown jewels of Move anywhere in Mr. Samuelson’s possession or Zillow’s possession,” he added.

“And the reason for that is clear, because the crown jewels weren’t any documents at Move. The crown jewels were Mr. Samuelson and his relationships. He didn’t need any of those documents to take with him, and he didn’t take anything with him.”

Beardsley

Beardsley’s attorney, James Savitt, alleged the plaintiffs made no effort to find the evidence they say is missing and gave their forensic expert instructions to ensure he wouldn’t look for that evidence.

Savitt said Beardsley “did not open or copy Move documents on any of his computers” and that it was “rank speculation” that he connected one of his thumb drives to a “mystery computer.”

Plaintiffs’ rebuttal

O’Donnell asked Singer about the Western Digital hard drive Beardsley said he threw against his workshop wall because he was frustrated that it was failing. Singer pointed to the files and metadata that is subsequently missing.

“Let’s take the Western Digital. If you know that there’s Move documents on there, and it was destroyed, why does that support a default or terminating sanction versus it’s just evidence that you’re going to use at trial to cover up supports the crime?” O’Donnell said.

Singer replied, “Because both experts have said that the only way to know for sure the actual files that were on there, if you want to click it open and show the jury what files are on there and how important they were, the only place is at the bottom of some dump right now.

“And if you want to show the jury, this was last accessed three months ago, four months ago, a year ago, look at it, it doesn’t lie, I don’t have that. Now, talk about a misappropriation case and the most valuable evidence in a case, it’s what they looked at and when. And it’s gone.”

Zillow declined to comment for this story.

In an emailed statement, Move spokeswoman Janice McDill said, “We appreciated having the opportunity to present to Judge O’Donnell our proof that the defendants destroyed evidence. It would not be appropriate for us to comment further while the Court’s consideration of the matter remains open.”

Zillow and Move Settle Trade Secrets Lawsuit for $130M

Before the settlement, the case was scheduled to go to jury trial today. None of the parties admitted any liability, wrongdoing or responsibility in the settlement agreement, according to a Zillow Group public filing. The agreement stipulates Zillow will pay the funds in full by June 20.

Move’s co-plaintiff, the National Association of Realtors, is entitled to 10 percent of the settlement proceeds after deduction of Move’s litigation-related costs and fees, with the remainder being paid to Move, according to a News Corp. public filing.
The deal resolves all claims in litigation that began with Move and NAR filing a lawsuit against Zillow and Zillow executive Errol Samuelson in March 2014 for misappropriation of trade secrets, among other claims.

Zillow executive Curt Beardsley was added to the suit a year later. Samuelson and Beardsley are both former Move employees and now Zillow’s top representatives to the real estate industry.

In August 2015, Zillow filed a countersuit against Move and NAR alleging defamation and misappropriation of trade secrets in relation to a so-called “whistleblower letter” penned by former Zillow executive Chris Crocker.

Both Zillow Group and News Corp. have sunk tens of millions into the litigation. Each claimed their ability to compete for agent dollars and consumer mindshare were at stake.

Zillow, Move, and NAR respond

“Today, we reached an amicable resolution to settle our lawsuit with News Corp. and the National Association of Realtors,” said Zillow spokeswoman Amanda Woolley in an emailed statement.

“The agreement allows us to put this litigation behind us, and continue our focus on innovation and the huge opportunity in front of us as the consumer-focused market leader.”

She declined to comment on the timing of the settlement.

When asked whether Zillow planned to keep Samuelson and Beardsley on as employees, Woolley said, “As we’ve said, we completely support both Errol and Curt and appreciate the contributions they’ve made to Zillow Group.”

In an emailed statement, Move spokeswoman Janice McDill said, “We are pleased to have reached an amicable resolution of this litigation. We look forward to putting the matter to rest and returning our full focus to simplifying the real estate process for consumers and the real estate professionals who serve them.”

Move declined to comment further.

In a statement, NAR President Tom Salomone said the trade group was pleased that Zillow had agreed to a settlement amount of $130 million in damages instead of going to trial.

“Realtors stand for ethical business practices — whether we’re serving our clients online or in the real world — and this settlement reinforces our resolve,” he said.

“NAR’s relationship with Move, Inc., and realtor.com is based on a mutual respect for Realtors and their efforts to bring online home buying and selling resources to consumers, and the defendants named in the lawsuit have not demonstrated that same respect.”

Money, money, money

Salomone said Move covered the costs of the lawsuit and will receive the bulk of the settlement funds.

“[I]t is NAR’s hope that they will invest this money in initiatives that enhance consumer experience on realtor.com and benefit our members in support of the Realtor brand,” he said.

After the amount NAR will receive is determined, “NAR’s Leadership Team will consider how best to apply those funds in service of NAR’s Realtor members; we will share that information as soon as a decision is made,” he added.

In public filings, Zillow Group said it spent more than $27 million in 2015 on the litigation and another $15.7 million in the first three months of this year. In February, the company projected it would spend an additional $36 million on the suit this year. That’s money the company said it could otherwise have used to support innovation and growth or to boost company profits.

Legal analyst Thomas Claps of Susquehanna Financial Group estimates the case has cost Zillow nearly $200 million total, including the settlement.

“Given these mounting legal bills, Zillow had incentive to settle,” Claps said in a research note.

The suit has also cost News Corp. millions, though perhaps less than Zillow Group. News Corp. spent a combined $11 million on the litigation in two of last year’s four quarters, according to earnings call transcripts. Move declined to comment on how much it has spent on the suit.

Court cuts damages claim nearly in half

The settlement deal comes after a Washington state judge last week cropped about a billion dollars from the damages claims of the plaintiffs, News Corp. subsidiary Move and the National Association of Realtors.

Judge Sean O’Donnell of King County Superior Court first dismissed Move and NAR’s $384 million claim for actual damages as a result of alleged misappropriation of trade secrets related to merger talks between Move and Trulia.

The judge’s order allowed the plaintiffs to continue to pursue their $803 million damages claim for “unjust enrichment” in relation to Zillow’s merger with Trulia.

