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Real estate practitioners entering into marketing service agreements with lenders, title companies, and other settlement service providers is a well-established practice, but a recent court decision shows why you have to structure these agreements the right way.
An appellate court just ruled that it’s okay for a mortgage lender to refer business to mortgage insurers who are buying reinsurance from an affiliate of the lender, because the reinsurance is a bona fide service and the insurers are paying fair market rates for it. In other words, the arrangement doesn’t amount to a kickback.
Although the case involves a lender, insurance companies, and a reinsurer, the structure of the agreement is something that applies to the kind of marketing service agreements you might be involved in as an agent or broker. Any agreement you enter into with a lender or title company must be for actual services rendered and priced at fair market rates and not simply an arrangement for referrals.
How do you ensure a marketing agreement is appropriate under federal anti-kickback rules? The most important thing is to have it looked at by an attorney who’s familiar with the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act, or RESPA. For a general idea, though, there are two tests you can apply:
1.Is the marketing fee you receive based on the number of referrals you make to the company, whether it’s a title company, a lender, or another service provider? If the fee corresponds to the number of referrals, you could be inviting a close look by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), which is the federal agency that enforces RESPA.
2. If you have an arrangement to split costs on a joint project, like a newspaper ad, is the split reflective of what each of you get in return? For example, if you and the title company are splitting the cost of the ad down the middle, then half the ad should go to the title company and half should go to you. If the title company is covering 75 percent of the cost of the ad but only taking up 25 percent of the space, that split makes it look like the company is subsidizing 50 percent of the ad cost. Again, you could be inviting a close look by the CFPB.
Learn more about the recent court decision in the latest Voice for Real Estate news video from NAR. The video also looks at what was in the budget agreement enacted into law about two weeks ago. Among other things, the new law extends the tax deduction for mortgage insurance premiums and retains the prohibition on taxing forgiven mortgage debt as income. It also looks at why a recent Supreme Court decision on the regulation of bodies of water is important to your inbdustry.
A company called Zenplace in San Francisco is using robots to help its agents conduct showings. When people arrive at the unit, they’re greeted by what amounts to an iPad on a mobile stand that leads them around, but it’s personalized; it’s the agent’s image and voice that people see and hear. Other companies are coming out wirh their own versions of this.
It’s a good question whether this type of automation will take off. As people get used to buying goods at automated stores in which everything is done with your phone or credit card and no employees are around, it’s feasible mobile iPads will do the trick at showings.
Screen grab from Zenplace video
Whether you like the idea or not, it’s a trend that’s poised to hit your industry. There are other tech trends you’ll be faced with whether you like them or not. One is a kind of virtual tour that’s more immersive than what you get by just wearing goggles. You get an additional tactile component, because you’re wearing gloves with sensors. Now you feel the door handle when you open the refrigerator as well as see it in multiple dimensions.
Will this be the norm six years from now? Who knows, but now that the genie’s out of the bottle, it’s not likely to get put back in.
REALTOR® Magazine spent a few days at CES in Las Vegas two weeks ago and brought back coverage of all types of tech innovations coming to real estate. CES stands for Consumer Electronics Show and it’s the big showcase each year at which companies try to wow people with what the’re cooking up for us.
You can learn more about CES and also about real estate robots in the latest Voice for Real Estate video. The video also looks at something the U.S. Department of Labor did a few weeks ago that could eventually be important to you because it promises to get the real estate industry one step closer to setting up association health plans (AHPs) for independent contractors.
The agency proposed adding “working owner” to the definition of employer for purposes of setting up AHPs, which would enable sole proprietors and small business owners to ban together for insurance under the large group market, which could make coverage available more cheaply than under the small group market. There remain a lot of hurdles, but this was a crucial step in the right direction.
The video also looks at the three-day federal government shutdown and what could happen to your pipeline of homes sales if there’s another one in a few weeks, which could happen since the short-term budget law expires in early February. If your buyers are applying for FHA-backed financing, they would probably be okay, although processing might take a bit longer. But if they[re buying a new house in a flood area, they might not be able to get flood insurance, and that would mean a delay in closing.
I’ve always been skeptical of personality assessments. After taking the DISC twice—once getting a D/C and more recently getting a high, nearly even I/D—I found that both results matched my personality on some levels and conflicted on others. This is where my skepticism come in. There’s truth in assessments to varying degrees.
Whether or not you’re looking into assessments for personal insight or to use as a tool for hiring, it’s important to find the right one for you. Recently, I wrote a piece for REALTOR® Magazine on EQ vs. IQ, which examines the concept of emotional intelligence and how it relates to working with clients. I interviewed experts in the field who offered actionable tips for getting in touch with your EQ and applying it to your job in real estate. The article is divided into three parts, and in the last section—which is targeted at broker-owners or hiring managers—I dive into how to recruit high-EQ candidates.
