You are currently browsing the monthly archive for September 2011.

There’s good news and bad news. First the good news …

On Monday, September 26, the U.S. Senate passed the Continuing Appropriations Act (H.R. 2608), which also includes a provision extending the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) until November 18, 2011. Next week, the House is expected to approve this extension and has ensured that there will be no lapse in NFIP authority in the interim.

The National Association of REALTORS® is urging Congress to finish its work on the 5-year reauthorization bill (H.R. 1309) before this latest extension ends, in order to provide certainty and avoid further disruption to real estate markets.

And the bad news …

After an unsuccessful attempt to include an extension of the existing loan limit in the continuing resolution to keep the federal government running, Congress failed to extend the FHA (Federal Housing Administration) and GSE (Government-sponsored Enterprise) mortgage loan limits.

On Oct. 1, the conforming loan limits will decline in 669 counties in 42 states, including San Mateo and Santa Clara counties. The new limits will be equal to 115 percent of the local area median home price (down from 125 percent). The high cost cap will fall from $729,750 to $625,500.

The National Association of REALTORS® will continue to work with Congress to attempt to restore the higher limits as quickly as possible.

VIEW NEW LOAN LIMITS HERE

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Left to right: Jack Walker, Jim Davis, Tara Martin-Milius, Fred Fowler and Bo Chang.

Five of nine candidates vying for seats in the Sunnyvale City Council shared their positions on taxes, housing, energy retrofitting and rent control at yesterday’s Cupertino/Sunnyvale District’s tour meeting. Council seats 4, 5, 6, and 7 will be decided in the November 8 election.

Overall issues that concerned the candidates were the city’s budget, and the planning and development of the downtown area, which they see as a key source of revenue for the city. All of these candidates stated they are against rent control and imposing energy retrofitting at point of sale.

Bo Chang, who is vying for Seat 5, is a REALTOR® and SILVAR member. Having served on the planning commission for the past four years, Chang said bringing downtown to completion is the cornerstone to raising the city’s sales tax revenue. He said raising taxes and imposing fees would be a last resort because this will discourage entrepreneurship. He identified three areas which can economically benefit the city. They include working on fixing the downtown so it can quickly generate sales tax; and the El Camino corridor and Moffett Park, both of which are doing well. Chang would like to see sustainable housing in the center of employment, along transportation corridors and retail services, in order to accommodate residents without transportation. He is for smart growth because smart development is necessary to accommodate residents so they live close to work, which will mitigate the transportation issues. The city also needs to facilitate communication and work with other cities regarding the issue. A longtime resident and having served on the planning commission for the past four years, Chang said he has invested much in the city and would like to continue serving at the council level.

Jim Davis, a recently retired Sunnyvale law enforcement officer, is seeking Seat 6. He is concerned about the city’s finances, especially since it used $13 million of its reserves to balance the budget last year. He said the city did a good job in the past by bringing in businesses, but due to the economic downturn, things changed. The city has not done enough since to bring businesses back. He doesn’t think the city has done much to encourage commercial property owners to improve their property to make the city attractive for businesses. The city needs to invigorate its resources and bring jobs into the community. He said places like Perry Park need redevelopment dollars. He said it depresses him how long the downtown development has been stalled. He believes the city has done a good job keeping the balance but it needs to be aware of where to put new housing. He said it will be a challenge to keep up with the housing balance. He said his 36 years in law enforcement have given him experience dealing in conflict resolution and listening intently. He has followed the city council meetings closely, so if elected, he can hit the ground running.

Jack Walker is also vying for Seat 6. A former Sunnyvale mayor, current board officer of the Sunnyvale Chamber of Commerce and active resident, Walker said the city’s budget and planning issues need to be addressed and he believes he can help. He said the sales tax structure has been primarily retail based. While Moffett Park has been well developed,  a drawback is businesses there are service oriented. He is concerned planning decisions are discouraging manufacturing. Walker is against housing in El Camino and said it needs to stay commercial and retail. He believes Sunnyvale is rapidly reaching a turning point where there is no available land for housing. He is concerned about infilling the industrial areas with housing, but some open spaces on the edges of the industrial areas make sense. The city needs to be cautious and make sure density does not compromise existing neighborhoods. He said housing, jobs, revenue, density are all related and intertwined and he feels his past experience as mayor has given him perspective on these issues.