But on Friday, O’Donnell ruled to exclude the testimony of plaintiffs’ expert Bradford Cornell, a financial economics professor at the California Institute of Technology, on a $778 million damages claim for the scuttling of Move’s “ListHub 2.0” platform strategy and on a $43 million claim for damages to realtor.com.

The judge allowed Cornell to testify in regards to a $65 million damages claim in relation to Move’s original ListHub strategy and to a $149 million claim for Move’s costs to develop trade secrets and confidential information.

This left the estimated damages in the case at about $1.017 billion ($803 million + $65 million + $149 million).

Susquehanna’s Claps has previously noted that Move’s original damages claim of around $2 billion was so high that it would have made settlement more difficult. On Friday, Claps said the “significant” damages reduction in the case provided Zillow with settlement negotiation leverage leading up to the trial.

“When Plaintiffs’ requested damages in a litigation get cut by (around) 43 percent, which occurred on Friday, the probability of a settlement increases, which we saw play out today. We believe that last Friday evening’s ruling was the primary reason why Move decided to settle the case,” Claps said in a research note today.

Relief for Zillow and its investors

The $130 million settlement by Zillow should be a relief for investors, avoiding more significant damages and lifting a “legal overhang,” Claps said.

The settlement also allows Zillow to dodge risks related to the impending trial.

“By settling now, Zillow avoids the uncertainty of a jury trial, especially in a case involving numerous allegations of trade secret theft against Zillow and its employees,” as well as a “damaging” sanction against Zillow exec Beardsley, Claps said.

After a lengthy hearing in April, O’Donnell last month declined to impose sanctions on Zillow or Samuelson for alleged evidence destruction in the case, but ruled that Beardsley destroyed evidence willfully and in bad faith.

The ruling would have allowed Move and NAR to issue an instruction to the jury during the trial allowing the jury to infer the missing evidence would have benefited their case — or, alternatively, hurt Beardsley’s case.

“As evidenced by Zillow’s numerous recent Court filings, Zillow was extremely concerned that this sanction would have a damaging, prejudicial, ripple effect at trial against Zillow and defendant Errol Samuelson. By settling the case, Zillow avoids this risk,” Claps said.

Zillow also escapes having to put its CEO, Spencer Rascoff, on the stand at trial, Claps added.

When Rascoff testified at the evidence spoliation hearing in April, Claps said at the time that Rascoff “appeared uncomfortable on the stand and occasionally seemed agitated. His direct testimony seemed rehearsed and unconvincing. Moreover, he admitted that Beardsley mishandled information in the case, including deleting documents and materials.”

“By settling today, Zillow avoids having to put Spencer Rascoff back on the stand — this time in front of a jury — to defend these claims,” Claps said.

Former HUD secretaries: America’s elderly desperately need more affordable housing

 

May 22, 2016 Henry Cisneros and Mel Martinez

 

Our nation is aging and millions of older adults will struggle to find housing that is both affordable and physically suitable. As co-chairs of the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Senior Health and Housing Task Force, we are releasing a report Monday with a set of recommendations that Congress, the administration and states could implement that would enhance the lives of America’s seniors.

Our fundamental proposition is this: greater integration of America’s health care and housing systems will be essential to improve health outcomes for older adults and enable millions of Americans to age in place in their own homes and communities.

As former Secretaries of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, we know that growing the supply of affordable housing is at the root of the challenge before us. It is a national imperative. The alarming scarcity of housing that is safe, affordable, and physically suitable for older adults, particularly those with the most limited financial resources, is not adequately appreciated.

To understand the severity of the problem, consider this fact: In 2013, there were approximately 11.2 million “extremely low-income” renter households, including 2.6 million senior households with no children, competing for only 4.3 million affordable and available rental homes. This supply-demand imbalance resulted in a total shortfall of about 6.9 million homes.

The acute shortage of affordable homes forces low-income households of all ages to spend excessive amounts of income just to pay the rent. However, it is particularly tragic when an older adult, often living alone, must forego essentials like nutritious food and medications to pay for housing.

Absent a comprehensive and sustained effort to increase the supply of affordable housing, the situation will likely worsen as the number of older adults grows.

According to the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies, the number of households aged 65-to-74 and 75-and-older with “severe” rent burdens (paying more than 50% of income on housing) will rise by 42% and 39%, respectively, by 2025.

To help close the supply gap, we should expand federal support for one of the most effective tools in our toolkit, the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit. This 30-year old program has encouraged $100 billion in private investment that has helped finance the construction and preservation of more than 2.8 million affordable rental homes.

Greater private investment in affordable housing is needed now more than ever, and the LIHTC is indispensable to encouraging this investment.

The Section 202 Supportive Housing for the Elderly program is another success story, helping hundreds of thousands of older adults find affordable housing with needed services. Yet since 2011, the program has lacked funding for new construction.

While continued funding at adequate levels for rental assistance and service coordination in existing Section 202 properties is critical, we think it is time to create and fund a new federal program for senior supportive housing, one that uses project-based rental assistance and the LIHTC to finance new construction and attract funding from health care programs.

We must also look beyond programs to drive efficiencies and reduce regulatory burdens. If we are going to close the supply gap, federal regulatory policies must work to encourage, not stymie, the production and preservation of new affordable homes.

States and local communities must also embrace permissive land-use policies that encourage alternative housing structures for seniors, such as accessory dwelling units, micro-units, and congregate homes. These policies can be a win-win for everyone – preserving the integrity of neighborhoods while expanding affordable housing options.

In building new affordable units and preserving the old, universal design features are a necessity. Structurally, U.S. homes and communities have also not been built for older adults to live safely.

Just 3.8% of housing units in the United States are suitable for individuals with moderate mobility difficulties. To mitigate the likelihood of social isolation, falls-related injuries, and other negative health outcomes, we must broadly promote universal-design features like no-step entries and single-floor living that can make homes safer for older adults.

To this end, the federal government should work on an interagency basis to coordinate resources available for home modifications to support aging-in-place. States and municipalities should establish and expand programs to assist low-income seniors with home modifications through property tax credits, grants, or forgivable loans.