As part of my research, I took Keller Williams Realty’s Keller Personality Assessment (KPA), which I found to be the most accurate and enlightening assessment I’ve experienced to date. It encapsulated so many idiosyncrasies of my personality that it was astonishing. But I shouldn’t be surprised since their business model is all about building teams that work well together. What better way to get a window into a person’s true self than by asking them to take an assessment to learn how they’ll fit in with your group? The key word in that question is “window.”
Whether you’re using DISC, a brokerage tool like KW’s KPA, or another test, such as the Caliper Profile, look at it as one piece of the puzzle (e.g. don’t put all your eggs in one basket). You still need to make sure you’re recruiting the right person or making a good hire. Here are some takeaways after taking the KPA:
Know what you’re assessing. Hiring someone just because you like them or you “click” isn’t always a good idea. Really consider the skillset the job requires before administering the assessment. Know what you’re looking for and have a checklist. Make sure you’re judging candidates not only on their strengths but how those strengths might serve as either pros or cons in a specific position.
@Clker-Free-Vector-Images, 2014. pixabay.com
Understand that an assessment might not tell the whole story. Some candidates can overthink their responses when taking an assessment, which may affect accuracy. That’s why it’s imperative to ask follow-up questions pertaining to the results of any tests you administer. Ask the candidate how they feel about the results and how accurate they think they are. Ask for examples pertaining to candidates’ assessed strengths as they’ve played out in real-life or on-the-job.
Don’t put people in a box. I hate using that box cliché, but it’s true. Many assessments cement a person as one way or another, failing to consider how one trait might inform other characteristics. For instance, my high responsiveness, spontaneity, and logical problem-solving skills, coupled with my desire for independence, means I work best in environments that are busy, active, and give me a range of responsibilities to manage. But looking at each of those traits independently, you might not draw that conclusion.
In-person interviews are best. It’s much easier to read someone’s comfort level when you see their body language. You can also give them insight into your company culture. And according to Karina Loken, president of The Loken Group with Keller Williams Luxury International in Houston, if a candidate feels your office is a good fit for them, it’s always good for your organization.
At CES 2018, the consumer electronics’ mega show in Las Vegas this week, I hung out with robots, tried out the latest VR headsets, and talked—yes, talked—to a host of appliances, from a bathroom mirror to a refrigerator. After scouring the show floor, I found several products this year that hold real potential to shake up the real estate market. In the video below, I outlined what I think is some of the best tech I saw at the show this year. But of course, my rankings are subjective so use the poll below to vote for your favorite!
Consumers are increasingly curious about smart home technology, and they’re turning to real estate agents as a vital resource for information. Forty-two percent of consumers recently surveyed say they would look to their real estate agent to provide suggestions about how staging their home with smart-home products could impact their sale, according to a new survey conducted by Coldwell Banker. The company presented their findings at the consumer electronics’ mega event, CES 2018, which is taking place in Las Vegas this week. Coldwell Banker is a sponsor of the Smart Home Marketplace at this year’s show.
“Our consumer findings underscore the need for industrywide smart-home education for real estate sales agents,” says Charlie Young, president and CEO of Coldwell Banker Real Estate.
Our interview with David Marine, senior vice president of marketing at Coldwell Banker, delves further into what real estate professionals can expect from buyers and sellers over the next few years:
The technology industry’s mega event, known as CES, kicks off in Las Vegas this week, and thousands of companies are gearing up to show off their latest innovations. And this year’s trade show promises plenty for the real estate industry as well.
This will be my third run covering CES from Las Vegas, and it’s one of the few conferences that brings the city to a practical standstill. More than 3,900 companies are showing off products throughout the city’s hotels and convention center. I’ll admit it can be overwhelming; people zoom by on Hoverboards, drones swarm overhead, televisions loom larger than your eyes can take in, booming speakers rattle you to the core, cars drive by on their own, and random robots rush up to greet you. Thankfully, when you need to escape from all the flashiness, you can slip on a VR headset and become immersed in the sight and sounds of the beaches of Tahiti. While the CES show floor is a wild sight, it does offer one of the best glimpses into the technology that could rock the real estate world in the next few years. And I’m here to find the tools that may transform the way you conduct showings, advance how you market properties, and make your mobile office even more efficient.
In preparation, hundreds of PR folks have flooded my voicemail and email inboxes, all with promises that they hold the next big thing for your business. Do they? We’ll see. As the week wears on, you can see our extended coverage from the show floor detailing product debuts, tech news, and our annual video countdown to the biggest game-changers for your business.