Seeking Seat 7 is Fred Fowler, also a past Sunnyvale mayor, a volunteer with the Sunnyvale Department of Public Safety, and commissioner on the Sunnyvale Housing and Human Services Commission. Since retiring from office, Fowler said he has seen changes in the way the city works and does not feel it is working efficiently. He likes the way Sunnyvale used to be and wants to bring back the best of past practices. Fowler said the city’s revenues are limited and the best thing is to get the downtown working. He said the city’s current tax structure doesn’t make sense because it doesn’t grow with inflation the way the city’s expenses do. He doesn’t believe the city can survive with a sales tax on goods only and would like to explore taxes on the services sector, but lowering rates overall. Fowler believes Sunnyvale needs more housing of all types, especially rental housing. He sees opportunities for more housing in the old ITR zoning areas and would consider rezoning areas with old office buildings and convert them to housing. He said he has the experience, skills and talents available for the city and is ready to get to work.

Tara Martin-Milius is also seeking Seat 7. She has a business in communications and management consulting, chaired the San Miguel Neighbors Association for many years and is a member of the Sunnyvale Arts Commission. Martin-Milius said she wants to represent residents and be their voice in the council. She said the city’s budget has to be fixed. She would love to see the downtown up and going again to enhance the city’s revenue stream. Her priority is to get businesses into Sunnyvale. She said right now property taxes are the biggest line item for city revenue and should not be. She would like to see businesses help feed the city’s income stream. Martin-Milius wants to keep the balance between residential and commercial. She said residents have complained about transition areas to high density. She would like to see mixed use development on transportation corridors like El Camino, but would make sure transition areas work well. The city can’t support itself as a bedroom community; it needs industrial development, she said. With her experience with residents and teaching career, Martin-Milius said she would be able to facilitate council meetings and bring balance to what goes on in the city council.

This week, four of six candidates vying for two seats in the Cupertino City Council shared their views on housing, taxes, rent control and green building standards with members of SILVAR’s Cupertino/Sunnyvale District. There appeared to be no stark difference in each candidate’s stance on these issues.

Left to right: Rod Sinks, Donna Austin, Marty Miller and Gilbert Wong.

Donna Austin, a staunch supporter of mixed-use development, believes the city needs to step up and provide more housing and retail. She would support higher density and height along the transit corridor. She described herself as “fiscally very conservative,” not too keen on Measure C, but said it’s a tax that will not hurt residents. Measure C, which is on the November 8 ballot, proposes to raise the city’s transient occupancy tax (TOT) paid by hotel guests from 10 percent to 12 percent. There are other ways to obtain revenue, she said. She is for more housing, especially since Apple is expanding. Austin is against rent control because she does not believe renters or landlords would be motivated to renovate. She believes the city is already one of the greenest communities in the region and residents should be free to follow green practices that best suit them. A former San Jose teacher and an active community volunteer, Austin has served on the city’s planning commission and was honored by the Cupertino Chamber of Commerce as this year’s citizen of the year. She believes with her teaching skills, she would bring a different perspective to the council and benefit the city.

Marty Miller, who is a REALTOR® and SILVAR member, wants the city to be more friendly toward businesses. He is in general opposed to all taxes. He believes Californians are overtaxed and that the state tax system is badly in need of reform. By raising the cost for travelers to stay in Cupertino, Miller said the passage of Measure C will ultimately hurt businesses and the city. More housing is needed in Cupertino and there should be a better balance of jobs and housing, he said. If more people lived closer to where they worked, there would be even less traffic, he noted. Miller is opposed to rent control and called it “misguided government policy.” He is also against imposing green building standards on the community. Incentives are the way to go; not mandates. There are two things that kill jobs and growth, said Miller – taxes and excessive regulation, so government should leave the market alone. A REALTOR®, who has been on the planning commission for the past nine years, Miller said the “real power is in the city council.” It is why he is a candidate. He said he would be an appropriate representative of the business community, especially REALTOR®s.

Rod Sinks is frustrated at city projects that have stalled, especially Vallco Shopping Mall, and he is running because he wants to push them through. The city needs to create things that cater to the people. More housing and development are keys to making Cupertino a destination place, so people will shop here and dine here, he said. Sinks said he worked as a volunteer to pass the parcel tax because he saw it as a strengthening measure to improve property values, but he is not a supporter of other taxes. He, too, said California needs to reform its tax system, which he feels inhibits mobility. He is opposed to rent control because it creates a disincentive. As co-founder of Bay Area for Clean Environment (formerly No Toxic Air), a grassroots environmental organization, Sinks said he is very excited about greening the community, but does not believe it should be mandated. Having launched successful high-tech start-up companies, Sinks believes he has the vision and the skills to bring a team together and make the council function more efficiently, especially at its meetings.