Increased awareness and intergovernmental collaboration are key to more effectively deploying resources to create and sustain healthier home and community environments. Doing so has great potential to improve health outcomes and reduce costs.

While much more must be done, policymakers and practitioners are starting to catch up. New demonstration projects and programs are popping up that recognize the importance of the home setting to wellness. We must bring these successful programs to scale nationally.

BPC established the Senior Health and Housing Task Force to draw public attention to these very serious concerns. After a year of expert input and study, we now offer solutions and a bipartisan agenda. There is a significant upside to recognizing that healthy aging begins at home, but we all must commit to action.

Our nation is aging and millions of older adults will struggle to find housing that is both affordable and physically suitable. As co-chairs of the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Senior Health and Housing Task Force, we are releasing a report Monday with a set of recommendations that Congress, the administration and states could implement that would enhance the lives of America’s seniors.

Our fundamental proposition is this: greater integration of America’s health care and housing systems will be essential to improve health outcomes for older adults and enable millions of Americans to age in place in their own homes and communities.
As former Secretaries of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, we know that growing the supply of affordable housing is at the root of the challenge before us. It is a national imperative. The alarming scarcity of housing that is safe, affordable, and physically suitable for older adults, particularly those with the most limited financial resources, is not adequately appreciated.

To understand the severity of the problem, consider this fact: In 2013, there were approximately 11.2 million “extremely low-income” renter households, including 2.6 million senior households with no children, competing for only 4.3 million affordable and available rental homes. This supply-demand imbalance resulted in a total shortfall of about 6.9 million homes.

The acute shortage of affordable homes forces low-income households of all ages to spend excessive amounts of income just to pay the rent. However, it is particularly tragic when an older adult, often living alone, must forego essentials like nutritious food and medications to pay for housing.

Absent a comprehensive and sustained effort to increase the supply of affordable housing, the situation will likely worsen as the number of older adults grows.

According to the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies, the number of households aged 65-to-74 and 75-and-older with “severe” rent burdens (paying more than 50% of income on housing) will rise by 42% and 39%, respectively, by 2025.

To help close the supply gap, we should expand federal support for one of the most effective tools in our toolkit, the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit. This 30-year old program has encouraged $100 billion in private investment that has helped finance the construction and preservation of more than 2.8 million affordable rental homes.

Greater private investment in affordable housing is needed now more than ever, and the LIHTC is indispensable to encouraging this investment.

The Section 202 Supportive Housing for the Elderly program is another success story, helping hundreds of thousands of older adults find affordable housing with needed services. Yet since 2011, the program has lacked funding for new construction.

While continued funding at adequate levels for rental assistance and service coordination in existing Section 202 properties is critical, we think it is time to create and fund a new federal program for senior supportive housing, one that uses project-based rental assistance and the LIHTC to finance new construction and attract funding from health care programs.

We must also look beyond programs to drive efficiencies and reduce regulatory burdens. If we are going to close the supply gap, federal regulatory policies must work to encourage, not stymie, the production and preservation of new affordable homes.

States and local communities must also embrace permissive land-use policies that encourage alternative housing structures for seniors, such as accessory dwelling units, micro-units, and congregate homes. These policies can be a win-win for everyone – preserving the integrity of neighborhoods while expanding affordable housing options.

In building new affordable units and preserving the old, universal design features are a necessity. Structurally, U.S. homes and communities have also not been built for older adults to live safely.

Just 3.8% of housing units in the United States are suitable for individuals with moderate mobility difficulties. To mitigate the likelihood of social isolation, falls-related injuries, and other negative health outcomes, we must broadly promote universal-design features like no-step entries and single-floor living that can make homes safer for older adults.

To this end, the federal government should work on an interagency basis to coordinate resources available for home modifications to support aging-in-place. States and municipalities should establish and expand programs to assist low-income seniors with home modifications through property tax credits, grants, or forgivable loans.

Increased awareness and intergovernmental collaboration are key to more effectively deploying resources to create and sustain healthier home and community environments. Doing so has great potential to improve health outcomes and reduce costs.

While much more must be done, policymakers and practitioners are starting to catch up. New demonstration projects and programs are popping up that recognize the importance of the home setting to wellness. We must bring these successful programs to scale nationally.

BPC established the Senior Health and Housing Task Force to draw public attention to these very serious concerns. After a year of expert input and study, we now offer solutions and a bipartisan agenda. There is a significant upside to recognizing that healthy aging begins at home, but we all must commit to action.

Love Thy Neighbor’s House? Why You May Want to Buy It

Every month for years, Heidi Cornell-McKenna paid $8,000 to her elderly neighbor in the Hollywood Hills of Los Angeles. In exchange, she earned the right to buy the woman’s house when she died. Her neighbor died at age 100, and Ms. Cornell-McKenna closed on the house last February.

Adam Solomon and his husband “did a dance for a solid two years” with their next-door neighbors in Manhattan, with each couple hoping to buy the other out. Mr. Solomon said the Long Island City skyline view from their combined apartments was worth the roughly $15,000 over market value he paid for the place next door.

With larger spaces scarce in hot markets, some homeowners are finding creative ways to buy their neighbors’ properties, using persistence, charm and detective work to expand their empires without leaving the block.

“Our neighbors laugh and say ‘what were you trying to do—play Monopoly?’,” said Alexa Hampton, a 44-year-old interior designer who, with her husband, successfully purchased two apartments adjacent to their unit to create a roughly 3,500-square-foot spread.

The convenience of buying the property next door doesn’t come cheap. Purchasers can expect to pay at least 10% above the market rate—and sometimes much more, real-estate agents said. Premiums are especially high in hot property markets like New York City and Los Angeles, where space is hard to come by.

In December, actress and writer Tina Fey paid $9.51 million—roughly $2 million over the asking price—for the apartment above hers on New York’s Upper West Side. Last year, film producer Megan Ellison, daughter of software billionaire Larry Ellison, plunked down $5.25 million for the house next to her $30 million estate in the Hollywood Hills. And in 2014 nighttime talk show host Jimmy Fallon bought a fifth apartment in his New York City building, where he bought his first unit in 2002.