Here are a few categories that I’m keeping my eye on at this year’s show:
Smart home tech: These devices are getting more sophisticated, easier to use, and more affordable. Our favorite artificial intelligence tools—Amazon’s Alexa, Siri, and Google Home—are being folded in to ever more products. I’ll be scouting the show floor for more innovations in the smart-home arena. For the third consecutive year, Coldwell Banker will be sponsoring the Smart Home Marketplace, so we’ll also check in to hear what they see as the most important innovations for real estate pros.
Smart cities: Technology is expected to reshape our cities, combining artificial intelligence, data analytics, electric grids, public safety, and intelligent transportation. Global spending on smart city initiatives is projected to reach more than $34 billion by 2020. I’ll be looking to understand how municipalities are planning to connect communities in new ways with more sensors that can do everything from monitoring air quality to alerting police when the sound of gunshots are detected.
5G: This super-fast wireless speed, which is supposed to be 100 times faster and five times more responsive than what we currently use, is coming to a smart phone near you. AT&T and Verizon are expected to give status updates on the fifth-generation network technology during this year’s show. How will the ability to transfer and upload information instantly change your business?
Drones: It wouldn’t be a proper CES show without drones buzzing in the air. What are the latest advances in capturing property photos from the sky? The technology is getting easier to use, and a bodyguard-like drone has me intrigued.
Virtual reality: VR headsets allow you to take buyers inside of a listing from anywhere in the world. Real estate pros have already been experimenting with the technology, but I’m looking forward to checking in on the latest developments from CES.
There’s plenty more. Smart appliances, cameras, and of course, there are always those unexpected exhibitors who manage to make you raise your eyebrow as you walk by—was that a laundry folding robot? I’ll definitely be stopping by to get his card!
Whatever you think of the “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act,” which President Donald Trump signed into law just before Christmas, much of it goes away on Dec. 31, 2025, which means many of the changes will revert back to what was in place before the bill was signed unless Congress acts to extend the provisions.
REALTORS® can take some credit for many of the bill’s improvements during its development. The bill originally curtailed the capital gains exclusion that home sellers get today, but because of REALTORS®’ involvement, current law was kept in place. As a result, individuals can still sell their home and exclude up to $250,000 in proceeds from capital gains taxes. For married couples filing jointly, it’s $500,000.
On the commercial side, REALTORS® helped keep tax-deferred 1031 exchanges in place. House Republicans met with REALTORS® just after they released their original tax reform blueprint and heard that 1031 exchanges were crucial to commercial sales. NAR testified to that effect, too, before the Senate Finance Committee.
Other big changes REALTORS® helped secure include a compromise on the deductibility of state and local income taxes and property taxes. Households can still deduct both of these taxes, although they’re limited to a total of $10,000.
REALTORS® also helped fight back against limitations on the mortgage interest deduction. The law keeps in place MID, for both primary residences and second homes (although it eliminates it for equity lines of credit), but it limits the deduction to $750,000. That’s a reduction of $250,000 from the old limit of $1 million, but it’s higher than the $500,000 included in the House bill.
Despite these improvements, the new law, on balance, hurts homeownership. That’s because many households today that itemize their deductions will no longer find it financially advantageous to continue doing so. As a result, they’ll receive no benefit in the tax code for being homeowners.
Instead, under the new law, most homeowners will take the standard deduction, which is increased to $24,000 from a little above $12,000 today. Although the deduction is larger, the gain is partially offset by the loss of the personal and dependency exemptions. Today, these exemptions are $4,150 for each eligible person in the household. For a household with four eligible people (wife, husband, and two children, for example), that’s $16,600 in lost exemptions. When you subtract that from the newly increased standard deduction, you see that you’ve made no or little gain from what you had before. For some households, it might make sense to go back to itemizing except that now itemized deductions are limited.
On the plus side, the law could prove helpful to real estate professionals in the treatment of your business income. The law creates a 20 percent deduction for so-called pass-through entities. Pass-through entities include business people whose income is taxed on the individual rather than the corporate side of the tax code. So, as an independent contractor whose income is taxed as individual income, you could be eligible for the new deduction. You’ll want to check with your tax professional on that, because there are limitations on how that’s applied.
You can learn about what’s in the new law in a Facebook Live event NAR is hosting on Thursday, Jan. 4, at 1 p.m., Central time, 2 p.m., Eastern time. Because it’s live, you can ask questions of the speakers. These include Peter Baker, an accountant who specializes in working with real estate professionals, and Evan Liddiard, NAR’s tax policy specialist.
Bottom line: The law is better for real estate than it started out to be, thanks in large part to REALTORS®’ engagement politically. But it can still be made better, particularly for homeowners. On big, complex laws like this one, it’s not unusual for Congress to follow up with another bill to correct or tweak provisions as problems become apparent. There’s a good chance Congress will take up such a bill in 2018. If they do, REALTORS® will continue to make their voices heard. And then there’s Dec. 31, 2025. Unless Congress passes extensions, many of the provisions expire then.