Gilbert Wong, who currently serves as mayor of Cupertino and is the lone incumbent in the race, said he would like to continue his work on the council. Born and raised in Cupertino, Wong served five years on the planning commission, prior to his election to the city council in 2007. He said the city has a great future with its excellent public schools. There are more things to come and he would like to see the development projects continued. Wong believes taxes should be the last resort and placing Measure C on the November ballot was just that. He explained Hewlett Packard’s departure left a $1 million dollar hole in the city’s finances. The TOT could raise $450,000 additional revenue for the city. He said he would support anything to protect Cupertino’s schools as long as it is reasonable, such as a school parcel tax. Wong noted, as a property manager, he too does not support rent control. He believes Cupertino’s green building standards should not raise the cost for builders, especially during these hard economic times. The city should stick to the minimum standards currently in place and review them next year, Wong said.

Pictured here are the 2011 BARLA graduates and members of the BARLA Advisory Committee.

Members of the 2011 Bay Area REALTOR® Leadership Academy (BARLA) successfully completed the program this week. This year’s BARLA graduates are Sue Bose, Kevin Cole, Debra Cummins, Desiree Docktor, Anne Hansen, Penelope Huang, Linda Scheifler Marks, Mike O’Neill, Robert Pedro, Gema Smith, David Steil, Frank Vento, Jane Volpe and Aaron Wheeler.

BARLA is an alliance spearheaded in 2009 by past SILVAR president Julia Truesdale Keady involving members of the three neighboring Associations – SILVAR, the San Mateo County Association of REALTORS® and the Santa Clara County Association of REALTORS®. The goal is to develop a leadership program designed to identify, train and develop existing and emerging leaders to serve and advance organized real estate.

Participants this year attended full-day sessions held monthly through September. The curriculum featured theme-oriented sessions which gave participants an overview of organized real estate’s impact on local, state and federal issues, candidates, non-profits and communities.

Members of this year’s Advisory Committee are Suzanne Yost (Chair), Julia Truesdale Keady (Vice Chair), David Tonna, Karl Lee, Jeff Bell, Al Louie, Barbara Lymberis, Suzan Getchell-Wallace, Debbie Sharp, Marianne Osberg and Association Executives of the three associations.

Last week Gov. Jerry Brown signed AB 771 into law, a bill that prevents home buyers in a common interest development (CID), such as a condominium or townhome, from being charged excess document fees. 

Homeowner associations (HOAs) are required to provide specific documents to prospective purchasers of homes in a CID — a form of real estate ownership in which each homeowner has an exclusive interest in a unit and a shared interest in the common area property. In addition to the standard residential property disclosures, purchasers of a unit within a CID must receive basic information about the structure, operation and management of the HOA that operates the CID.

Current law requires that this information come from the HOA and prohibits it from charging fees in excess of what is “reasonable,” not to exceed the actual cost of processing and producing these documents. HOAs generally have provided the documents for approximately $75 to $250. Increasingly, HOAs have been delegating document preparations to third party vendors or contractors who, under a 2007 court decision, are exempt from this fee limitation. This delegation of responsibility by HOAs sometimes resulted in home purchasers being forced to pay additional fees, as much as $1,000, for other documents which were “bundled” with the required documents.

Assembly Bill 771 (Betsy Butler, D-Torrance) addresses this situation by specifying that only fees for the required documents may be charged when such documents are provided, effectively prohibiting any “bundling” of fees for other documents with these fees. The bill also creates a new form detailing which documents are required, and requires the provider to disclose the fees that will be charged for the documents before they are provided. The seller of a CID must complete this form and transmit it to the prospective purchaser along with the required documents. This will eliminate any uncertainty for the prospective purchaser as to exactly which documents are being provided and the precise fees being charged for those documents.

Time is running out on important housing-related issues before Congress. We need REALTORS® to contact their elected representatives in Washington, D.C., today. 

Here is what REALTORS® can do:

Reauthorize National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) to ensure access for millions of Americans to affordable flood insurance which is not available in the private insurance market. The House has passed its bill. Now we need you to urge the Senate to act.

Without reauthorization, the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) will expire on September 30, 2011. Today, 5.6 million property owners rely on the program in 21,000 communities where flood insurance is required for federally related mortgages. Both consumers and your fellow REALTORS® are counting on your to help get this bill passed.