The chase can take years. Mr. Solomon, a 31-year-old agent at Douglas Elliman Real Estate, and his husband longed to buy their neighbors’ unit, which shared their view of Long Island City’s Pepsi-Cola sign. But the neighbors, a couple with a small child, rebuffed Mr. Solomon’s offer to buy it.

Then, about a year later, the neighbors turned the tables, offering to buy Mr. Solomon’s apartment. He countered, and eventually bought the neighbor’s apartment for $915,000, a price he thinks is about $15,000 over market value. After combining the units, he lives in a 1,900-square-foot apartment with two bedrooms, 2½ bathrooms, a den and a laundry room. Best of all, he said, “every room has the same view.”

Jeff Thomas also had to be patient. In 2012 Mr. Thomas, a real-estate developer and owner of car dealerships, bought a 4,000-square-foot house with views in Los Angeles’s Hollywood Hills for $4.25 million with real-estate agent Paul Blair of the Agency. Mr. Thomas wanted to expand, but found that local laws wouldn’t let him unless he had more land.

About six months after he moved in, the house next door came on the market. Mr. Thomas put in an offer, but the property sold to a higher bidder for $2.25 million. About two years later, Mr. Thomas approached the owners through a friend and asked them to name their price, then quickly agreed to their ask of $2.7 million.

Throughout, Mr. Thomas, 50, kept his identity as their neighbor hidden. “If they feel they have a captive buyer, who really wants or really needs this property, it’s just human nature to try to get as much as they can out of this guy,” he said. He now plans to demolish both homes and build a 17,350-square-foot house with four bedrooms plus staff quarters, an infinity pool and a roof deck with views. The new home would likely be worth $20 million to $30 million, according to Mr. Blair.

Sometimes convincing neighbors to sell requires finding them a new home. “People get very creative for a little extra square footage,” said real-estate agent Nada Rizk of Brown Harris Stevens.

Royce Pinkwater, founder of the real-estate investment brokerage company Pinkwater Select, described one Manhattan combination she orchestrated last spring as “the most complicated deal I’ve ever done in my career.” For clients who wanted to expand their three-bedroom Upper West Side apartment, she hired an investigator to find the contact information for the owners of the two-bedroom apartment directly below theirs. To convince the neighbors, an elderly couple, to sell, she had to find them another apartment in the building and offer them $6.5 million, about 20% over market, for their unit. Then after the closing, her clients had to wait months for the couple to renovate their new apartment before moving out.

After all that, Ms. Pinkwater’s clients changed their minds, and both units are now on the market for a total of $19.25 million.

Ms. Cornell-McKenna, 49, founder of the lifestyle brand Young Fabulous & Broke, purchased her Hollywood Hills house, with a view of Century City and the ocean, in 2007. Almost right away she started fantasizing about buying the house next door, with which she shared a driveway, for her mother. “I had a vision of a compound,” said Ms. Cornell-McKenna, who at the time was a single mother. About five years ago, she started saving money to purchase the house, creating an LLC called “1423 Devlin Drive,” after the property’s address.

Then her neighbor—a woman in her 90s who Ms. Cornell-McKenna had befriended—looked into getting a reverse mortgage on the home to help pay her expenses, but couldn’t get one. In 2012, with advice from Douglas Elliman agent Tracy Tutor Maltas, Ms. Cornell-McKenna signed an agreement to buy the house for $2 million, with the understanding that the deal wouldn’t close until the owner died. Meanwhile, Ms. Cornell-McKenna would pay the neighbor $8,000 a month. The payments would be subtracted from the home’s price, and when the neighbor died, Ms. Cornell-McKenna would have 60 days to close.

The arrangement was “a risk,” Ms. Cornell-McKenna said, because she wasn’t sure how long the neighbor would live or if she’d have enough money saved when it came time to close. It ended up working out: The neighbor lived for two years before dying at age 100, during which time “my company did better and better,” Ms. Cornell-McKenna said. She closed on the home in February of 2015.

Real-estate agents caution that bigger isn’t always better. Before making plans to combine two properties, buyers should make sure the combination won’t create an awkward layout, which can hurt the home’s value, said Ms. Pinkwater. “There are combinations that happen that should never have happened,” she said. “It has to make sense.”

If it works, a combination can provide better value, especially in markets where real-estate values have appreciated rapidly. When Stacy Rauen, 37, editor of Hospitality Design magazine and founder of the prenatal beverage Bump Water, found out she was pregnant with twins in the spring of 2014, she was living in a two-bedroom apartment in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, with her husband and their toddler son. With one new baby, “we could have made it work,” she said. “But not with two of them.”

They started looking around for larger apartments and were disappointed with the options. “To get a three or four-bedroom, we were kind of priced out of what we wanted,” she said.

The apartment upstairs seemed like the solution—it was on the market and had the same layout as theirs for an easy combination. But by the time the Rauens found out about the twins, it had gone into contract. So they made an offer on a three-bedroom in another building, which was accepted.

Then the unit upstairs fell out of contract. Ms. Rauen’s husband knocked on the upstairs neighbor’s door one Sunday night and offered to buy the apartment for just under the asking price. The neighbors agreed, and the Rauens retracted their offer on the other apartment. They paid $1.645 million for the unit plus a parking spot and private rooftop patio.

After the closing, the Rauens spent about $200,000 to combine the spaces into a four-bedroom duplex with a playroom and a “mini-mudroom” with space for two strollers. They finished the week before Ms. Rauen gave birth.

Combining the two apartments made getting a mortgage a little more complicated than they expected, she said, which delayed the closing by a few weeks. Another quirk of the setup is that they have two separate electric and cable bills.

But because they’d purchased their original apartment in 2011 for $749,000, even with the renovation the total cost was still less than the other apartment they’d made an offer on, which had less living space and fewer amenities.

Plus, she added, “We were able to make something that fit exactly how we wanted to live.”

