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Left to right: Panelists Tim Anderson, Phyllis Carmichael, Ethel Green, Gary Herbert, Jim Nappo, and Los Altos/Mountain View District Chair Denise Welsh (standing), who served as moderator.

Veteran REALTORS® with experience ranging from 26 to 36 years shared their perceptions on how much the real estate business has changed over the years at last week’s Los Altos/Mountain District tour meeting. Forming the panel were Tim Anderson (Alain Pinel Realtors), Jim Nappo (Alain Pinel Realtors), Ethel Green (Intero Real Estate), Phyllis Carmichael (Coldwell Banker) and Gary Herbert (Coldwell Banker).

The panelists said technology has been the big business changer, especially in the last 10 years. Technology has contributed to the ease of doing business and quicker response time. Tools available to help REALTORS® provide better service to clients include emails, websites and virtual tours, and smartphones with the ability to send real time data to their clients.

At the same time technology has also brought new demands on REALTORS®. Buyers are now more educated than they used to be and majority do research on the Internet first before finding a home and an agent. As a result, agents show buyers fewer homes, but they are also expected to be very well-versed about the market.

The business has also become more complicated with pages of documents to wade through. Carmichael can still remember when a sale merely required a one-page document, an agreement among the agents, buyer and seller, with no lawyers involved. “We hand delivered everything and spent much time on the road, driving from Blossom Valley all the way to San Carlos, just to deliver the one-page document,” she added.

The panelists said they also feel real estate has become less of a relationship business. “A lot has been lost because people don’t talk to each other anymore. They get emails and this can be a positive as well as a negative,” said Nappo.

What hasn’t changed is they continue to take education courses, network with one another, and still see value in open houses and keeping in touch with their clients.  While cell phones and computers have become valuable tools, Herbert and the others insist the best way to help people understand the market is to “pick up the phone and call them, talk to them face to face.”

How different is the local market today? “It’s fascinating. Everywhere, it’s a tailspin, but demand continues to be overwhelming here and for good reasons – the schools and jobs,” commented Anderson.

Green was just as upbeat and said, “We are fortunate because there is no more land here. If you are here for a long time, you will get equity in your house because there is just no more land in this area.”

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Be advised that there is a new scam that involves people trying to market homes for sale as rentals. A Sunnyvale agent found her San Jose listing’s For Sale sign tossed in the backyard of the home. She had three people come through her open house this past weekend saying they saw the home advertised as a rental on the Internet. The authorities have been notified.

The California Association of REALTORS® is also alerting members of a new fraud alert relating to FBI emails. Threatening emails purportedly from the FBI and its leadership have been making the rounds recently. Please be advised that the FBI does not send threatening emails to the public. The agency uses the legal process should it want to contact a member of the public. The FBI cautions, if you receive an unsolicited email, do not open it, click on it, nor respond. If you ae a victim of Internet crime file a complaint at http://www.ic3.gov.

REALTORS® are meeting with their U.S. Representatives during the August recess in their district offices to discuss several important issues, including preservation of the mortgage interest deduction, maintaining the existing loan limits, and continuation of the flood insurance program.

Lawmakers have introduced legislation to extend the current loan limits for FHA, VA, and the two secondary mortgage market companies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The “Homeownership Affordability Act of 2011,’’ S. 1508 (co-sponsored by Sen. Feinstein), would extend the current loan limits until December 31, 2013. The current FHA, Fannie, and Freddie limits for high cost areas, set at 125 percent of area median price, are set to expire on September 30. VA limits expire December 31. The extension issue is becoming critical, with many lenders already rejecting applications at the higher limits out of concern the loan won’t close prior to the reset. 

The conforming loan limit determines the maximum size of a mortgage that FHA, Fannie Mae, and Freddie Mac can buy or guarantee. Non-conforming or jumbo loans typically carry a higher mortgage interest rate and require a higher down payment, increasing the monthly payment and negatively impacting housing affordability for California home buyers.

The National Association of REALTORS® (NAR) is supporting current efforts to reauthorize the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) to issue flood insurance, which is required in 21,000 communities nationwide. As part of the reauthorization NAR hopes it will:
• renew and strengthen the long-term viability of the NFIP for at least five years;
• improve the accuracy of flood insurance rate maps used to determine which properties require flood insurance;
• continue to include comprehensive coverage for residences, including rental properties and second homes; and
• provide “full risk” premiums for most repetitive loss structures in many states.

For the past several years, Congress has been approving short-term extensions of the NFIP’s authority to issue flood insurance policies while it continues to debate long-term fiscal reforms to the program. Twice in 2010 Congress allowed the NFIP to lapse for multiple weeks at a time, halting tens of thousands of real estate transactions in areas where homebuyers are required to purchase flood insurance to obtain a mortgage. With the NFIP authority set to expire on September 30, 2011, for the 10th time in three years, NAR is advocating for further reform and long-term extension of the program.

On July 12, 2011, by a vote of 406-22, the House passed the Flood Insurance Reform Act (H.R. 1309), a bill to extend NFIP authority by five years and strengthen the program’s actuarial stability. Before that, it defeated 38-384 a NAR-opposed amendment by Rep. Candice Miller (R-MI) to strike the bill and terminate NFIP in six months. The House bill now moves to the Senate, where we are urging quick action. NAR is pushing for the longest extension possible before the looming September 30, 2011 deadline.

There’s been much talk and concern since the news on August 5 that Standard & Poor’s downgraded the United States credit rating for the first time from an AAA to AA-plus.

A video and other resources on the expected impact based on preliminary analysis by National Association of REALTORS® Chief Economist Lawrence Yun may be accessed via the National Association of REALTORS® website here. In the video, Yun explains and discusses how the credit downgrade could impact consumer confidence, mortgage rates and the real estate market.

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