Tell Congress to Reauthorize the National Flood Insurance Program

Make permanent the current loan limits for FHA, Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae to ensure the affordability of mortgage credit for hundreds of thousands of responsible and credit-worthy American families.

The cost of a mortgage could rise significantly if loan limits are reduced. If this happens, many of your clients run the risk of being priced out of the American Dream of home ownership. This could hold back the housing recovery. The new loan limits show that more than 669 counties in 42 states and the territories would be negatively impacted by the loan limit change. 

Take Action to Ensure Your Clients Have Access to Affordable Mortgages

The business of real estate puts REALTORS® in potentially hazardous situations because a significant part of their work involves meeting with strangers. Every year, real estate agents around the country are threatened, robbed, physically or sexually assaulted while fulfilling the everyday requirements of their jobs. Some even lose their lives.

According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the real estate, rental and leasing occupation has seen an average of 75 deaths a year from 2003 to 2009. There don’t appear to be solid statistics on the number of agents who were victims of specific crimes like sexual assault, non-fatal shootings, beatings, stabbings, robbery and carjacking. The latest highly publicized tragic incidents happened in February 2011. According to news reports, a real estate agent in Ottumwa, Iowa, was assaulted and tied up when she arrived at a home for a scheduled showing appointment. Her attackers then robbed the home. Two months later, in West Des Moines, a 27-year-old agent was fatally shot while working at a model home.

REALTORS® can make adjustments to the way they do business and avoid violent crimes by practicing these general REALTOR® Safety Tips from the National Association of REALTORS® and other sources, so you can avoid being a victim:

  1. Always meet a client for the first time in the office. Introduce him or her to coworkers and make it clear that they know you are taking him out of the office. Try to take separate cars but if that is not possible you will have slightly more control if you drive. Also, do not meet a client at the property, particularly if he is calling on a yard sign. He will already have had a chance to note if the property is vacant. Don’t identify a property as vacant to a caller, on an ad or sign.
  2. Get a license plate number and leave it at the front desk. Just explain that it is office policy; a customer who means no harm won’t mind. Leave an itinerary for your house tour with someone in your office.
  3. Agents are vulnerable when they are walking back to and from their car before or after an open house. Park where you cannot get blocked in. Take a few minutes to make sure you have a clear line of sight to your vehicle. Can you see the front door? Are there trees or shrubbery within 10 feet that can serve as a hiding place? When getting out of the car, keep looking around. When you get to the front door, turn around and walk back — are there places where someone could surprise you?
  4. The No. 1 place where agents are attacked during an open house is the front door, partly because lockboxes take time to open. If you are alone, turn your back against a wall to avoid being attacked from behind. If you can, work in teams. Sign up your affiliates, such as a home inspector or title officer, to sit the open house with you.
  5. Never go into certain rooms. When showing visitors around, never go into rooms with no escape routes. These include walk-in closets, bathrooms and laundry rooms, among others. Instead, direct visitors to those rooms.
  6. Establish your escape routes. Walk around the house and notice how to get in and out of rooms. If there is a fence in the backyard with a gate, unlock the gate for easy exit. As another escape route, open the garage door but lock the door leading to the inside from the garage. Direct clients to the front door with signs.
  7. Set up for safety. Hang decorative bells behind every outside door that you have unlocked. These will alert you whenever someone enters the house. Carry only what you need — purses go in the trunk of your car before you leave your house, not when you arrive at the open house. Do not bring your laptop to an open house. Not only can it be easily stolen, but signing on to someone’s unsecured wireless network can open you up to identity theft.
  8. Always carry a cell phone where it is easily accessible (not in the purse you left in the car). Make sure emergency numbers are programmed into the speed dial.
  9. When showing property to strangers, follow rather than lead them through the house. Don’t let them get between you and the door. Never, ever turn your back on a prospect. If a man says, “Ladies first,” to a female agent, the agent should say something like, “You are such a gentleman, thank you. But I really want you to see this home, and if I can direct you where to go, I think you’ll gain a further appreciation for this home.”
  10. Go with your gut. If something doesn’t feel right, if anything raises the hair on the back of your neck, escape the situation immediately. Until you really know a customer, remain vigilant regardless of the gender, appearance, dress, or charm.

For more safety tips, visit NAR’s REALTOR® Safety Web site at www.REALTOR.org/Safety.

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