Realtor Associations Sues its own MLS, Accusing Unfair Business Practices by Andrea Brambila

Realtor associations sues its own MLS, accusing unfair business practices

Trade group objected to data share and potential merger with California Regional MLS
 Key Takeaways

The Greater San Diego Association of Realtors filed a federal lawsuit Thursday against its own MLS, Sandicor Inc., and its fellow Sandicor shareholders.

GSDAR owns Sandicor, which has 19,500 members, along with the North San Diego County Association of Realtors and the Pacific Southwest Association of Realtors.

The allegations

GSDAR, which has more than 12,000 members, makes the following allegations:

  • Sandicor and the other shareholders have denied GSDAR access to its own MLS data
  • The other shareholders have used Sandicor to compete unfairly with GSDAR for members
  • The other shareholders have used Sandicor funds to “push” a potential merger with California Regional MLS — the nation’s largest MLS at nearly 80,000 members

“Although Plaintiff owns a supermajority of Sandicor’s outstanding shares and contributes most of Sandicor’s funding, Sandicor’s board is controlled by PSAR and NSDCAR,” attorneys for GSDAR wrote in the complaint.

“They have used this position of power to wield Sandicor as an anticompetitive weapon, milked its resources for their own enrichment, and frustrated its purpose, all while actively preventing Plaintiff from participating in corporate decisions.”

The complaint’s claims against Sandicor, the North San Diego County association and the Pacific Southwest association include breach of fiduciary duty, waste of corporate assets, “unfair, illegal, and/or fraudulent business practices,” and breach of written contract, among other claims.

NSDCAR and PSAR are also accused of violating state and federal antitrust laws, breach of fiduciary duty by controlling shareholders and intentional interference with contractual relations.

READ THE COMPLAINT.

Board voting skewed

Sandicor CEO Ray Ewing declined to comment for this story, noting that he and Sandicor’s legal counsel had not seen a copy of the complaint until Inman’s inquiry.

In an emailed statement, PSAR CEO Richard D’Ascoli said, “We are deeply disappointed that SDAR has taken this step. PSAR is a member driven organization that remains focused on serving Realtors together with the National Association of Realtors and the California Association of Realtors.

“We will be reviewing the matter with legal counsel who has advised us not to comment further at this time until we can review the allegations made.”

The North San Diego County Association of Realtors also said it was “very disappointed” by GSDAR’s choice to file a lawsuit.

“We firmly believe the claims made in the lawsuit are without merit and therefore will be denied. The North San Diego County Association of Realtors has always acted in the best interests of its members and will continue to do so,” the association said in an emailed statement.

NSDCAR did not respond to a request for comment by publication time.

According to the complaint, although each of the three associations have two members on the Sandicor board and GSDAR is the majority shareholder in Sandicor, the board’s voting formula only gives GSDAR four-elevenths of the voting power.

This means, GSDAR’s attorneys allege, that PSAR and NSDAR have been able to “dominate and control” Sandicor’s board and proceed with certain projects over GSDAR’s objections, including:

  • “exploring, approving, and creating a task force to investigate a merger with CRMLS, which, if the merger went through, will diminish the value of Sandicor’s database;
  • “authorizing Sandicor to develop a Web portal that competes with one its shareholders (Plaintiff) at great expense and without the necessary shareholder approval; and,
  • “preventing Plaintiff from obtaining a data feed to use in conjunction with its Web portal while allowing other consumer-facing websites to have feeds from Sandicor.”

According to the complaint, GSDAR’s share stake in Sandicor is about 68 percent, followed by NSDCAR at about 22 percent and PSAR at about 10 percent.

Data-share agreement could ‘destroy and devalue’ MLS database

GSDAR also objected to a data-share agreement between Sandicor and CRMLS, also announced Thursday. In the complaint, GSDAR’s attorneys claimed agreement “threatens to destroy and devalue Sandicor’s most valuable asset: its database.”

CRMLS CEO Art Carter told Inman that was not a fair statement.

“The value of the database in CRMLS’s opinion is derived by how many eyeballs can be placed upon that data and from our standpoint a datashare increases the value of the database, not decreases,” he said.

He confirmed that CRMLS and Sandicor have been in merger talks since November 2012, with the most recent meeting taking place this week.

“From CRMLS’s standpoint the enthusiasm in the room seemed to indicate to us that there was a lot of support from their brokerage community in having a merger occur,” Carter said.

CRMLS was not aware of GSDAR’s displeasure at the idea of a merger until about six to eight months ago, he said. “Whether or not they voiced it internally is unknown to us,” he added.

According to the Greater San Diego association, if the merger were to go through, “it would destroy the value of Sandicor and value proposition offered by the Associations. The merger would also dramatically impact each Association’s operational revenue.”

In response to the allegation that a merger would destroy Sandicor’s value, Carter said, “It’s CRMLS’s position that our database is made up by information that is directly attributable and owned by the brokerage community and as such the brokerage community should have a say in the dissolution or use of that database.

“We were a little bit surprised that Greater San Diego has taken the position in the lawsuit that the business purposes of the association might be of a higher concern than the brokers’ needs, wants and desires.

“We’re also a little bit surprised by the statements in the lawsuit that signify San Diego is a unique and isolated marketplace. The 2,300 shared members between Sandicor and CRMLS probably would differ with that statement.”

CRMLS is not a party to this lawsuit.

The complaint also accuses Sandicor CEO Ray Ewing of using his position “to market the ‘benefits’ of a merger, while defaming Plaintiff to its members and other third parties, and actively encouraging Plaintiff’s members to leave Plaintiff in favor of the Association Defendants.”

GSDAR’s attorneys noted that the association has opposed renewal of Ewing’s contract, “but has been unable to be heard by the current board.”

Competition between associations

Instead of trying to compete directly with the Greater San Diego association, NSDCAR and PSAR have been using Sandicor to provide benefits and services to their own associations paid for mainly with funding from the Greater San Diego association, the complaint alleges.

Specifically, GSDAR claims Sandicor has denied the association a current and historical MLS data feed — which it is entitled to by shareholder agreement — for its hyperlocal website, Just Knock, launched in 2015.