Of all the itemized deductions, the one for charitable contributions might seem to come out the best under tax reform. That’s because it’s the only deduction under both the House and the Senate versions of the bill that is largely undiminished. And yet charities complain donations will dry up under tax reform. What gives?
“Provisions in the tax bill the House and Senate are considering would make the situation worse” for charities, Ray Madoff, director of the Boston College Law School Forum on Philanthropy and the Public Good, says in a Nov. 27 New York Times opinion piece.
The problem, Madoff says, is the near doubling of the standard deduction. With all of the other itemized deductions either going away or constrained by new caps, most households will opt for the standard deduction rather than continue to itemize. That renders the tax deduction for charitable giving nearly meaningless. As Madoff puts it, “A vast majority of American taxpayers would no longer itemize and therefore would receive no benefits for their charitable giving.”
That argument might sound familiar. It’s the same one NAR is making about homeownership. Under the Senate bill, the mortgage interest deduction would be left intact, but the deduction for state and local taxes would go away. In the House, MID would be limited to mortgages of $500,000 and the deductions for property taxes would be capped at $10,000, while the deduction for state and local income and sales taxes would be entirely repealed. So, while MID is preserved, either entirely or in part, very few households that itemize today would continue to do so. As a result, MID would continue to be a benefit only for the wealthiest households.
Given the structural changes to the tax code lawmakers have before them, preserving the deduction for charitable contributions is mostly meaningless. This is exactly the same thing REALTORS® are saying about tax incentives for homeownership. They’re meaningless for most households if tax reform passes in its current form in both the House and the Senate.
Kevin Tengan told attendees at the REALTORS® Conference & Expo to remember that home buyers are looking for “a place for their life to happen.”
To help your listing stand out from the competition, focus on the lifestyle the property will help buyers achieve, in addition to common details such as square footage and number of bedrooms.
That’s the advice of visual effects specialist Kevin Tengan, who has turned his experience working on Hollywood productions into the foundation for a real estate business that reflects his love for imagery and storytelling. A buyer might say they want a four-bedroom, three-bath house with a sunny kitchen and a backyard, but what they’re really looking for is “a place for their life to happen,” he said during a session at the REALTORS® Conference & Expo in Chicago earlier this month.
“A lot of what we communicate is ‘what’ and ‘how,’ but few talk about ‘why,’” said Tengan, CRS, chief operating officer of RE/MAX Prestige in Honolulu. “Start with the why.”
As you develop marketing campaigns, remember that saying a home is in a great neighborhood isn’t as powerful as showing why that is the case, said Tengan. For example, if you produce a video property tour, include footage of nearby attractions such as beaches, museums, shopping districts, and other aspects of a community that can inspire a buyer to want to live in the area—not just in the home. Anything you can do to tie your listing to the lifestyle buyers want will attract more traffic, Tengan said.
Diving Deep with Big Data - YouTube
One of the keys to developing marketing materials that will resonate with buyers looking for a certain lifestyle is understanding the trends that characterize the people you are trying to reach, said Emily Line, vice president of commercial services for Realtors Property Resource®. As a real estate professional, you have access to an enormous amount of data about what consumers are looking for. There are services that can sift through the information and create reports to help you develop an effective pitch, Line said.
The data can help you tune in to trends that reflect the kind of buyers you want to reach. You can identify people in certain kinds of occupations, where they like to shop, and what they like to do for entertainment, Line said. This information can help you connect with buyers in your area, as well as investors who want to purchase commercial or residential properties that will attract certain types of tenants, she said.
Turn the information you collect into a marketing tool by incorporating it into a story that connects the property to the goals and lifestyle of those who would buy it, Tengan said. “At the end of the day, the story is all that matters. A great story evokes a reaction.”
“Are you ready to own it with me?” asked Elizabeth Mendenhall, a sixth-generation REALTOR® and the sixth woman to become president of the National Association of REALTORS® in the past 110 years. “We absolutely have the power to make a difference.”
Mendenhall was sworn into office by her father Richard Mendenhall, who was 2001 NAR president. “There is nothing more powerful in this journey than sharing it with others,” she said addressing thousands of REALTORS® at the Inaugural gala during the REALTORS® Conference & Expo in Chicago.
Mendenhall ended her inaugural festivities with a group rendition of “REALTORS® Own It”—the vibrant tune that she co-wrote for her presidency. The song evokes the pride and power embodied in dedicated real estate pros who strive each day to meet the complex needs of their clients and keep the industry strong.
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