“The fact that Plaintiff is utilizing the MLS data to create innovative programs and services for its members has been seen as a direct competitive threat by PSAR and NSDCAR,” GSDAR’s attorneys said.

“In response, and to frustrate and prevent competition, PSAR and NSDCAR conspired to cut off GSDAR’s access to the MLS data in its entirety.”

After Sandicor denied GSDAR a direct feed, the association contracted with third-party syndicator Point2 to receive Sandicor’s syndicated MLS feed. The other associations then told Point2 to eliminate their members’ data from the Just Knock feed, reducing the data feed by 30 percent, according to the complaint.

The other associations also took steps to ensure their members would not have the option to opt-in to Just Knock syndication, the complaint added.

The Greater San Diego association also asserts that the Pacific Southwest association and the North San Diego county association denied GSDAR an MLS data feed for its Showing Suite offering “unless GSDAR agreed to make Showing Suite also available for use by the other competing associations, PSAR and NSDCAR, so GSDAR could not use it to compete for members against them.”

“GSDAR’s products and services allow for more informed purchasing decisions, reduce transaction costs and other inefficiencies among buyers, sellers, and brokers, and above all, connect prospective clients with its member-brokers,” GSDAR’s attorneys said.

“These products and services are a competitive threat to PSAR and NSDCAR because GSDAR’s products and services are a primary reason that brokers choose to join GSDAR over PSAR and NSDCAR.”

NSDCAR’s and PSAR’s “collusive actions have stifled GSDAR’s efforts to provide the innovations it has invested time and money developing, including Just Knock and Showing Suite,” they added.

“GSDAR has lost members and has not obtained new members it would have obtained but for PSAR and NSDCAR’s conduct.”

In addition, GSDAR accused the other associations of causing Sandicor “to incur more than $75,000” to build a consumer website for Sandicor “for the sole benefit of PSAR and NSDCAR, and to the detriment of GSDAR.”

“[R]ather than devoting their own resources to producing a Web portal for the benefit of their own members, the Association Defendants impermissibly used their control of Sandicor’s Board of Directors to create a website that directly competes with Plaintiff’s Web portal, at great expense and over Plaintiff’s objection, for the sole benefit of the Association Defendants,” the complaint said.

The creation of a competing consumer portal was a “type of activity was beyond the scope of Sandicor’s duties and was the exclusive responsibility of the Associations,” the complaint added.

GSDAR also accuses the other associations of using Sandicor to provide educational programs, products and services that are typically provided by individual associations for their members.

“Indeed, Plaintiff provides these types of services to its members, and has incurred substantial time and expenses in developing these services,” the complaint said.

“Rather than incurring the expense of providing these services themselves, the Association Defendants opted to, instead, use Sandicor’s funds (which, again, are provided primarily by Plaintiff) to provide their members with these value-added programs/services.”

Complaint demands

The complaint demands, among other items, a jury trial, a minimum of $1.5 million in damages, restitution, a “judicial determination” of disputes between Sandicor shareholders in regards to its corporate structure, and an order compelling Sandicor to produce for inspection its books, records and documents regarding its finances and operations, the datashare agreement and the potential merger.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated with further details from the complaint and comments from PSAR and NSDCAR. The headline has also been updated to correct that Sandicor has been accused of unfair business practices, not antitrust violations.

10 Home Renovations That Offer the Best (and Worst) Return on Investment. By Judy Dutton

10 Home Renovations That Offer the Best (and Worst) Return on Investment

Which renovations result in the biggest bang for your buck?

skhoward/iStock.com

Remodeling may be a labor of love, but it’s also an investment that can seriously boost the value of your home.  Only by how much? Well, according to Remodeling magazine’s 2016 Cost vs. Value Report, you’ll recoup an average of 64% of what you paid for a renovation if you sell your home this year.

To arrive at these figures, Remodeling asked consultants in various markets to estimate the average cost for 30 home improvement projects, from adding a bathroom to replacing a roof. Then, they asked real estate agents nationwide to estimate the expected resale value of these renovations so that readers could compare their out-of-pocket costs to how much money they’d get back when it came time to sell their home.

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So, what projects gets you the most bang for your home renovation buck? It may not be nearly as sexy (or fun!) as adding a chef’s kitchen or glam bathroom, but attic insulation gets the top spot. That’s right: Stuff some fiberglass insulation into the walls of a 35-by-30-foot attic, and you’ll pay an average of $1,268. But when you sell, you will rake in $116.90 for every $100. For you math-challenged out there, that’s a recoup of 116.9% of your costs. It’s the only home reno on this year’s report that redeems more money than you spend!

The next best-paying renovation on the list: manufactured stone veneer, offering a respectable 92.9% return.

Meanwhile—sorry, luxury tub fans—the home improvement project that reaps the worst ROI is the addition of a bathroom, at 56.2% (although the “added value” of an extra bathroom for anyone who’s ever had to wait their turn for one is, of course, priceless).

Take-home lesson? If you’re looking for a general rule of thumb, it’s that less is more: Lower-cost projects  generally reap bigger returns, with four of the five projects that cost less than $5,000 ranking among the top five for money back when you sell.

Check out the best (and worst) returns for home renovations in the two charts below, including how much you’ll pay and get back if you sell your home this year.

———

1 Billion Uber Rides

1 Billion Uber Rides-Who Will Be the First Real Estate Disrupter to Close 100,000 Home Sales?

As the analog generation dies off, the DIY digital tribe will turn to the news fee for service options. 
After testing its ridesharing service in New York City with only three cars, Uber officially launched in San Francisco on July 5, 2010. On the last day of 2015, it celebrated its one billionth trip.

Mind-boggling.

But consider: One billion represents a small fraction of all personal trips on buses, trains, cabs, private autos, shared rides, bikes, pedicabs, skateboards and unicycles.

Like transportation, the fragmented residential real estate industry offers every imaginable business model, agent type and service level. And in the next 12 months, more real estate disrupters — smarter, bolder and better funded — will stake a claim on real estate, like Uber has done with transportation.

Call them oddballs, outsiders, discounters or any other label you can cook up, but reacting with fear may not be the industry’s smartest impulse.

A better strategy might be to learn from those who seemingly are a threat and quickly change how business is done. I’ve noticed how New York City cabs in the last few months have become cleaner; the drivers are friendlier and taxi companies are offering on-demand apps. At first, they overreacted and spent years trying to stop Uber, which got them nowhere.

Now, they are getting their game on. I am no longer a Uber-only righteous passenger; jumping in a cab lately is a more enjoyable experience. Competition makes you keener and stronger, and the marketplace becomes more dynamic and interesting.

So where is this new competition coming from in real estate? And what may have increased the odds of some digital upstarts succeeding?

 Where is this new competition coming from in real estate?

Bountiful funding has played a role with a handful of hybrid brokers, like Redfin and Compass, which are slowly getting market share with more than $200 million in investment between the two of them. Though not too different from mainstream brokers, you can expect them to experiment and offer a plethora of new products like on-demand, agent-less showings and mobile apps that facilitate faster and friendlier closings. These hybrids use agents, even though Redfin employs them as full-time workers and offers consumer rebates.

Another variation of this approach is SRE Matrix in Hawaii, which is expanding in several markets this coming year after getting a toehold on the Islands. With a $100 million investment, the one-year old broker employs agents and rebates two-thirds of the buyer’s broker’s commission. The brokerage plans to generate most of its revenue by charging fees to mortgage, home inspection and title companies for exposure on its technology platform.

This is just the beginning. Something more game changing is afoot.

The DIY newbies

A new generation of self-serve, fee-for-service startups are entering the business. These newbies aren’t unsuccessful agents who discount because they can’t deliver on the full service model. They are often smart young entrepreneurs, who are getting the attention of legitimate investors who feel like real estate is poised for a shake up.

Take a look at HomeBay’s consumer promise.

“Everything You Need to Sell Your Home. Our technology replaces the realtor, guiding you intelligently through your home sale.” The offer includes putting your listing on the MLS after the seller fills out a simple form. Then, they promise to “market” the home, which means publishing it on the MLS — automatically feeding to Zillow and realtor.com.

Homelister does the same but with the added wrinkle that the service is provided through a mobile app. The company is expected to launch sometime in Q1.

You can imagine an entire category in the Apple App Store, dubbed Home Seller Apps.

This type of service has been around for sometime. Consider forsalebyowner.com and owners.com. What is different now is the changing habits of home buyers, capital for these new models, easy-to-use mobile applications and other technologies that simplify and mimic the traditional steps of searching for and closing a house sale.

And noise around this burgeoning cast of characters will go up a few decibels this year, as some of these rebels spend their investor money lathering up consumers about commissions and casting doubt about the role of the Realtor. One such company, SoloPro, has teed up an ad that the fledgling start-up plans to run later this quarter.

Here is part of the pitch: “Why is it … when you buy or sell a house … your hard-earned money goes to powerful real estate middlemen taking huge commissions?”

For some in the industry, these ads will be as irritating as a car alarm going off at 3 a.m. right outside your bedroom window.

Weak licensing laws create opportunity

How does this new gang of real estate outsiders penetrate the market? For one, the barrier to entry — licensing — is so low, which the established industry put in place and has never changed, despite its lobbying power. With standards equivalent to a pre-school education when compared to other financial services professionals, this friction-free path to becoming an agent or broker is core to the typical broker business model to work. It depends on lots of agents selling only a few homes but giving up a generous split with the broker.

This model is built on independent contractors, so brokers don’t face payroll and agents don’t get paid until they close a transaction. Again, keeping the barriers low and letting rogue agents roam the streets of real estate.

Imagine the pole in a limbo dance being placed six feet high, so anyone can dance under it.

Imagine the pole in a limbo dance being placed six feet high, so anyone can dance under it.

This lowest-common-denominator agent has led to negative consumer opinions, harming the reputation of the entire industry.

A qualified and ethical agent is like a good boy in a small town with three older brothers who are juvenile delinquents.

The weak-agent licensing laws plays to the hand of the disrupters.

Once licensed, these startups can instantly put listings on the MLS, even if their limited services are confined to an Uber-like app. Why? Because the DOJ (Department of Justice) cracked down on the industry almost a decade ago when it was accused of keeping these alternative models out of the MLS. The settlement between the DOJ and NAR (National Association of Realtors) prevents any shenanigans by those running the MLSs.

In effect, the industry paved the way for these new companies, as they deploy innovative new technology and take advantage of the Internet, becoming the de-facto buyer’s agent. Now that buyers can see all the listings, and soon see homes instantly, many of them — not all — will go directly to the source, the homeseller, through these new applications that are slimmed-down middlemen.

The industry took an erector set and built this complicated Rube Goldberg machine that, for nearly a century, was invincible. Now it is being turned around and used against the very people who created it.

The next generation of buyers are digital

Feeding the trend is the growing self-serve generation, who grew up with a multitude of applications and devices that enable them to do things by themselves such as dispatching a car, paying with digital money, ordering food online, signing digital contracts, playing digital music, engaging in digital communication and using online insurance, banking and travel services.

Much of this is done with a desire to have no interaction with other human beings. Consider texting’s popularity vs. making a phone call.

As the analog generation dies off, the digital tribe takes over.

As the analog generation dies off, the digital tribe takes over.

Where does Zillow fit in?

In an odd turn of events, this is where Zillow and Move may throw the industry a life preserver by touting the value of using a good Realtor to its enormous consumer audience. Their business models depend on agent success.

I can’t really imagine an alliance between NAR and Zillow jointly running ads promoting agents. But who knows? Such a partnership might thaw their ice-cold relationship.

Last year, when Spencer Rascoff interviewed me at a gathering of Zillow employees in Seattle, he asked what I thought of “paper brokers.” The tone of the question implied his disapproval of these offbeat business models.

In this new environment of more radical disrupters, all sorts of new alliances, partnerships and friendships will be formed as companies grapple with an inevitable threat.

What’s next?

Now, let’s go back to Uber and the cab companies. Faced with these challenges, what should the real estate industry road map look like?

  • Get out of fear; that will get you nowhere. Remember, the industry is fragmented and will remain so for years to come. There is room for everyone. The cab companies would love to roll back the clock on their actions with Uber — focusing on competing, not combatting.
  • For traditional companies and agents, humans are the crucial analog assets who make transactions happen. Figure out how to leverage this asset into a digital company that strives to make everything easier and more transparent for the consumer and for the agent.
  • Demand agent reviews and third-party satisfaction surveys, so the best agents overcome the consumer trust problem — like Uber drivers building their online reputations. This separates the good and bad agents. Brokers should then get rid of the agents who don’t cut it, like Uber does.
  • Embrace all of the front-end and back-end technology like on-demand showings and mobile closings so others don’t win the war over who is faster and better.
  • Partner with the rebels so you can learn about their technology and even offer their services to your customers.
  • NAR and state associations should do a legislative assault on changing state licensing laws, or face choking on their foolhardy conflict of interest. Imagine if the real estate lobby took licensing laws as seriously as preserving the mortgage interest deduction.
  • Brokers and their franchises must change a core part of their business model . If I hear the word “evolution” again, I will puke. Evolution takes millions of years. Brokers must gut the fish now to get rid of the muck.

Kaboom!

Skip the Pain: 7 Things That Will Fill You With Buyer’s Remorse by: Angela Colley

Home shopping makes you a little (OK, a lot) house-obsessed. Between stalking online listings, flipping through all the design magazines, and gorging on HGTV marathons, you know exactly what you want in painstaking detail.

Ain’t nobody gonna say you can’t have what you want. And hey, we’re totally on board. You’ve earned this! Buy whatever you like (within your means of course)!

Treat yo'self

 

But we’re here to share an unsolicited word of caution. All those custom details you’ve dreamed about? Make sure you really, really want them before you put in an offer—and that, in order to get them, you’re not sacrificing other things that will ultimately drive you bonkers.

Please, Mr. Postman

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Is the big backyard really worth all the hours of mowing and landscaping? Is your desire for more space making your home feel less cohesive? Are those floor-to-ceiling windows, which made you fall in love with the home, a total PITA to clean?

We could go on and on about the flip sides that have the potential to fill you with regret. But we talked to some experts in the biz and boiled the list down to seven features. Pay close attention to these things that might set you up for the dreaded buyer’s remorse.

1. Don’t go big, just go home

You may want the space to spread out, but consider what rooms you’ll actually use once you move in.

Do you really need five bedrooms, a game room, an office, and two formal living rooms? If you buy too big a home, you might end up regretting it when it comes time to cool, heat, and clean the place.

And don’t forget room size. If the space is too big, your furniture will seem miniaturized. To avoid going too big (or too small), bring a tape measure and measurements of your own furniture to verify everything will look the way you want.

2. Don’t get boxed in

On the other hand, if you’re planning to stay put for a while, consider the home’s architecture. You may want to expand one day, and not all homes are set up for that.

“Many buyers of split-foyer-style homes—where you enter and you’re at midlevel with the stairs and must go up or down—complain that it is difficult to expand their home,” says Cathy Baumbusch, a Realtor® in the Washington, DC, metro area.

Instead, look for more flexible, one- or two-story homes where additions are easier.

3. Don’t let your stairs become an uphill battle

Finally, when you’re walking the floor plan, think of how you’ll use the space when you own it, especially if you’re looking at an older home.

“Most buyers in my area want the standard three-story—two upper floors and a basement—Colonial-style home,” Baumbusch says. “This type of home often has the laundry room in the basement, which means the family has to haul laundry up and down two flights of stairs.

“It can get old fast.”

4. Get off the island … maybe

What we often consider to be an amenity can create remorse. Take, for example, the kitchen island. It looks cool. It adds more prep space. We all want one. Or do we?

“Kitchen islands can be a mistake if you don’t take your ‘work triangle’ into account,” Baumbusch says.

Walk around the kitchen, following your usual prepping and cooking pattern. If you’re bumping into the island, you may end up hating it.

5. Pay attention to what’s missing

If the home is modern (or previous owners did some upgrading), take a hard look and ask yourself if anything is missing.

Often architects and remodelers will take something out to give a room a cleaner, more minimalist feel, and you may feel the loss after you move in.

“There is a trend to eliminate the bathtub in favor of just a shower,” Baumbusch says. “Some homeowners regret that decision, because sometimes they find themselves wishing for a nice long soak after a tough day.”

6. Pools may not be so cool

You step outside, see a pool and immediately picture all the backyard parties you’re going to have. We know, we know, pools are cool. But pools are also a huge expense.

On top of the regular monthly maintenance and cleaning (and there will be a lot of that), pools in seasonal areas are often opened and closed by a pro. Those costs add up.

“It can cost upward of $600 just to open a pool and prepare it for swimmers,” Baumbusch says.

Moral of the story: Pools are a big regret if the expenses cause a burden. Make sure you can comfortably afford the upkeep.

7. Don’t fall for fads

Today’s popular ice-white appliances, steel countertops, and Edison bulb light fixtures are yesterday’s saloon doors, linoleum, and brass hardware.

If you buy a house just for its trendy look, you may end up regretting it when the styles change, especially if you have to sell the outdated design. Instead, Baumbusch recommends looking for timeless features.

When all is said and done, look for a classic, well-designed home to ensure the smallest chance of stinging regret. It may not sound like as much fun, but you can always add a little (or a lot) of your style in the finishing touches.

20 best cities for trick-or-treating ranked by Zillow by: Inman

While adults might be concerned about mortgage rates and housing prices, only one things matters to most kids on Halloween: Where to get the best candy stash.

There’s just enough time to consider relocating to a new city for a week or two. Zillow analyzed median home value (bigger candy bars), housing density (ability to move quickly from house to house), crime rates (for parents’ peace-of-mind) and share of population under the age of 15.

The big winner? San Francisco was no. 1 on Zillow’s list, followed by:

  • San Jose
  • Los Angeles
  • Milwaukee
  • Phoenix
  • Chicago
  • Boston
  • San Diego
  • Denver
  • Sacramento
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